Filed under: books, garden, tree | Tags: dogwood, goumi, mimosa tree, oak tree, tree
We had to take down an 80-foot oak this fall. It was stressed with an bacteria that is infecting oaks all over our area and was dying — and near power lines. Three tree companies agreed it needed to go (they disagreed on others, so we left those, though we left those, though there is another oak that we are worried about). We ended up with lots of wood to split for firewood, no leaves to rake up — and a dilemma.
This tree was in the southeast corner of the property, so we know it helped shade the house in the summer. Fortunately, it was next to some giant spruces that we think started out as Christmas trees for the previous owner. So we still have some shade givers, plus a divider to the neighboring property.
Still, we know we want to plant something, though perhaps a bit further away from the lot line and those spruces. But what? A more disease-resistant oak? Something that flowers in the spring and also adds color in the fall? The Brit and I do like the other neighbors’ Korean dogwoods, but they don’t get anywhere near as tall as the oaks.
I’ve consulted Tracy DiSabato-Aust‘s “50 High Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants,” but nothing is higher that 10 feet. “Why Grow This When You Can Grow That” thankfully is not just about flowers and has a few suggestions. And I’m just finishing an intriguing book called “Paradise Lot — Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City.” The goumi tree (bush?) has caught my eye because it adds nitrogen to the soil and has tart berries. (OK, we’d no doubt be fighting birds for those!) But it seems to be only 6-9 feet tall.A pawpaw tree that the same guys grow? Or would it be a deer magnet? Same with persimmon, which they also mention?
I’ve also seen some trees in the area with purple leaves that would add some nice color and contrast, though again they don’t seem to get that tall. See the picture at the top. Are they purple plums?
We’re taking suggestions! And should we plant in the spring, or wait until fall?
Hopefully we won’t be facing the same decision with our mimosa tree in the back yard. It looked great at the end of August, and still had lots of those pink-and-white tufts. Then it went bare sometime in the first 10 days of September. We’ll be watching in 2014.
Filed under: fall, flowers, garden | Tags: aster, black-eyed Susan, vinca
These were the final holdouts of 2013 and still in bloom last weekend, despite many frosts. They are shriveling up, but even that biting rain and cold just before Thanksgiving hasn’t been able to quite finish them off and turn them black.
This low-to-the-ground black-eyed Susan’s microclimate is tucked behind a clump of ornamental grasses and by the garage downspout. Nearby black-eyed Susans were caught by the first frost a month ago.
The pair of asters was protected by other perennials that had died back. I wouldn’t have found them if I hadn’t been doing some fall clean-up. Like the black-eyed Susan, they are on the small side. Unlike it, these didn’t have that pop of color.
Finally, I found a couple of vinca flowers in a shady bed on the north side of the house, in a narrow strip between the air-conditioning unit and another wall of the house. And the flowers are even lower to the ground than the other examples. All the hostas on the other side of the air conditioner have died back, of course.
Now it’s time to wait for the lenten roses that share that space to give us some winter color.
Filed under: fall, food | Tags: apples, gleaning, New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger
My third type of harvest, and my good deed for Thanksgiving to boot: Gleaning apples in support of New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger.
The Brit and I were part of a relatively small group of volunteers who descended Saturday on a pick-your-own apple farm in northern New Jersey. The farmer said he’d had a great year, but there were plenty of apples still on the trees and yet more good ones on the ground. The goal was to collect enough apples for other people to pack into mixed bags for food pantries to hand out for Thanksgiving. So the apples didn’t have to be the perfect “fancy” grade that you find in a supermarket. We were told to also take those with a bruise that could be cut out and used for pie or apple sauce. Here’s to hoping the recipients don’t turn up their noses at something less than perfect!
Can’t reach the apples on the tree? Some people used an apple-picking tool that kind of looks like a lacrosse stick. Painfully slow. The rest of us learned to give the tree a strong two-handed shake that would send the apples falling to the ground, where they generally survived (some did crack) and we’d recover them. Quick, but the downside was a few bops to the head from falling apples. One woman decided her basket could serve as an ad-hoc helmet, but I just took the hits.
It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and we filled basket after basket, dumping them in turn into giant bins that hold more than 1,000 pounds. We only started to flag in the final half hour. Still, we harvested about 15,000 pounds of various varieties of apples in under three hours — a record for one gleaning there, the farmer said. And we didn’t finish. There’s another gleaning planned for Saturday.
If the apples don’t get picked, they’ll just go to waste.
And it’s still shocking how many apples already are being left to rot on the ground to turn into compost by spring. Imagine what you could d if you had a cider press!
Bonus for us volunteers: We all went home with a bag of apples. I went for the green-gold Crispins (sweet and crisp) and the red Winesap, a tart and firm heirloom variety. I made some apple crisp, but it’s time to start looking for some more imaginative recipes.
Filed under: food, travel | Tags: harvest, Italy, La Montagnola, olive oil, Perugia, Umbria
Thanks to a friend who goes to the same spot in Italy every year, I was able to see the harvest at La Montagnola, an olive farm that also rents out really nice rooms and apartments to tourists (= Agriturismo) that is about 10 miles from Perugia in central Italy. This was an opportunity I was not going to pass up!
Once upon a time, olives were plucked from the trees manually using what’s essentially a small hand rake. But now it’s mostly mechanical, at least in this part of the world. It goes like this:
Think of an upside-down umbrella attached to a tractor that envelopes the skinny base of the tree. The tree then gets a good shake for 5-6 seconds, and the olives fall into the umbrella:
But not all olives are ready to fall. To get at the many that are still clinging to a branch, the next step uses a gadget (powered by something) with rake-like tines that loosens them, and in they fall into the inverted umbrella.
The other half of the two-person team uses an orange hand rake. It’s different from trying to detangle long hair in that you start at the top, hold on to the branch a bit up from the bottom to protect the newest growth, and work fast, rather than painstakingly attacking each knot (olive) gently.
The olives eventually all end up in the container attached to the umbrella, and it’s time to move on to the next tree.
Overall, the workers told me, it takes 5-6 minutes, maybe 10 minutes, to do one tree.
La Montagnola has 6,000 olive trees (and several varieties) in the various groves on the hills, so the harvest takes six weeks. Vittoria, the owner of La Montagnola, says each tree on average produces three liters of olive oil.
By the way, here’s the view from the part of the farm where I stayed:
Before the advent of the machines, the harvest was done by hand. And Vittoria did let us try the old-fashioned way: Clambering up a ladder with rounded steps, grasping a branch and raking out the olives with that orange hand rake. A tarp replaces the mechanized umbrella.
Vittoria told us that the harvest can be done differently in other parts of Italy. In Puglia, down in Italy’s boot heel, it is much warmer, and olives can be left to fall naturally to the tarp below. Because they are on the tree for longer, the taste and chemical breakdown of the oil is different.
Harvesting of course is just the first part. The olives (and the bits of leaves and branches that some are still attached to) get dumped into a giant wheelbarrow-like dumpster and then into big crates, where they are then screened to get rid of the biggest pieces of debris, then washed and screened some more.
Only then does the pressing begin. The olives turn into a paste and then the liquid is extracted. The paste gets reused as a form of compost, oil and water are separated again, and you end up with a really nice olive oil:
Here’s my video of the harvest.
We also did an olive-oil tasting. I admit that I don’t have the sophisticated nose to distinguish subtleties (same with wine!), but there was no missing the difference between store-bought, mass-produced oil oil and its solvent-like smell and the smell of olives in Vittoria’s olive oil. Vittoria also helps evaluate olive oils so she knows how to spot the tricks and even which olive oils really can’t be from the area.
Just as with wine and grapes (or anything from your garden!), the soil and temperatures influence the final taste. Olive oils, like wine, can be a mish-mash of oil from everywhere (and as long as it’s bottled in Italy, it’s Italian, even if the olives come from elsewhere). Or it can be from one small region, with its own Denominazione D’Origine Controllata, and even be a single variety of olives, just as with wine.
One difference with wine, though, is that you want to use your olive oil when it’s young and fresh. You don’t age fancy olive oil the way you wage a fine wine. The oil I brought home is best when used by Dec. 15, 2014. (Stamped by hand on the label too!). Somehow I don’t think the olive oil on our supermarket shelves is anywhere near that fresh.
The forecast for tonight is a low of 34 or 33, and tomorrow night’s low is supposed to be 33. Winter is closing in on us, and it is getting too cold to risk some of our vegetables. And our Portuguese hot pepper plants were just bursting!
So out I went into the cold (it feels colder than 48!) and harvested three dozen of those red peppers. Those alone filled a good-sized mixing bowl! And that’s before the unripened ones, the last of the deep green jalapenos and the ripe orange and unripe light green habaneros.
I’m not sure how we’re going to use them. Freeze them? Try to make a red hot pepper jam? A recipe I saw uses more sweet red peppers than hot ones, so I won’t blow off my head — I hope. Or maybe I’ll try this one? Apparently I can also use green peppers, or maybe I’ll try those that didn’t finish turning red and which one store sells for about the same price as green. There is no shortage of hot: We still have part of an earlier crop in the fridge and had a friend dehydrate and grind others.
I also picked up this carrot — or should I say carrots that have grown together into one mass? Not sure how we’ll eat this!
In, too, came a lot of citrus-y basil for some quick pesto.
The red Swiss chard can handle a light frost, so I left that. I harvested a few greens but I’m hoping the rest can handle any coolness. For good measure, I took an old blue tent cover hanging around in the garage and threw it on top of the caged bed to protect the plants just before nightfall. Sorry about the poor lighting!
Just a shame about all the yellow flowers on the last of the tomato plants. They will never get enough time to turn into fruit.
Now to find time to start planting next year’s garlic harvest.
Filed under: flowers, garden, vegetables | Tags: bee balm, black-eyed Susan, clematis, coneflowers, crocosmia, phlox, potatoes
Catching up after a hectic two-plus months.
The black-eyed Susans, which dominate the front bed, have been in bloom since mid-July. They’re now rapidly fading, but they kept the garden looking bright. How many can I give to neighbors?
Phlox, purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. Lot of phlox and coneflowers this year:
Ornamental grass and black-eyed Susans (told you they were everywhere):
Daddy long legs on a black-eyed Susan:
Spider’s web (with foliage from black-eyed Susans in the background):
A fall-blooming clematis with a sweet scent, along the deck:
in July, one of our three varieties of bee balm:
Crocosmia under the mimosa tree:
The potato crop, which we felt was disappointing. Did we not mound enough? Or do we need to find a fresh spot?
We have a glut of peppers, mostly Portuguese hots, and have had plenty of tomatoes, especially sungolds. But we also discovered some truly sweet tomatoes that look just like sungolds. Now to find out the name of them from the Brit’s colleague!
Leeks still to come. Need to use up all that basil and turn it into pesto. We still have greens, though something gets into the caged bed every once in a while and munches. And we’ll see how the fall crops turn out.
Filed under: flowers, garden | Tags: bee balm, caterpillar, coreopsis, day lily, dill, penstemon huskers red, red-hot poker, rose campion, white campion
I’ve been blogging so much about my bike training that I’ve been neglecting the garden write-up.
Regular rain, flowers, tomatoes and more growing well. Bees and butterflies happy and plentiful. Cool til recently, so red-hot pokers seemed to bloom an extra week. Regular rain also helps the weeds grow. Oh well.
The dill worked its magic, attracting a caterpillar that should become a Monarch butterfly. Look at it munch!
Like this pairing of rose campion and penstemon huskers red:
The always-irresistable red-hot pokers:
A volunteer? Or from a neighbor? Don’t know the name:
Coreopsis in bloom, think I should extend the bee balm in the back to the corner of the bed, like a ribbon running through:
Separate the rose campion and red bee balm in the flower bed along the driveway? Do they clash?
Give these day lillies a bit more prominence along the drive?