I keep hearing about chow chow and how desperately I need to try making some. Since learning of this concoction of veggies (and sometimes fruit) that sends many home canners into orbit, I’ve noticed several articles and blog posts about the stuff. I took particular notice recently when I saw jars of chow chow judged at a local county fair. It’s time to take chow chow seriously!
I can’t tell you what produce should be in chow chow. Every jar at the county fair had its own mix of vegetable chunks. Honestly, none made me want to pop a lid and dig in, so I’m taking it on faith when enthusiasts tell me chow chow is to die for. Maybe I’ll chop some together from what’s left in my garden. I found a recipe on another blog I might try: (Southern Chow Chow from the Garden). Or… do you have a chow chow recipe you’d like to recommend? If so, please leave a link in a comment below.
After careful research, I’m somewhat confident this photograph is of an European Garden Spider… though in Europe they probably call it a “Garden Spider.” I was very pleased this morning to see it had captured a brown marmorated stink bug. I hope it catches many more before cold weather chases all the bugs into hiding.
For two days I admired a symmetrical web and the large spider tending it prominently near the top of my climbing bean trellis. Today, my admiration grew: that spider was wrapping a stink bug in silk! I’m confident the spider’s victim was a brown marmorated stink bug because those are the only stink bugs I notice bumbling around my garden, yard, and living room.
After a short photo session, I was out and about in downtown Lewisburg. I walked past people loading things into a car and heard one of them exclaim, “I hate spiders.” I hoped she was using verbal shorthand to mean, “I hate how spiders look” or “I hate getting into spider webs” or “I hate being in states where there are venomous spiders.” That all makes some sense to me.
Unfortunately, I hear so many people flat out declare that when they see a spider, they kill it; I guess they actually hate spiders for spiders’ sakes. That’s a shame.
I don’t want to get into spider webs, and I’m uncomfortable having spiders walking on me or hanging in my face. I most definitely prefer living in a state where venomous spiders have never been found in the wild. Still, I manage to appreciate the work spiders do: helping to keep the overall insect population under control.
And when a spider takes down a brown marmorated stink bug? Doesn’t make me want to kiss it… or even pat it on the head. But that spider is my hero.
Assateague Island, 2005 from left-to-right: My wife, my daughter (youngest child and now a freshman in college), my second son (a sophomore/junior in college), my first son (a med school bound college senior). Perhaps my wife and I will go camping by ourselves once or twice in coming years.
That’s my family in 2005 during a camping trip on Assateague Island. Assateague provides gorgeous beaches, a fine nature center, abundant wildlife, and activities led by park rangers and naturalists. One great draw is the population of wild horses; animals descended from those of early explorers—perhaps stranded after European ships foundered in a storm.
Nearly every vacation I remember from my childhood involved camping. My parents were outdoor enthusiasts, so camping suited them—and it helped that the cost of a rented campsite was way lower than the cost of hotel rooms for a family of six. I inflicted this vacation equals camping mentality on my wife and kids, and no one seemed to mind. (Except during rain storms. Camping in the rain gets old fast especially when the rain fails to respect boundaries and moves into the tent with you.)
I loved this particular trip to Assateague. On our first visit years earlier, a horse had stolen our lunch and caused some anxiety. We were smarter about “wild” horses the second time around.
It seems unlikely we’ll have the kids together for further camping trips. Makes me sad. Maybe there’ll be grandchildren some day and my wife and I can weasel in on some of their camping vacations.
I brought some kind of violet home after leading an all-day social media marketing workshop for Garden Writers Association. It started as a small pot and has expanded in two years to cover nearly three square feet. It puts up pretty little flowers in early spring and continue to do so until cold shuts it down.
It’s still summer, but it has felt like autumn since late spring! We’ve had, perhaps, 10 unpleasantly hot days this season with many, many cool nights. I’ve joked occasionally that my tomato plants were shivering and I wish I’d started fall crops in July—they wouldn’t have minded the few hot days August brought.
It feels as though frost is only days away but my garden doesn’t seem to care. Nearly everything I grow is flowering as if to produce another surge of produce. I captured much of it for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, and I included ornamental plants that only this year I started to think of as “my garden.” My wife and I have started to collaborate; I bring a lot of samples home from conferences and get all kinds of ideas from visiting show gardens. I also shop garden center clearance racks.
The only way I’ll ever eliminate my lawn is if we transform much of it to ornamental plantings. Photos provide some idea of what’s abloom in central Pennsylvania in mid September. Please enjoy our garden.
I picked up more than 20 rose bushes three years ago at New England Grows, a conference in Boston. The roses were fresh from a greenhouse and I nursed them from February until April in my basement. Sadly, about half died, but the rest provide winter snacks for roving rodents or deer. Now, the roses are in bloom and we’ll need to fence them in to prevent the type of chomping that has happened two years in a row.
Gladiolus bulbs were cheap this spring and I buried a dozen on the bank of my supposed rain garden. For a few weeks this summer they looked great, adding color where we’ve never had any. Just a few days ago, a second wave of blossoms appeared. I don’t know whether it’s the same plants sending up more flower stalks, or late-flowering bulbs that were mixed in with early-flowering bulbs.
I planted sweet corn in my kitchen garden, and cosmos with the corn because someone told me cosmos will prevent ear worms in the corn. The corn patch is more of a cosmos forest, but only one plant is in bloom so far. The corn has fared poorly; heavy rain killed my first planting, and the second struggled in moist soil. I need to add about 2 yards of soil to my garden to protect against wet summers.
Amazingly, my marjoram plants still have blossoms! The plants started blooming in July and have satisfied pollinators for more than two months. I first wrote about this marvel in a post titled Grow Marjoram! Seriously, Grow It!
The lavender plant that died last winter is still in bloom. Died? Well… it didn’t come out of dormancy until about the first day of summer. All spring I thought it was dead but I hadn’t yet pulled it because there were plenty of more pressing gardening tasks (and I wasn’t home much this spring). I noticed new growth while I was weeding near the plant and was pleased to see the lavender come back fully during August.
Still in the herb garden, I found a few basil blossoms holding on on a plant given to me by a farmer who let me shovel well-aged horse manure out of her pasture into my minivan. This variety of basil seeds aggressively and is likely to produce many offspring next season. Sadly, it isn’t as bright and basily as varieties I grew from seed… but it looks great in the garden.
My latest planting of beans included at least three varieties. All are bush beans and all are in full bloom. Climbing beans also are in bloom, but for their second wave of production, so blossoms are sparse. Still, unless frost hits early, I’ll add at least one more gallon of beans to the three gallons I’ve already frozen.
Winter squash is going nuts in my garden. There must be a dozen fruits in my neck pumpkin patch, and three hybrid neck pumpkin & something monster squashes invading one of our ornamental beds. They’re all still flowering.
I planted cucumbers among the struggling corn plants in late July. There are many blossoms, but I’ve little hope of harvesting meaningful cucumbers before frost kills the vines. You can see a tiny cucumber baby behind the blossom. I hope it has time to grow up.
The purple jalapeno seeds I collected last year turned out to have been cross-pollinated—I think with sweet Italian peppers. They produce white flowers with purple borders and the peppers emerge purple… but they’re giant compared to a typical jalapeno. I suspect this blossom will not produce fruit before frost kills it.
I haven’t counted, but there’s no question I’ve created even more than umpteen tomato blossom photos. This isn’t my best, but it shows the tenacity of a tomato plant. Blight has destroyed most of my tomato plants but still tomatoes hang on and ripen… and the plants continue to produce blossoms.
I saw these trellised plants from the road beyond the barn repeatedly before I finally stopped and talked with the farmer at the Rhizome Republic. These are hops bines in upstate New York in early June. Apparently, a hops plant can grow six inches or more in a single day.
Hops taught me that climbing beans don’t grow on vines.
While working on my dad’s house in Ithaca, I repeatedly drove past The Rhizome Republic, a farm that specializes in growing hops. Fascinated by the layout, I stopped one day when I saw a woman in the yard. She was friendly, and encouraged me to return when her son would be home; the son manages the hops-farming operation.
Overview of hops farming
The Rhizome Republic is the brainchild of Josh Grazul. He’s building production gradually, financing expansion with profits from what he has already established. Grazul explained that there are dozens of breweries in New York State, but most buy hops from growers in the Pacific Northwest. Why not grow hops locally to supply the local brewers?
In early spring, a hops field seems no more than row upon row of sturdy wooden poles sticking out of the ground. The 18 foot poles support strong wire from which the hops farmer will hang heavy twine for the hops plants to climb.
Hops plants emerge from rhizomes that winter over happily in hardiness zones 3 through 8. To keep the plants from outgrowing a farm, the farmer cultivates between the rows, exposing rhizomes that formed in the preceding season. These the farmer can harvest and plant in new rows to expand the farm… or sell to other growers starting their own hops production.
In any case, hops plants reach for the sky and as they grow too heavy to support their own weight, the farmer hangs stings from the overhead wires and clips the plants to the stings. That’s all the encouragement the plants need. As they continue to grow, they wrap tightly around the strings and climb to the tops. Typically they top out before the season ends and they droop earthward, cascading back on themselves.
The dried flower of a hops bine looks a bit like a small pine cone. Peel apart the scales, and you expose tiny beads of lupulin, a sticky nectar-like substance that holds the flavor so important to beer brewers.
Hops flowers look somewhat like little pine cones. A farmer may harvest entire plants when they’re covered in cones that have loosened up and started to dry out. In a small operation, the farmer hand picks the cones from the vines, but a larger operation may employ a machine to strip cones from the plants.
Peas grow on vines, not bines. Here, tendrils grip a trellis, supporting stems that are relatively brittle and prone to rotting if they lie on the ground.
After drying, a single hops cone is feathery-light and, perhaps, a bit sticky. The stickiness comes from lupulin which is a nectar-like compound that holds the distinctive hoppy flavor. A brewer can use the hops cones to make beer, but it’s more common for the hops farmer to pelletize the cones; pellets are easier to package and ship, and brewers are more accustomed to seeing hops in that form.
Wasn’t this story about bines?
Hops grow on bines. Bines, I was told at the farm, are just like vines except that they twist clockwise around whatever they’re climbing while vines twist counterclockwise. Being unfamiliar with the word, I looked it up and discovered that being a bine has nothing to do with the direction you twist as you grow. It’s better than that!
Many types of cucurbits are vines, not bines. This winter squash vine has a death grip on an azalea branch. The tendrils weren’t strong enough to support the squash as it developed. Once the fruit was the size of a basketball, the tendrils broke and the squash dragged the vine to the ground.
A VINE is a plant that uses tendrils to hold onto stuff and support its weight. A BINE is a plant that wraps its stem around stuff to support its weight. I had no idea there were words to distinguish these climbing strategies!
Some of the photos in this post provide glimpses of the Rhizome Republic hops farm. I hope you find them as remarkable as I did. Other photos in this post illustrate the difference between vines and bines. As a vegetable gardener, you probably grow both. I expect to add a few hops plants to my small kitchen garden and tip the balance further in the bine category.
Climbing beans are bines, not vines. These have run about twelve feet up the string trellises and are seeking further support. Bean plants produce no tendrils (if they did they’d be vines); they hold on by wrapping tightly around more-or-less vertical supports.
When a vine meets a bine… I included this photo not because it illustrates anything useful, but because it shows a happy accident in my garden: a cucumber vine grabbed a young wax bean on a climbing bean plant—a bine. As the bean matured, the cucumber tendril held tight. This started well over a month ago and the plants are still interacting.
In 1953, my grandfather was outstanding in his field when someone took this photograph. The scrubby tree in front of the corn on the right side of the photo, I think, is a quince tree that looked pretty much the same 20 years later.
I have a handful of “honest” memories of my grandfather. By honest, I mean they’re memories that have been there since they formed—no supporting photographs, no corroborating stories from other family members.
One memory is of Grandpa retrieving a package of Limburger cheese from the pantry, opening it, and eating some with great enthusiasm. I got to sniff the cheese and probably could have had a taste. However, at that age I found the stench of Limburger most unpleasant (I confess I haven’t encountered Limburger since then).
A second memory is of sitting next to my mom at my grandparents’ kitchen table (it was a huge table where we had many family meals), and my mom encouraging me to watch Grandpa as he dug a generous spoonful of peanut butter from a jar and ate the peanut butter from the spoon.
I never saw my grandparents’ house like this. Never mind the awesome cars, by the time I was forming memories, the house was gray; covered in new siding. Not too long after that, my grandfather removed the porch and replaced it with a carport. The leafy blobs in the foreground are heads of cabbage growing in one of the many planting beds my grandparents had established in the yard.
I also remember Grandpa collecting brush in the woods, stacking it on an existing pile of brush, and explaining that critters would use the brush pile for shelter… and that “In a year or two, you won’t even know it was here.”
Whatever else I “remember” comes from seeing family photos repeatedly over the years. My grandfather died when I was about seven years old, but I remember his cats, his love of the woods, his non-stop maintenance of the house and yard, his dedication to my grandmother, and even his patented invention made obsolete by the subsequent invention of the ball point pen (Grandpa had designed a blotter that manufacturers could build into the handles of fountain pens).
My grandparents’ yard featured this dramatic raised bed. It had been the foundation of an outbuilding demolished years earlier (see below). I don’t remember Grandpa so much in this garden as I do having my brothers throw rotten tomatoes at me. I was the youngest, and after a tomato fight, I was the tomatoiest.
My grandfather was the crop surveyor for the state of Pennsylvania, he had a huge farm in Meadville that he subdivided and sold off over the years, and in retirement he contributed to food-production for his family by managing fruit trees, helping with the vegetable garden, and even tapping maple trees to make syrup.
Grandpa was a do-it-yourselfer because in his day practically everyone was. My dad is also a do-it-yourselfer… which may explain my fascination for growing and cooking stuff, and for preserving food to bridge one growing season to the next.
By 1953, my grandfather apparently had stopped raising dairy cows. The milk house was in its last days: my grandfather posed for this photo with a workman who was demolishing the structure. The wheelbarrow behind my grandfather is the best wheelbarrow I’ve ever used; it has a metal wheel instead of a rubber tire, and it rolls easily. My dad must have acquired it after my grandfather died. We used it at the weekend farm of my childhood where we raised horses and managed a large kitchen garden (over the years I used it to move at least 4 tons of manure from the barn to the garden). The wheelbarrow is one of the last things I brought to Lewisburg when I finished emptying my dad’s house. I’m pretty sure one of the newfangled, rubber-tired wheelbarrows we already owned is going to become a planter.
It’s hard to decide where a tour of Brenda Haas’s ranch should begin! In a gorgeous border beside her house, a volunteer pumpkin plant capriciously cavorts among the ornamentals. One of the surest ways to my heart: grow food in your show garden.
Remember Cultivate ’14? I wrote about it here: Horticulture Conference for Industry Geeks. I saw and learned so many cool things at that conference, but the trip gave me an opportunity to do something even more awesome: I spent the day after Cultivate ’14 visiting with Brenda Haas in northern Ohio.
Who is Brenda Haas?
To me, first and foremost, Brenda is a friend from my early days on social media. I got to know her as @BG_Garden on Twitter, and later as Bren… pretty much also on Twitter. I hope you also already know Brenda but if you don’t, let me encourage you to change that.
Bren is the curator of #gardenchat.
What is #gardenchat?
If I understand correctly, #gardenchat started on Superbowl Sunday with a group of gardening enthusiasts on Twitter. They had casually organized to tweet with each other while planting seeds instead of watching football.
Not far from the pumpkin path, a bird bath holds promise of avian visitors in a shady garden spot. The view is across a lawn toward the road concealed by a hedgerow.
Participants enjoyed this first gardening-specific twitter chat and several turned #gardenchat into a weekly event. They tweeted about #gardenchat to their Twitter friends, and over the course of several months participation increased.
To be honest, I kept hearing about #gardenchat, but took about 6 months finally to tune in. The chat hooked me instantly.
During the #gardenchat hour, there may be twenty, thirty, or more conversations happening all at once, with one main conversation tying them together. New participants often comment about how impossible it is to follow what’s going on. Fortunately, Bren posts recaps. There is a supertanker load of gardening wisdom (and a lot of other interesting banter) in the #gardenchat archives.
The box titled, How to #gardenchat will help you participate. This is one of the most important destinations for gardeners online; several times over the years, the #gardenchat has ranked among the most active topics on Twitter. Please check it out a few times before you make up your mind about it; you’ll never meet so many like-minded gardening enthusiasts so easily.
One more time: Who is Bren?
So, Bren organizes #gardenchat and has expanded the #gardenchat experience onto many social media platforms. You can find #gardenchat on Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr. As well, Bren manages some #gardenchat activity on her personal website, and she manages a second website specifically dedicated to the #gardenchat community.
Bren was a garden photographer until all this social media stuff came around. Now she’s a wizard with social media… and she’s also a garden photographer. I learned when I visited her that she’s a talented gardener, and that she has boundless drive and energy. I already knew that she’s a warm, generous person—we’ve met several times over the years.
Bren’s gardens displayed layers of colors and textures that encouraged me to linger. Now and again, I spotted plants I recognized, but mostly I just enjoyed the scenery.
I love that Bren opened her home to me and that I got to meet her family. I love that she took time to give me a thorough tour of her ranch. I love that we started yapping when I arrived and paused only when sleep became inevitable… and continued the next morning pretty much until I had to head home. We talked about gardening & social media, and maybe even a bit about family.
For me it was the perfect punctuation to a terrific gardening-focused week in Ohio. Photos provide some insight into Bren’s gardening style. I have more to share; in the next month or so, I’ll post again about visiting in Brenda Haas’s garden.
Across the pond at Bren’s, you might glimpse horses through the fence. A gorgeous willow tree adds drama.
If there are water lilies, this photographer must capture at least one in a photo. Bren reported the unusually cold winter killed back her water lilies, but it’s clear they’re recovering.
After stopping to photograph a nicely-planted boulevard, I got an invite to the back yard where a small farm was well on its way to harvest. The bushy clump in front of the gas grill (front-left) is the out-of-control marjoram from which I received a rooted stem.
On a trip to Ithaca last spring, I happened through a neighborhood in which people tended their boulevards as gardens rather than as barren rectangles of useless grass. I parked and walked so I could take pictures and was capturing a particularly engaging scene when its gardener walked out from behind the house.
We became friends and she invited me to see what was growing in the back yard. There was a small farm back there. As we chatted, we discovered we had a mutual acquaintance. It’s an unlikely story, so here goes:
Crazy, unlikely back story
My dad was a college professor. One of his students in the 1960s had two boys who I would visit and play with—they were toddlers and I was, perhaps five or six years old.
I transferred my marjoram (a rooted stem from someone else’s garden) from a planter to a containment ring in my herb garden last year in late summer or early fall. The plant had developed a healthy root ball during its 4+ months on my screened porch. Here, about 10 months later (and after a very harsh winter), the plant is enormous. It hasn’t filled the containment area, but I suspect it will next season.
After I entered college, we had little contact with my dad’s former student and her family. I moved to Boston and began a corporate career where I met the woman who married me. We reproduced and moved to central Pennsylvania where we reproduced a bit more.
When my kids were about old enough to be babysitters, we got word that my dad’s student’s son (the toddler I’d played with some 40 years earlier) had moved to Williamsport—about 20 miles north of us. He was married with children and his family eventually moved to Lewisburg where my kids provided them with baby sitting services.
My childhood playmate’s wife is a musician who had performed in several academic settings, and we were fortunate to attend a private concert that she put on for friends as a rehearsal for an upcoming public concert. Alas, eventually, my childhood playmate and his family moved toward the Midwest (his eldest daughter is now driving).
My marjoram sprawls in part because huge clusters of flowers weight the ends of very long stalks. Blossoms started to open about July 15, and the display has been brilliant for three weeks with no end in sight.
June, 2013 in Ithaca
I was enjoying the small farm in the back and chatting with this pleasant couple and I learned that the husband is a musician who has performed at Bucknell University (the college in Lewisburg where I live). He had been offered the gig by the musician wife of my childhood playmate son of my dad’s graduate student! Freaky.
We became friends and realized we’re practically related! (It gets better: The musician husband is from Uganda. Our family had come to know a Bucknell student from Uganda who had started the awesome charity Bicycles Against Poverty. Turned out our student friend had attended the concert performed by the Ugandan musician husband booked by the wife of my childhood playmate son of my dad’s graduate student… and they—the two Ugandans in the story—had met each other!)
But that’s not the point.
What marjoram has to do with it
We got to be such good friends (happens all the time among gardeners) that my new acquaintances decided I might like to take some marjoram home with me. The marjoram patch was out of control, they said, and pulled a stalk out by its roots.
If marjoram’s beautiful purple flowers aren’t enough eye candy, my plants draw a lot of butterflies. It’s encouraging to see so many flitting around while I’m working the in garden.
I thanked them for the gift and nursed it for a few days until I got it back to Lewisburg. There, it languished in a small planter on the porch until October or November. Finally, I set a containment ring in the ground in my herb garden and planted the marjoram stalk in it. That marjoram is a superstar!
Photos make the case: you should have marjoram in your garden. In fact, grow it among your ornamentals; plant a meadow with the stuff. It’s amazing! Best of all, it grows like a weed.
Find a friend who grows marjoram and ask if they’ll pull a stem for you. Or, buy a marjoram nursery pot at your local garden center. You won’t need a large pot; in less than a year, a single sprig will grow into a large clump. You can grow that!
Nothing in my kitchen garden draws more honeybees than does the marjoram. This is encouraging; there must be at least one honeybee hive surviving within a few miles. The honeybees have a lot of company. The marjoram blossoms draw several other types of bees as well as pollinating flies and wasps.
Follow this link for more You Can Grow That posts.
Until the end of June, everywhere I looked on my pear tree there were pears… and most were in excellent shape. Things changed in July when a squirrel decided to take charge.
What a year for pears! My tree exploded with blossoms after the crazy cold winter and it seems every one of the blossoms produced fruit. I’ve never seen so many pears on the tree in any season.
I’ve tried not to get excited; you never know how a season will turn. Any honest gardener should be willing to acknowledge things go wrong; if you haven’t had a crop fail, you’re still a beginner.
My pear crop is failing
I suppose I’m being unfair to the pear tree to say my pear crop is failing. I’m failing my pear crop. Apparently, the pears are so good that a squirrel has taken charge of them.
We’ve watched that rascally squirrel climb the tree, chew through the stem holding a pear on the tree, drop the pear, run down from the tree, and carry off the pear. I’ve found pears half-buried in mulch in my garden, and I’ve stepped on them in the lawn. The idiot squirrel is hiding them as if to consume them in winter.
I’m so busy catching up on other gardening chores that I haven’t taken time to suss out a squirrel remediation system. Even if I find the time, I’m not sure I have the engineering skills.
So, my wife and I were eating dinner the other day, and I noticed the squirrel in the pear tree. As we watched, I wondered out loud how long squirrels live and whether they teach their offspring skills they’ve developed. (I wrote about a pear-eating squirrel in 2008; could this be the same critter six years later?)
I’ve stepped on pears that were cleverly half-buried in the lawn, and I’ve uncovered pears tucked under the mulch in my garden. Of course, after a few weeks on the soil, many of the pears are mushy, brown smears. The squirrel must have “hidden” this one within the past few days.
When the squirrel dropped a pear from the tree, my wife stood up (we can’t see the ground under the tree when we’re seated on the porch) and discovered a most disturbing truth: there was a woodchuck under the pear tree and it had acquired the pear! The squirrel and the woodchuck are in cahoots!
Will any pears make it to maturity? Will I harvest enough to make jelly? Will we have even one pear by the time the squirrel and woodchuck are done?
Do you have any varmint stories you’d like to share? Please leave them in comments, or link to them. Thank you for visiting.
I thought the squirrel operated on its own as this photo reveals. My tree has noticeably fewer pears on it. In fact, a distressingly small number remain. I’ll spend time this winter pondering countermeasures to protect next year’s crop.
This here’s the varmint what steals pears from the squirrel varmint. Clearly the woodchuck is the mastermind and the squirrel is a henchman. Seems that if the squirrel actually ate all the pears it steals, it would quickly grow big enough to be indistinguishable from a woodchuck.