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Archive for July, 2009

IMG_5876One of the commenters on  Locallygrownnorthfield.org, a community Web site where I live, noted that while she has seen lots of pictures of Emerald Ash Borers, she has not seen any of an ash tree. Good point! Ash are commonly used trees in Minnesota, so many people have them in their yards. The photo at left is a shot of a Marshall seedless ash in my yard. (Click on any of the photos for a bigger view.) It was planted as a mature tree 10 years ago, and as you can see, it’s a lovely shade tree, nicely shaped and taller than the roof of our house now.

IMG_5875IMG_5879At left here is the bark of an ash tree. The borer is usually discovered when homeowners notice thinning at the top of their tree and dieback. Arborists will remove some bark and look for the characteristic galleries of the borer. The photo at right shows a typical leaf cluster from an ash. The small dots and slight dieback on the leaves indicate I have a small insect problem with this ash — but it is not the emerald ash borer. (I checked with the folks at Knecht’s about it, but forgot what they said it was, except “don’t worry.”)

Hope this is helpful for those uncertain about whether they have an ash tree in their yards.

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IMG_5849My vegetable garden is like a jungle these days, but it’s yielding some wonderful produce, including parts of this delicious two-bean salad I made recently. I had some leftover green beans and a tomato from the Northfield Farmers’ Market and a half a Vidalia onion from Just Food Co-op. From my garden, I picked a pile of the delicate yellow climbing bean (French Duet) I planted with seeds from Renee’s Garden, a cucumber, green and purple basil, and parsley.

The recipe is simple. Cut the beans and onion into 2-inch lengths and start some water boiling. Since the green beans were a slightly tougher variety, I put them in first and cooked for 4 minutes; then I added the thin yellow beans for 2 minutes, and the onion for 30 seconds. (I am not a fan of raw onion, but those who are can skip that step.) Drain it all and run cool water over it to stop the cooking. Meanwhile, halve, seed and slice the cucumber, slice the tomato, and chop the herbs. Mix it all together with a generous shake of salt and pepper. For the dressing, I juiced a small lemon (again, from the co-op), added a tablespoon or so of red wine vinegar, and enough olive oil (maybe 1/3rd cup) to pull it together. Mix that up, douse the salad, and enjoy!

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The Right Kind of Rain

After a long dry spell (less than half an inch of rain in Northfield between June 20 and July 20), we’re getting a nice gentle rain this morning. Not torrential. Not lashed about by wind. Not a dribbly, teaser rain. A steady, plant-quenching, garden-reviving, pond- and river-filling rain. Here’s hoping it lasts all day.

Update: About an hour after I posted this, the rain stopped. It’s still cloudy, so we may get more. According to the Stanton Airport rain gauge, .63 inches fell. My rain gauge had an 1.5 inches in it, but that included some water from watering earlier this week.

Update, 9 p.m.: After another round of storms rolled through this evening, the Carleton weather station reports rain totals of 1.77 inches. A good dose of rain, and much needed.

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IMG_5781Earlier this week, the cherries on my ‘Bali’ cherry tree looked like rubies; they were shiny, lush, bright red and definitely ready for picking. So after removing the layers of netting that kept the birds off the tree, I got to work picking. When positively ripe, ‘Bali’ cherries come off easily, and I pitted most of the cherries right on the tree. A gentle squeeze on the fruit, a slight tug, and a perfectly pitted cherry went into my pot. Those cherries that still had the pits in them went into a separate pot for pitting in the kitchen later.

On my 3-year-old tree, which is less than 5 feet tall, I harvested about 15 cups of cherries total. Not bad for such a little tree — and it makes me hopeful about future harvests, which are said to be enormous.

Once picked, I cleaned the cherries by swishing them in water. One problem with the pit-on-the-tree method is that you have to be very gentle in cleaning. You also need to process them immediately. I put the cherries in appropriately sized containers, sprinkled about 3/4 cup of sugar on them per 6 cups of cherries and froze them.This morning, I started making a basic cherry pie. Having lost many times in the now-defunct Northfield News pie-baking contest — an event this community sorely misses, I don’t claim to be a great pie-baker, but these pies were winners.

Basic Cherry Pie

For the crust, I used a recipe my Mom gave me, which I believe came from her Mom: For every 1-1/3 cup of all-purpose flour, add 1/2 cup shortening, a half-teaspoon or so of salt, and a tablespoon of sugar. For a two crust pie, go with 2-2/3 cups flour, a cup of shortening (what type is your choice — my Grandma no doubt used lard but I stick with Crisco with maybe a dab of butter for color), teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons sugar. Cut the shortening into the flour, salt, etc. mix with two forks or your fingers until it is the size of small peas, then add just enough ice water to pull the dough into a ball. Shape the dough into two disks, one for each crust, wrap in plastic or wax paper, and put in the refrigerator for one hour. Letting the dough rest an hour is the key to easy rolling of your crust.

After the rest period, preheat your oven to 425 F. For the filling, mix together 1-1/4 cups sugar (1/2 cup, if using previously sugared frozen berries),  3 tablespoons of corn starch, and a good shake of cinnamon. Stir the sugar mixture into  6 cups of  tart cherries. Add a 1/2 teaspoon or so of vanilla. (For a fancier, more explicit recipe, check out Martha Stewart’s cherry pie.) Roll out your bottom crust on a floured board, fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Add the cherries and a few dabs of butter on top of the filling, then roll out the top crust and put that on top. Crimp the edges to seal the crust, and cut a couple of slashes or an artistic design into the top crust. You could put an egg wash on the crust and sprinkle it with sugar, or just stick it in the oven. I always put my pies on a baking sheet to prevent a smelly house in case the pie juices ooze out of the pie.

Bake the pie at 425 for 12 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350  and let it go for at least 45 more minutes — it may take longer. The filling should be slowly bubbling and the crust should be golden brown when it is done. Let the pie cool completely before eating, unless you like soupy pie.

Multi-Berry Variation

I also tried this multi-berry variation, which my husband preferred to the plain cherry: Follow the recipe, except instead of 6 cups of cherries, use 2 cups each of tart cherries, blueberries, and raspberries. Wow!

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Bee Magnet

IMG_5737I like to plant flowers that attract wildlife to the yard: bees, birds, butterflies. Seeing butterflies dance on top of a coneflower or watching a bird as it works diligently to remove a seed from a dried sunflower increases my appreciation for nature and — not to sound too sappy — life itself. So, discovering a plant that attracts wildlife far beyond expectations is a great pleasure. That’s been my reaction to this ornamental onion (Allium spaerocephalon) that I planted last fall. I’ve got clumps of it in three areas of the front yard, and not only is it a particularly handsome plant, but it’s a positive bee magnet.

This bulb comes up in early to midsumer, long after tulips and daffodils are done. The tight flowerheads are shaped like an elongated sphere. They start out a bright green, but as the flowers open and spread, the color goes purple. Once it’s fully open, watch out — here come the bees! Yesterday, I found no fewer than a dozen bees buzzing around, gathering nectar from one of the clumps. Chives, another member of the allium family, is often suggested for attracting pollinators, but this allium seems to pull in many more bees than the chives I have. (Besides, chives are pretty invasive.) Allium spaerocephalon is recommended for rock gardens, borders, woodlands and the area between trees and shrubs. It makes a pretty cut flower, too, but why deprive the bees?

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IMG_5720I planted these cheery sunflowers because my teenage daughter loved the name — The Joker. (She’s an admirer of the late Heath Ledger.) But now that they are blooming, I can see they are more than a fancy name. Helianthus annuus ‘The Joker’ grows up to 7 feet tall (mine are about 5 now), and produces several large blooms on a single stalk. The blooms start out with bright yellow petals, but gradually a deep reddish brown color emerges near the seedhead of the bloom. ‘The Joker’ is a pollenless variety that’s primarily grown for cut-flower arrangements — so I’m not sure if there will be any seeds on these. (I planted a different variety in our meadow area for the birds.) Like all sunflowers, ‘The Joker’ likes a sunny spot with fairly rich soil — mine are planted near my former compost pile, but near some tall shrubs so they may not be getting all-day sun.

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IMG_5648The Hennepin County Master Gardeners held a garden tour today and, despite my poor navigational skills in South Minneapolis (what can I say? I come from the east side of the Twin Cities), I managed to hit four of the 10 gardens. It was well worth all the missed turns. Each of the gardens had a theme — wildlife garden (that’s where the hawk at left was hanging out), garden retreat, farm garden, etc. — but the gardens had many things in common, too. In addition to wonderful, well-cared-for plants, here are three things I noticed:

IMG_5641Entries: Maybe it’s because these gardens were mostly on fairly narrow urban lots, but the ones I saw had distinct entries. In two, you walked through an arch that seemed to beckon a visitor in. Even those without obvious entry portals had paths that seemed to lead you into and through the garden.

IMG_5673Water: You could not get more simple than this water feature, attached to the exterior wall of one of the homes. But this was positioned just at the point where you entered the backyard and the sound of the water added another sensual element to the garden. A larger garden near Minnehaha Creek boasted a formal fountain as a centerpiece. With curving, perennial-filled beds on each side, the fountain with plants encircling it offered a place for your eye to rest as it moved through the yard.

IMG_5652Art: Whether a simple leaf-cast (very easy to do with a rhubarb or large hosta leaf) or a funky metal sculpture, all of the gardens I saw included artwork — and not just one piece. I saw mosaic stones, stone welcome signs, even a tea-cup glued to a narrow metal pole and planted in the garden — another easy-to-do project.

IMG_5687Thanks to the gardeners for opening their yards to the public and to the Master Gardeners for organizing the tour. The homeowners were present in each of the gardens I visited and happy to share advice. In addition, other Master Gardeners answered questions and offered lots of information and handouts.

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