Sunday, April 27, 2008

Five-month pupdate

At five months, Woody is starting to look more "dogg-y" ...

He's starting to outgrow his favorite chair, but refuses to acknowledge this reality ...

We've had some beautiful warm days lately and he's discovered his own special spot in our stream. Yesterday morning he repeatedly disappeared into the bushes and emerged wet and wild. After about 30 minutes it was time for a nap in the sun!

He still has bags of puppy energy. I forget sometimes how little he used to be; I created a slideshow, Woody Grows Up, to preserve the memory ...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

There are no bodies buried here ...

I understand that 6-foot-long mounds of earth could spark lots of questions, so let me dispel the fear and rumors right now: those are potato beds. I did mention last week we'd soon be planting potatoes. This weekend's weather was fantastic, and of course I could think of nothing better to do than dig 6-8" deep trenches. Well, I did have some help. On Saturday the kids lent a hand by bringing glasses of ice water. On Sunday I convinced Chris that his superior digging techniques would get the job done more quickly (I was right!). The mounds of earth come out of the trenches, so to speak, and will be used to form little hills around the potato plants as they grow. The bed to the rear contains Maris Pipers, a British variety. The front bed has both Desiree (a European red potato), and Austrian Crescents (a fingerling potato). Can you ever have too many potatoes? No ....! Behind the potatoes are the peas, which are just starting to come out of the ground (pictured at right).

Finally, all the way at the back of the garden, are the strawberries and raspberries. Oh, and weeds. Those beds are kind of a mess but we're trying to improve on last year's neglect. This weekend we "recycled" some metal poles, formerly a silt fence, to create a barrier from the deer. This should give the berries -- and, in fact, the entire garden -- a fighting chance.

Next up: lettuce, in that bed at the very front. But that will have to wait for another day ...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Becoming Locavores

We live on what is currently the edge of suburban sprawl: just a couple miles north or west lies farmland, and lots of it. So why do we buy so much of our food from the local supermarket, where produce is sourced from all over the world? Sure, this guarantees that just about anything we want to eat is available year-round. But this comes at a cost represented by transportation, fuel consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.

That's why, last Saturday, we went for a little drive, turning left at a sign that read, "Grass-fed Jersey Milk 1.5 miles." The road grew narrower, and the grass and cows more plentiful. We pulled into the driveway of an Amish dairy farm we'd found through Local Harvest. A young girl was sweeping the driveway, and a boy was dribbling a soccer ball. Their mother came out of the house to greet us. Trying not to look too much like city folk, we asked for milk and eggs. She escorted us into an immaculate room with a large tank, dipped a pitcher into the tank, and poured its fresh, creamy contents into a half-gallon glass bottle. We learned that most of their milk is sold to consumers like us, some is used to make yogurt and cheese (also for sale), and a truck collects unsold milk weekly for packaging and distribution elsewhere. The family's goal is to be a 100% local consumer business within the year. The milk was delicious, and the eggs made beautiful golden omelets. I'll be back this weekend, this time for a full gallon of milk, and more eggs.

Even closer to home is Briar Hollow Farms, another Amish homestead with its own produce market. Their selection is highly variable, but by July you can count on Briar Hollow for the best-tasting corn in Chester County. Local Harvest has details of other nearby farm markets, most of which open in May. I'm going to use these markets to supplement our own home-grown produce, and reduce supermarket purchases by planning our meals around what's fresh and available locally.

Ideas like these have been germinating in my mind for a while, and crystallized when I read Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (read my review). Kingsolver is a convincing advocate of local eating, and the internet is chock-full of resources on the subject. We are not going "cold turkey" as some have done, but we will learn by doing. And I expect we will enjoy the process!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Signs of Spring, and a Harbinger of Summer, too

Spring is always hectic where gardening is concerned. There's been a lot going on & I've hardly had the time to sit down and write about it. This is the first year of our vegetable garden, so there's a lot of preparation to be done. We've been creating the beds, trying to stay a couple steps ahead of outdoor planting. So far we have two large beds, about 6'x12, and four smaller plots, 6'x6'.

We planted shelling peas and snap peas in the first of the large beds. The second large bed will hold potatoes, which are currently chitting indoors. We have three varieties, including the Maris Piper which we came to appreciate while living in the UK. No more supermarket russets for us (I hope ...) We also started seedlings in flats under lamps: leeks, tomatoes, zucchini, fennel, and rosemary. That's the zucchini pictured. They're off to a good start, and just today we transplanted them into larger pots. Lettuces need to be planted ... hopefully soon. After last frost we'll plant the beans, and then later on the root vegetables (carrots and parsnips). I can't wait to see how this all turns out!

I've been caught up in all this wonderful springtime activity, but just two nights ago I was reminded that summer was on the way. We opened the door to let the dogs out (or was it to let them in? It's always one or the other!), and there was the little fella pictured on the right. Toads visit regularly in the summer months, and always perch on that step between porch and door. The dogs burst in and out, oblivious to the toad's presence (thank goodness). I know we'll see more as the weather warms up; for now I was happy to see this harbinger of summer!