Friday, January 29, 2016

Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – Get Outside! 5 Things To Do at the Arboretum This Winter

I really can’t stand winter. I get cold so easily and have to wear longjohns just to keep warm even at work. I become like a hermit when the cold weather hits. I also tend to get the winter doldrums. I got spoiled this year with the warm start to winter. Now the cold weather and snow is here and it’s time to toughen up. With my new job I have a commute that involves walking almost two miles a day in the city – one mile there and one mile home, plus the train and driving. It has forced me to try to get used to the colder weather and I have found that getting out there and walking, even in the chilly wind and snow, helps to make me feel better. Breathing in the fresh air and getting my heart rate going invigorates me. A great place to get outside and cure your cabin fever is the Morris Arboretum. Check out my latest post called “Get Outside! 5 Things To Do at the Arboretum This Winter.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

My Kitchen Garden in September 2015

I swear I’ll catch up eventually with my posts about my garden last year! I don’t have a lot of photos of my kitchen garden in September, so at least that helps.

In the photo below you will noticed that my basil started going to seed in September. I had planted lots of Nufar Basil in 2015 because that seemed to be the only variety that wasn’t dying on me. Nufar Basil is similar to Genovese Basil in the sense that it is a type of Sweet Basil, but Nufar is resistant to Fasarium Disease. Fasarium Disease is actually a fungus that spreads via contaminated seeds and can last in the soil for years. In 2014, all of my basil succumbed to this disease. All other varieties of basil that I saw in nurseries in the area seemed to have it, except for Nufar. So this will be my go-to basil until I can find another variety that is resistant.

Another observation from the photo below is the one boxwood that is dying in the circular bed. It is pretty much completely dead now, but the other three in this same bed look fine. I am a bit concerned that this could be boxwood blight, and if that’s the case, that could be very bad for the many other boxwoods that I have. Boxwood blight is a fungus that causes severe die-back and spreads by spores that are carried by wind, rain, animal, or human. Maybe I’ll get lucky and that isn’t the issue.

In the same u-shaped beds are Garlic Chives, which come back every year. You can kind of see them in the photo below.

I love the flavor of the Garlic Chives, however you have to dead-head them after they bloom or they will set seed everywhere. The flower-heads are clusters of tiny flowers and every single one of them has seeds. That’s s lot of seeds.

The sweet potato vines that I planted in late summer were looking good in September, and those Gift Zinnias from Hudson Valley Seed Library were still going strong. Man, I loved those. The approximately 3 foot tall stems were self-supporting and the red flowers lasted until the first hard frost.

The Gift Zinnias, as well as the Garlic Chive flowers, were often part of my centerpiece on the table on the screened-in back porch.

I have two of these grasses along the border of the kitchen garden and I just love them in the late summer and early fall. The green leaves get tints of orange and red and the plumes are cottony soft and sway in the wind. For a long time I thought this was Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah,’ but the plumes don’t look right at all to be that. It looks more like Miscanthus Purpurascens.

Texas Sage ‘Lady in Red’ was a favorite of mine, and the hummingbirds, in 2015. It is an annual. I planted it in the flower garden, as well as in one of the big blue pots in the kitchen garden. The hummingbirds had left by September, but the flowers were still blooming profusely.

Speaking of the big blue pots, the Solanum quitoense (Naranjilla) that I overwintered in my greenhouse last year produced an abundant amount of fruit in 2015. Check out my post from 2014 to read more about this fascinating plant.

That appears to be the only photos that I took of the kitchen garden in September. So until next time...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Guest Blog Post for Morris Arboretum – Red Isn’t Just For Valentine’s Day Anymore

My first guest blog post of the new year for Morris Arboretum is about red berries. It is called “Red Isn’t Just For Valentine’s Day Anymore.” If you are looking to add some pizzazz to your winter landscape, check out some of the red-berried beauties mentioned in the post!

Lassie Koehne Holly (Ilex x koehneana ‘Lassie’) at Morris Arboretum

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Brewing With Our Own Hops

This is a belated post about brewing with our own hops. I started this post in September 2015, but never quite finished it. Here it is finally done... 

Hop vines have been a part of the garden for about 4-5 years. The first ones were planted against the shed/workshop and then another vine is in the back of the kitchen garden, behind the garden bench. The rhizomes came from friends and we think that both are Cascade hops. Brian is a homebrewer, however he had never brewed with our hops before.

Every year we talk about how the hops should be tied up to grow vertically. We finally had done that this spring. The hops LOVED it and really went to town. We had a plethora of hops, at least on the vines against the shed. Brian decided this was the year to brew with them and made a wet-hopped Harvest Ale.

(Most hops used in brewing are dried, either whole cones or compressed into pellets. Wet-hopping refers to using fresh hops right off of the vines, preferably at their peak of freshness.)

Hops are sometimes grown just as ornamental vines. They start out as tendrils sprouting from the rhizomes, then grow quickly, produce lovely cones, then die back in the fall. You can cut the vines in late fall or early spring and they will sprout again in spring.

Now, don’t be thinking this will be a blog post about how to brew beer, because I’m not the homebrewer. But I can give you a general idea of what we did. This is also probably a good time to mention that I can’t actually drink beer! I have celiac disease and am on a life-long, gluten-free diet. However, Brian brews with something called Clarity Ferm, which strips out the gluten to below 20 parts per million, which is what is considered safe for those on gluten-free diets. Clarity Ferm is still controversial in celiac communities and my own nutritionist is even apprehensive about it, but I have had no issues drinking small amounts of gluten-reduced beer from time to time.

The first thing that Brian does when brewing is a yeast starter. There is a magnet inside the liquid and it spins around stirring the liquid. Those bits are yeast particles spinning around.

My part in the brewing process was to gather the hops. That required getting out the ladder and plucking off hop cones. (I promised myself I would never have photos of me on this blog, but Brian took some photos that I am in, so I am doing my best to crop myself out!)

Some of the hop cones were small and some were pretty large.

The next thing that I did was to weigh the hops. Brian wanted about one pound of hop cones, and we ended up with a little less than thirteen ounces.

Brian is showing the interior of a hop cone here.

My final contribution to the brewing process was to stuff the hops into two mesh bags, about 6 oz. each.

Brian brews in the shed (well, we often call it a shed, but it is more like a workshop with a loft). He keeps the door open while brewing for ventilation. This photo shows his brewing rig.

The recipe and some of Brian’s mad-scientist brewing stuff.

 At the end of the brewing process, Brian added the mesh bags of hops to the boil.

The thing about brewing beer is you can’t drink it right away. It has to ferment. The Harvest Ale fermented about 4 weeks. I can honestly say, the finished product is delicious. An excellent beer. And it tastes even better if you’re drinking it in the garden!

Brian is talking about doing a dry-hopped beer with our hops next year. Something to look forward to!

This is the recipe that Brian used for the wet-hopped Harvest Ale:

Wet Hop Ale 2015 
8-B American Pale Ale (BJCP 2015 Guidelines)

Size: 5.25 gal
Efficiency: 73.5%
Attenuation: 80%
Calories: 221.92 kcal per 16.0 fl oz

Original Gravity: 12.49°P / 1.050
Terminal Gravity: 2.58°P / 1.010
Color: 11.63 SRM
Alcohol: 5.29% ABV
Bitterness: 47.3 (Tinseth)

82.5% Pale Ale (8.7 lb)**
9.5% Rye Malt (1 lb)**
6.8% Vienna Malt (11.5 oz.)**
2 oz Roasted Barley (added @ vorlauf for color only)
.5 oz Centennial (9.3%) @ 60m
.5 oz Chinook (13.1%) @ 60 m
1 tsp Wyeast Nutrient @ 10 m
1 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) @ 10 m
1 ea Servomyces @ 10 m
6.25 oz Cascade WET HOPS (1%) @ 5 m
6.25 oz Cascade WET HOPS (1%) @ 0 m (flameout)

Clarity-Ferm (10ml) - added dry to primary fermenter
White Labs WLP007 Dry English Ale

Single-infusion mash @ 149ºF

Ca 120 ppm
Mg 3 ppm
Na 8 ppm
SO4 239.2 ppm
Cl 52 ppm
HCO3 19 ppm
SO4/Cl Ratio 5.6
Target Mash pH: 5.4

2L starter / target 185 billion cells
202g DME

Pitch: 65ºF (probe ON fermenter)
Day 5: 75ºF (probe OFF fermenter)
Day 10: 40ºF
Day 12+: fine w/ gelatin (beer must be < 50ºF)
Day 16+: rack

** The amounts in parenthesis are the amounts Brian used, based on his mashtun efficiency (73.5). He says that you can use the percentages and OG to scale the recipe to your specific brewing system.

My Kitchen Garden in August (yes, August)

Wow, I don’t think I have ever been THIS far behind with my garden posts. Major home repairs due to a roof leak, transitioning to a new job, and the holidays are my excuses this time. At least I have the winter to get caught up!

What the heck WAS happening in the kitchen garden in August? It seems so long ago.

From purely a visual standpoint, the kitchen garden was looking lush, green, and full in August. The Gift Zinnias, which I had planted from seed in spring (from Hudson Valley Seed Library), added a pop of red to the raised beds, as did the Lady in Red Texas Sage in the blue pot.

The white hydrangeas and yellow Black Eyed Susans in the flower garden made for a nice border to the kitchen garden.

I had planted a Japanese Maple in the blue pot, along with the Lady in Red Texas Sage, which is an annual. I hate to say it, but I don’t think the Maple survived the dry heat that we had later, but I could be wrong. I am trying to remain hopeful that it will surprise me in the spring.

Speaking of the blue pots, in my other blue pot I still had my Solanum quitoense (Naranjilla), which I had bought in 2014 and overwintered in my greenhouse. It did even better in 2015 and formed tons of fruit. The leaves were as fuzzy and spiky as ever.

The u-shaped beds contained orange Zinnias, Alaska Nasturtium, Garlic Chives (a perennial), Nufar Sweet Basil (this variety did best for me in 2015 and managed to avoid the Downy Mildew that has plagued a lot of basil varieties the past couple of years), and curly-leafed Parsley (which does better for me than the flat-leafed variety).

This photo was taken later in August when the Garlic Chives started to bloom.

I do love the look of the Garlic Chives in bloom, but you have to be careful and try to cut them off before they drop seed. They reseed literally EVERYWHERE, including in the gravel path. I never seem to get them trimmed in time.

A new and exciting addition to the kitchen garden in 2015 was the Red Noodle Bean from Hudson Valley Seed Library. This started to take off just before I went away for a long weekend in the Poconos and I never managed to harvest any of the beans to actually eat! It looked so cool, though. I want to try again in 2016 and actually eat them this time. A friend had given me these seeds and the magenta-colored, foot-long, bean pods were really thrilling to see.

There was some new seeds that I planted in 2015 that I was really stoked about, but they never took off. One of them was Hopi Red Dye Amaranth from Seeds of Change. I was really looking forward to seeing a cluster of 4-6 feet tall plants with dark red leaves and fuscia flowers, but only got about two of them and they were no more than a foot or two tall. This is a tender annual, so I’m doubtful they will come back.

Another crop I was looking forward to was Gold Nugget Winter Squash, also from Seeds of Change. I got one. Yes one.

One thing that did really well was the Merlot Lettuce from Hudson Valley Seed Library. This was a tasty addition to salads and I planted at least two crops of it. The leaves were pretty both in salads and in the garden!

My Cilantro always bolts before I have a chance to use it, so I tried Cilantro Papalo this time, from Grower’s Exchange. It is popular in Hispanic communities. This ended up forming a tall plant. I liked it, but I do love the regular Cilantro that I’m used to and it just wasn’t the same. This plant certainly did well in the garden, though.

Parts of the kitchen garden started to look a bit overgrown later in the month, as the Nasturtium creeped along the gravel paths, the Hop Vine took over the garden bench, and the Beautyberry bush blocked the back path.

I had filled in a bare spot late in August with sweet potatoes (left bed) – my first year trying them. The Nautic F-1 Brussels Sprouts from Seeds of Change (right bed) were getting taller, but not really forming sprouts.

A better shot of the Brussels Sprouts. Something was eating the leaves, however I was trying to remain hopeful that the sprouts would form.

Tomatoes were a disappointment in the garden again this year. They don’t seem to like the raised beds too well. In fact, with the other issues I had in 2015, I think I need to do a soil test and amend accordingly. I may try my tomatoes in pots this year. I had a hanging pot of tomatoes that did great on my back porch. In the garden, I got only a couple of Rutgers tomatoes.

It was enough for some caprese salad, though, a summer favorite of mine. I do mine with balsamic vinegar. Click here for my recipe.

The Indigo Ruby cherry-sized tomatoes in the garden grew a total of maybe 8 fruits. They were very tasty in salads, though. This salad contained greens, cucumbers, and parsley from garden, along with the Indigo Ruby tomatoes, and local corn and mozzarella. I put just a tad of extra virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar as dressing. Delicious!

The hanging tomato plant was called Tumbling Tom Yellow and I had gotten it at an Amish market in Maryland in the spring. I had tons of grape-sized tomatoes all summer long. They were great in this Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Crostini recipe from Martha Stewart. I added fresh basil from the garden to the recipe.

So yeh, that was the kitchen garden in August, yes August. Sheesh. It is fun looking back on the gardening season from 2015, though, as it is quite cold and winter-like outside right now. Time to start dreaming about what I will plant in the kitchen garden this coming spring!