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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.

 

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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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