Spinach, Asparagus, and Tick Season

spring-harvest-bountyLate spring days grow warmer, lilacs are in full bloom, and we’re finally harvesting fresh shoots and greens from the garden!

We’ve also been finding ticks after days in the fields and forests.tick-ID  I strongly feel that there are far more benefits than risks when it comes to outdoor play (and work).  Take a moment to read up on Ticks and learn how to properly remove them.  When you know what to do when you find a tick, poison ivy, or any other other outdoor irritant, they all seem a lot less frightening.

asperagus-roastedWe are happily harvesting large bunches of asparagus from the garden.  There are all sorts of recipes I love to use asparagus in, but recently, we’ve really enjoyed roasting it.  We simply toss the spears with olive oil and soy sauce and bake at 400 degrees on a roasting pan until the spears are crispy and slightly blackened at the ends.  YUM.

spring-harvest

Spinach, dill, cilantro, and lambs quarters are all springing up in the garden, providing us with our first big fresh salads of the year.  We love early spring salads with cilantro lime dressing or our classic garlic dijon.  Looking back at past May/June blog posts, I can see that this year’s new and exciting salad concoctions are actually an annual ritual at this time of year.  If everything you’re harvesting for salad in May is green, try adding color with some edible flowers like pansies, violets, and chive blossoms.

Want to enjoy your greens without having salad for every meal?  We love this spinach soup recipe – it’s great warm or cold!  Happy harvesting.

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Spring In Our New Home: First Harvests & Weeding Invasives

The landscape is greening up, more edible plants and shoots are emerging, and some less desirable plants are perfect for pulling!  Now is a great time to enjoy green fresh first harvests and remove any invasive plants from your yard and garden.

Our driveway is now a garlic mustard graveyard.

Our driveway is now a garlic mustard graveyard.

Garlic mustard was in full bloom in a previously disturbed area to the south of our house.  The moist soil made for easy pulling.  It’s important to pull this invasive plant before seeds mature, and dispose of it properly!  Learn more about Garlic Mustard and other invasives here.

Nettle and ramp harvest

Nettle and ramp harvest

It’s time to enjoy wild edibles!  Fiddleheads are just starting to emerge.  Nettles and ramps are thriving on the river banks and forest edges at this time of year.  I love using them to make Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup (recipe here).  It’s great warm or cold, and I love to garnish it with sauerkraut.

Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup with Sauerkraut.

Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup with Sauerkraut.

It’s magical to watch the progression of spring from the big windows of our new home.  Everything seems wonderfully green this week.  Trees are blossoming and leaves are emerging, providing dappled shade and protection from the strengthening sun.

The grass is growing and leaves are emerging!

The grass is growing and leaves are emerging!

First gardening efforts.

First gardening efforts.

View from the north east.

View from the north east.

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Spring Greens

winter-funI really enjoyed winter this year.  Temperatures stayed below freezing and snow accumulated nicely, allowing for all sorts of sledding, skiing, skating, and winter hiking adventures. I have to admit, though, I can’t wait for the green glow of spring.  Visually it seems almost magical to watch the grey-brown landscape blush with the blossoming of the red maples and then grow progressively greener as leaves begin to emerge.  New growth also offers fresh greens, especially exciting to those of us who try to eat in-season local produce.

ramps

Before anything sprouts in the garden, wild plants begin to grow.  Nettles, ramps, and dandelions all offer tender young greens far before lettuce or spinach will be ready locally.  Learn more about finding, harvesting, and preparing common wild plants in this blog post.

peas-and-spinach

Lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and chives are all happy on cool spring nights, and offer fresh leaves before many other garden residents.  These veggies can be planted as soon as the garden soil is dry enough to till.

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The wonderful thing about baby greens is that they can grow almost anywhere – from a pot on a windowsill to a plot in your garden or at the farm.  Read about how my seedlings inspired me while living in the city in this past post.  If you are interested in starting a container garden, now’s the time!  Learn more from this post.

early-spring-harvest

Need some ideas about how to turn your fresh spring greens into tasty meals?  Here’s a list of some of my favorite ways to use the first wild and tended harvests of the year.

For me, spring is an exciting season filled with firsts:  my mouth waters as I dream about the first peas and first asparagus.  I know a watched pot doesn’t boil, but will a watched asparagus bed sprout shoots?

Happy foraging, happy gardening, and happy spring!

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Moving In!

It’s April vacation week and we’re moving into our new house!  Luckily, rainy days have kept me inside, busily packing and carting over car-loads of boxes, bags, and crates.  One more load of the big stuff, including our bed, will mark tomorrow as our official move-in day!  We couldn’t be more excited about the craftsmanship, artistry, hand-me-downs, local food, house warming gifts, and cheers of support that contributed to the home-building and shelf-stocking process.  We hope you’ll come visit soon to see it all first hand!  In the meantime, some photos:

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Finished kitchen lit up at night for the first time!

Finished kitchen lit up at night for the first time!

Our moving truck, with some pretty cool bumper stickers.

Our moving truck, with some pretty cool bumper stickers.

Have we mentioned that we love our sunny dining room table?  Awesome work Michael!

Have we mentioned that we love our sunny dining room table? Awesome work Michael!

Fiddlehead Construction sure pays attention to detail.  Check out their custom solution for our island.

Fiddlehead Construction sure pays attention to detail. Check out their custom solution for our island.

Mid-move, dad went home to make the kitchen a vintage porcelain and slate towel rod.

Mid-move, dad went home to make the kitchen a vintage porcelain and slate towel rod.

We still have some work to do in our bedroom.  And where should we put Evan's basketball card collection?

We still have some work to do in our bedroom. And we’re still pondering where to put Evan’s basketball card collection…

Dishes representing all the grandmothers and several great aunts!

Dishes representing all the grandmothers and several great aunts, and our fully functioning bathroom.

I think we dried enough tea last summer...

I think we dried enough tea last summer…

Our pantry is well stocked.  And our fridge is equipped with both of our favorite fermented foods.

Our pantry is well stocked. And our fridge is equipped with both of our favorite fermented foods.

I didn't think I could be this excited about basement shelves.

I didn’t think I could be this excited about basement shelves.

Some items still waiting for just the right place.

Some items still waiting for just the right place.

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No Child Left Inside

The following article was published in the most recent edition of the Charlotte News:

NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE

By: Tai Dinnan Contributor

April 09, 2015

IMG_2515 copyNature Deficit Disorder. Leave No Child Inside. De-natured Childhood. Free Range Kids. What is your reaction to these phrases and slogans?

Experts agree: children (and adults) are spending less time outside. Screen time is on the rise, after-school and weekend time is increasingly structured, and many families lack access to outdoor spaces that feel safe and fun. For me, and the children’s programs I run, the phrases above provide a framework to justify a focus on outdoor play. These new terms, and their emphasis on the importance of getting children out into nature, are backed up with rigorous research. It turns out children need to play, adventure, relax, work and learn in natural spaces to develop into healthy, whole adults.

IMG_9870Though physical health is one of the most obvious benefits of playing outdoors, the more subtle benefits add up into a very long list: improved cognitive functioning and development, increased self esteem, more motivation, improved problem solving, encouragement of inventiveness and creativity, cooperation, increased attention spans, and psychological well-being.

Luckily, Charlotters have access to remarkable outdoor spaces. Most have large yards where children can play safely within shouting range of the house. A garden, wetland, stream, field and forest border our school. Mt. Philo State Park offers family-friendly hiking and picnicking opportunities. The shores of Lake Champlain offer endless treasure hunting, exploring and swimming opportunities. And don’t forget public and backyard gardens and farms to tend and visit!

IMG_2914Gardens, in fact, provide children with a surprising multitude of opportunities to work, learn and play in nature. School gardens draw classrooms outside for hands-on learning and community service. Vegetable gardens at home give families an opportunity to work together to grow and share nourishing food. Gardens are beautiful, lush miniature ecosystems. They can be just the right scale for children to discover the magic of life cycles, ecosystems, patterns, colors, teamwork, artistry, engineering challenges, flavors and smells. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The school gardens at Charlotte Central School have been expanding. Nestled between the Pease Mountain trailhead and the lower parking lot, the CCS Kitchen Garden is home to raised beds, a perennial herb garden, pumpkin and potato patches, the school’s compost shed and an outdoor classroom. It is a truly lush, colorful, buzzing and delicious place to be—especially in the summer.

IMG_2499When planning summer vacation, families should remember to include plenty of free time outside. For parents who work, make sure to select summer programs that encourage free play, outdoor expeditions, opportunities to garden and plenty of running around. Consider where you get your food: visiting a local farm or signing up for a CSA can be a great way to get outside as a family and connect with the source of your food. The best part of committing to increased time outside for your children? You can join them and enjoy the benefits to your physical and emotional health as well!

Tai Dinnan lives in Charlotte and is the director of the Extended Day Programming and the Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp at Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Shelburne. She also works with Stacy Carter to run the Charlotte Green Thumbs Summer Camp—a daytime gardening camp for kids in late-June and early-August. For more information about the camp, email CCSGreenThumbs@gmail.com. Tai blogs at growingstories.wordpress.com

Learn more about each of the camps I’m running this summer:

CCS-Garden-Camp-Poster-long-2015

TLCamp_Poster

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Fun with Eggs and Natural Dyes

One welcome sign of spring at our house: the chickens have boosted their egg production.  After reading about different natural dyes to use when decorating easter eggs, I decided to try making colorful deviled eggs.  Success!  The results were both colorful and delicious.

natural-dye-experiments

I boiled the following ingredients in 1 cup water, and then added cider vinegar and salt, to make a soaking brine for my peeled hard boiled eggs.  From left to right: 1) Three slices of beet  2) 1/4 cup elderberries and 1 teaspoon baking soda  3) 1 tablespoon turmeric  4) 1/4 cup elderberries.  Next time I may experiment with mixing these primary colors to create green and orange eggs!

After letting them sit in the brine for the afternoon, I removed the eggs and used my simple and flexible deviled egg recipe to prepare our yummy and colorful snacks.  They really looked great, and tasted great, served on a bed of arugula.

colorful-egg-outsides

colorful-egg-platter

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Happy Easter! Springtime Felting

felted-chick-in-eggDespite the fresh snow on the ground, it really is starting to feel like spring around here.  Sap has been flowing steadily, the river ice has melted, and migrating birds have begun to return to Vermont.  We’ve been busy felting after school for the past several weeks.  First we felted colorful eggs.  Then we felted little chicks to go inside them!  Wet felting is a great activity for students of all ages – even the youngest children in our group can felt their own balls.  If you’re interested in felting your own spring chick and egg, click the links below.  Then check out our process and results.  Happy spring!

Felting Tutorials:
-Wet Felting Easter Eggs: One technique here and another good one in video form
-Blanket Stitch: Here’s an easy to understand video
-Wet Felting Balls With Kids: I detailed our process in my post about felting acorns.
-Wet Felting Chicks: One technique (scroll to the bottom).  I ended up just sewing two wet-felted balls together, and needle felting on the beak and eyes.

Our students wet-felted their own eggs and balls, which we then transformed into cute little chicks

Our students wet-felted their own eggs and balls, which we then transformed into cute little chicks.  Egg cartons are a great way to keep felted balls organized and keep track of whose is whose.

blanket-stitch

We wet felted around plastic eggs, slit them open, and used a blanket stitch to firm up the “cracked” edge.

We used a needle and thread to sew the two balls together to form our chick's head and body.

We used a needle and thread to sew the two balls together to form our chick’s head and body.

I needle felted on the beak and eyes, but these could be sewn on as well. I also needle felted on some additional yellow wool roving to make wings, but we didn't have time to do this with the students.

I needle felted on the beak and eyes, but these could be sewn on as well. I also needle felted on some additional yellow wool roving to make wings, but we didn’t have time to do this with the students.

Chick and Egg Assembly Line

Chick and Egg Assembly Line

A felted chick in its egg!

A felted chick in its egg!

 

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