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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmJanuary 30, 2006

Happy New Year!

First, to the good news! Thanks to all of our holiday customers, we were able to divide more than $1700.00 between the three animal shelters - Pioneer Valley Humane Society, Monadnock Humane Society and Kitty Angels - in November and December! Additionally, we sent off $250.00 to the Windham County Humane Society in Brattleboro in December. Last year we had included all four shelters in our donation of 20% of holiday sales, but had dropped Windham this season so that we could give a greater donation to the other three. However, Ralph was listening to the radio one morning and learned that Windham was in dire straits and in real danger of closing. Since that's the shelter that our beloved Teddy was fostered in we didn't have to think twice about sending in a donation. Thanks again to all of our customers, and thanks to the heroes who take care of all the homeless pets!

As for old Senator Ted, he's still chugging along. The mild weather has been good for him and for Ralph. They spend most of their days on the unheated porch (with some of the warmth of the kitchen's wood cook-stove filtering in). His long, thick Newfoundland/Chow coat means that Teddy is completely comfortable on the porch and Ralph is on hand to see to his every need and provide him with a peanut-butter stuffed bone or a home-cooked meal of turkey and rice. I can't believe it, but it's been a year since we moved into the living room so that Ted wouldn't have to climb the stairs to our bedroom. We thought then that he was on his last legs, but now I'm sure he'll see his 12th birthday in February.

This is the mildest winter in my memory (and my 85 year old parents agree). It's the end of January and we haven't seen any temperatures below zero, and many days (like today) have reached into the 40's. I know everyone jokes about how wonderful this "global warming" is (and I love a mild winter as much as anyone) but the more accurate nomenclature is CLIMATE CHANGE. It doesn't have the rosy, comforting ring of "global warming" but speaks to the fact that the weather pendulum is swinging more severely - this winter in Eastern Europe has been as severe as ours has been mild, and next year could be the reverse.

IN THE GARDENS

We used the time between two snowstorms in early January to mulch the garlic and strawberry beds so the straw stayed in place and protected the plants from the freeze-thaw cycles that cause more damage than cold weather. Winter rye that we had planted in November revealed itself during the January thaw. The terraced beds were especially striking, shining in the sunlight like carpets of emerald - an unnatural color in the typical palette of January's blues, greys and browns.

The herbs on the melting slope were brighter than usual too....oregano, savory, parsley and thyme all revealed new growth and there was so much French sorrel that I could have made soup!

I've been busy with my seed orders - checking this catalogue and that, looking for the best prices of my favorites - and going over my photos from last year to help my decision making. Johnny's Seeds of Maine is my all-time favorite catalogue - especially for vegetables and especially for the detailed growing information they provide - but I know I need to winnow my list already. I want to grow more vegetables, but I really don't have enough room for all the squashes, melons, cukes and pumpkins I've chosen and it really makes more sense to get those from Tom (of Dancing Bear Farm fame). I can never have enough tomatoes and peppers though, and I'll order those from Johnny's and Tomato Growers' Supply who offer lots of heirloom varieties (including the tremendous San Marzano which led the legendary avalanche of tomatoes of 2004). Johnny's has a new Italian pepper named Carmen which I'm anxious to try (others carry this as well, but Johnny's actually bred this new cultivar) and I'll also grow the old standby Italia and Tomato Growers' Marconi. Since the Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve has proven to be so popular I need to grow more sweet and chile peppers than ever. I'll probably grow a dozen varieties each of tomatoes and peppers which seems like a lot until I remember that Tom grows something like 400 varieties (not plants) of tomatoes alone!

I order some flowers from Johnny's but the bulk come from Park's Seeds - my Mum's favorite seed company. Last year I grew lots and lots of flowers for bouquets since my friend Kathy wasn't coming to the Newton Farmers' Market, but she'll be back this summer so I'll scale back. I grew chile peppers on the terrace below the herb slope for many years and decided last year that I really should rotate them out of there and planted the ageratum and carousel zinnias there, punctuated with purple basils and nasturtiums. It really was a spectacular cutting garden as last year's photos reminded me, but this year I'll return it to chile peppers.

Readers with long memories might remember that the phoebe who had nested in the eaves of our old house was the culprit who ate many of my germinating seeds - including my favorite cayenne peppers. By the time I realized what had happened, it was too late to start more cayennes and although I had other chile peppers, none performed as well nor worked as well in our Aceto Diablo Vinegar (which is why we're out of it!). Mrs. Phoebe also devoured many of the zinnias, much of the ageratum and almost every sunflower that I started in May. My 2005 garden photos reveal lots and lots of nasturtiums - the only seed Mrs. Phoebe distained - and I must admit, they are beautiful. I had a lot of unusual varieties of nasturtiums because a wonderful local school attended by my young friend Joe had sold seeds as a fund-raiser. The kids decorated the seed packets and the evocative names of many nasturtium varieties like Empress of India and Jewel of Africa inspired art that I just couldn't resist. Lucky for me, too, because nasturtiums are virtually effortless and provide striking, vibrant colors that last right through to frost. I've always grown trailing nasturtiums in the perennial gardens because they find their way to fill in the gaps after the perennials are cut back, but last year taught me that they really are a spectacular flower no matter where you put them.

Mum and I were reminded how much we both love the old-fashioned flower known simply as "stock" - a lovely, fragrant favorite of florists. I'll grow this again, and some fragrant dianthus too. And of course I'll put in a thousand or so basil plants (down from the 2,000 that I used to grow when we focused more on vinegars than on preserves). The herbal-infused honeys proved very popular during the holiday season and although I have plenty lavender and chocolate mint, I want to grow more lemon verbena. It's a sensational herb and was delightful infused into the wildflower honey. I'm also putting in more herbs that are annuals, but self-sow easily, into semi-permanent beds. These include dill, caraway, fennel and calendula. (The previous planting of dill has self-sown so successfully that it's the primary weed in the strawberry bed.) The banks of our two ponds seem like promising places to let these self-sowing annuals establish themselves. And, if Mrs. Phoebe will allow it, I intend to have several varieties of sunflowers again including my favorite, Soraya, as well as several from the Center School's fundraising program.

I'm not sure where I'll put them, but I also want to plant Elderberries this year. I've noticed a real demand for the less-than-common fruit preserves (Rosie's Red Currant sells out almost as soon as I make it, and Tweedledum's Damson Plum brings more people to this website than just about anything else). Since Elderberries can spread (the abandoned orchard where we discovered Teddy Blackberries is full of them), I think that some of the new land that our friends the beavers have cleared might be just the place for them.

All of the berries and the fruit trees look great. Three years ago we removed some old, non-productive sour cherry trees and replanted with Seckel Pears and Reliance Peaches (and yet more Damson Plums). They've grown well thanks to abundant rains over the last three years. We also removed our oldest raspberries and changed the whole configuration of the older beds and replanted with new raspberries who gave us their first sensational crop last year. We had intended to remove the next set of older raspberries (17 years old) this year but they look just too damned good to cut down. It's sooo hard to remove established plantings!

IN THE WOODS

Rosie and I ski or snowshoe or hike everyday. Unfortunately, the logging mess in the woods nearby has curtailed our walks along our favorite path, the Ol' Dyer Trail. I thought I'd be able to scramble over the tops of the trees left in our path once they were covered with snow if I wore my snowshoes, but it's a terrible tangly trap for my four-legged friend so we've had to abandon it. There is a very steep old logging road we can take to the top of the ridge which provides some lovely views, but because of the exceedingly heavy rains this year most of the gravel and sand have washed down the slope leaving behind stones ranging from baseball to bowling ball size. This is steep and dangerous walking, even with my ski poles and I can't take a chance of hurting my legs because berry picking requires about a thousand deep knee bends every day.

Most of our daily adventures, therefore, are on the campus of the abandoned prep school about three miles away. There's a trail we like and a big field for skiing laps (which Rosie thinks is simply ridiculous). The real treat, though, from Rosie's point of view, is that other dogs go there too, so there's always good sniffing going on and sometimes even a pal to play with. (It's hard living with a geriatric buddy when you're an energetic 5-year-old!)

That gives us about 40 minutes of exercise that's as critical to our mental health as our physical health. I lost 40 pounds three years ago as a 50th birthday present to myself and don't ever want to go through that again! I also still get another 40 minutes of exercise every morning stretching with Sonny Rollins and dancing with NRBQ.

IN THE WORLD

Those who know me know that I rarely get out into the world. Sure, I go to Boston for Farmers' Markets, Greenfield for groceries and the occasional foray into Amherst or Northampton for fun, but I'm here at home most of the time and happily so. Brattleboro, Vermont is a city about 15 miles away, a hip town with good food, art and theater but I rarely visit it. Why? Because to visit I have to drive past the nuclear power plant just south of the city. Everyone thinks of Vermont as the epitome of green sustainability, the environmentalist's dream state, but this aging nuke is Vermont's dirty little secret. Built in the 60's, it went on-line in 1972 and was scheduled to close by now. Unfortunately, it was recently sold to an energy company who wants to boost the power output and keep it going even longer. The insanity of increasing the power in an aging, brittle reactor is matched by the flagrant disregard for the voice of the people. The cynicism of building a nuclear power plant on the border of three states and letting only one state have any say or control of the operation (not to mention the sole economic advantages) is immoral. In November, five brave women protested at the energy company's headquarters in Brattleboro and were arrested. Another small protest followed in December. In January I saw a tiny ad in the Greenfield Recorder announcing the next action, and on Martin Luther King Day I joined 200 other people in the demonstration and cheered the dozen brave folks who were arrested that frigid day. (Newton Farmers' Market friends will be pleased to know that Dancing Bear Tom and his family were there too!)

I don't get out much, but I do intend to get out any time these demonstrations are held and will encourage others to join us. The floods of this fall clearly showed us that dams, bridges, buildings and roads can't be engineered to be safe from nature unleashed. Who can be so naive to believe that an aged nuclear power plant can be re-engineered to be safe beyond its original life, especially at increased power? And who can be so naive to believe that the Bush administration's Nuclear Regulatory Commission is operating in the public's best interest?

IN THE HOUSE

January is the month that I allow myself to read novels and cook for fun. I've only been in the professional kitchen three times to catch up on cooking before I ran out of something. Instead, I've had fun cooking on my century-old wood cook stove because I can cuddle up to its radiant warmth and get something done at the same time (it appeals to my Yankee sensibilities). I've experimented with a savory cheesecake made from JazzBerry and a tart made with Raspberry Preserves. When I fine-tune these and test them using the conventional gas range, I'll add them to the recipes on this site. In addition to the novels, I've had great fun reading my great-grandmother's birthday book which my parents had found and passed on to me this summer. Lena Vaughan Powers was born in the town of Prescott, Massachusetts, a town that's no longer there as it was flooded, along with three other towns to form the Quabbin Reservoir to provide water for Boston. I suppose that it was because of the destruction of her hometown that led Lena to be scrupulous about the entries in her birthday book, for she included people from generations and generations before her own in the book. It's given me incredible insight into their lives and I've realized that I'm from a line of absurdly long-lived folks. Many, many ancestors lived into their 90's (even those born in the 1760's!) and a few hit 100. Lena herself only hit the mid 80's, but she's always been very special to me. She died the year I was born, was 4'10", left-handed, said the alphabet backwards when she couldn't sleep, and even made mustard.....all just like me! Her dad, Walter Scott Vaughan, lived to be days short of 100 and, after losing his farm to the eminent domain laws, made his living peddling an elixir/tonic made from herbs and cider vinegar. ( I wish I had that recipe!)

Ralph, Teddy and Rosie are all snoring away (the three of them sound like the Anvil Chorus) and fluffy yellow kitty Auggie just let me know that she thinks she gets short shrift in these messages. She wants all to know that she does her job - sleeping on my head - every night. The best thing about sleeping in the living room for the past year (well, besides how beneficial it's been for Teddy) is watching the stars and moon cross the night sky from the bay window facing east and south to the west windows. I am up a lot at night (saying the alphabet backwards, trying to sleep) and I love watching the celestial action.

Patti (and Ralph!)

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