Monday, July 18, 2011

three sisters and a few thoughts on weeding

three sisters

about 1/4 of our field garden is set aside for a three sisters planting. my husband is a bit obsessed with this idea. the three sisters garden is an old native american concept where corn, squash, and beans are grown together. the beans twine themselves up and around the corn and the squash provides a lovely but prickly ground covering underneath to help the soil retain moisture and also to deter raccoons from going after your ears of corn. beans add nitrogen to the soil and help nourish the other plantings. the three sisters are planted in mounds with corn in the center and beans planted in a circle around the corn. squash, zukes, or pumpkins are planted on the sides of the corn mounds.

this is our second year planting a three sisters garden. last year we had poor soil and because of this we had trouble growing anything other than a few zucchini. it's working beautifully this year due to our soil amendments. this photo is about two weeks old, and the corn is really towering over the beans now and the squash/zukes/pumpkins are filling in nicely. i can't wait to see what this area of our garden looks like in just a few weeks.

i wanted to briefly talk about weeding. as you may notice in some of my photographs, our weed problem is a bit out of control. this field garden is constantly trying to return itself to its former state, and we don't have the time to keep the weeds under control. recently, i had a bit of an epiphany. i'm trying a little experiment by weeding only the tops of the raised beds and letting the pathways and sides of the beds go wild. i decided to do this because i noticed that the plants in the field garden look really strong and don't have much insect damage. i have a suspicion that the weeds are creating a little ecosystem with beneficial insects that are taking care of the garden pests. plus, i love that we have daisies, st. john's wort (!) and other wild meadow plants growing in and around our garden beds. i'll be sure to let you know what i think of this approach to weeding at the end of the season.

are you familiar with the three sisters?

Friday, July 15, 2011

summer snack

the basil is really bushing out in the garden these days. to help encourage the basil to form new branches and leaves and to continue growing throughout the summer, i cut back to the top two leaves and try to remove flower buds immediately.

the basil prunings have been being put to good use around here to make a favorite summer snack.

basil popcorn

1/2 cup popcorn
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup basil leaves
parmesean cheese
sea salt
cracked black pepper

in a food processor mix the oil and basil leaves and set aside.
pop the corn.

pour basil-oil over popcorn and mix thoroughly.
sprinkle with parmesean, salt and pepper to your liking.
we like ours on the cheesy side.

pour yourself a glass of fresh squeezed lemonade and enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gardening as parallel practice

Recently a fellow artist friend gave me the May '11 issue of Art in America to share an article on parallel practices called, "Artists in a Parallel Universe." In it, a panel of artists were asked (in February at the College Art Association conference) to discuss their non-art related activities when they aren't making art, those that feed their art practices. One of the artists, Vija Celmins, turns to gardening and calls herself an "avid weed-puller." While reading this I thought, hey I do that too, I pull weeds as a respite from studio work. However, this summer rather than being in a dry spell as the article addressed, I am thankfully making art. Perhaps I find pulling weeds to be even more informative during this busy time. It is a practice in which I don't have to make decisions. I know what stays in the ground and what goes into the compost, there's no second-guessing. With weeding there is a set task to do, and once it is done something has been accomplished. This is a great encouragement when minute and large artistic decisions leave my mind feeling like soup.
From this parallel practice I also bring back to the studio the recognition that having a drawing going at all times is vital for me. The above drawing is one I am working on this summer. On the table it waits, so I add a group of lines first thing of a morning or paint on at the end of the day. A little bit at a time. Not all at once. Like weeding, one plot at a time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

medicinal honey


making medicinal honey

chopped monarda

in my quest to try more and more herbal remedies, last summer i discovered medicinal honey.  i tried a batch with some of my bee balm plants (which i was so happy to discover in my yard last year- as it was our first year living here) and we've been using it to soothe our sore throats all year long.  last year, i only tried making this with bee balm (mondarda), but other good herbs for medicinal honey that you may have in your garden are lavender (for good sleep), lemon balm (for upset stomachs), and chamomile (for headaches).  we add a little to some tea, or just eat it by the spoonful.

start by picking a bunch of stalks and chopping up aerial parts--this includes stems, leaves, and flowers. for one pint of honey, you'll want about 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs (for dried herbs, use about half that amount).  warm up one pint of honey in a saucepan over low heat.  when it is fully warmed through, add the herbs and continue over low heat for another 15-20 minutes.  store in a food safe jar.  (this recipe is adapted from growing 101 herbs that heal by tammi hartung.  one of my favorite herbal remedy books).

i'd love to hear if you try this, or if you have any of your own medicinal herbal recipes!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

a trip to the farmers' market

i love a good farmers' market. there is just something about a saturday morning, local foods & farmers that really gets me. i'm sure you have similar feelings.

this weekend, we made a trip to the fayetteville farmers' market. this market is an hour north of us & the best in the area. although the trip to the farmers' market is very different from the bike ride to the market in our old town, it is exciting to know that an abundance of fresh food is so close, especially in this area of the country.

i was charmed by the pale white onions covered under the shade of a tent.

& the fennel stacked neatly for the taking. i purchased one & look forward to roasting it alongside a whole chicken tonight.

the textured leaves of this gourmet-variety cabbage are beautiful.

while we are still waiting for our bounty from the garden in our own backyard, we can thankfully rely on our farmers & their hard work.


in other news, i wanted to share something interesting happening around here. deep into the month of july, arkansas is usually brimming with fresh tomatoes of all varieties. at the farmers' market in fayetteville, though, we noticed only a handful of farmers selling green tomatoes & only a couple with small, ripe tomatoes. this is also happening at the research & education farm, the kerr center for sustainable agriculture, where luke works. due to the high heats of 105 degrees lasting most of the day, our tomato plants are suffering & unable to produce. the knowledge that cold temperatures can damage tomato plants is also applied to very hot temperatures, too. flowers may bloom on the plants, but fruit never sets. in extreme conditions, blossom drop can occur.

thankfully, in our own garden, we have spotted two tomatoes. our nine plants are still holding onto their blossoms & growing by the day. it will be interesting to see what happens as this drought continues in the south.

Monday, July 11, 2011

little garden scenes

first tomato
first tomato on the vine. it's a glacier, which is a determinate variety that fruits early and can tolerate cooler temperatures.

garden twine
i have a thing for garden twine. so rustic and pretty.

tools and daisies
tools and daisies.

the curl of a corn leaf
the mesmerizing curl of a corn leaf.

oregano tips for pickles
harvested oregano tips to put into jars of pickled garlic scapes.

wild blackberries spotted around the farm.

garlic scape bracelets
harvesting garlic scapes=garlic scape bracelets just for the afternoon.

prize-winning cabbage
our gigantic ruby perfection cabbage. i wish i could enter it into the fair. it's crazy big as you can see. more on our weed problem later.

walking back home
walking back home after visiting the field garden.

just wanted to share a few things that have been happening in our garden lately. what's new in yours?

Friday, July 8, 2011

around town

although our garden is in full swing with fruit, leaves, roots and flowers, it is nice to know that not too far away there is even more variety for us to enjoy. let’s go on a little tour of a few of our favorite spots around town. all just a few blocks from our home, where we can always find a few more things to nibble on.

on our way to the library we have the pleasure of snacking on sweet figs from a tree that lives at a lawyers office. it is the most beautiful, healthy fig tree that i have ever seen. we visit the tree all year long watching it turn from bare brown sticks to lush green foliage dripping with fruit. last week we had our first taste. three ripe figs were hanging there waiting for us. we have recently planted a "brown turkey" fig at our house and look forward to next year's harvest

last year i helped to start up a farmers market in town. it is just a few blocks away from our house and provides us with an array of local foods. our favorites right now are fresh corn and homemade caneles.

we also have a plum tree just a few blocks away at a nearby office building that provides the most delicious fruit. (i forgot to take photos of the fruit this year). no one seems to want them as they fall on the sidewalk to rot. we help by gleaning. one year when the sun went down (and no one could see us) i climbed up on chris’s shoulders, picked handfuls of plums and dropped the fruit down to the girls to fill up an entire basket. we walked home giggling as we nibbled on our stash.

i had the pleasure in helping to start up a school garden and after school garden club at the local elementary school two years ago. throughout the school year the students help with preparing the soil, planting, seeding, weeding, harvesting, watering, and cooking up the harvest. now that summer is here and school is out, there is quite a bit of food that needs to be eaten. it is just a hop, skip and a jump away for us to grab a few stems of swiss chard leaves, and a handful of “sungold” cherry tomatoes.

and soon the watermelons will be ready!

we are always looking for new finds as we walk and pedal around town.

do you have a favorite spot around your town?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In the garden : Observing

One morning recently I was particularly grumpy. Not sure why. So I stepped out into the garden with my camera and decided to look at things up close. Glass orbs of dew clung to the edges of fennel and grape leaves; nasturtium leaves cupped oceans. I watched a lady bug crawl around and held my breath. The radial pattern in the sturdy echinacea amazed me just as the sun shone through the delicate skin of the poppy petals. Underfoot the mulched ground was soft as I tip-toed about, looking, looking, looking. When I went back upstairs to the studio my outlook on the day had turned.

Recent garden notes:
' A pair of goldfinches visit the bachelor buttons in the mornings now. They're so tiny!
' A thumb-sized mouse darted out from the chocolate mint to the chamomile and back. zip zip.
' White butterflies flutter all across the garden, like white confetti caught in a breeze, weaving with untraceable threads.
' I realized this afternoon, while watching a honey bee perch in a pillow of purple petals, that I could sit here all day, observing the activity in the garden.

What is to be gained from this observing?
Much, I say.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

backyard berries

is there anything better than stepping out your back door* and returning with handfuls of fresh berries?  i'm not quite sure there is. 

at our old apartment, we had a huge raspberry patch in the backyard and driveway.  enough to make multiple batches of jam and fill our freezer (with more than a few to spare for a tasty snack for a certain berry-loving dog of ours).  in fact, that raspberry patch is one of the things i miss most about that place.  our new home came with a very small patch of fall raspberries, but luckily our old landladies were kind enough to allow me to thin out their berry patch a bit last spring.  so i've been working to fill ours in.  slowly but surely transplanting about 10 plants last spring and another 10-15 volunteer raspberry canes that popped up in my community garden this spring and hoping, in a few years' time, to have enough for backyard jam.  raspberries transplant very easily and they spread pretty quickly too.  if you look hard enough, you probably have some friends or neighbors willing to thin out theirs come next spring.

until i have a great big raspberry crop, though, i'll be content with a few handfuls here and there to top of some ice cream or morning cereal.  (or, just straight in my mouth, if we're being honest here!)

how do you enjoy your berries?

{*full disclosure: the strawberries are actually in my community garden, so i have to walk a couple of blocks to pick those. close enough, though, i think}

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

pruning tomatoes

this season we have been very intentional about pruning our tomato plants. we have never gardened in such a small space so pruning is essential. this way our tomato plants are growing up rather than out & taking up more space than needed.

in order to encourage growth upward instead of outward, cut the side branches from the stem up to 3-6 inches from the soil line.

when doing this, make sure not to damage the stem & use a sharp tool to make a clean cut.

another way to prune your plant is by removing the "suckers" located in the joint connecting the side branch from the stem. if the suckers are allowed to grow, this will lead to a more dense, bushier tomato plant.

happy pruning of your happy, healthy tomato plants!

another note: make sure to prune only healthy tomato plants. weak plants will feel the shock of pruning & might not do well to the changes. also, prune gradually, making sure not to remove several branches at a time.

Monday, July 4, 2011



in vermont, we get a pretty late pea crop. our peas are in top form right now. although i know most of my friends prefer snap peas, we like to plant green arrow, which we've found to be the most reliable english pea variety. have you tried them?

they are deliciously sweet right off the vine and just as wonderful cooked or in a pea puree. the best part about growing english peas is that you will have lots of leftover pods to use in making a simple vegetable stock. in fact, i made a batch last night. you'll find my recipe below. the idea for this stock comes from anna thomas' book, love soup, which i highly recommend.


pea pod stock

as many pea pods as you have available (we keep our pods in a large yogurt container in the freezer until we are ready to use them)

2 leeks (white and light green parts only, slightly chopped)

a bunch of celery

a half of an onion or more if you have it

a handful of rainbow peppercorns

a few twists of sea salt

garlic or garlic scapes

herbs (last night i used a combination of fresh oregano tips and dried thyme)

fill a stock pot with water and add the ingredients. feel free to substitute whatever you have that's been lingering in your fridge for a little too long. bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. simmer for about one hour. let cool and then transfer to a freezer container.

now you have a flavorful vegetable stock to use in your summer and fall soup recipes. enjoy!

Friday, July 1, 2011


if you are struggling to find that green thumb of yours, start with growing mint and watch it take off. mint is one of those plants that is hard to kill and boy does it grow. because of it’s prolific nature many people like to contain mints in pots and planters.

i also grow it around my chicken coop where i don’t mind if it takes over. it keeps the area smelling a bit more pleasant and the hens like to nibble on it. we joke that our eggs taste minty fresh.

there are many varieties of mint. we grow common spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint and orange mint.
this week we are...

drying it for tea.

making syrup to flavor sparkling water, lemonade, and cocktails.

making peppermint oil to try out concocting our own toothpaste.

and blending it with fruit for popsicles. (this one is simply watermelon and mint leaves)

what a tempting little plant. it is hard to walk by it without yearning for a sniff.

and it makes the perfect after dinner mint.