Tag Archives: gardening

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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Major Miller’s House

This New England house was built around 1750 by Major Jacob Miller of Holliston, MA. Jacob fought in the revolutionary war with Paul Revere, who most certainly was in this house. They fought together at what is now castle island and Jacob was at the battle of Lexington, too. During the war, Jacob gifted Rever land at the bottom of the hill we live on – Miller Hill – to hide his family out during the war. And John Adams’ family had a house around the corner on Adams Street. The place is storied.

This house has a spirit of its own. It was home to the family that built it for over 100 years and to several families since. Now, I live here with my children, partner of 7 years, and our two dogs and cat. The energy of the place has a way of welcoming people and making them feel safe. Many have remarked on it when they’ve visited.

I dare say the house hasn’t changed much from when Jacob built it. It retains its old beams, its old horsehair walls, its old floors, the revolutionary irons in the fireplace, the old chimney stack…

The old kitchen, called “the keep,” has a great old mantle and parson’s cabinet – a hidden panel that concealed a shelf for liquor, in case the parson turn up – liquor was strictly forbidden in colonial times, apparently. I am thinking of using it to hide my booze from my teenagers.

We’ve been here for almost four years, now. We reinforced the floors, adding columns in the old fieldstone cellar to support the sagging old wood beams, swapping wallpaper for colonial color paints, and trying generally to keep up with repairs and updates to plumbing and electricity. The previous owners did a beautiful renovation, replacing 12 over 12 windows and generally updating electricity, fixtures, siding, etc… and the grounds. There are 3.5 acres of land previous owners have grazed their horses on and, rumor has it the Millers grew hemp. We’ve saved 2 of 3 giant old ash trees and my boyfriend has learned a lot about John Deere tractor maintenance.

We’ve made a kind of project of the place, creating a reasonably large vegetable garden and I’m creating a kitchen herb garden, too. I prepare food from our garden, we keep chickens, and I cook with and make tea with the herbs I grow. And it seems to me that all of this effort on such an historic property deserves to be shared, so I’ll be posting updates and stories about the house here. I may even change the title of this blog if this sticks.

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The Appeal of Red

Proving that the apprehension of even the mundane is fluid – birds see color varieties that we don’t, seeking in each other the appeal of colors unknown to us.

And so the boy birds and the frogs – prey for birds – have adapted.  Boys become bright to attract feminine attention, frogs to warn that they are poisonous.  I once had a boyfriend like that.  So shiny and colorful I knew he must be dangerous.  And he was.

If the world is for each of us what we perceive, a subjective reality, then it must be an infinity of realities made sweet or sour by the tastes each of us give it, expect of it, believe to be real, and have the capacity to perceive.  And so a million realities exist around us but we see and create realities unique to ourselves.

We are dreamers diving into the swirl of our days, abandoning ourselves to the past, what we’re instructed to believe, what we can accept.   Endlessly dancing with these lovers, until something or someone trips us, jars us awake, rips us from the fabric of our diligently woven lives.  If we are lucky.

Waking from a dream of myself or perhaps nudged by some nascent desire, I have begun to weave red into a tapestry that has before been a kind of grotto of earth colors.  Here, indulged desire – oh, yes – where my careful heart would never have dared.  There the fiery red of a creative flame allowed to burn.  Consequences?  Perhaps, but you have to live.

This love-child could become a blaze, burning away old perceptions that have outlived their power to be potent; or a long, warm summer day of lovemaking in the forest, bent over a tree.   Or maybe it will become a garden, velvety flowers springing from alongside the path of my days, meandering through cool archways overgrown with trailing ivy.  No telling, yet.  But hopefully it will involve my share of red and an enhanced perception of color.

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Grapes ripening on a little vine in the backyard hang in indiscreet bunches, decorative baubles, playful and teasing,

not plump yet, turning a sugary shade of magenta from frosted green – perky, still firm, the color of spring.

Promising.  Not the kind you want to pluck, yet.

I contemplate readiness.  And time.  Desire, Impatience, and the satisfaction of ripeness.  The kind that you’ve waited a season for.  The kind that fills your mouth with so much pleasure you forget your name

and makes you glad you waited.

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