Monday, June 29, 2009

Botanizing the Pine Barrens

M and I visited the Pine Barrens in Wharton State Forest in Central NJ recently and we saw carnivorous plants! Neither of us had ever actually seen carnivorous plants in the wild before so we spent a long time looking at them and taking pictures.

Here's a sundew growing by the side of a stream:


And a pitcher plant growing about a foot away:

Look at those red veins and downward-pointed hairs. The texture is like the soft down of a baby's head.

There were also a huge number of highbush blueberry, mountain laurel, pines, oaks, wintergreen and teaberry. And ticks. Lots and lots of ticks. The trail we hiked on is called the Batona trail (BAck TO NAture). It's a 50 mile trail through the Pine Barrens and southern New Jersey. It's well marked but very narrow, so narrow that we were brushing past bushes most of the time, hence the ticks. But I definitely plan on going back in July when the blubes are ripe!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sharing with Katrina

Have I told you about my neighbor Katrina? She has the house on the corner of our block, with a big garden that you can see from the street. I used to walk by and salivate over what was growing in there (and over the house itself, there are 3 day rooms with full length windows!). When I was canvassing our area to gauge interest for the community garden I made sure to ring her doorbell, hoping to just catch a glimpse of the inside of the house. Much to my delight Katrina answered the door and said "Yes, I'm very interested in a new community garden, and won't you come in?" She sat me down and it took about 15 minutes for me to realize that we had a lot in common, despite our 30+ age difference (as we spoke she was cooking sweet and sour pork chops using her homemade sauerkraut, a recipe I had tried a mere week earlier with my own sauerkraut).

Since that meeting we have shared recipes, preserves, plants, and walks to the farmer's market. She shared some empty jars and pectin with me, and I shared some home-made strawberry jam with her. She gave me an extra half-dozen eggs from her CSA box, and I gave her some of the free plants I got for the community garden. It's quite the mutually-beneficial relationship. Most recently, she emailed me to tell me that her sour cherry and ume plum trees needed picking, and would I kindly come over and share the harvest? Yes ma'am, I most certainly will.

The result was about 4 pounds of cherries and 5 pounds of ume plums. I gave the red sour cherries to my coworker, who promptly made them into preserves. I only had a week to process the rest of the fruit before leaving for CA, so I did what Katrina suggested and preserved the sour cherries in simple syrup.

Just combine equal parts sugar and water, bring to a boil, add cherries, boil one minutes, jar and stick in fridge. I don't know how long they will last but probably a few months at least. It's basically like I'm infusing sugar water with cherry flavor so I can probably just boil down the sugar and make cherry syrup after I've finished eating the cherries.

Also acting on Katrina's advice, I made umeshu with the ume plums. They are a Japanese variety that is not used for eating but for making vinegar, syrup, and wine mostly. Umeshu is Japanese plum "wine," but it's really an infused liquor. I tried some of Katrina's that had been aged one year and it was delish.

I used this recipe (how strange is that video?!)

I love my neighborhood.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Feed me, Seymour!

I referred to this sweatshirt a little while back, but wanted to post a picture of it too. My friend Metthea made it for my birthday a year or so ago. Isn't it incredible? Metthea also did the "Work with your hands" sweatshirt. I'm posting it because these sweatshirts have been a source of inspiration for a project I just finished, to be posted soon . . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I hit up the mulberry and serviceberry trees again to collect 6 more cups of fruit, this time with the aim to make jam. I ran out of pectin, but I'd heard that serviceberries are full of pectin so it's not necessary to add it when you make jam.

I opened M's 1997 edition of Joy and searched for the jam section but came up empty handed! Thankfully, my 1975 edition had a whole section dedicated to jam-making the old fashioned way, sans pectin. They suggest adding other fruits that have a high pectin content, so I grabbed some apples and chopped them up with the mulberries and serviceberries.

I filled six small jars and let them sit for 24 hours before determining that no, the jam didn't "set," or gel up. Poo. I probably didn't boil it for long enough or at high enough temperature. Ah well, it's more like a runny syrup with fruit in it, but it's delicious.

The recipe I used was a combination of recipes from Joy and from the internet. It was about 6 cups fruit, 1 apple, juice from 1 lime, and 4.5 cups sugar. Hmm, maybe I didn't add enough sugar. Well anyway, I'm on a roll with this fruit preservation thing, I'm currently up to my ears in sour cherries and ume plums. Check in later to find out what I'm going to do with them. Also check out this great blog I recently found, Food in Jars, out of Philadelphia!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How does your garden grow?

So pretty.

But lordy, just look at those potatoes! And the marigolds! Those two crops are clearly taking over the south side of the garden plot.

The potatoes are shading the cucumber and squash seedlings that are coming up, I'm not quite sure what to do about that. But the potatoes bloomed! And supposedly the flesh of the potato is the same color as the flower, which is a gorgeous light pink (yay!).

The cucumber transplants are looking healthy and sending out nice little tendrils. They are supposed to be a bush variety, but we'll see. They seem to want to crawl right now.

The north side of the plot is much more organized: Fordhook swiss chard, emerald oak leaf lettuce, oxheart carrots, watermelon radish and golden beets are coming up nicely. On the far north the tomato transplants are happy, and the cilantro and arugula are coming up in their (meager) shade.

The potato flowers apparently close at night and re-open during the day, even when they're cut!

Tomorrow we leave for our trip to CA, see you on the flip side!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Look who's eating our carrots . . .

A black swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll!

We found him in the Children's Garden at Bartram's. Check out what he does when threatened (by squeezing gently with two fingers):

He pops out these two orange "horns" which are actually organs that emit a bad odor to birds and other predators (it smelled like sweet apples to me).

Now he lives in this nice little habitat so we can show him to the kids until he emerges from his chrysalis and we set him free. We actually had a monarch caterpillar for a few weeks but I didn't get a chance to document him and his transformation (we released him already).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

CSA - Now in color!

More colors are starting to creep into the CSA box. I have to pick them up late in the day though, usually around 8pm, so it's hard to get a shot in before it gets too dark. This week we have one dozen eggs, snap peas, zucchini, baby pac choi, radish, and swiss chard. I added this one to my Flickr set along with the others.

On Monday M and I are going to California for a week for my friends' wedding and other visits, so we'll miss the next box. But I've been fiddling around with "scheduling" posts, so there will most likely be something to read here while we're away.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Second Garden Work Day!

On Saturday we had another work day at the "Blue Line Garden" in the Walnut Hill neighborhood of West Philadelphia. We worked from 10am to 4:30pm and about 20 people came out to help! The work day was supposed to go from 10am to 2pm, but we had some very dedicated people who stayed to the bitter end. We weeded the front slope, taking out some incredibly large weed tree roots (using axes and pickaxes) then we planted the slope with perennial flowering plants that I got for free from my ever-amazing Garden Tenders program through the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society.



Iris, day lilies, sweet vernal grass, columbine, echinacaea, penstemon, poppies, rudbeckia, allium, gaura, verbena, catmint, yarrow, salvia, lavender, hypericum, scarlet runner bean, and more!

We also mulched the area behind the fence.



We recently had a meeting with everyone involved in the project and the good news is that we might get some help from the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, the City Planning Department, and the grant writers at The Enterprise Center! The bad news is that we probably won't get to do anything substantial until the fall or next spring because the land still belongs to SEPTA (transit authority) and we can't build anything on the land until they transfer the land in the fall or winter. But one step at a time, people, one step at a time. We have a lot of momentum and interested volunteers so we're going to do everything we can to clean the lot and prepare it for the time when we can start gardening!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Check out this mushroom I found at my community garden! Through some very brief online detective work, I've identified it as some sort of stinkhorn. It was certainly attracting flies and even aphids, but I didn't smell any decaying meat odor like I expected. It might be in the genus Phallus . . .

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Last month I did some weekend work at Tyler Arboretum and I took a little hike through their rhododendron collection. It's blooming right now and it's breathtaking. Literally. I didn't realize that some rhododendrons had a scent. I was surrounded by acres of them and the smell was incredible.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Snap peas are my manna

My pea crop failed this year so we jumped on the chance to order them in our latest CSA share. We ordered two pints of snap peas and if you'll notice from the picture there was only one pint left when I got the box home. And my pickup location is only 6 blocks away.

A great perk of this CSA is that we can actually log in to our account on Farm to City and choose what we want in the next week's box. Crucial. This week we got red beets, snap peas, curly kale, swiss chard, spinach. Delish.