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Summer Garden Bounty

The end of July and beginning of August are an exciting time for Vermont gardeners.  Finally we enjoy a huge diversity of sun-ripened fruits, berries, and vegetables from our gardens and farms.  We’ve been savoring first raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, broccoli, onions, garlic, and beets.  Waiting all these months, of course, makes it all much more exciting and delicious.

garden goodies

After several long rainy weeks, we’ve been enjoying a stretch of sunny low-humidity days and cool nights.  Though it’s meant fewer lake swims, it has been perfect weather for daily weeding sessions, keeping up with the ever-growing lush green lawn, and kitchen cooking projects.

End of July Garden

In the kitchen, I excitedly pickled a batch of kohlrabi, fennel, and beets.  They flavors and colors are blending wonderfully, turning bright pink (click here to learn more about natural fermentation).

July Pickles

buckwheat pancakes

I’ve also been LOVING a newly discovered recipe for Sourdough Buckwheat Pancakes.  Buckwheat is a really interesting “grain” and  offers a unique alternative to wheat.  This recipe sprouts and sours the buckwheat, making it even more nutritious and digestible.  The pancakes were nutty and tender with crisp edges (be sure to use plenty of grass-fed butter in your pan), and a perfect vehicle for the delicious fruits and berries that are now in season. 

Happy harvesting, happy feasting!

lake sunset

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July in the Garden and Kitchen

Vermonters are basking in a string of sunny summery days after many many (many) days of rain.  The change in weather means I can finally deal with the grass and weeds that have been happily growing in our lawn and garden.  I’ve also been able to enjoy the best part of summer in VT: after-work swims in Lake Champlain.

Lake in July

Over the past several weeks I realized I’d posted blogs in previous years about many of the seasonal tasks I was busy with in the kitchen and garden.  I’ve included a recap and links below, in addition to a delicious nourishing shortcake recipe we’ve been enjoying with our freshly picked strawberries and whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Nourishing Strawberry Shortcake: This recipe involves soaking the flour in yogurt 24 hours before baking.  To learn more about how this makes flour products more nourishing and digestible, check out this article and video.  (recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

Ingredients: 2 cups white flour, 1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup yogurt/buttermilk/kefir, 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 3 tablespoons maple syrup.

  1. Mix yogurt and flour.  It will be a very stiff dough, don’t worry.  Cover and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  2. Melt butter.  Mix butter and maple syrup into dough.  In a small dish, mix baking soda and salt, breaking up any little balls of baking soda.  Sprinkle dry mixture onto dough and mix, just until ingredients are barely combined.
  3. Divide dough into apx. 12 balls and place on baking sheet.  They will spread a bit while baking.
  4. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Enjoy with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!

biscuits

strawberriesStrawberry Season in VT: This year’s strawberry season was admittedly rain-drenched.  Luckily I was able to sneak in a few mornings of before-work picking.  We’ve been enjoying plenty of fresh berries in all our meals, and froze several gallons for the winter.  Check out this blog post to learn how to quickly freeze berries so that they stay delicious and easy to use in the future.

Other Firsts from the Garden: The last several weeks have brought the first crunchy harvests.  We’ve been enjoying kohlrabi and sugar snap peas in addition to plentiful lettuce, spinach, chard, and herbs.  And just a few days ago we picked the first handful of raspberries from our bushes.  It’s really starting to feel like July!

Crunchy first harvest

And Speaking of HerbsI’ve been enjoying going out to the field and garden each morning to gather leaves for my pregnancy tea blend (also gentle and delicious for other people): nettles, raspberry leaf, and mint.  ‘Tis the season to harvest herbs you’d like to freeze or dry.  Harvest most herbs now – they’re best when young and tender.  Check out this blog post to learn about harvesting and preserving herbs.

Tea Leaves

Garden Pests: Many flying garden pests are busy laying eggs at this time of year.  If you monitor your plants closely, squishing mating pairs of insects and any eggs they’ve laid (often on the undersides of leaves), you can prevent their population from booming in your garden.  This post has more information about pest control in the garden.

squash bugs

Granola: In the summer I find myself wanting something cool and fruity for breakfast – a big swing from my savory broth, soaked oats, and egg-based breakfasts of winter.  Unfortunately store-bought cold cereals and pasteurized milk are a pretty tough way to start the day for my digestive system.  Plus, they are often loaded with crazy ingredients and sugar and leave me craving more.  Thank goodness for my favorite nourishing homemade granola, homemade kefir or yogurt, freshly picked berries, and local raw milk!  Note to self – next year make a lot of granola early in the spring when the oven heat is appreciated in the kitchen.

Homemade Granola

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Trellising and Suckers (aka Keeping Tomato Plants Under Control)

Caged Tomato

By the end of June, most gardens are fully planted and have had several weeks to settle in and start to grow.  If your rows were fully weeded when you planted, you’ve probably had a few weeks of vacation from this ongoing garden chore.  Pests can start to be a nuisance, praying on small vulnerable leaves and stems (read more about pest control here).

Right about now is a great time to get ahead of the game and create a plan to sucker, trellis, or stake any plant that will likely grow tall and may become top-heavy with fruit.  In our garden, I tie pepper plants to stakes; make sure beans, peas, and cucumbers have a trellis to climb on; and sucker and cage my tomato plants.  Most of this makes sense to the average person, except: what the heck is suckering?!

tomato sucker

Plants that are naturally bushy and sprawling, like tomatoes and tomatillos, grow new “heads” (or “suckers”) at every point where a leaf grows from the main stem.  When I worked in school gardens, I would tell the kids that suckers grow out of the armpits of the plants.  If you want a huge sprawling bush, that’s great!  BUT, if you want to be able to find all your mature fruits, keep the plant from sprawling all over the row and plant neighbors, and want to keep it off the ground to avoid disease, you’ll need to take action.

caged tomatoes

There are many trellising techniques for tomatoes.  What you choose should be based on the amount of space you have, the number of plants you want to grow, and how many extra supplies you’ll need to invest in.  Feel free to let me know if you want my thoughts on your specific circumstance!  In general, I recommend starting with a large tomato cage, and suckering your plant to keep it airy, growing up, and focused on producing fruit off its main stem.

Now that my tomato plants are over a foot high, they’ve started to grow suckers.  At this age, I can simply pinch them off with my fingers.  If suckers get very large, you’ll want to use snippers or scissors so you don’t rip the main stalk of the plant.  By removing suckers when they are small, I encourage the plant to focus on growing up rather than out.  In August, this will result in a more orderly tomato row with plants that are (mostly) growing within their cages.  This makes for easy harvesting, less spread of disease (which usually happens when rain splashes dirt up onto your plant or when leaves are densely packed together), and less breakage if there are high winds.

Suckering tomato copy

Suckering is an ongoing chore throughout the season, but is quick and easy, and fits into walks through the garden when you can also keep an eye out for maturing fruit, find new pests before they cause much damage, and take a moment to pluck a few weeds.

IMG_6824Want to get creative?  Let a few suckers grow in a strategic way.  Tomato espalier anyone?  Last year in my garden I planted a single plant at the base of a trellis.  I let one sucker grow up each wire, and then removed the rest.  I used string to periodically tie each branch to it’s assigned wire – tomatoes don’t send out tendrils or curl around wires like peas, beans, and cucumbers. My yield per plant was very high because I was essentially growing multiple “trunks” from one plant.

Happy Gardening!

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Our House Named “Greenest Building!”

house 2

More good news from the home front: our house won 2016’s “Vermont’s Greenest Residential Building” award from Vermont Green Building Network!  Two years after moving in, we still feel incredibly lucky to call it our home.

Since I’m on the topic of the house, we have two other exciting updates.  Solar panels have been installed, and we’re moving forward with finishing the second floor!  Because we use so little energy, we’ll be sending the electricity produced up to Evan’s business to offset the electricity needed to run a busy screen printing shop.

We were so happy that Lynn at The Charlotte News captured our feelings so well in the story below.  Our main message: efficiency does not necessarily mean expensive!  Anyone building a new home should definitely prioritize efficiency for many long term savings – for the home, the family, and our planet.

Check out the article below, or click here to read it on The Charlotte News’ website:

house 1

Charlotte home dubbed greenest in the state

JUNE 2, 2017

Lynn Monty | Editor in Chief

A Charlotte home built by Ken Ruddy of Fiddlehead Construction for Tai Dinnan and Evan Webster has won 2016’s “Vermont’s Greenest Residential Building” award from Vermont Green Building Network. The only house to measure more efficient in the history of this annual award was another Charlotte house, designed and owned by David Pill and Hillary Maharam.

Rather than buy an existing house Dinnan and Webster decided to create a modest, energy-efficient home using current technology and techniques. “We hope this attention brought by this award will help others realize that efficiency can be affordable and should be part of every new home’s construction,” Dinnan said.

Ruddy has developed a streamlined and cost-effective approach to building this type of high-performance home that incorporates enhanced energy efficiency but also utilizes best building practices and focuses on durable detailing, he said.

The award-winning, single-family residence on the southern slope of Mt. Philo has walls built with air barriers, vented roofs with cathedral ceilings, wastewater heat recovery for both baths and kitchen, and ventilation driven by indoor air quality monitoring, among other special features. It’s an electric home with supplemental solar and a woodstove.

After Dinnan and Webster had been living in the house for a year to prove its energy efficiency, Ruddy applied for the award. It makes sense from both a financial and sustainability perspective to build this way, Ruddy said. Not only did investing in this new home reduce Dinnan and Webster’s impact on the environment, they also experienced short-term savings.

“Because we never needed to get infrastructure such as radiators, propane, oil or gas lines and tanks, investing in efficiency didn’t end up costing more money,” Dinnan said.

When you include energy costs along with the mortgage, these homes are less expensive on a monthly basis than a new home built to code standard, Ruddy said. “Tai and Evan sized the home for their current and future needs and no more, so it is smaller, but functional,” he said. “Efficiency Vermont’s High Performance Homes standard, which this home used as a starting point, was not only developed to hit the sweet spot with regard to cost effectiveness to reach net zero, but also incorporates safeguards to ensure the homes are comfortable and durable.”

Net Zero is a term used to describe a building with zero net energy consumption.

Lindsay Jones from Efficiency Vermont was the energy consultant on the project. The house also won Efficiency Vermont’s 2016 “Best of the Best” in New Residential Construction. “The home was built with insulation levels approximately twice that of Vermont’s baseline residential building code, has exceptionally low air leakage, and energy efficient heating and ventilation systems,” Jones said.

Efficiency Vermont initiatives allowed Dinnan and Webster to save money and receive rebates. “Their work in the state really helps encourage homeowners like us to make choices that are good for the environment,” Dinnan said.

See the original article by clicking here

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Ahhhh, The Garden is Planted

Every spring as the ground thaws, my list of things to do in the garden grows longer and faster than my weeds.  I can generally be found wondering: why does it keep on raining, making garden tasks impossible?  How are those weeds growing SO fast?!  And don’t even get me started about how much grass grows when it’s drizzly and un-mowable.

Luckily I’ve gotten some amazing help weeding (thanks Mom and Dad!) and a Memorial Day Weekend of amazing warm dry weather.  Because I’m spending most free moments outside, I’ll fill you in on the garden progress with a few photos.  Happy Gardening!

Weeded Garden

This was the moment when the last wheelbarrow load of weeds was rolled down to the the compost.  Finally I felt victorious (surely temporarily) in our battle with the horsetail forest that grows vigorously in our garden plot.  I clearly didn’t want to remember my weed forest because I didn’t take any photos.  The good news was that the grass, parsnip, and dandelions we battled last year didn’t come back nearly as much.  Slowly we will succeed in turning a fertile field into a bountiful garden!

Planted Garde

Planted Garden2

And then, we got to work planting.  It’s now warm enough to plant nearly everything, especially if you keep your eye on the forecast.  What a relief to see those seedlings happily settling into their homes!

asperagus grilled

Since May is coming to a close, I shouldn’t forget to mention that we’ve been enjoying our first harvests of the year: young greens, tender asparagus shoots, and a variety of rhubarb desserts.  Evan’s determined to have as many grill days as possible this summer, and I’m certainly not going to get in his way!

sunset

Of course, good things do come from all those spring showers.  We’ve been blessed by many rainbows this spring, including this one: the most vibrant double rainbow I’ve ever seen.  We live in a truly beautiful bountiful place!

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April in Vermont

april snow

April arrived in true Vermont style: with a blizzard.  Luckily, we live in a state where friends and neighbors revel in the snow.  We all enjoyed one more dose of sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, and snowball fights followed by a cozy night by the fire.

scilla

One week later, temperatures climbed past 75 degrees, we enjoyed the first blooms in our garden, and planted peas and spinach.  Ahhhh, April in VT.  After enjoying these mild days, I need to remind myself that a few more dramatic swings are likely before the weather turns truly springy.

colorful-egg-outsides

With Easter right around the corner, I’m getting ready to do another batch of naturally died deviled eggs.  Everyone’s backyard chickens increase production as the days grow longer, so there are always plenty of delicious eggs to play with at this time of year.  After hard boiling them and removing the shells, I’ll soak a few eggs in each of the following solutions:

-Yellow: Boil water and add 1T turmeric.  After solution has cooled, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt.
-Blue: Boil water and add 1/4 cup elderberries and 1 teaspoon baking soda.  (If adding apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt, do so slowly to avoid volcanoes 🙂
-Red: Boil water and add three slices of beet.  After solution has cooled, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a dash of salt.
-Green, orange, purple…?: This year I’ll be experimenting with combining the brines above to see what other colors are possible.

After they’ve soaked several hours (or longer), I’ll slice my eggs in half and devil them.  Mix egg yolks, mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice, finely diced red onions, salt, black pepper and relish to taste.  Mix until creamy and spoon filling into egg whites.

colorful-egg-platter

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!

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Recycling a tree, Saving a species

My latest contribution to the Charlotte News:

Vermont Tree Goods recycles largest elm in an effort to save species

Tai Dinnan | Contributor

Vermont Tree Goods supervised the taking down of The Vermont Elm, the largest elm tree in the Northeast on Nov. 1. This Bristol business will recycle the heirloom hardwood in their oversized sawmill and use the wood to build distinctive furniture. The 250 year old elm died from Dutch elm disease.Vermont Tree Goods will make a philanthropic gift to The Nature Conservancy based on how much product made from The Vermont Elm is sold. This will allow the conservancy to further their work to save the species by breeding and planting disease-resistant elms. Furniture made from The Vermont Elm will be on sale in the spring. Each purchase will honor the legacy of Charlotte’s remarkable tree and help establish new communities of resistant Elms for future generations to enjoy.

1tree-hugging-ceremony

Before tree work began, a crowd of local tree huggers gathered at the Garrett residence Tuesday morning to celebrate the lives of two elders: The Vermont Elm and Charlotte’s Tree Warden Larry Hamilton who recently passed away. The crisp sunny morning created the perfect atmosphere for a ceremony filled with reverence and celebration.

Heather Furman, Executive Director of the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, spoke about her organization’s efforts to breed and plant disease resistant elms in Vermont and neighboring states. John Monks, owner of Vermont Tree Goods, announced his business’ plans to recycle the huge Vermont Elm, mill it into planks using their unique saw, kiln dry it, and bring to life once more as furniture.

img_1905Several local residents and friends of Larry including new Tree Warden Mark Dillenbeck, neighbor Vince Crockenberg, Vermont Tree Goods Sales and Marketing Director Tai Dinnan, and neighbor Erick Crockenberg then spoke of the inspiration they found in Larry’s life-long work in support of trees and forests. Larry spent the final chapter of his remarkable life in Charlotte where he served as tree warden, was active in a broad array of town activities, and started the Tree Fund that has enabled hundreds of trees to be planted along Charlotte roads.

4tree huggers.jpg

The crowd was then welcomed forward to give the tree one last group hug. Many adults were necessary to reach around the massive trunk that was nearly twenty feet around.

7dropping-limbs
14crane-strapped-limbs
Tree work began at 10 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. Most of the wood was transported to Vermont Tree Goods’ sawmill by the end of the day. An additional crane and truck was necessary to pick up and transport the bottom 20-foot-long section of trunk, weighing in at about 25,000 lbs.

The red elm’s wood is in great shape and is beautiful, with many rosy tones. Vermont Tree Goods hopes to have coasters made from the elm available by the end of this year. Furniture is expected starting in the spring of 2017. Email info@vermonttreegoods.com to put your name on the waiting list! Visit VermontTreeGoods.com for more information and updates as product becomes available.

19beautiful-stump

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November in the Garden

*Note: In light of the election results, seasonal rhythms, gardening, and food might seem unimportant.  My thoughts: to most effectively champion the causes we believe in, it is crucial that we stay grounded, healthy, inspired, and strong.  When we take time to nourish ourselves, we will find greater success in our work to make the world a better place.*

November is the month to finish up any last “to-dos” in the garden.  Though many of the tasks could be done in the spring, checking them off the list in November is a great way to close the growing season and set yourself up for an easy start to the next one.  November is also a more relaxing time to preserve any last vegetables and fruits from the garden, enjoy stored harvest, relax by the cozy fireplace, and take a bath!

I’m feeling tired but pleased after our first year gardening at our new home.  Years spent as cow pasture, Southern facing slopes, loamy soil, and high ground water all contributed to a huge harvest yield.  Of course, hours and hours of spring time weeding and early summer pest control helped too.

before-garden-to-bed
The garden after our first hard frost

We put the garden to bed this past weekend.  This involved pulling dead material out of the garden and piling it into a compost heap, thoroughly weeding the beds that work best for early spring planting, and covering bare rows and paths with grass clippings and hay.  Our garden site is exposed, so covering the beds with mulch will help keep our topsoil in place and protect it from being washed or blown away by the winter elements.

fallen-and-standing
The fallen (unripe tomatoes and watermelon) and the standing (kale and Brussels sprouts)
compost-heap
Dead plant material to be composted
after-garden-to-bed
Cleaned up and mulched garden rows, garnished with flourishing kale and hanging-on calendula and fennel.

In order to completely clean out their row, I harvested the last few cabbage to make kimchi.  The next day I chopped and pounded the cabbages along with ginger, garlic, turmeric, hot pepper, black pepper, and salt.  img_6813

After all that pounding, I decided to rest.  Out of curiosity, I started scanning back through this blog, reminiscing about the growing season and remembering the projects, harvests, and beautiful scenes from the past year.  What a surprise to discover last November tenth’s post: November in the Garden and Kitchen.  The subject?: Putting the garden to bed and making kimchi!  For me, this serves as a happy reminder of how settled into our new home and environment we are.  Today I am grateful to feel in synch with the natural rhythms of the home, yard, garden, field and forest I call home.

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End-of-the-Season Recipes

oct-harvest

It’s the end of the growing season, but it isn’t quite time to rest.  With the bulk of our harvest frozen, canned, dried, and fermented, it’s time to deal with the left overs: the harvest that didn’t get processed during the peak of the season.  Though these “ugly” fruits and veggies are now gaining recognition in the mainstream (not everything comes out looking perfect!), they’ve always been part of harvesting and cooking for home gardeners.  I have fun examining the motley selection of veggies occupying my kitchen counters and refrigerator space, determining how they could be combined in delicious ways.  It takes some creativity at this time of year!

Sometimes end-of-season produce is a bit worse for the wear.  This weekend I prepared several gallons of sauerkraut from some cabbages that were admittedly acting as slug hotels in the garden.  After removing the holey outer leaves, however, wonderful fall sweetened crisp cabbage was revealed.  Yum!

cutting-cabbage1

It is also an important time of year to monitor harvest stores in the basement and attic.  Any veggies that show sign of rot or discoloration should be used first.  As last night’s dinner highlighted, blemished squash, onions, and other veggies are often perfectly delicious.   They don’t stay good for long, however, so it’s good to enjoy them right away while they’re still tasty.

Butternut squash

Thankfully, some plants are happy to be outside in the frost and colder weather.  Most of the brassicas: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, get sweeter and more tender after it has frosted.  For now I’ll happily leave them outside and will be ready to enjoy them when I see counters and fridge shelves empty and need to go get vegetables in order to prepare for our next meal.

Find great recipes for fall harvest from some of my previous blog posts:  Sauerkraut, pumpkin, chard, winter squash, frost sweetened kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Enjoy!

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

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October in the Garden

autumn-breakfast
Autumn breakfast treat: chai, cider donut, and cinnamon apples

Fall is certainly in the air.  Colors have changed dramatically in the last week, and we are now in peak foliage in the Champlain Valley.  According to our climate zone, we were supposed to get a frost by October 1st.  However, the end of the growing season has been unusually long and the garden is still going strong.

We are learning more about our property’s micro climate and have been surprised to have escaped several frosts that nipped our nearby neighbors.  Last Friday temperatures were projected to dip below freezing, so we did a big harvest and covered up the plants we wanted to save.  The next morning revealed a frost so light that even the basil was spared.  Our airy southern sloping garden seems to keep frost from forming on the plants when temperatures hover around freezing!  Though I am excited for the ongoing bounty, I’m also starting to feel tired and ready for the growing season to come to an end.

frost-harvest
Big pre-frost harvest – so many watermelons, peppers, and butternut squashes this year!
survived-the-frost
We escaped another frost! Blankets drying and garden still going strong.

Foliage isn’t waiting around for freezing temperatures.  In the past week, trees in our area have turned dramatically.  The hills are tinged with reds, oranges and yellows.  Forest walks are stunning and smell richly of fallen leaves.  Vibrant colors surround us.

changing-colors
Sugar maple beauty: from green to red in a week.
autumn-house
Our house peeks through the foliage – the view as I make the final decent down Mt. Philo.
autumn-colors
A few fall forest scenes.
mid-oct-meal-prep
Mid-October pesto and veggies!

In the kitchen, it seems like it is still August.  We continue to have bountiful peppers, broccoli, beans, leafy greens, tomatoes, and fruit to play with.  We certainly got our fill this season.  Soon we will transition to winter jackets, squash, parsnips, and frost-sweetened kale and Brussels sprouts.  I’m ready!