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My Book!

I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

Links to planters at selected vendors:

Garden-Fountains.com

MasterGardening.com

 

 

Sprouts

Amazon.com is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Store

 

 

 

 

Kalanchoe is (Nearly) Indestructible

You Can Grow That!

Kalanchoe blossoms

Framed against a dirty, south-facing basement window that will soon be blocked by the foliage of outdoor plants, these kalanchoe blossoms exist against all odds. The kalanchoe plants blossom nearly continuously despite receiving little sunlight and sporadic, meager watering.

At least three years ago, I picked up two kalanchoe plants from a vendor who gives away inventory at the end of the spring flower season. Kalanchoe is a succulent that, sadly, isn’t cold-hardy. As a houseplant, however, kalanchoe is indestructible.
In mid spring, I’m pushing hard to get the vegetable garden planted, so I had no time to deal with the kalanchoe. I set it on the only south-facing windowsill in the basement and got on with the gardening.

Actually, the flower pots holding the kalanchoe plants were quite small. I’d add just a little water and it would flow through the soil and out the bottoms of the pots. This was messy, so I considered options for capturing the overflow. Turns out, there was a windowsill planter “lying fallow” near the south-facing window. It was full of soil but without plants growing in it.

Seriously neglected kalanchoe plants

While these look like neglected plants, they’ve experience neglect that would kill a huge number of houseplants. Water runs straight through those tiny flower pots and the soil dries out in a day or two. Still, the plants remain green and in bloom even after three months without watering.

For expediency, I moved the windowsill planter to the south-facing windowsill and set the kalanchoe plants in it. And there they sat.

And there they sit.

My kalanchoe today

Here, years after I acquired them, my kalanchoe plants remain in their original pots. I water them, perhaps, 20 times a year… but not at regular intervals. There have been several three-month periods in which the plants got no attention. The soil has gone dry, light from the window has gone dim (when plants outside the window leaf up in spring, less sunlight comes through the glass), and I’ve added no nutrition by way of plant food or compost.

Pink-flowering Kalanchoe

I picked up this pink-flowered kalanchoe at a bargain price and will plant it between my two white-flowered plants in the windowsill planter that has served for several years to capture excess water. With a bit of attention, these hard-to-kill plants should become a nice accent in my nascent houseplantscape.

Through most of the year, there are flowers on those kalanchoe plants. What’s more, the leaves are always green; they don’t shrivel, they don’t dry out, and they don’t fall off. Oh! And the plants continue to grow larger (if not attractively).

The point: I’ve neglected these plants like no plant I’ve ever owned, and they continue to grow and flower. Imagine how amazing they’d look if I actually took care of them. Actually, that’s the plan. They’ve performed so well, I’m finally going to reward them by moving them into the windowsill planter where they’ll have fresh soil and room to spread. I even bought a contrasting pink-flowering kalanchoe to set between them.

Want a nearly indestructible houseplant that responds to neglect by thriving and flowering against all odds? Try kalanchoe. You can grow that.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Kalanchoe is (Nearly) Indestructible

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Bloom Day in April, 2016

Hellebore

The first blossom in my garden this year was a hellebore. Of four varieties, one was in bloom in December and held its blossoms through January. The hellebore in this photo opened as the crocuses faded in March and has turned from nearly white to this green-pink look over the course of six weeks.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day celebrates flowers. The brainchild of Carol Michel, this blogging event has gone on since February of 2007 more than a year before I started blogging.

The idea of Bloom Day is for bloggers to share photos of what’s abloom in their gardens. Discounting weed flowers, there’s less happening in my garden than is typical for April. Extreme cold after flowering started reduced bunches of blooms to florist rejects.

Feeling particularly abused by a cold virus on top of my chemotherapy (which riles up the post-Whipple intestinal tract), I managed to drag myself around the yard and capture a few decent photos. Not much to offer, but it’s a start.

Candytuft

A new plant in our garden in 2015, candytuft surprised us when it was one of the earliest bloomers this spring. It continues to produce new buds and blossoms and may still be in bloom when nearby dianthus and foxgloves start their flower shows.

Snowdrops

Another early bloomer, blue snowdrops are nearly done. These got into the garden 2 years ago when I spotted some growing out of a dirt heap someone had moved from their yard to a public walkway. I was able to dig up one bulb which I set along the east side of the house. In two seasons, it has multiplied into, perhaps, 8 plants, so I’ve great hope it will spread widely through the planting bed in another six-to-ten years.

Primrose

The primroses have been in bloom for about three weeks. These have been in the garden for several years, and showed promise of spreading aggressively. However, as much as the plants seem to expand during the summer, by spring they look no bigger than on the day I planted them.

Viola

I set several violas in a new planting bed in late summer. Thankfully, they had time to get settled and they surprised me with an early display this spring. I love the golden glow at the center of the blossoms and would love to see the planting bed develop a carpet of these striking flowers.

Daffodil

Daffodils got beat up this year; they had just put up flower stalks when the temperature plunged from about 60F degrees down to 22F degrees. A few nights of punishing cold made many of the flowers droop—or simply fall over. A few stragglers have bloomed since the cold spell ended, but they’re disappointing compared to daffodils in more forgiving years.

Hyacinth

Hyacinths have suffered along with the daffodils. Cold made the flowers droop. Even without that, the spikes are generally “loose” with fewer flowers and wide gaps between them.

Peach blossoms

I’m so glad to be able to show a food photo on April’s Bloom Day. The peach trees have been in bloom for a few days, though many blossoms look abused and many others haven’t yet opened. With luck, enough buds were tight during the cold snap that they’ll still be able to produce fruit.

Cranberry blossoms

A surprise entry for 2016: cranberry blossoms! I received four cranberry plants in the mail and am nursing them along on the dining room table until the temperature rises a bit. Had the plants arrived dormant, I’d already have planted them in the garden. Unfortunately, they arrived awake and ready for action, and I don’t want to chance freezing the new growth by setting them out too early.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Bloom Day in April, 2016

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A Patch of Sundrops

You Can Grow That!

Patch of fast-spreading Sundrops

A lot of what’s in my dad’s garden was there when he moved into his apartment. There’s a boxwood on each side of his entrance walk and an impressive assortment of hostas for such a small space. At first, there might have been a Sundrop or two. Three years later, when I captured this photo, there was a jungle of Sundrops.

I’m still learning to want to grow ornamental plants. For me, gardening has always been about food. Touring show gardens, writing about gardening, and having many friends who are geniuses at landscape architecture and garden design has awakened in me a desire to have a pretty yard. Last summer a planting bed at my dad’s apartment reinforced that desire.

In very early summer, my dad’s garden sported a dense cloud of yellow: Flowers that glowed in the sunlight on 12-to-18-inch stalks. It was one of the most striking features I’d seen in any private garden, and I’ve visited a lot of stunning private gardens.

My Sundrop Awakening

I asked my dad if he knew what plant produced these arresting flowers and, happily, he did! “Sundrops,” he said.

I snapped a few photos and moved along but Sundrops were now in my mental catalog of plants to consider for my own yard. I hadn’t yet tracked down a nursery or garden center that sold Sundrops when this spring I once again visited my dad.

With virtually nothing growing, my dad’s garden still caught my eye. Where last summer there had been stalks of gorgeous yellow flowers, this spring there was a dense ground cover of green-and-purple-leafed plants. They were already growing despite spring having barely started.

Bucket of Sundrop plants

My dad’s Sundrop plants had shallow roots and I was able to dig about ten of them in just a few minutes. I’ll probably plant them in the corner of the yard under the apple trees and see how quickly they spread.

So, I asked my dad, “Are those Sundrops?”

He gave an affirmative and told me they were getting out of control. I was thrilled when he agreed I should dig some from around the edges of the patch. I filled a bucket with plants and quickly realized they spread via rhizomes: root-like shoots that radiated out through the soil specifically to push up new plants.

I’ve been warned that Sundrops spread aggressively… which was obvious from my dad’s Sundrop patch. When he moved into his apartment four years ago, I didn’t notice Sundrops there; in only three years they took over a six foot diameter area.

Sundrops in your garden

I did a little reading and found that Sundrops — also known as Evening Primrose — are hardy in zones 5 through 8. Supposedly, they need lots of sunlight, but sunlight reaching my dad’s garden is best suited for hostas; his Sundrops were doing fine.

Your Sundrops will do best in well-conditioned soil, but they grow naturally in many soil types from sand to loam. They handle drought well and once they’re established you may need to be brutal to keep them from spreading beyond your flower bed.

With gorgeous yellow flowers, attractive bi-colored foliage, and a tendency to spread aggressively, Sundrops make a terrific ground cover whose character changes from season to season.

Want a fast-spreading patch of bi-colored leaves that throw up a cloud of bright yellow flowers in late spring? You can grow that with Sundrops.

I reviewed the following websites for information about growing Sundrops:
www.perennialreference.com
www.newmoonnursery.com

 
Small Kitchen Garden – A Patch of Sundrops

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Waterscapes Photo Challenge (and Spring Planting)

Three pea rows planted

I try to keep my main planting bed covered in leaves through the winter. In spring, it’s fairly easy to rake the leaves aside and scrape furrows in the moist soil to hold pea seeds. This year, my wife made the furrows. I set and buried the peas. If the leaf cover has done its job, there are almost no weeds to remove, and I dig only where I’m planting.

This blog has traditionally been about how to grow and prepare food and it means to stay that way. I’ve taken detours of late because of family issues (my dad moved out of his house and I spent a lot of time cleaning up after him) and because of health issues (I’m recovering from a Whipple—surgery that removed a pancreatic tumor and re-routed my digestive tract).

Here’s a brief “how-to” to keep the blog on course:

It’s spring, plant!

With help from my wife, I’ve started three rows of peas in the garden. I plant a lot so we have peas to eat until July with plenty left over for the freezer. I once posted a video that shows the method I still use – Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook. I also wrote a post explaining how-to – Enough Peas to Preserve.

Peas handle frost well, and will even survive a freeze into the 20s. They aren’t as hardy in hot weather. In my experience, a variety called Wando handles early spring heat better than most. So, given we’re in a streak of hottest months on record, hedge your bets and try to plant Wando peas this year. They grow at least five feet tall, so make sure you rig trellises for them.

Starting seeds on the ping-pong table

I just started seeds for my summer vegetables. My setup this year is on our seldom-used ping-pong table: I used the kids’ cardboard bricks to support a four-foot shop light across the five-foot-wide table. The planters are the bottoms of plastic one-gallon milk jugs filled with a commercial seed-starting mix. I set 16 seeds in each planter, for a total of 112 seeds. Soon, I’ll add a second shop light and start a few other seeds; once the first planting emerges I’ll note what failed to germinate and try again with the same varieties.

Along with peas, this is a good time to plant lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots, and potatoes. All prefer to grow in cool weather and can handle frost—though young potato plants may die back in the cold, they’ll quickly make up for it on warmer days.

Start seeds indoors

We’re at the threshold for indoor seed-starting. That is, if you don’t start yours soon, you’ll lose the advantage you get from indoor starts. Ideally, start tomato, pepper, tomatillo, eggplant, and okra seeds indoors six-to-eight weeks before the average last frost in your area. Turns out, if you start eight weeks early—especially with tomatoes—your seedlings will probably need to be transplanted into larger pots before it’s time to set them in the garden. That’s fine if you have the space to manage it.

Around here, the average last frost is mid-April, so I just planted 72 tomato seeds, 8 tomatillo seeds (a new gardening experience for me), and 32 pepper seeds. It’s very easy to do; I’ve written several posts about it over the years:

Start Your Own Seedlings (this is how I start my seeds)
Small Kitchen Garden Seed-Starting Shelf
Start Seeds in Pellets for Your Small Kitchen Garden
Start Your Small Kitchen Garden from Commercial Flats
Really? Start Seeds Indoors for Your Small Kitchen Garden?
Start Seeds in Pots for Your Small Kitchen Garden

Now, Waterscapes

When I assembled photos for my landscapes photo challenge, my set of favorites from 2015 included way more than the requisite seven shots. Rather than choose seven from among 40, I added a Waterscapes photo challenge to my list—and was pleased to learn that “waterscapes” is a real word meaning what I wanted it to mean.

I’ve posted seven waterscapes here. Like the landscapes of my previous post, I captured these photos in central Pennsylvania and in central upstate New York—near Ithaca or on the way to Ithaca from Lewisburg.

Birdhouse at the lake cottage

This photo isn’t about art so much as it is about Mom. Mom kept a “life list” of birds she spotted through the kitchen window. Years after I left home, she and my dad bought a shack on a cliff above Cayuga lake and spent summers cleaning, painting, and making it into their vacation lake cottage. I enjoyed visiting the cottage, but I didn’t fall in love with it until 2015. I finished emptying and repairing my dad’s house, and tenants moved in. That left me with two options when I visited: sleep on my dad’s sofa in his tiny independent living unit, or stay at the lake cottage. Stoking a fire in the wood stove to hold off cold autumn nights called back years of semi-rustic living. Waking up at the cottage to sounds of rustling leaves and nautical activity was meditative.

It’s possible my mother never saw the birdhouse in this photo. However, seeing it hanging along the stairway down to the lake made it easy to imagine my mom pausing on those stairs to watch birds come and go. I hope to spend time at the cottage this year absorbing the same sensations that lured my parents there.

Grass seed heads

There are few places that make my dog Nutmeg happier than she is at the local dog park. Far from the park’s parking area, there’s a stream in which Nutmeg tests her Labrador breeding… and fails. She’ll chase sticks into the water and bring them back as long as she never gets in deep enough to swim. Last August, grass seed heads caught sun against the dark waters of Nutmeg’s favorite stream.

Mansfield Pennsylvania boat launch

Mansfield, Pennsylvania is halfway to Ithaca from the Cityslipper ranch. Mansfield boasts a nature preserve with hiking trails, a picnic area, and a boat launch, and I love to stop there to capture photos. Water at the boat launch is a weird shade of blue that makes me wonder about agricultural runoff, but were that not the case the waterway would still be surreal. In this photo, the white flowers lining the river are knotweed—an invasive that looks awesome in bloom. Depending on cloud cover and the time of day, different features pop, so I always discover something new when I stop in Mansfield.

From a bridge in Mifflinburg Pennsylvania

South and west of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania there are many waterways that flow to the Susquehanna River. I’ve photographed these streams, creeks, and rivers at so many places, I’m not always sure which is which. It’s compelling to me that I could drop a canoe in one of the streams and float in it 140 miles to the Chesapeake Bay and then into the Atlantic ocean.

Swamp north of Corning New York

On trips to Ithaca, I sometimes drive north to Corning, NY, and then up route 414 to Watkins Glen. The road follows a valley with farmland guarded by wooded hills that put on quite a display in autumn. Last October, I stopped to capture photos where wetlands cover much of the valley floor.

Waterfall in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

Perhaps stretching the definition of “waterscape,” this is one of dozens of waterfalls at a Pennsylvania nature preserve called Ricketts Glen. We hosted two Japanese students for nearly three weeks in August, and shared a hike with them along the Glen’s most popular trail.

Roots and a waterfall in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

I lingered below a waterfall at Ricketts Glen where the roots of a tree felt their way over rocks to find soil in the creek bed. If you want a photo session in Ricketts Glen, clear the day, go alone, and stay all day… though it’s fun to share the trip with a group.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Waterscapes Photo Challenge (and Spring Planting)

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Landscapes Photo Challenge

Abandoned building in the landscape

Some awesome landscapes feature buildings, and then there’s this one. I passed the scene dozens of times driving to and from my community garden plot in 2015, but I’d already grabbed photos in winter. An outbuilding from a rotted-away farm? A small, abandoned house? A former retail store? Abandoned buildings always spark my curiosity.

The seven-photos-in-seven-days photo challenges are daunting! Picking a photo a day and posting on Facebook might not be too bad, but I’d rather post photos on my blog… and creating a daily blog post has always eluded me. So, when I gave myself three seven-photos challenges, I knew I’d be packing each of the seven photos into its own blog post. The original challenges were:

  • Food photos
  • Garden photos
  • Nature photos

Among last year’s photos alone, I found far too many favorites to fit into these three categories. I ended up adding several more categories. I’m up to ten seven-photo challenges:

  • Food
  • Blossoms
  • Landscapes
  • Waterscapes (Landscapes that feature a water feature… yes, I made it up)
  • Gardens
  • Nature
  • Birds
  • Bugs
  • Critters
  • Farmscapes (Landscapes that exist only because of farms. Made this up, too.)

The Food and Blossoms photos are up. This post holds the Landscape photos.

Apparently, I tend to scout landscapes most often in autumn… at least that was the case in 2015. Though I drove to Minnesota last year, all of these scenes are from central Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

Evergreens in winter

On a hillside somewhere near Lewisburg, snow, evergreen trees, and sunlight caught my attention one evening in February.

Autumn valley view

Pretty much halfway between Lewisburg and Ithaca, the town of Mansfield features a wildlife, hiking, picnicking, and boat launch area with some gorgeous vistas. Depending on the available light, I pause there during trips to and from Ithaca and try to capture interesting photos.

Autumn meadow in New York Finger Lakes National Forest

Returning from Ithaca on a trip last October, I zigzagged on country roads between Cayuga and Seneca lakes and stumbled across Finger Lakes National Forest. There was an interminably long dirt road with occasional parking areas at trail heads and so many gorgeous sights along the road I didn’t even stop at a walking trail. I hope to return for an extended visit; had I stayed on the forest road, I’d eventually have intersected an actual highway that would have gotten me home.

Southern New York hillside in autumn

On a trip to Ithaca in November of 2015, I stopped on New York State forest lands and captured photos of several landscapes. Whoever planted this hillside had a terrific sense of the shapes, textures, and colors of trees.

Looking toward winter in Southern New York

Same trip to Ithaca in November of 2015, same New York State forest lands: The layers of textures, colors, and shadows in this view were sublime… and my camera managed to capture them.

Late peak fall colors in central Pennsylvania

Just past peak colors in October of 2015, I drove into an area of Pennsylvania that was new to me. Along a dirt road that turned out to be an Amish family’s driveway, I paralleled a very high, forested hill and stopped to capture many photos. The shading and texture resulting from trees in peak fall colors standing branch-to-branch next to fully-denuded trees created an ethereal, impressionistic effect. I captured enough photos of this hillside to wallpaper a large living room. This photo may actually be awesome enough to click to enlarge (which, by the way, works with all the photos in my blog posts).

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Landscapes Photo Challenge

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Bloom Day Photo Challenge

Flower bed at a community garden

Back in August and September, I started telling the story of my Community Garden experience: Small Kitchen Garden Goes Community and Tilling in the No-Till Garden. Many long-time renters at the garden plant ornamental borders around their vegetable plots, and I found this combination quite pleasing.

It’s the last Garden Bloggers Bloom Day of winter and there are flowers in my garden. However, the day is overcast and I’m still wincing my way through recovery fully six weeks after having a Whipple: surgery to remove a pancreatic tumor and re-route my digestive tract.

Shortly after surgery, I gave myself three of those “7 days, 7 photos” challenges and I haven’t delivered. I’ve been working on them; got one posted. But I’ve spent bits and drabs of time over many weeks selecting photos from 2015 and organizing them into categories. Now, rather than just three challenges, I’m working on seven.

Last night I got really close with seven landscape photos, but I didn’t finish, and today it’s Bloom Day. Coincidentally, one of my challenge categories is “blossoms.” So, from many hundreds of flower blossom photos I created in 2015, I’ve chosen seven to feature for my blossom photo challenge on Bloom Day. Captions may not identify the types of flowers, but they provide background on where I found them.

Kylee's garden

Not a remarkable photo, but it’s special to me because I captured it while visiting Kylee Baumle at her home in Ohio. I “met” Kylee away back when on Twitter, and it was a great privilege to meet her in person and tour her garden. Kylee blogs at Our Little Acre.

Giant Magnolia blossom

In June of 2015, Garden Writers Association sponsored a regional meeting at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia. It was an unseasonably hot day, but the arboretum was well worth the sweat. Among the many amazing trees, there was a Giant Magnolia in bloom, with several blossoms low on the tree (though inconveniently shaded). The blossom in this photo would easily cover a dinner plate.

Magnolia in bloom

Two doors north of the Cityslipper ranch stands a vacant house once owned by a WWII vet who shared stories with me about his combat experiences and about the character of the neighborhood—he had lived here many years before we moved in. There is a robust magnolia tree next to the driveway, and I’ve taken liberties over the years to capture photos of the gorgeous pink blossoms in early spring. I could fill a photo album with magnolia blossom photos, but this one from spring of 2015 is one of my all-time favorites.

Hydrangea blossoms

Here at the Cityslipper ranch, I’ve acquired several hydrangeas over the years and have had miserable luck with them. Each has grown vigorously in its first season, and then gotten chewed back to the soil line in early winter. This particular plant got eaten two or three years in a row before I finally put a fence around it and several other hydrangea and rose bushes. Starting on second year growth in 2015, the plant didn’t add much bulk, but it produced this single cluster of blossoms that hung on for at least three months. I loved the variety of delicate colors and captured, perhaps, 30 or more photos of it throughout the season.

Climbing bean blossoms

Also at the Cityslipper ranch, I make a concerted effort each year to capture unique photos of my food plants. This photo is of bean blossoms. I grew climbing beans in the garden annex extension where they received direct sunlight sporadically throughout each day. One day when most of the annex extension was in shadow, these blossoms caught a bit of sunshine and begged me to take some photos.

Water lily in bloom

I see a lot of photos of water lilies. No doubt these flowers are popular subjects because they’re gorgeous. I go a bit gaga when I have an opportunity to capture photos of them because they’re not common—it’s a great pleasure to visit water gardens that feature these delicate beauties. This summer, my wife and I enjoyed a day at the legendary Longwood Gardens. Among the many sights there is a large courtyard of pools hosting all kinds of water plants including both day-blooming and night-blooming water lilies. This is one of my favorite photos from that day.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Bloom Day Photo Challenge

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Food Photos 2 through 7

Apple and white chocolate pie

I love to make pies! This one was an experiment about a month before Thanksgiving. It’s an apple pie sweetened with a combination of white chocolate and quince jelly and it tasted fine.

More than 12 days ago, I took on a seven-photos-in-seven-days challenge, put up a post about it, and faded. Recovering from major surgery hasn’t been all that hard, but I have slept a lot more than I usually do. Unfortunately, whenever I try to focus on writing, I suddenly get drowsy. When I wake up an hour or three later, the muse has left me… or there’s some other thing to do.

It took me 12 days to review my photos from 2015. I selected way more than I can use in three “seven-photos” challenges… and I’m packing six of them into this blog post.

Some of these photos are favorites because they call back good times, others because they capture stuff I’ve published in the local newspaper but haven’t been able to share with my social networks.

Learning to make pie

Two Japanese students lived with us for nearly three weeks in 2015. The visit included an evening at a county fair, hiking on a gorgeous nature trail, a day trip into New York City, and many home-cooked meals. One evening I gave pie-making lessons and our Japanese daughters assembled a delicious peach and blueberry pie.

Homemade paneer

Indian cuisine is one of my favorites, and the nearest Indian restaurant is about an hour’s drive. To compensate, I’ve learned some basics and have settled on certain standard dishes—but I also experiment, trying to produce passable versions of a few challenging dishes. Paneer (a cheese that doesn’t melt) is a key ingredient in some of those dishes, and when I can find it in stores, it’s ridiculously expensive. So, I make my own. This block drained for several hours under the weight of a heavy pot of water. It’s ready to be cut up into cubes and gently fried in oil before being added to a spinach-based curried gravy.

Curried sweet potato soup

A friend who had recently become vegetarian was coming to dinner and I didn’t have a plan. Shopping inspired me to make yeast bread and curried sweet potato soup. I could have added more liquid to the soup, but it was rich and delicious and I featured it in an article I wrote for our local newspaper. Curried squash and curried sweet potato soups are among my favorite meals.

Garden-fresh pasta sauce

Apparently, in early September I intended to publish something about homemade tomato sauce—for pasta or pizza. I posed some ingredients and captured photos, but things didn’t progress beyond that. The upshot: this representation of garden-fresh ingredients I’d use to flavor a skillet of pasta.

U-Pik Sour Cherries

This stretches the “food” theme a tad, but it captures one of my favorite food experiences of all: the annual sour cherry harvest. Sour cherries have a dramatically more intense cherry flavor than that of sweet cherries and they’re crucial for making jams, jellies, preserves, and baked goods that involve cherries. Most people aren’t at all familiar with sour cherries. There’s a grower near us that opens its orchard for “you-pick” customers a few days before harvesting what’s left for commercial buyers and I love going with my wife (picking here in her sour cherry camouflage) to strip handfuls of fruit from the heavily-laden branches.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Food Photos 2 Through 7

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Food Photo 1: Pineapple and Quince Jellies

I keep seeing members of my social network posting photos in response to one or another challenge, but no one has invited me to play. Oh, well. The contest looks like a great excuse to highlight some of my favorite moments of the year – or of the last several years.

I’m recovering from super-de-duper major surgery, so I’ll be doing a lot of sitting over the next two or three weeks. Painkillers have me tilting often on the edge of consciousness. I imagine browsing photos and posting favorites won’t be too challenging a task.

The categories:

Food photos
Garden photos
Nature photos

I’ll try to come up with 7 of each, but I won’t promise to deliver daily. Oh, and no nominations. If you want to participate in a seven photos in seven days challenge, please do. If you’d rather not, that’s a-OK.

Homemade jellies catch late morning sunlight on the dining room table

Jellies made from well-strained fruit juice glow when illuminated from behind by late-morning sunshine.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Food Photo 1: Pineapple and Quince Jellies

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Cold and Snow in my Small Kitchen Garden

No 2016 Seed Giveaway

Apologies to anyone looking for my annual seed giveaway. I’ll be out of commission during the critical weeks where I’d organize mailing lists, package and label seeds, and put together a mailing.

We experienced a very tame autumn and early winter. There was no measurable snow, and there were few days of winter cold. I was still working on season-end garden projects when, finally, cold and snow set in.

My last project was to put a rodent fence around my black raspberry patch. Critters have grazed there casually for months, and I wanted to stop the damage while more than half the canes were intact. I was working on the fence two weeks ago when I became ill and spent a week in the hospital.

Black raspberry brambles in snow

Building a fence around the black raspberries wasn’t a precision operation. I’ve pounded in 10 “posts” to hold 24” chicken wire. I need to add, perhaps, four more posts. Except for a grape vine at the front right corner of the frame, all the canes among the stakes are black raspberry brambles. Many at the far end have been gnawed to short sticks.

I received an unpleasant diagnosis: I have pancreatic cancer. Medical science says my tumor is removable, but it’s not going to be a fun experience. I have six more days before surgery, and I’m not excited about gardening in snow – just after I returned from the hospital, the epic storm that buried Washington D.C. buried my yard in about seven inches of powder. Unless the next few days are unseasonably warm, I won’t finish the fence and my first black raspberry crop will remain in jeopardy.

In any case, after a week of being a hospital patient, it was nice to get out in the snow and photograph some of last year’s projects. I’m looking forward to getting things going as I recover from surgery and begin chemotherapy. The blog may be even more quiet than usual for the coming month, but I’ll post again as soon as I’m able.

Caged blueberry bush

My blueberry bushes have had hard lives. Just when they started looking bushy, they spent too long out of cages and got pruned back to sticks by rodents. This season, several of them lived inside fairly generous cages and recovered a lot of ground. I don’t expect a big crop in 2016, but I’ve some hope they’ll bulk up this year and start feeding us well in 2017.

Caged quince trees

Last year I started quince trees from seeds. I nursed seedlings in planters until autumn, and then planted them in the yard. The two in this photo are intact because of the cages around them. Rodents chomped the third seedling down to the soil line; it’s not likely to grow back. I had devised a protective barrier using plastic nursery pots, but wind blew it away… I’m starting more quince seeds this winter with hope of replacing the eaten seedling in my yard.

Cardoon

I started cardoon indoors early last year. I didn’t treat it well, so the plants were tiny when I set them in the garden. Eventually, they flourished, but they never produced harvestable stalks and I assumed they’d die with the first frost of autumn. Several frosts and cold nights did little damage, so I decided to test the plants’ resolve…

Low hoop tunnel over cardoon

I haphazardly erected a low hoop tunnel over two cardoon plants. Just a few weeks later, temperatures plummeted; we had some nights in the teens. Given the plants’ hardiness until then, I hope the low hoop tunnel holds things closer to 30 degrees and my plants manage to shiver through alive.

Fig tree shelter

In fall of 2014, I erected a simple tent over two fig trees I’d planted on the south side of the house. Unfortunately, I didn’t erect the tent until we had had a very early, crazy deep freeze. The fig trees died back to the soil. This past fall, I got the tent up before any severe cold… I managed to stretch it over a rosemary plant as well. With luck, the tent will provide enough protection that my trees won’t have to grow back from the soil line this year.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Cold and Snow in my Small Kitchen Garden

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Winter Not Here, Too

Typical mid-December snow in central PA

For contrast, behold December 14, 2014. This wasn’t the first snow of that season. In fact, we’d had an otherworldly freeze in November that foreshadowed the miserable sustained cold to come.

Nearly every gardener in the United States in winter of 2014-2015 marveled at the crazy weather. Some areas—the Pacific Northwest, for example—experienced crazy, spring-and summer-like weather in what are typically the coldest months. In the Northeast, we had an unbroken string of days so cold that perennials thought they’d moved two hardiness zones north.

Here we go again. But this winter’s reports are different. Gardeners everywhere have been reporting on annuals going strong well into December—annuals that would typically wither and die in October and November. Gardeners have also reported perennials in bloom either way later than they should be, or way earlier.

It’s my turn!

Hardy perennials in a mild winter

While I garden to grow food, I’m paying more and more attention to ornamental plants. In the past few years, my wife and I have added quite a few. My flowering perennials have been just as confused by the weather as so many other perennials across the country. Photos tell the story.

Early winter viola bud

This year, eight days farther into December than last year’s snowy photo above, the newest variety of viola I set in the garden in autumn was still producing buds.

Early winter viola blossom

On December 27, my three-year-old viola patch sported blossoms. It didn’t give up until biting cold arrived in early January.

Jolt Pink Dianthus blooming in winter

The All-America Selections winner I acquired at a trade show in 2015 is a dianthus (Jolt Pink F1) that didn’t come with a cold hardiness rating. It looked good in the garden all summer and fall, and had a few blossoms on December 27. Even after low temperatures in the teens, it is holding onto blossoms. I suspect it will continue producing in 2016.

Early-blooming hellebore

Not a late blossom, but rather a very early blossom. I started with hellebores three seasons ago and added two new plants last summer. In my experience, hellebores (you might know them as Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose) bloom about when crocuses bloom—perhaps lagging by a few days. However, I’ve seen hellebore blossoms poking out from snow banks with no crocuses in site. I’d guess different varieties of hellebores blossom at different times. Seeing mine in bloom on December 27 was a surprise. One of my older plants has already put out a dozen or so pink buds, but it did that last winter as well and none opened until March.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Winter Not Here, Too

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