September 7th, 2011
Finally Some Fall Planting

Funny how a long weekend can seem so short. All it takes is rain. And more rain. And more rain.

I’ve been meaning to plant my fall crops  for a few weeks now, but you know how that goes…earthquakes, hurricanes, rain, more rain, birthday parties, work, more work, and so on…..it just gets away from you.

But Saturday morning, I found some time and some clear weather to prepare some beds and plant some seeds. Here’s what I intended to plant:

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In the end I only planted eight out of eleven: beans, spinach, turnips, carrots, mache, and 3 types of kale. I felt it was too late to plant the peas, and I wasn’t really into planting chard this year.

Here’s a 4×6 bed of carrots, with a Black Icicle tomato plant in the corner:

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Carrot Bed

I’m excited about the mache. I’ve never grown it before. I’ve never eaten it before. But from what I’ve read, we might be eating it well into winter.

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Mache Bed

I am also very excited about my turnips. I planted turnips last fall, they overwintered and went to seed late this spring. This is my first real venture into saving seeds. (See my earlier blog posts about turnips).

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Turnip Bed

I will refrain from posting pictures of  the beans, spinach and kale—after all, how many pictures of dirt do you need to see? I think three is plenty.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress. I hope all this rain hasn’t washed my seeds out.

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September 1st, 2011
Brown Bag Challenge

Lunch is one of the most important meals of the day. It’s in my top 5 for sure. Which is why this brown bag challenge might be, uh, challenging for me.

Here’s the thing: here at Rodale, the café is pretty amazing. The food is always fresh, usually local, and mostly organic. I’m totally spoiled. Here’s a screen shot of today’s menu.

todaysmenu

So why would I want to pack my lunch every day for a month? Two reasons come to mind:

• It’s an exercise in self-discipline and self-sacrifice. I will become a better person by packing my lunch.

• I will save money. The café isn’t SUPER expensive, but it adds up. Plus, if swipe my employee card, the money comes right out of my paycheck, so I hardly ever pay in cash. It’s easy to forget that this food is costing me money.

I admit, though, that I loathe the idea of having to prepare a meal in the morning before work. I did this every day for years when I worked in the electrical and solar trades. In my early morning pre-coffee fog, I would throw together the saddest little lunches you’ve ever seen. And then these lunches would sit in my truck all morning until it was time to eat and they would be wholly unfulfilling. So when I got to Rodale, the café was an oasis of goodness.

This morning, however, something wonderful happened: My wife offered to make my lunch. Now, you have to understand that she doesn’t just make a sandwich—she builds a sandwich. She takes such care with each ingredient. Her every action is deliberate. The result is an amazing testament to good food made with real love.

So my first day of the challenge, I will have the pleasure of eating a chicken salad sandwich (local, organic, free range chicken of course), with onion, tomato, and parsley from our garden (picked this morning), on multigrain grain bread. Plus, a handful of organic grapes, a box of raisins, and a piece of leftover blueberry cake that my wife made for my daughter’s third birthday 2 days ago.

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I’m probably more excited about lunch today than I’ve been in a long time. So thanks to the Good Eats people at the Food Network for challenging me in such a way, and thanks to my wife for making this incredible meal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some eating to do.

(wondering now if the other challenge should be to not eat lunch in my office.)


Brown Bag ChallengeWe’re teaming up with fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you’re eating on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.

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August 29th, 2011
Good Night, Irene

Well, the storm rolled in, as we knew it would. The wind wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, but it was the rain that did my corn in. I can’t be too upset. Things could have been much worse, indeed. My wife and baby girls are safe and sound, and that’s what counts the most.

Sure, I’m a little sad—about the popcorn especially. But maybe it will bounce back?

Here are the “After” pictures that I anticipated in my last post.

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How did your garden fare?

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August 26th, 2011
Hurricanes, Harvest, and Spiders

Hurricane

I’m an optimist. Or at least I’d like to think I am. But still, I’m not sure what state my garden will be in after Hurricane Irene steamrolls through with her predicted 100 mile an hour winds. I’d like to think that everything is going to be fine, that the hurricane will be much smaller than predicted, that we’ll just get a little wind and a little rain. But just in case, I am posting some “before” pictures. It would be a shame to lose my popcorn and tomato plants in this storm. I’m hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

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Harvest

Here’s a picture of what I harvested last night. See that purple eggplant on the side? It’s the first eggplant I’ve ever harvested from my own garden. Ha! Actually, I grew it on the deck in a big pot. In years past, flea beetles would decimate my eggplants when they were mere seedlings. This year I outsmarted those flea beetles with a container, and there you go: eggplant.

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A few nights ago, I was making a tomato salad and needed some basil. I asked my 3 year old, who was playing out on the deck, if she would go down to the garden and get me some basil leaves. She thought about it for a second, and then said yes. A few minutes later, she came back with a handful of perfect basil leaves. Not sure if I’m fully able to express how proud I am of her.

Spider

And finally, I leave you with another video. This time it’s an orb weaver spider. Every night she builds a web on my porch. Every morning I have to remember to duck or I’ll get a face-full of web. Enjoy.

The accompanying music is by my band Tin Bird Choir.

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August 23rd, 2011
part of the team

It’s funny, the difference between my job as online editor at OG and the rest of the editorial staff. They work months in advance—even years—to line up writers, plan photo shoots, edit stories, design the layout, and everything else they do. And as they get closer to closing an issue, they all seem pretty tense and super busy. I try to stay out of their way.

My job, on the other hand, is in real time. I’m forced to live in the present moment a bit more than the rest of the team, between the social media, the day-to-day maintenance of the website, writing newsletters, keeping track of our traffic numbers, etc. Web publishing is immediate—it happens right now. What I do online today will have an effect today. I don’t have the luxury of time.

There is a point, however, when my online & digital duties intersect with the print team. There are a few weeks in our publishing cycle—after it goes to press and before it goes on sale—when my work is centered around the new issue.

And that time is now.

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The October/November issue is wrapped up. While it won’t be on the newsstand until the beginning of September, there are copies of it floating around the office. And where the rest of the team has already moved on to the December/January issue and beyond, it’s only now that I get to enjoy the new issue. And it looks great: Very cool features about Japanese maples, hard cider, heirloom apples, and the garden at Colonial Williamsburg, plus tons of helpful information for the garden and kitchen and all around organic living.

This week and next I will be taking the print issue and making it digital. I’m creating online versions of the articles—and am knee-deep in creating the iPad version of the Organic Gardening, too. I like this part of my job for many reasons: it’s always challenging in a beat-the-clock kind of way (I have to get everything built before the issue hits newsstands). Plus, I get to dig in deep, mining the new content for “extra feature” possibilities for the iPad. But what I think I like the most about this time is that it makes me feel like I’m part of the print team, even though they’ve already moved on.

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August 19th, 2011
meet the beetle—and the ants

It was a very interesting day for insects at our house yesterday. First we found this large black beetle clinging to the wall of our porch. It was about 2 inches in length and rather intimidating looking. But nonetheless, my 3-year-old daughter wanted to touch it. First she touched its back and then she tried to pick it up and it fell to the ground. She was very excited about it. And I was very impressed with her fearlessness.

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Then when we went out to the garden we witnessed what I suppose was some kind of ant hatch. There were thousands of ants all over the raised bed that until recently had been growing lettuce. Some were normal ants, others were winged ants, and still others were giant winged ants. Check out this video to get a sense of just how creepy-crawly my garden was yesterday.

I’m no entomologist, and can only speculate what was going on. Was it a hatch? Were they moving their colony? Was it related to the loud thunder we had all afternoon? I have no idea. Anyone want to venture a guess.

August 18th, 2011
window on the world

Windows. I love looking out of windows.

I could spend all day looking out of a window. Which is why it’s good that there are no windows in this office at work. I’m not distracted by the world going by and can actually get some work done. At my core, I am a windowsill dreamer.

The windows at home are another story. Most of our windows face south and overlook a long valley of farm fields, the closest of which is planted in alfalfa and corn. Nearly as much as the weather and the changing of the seasons, I love to watch the wildlife. Mostly deer, sometimes foxes. If I get caught in the lateral drift of a daydream, I can see giraffes and elephants grazing slowly in the savannas of my imagination; sometimes even the figments of those ancient and extinct North American mega fauna—wooly mammoths and saber tooth tigers—wander from the woods into the daylight of the field, just out of reach of some Pleistocene spear.

But yesterday I saw turkeys. Four of them. Four wild turkeys.

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The turkey is a symbol of sacrifice, renewal, rebirth.  The wild turkey giveaway. Take it, it’s all yours. The turkey spirit reminds us that nothing lasts forever and everything is in a constant state of change. And so it goes….

At the crux is the flux.

Yes, I love to look out of windows, the double-paned dream machines that they are.

For me, windows are some kind of tangible yet messy metaphor for existing in this world—for being human. Something about perspective, or changing your perspective. Or: while the window—the fixed frame on the world—stays the same, the viewer is changing, the view is changing, the view is always being changed by being viewed by the viewer. (Whoa—that’s some deep quantum stuff there).

A window offers a way to measure yourself against the world. It’s like reading the same book at different periods in your life. Catcher in the Rye comes to mind. You read it at age 15 and it means one thing. Read it again at 25 and it means another. At 35, it’s a different book altogether.  But, whatever.

When I was kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I never saw turkeys. Not a single one. Lots of pheasants and geese, but never any turkeys. In recent years however, they have started to come back. I see their return as a good sign for the world—a good omen for a world in desperate need of good omens.

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Windows are also great for making cold frames to extend your gardening season.

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August 17th, 2011
Diligent Squash Bug Patrol

Squash bugs. I hate ‘em. I’m not sure what purpose they serve in the world. All I know is that they’ve made a mess of my squash plants this year. They didn’t really appear in full force until a few weeks ago, so we were able to enjoy lots of zucchini in June and July.

But then I noticed the egg clusters on the underside of some pumpkin leaves. I squished them, but obviously I didn’t get them all. I began seeing those horrid little grayish white nymphs on some of my other plants too. And now they are engaged in a full assault on my butternut squash.

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The best way to control squash bugs is to squish them. But you have to be diligent about it. You must let looking for and squishing eggs, nymphs, and adult squash bugs become an everyday ritual. Skip a day and they will win.

I am currently trying to save the butternuts that are growing on the trellis I made for my peas (but which has since become home to tomato plants, cucumbers, sunflowers and squash). Having the plants up in the air makes it a lot easier to get in there to find the bugs—I’m not as old as I hope to one day be, but I can definitely feel my nearly four decades in my muscles and joints after working in the garden, so having the plants up at a workable level is great—just one of the many benefits of vertical gardening, but I digress.

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Squash bugs are terrible. They suck the sap—and the life—right out of your plants, especially seedlings and flowering plants. I’ll say it again: you have to be diligent about patrolling your squash plants. Don’t give up.

I almost forgot how much I love butternut squash until I saw a plump fruit forming on the vine. Then I remembered the soup that I make with butternut squash, cannellini beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds. I promise to post the recipe and photos when I make it again this fall. It is this love of food that keeps me fighting the good fight against squash bugs.

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August 16th, 2011
Late Season Potato Rally

I had given up on my potatoes. The weather had been so hot and so dry that they looked utterly defeated—all yellow and sad. There were a few good tubers here and there, but it seemed like the crop was generally small. Some of the bigger taters were rotten in the middle when I cut into them. If it hadn’t been for the past two rainy weekends, I would have had them all pulled out by now.

But looking at them this morning in the morning light, I discovered something encouraging and positive there in my straw-mulched potato patch: New growth. Green growth. Happy plants. Good looking plants. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a decent crop after all.

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My favorite way to cook fresh potatoes these days in on the grill. After I wash them, I cut them up sort of into thick fries. I’ll cut a medium tater in half and then cut the halves longways into four or five wedges. I’ll put these in an aluminum baking pan with some organic canola oil, salt and pepper, and some chopped up onions and garlic. And of course, my special secret ingredient: Old Bay seasoning.

I put the pan on the top shelf of my gas grill and let them cook up for maybe 10 minutes with the lid closed, then I’ll sort of shoogie them around with a spatula and let them go for another ten minutes or so. They get crispy on the outside, maybe a little brown, and a little mushy on the inside.  They go great with a burger made from grass-fed beef from the local biodynamic farm (thanks Seven Stars!) and a glass of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The perfect summer time meal.

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August 15th, 2011
Goodbye Real World, Hello Dream World

I almost had another real world gardener kind of weekend. But this time I was able to get a little done. I ripped out the first round of corn and raked out the bed. I think this is where I’ll put the fall beans.

We enjoyed fresh sweet corn nearly every night for a week and a half. I have two more patches of corn coming in now. One is popcorn and the other is another sweet corn. This has been my best year for corn.

On Sunday, while it was raining, my whole family took a nap. Our toddler was sleeping in her crib. My wife fell asleep in bed after she put our newborn down for a nap in the bassinet, and I fell asleep on the couch downstairs. I awoke to a very clear vision of next year’s garden. I dream a garden.

Also, this will most likely be my last blog post as the Real World Gardener. I will be changing the name of this here blog. As a courtesy to a radio host in Australia who’s been using the name for a while, I will rethink, rename and regroup. It’s sort of a hassle, but why cling to anything, right? Gardening is all about learning and moving on, and trying new things. So is garden blogging.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for a new blog name.

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This is where the corn was and where the beans will be.

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Popcorn with a little border of buckwheat.

RWG-081511-morningglories

I made the mistake of planting morning glories 6 years ago. They keep coming up and i keep pulling them out.

What are you growing this fall?

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