New Digs

Well, we’ve moved to a new neighborhood. We are going to back up the moving vans this weekend, and transfer everything to our new site. Please exscuse the mess for a few days.

Ben & Jules, 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stubborn Sidewalk Weeds Can Be Boiled


Boiled Weeds      Sometimes I can be beyond ruthless and will enter medieval territory.  Hammers to kill flies (lucky shot!), acid (sudsy ammonia) to kill slugs, and now boiling water to kill weeds.  Perhaps I should start at the beginning . . .
      Many years ago I read a piece about the future of pesticides and herbicides.  In a large plow-mounted device, water was boiled and piped to the plowshares.  When sprayed on the earth being turned, the hot water killed bugs, bacteria, viri, plants and seeds.  It ended up being too energy intensive for casual use, and the idea died away.
     That little nugget of info was resurrected this spring as pull resistant weeds took root in the sand between the bricks of our front walk.  We make it a rule to try to stay away from the various -icides, and nothing is really more biodegradable than water.  So on Monday morning, Julie and I boiled many pots of water.
      The results were fantastic.  The boiling water surged into the open cracks and ran along the seams of the walk.  Bugs died in place, not even requiring cleanup of their corpses.  The foliage of the weeds caught in the steamy flood instantly turned the color of perfectly steamed broccoli.  As I continued down the walk, many plants quickly turned brown or black.
     Some hated weeds such as spurge were the first to seem dead.  The stray dandelion instantly turned black, and the spurge turned brown and crisp underfoot.  Only that tough old nemesis, crab grass, stayed stubbornly green.  But after a few hours, it too was turning a grey-brown.
     I felt oddly victorious this morning, striding down our walk, crunching through the destroyed husks of my unworthy opponent.  I won the battle; let's hope I won the war.

*Note:  If attempting this method around plants you want to keep, be very careful.  If you pour the boiling water on any plant, it will probably die.

Posted in Organic Gardening, Weeds | Leave a comment

June In Bloom

    As June winds down and the sultry days of summer start to move in, we sometimes miss the colors that early summer starts to display.  We always pause to admire the first crocus and remark on the tulip, but sometimes June has us frantically weeding and not admiring the blooms.  I decided to take a break and grab four of my perennial faves.

     The three Whirling Butterflies that survived the horrible ice we had this winter have nearly doubled in size.  Also known as Pink Fountain Gaura, these delicate, flowing flowers are probably my favorites.  These full sun perennials bloom late spring until the first frost, and they need very little water.  The stems are gorgeous in cut arrangements. They are only hardy to -20 F, so I'm not surprised that the two youngest in the bunch were victims of the very cold winter we had. Whirling butterflies

     Another of my favorites, the Shasta daisies have burst into their first round of happy, delicate white circles.  Shastas are perpetually cheerful and so easy to grow.  If you have a friend who has some well-established, I'm sure they will be happy to divide them and help your garden along.Daisies
      Not exactly a bloom, but still exciting all the same, the wineberries are just considering their berry stage.  I get so excited when I see the red, fuzzy buds.  If you've never had a wineberry, now is the time to consider them.  They are delicious and can be used in so many ways.  They are very hardy (if not a little invasive) and make great pies.  Wineberries

    The last sign of early summer for me is the emergence of my Stella de Oro daylilies.  These are the first flowers I planted when we moved into our home because I wanted something easy that would grow in the poor soil next to the front walk.  Once they got established, I have pretty much ignored them and let them do as they will.  Except for the occasional watering I give them if we get a severe drought, they do well relying on rain water.Stella d'Oro      What are your favorite June blooms?  Is there one particular flower that spells summer for you?

Posted in General Information, Photo Essays, Summer Flowers | Leave a comment

Researching Beehives: Hands On Experience with a Sting

      Apiaries       I wish I could say I did it on a dare.  I wish I could say that someone "made" me do it.  But alas, I cannot use peer pressure for this one, I decided to visit a location that housed at least forty beehives all on my own.  Chalk it up to stupidity and the need for a learning experience.
   Jim and I have been planning on getting a hive of our own for the last few months.  I had been preparing to write an article on the beekeeper who rents an area on the family farm, so he suggested that we go for a visit so I could see the hives, get some pictures, and we could plan for our own.  The perfect storm, so to speak, for an adventure doomed to failure.
    Here's where I got naive.  I had lived on his family's farm for a year, but never saw the hives.  And since we moved, I hadn't ventured on long walk there in about three years.  On top of that, my experience with hives was always in the city.  When someone showed me their hive, it was precisely that, a hive or two.  The bees came and went and we could get relatively close without getting stung. 
    Before we set out on our journey, I already knew the background.  Our honey always comes to us as rent for the small area under a very large oak packed with hives by a small stream.  The placement is the result of a suave business deal by Jim's father and uncle.  A beekeeper approached a neighbor to place hives on his land in the middle of his fields, but the neighbor, not wanting the hives close to his house turned him down.  The beekeeper then approached our family, and the hives were placed on the family farm, closer to the neighbor's house than if the hives were on his land.
    The land that the hives are on is now a protected wetland,but was formerly planted in corn and alfalfa.  Now the field is wild, with tall grasses, wild flowers, and poison ivy.   And bees.  All I heard in the story was small area and small stream.  Naturally I assumed only a few hives.  We strolled through the grasses, admiring the catnip, mint, and raspberries until we arrived at the enclosure.  I was carefree and looking forward to the excellent pictures I was sure to get.  I had never seen so many bees before in my life.
    Apparently the beekeeper has just naturally allowed the hives to divide over the many years and just adds the boxes as he needs them.  I was suddenly and inexplicably filled with fear.  I had never been stung before in my life, and now all I could think about was every horror film I had ever seen that had bees.  I knew that the bees would leave me alone if I just stayed calm.  It's not in their best interest to sting me.  So I started taking pictures from a relatively safe distance.  At one point, I had my head down and a bee got caught between my hair and my forehead.  BAM!  She got me.  I freaked out.  I think I would've made Tippi Hedren's performance in The Birds look tame.  I had visions of thousands of bees attacking because of their fallen comrade.  One of their ranks wasn't coming home tonight, and it was my fault.  Although it took a stern talking to from Jim, I finally got myself under control enough to repair to the homestead.
    Although I'm still a little nervous when I hear buzzing (and a week later I still have a good sized bump on my forehead), we are planning on building our bee homes this weekend.  One hive I can handle, forty, I leave that for Winnie the Pooh.

Posted in Bees, Green Living, Organic Gardening | Leave a comment

June 2009 Garden Update

    Admittedly, we haven't gotten as much done in the garden as we had planned.  Between what seems like a never ending cycle of home renovation and the extended (and much needed) bouts of rain, the beans still haven't been planted.  On top of that, someone who prefers to remain nameless, keeps bringing home perrennials that need to be planted.  If that wasn't enough the little wonder's grandparents decided she needed the largest swingset/fort they could find.  Two twelve hour days later, the swingset was up but the garden was neglected.
    However, we do have some lovely veggies growing.  Our peas have come up nicely (if not a little late), and our herbs are doing really well in the raised bed.  The potted peppers on the front porch are about to bloom, and our tomatoes survived the freak frost and are blooming (much earlier than last year).

     The potatoes that we bought a little too late have come up nicely, and look like they will provide the shade for the chard planted in between them.

Potatoes  Chard

     Happily, the salad greens are growing quickly.  We got them in at the right time this year.  We should have a substantial crop before the truly hot days arrive.  While we already have some leeks that are attempting to grow, we went ahead and planted some more in old milk containers.  They seem to be doing well.

Leek sprouts
     By this time next month, the beans should be planted and more tomatoes will have been added to the mix.  We will again try to plant cucumbers and avoid the pests that completely destroyed last years crop.

Posted in Organic Gardening, Photo Essays | Leave a comment

Portulaca Oleracea: Now Part of the Gourmet “In” Crowd

     Store Bought Purslane      It seems that various culinary types have suddenly noticed that one of the weeds that will grow almost anywhere is actually haute cuisine.  Dandelion and purslane (portulaca oleracea) are on the menu at many fine dining establishments, and the diners never recognize the greens they shovel in their mouths as the same plants they poison in their yard, nor as the weeds they trod upon growing in the cracks of the sidewalk.
     The funny part is how nutritious these plants are.  Purslane has one of the highest levels of omega-3's of any land based, leafy vegetable.  Other compounds they contain are not only anti-oxidants, but also anti-mutagenics.  Rounding out the mix are A, B, and C vitamins along with minerals like Mg, Ca, K, and Fe.
      Purslane is easily used in the kitchen as it may be eaten raw, as a salad or a burger topping.  They are also good boiled, stir fried, or even chopped up in soups and stews. I have even heard of (but not sure I'm quite ready to try it), pickling the seed pods to use a caper substitute.  The seeds (and there will be plenty) can be sprinkled like poppy seeds or scattered about to grow again.
      Growing purslane certainly doesn't take much work.  Scatter seeds and pull the plants up where you don't want them to grow.  Every time you pick some, wrap it in newspaper before you leave that area of your garden, as you will otherwise trail purslane seedlings to your backdoor.  The best part about purslane:  it doesn't care about the soil.  If it's in dirt, it's happy.   The purslane in our own
garden (below) is already starting to grow.  We are digging up the little
plants and moving them to their own bed.  The neighbors think we are
crazy, but that's nothing new.  We also broke down and purchased some purslane at the nursery (pictured at top) for comparison.  Because it's a member of the succulent family, we plan on enjoying purslane throughout the driest days of summer.

Garden Purslane

Posted in General Information, Organic Gardening, Weeds | Leave a comment

Weekend Rambles: A Late May Walk along the Potomac

   On Saturday the family decided to ignore the work facing us all and head out for a beautiful morning walk along the river.  There was not much in the way of flowers to break up the green that surrounded us, and the canopy of trees provided the just right amount of shade.  It was that perfect time of year, when spring is gently yielding to summer, and you, for just a moment, believe that the heat of August and September may yet be avoided, and all summer days will go on like this.  In essence, it was a very Wordsworthian day, one perhaps best savored in recollection.
   Armed only with my phone's camera, I was unable to do justice to the day.  However, I was able to catch some Harvestmen (aka Daddy Longlegs), a dragonfly on patrol, and some wild strawberries growing in one of the few sunny patches.

Daddy Longlegs 2
Wild Strawberry
     The only plant that we observed really in bloom was poison ivy (I hadn't paid attention to it on previous walks, but I saw some of the largest poison ivy vines in my life that day.)  The garlic mustard was dutifully going to seed in preparation for the another allergy season.  But the next manifestation of the riverbank is on its way, and I look forward to what new sights early summer will bring.

Posted in East Coast, General Information, Photo Essays | Leave a comment