Monday, August 8, 2022

The Joy of Shell Beans


We've planted a variety of shell beans this year and here's a sampling of yesterday's harvest. We shelled them this evening, remembering the always-wise advice of Mama/Grandma Wanda who always waited a day after picking before shelling. "It's so much easier!" she opined.

Pictured are Cannellini, Vermont Cranberry, True Cranberry, Painted Pony and the family heirloom Bird Egg Beans. (Click on the link to read the history of our family bean from a blog post in 2011 - my most-read blog post ever!)

Still filling their pods on the trellis are the Tolosa black beans which have a longer growing season.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

August Bounty

 The old graniteware canner has been pulled off the pantry shelf and put to work this week.

first of the 2022 tomato crop

pickled beets

Though we no longer grow vegetables for the Farmers' Market, it seems we have planted copious quantities of peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cabbage, broccoli and the ubiquitous zucchini. I am hoping we were more restrained in the corn, potato and garlic departments.

Grandchildren Matteson, Juniper & Sadie Metzger

While I tended growing things of a different sort in Alaska, Arthur and my mother prepared the peas and the bulk of the beans  for the freezer - though later bean plantings are yet to yield their goodness.

The old pressure canner will be coming down from the attic to be put to work this week because of its efficiency in processing the tomatoes that are straining the vines in the high tunnel. Less water and less time - both good reasons to use it!

The apple crop is modest this year, likely due to the dry conditions we've experienced for much of the summer but watch for more information about cider and apples here.

Joe and Jen's garden spot on a former
Matanuska Colony Farm in the Mat-Su Valley 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Snow In Summer


It's been more years than I can remember since Anne Acker gave me a clump of this plant known as Snow In Summer. This year it's putting on a beautiful show at the corner of the horse barn where it's cascading down the bank.

And speaking of plant gifts, this Summer Lilac was also a gift. We accompanied John Peet into the field beside his old farmhouse to dig up several plants that day but this one has given us  - and the butterflies and other pollinators - great joy every spring.

Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) is a perennial flower that gets its common name from its blooming habit. It blooms profusely in the early summer, with a blanket of notched pristine white flowers that suggest a fresh snowfall. But the name does not tell the whole story. This ground cover, a member of the carnation family, is just as admired for its delicate, woolly, silver leaves as for its charming flowers. These leaves spread a mat of foliage from which flower stems rise in late spring/early summer. Snow-in-summer spreads quickly by reseeding and by producing runners when grown in favorable conditions.

Summer Lilac: Growing to heights of 12 feet and having spreads of up to 8 feetin diameter, the summer lilac is a large shrub. The flowers grow in long panicles, or branching flower clusters. The small blooms are noted for their fragrance. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Meanwhile In The Orchard


Vivid hues of crabapples

Will we have pears this year?

The orchard is a-buzz with activity as the warm weather coaxed the blossoms from the trees. Our new bees are delighted to find something new every day. Orioles, bluebirds, catbirds and hummingbirds flit back and forth.

It was two years ago that we spotted this distinctive nest of the oriole in a pear tree. Where have they hidden their domicile this year?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Happy Pollinators

Dandelions! How they grow when there a few warm days with sunshine!

Previous generations welcomed the arrival of dandelions every spring. Leona Matteson Tasilllo, our beloved "Auntie Snip" went out into the garden and orchard on this old family farm every spring with her paring knife to harvest dandelions well into her 90s. Then she'd carefully wash and cook them and leave a message that we should stop at her place on our way home from work to pick up the greens for our dinner.

I have to admit I wasn't much of a fan of dandelion greens until I tried Auntie Snip's offering. Now both Arthur and I forage in our hoop house every spring for those tender greens while outside the snow still blankets the yard.

My grandfather loved dandelion greens too. He writes:

"Some folks are as delighted over the advent of the odiferous leek as I am over the appearance of the lowly dandelion. Everybody to his or her own liking. Dandelions were on the menu at this domicile Monday night. Best food I've had since last dandelion season." 

And later in the year he writes:
"Dandelions are blooming in most delightful profusion all over the landscape.  Some folks cuss 'em but with the green of the May grass, they are beautiful just the same."
Today, we rely so much on mass-marketed foods displayed in our full-serve supermarkets, we don't recognize many of the edible resources looked upon as weeds.* 

Dandelions are but one very visible example. How did folks come to loathe this tooth-edged plant with its bright sunshine-y flowers and begin to wage war on it by dousing it with chemicals?

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, homeowners use more than 10 times the amount of herbicide and pesticides on their lawns per acre than farmers do. That is a stunning and alarming statistic. 

This wanton use of harmful chemical herbicides is tied to the loss of pollinators across the globe. Without pollinators, our food systems will collapse and we will starve. To refresh your knowledge about pollinators, follow this link to the USDA.

In the United Kingdom, a public awareness campaign was launched by the Pesticide Action Network aimed at celebrating the role of the dandelion in supporting pollinators. One of its goals is to stop the application of herbicides and allow the dandelions to complete their life cycle. They urge residents to use these materials to inform local governments and other organizations about the loss of pollinators.

So here's to keeping our honeybees alive, keeping nature in balance and celebrating the arrival of the dandelion each spring.

*Update: May 13, 2022

I came across this clipping from a 1975 edition of The Potter Enterprise, from the Womanwise column penned by Muriel Lindhome.  Mildred Bashline and her husband Stanley had a small rustic cabin on Denton Hill and a big vegetable and flower garden. The last I knew, her blueberry bushes, trapped behind their falling-down chicken wire fence, still bear fruit, likely enjoyed only by the catbirds and robins.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Tub Sugar

My Book Club is reading "Braiding Sweetgrass" this month in a non-fiction departure from our usual fare. I will admit I haven't finished the book yet but it's not because it's a slog - rather because it's so beautifully conceived and written that I'm unwrapping it like a special gift. Or perhaps, living as we do in Maple Nation, I'm savoring it like a small nugget of maple sugar.

Robin Wall Kimmerer prepares us for her collection of intertwined essays and memoir describing it as "an intertwining of science, spirit and story - old stories and new ones ... that allow us to imagine a different relationship in which people and land are good medicine for each other."

In "Braiding Sweetgrass," Kimmerer shares the story of the Anishinaabe Original Man, Nanabozho, as he finds his people lolling beneath a maple tree, with their mouths open catching the falling syrup from the trees.
"They had become lazy and took for granted the gifts of the Creator … so he went to the river and dipped up many buckets of water. He poured the water straight into the maple trees to dilute the syrup. … Today, maple sap flows like a stream of water with only a trace of sweetness to remind the people of both possibility and responsibility. And so it is that it takes forty gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.”

While most of the sap harvested from maple trees in our time is turned into syrup, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the sugar produced from the trees was the prize. Cane sugar was rare and expensive and had to be imported from far away while maple sugar, created by boiling sap until it crystallizes, was available in exchange for vigorous outdoor work in the spring before our agrarian ancestors were busied with field work.  

There's an old sugar bush on this farm and squirreled away in the dusty corners of the outbuildings, reminders of a long-past maple sugaring times - galvanized metal sap buckets, some brimming with old-fashioned spiles and a long evaporating tray that once rested atop a roaring wood fire on the arch in the field behind the little house.

Grandpa Matteson's Arch

These days the buckets and spiles have been largely replaced with miles of tubing and giant collection tanks and the sugar shack is almost factory-like with gleaming stainless steel and modern firing devices. 

While we haven't tapped our nearby maples in more than 40 years, several of our neighbors have experimented with making syrup, and just over the hill, there's a new commercial syrup operation.

The sap run is over for this spring. Just last week our neighbor related that it wasn't his best year and he had already finished boiling off the last of his sap, bottled in a case of mason jars to share with his people.

And here I share another old story from a writer who appreciated the sweet gift from maples, my grandfather, W.D. "Golly" Fish. He wrote this in 1969, in his 94th year.

Golly wonders if maple product producers in these recent years make "tub sugar." They used to make it and it was used for such purposes as sweetening pickles and in curing hams. Tub sugar was made from the last run of sap after buds started in the maple trees. The sugar was called a "buddy." It was dark in color and when made into sugar, dark syrup would drain from it. It was reasonable therefore to put it into tubs or buckets which gave it its name of tub sugar. 
As a lad Golly used to pay visits to a lady who lived on a nearby farm. The hams she cured with tub sugar would melt in one's mouth. The cucumber pickles that had been preserved in brine, when freshened and finished with tub sugar, were dark in color and marvelous in taste. Golly could eat one this minute and he would not have to have salt rising bread with it.
buds on the maples

 (Read more about Maple Nation here.)