Spring Bounty & Bliss

And Snap Peas & Sorrow

This weekend, I helped with a memorial event for Dave Ullin, a man who has been called the island saint, Bainbridge’s Thoreau, and the caretaker of Eagle Harbor, among other things. The Senior Center was packed with long time islanders and people from Dave’s past, and story telling was the main event. Amazing images from Dave’s life covered the walls and flowed above our heads on a big screen. In a smaller room, video interviews with Dave ran in a continuous loop.

Among my favorite Dave quotes is this, read by his niece, “I believe that working together in gardens bridges gaps in human relations by humbling the human ego out of the way through direct contact with, and subconscious absorption of, the sacred workings of nature. A garden can grow humans of care and respect which then influences that perception toward the whole. A little gentle guidance to inspire being with nature mindfully, quickens the perception.”

But Wait, There’s More

If you want to see some, here’s a short teaser that will give you the flavor of this one-of-a-kind (and very kind) person:

One With The Work

If that piques your interest, you may want to watch this longer documentary about Dave:

Against The Tide

or this one:

Saving the Yeomalt Cabin

And read some Dave stories…




Making Community Connections

Looking over the crowd, I was struck by how many different community groups Dave overlapped with, especially since he was not an outgoing person and preferred to do whatever work came to hand rather than anything that might seem frivolous. He did enjoy both practical and philosophical conversations about many things, from gardening and mending socks to defending personal freedoms and making sure no one was ever left out in anything he was involved with.

As we listened to Dave stories and music performed by loving friends, we also ate. Among the most popular nosh was a big burlap sack of local snap peas, plump and sweet. I saw peas on nearly every plate that passed among the tables filling the hall. I think all of us who ate them thought about Dave and his love for growing things and especially for fresh vegetables.

Kitchen Bliss And Peas

The first local peas do indeed deserve our full attention. Tender and crisp, their slight earthiness balances the sweetness that allows raw peas to mingle as readily with fruity as with spicy dressings. As spring slides into summer, one of my favorite dishes involves both the first ripe strawberries and those succulent snap peas. My Marshall strawberries are ripening daily, their juicy sweetness enhanced by their floral perfume. Both main ingredients get to shine in this simple salad that I’m making every day while both are simply perfect.

Sweet Pea & Strawberry Salad

1 cup sugar snap peas in pods
1 teaspoon avocado or safflower oil
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup halved ripe strawberries with any juice
pinch of sea salt
2 cups ribbon-chopped Romaine lettuce (chiffonade)

Top and tail intact pea pods, pull off the strings and slice thickly, set aside. In a serving bowl, whisk together the oil, lime juice, and maple syrup. Add green onions, sliced snap peas, and strawberries, sprinkle with salt and toss gently to coat. Divide lettuce between two plates, top with pea mixture and serve immediately. Serves 2.

Or Try Peas With Sweet Cherries

As spring meets summer, incoming ripe cherries meet the green wave of garden peas. The combo may sound unlikely but it’s totally delicious; crisp, crunchy and alive with complex flavor notes. Raw cabbage adds to the crunch factor, though a few minutes rest in the dressing pre- “cooks” it a bit. I usually serve this salad with thick slices of whole grain sourdough toast or oatmeal bread slathered with soft goat cheese.

Snap Pea & Sweet Cherry Salad

2 cups (about 16) snap peas in the pod
1/2 cup chopped pitted Rainier or any cherries
1 cup very thinly sliced green cabbage
1/4 cup finely chopped Walla Walla Sweet onion
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon minced mint
1 teaspoon avocado oil or hazelnut oil
1/2 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated

Top and tail intact pea pods, pull off the strings and slice thinly on the diagonal. In a serving bowl, combine peas, cherries, cabbage, chopped onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt with the mint and oil. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Let stand 10 minutes then adjust salt and lemon juice to taste. Let stand another few minutes, then serve when it’s just right. Serves 2.

Tart Cherries Too

Tart pie cherries are fun to cook with, crossing sweet/savory barriers with panache. Here, they partner with fresh snap peas in a robust entree salad with a mouth-tingling raw ginger dressing. If you don’t eat chicken, use slim strips of extra firm tofu and let them marinate for up to half an hour to absorb the zippy dressing.

Chicken Salad With Snap Peas & Tart Cherries

1 cup chopped cooked chicken OR thinly sliced tofu
1 cup chopped snap peas in the pod
1/2 cup chopped, pitted tart cherries
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion strips
4 French Breakfast radishes (or any), thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro OR parsley
2 tablespoons minced basil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Ginger & Garlic Dressing (see below)

Combine all ingredients, tossing gently with a few tablespoons dressing, let stand 10 minutes. Adjust dressing to taste and serve. Serves 2-3.

Ginger & Garlic Dressing

1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger root
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 cup avocado oil or safflower oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor, combine vinegar, ginger and garlic and 1 teaspoon lemon zest and grind to a fine paste. Add oil slowly, then season to taste with lemon juice (start with 2 teaspoons), maple syrup, and salt. Makes about 1/3 cup.

Posted in Recipes, Sustainable Living, Vegan Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Transplanting

Making Smooth Summer Moves

I’ve recently been asked to advise on the moving of a long established garden. My first response was to wait until autumn, but sadly, that isn’t possible. Generally speaking, summer transplanting of mature woody plants is not a great idea, especially in years like this one, when weather swings wildly from chilly and damp to hot and dry. You can certainly plant anything you like from a nursery container, from trees to ground covers, as long as you can keep it adequately watered. However, digging up a large established plant and moving it to a new home is a job best left for cool, rainy autumn.

What’s the difference? Even when we are careful, digging a plant for removal inevitably breaks some of the plant’s roots. When the plant is moved, the rootball will be exposed to drying sun and wind. Even if placed in the shade, a rootball will start dying the moment it’s wrenched from the ground. This is true whether the plant was watered before you began digging or was in totally dry soil. As long as the root system was intact, the plant was probably coping adequately with the heat and drought. The minute their roots are damaged, plants go into shock.

Leave The Leaves

Conventional wisdom suggests that removing some or all of a shrub or perennial’s foliage helps transplanting survival rates. That can indeed work when moving a deciduous plant in October or November (which are good times to move plants). In autumn, deciduous plants are entering dormancy and losing their leaves naturally. Removing foliage doesn’t hurt anything at that season, though it’s often best to leave semi-evergreen foliage in place to protect against frosts that could damage a perennial’s crown.

In summer, a new transplant’s damaged roots can’t take up water or nutrients efficiently. The best way for a damaged plant to nourish itself is through the foliage (photosynthesis). With the foliage removed, the plant does not have much ability to restore itself. The good news is that many plants, especially hardy perennials, are pretty tough. If the rootball contains enough stored nutritional reserves, the lucky gardener may see new shoots within 4-6 weeks of the initial trauma. Unfortunately, the damaged plant will be more susceptible to drought, disease and pests than usual for at least a year after the transplanting experience.

Garden Etiquette & Advance Shovel Pruning

The folks who need to transplant their garden are moving to a new homesite. In their case, the new owners of their former home are well aware that the plants are not staying. The beds will be refreshed with new soil but the new owners prefer to make their own plant choices. This is rather unusual, since in general, people are buying the garden setting as much as the house itself. As a point of garden etiquette, it is customary when selling your house to mark any plants you plan to remove so the buyers know your intention. If at all possible, it’s preferable to arrange to make a return visit in fall, after the rains return, so you can move your plants then.

When that won’t work, you can prepare trees and shrubs for a move by shovel-pruning a few months in advance to make the plant more receptive to the later move. Use a sharp-bladed shovel (made extra sharp with a bastard file) to sever the plant’s outermost roots, demarking the rootball you plan to excavate. Don’t rock the plant or disturb the rootball, but do water it well and mulch the rootball area with 2-3 inches of moist compost. This technique encourages new roots to form within the newly formed rootball, closer to the main trunk. A few month’s notice can mean the survival of a plant that otherwise could not take the stress or removal.

Making The Moves

If you must move a plant in high summer, assess whether the plant is worth moving even if it dies. For instance, the most common summer transplanting questions I get concern Japanese maples. These are easily stressed in high summer, when a very hot day can cause the foliage to scorch or curl badly. Expert tree movers with equipment can usually move a maturing tree successfully, but the average amateur is almost certain to kill the tree. As a rule of thumb, if you can dig the tree yourself and move it easily in a wheelbarrow, you can probably move it successfully. If not…probably not. If you feel you must, pre-cut the rootball, then water the plant well every day for at least a week. On a cool day, or early in the morning, transplant it into a large pot (like a whisky barrel), using plenty of compost, and water it well, foliage and all. Use a hand truck to move the tree into the shade and keep it there for at least another week.

Before loading the tree on a truck for relocation, spray the foliage with an anti-dessicant product like Wiltpruf to keep the leaves from losing moisture during the move. Let that dry, then gently bundle up the branches with soft twine. Wrap the foliage loosely but thoroughly with woven row cover cloth (like Reemay) to prevent wind burn. Now load the plant, supporting it well (I use bags of compost or topsoil) to prevent rolling about in the truck bed.

After Care For Transplants

After the move, keep the plant in light shade for at least another week if at all possible. This transitional area should not be in deep, dank, dark shade, where mildews and molds prevail. Try to find a sheltered spot with good air circulation, where the plant receives gentle morning light but no direct afternoon sun. Ideally, you would leave your tree there until the autumn rains return. In October or November, transplant the tree, making sure the new site offers the proper amount of light and plenty of room for the tree to grow to its full mature size.

Again, use plenty of compost when replanting and carefully place the rootball at the same level it was at before. Planted too deeply, even trees can smother. Planted too shallowly, delicate roots can dry out and die. For anything but rhododendrons, azaleas, or blueberries, add a mixed-species mycorrhizal inoculant, placing it so it touches living roots. This beneficial substance will help the plant produce a healthy new root system quickly, often speeding up its recovery time dramatically.

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Planning A Low Pollen Garden

When The Garden Makes You Weep (Or Sneeze)

After seemingly endless rain, warmer, brighter days feel especially welcome. Our flowers seem to feel the same way, for blossoms on practically everything are bigger and more abundant than ever this year. However, lots of flowers also means lots of pollen, which spells acute discomfort for many people and even some pets. As pollen fills the air and dusts our cars and garden furniture and even us, we may be tempted to rip out the borders and turn them all to lawn. Well, except perhaps those of us who are allergic to grasses. (!) Fortunately there are more rewarding alternatives, since living without gardens hardly bears consideration.

Lowering the local pollen count begins with research. First of all, it helps to know your triggers. Pollen count websites usually list the major offenders at any given time, and sometimes we can simple look around and see which plants are wafting masses of pollen our way. Sadly, some of the worst offenders are mature trees, including willows, alders, cedars, firs, and so forth. Few of us can or would even think about removing all pollen shedding trees, but it’s worth taking time to explore low pollen alternatives to popular garden plants. So far, the best all-purpose resource I’ve found is Thomas Leo Ogren’s Allergy-Free Gardening, which offers both plant lists and strategies for pollen avoidance. Like most things, it comes with a caveat; allergic responses are idiosyncratic, making these and all such lists suggestions rather than fool-proof rules.

It’s A Guy Thing

Since heavy pollen shedders are usually male, we can eliminate probably problematic plants by replacing male clones of garden shrubs. If we’re creating or renovating a garden, it’s also wise to look for female versions of small trees (see more below). We can also select for low pollen production by choosing shrubs and perennials with large, showy, scentless or lightly scented blossoms. Such flowers are usually female and/or pollinated by insects and other critters rather than wind.

Wind-pollinated flowers are prime candidates for allergy triggers, since their light-weight pollen travels companionably to find us wherever we are. Flowers with wind borne pollen tend to be small and less vivid, so showboat flowers are better bets for pollen avoiders. So are bird-friendly plants, which are generally pollinated by nectar-seeking birds. Sterile hybrids of any kind don’t produce pollen at all, making them top picks for especially sensitive sufferers.

Low Pollen Perennials

If you aren’t sure what’s giving you grief, this list may help you figure out which plants are least likely to be the offenders. As always, some of us have specific responses to plants that don’t bother others, but these make better replacement choices for bad boy pollen producers.

Acanthus (bear’s breeches), Achillea (yarrow), Agastache (anise hyssop), Alchemilla (lady’s mantle), Anemone (windflower), Aquilegia (columbine), Astrantia (masterwort), Cynara (cardoon), Erysimum (wallflower), Eupatorium (jo pie weed), Gaura (wandflower), Geranium, Heuchera (coral bells), Hosta, Kniphophia (poker plant), Lavatera (tree mallow), Lythrum (loosestrife), Nepeta (catmint), Oenothera (evening primrose), Penstemon (beardtongue), Perovskia (Russian sage), Phlomis (Jerusalem sage), Phormium (New Zealand flax), Phygelius (cape fuchsia), Potentilla (cinquefoil), Rheum (rhubarb), Salvia (sage), Sedum (stonecrop), Sisyrinchium (blue-eyed grass), Verbena (vervain), Veronica (speedwell), Yucca (Spanish bayonet).

Low Pollen Annuals

Annuals are often bred for dazzle and many produce little or no pollen. Among the most reliable are: Calendula (pot marigold), Clarkia (winecup), Cosmos, Eschscholzia (California poppy), Godetia (satin flower), Nigella (love-in-a-mist), Lunaria (silver dollar plant), Meconopsis (Welsh poppy), Petunia, Tagetes (marigold), Verbena (vervain), Viola (pansy), Zinnia.
Low Pollen Edibles

Most root vegetables are harvested before they flower, and crucifers (broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.) and alliums (chives, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots) are seldom troublesome.  Some herbs shed lots of pollen (chamomile, artemisias), others do not. Many pollen-sensitive folks can enjoy growing basil, chives, dill, mint, thyme, lavender, fennel, parsley and rosemary without pollen issues. (Many people are sensitive to lavender, but sensitivity to fragrant plants is not usually pollen related.)

Better Bet Grasses

As for grasses, some (like turf grasses) are major offenders in the pollen-shedding category while others produce modest amounts of pollen. Turf grass sensitivities can usually be reduced by regular mowing, but weed and ornamental grasses are another story. Here again, some are major pollen producers (Johnson grass, orchard grass, Timothy grass), while others are generally far less problematic. Here’s a list of beautiful garden grasses that are less likely to trigger allergies:

Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant tail grass), Arrhenatherum elatius (oatgrass), Bamboo, Briza (rattlesnake grass), Carex (sedge grass), Elymus (lime grass), Nassella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass), Panicum (panic grass).

Low Pollen Shrubs

Shrubs are of course a key element in garden design and as such, can scarcely be left out of the picture. Clipping shrubs and shearing hedges before they bloom are good ways to eliminate allergic reactions to pollen. However, it’s far simpler to replace heavy pollen producers with less stressful plants. For instance, if you love willows (a notoriously heavy pollen producing clan), plant a corkscrew willow, or the weeping form called Weeping Sally, both of which are females. If you hope to avoid excessive pollen exposure from all your shrubs, consider planting some or all of these handsome shrubs:

Aronia (chokeberry), Berberis (barberry), Callicarpa (beautyberry),
Ceanothus (California lilac), Chaenomeles (quince), Cornus (twiggy dogwood), Escallonia, Fuchsia, Holodiscus (ocean spray), Kolkwitzia (beautybush), Lonicera (shrubby honeysuckle), Nandina  (false bamboo), Oemleria (Indian plum), Philadelphus (mock orange), Physocarpus (ninebark), Potentilla (cinquefoil), Rosa (rose), Rosemarinus (rosemary), Santolina (cotton lavender), Spirea, Symphoricarpos (snowberry), Vaccinium (blueberry, huckleberry), Viburnum (guelder rose).

Posted in Annual Color, Easy Care Perennials, Health & Wellbeing, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Big, Bold Tomato Flavor

Sea Salt And Compost

I was recently asked why even homegrown heritage tomatoes can taste a little flat. There are quite a few factors that influence the flavor of all fruits and vegetables, from soil quality to plant variety. For one thing, excess water and high nitrogen fertilizer both dilute flavor in all food crops. As Italian farmers and gardeners have long insisted, tomatoes should grown on the dry side to develop the boldest flavor. Early in the season, water weekly as needed, wetting down soil only, since wet leaves encourage foliage diseases. Toward summer’s end, let plants dry out a bit between waterings. By late September, let foliage wilt just a little before watering to get the last fruits to ripen properly.

To bring out the natural flavors of fruits and vegetables, mulch generously with compost and water sparingly, as needed. Compost mulch is as important as fertilizer because it helps plants build natural sugars called brix. Though brix is an indicator of sugar content, high brix counts improve complex flavor profiles in everything from tomatoes to turnips and peaches to peppers. Compost is also a key to strong, sturdy plants because it encourages vigorous root growth. It’s often said that roots are plant anchors, keeping them upright while keeping them well nourished. Wide spreading roots can harvest water and nutrients even from less than ideal soil. Compost improves soil quality and texture, making it easier for roots to penetrate dense or airy soils. Since most compost is close to pH neutral, it helps to balance acidic or alkaline soils as well (many edibles prefer pH neutral soils).

Give Gross Feeders What They Need

Tomatoes are what’s known as gross feeders, meaning they require a lot of food to succeed. Tomato plants in pots benefit from frequent feeding (as in every 10-14 days), as fertilizers get washed out by repeated watering. Plants in the ground can spread their roots a lot further, so feeding once or twice a month is plenty. It’s best not to count on time-release fertilizers, which don’t work when temperatures are below 70 degrees F. What’s more, they can burn tender plants by releasing too much too fast on hot days.

For better results with container plantings, supplement potting soil with compost and use natural fertilizers that combine quick and slow-release foods. Both Whitney Farms and Dr. Earth make excellent fertilizers of this kind. To promote steady production, surround each tomato plant with a cup of corn gluten at planting time. High in nitrogen, corn gluten also kills weed (or any) seeds by drying out emerging seedlings.

Sea Salt For Fuller Flavor

For even fuller, brighter flavor, you can also feed tomatoes with kelp extract and a mild (5-5-5) organic fertilizer. If tomato stems break before the fruit has a chance to ripen fully, the problem may be linked to using inadequate water-soluble fertilizers, especially when tomatoes are grown in pots. Liquid seaweed extracts help strengthen weak stems by supporting steady plant growth even when cold nights follow warm days. Kelp itself combines micronutrients and trace elements with natural plant hormones and growth stimulants that promote root growth, improve stem and foliage density, and increase chlorophyll production. Kelp extracts also contain traces of sea salt. This turns out to be yet another key to amazing taste. In fact, a single dose of salty seawater (1 cup of seawater per quart of tap water) can improve tomato flavor in particular.

About 15 years ago, New Jersey farmers were alarmed by the decreasing flavor of field grown tomatoes. A number of field trials and studies suggested that changes in fertilizer ingredients had resulted in reductions of measurable sodium in soils. Though too much salt can kill plants, a little can help them develop their best flavor. Where fertilizers and/or soils retained sodium, tomatoes had greater concentrations and variety of sugars and acids that influence the tomato flavor profile. Amending less salty field soils with mined sea salt (in the form of an agricultural product called SEA90) boosted soil levels of sodium, chloride, and many other minerals in trace amounts. Happily, a panel of blind testers found the salty tomatoes decidedly tastier than untreated ones.

Bring The Sea Home

If you want to try this at home and are not near a source of fresh sea water, check out this www.SeaAgri.com link.

Here’s one researchers’ report:
“For growers interested in conducting a small trial to evaluate the effect of salt fertilizer on tomato taste here is a suggested protocol: Use 46 grams of to treat an area 4 square feet or land area needed to grow one tomato plant. Apply the treatment by mixing the SEA-90 product into the soil at time of planting. Flag the treated plant and perform your own personal taste test by comparing the treated fruits to other fruits of the same tomato variety from another part of the field. Leave some border space between plants when sampling fruits for comparing treated and untreated plants.

An alternative approach is to use sea water from the Atlantic Ocean. {Or Pacific, of course} 1300 ml (or 0.35 gallons) of sea water contains about 46 grams of salt which is enough to treat one tomato plant. Apply this seawater as a soil drench around the base of the plant two weeks after transplanting. To prevent leaf burn, do not allow the seawater to touch the leaves.”

Posted in Nutrition, Sustainable Gardening, Tomatoes, Weed Control | Tagged , , | Leave a comment