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Home Gardens Musings Uncategorized

Spring Outside

lettuce

What is good news for my garden and yard is bad news for my blog.  Every spare moment in May was spent establishing our new garden, nestled in our sunny gently sloping field. Grass, along with horsetails, thistles, and milkweed, have been happy residents of this spot for years and are not giving up without a fight.  When my back needed a break from weeding row after row, I would mow, trying to keep our small yard from turning back into a field.

Admittedly, spending mornings and evenings outside in the sunshine and fresh air feels like a luxury.  I certainly never wished I were (or thought I should be) inside on my computer.  Being in the garden day after day allowed me to sink my roots into our new land, appreciating the subtle seasonal shifts in smells, tastes, bird and butterfly visitors, and distant valley views.

What is even better news for my garden is that I now have time to start posting blogs again!  All the seeds and seedlings have been planted and weeding can be handled in shorter sessions a few times a week.  Our resident bluebirds and swallows keep an eye on things and remove pesky veggie-eating bugs.  Our fence reminds neighbor deer and rabbit to find their dinner elsewhere.  We are enjoying bountiful salads topped with fresh herbs and flowers whenever we want.  This year my garden has helped me deeply soak in the pleasures of spring in Vermont.  For this I am grateful.

weeds
Yes, milkweed, you may grow outside my garden gate.  No, horsetail, you may not grow in my broccoli row.

thrive

garden-view-from-northeast

blooms-and-germination

salad-greens

walk-out-garden

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Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Stinging Nettles! Yum?

Yes, you really should try eating nettles!  And if you’re adventurous enough to try, now is the best time of year.  Foraged wild greens are often most tender, and therefore best to cook with, early in the spring when plants are still young.  Compared to many other wild greens, nettles are quite mild, with a flavor similar to cooked spinach.  They are nutritional superstars, rich in vitamins A, C, D, K, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium!  Nettles and nettle tea are believed to have many medicinal qualities and have been used as a traditional medicine by many cultures for centuries.  Most importantly, when cooked, nettles loose their sting.

nettles-growing

Look for nettles by the edges of fields and yards, along river banks, and along forest edges.  They are often quick to grow where fertile land has been recently disturbed.  I use gloves when harvesting and pinch the tender tops off of young plants.  In the kitchen, I rinse the leaves in a colander, stirring with a slotted spoon to avoid being stung.  Boil in a shallow water bath for about 5 minutes to get a deep green spinach substitute.  Be sure to save your cooking water to drink as tea or for adding a nutrient boost to soup.  Leaves can also be thrown directly into soup broth without cooking ahead of time.

Nettles-fresh-and-cooked
Stinging Nettles fresh (don’t touch!) and cooked

Make sure to sample some nettles plain, so you can get to know their mild flavor.  Then try using them as an early spring spinach substitute.  Here are some recipe ideas I’m planning on trying out this season:

Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup: This recipe is THE annual favorite in our household!

Nettle Quiche: Use your favorite spinach quiche recipe, but trade spinach for nettles.

Nettle Yogurt Soup: The original recipe is one of our favorite ways to cook with spinach. The surprising combination of nutmeg and cayenne give it a wonderfully unique flavor. This year I’m going to try it with nettles instead.

Nettle Pesto: A delicious garlicky spread!  Use your favorite recipe for kale pesto, but use nettles instead of kale.  This paste would also made a great layer in home made lasagna or pizza.

Saag paneer: This delicious Indian dish traditionally features spinach, fresh Indian cheese (that’s easy to make at home!), and curry spices.  These flavors would also go well with nettles.

Spanakopita: This savory Greek spinach and feta pie would be great with nettles instead of spinach!

Nettle dip: Google “spinach dip” and you’ll get all kinds of mouth-watering options.  I bet they’d be great with nettles too.

nettle-harvest

ramp-nettle-soup

 

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Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Early Season Greens

If you don’t count grass and thistles, our garden isn’t growing any greens yet.  But there are plenty of fresh greens to be harvested outside the garden!  And roots!  We’ve enjoyed meals of foraged leeks, dandelions, and parsnips this week.

ramps

Wild Leeks: Also known as Ramps, are our favorite wild spring edible.  They are delicious and if you know the right places, can be quite abundant.  They often grow by river banks and are some of the first green leaves to emerge in the spring.  Bring a trowel with you to harvest the nice white bulbs along with the green leaves and purple stems.  When foraging, remember to only harvest a small percentage of what is growing in the wild.  We fry them in butter to bring out the sweet mild oniony flavor.  I also love making cream of nettle and ramp soup each spring.

dandelion-family

Dandelion Greens: Everyone knows a place where dandelions grow!  Young leaves are tender and less bitter than older ones.  I fried ours in bacon fat with caramelized onions, garlic, smoked paprika, and salt.  They were delicious, slightly bitter, and tender.  Yum!  My next kitchen experiment will be to try roasting the roots for a coffee substitute.

sauteeing-dandelion-greens

Parsnips:  Wild parsnip leaves produce a sap, or plant juice, that can cause burns to the skin in the presence of sunlight.  Therefore, it’s good to make sure they’re not growing in your yard.  Our field is full of them, and they have begun to send up a new crop of leaves for the season.  Wild parsnips are actually the same thing as edible parsnips, they’re just not bred for big straight sweet roots.  They are, however, delicious wild edibles!  You’ll want to harvest them now, before they send any more energy out of their tap roots and into their growing stalk and leaves.  As an added bonus, when you make sure to pull up the entire plant, you’ve removed possibility of future irritation from brushing up against the leaves later in the year.

Use gloves and a big shovel to harvest, making sure to get as much of the taproot as you can.  Chop off the leaves and discard them when you’re still outside (I throw mine into the field beyond our lawn).  Scrub the dirt off the roots and chop against the grain. Cleaning and preparing can take some time, as wild parsnips tend to be smaller and more branched than garden-grown varieties. Cutting across the grain eliminates possible stringiness.  Sauté in butter and sprinkle with salt and maple syrup.

wild-parsnip-harvest

slicing-parsnips

 

sauteeing-parsnips

Happy Foraging!

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Musings Uncategorized

Scenes from our Window

dining-table-view

The biggest red-tailed hawk I’ve ever seen:  Gripping the bouncing branch tightly in her talons.  Preening.  Buffeted by the wind all the while.

Deer and more deer:  Healthy, sleek.  Here there and everywhere.  Big and up-close.  A dozen dots a mile away.  Lending a sense of scale to our landscape view.

Bluebird feast: Juniper and sumac berries gave a burst of color.  Past holiday spirit to the front stoop.  Magicians, our local bluebirds help them disappear.  Branches quickly denuded by resourceful winter residents.

A fox trot: Stately jog across the field.  Stopping to sniff.  Stopping to look.  Fully present in the moment.  Glowing with the back-lit aura of early morning sun.

Red Maples blush: Up close bursts of deeply red stars decorating every branch tip.  From the window, a blushing forest.  A premonition of leaves to come.

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Home Gardens School Gardens Uncategorized

Seed Season

It’s time to start thinking about seed starting and garden planning!  If you live near Charlotte, VT, consider coming to this Saturday’s Seed Swap to give away your extra seeds, get a few fun new varieties, and get your gardening questions answered by local experts:

seed-swap-2016

 

If you’re reading this from afar, here are some past blog posts that I love reviewing at this time of year.  Happy Spring!

Garden PlanningPlanning a Back-Yard Garden: This post includes information on several crucial components to planning a back-yard garden including soil testing, sunlight analysis, seed catalogue browsing, making a veggie wish list, and rough-draft garden planning.  Back yard gardening is an affordable way to access fresh veggies throughout the summer, will get you physically active outside, is rewarding, and can be a great way to bond with family members or roommates!
Basil

Seeds vs. Seedlings: Sometimes it’s best to buy vegetable seedlings from a nursery.  Sometimes it’s better to buy a packet of seeds to start yourself.  Check out this post  to decide whether to buy seeds or seedlings.  Now is the perfect time to buy seeds or attend a seed swap!  If you live in Somerville, check out Seed Sale and Seed Swap information.

ContainersConsider planning a Container Garden: If you live in an urban setting with questionable soil, rent or are planning to move, or have a nice sunny porch, you may want to consider a container garden!  Containers are a great way to try out vegetable growing on a small scale, and can help you determine if you’d like to do more the next season.  If you start gathering materials now, it can also be a very affordable option!  This Post lists all the things you should consider to grow a successful container garden.

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Children and Nature Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Spring?

march-philo

In past years, I start posting about signs of spring and springtime activities in April.  After having just enjoyed two muddy days with temperatures rising to sixty degrees and with new birdsongs in the air, it appears as though spring is springing early his year.  And if I jinx it, and we receive the snowy cold weather we’ve been waited for all winter long, great!

Here are some of my favorite spring time traditions:

signs-of-springLook and listen for signs of spring: Jot down notes on a calendar or a piece of paper that you can save.  Keeping a “Signs of Spring” list heightens my sense of awareness when spending time outdoors.  I pay more attention to the little things that are happening around me as the world wakes up from hibernation.  Sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and feelings can all point to signs of spring.  Saved lists from past years allow you to notice changes from year to year.

Learn new birdsongs: Every spring I am reinspired to learn more birdsongs.  First, I review birdsongs of species are common around the house.  There’s a list of mnemonics here and a huge directory of songs to listen to at “All About Birds.”  Then, when I go for walks down our back dirt roads or hikes in the forest, I listen carefully.  As I walk I try to translate what I hear: “Cherrio, cheery me, cheery me,” for example. When I arrive home, I try to identify one or two of the songs I remember (that was an American Robin).  Slowly but surely I identify more and more songs in the outdoor chorus on my own.

starting-seedsStart Seeds: Even if you don’t have a garden, starting seeds can be a fun spring activity.  All you need is a container with a hole poked in the bottom, potting soil, seeds of your choice, and some sort of dish for your container to sit in.  Grow lights or windows with strong southern sun will make for stronger seedlings that will do better if transplanted into your garden.  Plants like peas, lettuce, spinach, and herbs can be eaten as sprouts or “micro greens,” making this project rewarding in as little as 30 days!

Forage-Harvest

Taste the first wild greens of the season: As spring progresses, keep an eye out for wild ramps, fiddleheads, young nettles, or other edible wild plants.  Foraging is most rewarding and delicious in the spring when plants are young, tender, and mild.  They also tend to grow before anything is ready from gardens, satiating our cravings for fresh green treats after a winter of soups, stews, and casseroles.  Read more about the plants I look for here.

forced-dogwood

 

Force spring branches: All you need to do is clip branches and put them in a vase filled with fresh water.  Change water regularly, as you would for cut flowers.  Blooming branches, like forsythia, are great for forcing.  At indoor temperatures, your branches’ buds will open into new leaves and flowers.  We clip the bright red branches of dogwood now for a beautiful table arrangement at Easter.

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Children and Nature Home Gardens Musings Recipes

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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Home Gardens Musings Recipes

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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Home Gardens Musings

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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Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

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!