One of my cousins eloped. Months later, he threw a party. In Minnesota. (I live in central Pennsylvania.) I went. I drove. It was a very pleasant escape.
A benefit of making a long road trip alone: None of your passengers complains when you make side trips, stop to take pictures, drive too late into the evening (or next morning), or fail to find cushy lodging for the night.
I stopped often, but not often enough. Captured photos along the way, but not enough. Moved into a cousin’s house in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota and stayed for two nights. Loved seeing him; we was a great host. Loved his dogs: two yellow labs—one old and slow, one the same age as my Nutmeg.
The Blooming Prairie branch of our family is my Mother’s sister’s clan. We don’t cross paths often; a thousand miles is quite a barrier for busy families. In fact, I hadn’t seen anyone from the Blooming Prairie gang since the year after my mom died; there was a family reunion out there, and we packed our kids and the camping gear into the minivan and drove west.
On that trip, we caught up just a tad (toting a toddler took attention), we attended a July 4th parade that was an hour longer than the longest July 4th parade ON EARTH, and we went fishing at The 40.
This post is about The 40
My uncle invested in land. I learned on my recent trip that he bought farmland and leased it to farmers. He also bought a 40 acre parcel for recreation: The 40. I don’t know the history of The 40’s development. Apparently, the pond is bigger now than it was years ago. In several visits—including the one with my family 20+ years ago—I’d never gone farther than the shore of the pond which is at the bottom of a hill near the entrance drive.
This trip, my cousin showed me The 40. We walked trails from one corner to the other, and he pointed out areas planted in walnut trees, in corn and turnips, in prairie grasses, and in garden flowers.
The 40 is gorgeous. I took photos. I hope you enjoy them.
We walked around the pond and from a wooded hillside caught this view of some very mushy-looking landscape.
If I followed my cousin’s explanation, a big chunk of this duckweed-covered pond is on The 40, and some is on neighboring land. It looked like a great place to put in a canoe and paddle around.
My cousin planted patches of corn in a corner of The 40. When it was spent, he planted turnips for deer to munch. I enjoyed the visual textures.
While my uncle planted a flower garden that included a whole bunch of equinacea, my cousin has been acquiring native prairie grasses and planting them on The 40. He believes he has varieties that are native to Minnesota; a nice touch considering that state-run reclamation projects often work with prairie grasses from other states.
The sumac berry clusters on The 40 tended to hang down and my cousin called them poison sumac. I’m certain these were staghorn sumac—you can harvest the berries, cook them in water, add sugar, and drink the resultant pink liquid as a hot or cold drink. It seemed odd they were too lazy to hold their berry clusters upright, but perhaps that’s a regional variant. I wouldn’t recognize poison sumac if I saw it, but Googling it convinced me that the sumac on The 40 is edible, not poisonous.
At one of my stops during the trip (not at The 40), I found a turtle pond (as opposed to a duck pond). The logs were lined with turtles, but most slipped into the water while I was getting my camera into position.
If you’re a farm stand, produce market, or garden center in the northeast, you sell chrysanthemums in autumn… which begins, apparently, during the last month of summer.
On my many forays to Ithaca over the past three years, I noticed and grew fond of a farm market just northeast of the city. The Bigsby Market is on route 13 and 366 just beyond where the two converge on the way to Dryden.
When I’m in Ithaca, I’m not about to invest in large amounts of produce, but I still stop to enjoy the displays and I try to buy something I can use. I’ve chatted with various employees there, and learned that some of the produce they sell comes from central Pennsylvania. In fact, they often have produce purchased from the Buffalo Valley Produce Auction which is about eight miles from my house.
I was in Ithaca two weeks ago, and I stopped at Bigsby Market late in the day. The market was decked out for autumn, and the late-day/late-summer sunlight provided the kind of illumination that excites all photographers.
I bought one delicious, perfectly ripe Bartlett pear, and I captured a whole bunch of photos from which I chose a handful of favorites to include in this post. It seriously looked like autumn at Ithaca’s Bigsby Market. Please have a look.
Employees at the Bigsby Market stack pumpkins and winter squashes to make small towers. Some of the squashes avoid the fate and end up in heaps or bins.
Sometimes things just fall into line. The Bigsby Market had an astonishing amount of produce; this is a modest sampling.
Sweet peppers at The Bigsby Market shown in the evening sunlight. It won’t be long before local growers no longer have fresh produce to offer. At least for a little while, we can enjoy the colors and textures of autumn’s harvest.
I assembled a hanging planter this spring and included in it ageratum and begonia. It was cheaper to buy a six-pack of small plants than to buy a single pot holding a large plant. I bought the six-packs and extras ended up in our front planting bed. Ageratum, I think, looks best up close.
It was a beautiful day and I spent quite a bit of it in the garden taking photos. To participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, I selected a mere fraction of those photos to post here. These blooms are from all over the Cityslipper ranch—both the vegetable beds and the various (and increasing) ornamental beds.
The vegetable garden is still going strong, but with diminishing sunlight and cool nights, things must certainly be slowing down. I’d love to harvest another half bushel of tomatoes and a bit more winter squash before frost shuts things down. In any case, I hope you’ll have a my blossoms. Maybe you’ll agree I had a pleasant time in the yard.
I don’t think I’ve met a begonia I didn’t like. This variety is super common in area gardens. The blossoms are spectacular though tiny. Planting a whole lot of these close so they grow together would make a dramatic display. Two or three of them in a large planting bed are no more than a color bump.
This is crazy. Flox plants in our south-facing planting bed are still putting out gorgeous flowers. In past years, flox has blossomed copiously but for a limited time; plants usually look rather ratty by mid-September.
This dianthus won’t quit. I brought it home from Cultivate15 in July when it was in full bloom. By the time I set it in the garden, the blossoms had finished but a few weeks later it was back in full bloom! Since then, it has continued to blossom less dramatically but impressively. It hasn’t been tested for cold hardiness, so I can only hope it winters over and puts on another show next season. The variety is “Interspecific Jolt Pink” and it’s an All America Selections award winner.
Hiding in morning shadows, the gaillardia has thrived in its second year. My wife had planted gaillardia several times over the years, but this is the first time any has survived a winter in our garden.
We have three or four gladiolus beds. Blooms in the main bed finished almost a month ago. These blooms are from bulbs I planted late.
Just three feet from the gladiolus, violas are spreading in the shadow of a young hydrangea. I brought the violas home from Cultivate 15 and have been impressed at their enthusiasm to display blossoms even as they divide and conquer the planting bed.
Our Russian sage plant lacks the form of ones I see in photos on line. It puts up spindly branches that seem to fall every which-way which works for me cuz every which-way is an excellent description of our garden design style. I love the delicate blossoms and the silver-purple colors… and apparently they appeal even more to cabbage butterflies.
I’m calling this gaillardia though it only vaguely resembles the gaillardia my wife planted. I sprinkled a bag of “instant wildflower meadow” on the bank of my rain garden and this is the only plant that emerged. In its second season, I don’t want it where it is… but I love having it in the garden.
We have a holly bush “next to” our front walk. It overhangs the walk, blocking about 1/3 the width. Clearly, it doesn’t belong in the space it was given and I’m afraid moving it would require removing some of the walkway. We’ll probably continue to abuse the poor plant for years. That said, it’s in bloom. The blossoms are gorgeous but you really have to lean in to get a look.
Sedums in the new rock garden are in full bloom. I love the red here, and in the way back a pink that barely shows in the photo. There are clouds of white blossoms in a corner you can’t see… but still plenty of bare spots I’ll fill in with new additions next spring.
The lavender blossomed months ago and faded. I was a bit surprised to find several spikes of fresh blooms today.
Tomato blossom! It’s too late in the season for a tomato blossom to produce harvestable fruit before first frost. I guess the plants don’t know it… there are plenty of fresh, hopeful blossoms.
By far my favorite bean is the French Gold Pole Filet Bean. The vines don’t overwhelm trellises as some bean vines do, but they produce well and the beans taste great. I’ve found seeds for these only at Renee’s Garden, and I plant them every year. These flowers hang below a trellis; that’s the tip of a ripening bean entering the frame from the top right.
The most awesome moment in my garden today came when I was taking photos in the rock garden. A soft buzzy hum made me look up to see a humming bird drawing nectar from the canna flowers. The little photo-bomber managed to get into several compositions.
Harvest sweet potatoes after blossoms emerge on the vines. That’s the rule of thumb, but it can create timing issues: Ideally, you harvest while there are still some hot days left on the calendar; sweet potatoes should cure at 80 humid degrees for ten days before you put them in storage. On the other hand, vines need a very long season to produce flowers—sometimes long enough there aren’t any hot, humid days left in the year.
We had dinner guests last weekend and there was a catch. One of our visitors was having discomfort with her teeth. She reported that she was on a soup-only diet; chewing was out. I was excited to make up a pot of curried squash soup.
There was a problem. I visited the community garden and harvested what was ready, but not one of my winter squashes was ripe. On my way home, I passed two farm stands selling winter squash but decided not to stop. Eight miles north I’d visit the flea market where one of my favorite produce vendors would, no doubt, have a decent selection of squashes. Or not.
There was no winter squash at the flea market. I got involved with a familiar vendor in a discussion about winter squash timing. It’s still summer, he pointed out. I should shop for winter squash in winter. Then he asked what type I wanted and assured me he could have it for me on Wednesday at the farmers’ market. Except, I told him, I was going to eat the squash tomorrow (Sunday), so Wednesday just wouldn’t do, thank you.
He suggested I visit a grocery store, but I had another thought: Forget winter squash, instead I’d make curried sweet potato soup.
I didn’t plant the cucumber in a sweet potato patch. No, the sweet potatoes were so happy in their patch they decided to take more ground, surrounding cucumbers, zucchinis, and peas.
Sweet Potato Harvest
My sweet potato patch is one of the season’s great successes. You can’t see the mulch for the vines, and tendrils reach into the pea patch, the cucumber and zucchini patches, and through the garden fence onto the lawn. Flowers emerged about a week ago, so by the rule of thumb (don’t harvest until the vines flower), there must be sweet potatoes ready to dig.
I think I dug up two plants. The vines are such a mess, it’s hard to tell where one plant ends and the next begins. In any case, I ended up with two large sweet potatoes, one of medium size, and several small ones that together might have made up one large one. I’m so looking forward to harvesting the entire bed; there must be more than 50 pounds of food in it.
Curried Sweet Potato Soup
The soup was amazing. I made it up as I went along, and it was a tad complicated but worth the effort. Here’s about what I did, written as a recipe:
What was probably two plants yielded about three pounds of gorgeous sweet potatoes. Every tuber in this photo went into the curried sweet potato soup described in this post.
Ingredients for Soup
~3 lbs of sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
16 ozs of mango pieces (I used a pint jar of home-canned mangoes)
1 pint of heavy cream
1 – 2 cups milk
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala (or substitute curry powder)
¼ tsp beri-beri seasoning or cayenne pepper
1 tbs amchur powder (if you can find some)
Wash and skin the sweet potatoes and slice them into ½-inch thick filets. Brush these with olive oil and grill for about 3 minutes on each side. You’re trying to develop a little char, but don’t worry about cooking the tubers all the way through. Set them aside while you work on the curry.
Set a one-gallon pot on the shy side of medium heat and add the butter. As the butter melts, chop the onion and stir in the pieces. Grate a chunk of fresh ginger into the pot—½ inch of a piece the thickness of your index finger—and mix it with the onion and butter.
Stir in each of the seasonings in the order listed in the ingredients box, letting each cook for about a minute before adding the next seasoning.
Stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to keep things from sticking and add the grilled sweet potatoes. Stir thoroughly to coat every piece with the curry mixture.
Add the mangoes and the liquid in which they were canned (if you’ve used fresh mangoes, add about ½ cup of water at this point), stir it all together, cover the pot, and lower the heat so it simmers without burning. Cook until the sweet potatoes are soft—about 15 minutes.
Transfer the hot curried sweet potatoes and mangoes to a blender and puree until the mixture is very smooth. Add some of the cream if necessary to make it blend.
Rinse the pot to remove any chunks of food and return the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes to it (for a perfectly creamy soup, work it through a sieve on its way back to the pot). Raise the heat and combine the cream into the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes. Stir to prevent burning.
The combined cream and curry mixture is likely too thick to serve as soup. So, stir in milk to achieve an appropriate consistency. I like it crazy thick, but it’s a very rich soup, so you can cut it quite a bit and retain its character.
Serve the soup hot. While we didn’t eat it this way, I imagine the soup would be very nice served over a mound of basmati rice.
That gash of exposed soil was the first planting bed in my community garden plot. Digging up the meadow was, perhaps, easier than digging a new bed in a lawn, but way more work than I wanted to do. In about an hour, I’d turned soil and removed weeds to create a two-foot-wide, 20-foot long planting bed.
When I rented a 30’ by 30’ plot at a community garden this spring, I hoped to work the plot without tilling it. However, as I explained in my last post, Small Kitchen Garden Goes Community, I didn’t get an actual garden plot; I got a meadow.
The no-till approach I had in mind was to bury the entire garden in mulch; I started looking for farmers who had spoiled hay to sell. I had learned from reading the works of Ruth Stout that weeds generally can’t grow up through a six-inch layer of hay—and any that do will eventually give up if you keep piling hay on top.
Building Soil Without Tilling
Soil quality is a huge issue for vegetable gardening. If you start a garden on bad soil, your best course of action is to figure out what the soil lacks and add those things. Usually, there’s tilling involved.
I cleverly followed the curvature of the Earth when I dug my community garden plot’s first bed… The darker blobs of soil are compost I wheeled some 200 yards from the far end of the community garden.
Building decent soil without tilling is a three-or-more-year project (unless you’re rich; you can have perfect soil in a few days if you have enough money). As a no-till gardener with modest resources, you collect autumn leaves, lawn clippings, horse manure, spoiled hay… whatever organic waste people might be anxious to get rid of. This you spread on the soil, and you continue to add more organic matter month-after-month.
Organic stuff closest to the original soil decays into rich loam. As you pile on more organic waste, it also decays. After several seasons, the loam becomes thick and will support many varieties of vegetable plants.
I wasn’t going to wait several seasons! I hadn’t yet planted peas, and spring was moving ahead. I’d have to till.
The Pea Patch
After another hour or more of digging, stirring, mixing, and raking, I’d combined the compost with the loosened soil and smoothed over the bed. It stood in stark contrast to the wild meadow with emerging perennials and last year’s dead grasses.
On April 13th, I cut a planting bed into my meadow. I used a garden fork to lift soil along with plants growing in it, and I removed every plant (now officially “weed”). When I had a two-foot wide row down the middle of my plot, I brought several wheelbarrows of compost from the community compost heap and I mixed it into the soil. Finally, I raked it smooth and planted peas.
This wouldn’t do! Meadow plants surrounded my pea patch, and it was inevitable they’d try to grow into the newly-worked soil. I still planned to smother the weeds with mulch, but the tilled patch would provide an escape hatch especially for weeds that reproduce via rhizomes. I needed a strategy to protect this tilled pea patch from the untilled surrounds. That’ll be the topic of an upcoming post.
In early April, snow had just melted from the community garden; no one had even tried to plant peas on St Patrick’s Day.
In March I researched local community gardens for a newspaper article and found only four such gardens within the newspaper’s coverage area.
One evening I was describing my exploration to my wife and I mused, “Maybe I should rent a plot.” Without hesitation, my wife somewhat threateningly replied, “You better not.” That sealed the deal.
I chose the largest of the area community gardens in part because it’s a stone’s throw from where I teach a class on most Wednesdays. It’d be an easy trip once a week.
This is the package they offered as it looked on paper:
- $10 per year for a 30’ by 30’ plot—that’s more than double the size of the main planting bed where the Small Kitchen Garden blog started.
- A shed full of tools including wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, hoes, mowers—any tool I’d ever use in a garden
- Heaps of newspapers and cardboard for use as “sheet mulch”
- Running, potable water with hoses that reach every plot
- Heaps of compost and mulch with no apparent restrictions on their use
- A community of gardeners with varied experience and interest working as many as 100 plots
My community garden expectations
One great lure of this particular community garden was its embarrassment of riches: a grand heap of compost sat next to another grand heap – of mulch. These are available to all members for use within their plots, and for maintenance of paths among the plots.
Having visited dozens of community gardens, I imagined a plot like so many I’d seen: rich, loamy soil, loose and ready for planting. I was excited to get started. I’d bring my “no-till” enthusiasm to bear and grow some decent vegetables with minimal effort.
Thing was, my wife had clearly expressed disapproval. I’d have to visit the community garden during business hours while she was at work (she’s a school teacher). What’s more, I’d have to keep up with the gardening at home so she wouldn’t get suspicious about how I spent my time (I had several very large home gardening projects in mind for 2015).
My community garden reality
Winter hung on a long time in 2015 and scheduled events at the community garden didn’t always happen. However, I managed to attend the garden’s first work day on April 11th before I’d been assigned a plot. I spent my time there helping an older new member prepare a half-sized plot for planting.
My first look at my new garden plot left me crestfallen. I had paid to garden in what looked like a mature, though dormant, meadow. A far cry from the manicured, rich-soiled plots I’d seen at so many community gardens, my plot clearly would need at least some tilling to produce the vegetables I wanted it to grow.
Partway through the work day, I got my plot assignment and walked over to have a look. It was kind of depressing: My plot was a meadow. It was a meadow of deep-rooted perennial meadow plants (weeds) in dormancy.
My plot had a three-foot tall rodent fence in place. The former renter had erected the fence to protect tender salad crops from rabbits and woodchucks. I didn’t know at the time I’d get to keep the fence… but I hoped so.
I’d return to my plot a few days later to begin work. I desperately wanted to plant peas which I should have planted, according to a rule of thumb, on March 17th. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, and onions were also on my list for early spring planting, and early spring was almost over. My biggest concern at the time: with all the well-established weeds and the need to plant immediately, it would be hard to manage the plot this season with only no-till methods.
Sunflowers have surrounded a decorative shrub in a farmer’s field… or perhaps the shrub has infiltrated sunflower territory. Either way, it looks kinda cool.
Every summer I keep watch for fields of sunflowers in full bloom. A few local farmers grow sunflowers, swapping crops from field-to-field—sunflowers one year, corn another, and soy beans in another.
This year, there had been no sunflowers in the usual places, but yesterday I drove a few hundred yards past those places and discovered a thousand yellow flower heads.
These sunflowers were different from those of past seasons: Rather than simply filling a large field, they had surrounded a decorative shrub. OK, it’s not earth-shaking or anything, but I captured a few photos and have included one here.
Without apparent relationship to sunflowers, a few weeks ago my online gardening friends started chattering about naked ladies appearing in their yards. I’m not sure I’d heard such chattering in past years, but it was immediately apparent these naked ladies are some type of plant. In fact, I’d heard them called “surprise lilies” in past seasons.
Surprise lilies grow foliage in spring, but the leaves die back so people lose track of the plants by mid summer. Then, overnight, flowers emerge on stalks that can grow 24 inches tall.
The chattering started, and three days ago I noticed a stand of naked ladies across the street from a local church. Finally, this morning, I had a chance to stop and take pictures. The flowers are gorgeous, and there’s something refreshing about flower stalks rising above the landscape without accompanying foliage.
Can’t say I’d heard of the plant “Naked Ladies” until this season. Then, after seeing so many posts about them online, I spotted a cluster across the street from a church I often pass. I stopped for a closer look and took several photos. I confess: I enjoy looking at naked ladies.
Zinnias grew in several places at Longwood Gardens. This variety was common. I captured the photo in a trial garden among many where visitors vote for their favorite plant combinations. In the right light, you can see a purple tinge on the inside ends of the petals. If I grew zinnias, I’d track down this variety; it’s eye-catching.
I’m cheating a lot this month for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I’m posting flowers, but I’m not posting my flowers.
My wife and I recently spent the day at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. We toured just about every venue there, and I captured at least ten photographs (posted about the Meadow Garden here).
A whole bunch of my photos are closeups of blossoms. I didn’t take notes, so I can’t tell you much about the plants. Some are easy for a layperson to identify, others might challenge well-trained horticulturists. Seriously: I took no notes. If you see any blossoms here you like, maybe they’ll motivate you to visit Longwood Gardens.
Along the path through Longwood Gardens’ Meadow Garden, we saw several spikes of purple wispy blossoms. This one had drawn attention from a butterfly that was a bit camera shy. Everywhere in the meadow garden was alive with insects of many varieties.
A cluster of fruit, sporting a single blossom, grew in one of the “Student Gardens” at Longwood Gardens. There are four such plots, each created by a student of the institution (Longwood trains future horticulturists).
I remember enjoying a blossom along the Flower Garden Walk, leaning down to read the plant marker, and marveling that I’d been admiring a dahlia; it didn’t vaguely resemble any dahlia I’d seen. This photo might show the blossom, but if you know better please provide insight in a comment.
No doubt this is a dahlia. There was a patch of these along the Flower Garden Walk. I probably took ten photos of these alone.
Can’t imagine why I didn’t take notes about this one. The plants grew densely and the flowers were stunning. I’ll probably track down the proper ID some day… I hope they turn out to be perennial in hardiness zone 5.
The Palm House inside the Longwood Gardens conservatory offered a few exotic blossoms. Several clusters of this type peaked out from among the palms.
The name of the tree sporting these otherworldly pink blossoms (I assume they’re blossoms) was so intuitive, I knew I’d remember it later… but I don’t. There were two of these trees in the conservatory, and both displayed more pink flower snakes than they did foliage.
Dazzling hibiscus blossoms drew attention inside the conservatory. By the time we were there, light was fading so the yellow blooms especially popped against the darker, poorly lit background.
Blossoms of a particular hibiscus in the conservatory were sublime… but then I’m a sucker for purple.
Longwood Gardens has a pipe organ that plays into the ballroom of the conservatory. Just outside the ballroom, there was a stand of yellow and pink blossoms I’m quite certain were cannas. I like!
Many paths wind in and around Longwood’s Meadow Garden. One crosses a curved, two-level bridge that encourages you to tarry.
My wife suggested we vacation at Longwood Gardens. It was a short trip: Thursday to travel there and enjoy the garden, and Friday to explore the Kennett Square area and travel home.
We killed it. The garden opened at 9AM and, with a “Nightscape” ticket, we could stay until 11PM. Between the two of us we had seen virtually nothing of Longwood. We decided to arrive as the doors opened. The gatekeeper told us it was the earliest anyone had arrived at the garden on a Nightscape ticket.
During a long day of walking, excessive heat, hydrating, violent thunderstorms, eating, and marveling at the history and beauty of Longwood Gardens, we explored nearly every accessible area of the facility. Photos in this post are from the Meadow Garden—a very new feature at Longwood.
Heavily planted with milkweed, the Meadow Garden is a masterpiece of textures. The milkweed alone produced unexpected patterns that changed from area-to-area as I scanned the landscape. Here’s hoping the meadow retains much of its character; it could become an important breeding ground for monarch butterflies.
Bird houses in the Meadow Garden at Longwood Gardens had green roofs! A docent explained that Longwood is collecting data to determine whether birds prefer homes with green roofs rather than bare-roofed ones.
The Webbs lived in a farmhouse at the back end of what is now Longwood’s Meadow Garden. You can walk up to the house to learn about its history, but we decided to save that for another day.