Tag Archives: gardening

Versatile and Beautiful Lavender

Summer Lavender Grosso

Above, a hedge of lavender next to my driveway popped into glorious fragrant bloom in June. I don’t know who was more excited – me or the bumble bees.

I can never bring myself to cut the flowers while they are in full bloom – the sun on the flowers is too glorious. But when they’ve passed their prime they still cut beautifully and are wonderfully fragrant.

Cut lavender fills the kitchen with fragrance

When my son’s girlfriend saw my giant pile of cut lavender she immediately thought of lavender lemonade, and took a handful to make lavender syrup. It was delicious.

Easy to grow and easily available, lavender will grace your garden, attract pollinators, and is truly a sensory joy. Lavender is drought tolerant, does well in zones 6-10.

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Weeds

A good-sized pile of weeds for this early in the year and the hoe that helped dig them out.

I don’t know anyone that likes weeding. It’s back-breaking, necessary work. Sure, there’s some satisfaction in a weed-free garden bed but it’s short-lived. The weeds are back almost immediately, it seems.

So today was weed the garden beds day. I didn’t get them all weeded – I only managed to weed two of them. It was overcast, which is good weeding weather, and it had to be done.

And it’s fine. Pulling weeds from around the lettuce and knowing I’d be eating it in a salad later created a sense of calm and purpose. I took a break around noon, cut enough lettuce to fill a big colander, pulled a couple of radish, and came in to enjoy a nourishing lunch. It’s the most basic luxury to have to pay attention to when it rains (or doesn’t) and to know that aside from the nutrients in the soil there’s just water and sunshine in your food. And no plastic waste.

young swiss chard and pepper plants in the near bed, cutting lettuce behind it, beets and asparagus in the rear.

Back to weeding… I always joke with my husband that grass only grows where I don’t want it to. It never seems happy to grow on the designated lawn area, it much prefers my garden and our driveway.

Other “weeds” – verbena, squash, and tomato that self seeded, were spared. It’s tough to pull plants I’ve actually bought/planted just because they are growing in an inopportune spot. I dug out some verbena and put them in a spot near the kitchen window where I can watch the monarch butterflies visit their vivid purple flowers this summer. And the squash and tomatoes… I have a suspicion the squash is actually pumpkins. Last year they took over the garden because I felt bad pulling them out. In the end they crowded out the butternut squash, which I won’t let happen twice.

wildflowers in the west field

And then there are the pretty weeds, like the wildflowers that grow in our fields. These pretty daisy-like flowers pictured above, buttercups, purple, red, and blue flowers… we mow around them.

I’ll leave you with a photo of our cat, who really enjoys watching all of the activity at the birdhouse you can see pictured. It is nestled in a giant beast of a climbing hydrangea that has taken over one wall of our garage and is adjacent to a raspberry patch that is trying to take over the west field. Smudge (the cat) may be aware that there is a nest with baby birds … and the constant coming and going is the parents feeding their little ones. Or maybe not.

I always wonder what our cats are thinking.

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May in New England is Heaven

Lilacs nodding in the sun

Many would say that the months between and including December and April are too damn cold in New England. On most days I am among those people, saying to anyone who will listen that New England is no place to age.

But then May comes.

Along with the trees bursting to life in bright spring green, pink, white, red and yellow, the lilacs appear. For a couple of weeks the air is fragrant with them. Lilly of the valley perfume the air at night, a sweet, haunting, beautiful scent. And (where applicable) strawberry flowers open delicate white petals to the new sun.

Strawberry flowers

And the forget-me-nots, chives with their globes of purple flowers, bleeding hearts– all of this after the famous bulbs. It’s like having a baby – you forget the pain of childbirth when you hold a baby in your arms. A similar thing happens here in May. The discomfort of winter fades and softens, replaced by wonder, joy and pleasure. Also lettuce, snap peas, radishes and rhubarb. 🙂

forget-me-nots

As I write this I’m sitting on the porch listening to crickets. The last of the day’s light illuminates the sky in periwinkle-gray, the trees make dark silhouettes and the last intrepid birds are still singing — calling home family members that have stayed out too long, perhaps. A flash of pink lightening in the sky.

Pretty heavenly.

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Snowdrops. Finally spring!

It was a kind of magic to wake this morning to the site of grass and the earth uncovered. When the sun set last night everything was still covered in snow.

But even more magical today were the snowdrops.

snowdrops emerging after the snow has melted in Massachusetts

Over breakfast I told Jon that I was going to go out to look for them today. He said – ‘Really? We had snow on the ground until last night. Do you think there will be any?

Well… yes! I did find one just emerging in the lawn this morning. And during our afternoon walk – voila! Jon actually spotted them first.

For me, these are the first true sign that spring is here.

I’ve recently begun to ask myself what one thing I can do to make myself happy today and making an effort to do that thing. This morning the answer was to take the time to go out and look for snow drops.

On the way back toward the house I passed the kitchen garden and noticed the first chive shoots are reaching up out of the ground … freshly clipped chive with scrambled eggs! And the hellebore are pushing up and unfolding. I can’t wait to see them.

It’s exciting to think I’ll be turning compost into my spring garden beds and planting lettuce and radish in a month or so…

chive along the kitchen pathway, 2021

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Love in the Air

the kitchen door – ready for valentines day

Winter is well and truly here at the farm, just in time for spring!. Today we are having a blizzard – gusts of wind up to 60 mph, snow flying. The birds are hiding, everything has disappeared under a blanket of white.

But the girls started laying this week. I found two frozen eggs on Thursday, a reminder that the old calendar of holidays was in tune with things. We are coming up on Imbolg, the old pagan celebration of light and fertility- our first sight of spring. The chickens know it. And of course seeds start to stir around this time in the northern hemisphere because the days are lengthening. It’s time to start thinking about this year’s garden.

Asparagus. Strawberries, Rhubarb… all perennials that will emerge this spring. The garlic I planted last fall – too early, I think; planted in early October and was sprouted and starting to grow before the temps turned consistently cold – we will see how it fares.

seed catalogs and the fireplace- Imbolg in New England

And what happened with the food as medicine experiment, you ask? It was a success, even in the face of starting a demanding new job in June. It was successful not because of the diet, but because I engaged my own intuitive healing. Seeing Henri and changing my eating habits was a turning point; I realized more concretely than I had before that my state of mind was driving everything: what I saw and experienced — and my health. I realized I have the power and responsibility to change what I focus on. I wound up returning to a more “regular” diet, cutting back on dairy and wheat, and taking up a daily meditation and yoga practice. The result: my hypertension is much better (not gone, yet, but I’m optimistic it will fully resolve with more meditation :-), and my arthritic ankle is much better and still improving. I’m looking forward to a year in the garden on it.

today’s view from the farm “keep”

May the white goddess bless you with sweet dreams.

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Final Harvest Time at Miller Hill Farm

the east field just before Halloween

I’ve always regarded Halloween as the last harvest, and the time to welcome visiting ancestors who journey back to check in for the night. Some years I set extra spaces at the table and set out some old photos. This year was nice for me, because usually I have to delay my Samhain supper and/or ritual work for after the trick-or-treaters have come and gone but since Covid made putting a bowl of candy with lights and decorations the expected norm here in suburbia this year, I was off the hook! I put out my bowl, lit up my little witch, and was free to observe my holiday.

pumpkins for halloween decor

Along with my traditional Halloween activities, this year we had a pile of pumpkins and squash, radish, final peppers and tomatoes to collect.

We had so many pumpkins volunteer this year – so many colors and designs on them – that I have spent the past couple of days cutting, peeling and cooking to make mash for cookies, breads, and pies. It turns out that if you throw your pumpkins and squash seeds in your compost you don’t need to plant them in a garden bed – they pop up all over the place. The difficulty was choosing which plants to keep since we weren’t sure what kind of squash each plant was – so we selected for the location they chose to grow in and got a mix.

volunteer pumpkins and squash piling up
a lot of pumpkin mash!

This might seem like a lot of work but I have a recipe for bourbon pumpkin pie that I kept firmly in mind as I peeled. And since the seeds are the most nutrient-rich part of the pumpkin…

drying pumpkin seeds to roast later

… we are drying them to roast later. I found that a bread board was a good way to dry them since they stick to paper towels, parchment, even plastic.

There may have been a small amount of halloween candy consumed to keep my strength up as part of this exercise. 🙂

We’ve made a few big pots of squash soup, which is a favorite around here, and some of what’s still waiting to be cooked is headed for the root cellar.

In all we’ve had a good harvest for the little plot of earth we grew vegetables in this year and I’m ready to eat squash and pie. Maybe I’ll add a little bourbon to keep warm!

halloween morning on the farm, 2020

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Easy, luxurious tomato sauce – good on pizza.

backyard botanics – Thomas’ beautiful cherry tomatoes from last year’s summer garden

Last year at the end of April we invited our friends Thomas and Lisa Mikkelsen for dinner. They arrived with a bottle of wine and a four pack of seedlings that Thomas had grown.

I had some tomatoes of my own started, heirloom brandywine (I know, very snobby) but Thomas’ were different – more robust looking – so I added them to the garden.

By August I had gigantic non-determinate cherry tomato plants overtaking the entire north end of the garden. I had cherry tomatoes coming out of my ears. Jon was saying “more tomatoes? really? when will they stop? what will we do with all these tomatoes?” Mind you, four plants. (Thank you Thomas.)

We were getting the brandywine tomatoes, too, which I was in a battle to harvest ahead of the rabbits getting them. But we had plenty of cherry tomatoes to satisfy the rabbits and still fill our bowls to overflowing.

During a later summer pick up from our nearby CSA, we complained to the farmer that we didn’t need his tomatoes – we had too many of our own. On hearing this, he exclaimed “Too many cherry tomatoes! What a luxury! Throw them in a pan and make sauce! That’s what I’d do if I had too many cherry tomatoes!

We did. I sautéed some onions and added basil and oregano, halved the tomatoes, added salt and pepper and crushed the tomatoes while they cooked with tip of my spoon. No peeling. No processing. Just sautéing in a pan of oil. So easy. And absolutely delicious.

Tomato sauce: great on pasta or pizza

This year, I got some free seeds from the Holliston Garden Club seed bank to try– little golden pear tomatoes.

Again, a forest of tomato plants appeared. Thankfully, they were determinate this time; they got to around 6 feet, which still is about 2 feet higher than my tomato stakes.

I’d like to pause here for a short rant on tomato stakes. Because–really? The hoops and stakes you can buy, even the ones in reputable gardening magazines, while made of a nice plastic-coated durable metal, are always WAY shorter than even the determinate plants. They are a complete rip off, leaving tomato plants to climb all over the garden, falling over into walkways and breaking their tender stalks while fruit is till ripening on them. You’d think one of these garden supply companies could create an affordable stake that actually accommodates the height on such a common garden vegetable. But I digress.

yellow pear tomatoes with a few volunteer cherry tomatoes from last year’s plants

We’ve collected a half a dozen gigantic bowls with more coming… cherry tomatoes are prolific. Time to make tomato sauce. This year I have too many green peppers so I’m cutting up and sautéing onions, green peppers, adding salt pepper and oregano and basil from the garden or rosemary (or whatever I have around). The fact is this sauce doesn’t even need the herbs because the tomatoes are so fresh and sweet.

tomatoes, green peppers, onions in some olive oil

This is delicious on pizza dough, too — we all like it better than the traditional thicker red tomato sauce — with cheese over it.

finished tomato sauce

This year I’m freezing the sauce. I even gave mason jars a try, having read in Treehugger.com that they are a reasonable choice for freezing liquids.

Tomatoes keep coming almost to the frost date here in Massachusetts. I figure by then I’ll have filled the downstairs freezer with sauce.

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Gardeners plan … the Goddess laughs

Vegetable gardening is in my blood on both sides.  My mother’s father had a farm in Norway and my father was raised on a farm in Texas.  We had vegetable gardens and berries at our house and I love to eat food that grows in the yard. One of the first things I put in my garden when we bought the house we are in now was a rhubarb plant I bought at our town garden club plant sale.  It has provided many stalks for crisps and pies, goes well with strawberries, and is currently on track to take over the entire garden.

Last year I decided to save some seeds for this year’s garden.  I saved delicata and butternut squash seeds that had been locally grown by an organic farmer (Upswing’s Brittany Overshiner) as a hopeful experiment. 

Meanwhile, and unrelated to that decision, I bought some carving pumpkins, decorative pumpkins, and winter squash to eat last fall. 

The seeds, much fussed over and occupying a place of honor on the dining room table, were stored in envelopes. We enjoyed the squash, pumpkins, and jack-o-lanterns, and like good diligent homeowners we composted the uneaten bits of squash and post-season decorative pumpkins, including the seeds.

When spring came, we added compost to my garden and planted tomatoes, carrots, peppers, leeks, bush beans, cabbage, lettuce, radish, cucumbers, marigolds, nasturtium, delicata squash and butternut squash. 

And all of those things grew. 

But also there were many squash plants appearing.  They popped up in all the beds, and even in the walkways.  I started pulling them since I didn’t want them to shade and choke out what I’d planted.  Apparently, our compost pile had not heated up enough to kill off the seeds we’d composted and they were everywhere; clearly we did a good job of mixing the compost since it appeared no square foot in the garden was without a squash plant!

After the first week or two of pulling them out to protect my delicate new seedlings and sprouting seeds, I decided to leave a few.  Some part of me just couldn’t bear to pull them all out.  I started to notice that they were not all the same:   the leaves were slightly different from one plant to the next, which piqued my curiosity, and so I watered them along with everything else, cut back what was untenable, and waited.

It’s August as I write this.  My garden has pathways through it… they are narrow.  It’s like a jungle in there.  I have a range of winter squash – the same kinds we ate last year, there are decorative pumpkins, big carving pumpkins and there are even some delicata and butternut squash, though it’s not clear they are the ones I intentionally saved and planted.  I’ve also read that cross-pollination results in hybrid/mutant type squash so there will likely be squash that aren’t exactly like anything I bought last year.  

I’m rolling with it, viewing this as an exercise is humility and a lesson in letting go. After all, it’s rare to get more than you asked for.

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What grows here

We have a modest vegetable garden; it’s not large. We spent weeks mulling over the layout last winter and settled on a 22X45 area with a bunch of 32 inch wide rows. My old back can’t lean any further than that to pick and weed.

Though modest, the garden has character. The compost this year, it turned out, was full of live winter squash and pumpkin seeds. They grew among my leeks, my tomatoes, in the bed that actually was planted to be delicata squash, among the lettuce and now they are taking over the walk ways and fences.

There are squash hanging all over the place in there.

My son’s friends were over the other day visiting and when they left he let me know how impressed they were with my pumpkin patch. The one I didn’t plant. No mention of the killer rhubarb, carrots, or cabbage.

I’d like to note that last year I planted pumpkins. I got 2 and they were tiny. I guess they needed more compost.

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Today on the Farm

Today was hot and sunny in Holliston. A workday for me, but I had a chance to grab a few things from the garden and grounds. The yellow pear tomatoes and cucumber for lunch, the bush beans for dinner, and some hydrangeas for the counter and peppermint for water.

Generally it’s hard to break away from work – meetings, and the real work between them have a way of gluing me to my seat. But outside the sun shines on the farm and there’s so much happening — so I try to get outside at lunch and then after work for sure.

Tonight we made dinner on the grill and because I had some frozen fries from the market we took a toaster oven outside and plugged it in to cook them without heating the kitchen.

We have resisted putting air conditioning in because the house is so sprawling the cost to run it would be crazy. Plus they are so ugly hanging out of the windows. We avoid cooking/baking during hot days. The kitchen itself is “new” – from the 1900s, we think. The original – now called the “keep” at the center of the house – hasn’t been the house kitchen for some time. We aren’t sure who moved it to the annex that was once a 1900s garage for Porsche’s – but today it sits in an addition to the east side of the house which we think Sam Elliot built for his Porsche collection.

Sam Elliot – a wealthy Boston real estate man – bought this house as a summer retreat for his family in the early 1900s. They spent lavishly, installing an in ground pool to the south west of the house, a giant cistern under what is now the kitchen, and was once a garage that was attached to a barn on the east side of the house, and a west wing of two 14 by 14 bedrooms. Sam was a Porsche enthusiast, and old photos of the house show our present kitchen with garage doors – no doubt there to house the Porsches that we have photos of him and Anne Elliot, his wife, in.

The previous owners of this house were kind enough to leave us the history they collected, which includes some photos of the Elliots enjoying their summer property, and we’ve begun to build on it, intending to leave more still for the next owners.

More on the history – and some of my partner Jon’s research – in the next blog.

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