The Backyard

The Backyard

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Local Wine - Benigna's Creek

"We put Klingerstown on the map." Those were the words out of the mouth of the owner of Benigna's Creek Winery and Vineyard at last evening's lighting of the vineyard Holiday celebration. On Thanksgiving, we started talking about the local winery and on a whim, my mom, brother, sister-in-law, and Rick decided to check it out last evening. Boy were we in for a total shock. Klingerstown is a very tiny town in Northumberland county with a population of about 300. It's nestled in Mahantango Valley, with rolling farmland all around it. It's very rural, few stores and little industry. This area is clearly off the beaten path and seldom sees much traffic. It's about 5 miles from our homes. When we started up the hill to the winery, all of our mouths dropped. There were cones in the road to slow traffic (its a back road!), fire trucks set up in neighboring fields with portable lighting for the overflow, maybe 4-5 huge tents set up (about as big as you can get a tent), people everywhere along with lines and crowds. There were three horse-drawn wagons taking folks on tours of the lighted vineyards and that particular line was the longest. We were astounded at the magnitude of this event -- maybe 1,000 people? My mom thought maybe more. I estimate the owners had to recruit about 100 people to work at the event to serve folks. The event was totally free -- free admission, free food (cakes, cookies, chips, snacks, hot dogs), and free taste testing of local wine but you had to wait at least 15 minutes to break through the crowd to get to the stand to taste it. Once you tasted it, you then moved to another line to wait to buy bottles of wine -- another 15-20 minute wait. And boy were people buying. They were leaving with cases of it. Some weren't leaving -- they'd buy, then go sit in a tent and open it and drink it. Rick was getting a kick out of some of the half-drunk folks staggering around. And the wine? Well, we love it. But then again, we aren't big wine drinkers, so we can't be the true judges. Benigna's wine has been winning Pennsylvania awards (their most prize-winning, Sunshine, was completely sold out), so I guess its good. And it's local! Support local businesses.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Food, Inc. Available Now on DVD

Food, Inc. is a well-made documentary on the down-side of agribusiness and has been running in local theatres throughout the spring and summer. My friend, Donna, and her husband have seen it in Carlisle and it's the type of movie that makes you want to just scream at people to stop eating packaged foods and meat in tidy Styrofoam containers covered in plastic from the grocery store. The fast food industry is probably the biggest propoent of agribusiness and we all know what fast food really does for us. I was uber-pleased to see it's now on DVD... And of course being frugal with shipping costs, I had to add King Korn to the order. King Korn features Michael Pollan and its about two guys tracing corn and where it ends up. Corn is in nearly every packaged product you can think of in some form; either as preservative, a sweetener, or as some other substance thought to enhance the packaged product. Did you know only 10% of all corn grown in the US is actually eaten as corn, the vegetable? The remainder is ground up for god knows what, or fed to the animals that end up in those tidy Styrofoam, plastic-covered packages in the grocery store. Let's help educate folks... order your copies of Food, Inc. and King Korn today and spread the good food word.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Time for Thyme

It's easy to take some plants for granted and not pay much attention to them until suddenly you realize you can't live without them. Thyme is the perfect example. I noticed today my thyme jar was near empty and when I went to the storage area -- none! And there are some herbs that are so easy to grow that when I run out, I can't possibly bring myself to buy it. Luckily, with the warm November we've been having, there was still "thyme" to harvest some and dry it. Thyme is a perennial herb that you plant once and you'll have it for years. But don't be surprised when you are ready to buy a plant, to find dozens of varieties. I've grown lemon, elf, variegated, vulgaris french (this is the cooking thyme), wooly, caraway, and silver. And from what I read, these are only a few of 100 varieties of thyme. I started growing it mainly for its looks and not the culinary uses for which thyme is famous for. Wooly thyme grows flat and yes, it's "wooly" with a grey, soft surface -- like petting a cat. Silver thyme is just what it says, a silver plant that contrasted nicely with other herbs. Elf thyme makes a beautiful small ornamental to stick in between plants to add some contrast. It has tiny leaves; thus "elf." And caraway thyme is also a creeper that made a nice edging plant. Thymes are wonderful herbs to have in the garden. Planted in a row, they can be trimmed into tiny little hedges which look lovely as a border. Left to bloom, they attract honey bees who enjoy the nectar. While they are perennial, they aren't long-lasting perennials. Thyme usually lasts about 5 years before needing replaced. Drying it is super simple like most herbs. At this time of the year though, my 110 drying room (top of garage) isn't warm enough, so the drying is done in my make-shift drying area above the refrigerator. Just cut your stems, lay them flat, and let them go until dry -- about two weeks will work. Sage was another herb that I recently ran short and dried the same way. Remove the leaves from the stem, and jar. Finally, some thyme.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's Seed Catalog Time

The first seed catalog of the season has arrived -- High Mowing Organic Seeds. Most years, the little kid-at-Christmas comes out and I get uber excited with the arrival of that first catalog. That's not the case this year after overdoing it a bit this past season and growing weary of constantly spending time in the garden. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore picking dinner and now that it's colder, hitting the storage bins/shelves and eating what I grew (not to mention fretting in the grocery and farmer's market aisles over the lack of organic produce). But my time needs to be more shared between garden work and playtime, so the garden will be a little smaller next year, thus less seeds to order. But there might be a pack or two I simply must have -- like spinach and carrots -- or maybe some cherry tomatoes or heirloom peach tomatoes. And I believe I have to give some new varieties of winter squash a try -- like acorn. I have plenty of butternut squash seeds left over from last year. The nice thing about the organic seeds from both Fedco and High Mowing Organic Seeds is they'll keep if you don't use the whole pack in one year, and I have a good bit from last year. They are good quality, non-GMO seeds that last for several years. And non GMO Is what its all about. Remember, be careful where you get your seeds because over half of the seed market (2005 statistics - can't find more recent data) is controlled by the top 10 seed companies, including Monsanto, the GMO giant. Fedco and High Mowing Organic Seeds are two good starts. Seeds of Change is another good one and many others are out there. Lots of local folks are starting their own organic seed exchanges - those are good sources too. So next season is about to begin. Winter is the perfect time to plan the garden for next year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fall Garden - Not Much Left

The sleeping bed for winter where the tomatoes, potatoes, beans, eggplant, and butternut squash were growing this summer. Swiss Chard and spinach. These will survive a couple more light frosts. I initially was going to cover this entire row for the winter, but have since changed my mind. Just not sure I plan to eat swiss chard all winter (I'm not crazy over it).

This is raddicchio ready to cover for the winter. It too will survive some light frosts; but come a hard freeze, a storm window will go over the straw bales.
My pride and joy to eat all winter -- carrots and spinach. This spot is in a south location with the brick wall protecting it. Once it freezes, I'll cover it with storm windows and if all goes as planned, I'll be eating fresh carrots and spinach all winter.

Kale! Yuk. But I can't pull it 'cause its SO nutritious. One of the top 10 super foods in the world.

Putting Gardens to Sleep for Winter

Fall garden clean-up to prepare for winter is much easier than spring prep. Just pull and cover. Well, maybe it's not quite that simple, but it really is a piece of cake compared to the spring time chores. I'm going to focus only on the vegetable gardens.

  • Pull and compost all spent vegetable plants that will not survive winter. Make sure you get every bit of debris - sometimes disease hangs out in what is left behind (i.e., tomato blight).
  • Weed the beds.
  • Mulch or plant a cover crop. I found cover crops to be cumbersome. You need a good-sized patch and easy access with a rototiller to turn it back under in the spring. That was the part that was hard for us -- rototilling it back under. Experts claim cover crops are tremendous soil builders and I don't doubt them. My preference for soil building is a thick layer of mulch with compost and horse manure.
  • There are many other types of mulch to use and you can find a nice list here. The idea of mulch is to keep weeds at bay and more importantly, prevent soil erosion over the winter. Depending on the mulch you use, you'll feed your soil well over the winter also.
  • Enjoy winter's rest. I know I will!

Really, that's all that's to it. The important thing is to do it. If you don't, by spring you'll have an amazing crop of weeds in the soil that isn't dried out and parched from winter's freeze-drying process. There are some excellent cold-hardy weeds out there that will love taking hold and growing in you mulchless garden.