Spring Beekeeping Workshop

Spring Beekeeping Workshop
Demonstration Hive

Friday, December 18, 2009

Permaculture courses kicked-off on Tuesday

This has been an exciting week with the launch of the series of Permaculture classes held here at the Center for Sustainable Living. On Tuesday, 21 people gathered in the new learning space to hear Andrew Faust talk passionately and deeply about the problems facing communities and individuals and how the system of Permaculture can help address these issues. An in-depth and provocative presentation ensued as Andrew challenged all of us to think beyond our normal specialties, beyond linear approaches to problems. Permaculture draws from all disciplines to design sustainable living systems and economies that work for people and communities and not only for anonymous corporations.

My head was spinning after the three-hour presentation and frankly, I've found it hard to sleep with all the ideas going through my mind and the excitement of new possibilities and working in networks with other people.

Andrew will be back in February to start the Permaculture Design Certification course. This is an in-depth 76 hour course spread over 4 three-day weekends - two in February and two in March. For more details - dates, cost, syllabus - go to www.connsoil.com and click on Educational Events in the header on the home page.

Blueberry netting collapses

I guess it isn't such a good idea to leave blueberry netting up all winter unless it's arced or peaked. Even then, perhaps the weight of wet snow would collapse it on to the bushes underneath as seen in the photograph here of our one-season-young blueberry enclosure.

Attractive and functional during the summer, it was a hopeless design that did not stand up to the first serious snowfall of the winter.

In our design, posts at the corners of the blueberry patch supported horizontal planks of wood above and at ground level to which blueberry netting is stapled. Even though the holes in the netting seemed to be a good size to let snowflakes pass through, about 10 inches of wet snow accumulated on top. The netting sagged, the top cross pieces of wood snapped, and the entire thing caved in.

After repairing, we plan to leave the top open and cover it only during blueberry season. Removing the top net after harvest seems like a good idea now!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if anyone, ANYONE AT ALL, is reading this!
Winter came on early, that's for sure. I guess other parts of the country have been blanketed with very deep snow. Here in our little corner of Connecticut we've had two good snowfalls adding up to about 10 inches on the ground. Not so bad for, the middle of winter, but technically, it isn't even winter yet! Also, temperatures have taken a deep plunge into the teens overnight and early morning and bitterly cold with winds during the day, too.

Fortunately, we were able to get our cold frames planted up with winter greens and quickly built another hoop tunnel over a big bed of kale that hopefully will keep producing all winter now that it is protected.

In our glass-covered cold frame we have spinach (Giant Winter Hardy), a mixture of lettuces, and some baby kale. Another frame, plastic-covered, has broccoli and arugula. The arugula seems to be holding up although it isn't really a plant I would think of as a winter cold-frame contender. We'll see how it does after this really cold snap.

I did put horse manure around all the plants in the frame to give off some extra heat under the glass or plastic.

The garlic has just started to poke up as has the Egyptian Walking Onions and shallots. I spread leaves over the latter two crops and also around my leeks to protect them from the cold, but they don't have to be in a cold frame. I planned on covering the garlic with leaves after the ground froze - usually not until a few weeks later than this. Now, though, the snow came and covered everything. If, and when it melts, I will quickly get a blanket of leaves over the bed to protect the garlic bulbs.

Everything seems to be growing nicely and we'll have lots to show at the Introduction to Permaculture class which is happening on Tuesday, December 15, here. The newly renovated classroom looks awesome with new windows and a wood-stove, and the painting is just getting finished as I type this. The class is almost full and may in fact be, by Tuesday.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Here's the recipe for the much enjoyed cranberry-apple crumb-top pie I brought to Pie Breakfast on Thanksgiving:


1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (or a bit less if using salted butter)
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2-3 tablespoons ice water

Crumble Topping:
¾ c flour
¼ c light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
½ stick butter cut in pieces
½ cup pecans coarsely chopped

Stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Blend in butter with fingertips then stir in pecans. Chill.

Fruit Filling:
8 large Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
8 oz fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon ginger
few grinds of black pepper
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ stick butter cut in pieces

Stir apples, cranberries, brown sugar, flour, spices, salt, and lemon juice.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Roll out the pastry and line the bottom of a large, deep pie dish. Fill the pie dish with the fruit mixture. Dot with butter. Bake at 450 for 30 minutes until apples start to droop. Spread the crumble topping over the fruit. Reduce temp to 375. Bake until crumble is browned, filling is bubbling and apples are tender. 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and process briefly to mix together. Or use a wooden spoon. Add the butter and mix with processor with short pulses, or rub with fingers until the mixture ranges in size from peas to coarse cornmeal.

Slowly pour in the water and using short pulses, incorporate it into the flour mixture. Add enough water so the dough holds together but does not form a ball.

Transfer the pastry to a large piece of waxed paper, and press it out to form a flat round about 5 inches across. Wrap it tightly in waxed paper, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or preferably overnight in plastic bag.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It is so easy to feel despair and pessimism for the future these days. So many awful things are happening on all fronts. Sometimes I go on a news blackout for a couple of days. After all, ignorance is bliss! At least, ignorance allows me some peace of mind from the barrage of bad news.

So it was quite a relief to read several positive articles in yesterday's New York Times (Monday, November 30, 2009).

Those who know me have heard me say, many times, that being outside, in nature or in the garden, working in the soil or with the plants, brings me peace. This is really where I'm most happy and feeling spiritual. So it was with delight that I read the article "After War, Finding Peace and Calm in a Garden". Veterans of America's overseas wars - from Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, the current war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, come home with traumas and injuries the rest of us can barely imagine. Not only that, in many cases, the rest of us non-serving citizens and our government don't always provide the help that these veterans need to overcome the traumas they have experienced in war. I have personally known veterans from some of these conflicts - it ain't easy for them!

At the Veterans' Affairs Medical Center in Newark, NJ, many vets are finding a kind of peace through gardening. One has even been able to put years of substance abuse behind him and has started a landscaping business using the skills he has learned at the Center's garden. He says
"... being with the plants gives me time to think and meditate, to feel the soil or clay or whatever you're working in. I talk to my plants. Maybe it's crazy, but it's given me a chance to get out, work with others, grow something and do something that's right, not just for myself, but for the whole community.

Patrick Corcoran, a former marine who served in Lebanon said of gardening " It just lowers the volume in my head. It allows me to think on a rational level".

In the same newspaper, on the front page no less, was an article entitled "Tree Harvester Offers to Save Indonesian Forest". This Indonesian forest is a major contender in the sequestering of carbon dioxide. Along with Brazilian rainforests, these areas have the capacity to reduce the pace of climate change brought about by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Asia Pacific Resources International Limited is a huge company that is critical to the health of the Indonesian economy. Nevertheless, the company recognizes the importance of the Kampar Peninsula where one of the world's largest peat bogs lies. The peat bog holds (sequesters) vast quantities of carbon dioxide. If logged and drained, the carbon retained in a stable form in the peat bog, would be released into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. Asia Pacific has proposed protecting the peninsula in exchange for receiving carbon credits under a UN program.

A vast international logging corporation volunteering to protect raw land with valuable raw materials? Unheard of! Maybe times are changing and the corporate world is waking up to how relentless search for profits may not be in the planet's best interest. If we don't protect the environment, there will be no resources for any of us, corporate or otherwise.

A little bit of fresh air (no pun intended) in the New York Times.

On another note, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, as I did with my family and friends. We have a terrific tradition here in Bethlehem on Thanksgiving Day. Our friends, Larry and Jen, have for about 20 years hosted a "Pie Breakfast" on Thanksgiving morning. Yes, pies - pecan pies, pumpkin, apple, you name it. It is awesome. This year my contribution was an apple-cranberry pie with a crumb topping. I used a recipe from Gourmet Magazine as a basis but, as always, I adapted it to my own taste with lots of zingy spices to pep up the fruit. It was a huge hit.

After Pie Breakfast, my family goes on to a decadent champagne brunch at Bev and Woody's house. They started this tradition many years ago too. There used to be a real foxhunt in town (thank goodness no one hunts live foxes here anymore) and there used to be a "blessing of the hounds" by the pastor of one of the local churches. A strange ritual, I always thought. After the blessing, people went back to their house for a champagne toast which has morphed into a loaded brunch table with lots of goodies.

Then, we collapse for a few hours, maybe take a walk before dinner. Our dinner was really delicious, even though I say so myself. We ate a lot of stuff from our garden - potatoes, shallots and herbs previously picked and stored; kale, fresh picked. I should have posted my vegetarian recipes BEFORE the holiday. But, stay tuned, I'll post them here in a day or two for use next year, or even for the upcoming holidays in a few weeks.

Happy post-Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Aubergine Anyone?

For those of you on the west side of the big puddle (Atlantic Ocean) I'm talking about eggplant here.

It's the end of October but we've just finished harvesting our aubergine. I like the sound of the French word for this vegetable much more than "eggplant". We brought in about 10 lbs of two varieties - the traditional large "egg" shaped fruit, and the skinny, elongated variety. Frost was threatening and we didn't want to lose all this produce.

Faced with processing this versatile vegetable, we came up with three tasty recipes which worked well for us.

My version of Deborah Judah's Baba Ganouj

1 lb of aubergine, roasted or grilled
1 whole garlic, peeled
juice from half a large lemon
1/4 cup Tahini paste
1 tablespoon dried basil
salt and black pepper

Coarsely chop the roasted aubergine in a food processor using the metal blade. Add the garlic and process briefly to chop the garlic into the aubergine. Change to the plastic processor blade. Add the remaining ingredients and process to mix well. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper to your liking. Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or may be used as a dip or sandwich spread.

This is Stuart's own version of Eggplant Parmesan:

1 pound of aubergine, sliced into 1/4-1/2 inch slices (round or lengthwise)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup of wheat germ
Canola or olive oil
1 1/2 cups of crushed tomato
1 tablespoon of dried basil or 1/4 cup fresh, chopped, basil
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Sprinkle the aubergine slices with salt and set aside.
Pour the egg into a flat dish.
Saute the mushrooms in a tablespoon of the oil until softened and browned. Set aside.
When the aubergine has started to sweat (beads of moisture will appear on the outside of the slices), pat it dry with paper towels or clean cotton towels. Dip both sides of the slices into the egg, and then dredge with the wheat germ. Set on a clean plate until all the slices are ready.

Pour oil into a large frying pan to cover the bottom with about 1/4 inch of oil. Heat the oil until very hot and then turn down the burner. Place the aubergine slices into the hot oil and fry gently on both sides, until brown. Remove from the oil and place on paper towels or cloths to drain.

Layer aubergine slices on the bottom of a one-and-a half inch deep ovenproof dish and sprinkle with garlic, mushrooms, crushed tomatoes and basil. Repeat the layers until all the ingredients are used. Finish with a thin layer of tomatoes and top off with the two cheeses.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until bubbly and golden brown. Serves 4.

Aubergine Fritters

Slice aubergines lengthwise into pieces about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Sweat and then dredge in beaten egg and wheat germ as in the previous recipe. Fry the pieces in deep oil until cooked through. Drain. Serve as a first course topped with tomato sauce. Allowed to cool, the pieces will make excellent dippers for any savory party dip. The cooled fritters may be frozen and reheated in an oven at a later date.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The following news item just came in from the UN today and I think it's worth sharing. Some people still think climate change is a hoax. NOT! The item, while cause for concern on the one hand, is a hopeful story that we can all take a lesson from:

"When the mangroves started to die, Magongo Lawrence Manje knew something was wrong.

For generations, his 12,000-person community in the coastal Kilifi district in Kenya depended upon Mtwapa Creek’s marine ecosystem for its livelihood, but climate change has increased droughts in their region and altered life as they know it.

With less rain, mangroves died, leaving coastlines bare, and without the mangroves to prevent erosion and maintain salinity, fish and other marine life couldn’t breed. And as the plants, trees, and fish disappeared, farmers and fishermen had nothing to sell at market.

Magongo, who is the outreach coordinator for the Kwetu Training Center, describes how this chain reaction has affected people’s everyday lives:

“People employed in livestock and crop-growing … lose their jobs and bread basket. Fishermen are no longer getting enough catch to sustain their families, which results [in] poor nutrition. At the same time, students cannot go to school due to lack of fees and hunger.”

All this, because the mangroves disappeared. Because of climate change.

Amid these sobering facts, however, Magongo’s community has hope. Funded in part by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Kwetu Training Center is teaching the community environmental conservation techniques and helping them reclaim their livelihoods through sustainable methods. Their solutions include:

* Establishing replacement mangrove nurseries and protecting the few remaining mangrove forests.

* Introducing fish and prawn farming to generate income. Community youth play a major role by constructing fish and prawn ponds to increase productivity.

* Implementing beekeeping, organic farming, solar drying and other eco-friendly activities that bring in revenue and improve the community’s standard of living.

Magongo and his team at Kwetu are a terrific example of people taking individual action to adapt to climate change. But as Magongo said to us, everyone must educate their communities on climate change and its direct effects. Otherwise, the forests and marine life they depend on will become a thing of the past.

Do you have a story like Magongo’s? What are YOU losing because of climate change? Share your story and help spread the word – just like Magongo is doing in his community.

Thanks for joining our cause,

The UN Foundation Climate and Energy Team
(Reid, Ryan, Jana, Kurt, and John)
The link appears to be going to the domain www.UNFoundation.org, but is really going to the domain globalproblems-globalsolutions.org.

As soil conservationists and soil scientists have known for at least a century, soil and the plants it sustains, are THE KEY to our long term health as humans. This story reminds me of the devastation that hit New Orleans with the Hurricane, Katrina. One of the problems in that situation was the prior destruction of coastal swamps and wetlands (mangrove swamps for example). There was no protection for the coast because these natural transition zones, teeming with life had been filled, dyked, paved over, you name it. All in the name of progress and development. That means "MAKING MONEY" for some people. Don't get me wrong, I like to make money too, but not at the expense of our planetary health.

In areas of the world where past human action or localized change in weather have caused desertification, or just simply erosion, societies have disappeared or become impoverished. Case in point, the Middle East, the Sahara, the American Dust Bowl states - and I know there are more examples but since I'm not an historian I will have to research this. When soil is lost, agriculture and natural vegetation is destroyed, people starve, wars start, migrations upset normal demographics - need I say more?

I heard today on National Public Radio about how some cities in the US, San Francisco for example, are doing a fabulous job of having their citizens separate food waste from the rest of their garbage. The city collects it, composts it, and sells it back to farms and others who need it to replenish soil. The city saves money on this deal and the earth is getting a helping hand.

Next time you throw out food waste in your trash, think about starting a compost pile. Details on how to do that coming soon on this blog space!

And if you think climate change is too big and you can't help - think again. On Saturday, 24 October 2009, is an International Day of Climate Action called "350". Take a stand for a Fair Copenhagen Climate Treaty that meets the science by attending an Energy Fair near you - wherever you live in the world. Go to 350.org to see what's happening in your neighborhood. Stop by a fair and learn all sorts of ideas you can put into action immediately to help the planet.

Friday, September 18, 2009


It is mid-September and today I picked our first beans. Unheard of! Usually I'm picking beans like a mad-woman from July on and can hardly keep up with the production from a few feet of plants. Not this year. This year I planted green beans and lima beans - we like the shelling kind of beans. I made three successive plantings from June through July, expecting a continuous supply all summer and enough to freeze.

Lest I am getting repetitive, I shall skip over the horrible growing conditions of this summer because you've heard me rant about them already. Suffice to say, no beans this summer till today, and September 18 is barely summer, really. It's been cool and we lit our first woodstove fire last night. But, beans there were. I picked enough for dinner of both varieties. Shelling a few lima pods produced about a cup of the most luscious beans - white with red splotches. The pods are fuzzy and definitely not palatable but the beans inside are delectable. Simply steamed together the string beans and shell beans were delicious - no butter, no salt, just plain and yummy. I hope we don't get a frost before I have chance to harvest more. I can't cover them to protect the plants because they're 12-14 feet high on poles!

Everything comes to she who waits!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Death and resurrection" (Rev. Tom Carr, The Big Context), Death and Resurrection is all around us.

Compost, though, gives me hope.

Antoine de Saint Exupery: In anything at all, perfection is finally attained, not when there is no longer anything left to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.

This is how I feel about compost. At first, we add, and add, and add, all kinds of waste plant material and food scraps - vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, weeds, you name it, - until a lovely big pile of stuff is created, and, by the way, a little soil or animal manure wouldn't hurt to add microbes and nitrogen to the pile. But, there comes a point when there's enough stuff added and now it is time to let it be. And, what happens in this phase? Well, simple, the taking away begins. Taking away of the physical nature of the matter - eaten by earthworms the matter becomes wormcastings. Digested by bacteria and other microbes, the matter becomes something other than it was before. No longer recognisable as carrot scrapings or potato peels, weeds, grass clippings, old tea bags, etc., the matter is now developing into a uniform brown approaching black fine textured granular material. Like soil, but not quite. Richer, with a fine tilth and pleasing aroma. Certainly not putrid like rotting vegetables. A healthy smell that one wants to sniff and go "Ahhh". Gone are the recognisable physical attributes of specific species. It has all been taken away by the natural decay and decomposing microbes which have performed a miracle. They've taken death, removed everything unnecessary and produced black gold, much more valuable than the fossil fuel variety.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I am very excited to announce what I hope will be the first of many educational events I am hosting to promote green living ideas with hands-on instruction for how to implement the techniques you often read about but have no clue how to do!

For the first time in Northwestern Connecticut, the Center for Sustainable Living is offering the Permaculture Design Course, and Introductory Lecture at its facility in Bethlehem.

Permaculture is a whole systems ecological design science. It offers insights and practical techniques for living a fruitful and abundant life while addressing the major issues of our day. Permaculture has become a world-wide movement and is an important tool for change in urban, suburban and rural environments.

I travelled to Brooklyn, NY last March to meet with Andrew Faust, New York’s visionary teacher in Permaculture design and education. I was so inspired by his knowledge and enthusiasm that I set to work to bring this comprehensive program to Connecticut. To my knowledge, this will be the first time Permaculture Design Certification is offered here.

In the introductory lecture, Andrew will explain fundamentals of Permaculture and outline the essentials of creating true health and wealth through the design of ecological communities and businesses, with practical ideas and solutions to transform your “green” dreams into reality. Come and hear Andrew at the intro lecture with no obligation to take the Certification course. This will be a good way to get a taste of what Permaculture is all about.

In the Permaculture Design Course, you will learn the essential elements of Permaculture, and cover topics essential to every Permaculturist’s development: from soil structure and health, to the invisible structures of our economy and society.

The curriculum includes: climate, energy and food, conservation techniques, long-term approaches to soils, water systems and waste, rethinking economics and more. At the end of the course you will be ready to apply these principles to real-life situations, and – mentored by Andrew for 1-2 years – you will be able to change your life and the communities in which you live and work.

WHERE: The Center for Sustainable Living, Bethlehem, CT
WHEN: Introductory Lecture: 15 December 2009, 1pm-4pm
Permaculture Design Course: 2/12-2/14/10, 2/26-2/28/10, 3/5-3/7/10, and 3/12-3/14/10. Fridays and Saturdays: 10am-9pm, Sundays: 10am-3pm.
FEES: Introductory Lecture $15.00
Permaculture Design Course $1,500.00 includes 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches
2 dinners plus incidental snacks, per weekend (32 meals over 4 weekends)
MORE INFORMATION AND REGISTRATION:Cynthia Rabinowitz 203-266-5595; connsoil@att.net Visit www.connsoil.com for a more detailed course description.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Easiest Way to Handle Blueberry Harvests

I've had a truly bumper blueberry season. The rain has swelled the fruit and kept them nice and plump and prolific. How to handle all the pickings expeditiously before they rot or go moldy is the key thing.

Making jam, pies, blueberry muffins, crumble and other delectable treats are, of course, an option, but one that may be too time-consuming when you have the picking and weeding and sorting and... well, we all know garden work is endless.

Harold McGee, writing in the New York Times, The Curious Cook column of 25 August 2009, makes it much too complicated.

Here's the quickest and most foolproof way to preserve excess berries. Sort through the berries to remove leaves, debris and stems and the occasional caterpillar that may be there. If you feel the need, rinse the berries under cold running water and spread in a single layer on a tray with a dry cloth or paper towels underneath. Leave on the kitchen counter to air dry. That step may be hastened by pointing an ordinary room fan towards the berries. When dry, or even partially dry, remove the towels and place the entire tray with berries in your freezer for a few hours. When the berries are frozen, pour them all into plastic bags or containers and return to the freezer.

The benefit of this method is that the berries will not stick together since they were frozen separated. When you want to use them, pour or scoop the desired quantity from the bag/container and use in any way you want. I've used them, frozen, to dress up a fresh fruit salad, added them, frozen, to muffins and pies and pancakes.

It's a truly no fuss way to handle the harvest. By the way, this works well with grapes, peas, other berries, you name it.

Happy harvest!

Monday, August 24, 2009

More On Blight

Blight is such an awful word, really. Conjuring up visions of plague, illness and dark clouds overhead. That's just what has continued to happen here in New England, this summer, as gardens and farms have continued to lose tomato and potato crops. Sad for home-gardeners trying to save money by growing their own vegetables. Tragic for farmers whose incomes for the year may now be decimated. We need to buy as much other produce from local farmers as possible to help them weather these losses or they may not be here next year.

On the bright side, the University of Connecticut plant pathology department is confirming that during our cold winters, the spores will not overwinter in the soil. That is good news because otherwise we could be looking at many years of infestation.

To be on the safe side, though, I am recommending not using any stored potatoes as seed potatoes next year. Why take a chance, even if they do keep well in storage. Plan on buying certified disease-free potatoes to start with. Also, I think it is best not to compost plant parts of infected tomatoes or potatoes. Although, theoretically, the heating in a compost pile should kill pathogens, why take a chance? Perhaps your compost pile is not constructed perfectly and the spores might live in the warmth of the pile through the winter, but not be killed. Bury the plants and diseased vegetables at least two feet deep in the ground or burn the whole lot.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Peach Pie Blues

It was the perfect day to make peach pie. Peaches are plentiful around here and my husband, Stuart, had just worked his way through part of a large cardboard crate of peaches by making several quarts of peach jam. With the sealed jars cooling on the counter, many more peaches in the crate, and weekend guests arriving in a few hours, peach pie seemed the obvious dessert for dinner.

I quickly made two batches of butter-based pie pastry, wrapped them in wax paper and then plastic bags and placed them in the freezer for a quick cool down. In the meantime, I boiled a large pan of water and blanched the peaches so the skins would easily slip off. Slicing 10 cups of peach flesh into a glass bowl, I then sprinkled over a cup of brown sugar.

The sky started to get dark and ominous and the radio was warning of dangerous thunderstorms in our area. Nothing to get alarmed about as we have lots of late afternoon thunderstorms during summer in our part of northwestern Connecticut. The heat and humidity builds during the day and the tension releases in violent storms as the sun starts to get lower in the sky. A typical summer day, except this storm front was influenced by the effects of Hurricane Bill out in the Atlantic. The storm clouds were impressively churning.

But peach pie was calling and I methodically continued my preparations for two pies - one to be frozen, uncooked, for later consumption and one for tonight.

Squeezing a large lemon, I scraped the pulp into the juice and poured it all over the sweetened peach slices, sprinkled with cinnamon, ground ginger, fresh ground black pepper (yes, it is my secret ingredient for all fruit pies and makes the fruit zingy and gives depth to the flavors). Tossing the whole thing together, I set aside the bowl and turned on the oven to preheat to 450 degrees. I like to start the pies off in a hot oven for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350 to finish.

Everything was proceeding nicely with no hint of any trouble to come. The sky was getting black and rumblings could be heard in the distance. My cats and dog started to become restless.

I rolled out the first pastry shell, layered the fruit in the dish and covered with the top crust layer. Into the oven the pie went just as a bolt of lightening broke right over the house followed almost instantly by a crash of thunder. I'm used to this type of weather but it is a bit un-nerving when the storm is right overhead. One after another lightening bolts broke around the immediate neighborhood and three times in a row the electric current in the house gave off startling loud crackles as if the wires outside had been hit directly. Then, disaster - a loud crack of lightening, a flash of light, a popping sound and.....horrors! No electricity!

The timing could not have been worse with my pie in the oven and our guests arriving on the New York bus shortly. Torrential rain was gushing down outside and the gutters off the roof were emptying the deluge into the rain barrel on the corner of the house near the kitchen window.

I decided the best thing to do was to play it cool. After all, the oven had reached 450 degrees and if I didn't open the door it could stay hot for some time. Who knows? Perhaps the pie would cook in there even as the temperature cooled.

After about an hour I run out through the still-gushing rain to drive to the bus station to collect our friends. Taking my life in my hands, I drove through the still dangerous lightening dramatically flashing all around. I was sure a tree was going to come down on my car as I drove through tree-lined country lanes. I left Stuart at home to figure out how to cook an entire dinner on an outdoor gas grill.
The electric company had no clear idea how long the power would be off, but the estimate was at least 3 hours. Not too bad. Of course, the New York bus was delayed because of the storm and I sat in the depot lot in my steamed up car feeling frustrated, tired, and very sticky while several buses came in sans friends. I had no actual idea at that point how long the delay would be, since the depot was closed and there was no-one to ask. An hour later, friends safely in my car, we make our way home through more rain.

At home, there was still no power but the house was very pretty with candles and the Coleman camping light illuminating the kitchen counter. Stuart was heroically cooking on the gas grill - thankfully the rain had eased to a gentle misty drizzle.

The pie was still in the oven but was only about half baked. I felt half baked after the experiences of the last few hours! Nevertheless, I removed the pie from the now cool oven and looked for a place to set it. All the kitchen surfaces were covered with stuff! There was no space! I guess baking and cooking in darkness with no running water (because no power for the well-pump) leads to a lot of mess, to say the least.

I set the pie dish on top of the pan used to blanche the peaches and went on to help with the rest of the dinner preparations. All our camping experience came to the fore and we produced a lovely dinner - home-made bread made earlier in the day, marinated baked tofu - ditto, steak on the grill, potatoes dug fresh from the garden were boiled on the gas grill and smothered with chive butter, and sliced veggies cooked on the grill. Two bottles of wine, candles, music - we were actually starting to enjoy this.

After dinner, I decided to finish cooking the pie on the grill on top of a pizza stone. Lifting the dish off from the top of the water pan proved to be extremely difficult as a vapor lock had occurred fastening the pie-dish rim tightly to the top of the pan. I used the point of a knife to loosen under it and just then another disaster occurred! The pie dropped into the pan of water and was completely submerged.

Undeterred, but almost hysterical with the comedy of the event, I fished out the pie and stuck it out on the grill and closed the lid. I had no idea what to expect. I had visions of having to ditch the pastry and try to salvage the peach filling to serve over ice-cream or some such thing. But, twenty minutes later I retrieved the pie, cooked to perfection. The pastry was light and flaky and seemed completely unaffected by its arduous path through electric power outage, a dunking in a water bath and cooking on a pizza stone on an outdoor grill.

The moral of this story, seems to be that precise cooking and baking instructions are totally unncessary and one can produce delicious and picture-perfect food in any number of unorthodox ways. I highly recommend dunking uncooked pies in a water bath before cooking!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Check out the latest Greentips online from the Union of Concerned Scientists for the latest on using re-chargeable batteries. While you're at it, sign up with UCS to receive their Greentips in your own e.mail. UCS is a terrific organization that serves to educate and also lobby for the environment. You can rely on their credibility and expect to learn a lot by reading their bulletins. Simply highlight the URL address below and paste it into your browser bar.

Kick the Disposable Battery Habit
August 2009
Read this issue of Greentips online

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mid-August and summer is finally here

The temperature has hit the high numbers and the sun is shining. Gardens are soaking up the sun and plants are photosynthesizing and trying to make up for lost time. Finally, beans are podding-up, and eggplants (aubergines) are purpling. But it is time to look ahead because, even though we are all in denial, fall is actually right around the corner. Depressing as that may be for those of us who haven't really had a proper summer, it's no reason to get sad because there's months more gardening left and great food to grow and harvest.

Eating local is much easier than it used to be now that farmers' markets abound. The best way to eat local, though, is to grow it yourself. Much fresher than any other source, and much, much less expensive. For the cost of a packet of seed - around $3.25 - $4.50, you can grow literally pounds and pounds of fresh produce. With a little planning, you can freeze, dry, jar or store produce in a root cellar for all-winter eating. Last year, I harvested enough winter squash to store and eat all winter. We had one butternut or acorn squash each week until March of this year. That was a record.

So how will you plan for this? First of all, get busy now and seed some cool-weather-loving vegetables that you can grow all fall. In this category are: broccoli, spinach, kale, cabbage, carrots, beets, radishes, cauliflower, lettuce, peas. You can start the seeds indoors just as you would in the spring, or outdoors in a sheltered location. They seeds will germinate quickly at this time of year because of the warmth, but it's best not to place them where the fierce unfiltered sun strikes them because the emerging seedlings are very sensitive at that stage and may quickly dry out and whither if you are not paying attention. Once they are up and growing with at least 2 sets of leaves, move them into the full sun making sure they don't dry out. Fertilize the young seedlings with compost tea to give them a weak dose of the essential nutrients they need to grow.

My next post will detail the best way to start seeds and how to transplant them into the garden.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inventing Cabbage Slaw

Despite the problems with warm season crops that we should be harvesting right now, but aren't, - the beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, cucumbers etc. - cool season crops think this summer is just perfect. The abundance of kale, spinach, root crops, potatoes and plain old cabbage, is providing our table with lots of nutritious fresh food. But I need to do something to the plain old vegetables to brighten them up. Cabbage is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten cooked or raw. Tonight I invented a new cole slaw that I'm thrilled with. I'll share the recipe with any of you who are reading this - is anyone reading this?

Here goes:

Chop up a small head of cabbage to make about 6 cups of shredded cabbage.
Finely chop about 1 1/2 cups of celery, and if there are celery leaves, use them too.
Core and dice a green apple, leave the peel on.
Mix this all in a large bowl and dress with the following:

1 cup (8 ounces) of plain non-fat yoghurt
1 tablespoon of sour cream or plain non-fat Greek yoghurt (the thick kind)
1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon of honey
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 heaped tablespoon of grated fresh ginger root (I keep one in the freezer and grate it frozen - it's much easier that way and doesn't get stringy)
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Whisk quickly but thoroughly and pour over the cabbage mixture.

Toss the whole thing and refrigerate until cold. Taste and adjust for salt and add more honey if you want it a bit sweeter. This could probably be stored in the refrigerator a couple of days if you wanted to make it ahead.

I think this would go well with a red lentil soup and new boiled potatoes and that's what I'm serving tonight!

As Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit!

More on Late Blight

I just discovered that copper formulations are acceptable for organic growers and I'm going to get some to keep on hand. So far,my other garden areas of tomatoes and potatoes do not have late blight. That's good news but I'm still not optimistic because the fungal spores can travel up to 40 miles on air currents. But at least we can hope for a harvest of some kind before the other plants keel over.

One bit of good news - I just spoke with Dr. Balogh Botond, Plant Pathologist from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and he has assured me that the spores do not overwinter in the soil in Connecticut because of the cold winters. That means we do not have to avoid planting Solonaceous plants next year and keep the soil fallow. The only way to infect the garden again would be to plant infected potato tubers.

For those of you who don't live in the northeast United States, this will all be boring for you. I promise more interesting blogs soon. At the moment this is consuming me!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

5 August 2009


As if this gardening season hasn’t been difficult enough - what with the rain and cool temperatures , deer damage, slug damage and miscellaneous small animal damage – disaster struck today!

The Late Blight disease, which afflicts plants in the Solonaceae family (including tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers), has been in the news this season as one farmer after another in the Northeast has lost their crop of tomatoes. I haven’t heard about potatoes being infected in this region, but potatoes are traditionally very susceptible to the disease too. It will only be a matter of time, in my opinion.

As an interesting historical note of how plant pathology has affected demography, the Irish Potato Famine beginning in 1845, was caused by the Late Blight fungus. Because of the extent of potato growing in Ireland and the reliance of the people on the potato as their staple food, at that time, the devastation of the potato crop caused famine and brought about the mass migration of Irish people to America. (Of course, delving further into history tells us that the famine could have been avoided but representatives of the government – Britain essentially – blocked famine relief efforts. I’m a Brit and I’m not proud of this. My family were immigrants to England in the late 1880’s so we weren’t actually there when this was happening. We were too busy being persecuted in Eastern Europe! Phew, what a relief.)

This week, after a tomato-less summer, we finally picked a couple of luscious large tomatoes and a bowlful of cherry-sized. But, today, the dreaded disease was seen on our most advanced and previously healthy plants – loaded with large ripening tomatoes.

Sadly, we had to immediately remove the plants out of the raised bed. We harvested all the healthy, unblemished green tomatoes, and burned everything else. We made a small bonfire on a wood pallet and built up the fire with sticks and split logs, dry leaves, mulch hay etc. and fed the diseased plants and tomatoes on the top, a little at a time. Everything was burned and then we turned our attention to our tools, shoes etc. Anything that may have come in contact with the infected plant parts were washed in a light bleach solution. This is mixed with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Clothing went straight in the washing machine with a little bleach added to the rinse cycle.

We have have garden beds in different locations, so there are other tomato plants, peppers, eggplants and potatoes elsewhere. We do not know yet if these other areas are infected and only time will tell. A nice planting of eggplants are growing in the same bed as the diseased tomatoes and, although they look healthy now, I am pessimistic about their future. This year, we have six different varieties of potatoes growing and they have been fabulously prolific so far. If the disease takes them, we should still be able to eat some of the potato tubers themselves – if they are not rotted – but storing them through the winter will probably not be possible.

To store potatoes, they need to be dug as late as possible in the season so that the skins have time to toughen-up. If we have to dig them up soon, the skins will be thin – delicious for immediate cooking but not storing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this part of the garden will be spared.

Late Blight manifests first as dark, wettish spots on the leaves and then streaky dark areas on the stems. The leaf spots appear dark in the middle and have a characteristic pale green halo. If left to develop, the plants will rot and smell nasty.

Typically, the only possible solution for this disease is spraying with fungicides – which I do not do in my garden since I’m an organic grower. I am going to look into the possibility of using a copper-based solution which has anti-fungal properties. It is possible that this is an acceptable material for organic growers. More information on this to come.

To read more about Late Blight, and to see photographs of the diseased plants, visit Cornell University’s Fact Sheet web site at:

Monday, July 27, 2009


I’m alone tonight. What should I eat? I like to treat myself well – after all, even alone I showered, dressed and put on purple earrings. So why shouldn’t I eat well, too?

It’s July and the garden is bursting, even after the almost continuous rainy, cloudy and cool weather. It is only marginally drier now, but hotter.

So, what do I have? Let’s see. Hmm…, beets – such a magnificent color. The tops, the beet greens, are yummy too. I can use them but I have to examine them carefully for Beet Leaf Miner, a tiny larval insect that tunnels between the upper and lower leaf surfaces and create a brownish discolored area on the leaf. This is easy to see and I just slice off those parts and throw them in the compost receptacle on my counter. Next I wash two beets, chop them and set them aside in a tiny white dish. They look beautiful.

The first thing is to put a little olive oil in a sauté pan and start heating it.

Those onion tops left from the other day look nice, and one even has an aromatic purple flower on it. I slice the hollow stems into rings and throw them into the pan. I toss in the flower too, for fun. The chopped beets go in, as well.

I picked red-streaked radicchio today and I wash it carefully, checking for slugs. There’s a plague of slugs this season because of all the rain. I set the chopped radicchio aside for a few minutes because I’ve just remembered the snap peas I picked. I quickly wash them and pull off any strings and throw the pods in the pan with the gently sautéing beets and onion greens.

What else is there to eat? In the fridge I find a small piece of tofu floating in water in a plastic container. Rinsed, patted dry and diced, it goes into the sauté pan.

I remember some roasted vegetable ravioli in the freezer and I take out 4 of them. On the back burner I set a small pan of water to boil.

Meanwhile, the beet greens and radicchio go into the stir fry, and then the ravioli into the boiling water.

I need some sort of a sauce to top it all off but my tomatoes aren’t ripe yet so I rummage in the back of the fridge again and fish out a jar of tomato sauce lurking there. No good – it’s moldy and even I won’t eat it. Even I, (who thinks eating a little green/blue mold won't hurt occasionally), think this sauce is too far gone. So I open a jar of spicy salsa and spoon a half-a-cup over the sautéed vegetables and heat it through.

Nearly ready! I drain the ravioli and throw them into the stir-fry; toss it all together with wooden spoons and slide the whole thing into a large amber-colored soup plate and sprinkle it with coarsely shaved Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

A glass of red wine – Carr Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and I’m all set. I take it out onto my screened deck and listen to the rain coming down on my garden, (again!), and to Pavarotti on the CD player. A Common Gray Treefrog trills its song near me outside the screen. It has taken up residence under the gas grill cover for the summer.

What could be more divine?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Slugs and Rain

26 July 2009

Gardeners would agree that every season has its challenges, but I can’t remember one like this – It has rained almost every day through June and July. Some days only a shower on and off, most days cool, overcast, dismal and wet. Not good for our gardens – too much of a good thing, like water, brings on the slugs, and the rot. The cold temperatures are not friendly for peppers, tomatoes, squash and other warm season annuals. What can be done?

At our garden, we’ve moved as many vegetables into raised beds as possible and in the sunniest part of the property to catch whatever rays are on offer. Raised beds drain quickly and the deep soil encourages the plants to put down deep roots which is a good thing for nutrient uptake. The soil is so well aerated because we’ve added good compost and rotted horse manure, and the plants can grow without drowning in puddles.

The cold night temperatures are stopping the tomatoes from ripening – we need heat! If nothing happens soon, I’m going to have a party and experiment with “fried green tomatoes” and show the movie too!

Overall, the garden has been mediocre – but we’ve had really great salad vegetables (they don’t really need or like heat) we’ve been harvesting since mid-March from the cold frame (more on cold frames later). We’ve had 3 kinds of lettuce, 2 kinds of spinach, 2 kinds of edible pea pods, Italian dandelion greens, arugula, beets, carrots and radishes. You can eat the tops of those root crops too. Carrot and radish tops are better when they’re young, When older they are a little tough but can be boiled up with other veggies for a vegetable soup stock.

If you are over-run with slugs the way people around here in Connecticut are, there’re a few things you can do:

· set out shallow aluminum pie dishes filled with beer (yes! Beer!), put the

lip of the pan at ground level with the center sunk a bit. The slugs will be attracted to the beer, crawl in and die.

· spend some time picking off the slimy buggers and dropping them into a

pail of water – they drown.

· sprinkle gritty stuff like crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, limestone, cat

litter – or use your imagination – around the plants which are attracting the slugs. Their slimy little bodies can’t take the coarse texture and they will probably not try and cross the barrier.

Despite all these precautions – TRIPLE WASH AND CAREFULLY INSPECT your greens where slugs can easily hide. No-one wants to find a slug in the mouth – or worse, half a slug – while dining.

Happy gardening, more to come.