Sunday, February 26, 2012

Passing the winter hours: Puzzles

Another activity to pass the time is puzzles. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles a few times a year. I rarely attempt one larger than 500 pieces. This one I picked up at the antique mall for half price, and it's a bit of a challenge at 1000 pieces. It still had some large chunks put together (thank Heaven!)

I've made it through the awkward stage where you are putting straight edges along the sides to see where you've forced pieces (they angle slightly) and am closing in on the stage where you are sure there are at least three pieces missing. And since this on is used, that could be true!

I've taken a break to wander around the yard in the sunshine checking to see what bulbs are up... daffodils only... and have put some stuffed pork chops and a frozen apple pie from the last of my apples in the oven (thanks Mom). Now, back to the puzzle board.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: The Dirty Life

Another way a gardener makes it through the long cold winter, is reading gardening books. I have a lot of large, glossy "coffee table" type books to supplement my favorite veggie magazine and seed catalogs, but what I really love is personal experience type books. Garden Novels. I was surprised, when I searched back through this blog, to find that I have never reviewed any books.
The first one I ever read was "The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden"

This is a great book about how a normal middle class person can go insane trying to create, maintain and make use of the perfect kitchen garden. It's a struggle I am now quite familiar with. But a far better book is Animal, Vegetable Miracle, a Year of Food Life.

Animal Vegetable Miracle diaries a family's year long attempt to eat nothing but local food. Food they raised in their garden, and in their chicken coop and food bought from other local farmers. These are the pretty much the only two I reread over and over. I've now got another "read again" book. The Dirty Life a Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristen Kimball. She hasn't written anything else, but she has a website and a blog to be found at

The book tells the story about how she fell in love with a free thinking, rather challenging man and left her life as a writer in NY City, gave up her vegetarian diet, and helped him create a "whole diet" CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in Upstate NY where they farm with horses, feed a couple of hundred "members" and have learned to use all parts of the pig except the oink.
She soon learns there is a lot more to gardening and farming and the far rural lifestyle than meets the eye.

"Did I really think that a person with a genius for fixing engines, or for building, or for husbanding cows, was less brilliant than a person who writes ad copy or interprets the law? Apparently I did... There' s no better cure for snobbery than a good ass kicking."

She also learns to milk cows by hand, butcher chickens, pigs and cows, till crops with a team of Belgians, and get along with her husband-to-be in the process. This isn't just a book about gardening, although they have acres and acres of garden crops this is about farming as a whole and the lifestyle that goes with it.

“‎A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can't, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. Its blackmail, really.”

And it is about eating locally and seasonally.

"The central question in the kitchen would have to change from 'What do I want?" to 'What is available?"
I thoroughly enjoyed this book right down to the last paragraph. I have to admire her for her resourcefulness and determination. While I would happily learn how to adjust harness and aim a harrow, I don't think I could either make or eat blood sausage. I can certainly relate to her not feeling clean for weeks or months at a time as she toils in the fields. And I can commiserate with the havoc a wayward herd of cows or a runaway team of horses can cause.
I don't often recommend books. Taste in literature is a very subjective thing. But, if you enjoy this blog, you will enjoy any of these three books, and The Dirty Life in particular.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Magazines: Heirloom Gardener

Besides seed catalogs, what is it that gets a gardener through the long cold winter? The answer: Glossy Magazines. And I have a new favorite, Heirloom Gardener. I subscribe to very few magazines, preferring to pick them up at the newsstand depending on how the issue strikes me. Then I usually copy articles and info I like for a ring binder, and give the issue away. I subscribe to Hobby Farms and Hobby Farms Home which I promptly share with my mother. I plan my errands around the release of Organic Gardening so I can check out the latest issue at the "fancy" grocery. Then a couple of months ago I happened to pick up an issue of Heirloom Gardener at Tractor Supply.

I was hooked! I had seen this magazine before back when it was a plain paper (boring) publication with illustrated covers and lots of practical advice. It is put out by Baker Creek which not only does great work offering heirloom seeds from all over the globe, but also hosts a very informative and busy gardening forum called I Dig My Garden. I used to spend quite a bit of time on that forum, and it is still a wonderful place to research questions and ask for advice.

The magazine has been revamped, glossed up, and is now offered at some newsstands, including Barnes and Noble and Tractor Supply. You can even follow them on Facebook. I was lucky enough to stumble across their first release to TSC and am now a subscriber.
Besides articles on gardening and vegetables, they feature other topics of interest such as cheese making, bees, poultry, apples, plenty of recipes and lots and lots of glossy photos! Next time you are at Tractor Supply, check for it. The Spring issue with the tomato on the cover is at the printer now and will soon be on news stands. Search for them on Facebook to keep abreast of the release date. See if you don't fall in love with this magazine too.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Candlemas / Groundhog Day

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

It is very overcast here in Western NY today so I am hoping for a good pea crop. So I have come out of blogging hibernation to share these curious little facts...

For centuries people have been using animal prognosticators from bears to marmots to predict the coming of spring. There are even clashing calendar systems which state spring should start anywhere from Imbolc (Celtic St. Brigid’s Day February 1st) to the Vernal Equinox (established by the Roman calendar). Some years we go with the Celts. Some years the Romans.

The Romans looked to the Hedgehog. In America, we let a Ground Hog decide, in Serbia they watch the bears. If the bear awakens early from his hibernation, and is startled by meeting his shadow on the way out, he will be frightened back into his den and sleep for another 40 days.

Yawn... now back to my long winter's nap.