Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oodles of Noodles

Fresh egg noodles, made with duck eggs. And while I wait for the water to boil, I'd like to take a minute to express my appreciation for my three ducks, W, X, and Y:
As they are notoriously camera-shy and always on the go, I've been trying for weeks to get a decent photo. This will have to do. You see them as they are for pretty much every daylight hour, working to aerate and fertilize my lawn, and eating any slug that crosses their path. Unlike the chickens they do not tear up my planting beds, dig big holes for dust bathing, and they eat slugs. They (W and X) laid steadily through the coldest darkest days of winter--big thick-shelled eggs with huge golden yolks. They continue to out-lay the hens and, did I mention that they eat slugs? Here they are aerating the lawn:
(Top-right is Maria Theresa making a dash for the woods) They drill their beaks right down into the ground leaving perfectly round holes.

W suffered a dislocated leg in of a dog attack last summer that killed most of my flock. I popped it back into place, but she still walks with a limp . And yes, that is how she earned her name.

Monday, January 14, 2008

First Bloom Day of 2008

I don't know when I've been this excited to post what's in bloom. I've been like a little kid waiting for Santa Claus, ever since I realized I'd have three things blooming in my garden today.

As I predicted last month, the sarcococca ruscifolia is in full bloom, although you have to look closely because the flowers aren't very showy. (Waverly Fitzgerald of Living in Season has a much better photo.)And to answer Chuck B's question last month, it smells wonderful. A single branch will perfume a small room but it's not at all cloying.

Also, as predicted, the first of the hellebores. 'Briggs Double' I think this one is. The annoying thing about hellebores is the way the flowers always face down at the ground, which makes getting a good photo something of a challenge:

Finally, my cyclamen coum, or rather one of them, the only one that I can find this year. I suspect I dug out the rest of them accidentally when I divided my hostas, with which they are interplanted. (If you got a hosta from me last fall check it out; you may have a cyclamen blooming on that spot.) This one may have escaped that fate because I had the good sense to stick a label in the ground last year.

Ever since I saw this gorgeous amaryllis blooming on a stucco wall in Italy a couple years ago, I've wanted to grow a really deep red amaryllis.

This year's is red enough, I guess, but it seems lacking somehow, compared to these:

Think it might just be the background?

Monday, January 07, 2008


We all have them--those little bits of our personal history mixed in with our present. A hand-drawn Mother's Day card tucked away with a stash of unused greeting cards, or a ticket stub from a long-ago play that turns up every time you use a dressy handbag. A few months ago I bought a new sewing machine. I haven't sewn in years and my box of notions was a tangle of thread. I started to sort it out and came across some thread on wooden spools. The memories unwound faster than the thread--of my mother's treadle sewing machine that I learned to sew on, of using my mother's new electric Singer to complete my first home ec project of pajamas and a bathrobe. The machine had snap-in cams that allowed you to do all kinds of decorative stitches and I made full use of those stitches on my project, which somehow so offended Miss S____*, the home ec. teacher, that she gave me a D- . As she did with every other project in that class. That woman hated me and the feeling was mutual. Okay, so some memories are best left untapped. I digress.

Carol, over at May Dreams Gardens, has been sorting through her seeds, a popular pastime for us northern gardeners in January, and she came across some seeds from 1986 and 1987. She wondered if anyone had any seeds older than hers. I was pretty sure I didn't. I have a few packets of seeds from 1999. For some reason I bought larger packages of seeds that year, in many cases a full ounce instead of the mini pkts, probably because the larger size seemed like such a good deal, and because I was planting in a 60 x 60 foot plot back then. Unfortunately circumstances dictated that I wouldn't be growing any vegetables for the next 4 or 5 years, and never again in that giant plot. (No I didn't move. It's just an unhappy story that I'm not ready to tell.) Apparently I stored the seeds well because the beets, tatsoi, arugula, and peas were all still viable last summer. The butter beans were either non-viable or the field mice dug them up and ate them before they could sprout.

There were other, slightly older packets, gifts mostly, of flower seeds, of the type that you really do not want to plant a lot of, like lantana.

And then I hit paydirt:

Not seeds left over from my now -retired 3600 square foot garden, nor from my plot in the community garden on the campus in Santa Cruz, nor from the tiny beds surrounding my patio in the Santa Cruz condo, nor from the garden I grew in styrofoam coolers on a balcony in New Jersey when my oldest daughter was an infant. These are from one of the early gardens at our first "real" home in Salt Lake City, the year I actually ordered seeds from a catalog instead of just picking up a few sixpacks of seedlings at the home center. They accidentally sent two packets of parsley and apparently I've never opened the second one, probably because parsley seeds just seem to find their way into my garden by other means and really, who needs 500 parsley plants? Funny, though, how a packet of seeds could bring back so many memories. I don't think I'll open the package just yet.

So, 1983! Has anyone found any seeds in their stash that are older?

*I originally typed her full name, but then, just for grins I googled her, and my goodness, that old biddy is still around, heading up the WCTU in my old home town. She must not have been as old as I remembered her, because that home ec. class was a long, long time ago.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Secret Weapon in the War on Gloom

It's been a particularly wet and dark winter here on Tiger Mountain. The chicken yard is a sea of mud (note to self: must call tree trimmers to have them deliver a few trailer loads of wood chips), the ducks are finding places to swim where there should not be swimming holes, and it's been a challenge to do even the most rudimentary cleanup/pruning/transplanting that really does need to get done this month. More and more I find myself turning to the bottle. No, not the gin, this bottle:

Okay, it's a jar. And the contents are pure liquid (okay, paste!) sunshine. Datil Pepper Relish.

A couple of years ago a blogger down in Florida, whom I have never met, wrote eloquently about a special hot pepper that his family had grown for generations. Later, he generously shared some seeds with another blogger here in the Pacific Northwest, whom I have also never met. Roger grew the seeds in his greenhouse and when he harvested his bumper crop this fall he "paid it forward" by offering to share his seeds with other gardeners.

To my delight the seeds arrived by mail in their natural state, as a handful of the most fragrant little peppers I've ever seen.

It looked to me like enough peppers to make a small batch of relish, and still have seeds for planting. I used FC's recipe as a starting point and ended up with a jar of something amazing. It's not that the peppers are so hot--perhaps they are when grown in St. Augustine, FL, but not up here, not last summer anyway. They're hot enough, but it's the fragrance and flavor that just blows me away. I've taken to adding a spoonful to everything from blackeyed peas and rice to crab cakes. And when it's really storming and dark outside I haven't quite resorted to eating it straight from the jar with a spoon, but I've come close:

I was going through my seed stash this morning and I'm thinking I need to share these seeds out while they are nice and fresh. So, while the supply lasts, if you'd like some datil pepper seeds, email me and I'll send you some. Because it's not just the warm feeling I get from the peppers that keeps me going in the dark days of January. It's the warmth of connection to people living thousands of miles away, sharing their thoughts, their gardens, the natural beauty of the world around them with someone they've never met.