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Friday Favorite: Sage

February 24th, 2012

When it comes to herbs my favorite has to be sage. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I love it’s wonderfully complex flavor.

Maybe it’s the fact that stuffing is my favorite Thanksgiving side dish (as long as it’s got a good amount of sage). Maybe it’s how it tastes perfect with poultry or sausage. Or perhaps it’s how it perfectly flavors a big pot of bean soup. To me sage tastes like pure comfort.

As a result of my love of sage, I have an abundance of it in the gardens of Chiot’s Run. I have a few different varieties and I plan on adding as many of the varieties that Richter’s carries that I can (at least of the edible kinds). Coming in second to sage has to be thyme as my next favorite culinary herb.

What’s your favorite herb and which is your favorite dish to make with it?

Discovering That Which Brings Joy

February 23rd, 2012

We realized that we had a collection – a passion, actually – that required attention. This happens often, and we have learned over the years not to ignore the signs. For that is where joy lies.

Joe Eck & Wayne Winterrowd (Our Life in Gardens)

My childhood was filled with gardens. My parents tended a huge edible garden which we dreaded having to work in all summer long. The house was always brimming with houseplants of all colors, shapes and sizes. Since my childhood was spent in both a northern climate in the United States and on the equator in Colombia, I’ve lived in both extremes of gardening climates. The gardens of my childhood contained everything from exotic staghorn ferns and papayas to common snap beans and marigolds. (I’m the one on the right)

Even though my parents were avid gardeners, I never really was all that enamored with it. My mom let me choose something interesting to grow in the edible garden and a few blooming things for the front flowerbeds. I had a few plants in my room during college and herbs in pots on my first apartment balcony, but gardening wasn’t something I’d even mention when talking about my hobbies. When Mr Chiots and I purchased our home ten years ago that was still the case. I had no desire to garden. For some reason, I still felt the need to feed the soil even though I had no plans of lush gardens nor vine ripened tomatoes. For the first few years, I added chicken manure and mulched leaves at intervals throughout the year and replaced a few uninteresting plants with ones that caught my eye.

After few years of tending the soil and I started to develop a green thumb, before I knew it, I was spending most of my free time in the garden, planting, making compost and expanding the flowerbeds. I found myself frequenting the local greenhouses in search of interesting plants. I woudl check piles of gardening books out of the library. I was discovering that deep down I really enjoyed gardening and the peace and satisfaction it brings.

Five years ago, three 4 x 10 raised beds were built in the back garden “to grow a few vegetables and strawberries”. Little did I know, when we built these raised beds that a new gardening passion would be discovered. My love of ornamental gardening hasn’t been lost, it’s simply been overshadowed for the moment as edibles have taken root. Growing edibles was a natural progression since cooking is one of my other loves (something I’d always mention when talking about my hobbies). Living in a rural area doesn’t mean that fresh vegetables are easy to find. I quickly found out that if I wanted them I had to grow them myself.

Since then, my love of edibles has grown stronger; we even purchased the lots of both sides of us to have more space for popcorn, pumpkins and what ever else interests us. From regular edibles my interest deepened when I discovered the world of heirloom vegetables – and what a wonderfully interesting world it is.

Growing heirloom vegetables can be addictive, when you savor the first ripe ‘Brandywine’ tomato from the vine in July, you want to grow every single colorful variety mentioned in the seed catalogs. Who can resist not having a bouquet of fresh tomatoes on their table in August?

The ornamental gardens at Chiot’s Run have not suffered from my newfound love of edible gardening. I use the world “ornamental” loosely since a well-tended vegetable can be every bit as lovely as a perennial border.  When you take the time to cultivate good soil a strong foundation is developed and the plants that take care of themselves. Besides weeding twice each summer and adding a thick layer of chopped leaves and manure in the fall, my ornamental beds pretty much take care of themselves. They also provide a beautiful backdrop and beneficial biodiversity for the edible garden.

As I discovered my passion for edible gardening, my mom rediscovered her love it edibles as well. When I started growing a few vegetables, she tilled up a section of her lawn that had grown vegetables when I was still living at home.  Like mine, her edible garden grows each year.  I often head over to her garden and we plant and grow a variety of things together there. Since her soil is already well established, it has been a wonderful place to garden as I work in building up the soil in my own gardens to produce more bounty for my table.

If you’ve never grown anything edible in your garden I’d highly recommend that you try.  Even if it’s only one tomato plant on a small stoop you’ll be amazed at the deep sense of joy and satisfaction that comes when you pluck that first ripe fruit from it’s branches.  Deep down I think we all have the need to tend a small plot of soil and provide for ourselves.

How has your gardening evolved throughout the years? Do you have a passion for a particular area or plant? 

Making a Birdseed Wreath

February 22nd, 2012

On Sunday I was mixing up a batch of suet for the woodpeckers and I posted it to my Facebook page. Krista asked if I had ever made a batch in a bundt pan. Since I hadn’t, I decided to give it a try. I mixed up a batch and make cakes as usual and mixed up another batch and put it in a bundt pan. Here’s my suet cake recipe.

My bundt pan isn’t a real one, it’s a springform pan with a bundt insert. I was worried about the removal of the wreath from the pan, but a few minutes over the warm oven vent and it popped right out. I think one of these silicone bundt pan would be perfect since you could peel it right off and these mini bundt pan would make the cutest gifts!

If you do make one, make sure you hang it with wide ribbon as a thinner string might cut right through the suet on a warm day. I hung mine from the maple tree by the bird feeder and within a few hours the woodpeckers had already found it.  This will be perfect because I won’t have to replace the suet cakes quite as often.

Any great crafting going on in your kitchen?  

Signs of Life in the Garden

February 21st, 2012

Yesterday was a beautiful day, sunny with the highs reaching up into the high 30’s low 40’s. I decided it was the perfect time to sow some lettuce seeds. After spending a few minutes clearing away the mustard cover crops that winter killed, I sprinkled 2 packs of lettuce seeds on the bare earth. This are of the garden has a semi-south facing slop so the ground was already starting to thaw. What kind of lettuce did I plant?

‘Rouge D’Hiver’ from Grow Organic described as: (Latuca sativa) (aka Red Winter) French heirloom described in Vilmorin’s The Vegetable Garden (1885). Produces a compact 10-12″ head with a green heart and brownish-red leaves. For spring, summer, and fall planting. Romaine, 60 days

‘Brune D’Hiver’ from Baker Creek described as: Compact, hardy, French butterhead-type lettuce that was introduced in 1855. Crunchy green leaves are blushed in reddish-brown color. Plants require little space when growing, and are perfect for fall plantings. Hard to find in America.

After sowing the lettuce seeds I took a stroll around the garden to see if I could spot any signs of life. In addition to the snowdrops which are gathering steam and starting to show up in higher number I noticed more green in the garden. There were chives coming up, the sweet autumn clematis is already sprouting new growth, the Pink Mediterranean Heather is blooming beautifully on the front hillside, the daffodils are putting up green shoots. There are still overwintered leeks that will be harvested soon and the wild spring greens will be in season shortly. In fact I harvested some bittercress for a salad last night!

Are there any signs of life in your garden yet?

To read more about using cover crops in the garden I highly recommend this book:

The Basement Stairway

February 20th, 2012

Our basement stairway is like most, utilitarian and boring. Now that we’re going to be putting the house on the market we’re trying to clean up some of those dreary areas of the house and the basement stairway was on the list. I pinned this idea a long time ago and decided it would be perfect for this area.

The best part is that it was FREE. A few extra bits of paints from various areas of the house and a few hours and I was in business. I used caulk to fill in all the cracks around the stairs to clean it up a bit. It’s not quite as bright green as it looks in the photos, it’s a lithe more muted in person.
This is what I started with:

And ended up with this. Isn’t it amazing how it makes the stairs look wider?

Basements are a wonderful thing, we use our for storage. My main pantry is down there and it’s filled with jars of home canned goodness, the deep freezer and my seed starting area. Since our basement is unheated it also works fairly well for storing potatoes and onions. A proper root cellar would be better, but since this is all I have I make it work. Growing up we had a proper root cellar in the basement and my bedroom was down there too.

I still need to give them a good sweep, wipe them down and put a coat of Polycrylic on them. This will make them so much easier to clean and they will stand up better to all the foot traffic they get. The moulding around the door and the hand railing need stained before going back up. With those two tasks the basement stairway went from drab to fab! I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind in the future.

Are you lucky enough to have a basement? What do you use it for?

Seeds and Sundries
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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.