Saturday, April 30, 2011


First rhubarb of the season, destined for rhubarb bread that we'll bring with us on our proper Sunday grandparent tour of north Jersey.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hot in Herre [sic]

Is it getting hot in here? Oh, that’s probably just us, because we’ve been ON FIRE in the garden for the past couple of weeks. Ironically, there were several days of painfully cold hands digging in wet, barely workable soil that was quite a bit colder than the outside temperature. And Mark spent a long afternoon digging a trench for the new asparagus (he was dissatisfied with the results of last year’s apocryphal crop after I planted the crowns upside down). P.S. He accidentally dug the 40' trench two times the necessary depth; overachiever or OCD? Both, I think.

It's immensely satisfying to be pretty much on schedule for once, even with the auxiliary projects taken into account. The carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus are all in the ground, with the rhubarb and peas coming up nicely. The tomatoes have been transplanted and are taking full advantage of the new real estate. Mark is also installing lovely wooden garden gates to replace the fashionable yet functional clothes-pinned deer fencing we’ve been using. The only black cloud on the horizon is the proliferation of groundhogs evidenced by an unsettling number of holes popping up around the yard (not yet in the garden, thankfully). We've also seen one scurrying under our front porch to the delight of Delilah, our unofficial farm hound. We're putting up some ominous warning signs to discourage the little devils from doing anything untoward.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Orange-Apricot Whole Wheat Muffins

A few weeks ago, Mark and Nico and I went to a potluck seed swap where we knew absolutely no one in hopes of meeting some locals in our age bracket who share some interests. We found the event on Meetup through a group called "Reskilling Northwest New Jersey," and I wanted to show that I had actual skills and was not some suburbanite dilettante, so I baked some garlic-rosemary potato bread from my favorite bread cookbook ever.

I got to comparing notes with the hostess, and she told me about her favorite bread cookbook ever, which I promptly got from the library the next day. I was tantalized by a recipe for orange-apricot muffins, but when I made them the first time they didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped. Granted, I was forced to substitute the baking powder because I'd run out, so that didn't help their appearance, but I wanted more of a citrus punch, and they needed some spice. One half-teaspoon of cinnamon, the only spice, was listed as "optional" for the original recipe and eliminated altogether for the apricot variation (as if!). I tampered with the formula enough that I feel confident calling it my own, but props to Laurel for the inspiration and to Mary for the introduction.

Orange-Apricot Whole Wheat Muffins

1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or apple pie spice
2 tablespoons powdered milk
¾ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one orange
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375. Whisk the dry ingredients together, then the wet ingredients. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, making sure not to overmix. Fold in the apricots and almonds; spoon into muffin cups.

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed.

Makes 12 small or 10 larger muffins

Berry Patch

We’ve started a berry patch.

Back story: The previous owner built a chicken coop (tenement) next to the shed at the end of the driveway. The first time we toured the house, we had the opportunity to meet the coop’s future residents when they were just little puffballs chilling out in the master bathroom’s cast-iron clawfoot tub. This made for an interesting first impression, to say the least.

The only problem with the coop is that it’s next to a big, old tree that a sly raccoon used at the first opportunity to break in and feast on some poor chickens. The owner, who had a lot of heart but not the stomach for animal husbandry, called the farm around the corner in tears, traumatized, and demanded that they take the rest of her chickens. They happily obliged. Who knows, we may have eaten their eggs for breakfast yesterday.

Long story long, we thought that fenced-in area would be perfect for a berry patch, out of reach of those long-necked, nimble deer that fearlessly roam our property, as well as the twitchy-nosed rabbits and the evil groundhog that lives under our front porch. That eight-foot fence had better do its job. We took down a partition and installed a raspberry trellis in its place, and we moved the gate for maximum square footage to grow as many goodies as possible. The blackcurrants will be happy there, and we dedicated some space for strawberries that will, alas, have to wait till next year.

Friday, April 15, 2011


See the first brave blooms on one of our Moorpark apricot trees. Last week we bought some gooseberry and black currant plants from a Russian woman who lives nearby and seems to really know her stuff. Her little corner of this brown-lawned, soulless housing development is thick with berry bushes and mature fruit trees poised to come alive in the next few weeks. She warned us that apricots are tough to grow in north Jersey because the early blooms are often killed by a late frost before the fruits have time to form. The guy who taught Mark's fruit-tree pruning class confirmed this, but also said that in a good year he gets plenty of apricots. And me, I'm still seeing visions of apricot tarts dance in my head.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

We hit upon a dynamite system for seed starting this year. No fancy tricks or gadgets, just a slight tweak on the mini-soil block system. The biggest problem with the mini-blocks last year was keeping them moist long enough for the seeds to germinate. The solution? Take-out containers!
That’s right, we started saving heavy duty reheatable plastic food containers. You know, the kind marked as recyclable #6 that no facility seems willing to accept and will probably outlast the human race. Anyway, thanks to an inundation of take-out Thai food on Kate’s birthday, we ended up with six of these abominations. Turns out they’re ideal miniature greenhouses for the smallest sized soil blocks. In conjunction with a heat mat, these babies create a virtual sauna for seeds to germinate in. The evaporated moisture collects on the lid and can easily be dumped back on the blocks. The small size of the mini-blocks enables them to warm up to the optimal germination temperature for heat-loving plants. We sprouted tomatoes and peppers in as few as four days, basil in about two. Germination rates were also impressive (Genovese Basil sprouted 19 out of 20 seeds). Best of all, the containers are ultra-durable and free! (well, sorta free) It’s always super-gratifying to find an unexpected second use for trash. Now, if we can only put all of that used cat dirt to good use...