DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

gardening

Aug 19 2016

It’s Time to DIGG In!

by Dea Anne M

DIGGlogo_colorAugust 29th marks the advent of an exciting new offering at DCPL. Join us at the Decatur Library for the official launch of DCPL’s DIGG Seed Library. Master Gardner Sarah Brodd will discuss planting and growing your fall vegetable garden – plus, there will be a giveaway featuring a gift card from Pike’s Nurseries. This special event also serves as an introduction to DCPL’s new collection of free heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. The seeds will be available for all DeKalb Library card holders to check out and will be housed on the first floor of the Decatur Library.

DIGG stands for DeKalb Invests In Growing Gardens and this seed library is the first one ever in the Metropolitan Atlanta area. A significant part of the educational mission behind this project lies in promoting a wider awareness of food deserts in our communities as well the provision of healthy, sustainable food to a larger population. Please join us on Monday, 29th from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Decatur Library as we launch the DIGG Seed Library.

Also, be sure to check out the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market, a new program funded by the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative and by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The program seeks to bring fresh, affordable food to residents of DeKalb County. You can visit the market at the Scott Candler library today, August 19th, or on September 16th at the Clarkston library. Check out the market website for more times and information.

If you’re interested in learning about food sustainability or seeds check out these resources from DCPL:normal

Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. Salatin, who was profiled in Michael Pollan’s groundbreaking book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is a Virginia farmer who redefines the term “locally sourced” armed with a passionate sense of mission which he leavens with an off-beat sense of humor.

For a completely different take on agriculture and the ways in which technology changes, and might deliciouspossibly benefit, our food supply, check out Jayson Lusk’s Unaturally Delicious: how technology and science are serving up super foods to save the world. Provocative and written in a lively voice, Lusk’s book will cause you to rethink what the word “natural” really means, especially when it comes to food.

If the names of some venerable fruit and vegetable varieties – like Moon and Stars melon and Green heirloomZebra tomato –  enchant you as much as they do me, then you’ll find a lot to like about Heirloom Plants: a compendium of heritage vegetables, fruits, herbs & flowers by Thomas Etty and Lorraine Harrison.  Inside, you’ll find truly fascinating histories of plants like Miss Willmott sweet peas and the book design is charmingly reminiscent of the type of seed catalogs common in the earliest part of the 2oth century. There’s lots of solid information here too about cultivating these very special varieties so that you can watch them thrive and enjoy a bit of history in your own garden.

 

 

 

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May 27 2016

Consider the Lawn

by Dea Anne M

I spent a number of what you might call my “formative years” in Orlando, Florida and most of those in a vast (or what seems vast in memory) housing development called Conway Estates. All of the houses were single family, most followed the sprawling ranch-type silhouette and all were surrounded with lush, velvety lawns. My father, who wasn’t the most enthusiastic person in the world regarding yard work, did his part to keep our lawn up to the neighborhood standards, but he certainly didn’t do more than that. I don’t know that there was actually some sort of covenant regarding lawn upkeep in the neighborhood, but I do know that we were surrounded everywhere by identical swaths of emerald – weedless, wide open carpeting ideal for croquet or just impromptu gymnastics. As a kid, I thought it was pretty perfect. Of course, I wasn’t the one taking care of it. These days lets just say that I have a lawn and maybe leave it at that.

According to Ted Steinberg in American Green: the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn, there’s an estimatedgreen twenty-five to forty million acres of turf in the United States (this was in 2006) on which is spent about $40 billion a year. Of course, some of this grass is being used for golf courses or athletic fields but it still seems safe to say that a lot of Americans just love their lawns. Indeed, for many of my father’s generation and before a beautiful lawn has often been a badge of success…of having “made it” and for good reason. This thing that we call a “lawn”  seems to have begun appearing on the estates of British aristocrats and quite naturally required more than a fair amount of hired labor to maintain. It’s easy to imagine that this verdant symbol of wealth and ease of living eventually migrated to this country as a highly desirable goal, especially once the suburban lifestyle became thoroughly entrenched and, supposedly, erased once and for all differences of class and ethnic origin. Ironically, the vast majority of the grass species that we cultivate as lawns in this country originated elsewhere – as did most of the people who live here now.

Now you may be solidly pro-lawn or very much against them or have no real opinion either way. While I firmly believe in the personal freedom of the individual and that we must each decide for ourselves what goals are worth pursuing, I do know that when my family finally moved to the country the summer I entered high school – and into a house surrounded by woods left emphatically unlandscaped – my father declared that “I never want to mow another lawn!” and as far as I know he never did.

These days though I still admire a beautifully manicured lawn, I tend to appreciate a clever or aesthetically pleasing combination of varied elements more than I do a large, well-regulated stretch of grass. In fact, most of my schemes for my own yard currently seem to currently involve having less of the grass and more of everything else. And a large part of that “everything else” includes fruits and vegetables. That’s one reason that I found this recent story from the NPR website about the Fleet Farming project  so interesting and, given the number and content of the comments, I’m not the only one. I know that not everyone will agree with me, but I just love the idea of giving over some of the yard to edibles. Of course, the fact that a team of volunteers puts in and maintains these gardens no doubt makes it much easier for these homeowners to participate in the project since vegetable gardening can represent a significant expense of money and time. Of course, I think what most amuses me about the article is that this successful project originated, and is expanding, in Orlando, Florida which will forever remain in my memory as “The Land of the Lawn.”

As readers of this blog may know, I’ve maintained my own vegetable garden for several years, but more and more I’m trying to think of ways to incorporate edible plants into the existing landscape in a pleasing way. If you think you’d like to do the same, allow me to recommend these excellent resources from DCPL.

foodscapingWith its beautiful photographs and lush, poetic descriptions, Ivette Soler’s Edible Front Yard: the mow-less, grow-more plan for a beautiful, bountiful garden is definitely a great source for inspiration. No less inspirational but perhaps a bit more focused on the practical aspects of edible gardening is Foodscaping: practical and innovative ways to create an edible landscape by Charlie Nardozzi. For a more nuts and bolts approach, try Barbara Pleasant’s Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 no-fail plans for small organic gardens. While most of these terrific plans focus on the classic backyard vegetable garden, Pleasant includes plans for a Bountiful Border and a Front Yard Food Supply garden either of which look as though it would fit in beautifully to the more publicly visible areas of your yard. I especially appreciate that many of Pleasant’s plans are broken down to be installed over the course of three or four years so that you don’t feel as though you have to accomplish everything all at once.

Maybe you like your lawn just as it is or you don’t have one. If you have more limited space to grow, say a balcony, walldeck or windowsill – or you just appreciate (as do I) the look of containers check out Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Container Gardener’s Bible: how to grow a bounty of food in pots, tubs and other containers. And if the only space for your gardening is…well…up then I would urge you to take a look at the gorgeous and practical book Grow a Living Wall: create vertical gardens with a purpose by Shawna Coronado.

What’s your opinion on lawns? Would you choose a lawn over a garden or do you want both?

 

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These days, I seem to prefer pursuits that continue to teach me something over the course of time and gardening has certainly been one of those. I’ve been a serious vegetable gardener for close to ten years now, and I think that I’ve learned something significant and new during each growing season. Of course, gardeners used to learn primarily by living in families and  communities where other people had gardened as well and were able to share the deep knowledge that comes from long experience with a particular land and climate. I haven’t had that in my life, so I’ve had to seek out my own gardening community through books and the internet.

A problem I have found in reading about gardening is regional bias. For whatever reason, many American gardening experts have historically focused on the Northeastern part of the country and, to a latter degree, the Pacific Northwest. On the surface, it’s easy to see why this should be so. There is, I think, a popular perception that the mild winters and ample year-round sunlight we enjoy in the Southeast render gardening completely problem-free. You’ve only to try your hand at growing English peas or cauliflower to understand that this is hardly the case. Advice, useful to many but not to me, abounds. “Wait to plant until the soil can be worked easily.” Well, around here the soil can be worked all year round, so when do I plant?

Some statements just flat-out don’t apply to this part of the country at all. “In August, an absolute bumper crop of tomatoes will start rolling in. You’ll barely be able to keep up with the abundant harvest. Talk about seeing red!” While I’m sure that’s true in many places, in my zip code the heat in August can be almost unbearable and mytimber tomatoes tend to shut down and wait it out. In August, my primary tomato concern is keeping the plants from dropping too many blossoms so that they’ll start producing again when the weather finally cools down.

Growing lettuce in July? Forget it! I am an inveterate lover of salads as well as all things tomato, so you can imagine my elation when I discovered The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace. If you too are a Southern vegetable gardener, I cannot recommend this book enough. The book addresses general gardening concerns such as soil quality and watering methods (and quite completely too, I might add) then moves on to provide an extraordinarily useful guide to what you should be doing, planting and harvesting every month of the year. It turns out that even lettuce can be grown through the summer with some thoughtful techniques (refrigerating seeds, cooling the soil with cardboard and planting in the shade of larger plants are some of these). The final section of the book addresses individual vegetables and makes recommendations about which tastevarieties do particularly well here. Plus, rather than lumping “the South” into one homogeneous mass, Wallace makes distinctions between the Upper South and the Lower South. This is a good thing because the growing conditions in a place like Cucumber, West Virginia are bound to be very different from those experienced in Bayou Cane, Louisiana. Ira Wallace is a Master Gardener in Virginia and helps to run the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. She is well known in the seed saving community and her book includes useful guidance on how to save your own vegetable seeds.

Seed saving in itself is a fascinating subject which carries a great deal of history. Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: heirloom seed savers in Appalachia by Bill Best is  an absorbing history of Southern Appalachian heirloom varieties of beans, corn and tomatoes and of the people who have cherished and preserved them through time. I find the the names alone – Greasy Pod Pole Bean, Bloody Butcher Dent Corn, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato – enchanting.

Of course, if your vegetable gardening goes well (or your vegetable shopping for that matter), you’ll have a lot of produce to cook up. Here are a few resources available from DCPL that can help you do just that.fork

Local (ish) chef, Hugh Acheson is known for his award-winning restaurants in Athens, Atlanta and Savannah as well as his cookbooks.  His latest offering,  The Broad Fork: recipes for the wide world of vegetables and fruits is full of seasonally appropriate ideas for using garden bounty any time of year. Not only will you find recipes incorporating the South’s beloved tomatoes and peaches, you’ll also find some great ideas for using veggies that may be less familiar such as kohlrabi and ramps.

Steven Satterfield is chef at Atlanta’s celebrated Miller Union and has been called a “vegetable shaman” by no less an authority than The New York TimesRoot to Leaf: a southern chef cooks through the seasons is Satterfield’s homage to the vegetables that he clearly loves. The excellent text works beautifully with the stunning photographs and the recipes appear to be delicious without being overly fussy. Check out this Miller Union vegetable plate as featured in a Southern Living magazine a few summers back.

masteringMastering the Art of Southern Vegetables by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart deals with vegetables and only vegetables and the southern spin here is undeniable. Dupree and Graubart, James Beard Award winners and long time collaborators,  have organized their book by vegetable rather than season – a plus on those days in the kitchen when you’re faced with an acorn squash or a dozen zucchini. In any case, you have to figure that any cookbook featuring lady peas (my personal favorite) along with nine recipes for okra and four for sweet potatoes must mean serious Southern cooking business.

How about you? Do you have a favorite southern vegetable? Are you thinking about a garden of your own?

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May 15 2015

(Not So Still) Life with Soil

by Dea Anne M

So yesterday morning I walked out my back door to head off to work only to find a squirrel rooting through my strawberry bed. I yelled at it, and it hopped away–but before he disappeared, he turned around, sat up on his hind legs and showed me the fat strawberry he was holding in his mouth. “Time to buy some netting,” I thought. The berries are coming in buckets right now and are proving irresistible to the birds as well. While I think of myself as a friend to wildlife, I am a selfish creature when it comes to strawberries and I’m not growing them to share with the non-human citizens of the backyard. Regular readers of this blog know that I have gardened for years. Despite limited success with such experiments as square foot gardening and ongoing battles with–yes–squirrels, growing fruits and vegetables remains a passion…in spite of smug furry animals thumbing their small noses at me.

Are you interested in testing the gardening waters for yourself? Have you experimented with gardening and now hope to broaden your skills? Maybe you would like to explore the experiences of others. If so, DCPL has the resources that you want.

Just getting started? Check out Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Kitchen Gardening, including 50 Recipes, plus Harvesting and Storage Tips by Willi Galloway. Not only will you find here a wealth of information grow cookto help you begin your gardening adventure, you’ll also find tips on storing your harvest and recipes with which to cook it. And if you want to start small, Jane Courtier’s Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces will tell you everything you need to know about growing an effective garden in containers and window boxes. My very first garden was a pepper and two tomato plants in large pots on my back deck. There was no going back after that.

If you’ve been gardening for a while and you’re interested in expanding the scope of what you grow, then Brett L. Markham’s The Mini Farming Guide to Vegetable Growing: Self-Sufficiency from Asparagus to Zucchini might be just what you’re looking for, wildlifeespecially if you have ambitions at self-sufficiency. If you’re anything like the kind of gardener I am, then just the title of Tammi Hartung’s The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature is enough to make you break into snorting laughter. My first act on discovering that rabbits were decimating my lettuce plants would certainly not be to plant parsley, just for them, to graze on instead. It makes sense though. Overall, Hartung makes an excellent case for living in harmony with the fauna in our gardens, and I would expect that she speaks from deep experience since she runs a successful (and large) organic herb and vegetable farm in Colorado.

Gardening is, all in all, a rewarding pastime and pleasure for me and for so many others who have embraced it.

…and then, there’s farming. Many people farm, of course, because farming has been a part of their family for generations. There’s another type of farmer, though, who becomes such by making a radical change in a lifestyle (often urban) that has lost its charm. Sometimes, these people write books about the experience. Her are three good ones available at DCPL.

One of my favorite accounts is The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristan Kimball. Kimball was a dirty lifejournalist living in New York City who encountered a young farmer named Mark for a story that she was working on. Soon enough, she found herself married to him and part-owner of Essex Farm in upstate New York. Kimball doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships of farm life. She and her husband use horses instead of tractors and for years they hand milked their dairy herd instead of using machines. Yet, the ongoing satisfaction and pleasures of building a successful farm and the joy of falling deeply in love–both with her husband and the beautiful land–comes shining through on every page. Highly recommended. You can read a story about Kimball that ran on NPR in 2010, as well as an excerpt from the book here.

dirtKimberly Schaye and Christopher Losee’s Stronger Than Dirt: How One Urban Couple Grew a Business, a Family, and a New Way of Life from the Ground Up is an account of the couple’s journey from busy, yet increasingly unsatisfying, urban lives to owning a 30-acre farm in upstate NY. Schaye and Losee alternate chapters. Each is an engaging writer, and the result is a vivid tale of their difficult–and ultimately successful–struggle to start Silverpetals Farm, which now sells flowers and vegetables at greenmarkets throughout the Northeast. True optimists, these two never give in or give up. Schaye breaks her leg at a certain point but the couple soldiers on. Inspiring.

Seattle restauranteur Kurt Timmermeister was only looking for an affordable growinghome when he found himself purchasing four acres of land on Vashon Island. Since then, Kurtwood Farms has grown into a profitable 13-acre farm that produces not only fruits and vegetables, but also meat, cheese and honey. In his book Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land, Timmermeister comes across as humble yet determined, and he certainly doesn’t gloss over how difficult–sometimes almost impossible seeming–farming can be. Here’s an article on Timmermeister that the New York Times ran in December of 2013.

In The Dirty Life, author Kimball tells of a man she met who spoke of his dream to have a farm someday and really get away from things and relax. Kimball thought to herself, “You don’t want a farm. What you want is a garden.” Well, I for one, recognize my limitations as well as my desires. I have an ongoing dream to live in the country (though not too far out in the country) and have not only a larger garden, but chickens and goats as well. I certainly harbor no ambitions for farming myself, although I admire those who do it. Anyway, for now, my modest raised beds give me all that my gardening heart desires.

Do you dream of gardening someday? Do you already garden? Do you use raised beds, containers, or do you garden in the ground?

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Oct 18 2013

Earthly pleasures…all year long

by Dea Anne M

As regular readers of this blog know, I am an enthusiastic, if still inexpert, gardener. I’ve posted here before about the four raised beds in my yard and I have to say that in the year-plus since that post I’ve learned a lot about the proper use of compost, the importance of weeding (even in raised beds), and what vegetables grow best in our climate. Over the weekend, I took out the last of the summer plants—tomatoes, pole beans, and spent tomatillos and went ahead with my plans for a fall/winter garden. The traditional view of gardening is that after the early fall harvest and clean-up, vegetable gardens sit fallow, usually under a blanket of pristine snow. Well, according to the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map my zip code corresponds with Zone 8a which means that, with care, I should be able to grow something all year round. For the fall, I’m growing lettuces, radish, carrots, mustards, bok choy, turnips, and two varieties each of broccoli and spinach. I’m growing everything from seed so it will be awhile before I’ll start to see the results of my planting but I’m holding out hope for success. I’m especially curious to see what “Red Velvet” lettuce looks like as well as an heirloom variety of spinach called “Monstrueux de Viroflay” which I suppose translates as “monster of Viroflay.” It was developed in France in the 1800’s and the plants can supposedly grow to be up to two feet wide. We will see.

Are you interested in trying some year-round gardening? If so, you’ll find help with these resources from DCPL.

Eliot Coleman has long been acknowledged as a guru of year-round vegetable gardening and his book  The New Organic Grower’s Four Season Harvest: how to harvest fresh organic vegetables from your home garden all year long is considered a classic. The book came out in 1992 so it’s hardly new today but you’ll still find plenty of useful information within.

starterI’ve mentioned Barbara Pleasant’s Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 no-fail plans for small organic gardens on this blog before. This book remains an absolute gem for any gardener, new or veteran. I mention it again in the four season gardening context because many of the garden plans that Pleasant presents are tailored to specific climate patterns, such as our long, hot summers, with ideas of what to plant during the traditional “non-growing” season. Highly recommended.

idiotsThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening by Delilah Smittle and Sheri Ann Richerson includes information on growing flowers as well as fruits and vegetables. Topics include greenhouse gardening as well as traditional gardening and the authors even cover how to garden in your root cellar (not that many folks I know here in the Southeast have those). One element that I particularly appreciate about the authors’ approach is that they emphasize over and over the importance of soil quality. I have found through my years of gardening that starting with the best soil is the surest guarantee of quality results. Smittle and Richerson also provide expert guidance on starting seeds indoors—invaluable advice for any gardener who wants to grow a wider variety of vegetables for less money than one pays for starter plants or anyone who wants to experiment with heirloom varieties that are only available as seeds.

Finally, allow me to suggest two books that could very well provide you withtender the inspiration to grow your own. Both are cookbooks and both are penned by British authors. The first, Tender: a cook and his vegetable patch comes from Nigel Slater who wrote the wonderful memoir Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger. The second is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg: 200 inspired vegetable recipes. Fearnley-Whittingstall is a leading champion of the sustainable food movement in Britain whose books also include The River Cottage Fish Book. Both Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book and Slater’s feature wonderful writing, straight-forward recipes, and beautiful photography. Slater’s recipes are not necessarily vegetarian (though Fearnley-Whittingstall’s are) but either book will show you the stunning variety of delicious dishes that revolve around vegetables—whether you grow your own or not.

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Collage of my front porch garden

Any little corner of the world can be transformed into a personal and unique work of art.  Every change that we make to our world and environment changes all of us just a little bit.  Flowers and plants, like books, are among my best friends in the world.  They are quiet and dynamic, and the depth of their being touches my heart.

I became a home-owner for the first time just three years ago this month.  My favorite type of house is the Craftsman bungalow.  While my house is not a 1930’s artisanal gem, it is a renovated small 1950’s ranch with a large front porch add-on.  A front porch is an architectural hug, an invitation, a welcoming embrace.  I fell in love with my house because of the porch with its columns, ceiling fan, and large front window.  I immediately sketched out in my mind the containers overflowing with luxuriant plants, flowers, and herbs that would adorn the biggest room in my house!

A porch can be an oasis...

While trained as a visual artist and painter, gardening affords me a multi-dimensional experience, artistically speaking.  The plants have color, texture, aromas, form.  As living beings, the plants interact with one another, and they attract a world of what most would consider to be pests.  In any case, as I stated above—plants are dynamic, and they act on the environment around them.  My basil has introduced miniature snails to my front porch.  Tiny bees hum, darting in and out of the blooming oregano, while moths find shade and shelter during daylight hours under the leaves of flowering plants.  A salamander enjoys frolicking around my geraniums.  Zippered webs with juicy lemon yellow and black garden spiders have haunted my columns and rosemary.  Birds, chipmunks, and squirrels peck around in the soil and mulch, searching for succulent treats, scattering debris in their wake.

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Jun 27 2012

A fine pickle

by Dea Anne M

For me, every gardening season brings its own unique excitment and pleasures, and right now I’m re-experiencing the joys of the first summer produce. Ripe tomatoes, snappy beans, tart tomatillos—I love them all. This year, with the increased yields due to our raised bed garden, I’m eager to really dive in and start canning, pickling, and otherwise preserving the fruits of my labor. In the meantime, I’ve been discovering inspiration at the farmers market. While shopping a few weeks back, I selected a bag of Kirby cucumbers. These are the cute, chubby cukes (I think of them as the Golden Retriever puppy of the vegetable world) and they are meant for pickles. I wanted to start out with something easy and refrigerator pickles fill that bill. I’d been casting around for a good recipe/technique. One was too sweet. Another rendered my crisp little cukes into tasteless mini-blimps hued an unappetizing grayish green. Finally, I tried Ted Allen’s recipe from his fun new cookbook In My Kitchen: 100 recipes for food-lovers, passionate cooks, and enthusiastic eaters. This was it! An abundance of whole spices like coriander and mustard seeds along with plenty of garlic and chile peppers make for the crispy savory pickle of my dreams. I was planning to include a photo of my latest batch but I’m a little embarrassed to say that the jar already looks pretty picked over since, at my house, we can’t seem to stay away from it. Here’s an image of the recipe from the Food Network website. You’ll see that Ted’s pickles include cauliflower and carrot. I have used only cukes so far – with great results – but now that I have the technique more or less mastered I am looking forward to trying it with other types of produce.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that I love kitchen oriented “projects.” Does that describe you too? If so, DCPL has resources to help. I’m amused to look back and see that I posted on this exact topic just a little over a year ago, but I suppose that’s a testament to my seasonal enthusiasm. Here are some new books that will be of interest to those just coming to canning and preserving as well as those more experienced in the art of putting food by.

Food in jars: preserving in small batches year-round by Marisa McClellan

Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: and other kitchen projects by Karen Solomon

Canning and Preserving All-In-One for Dummies by Eve Adamson

The Preservation Kitchen: the craft of making and cooking with pickles, preserves, and aigre-doux by Paul Virant

As an aside, one of my ongoing kitchen projects has been making a batch of yogurt every week. The technique involves no exotic equipment—just a saucepan, a bowl, a strainer, and some porous cloth—and the only ingredients are milk and a spoonful of the current batch of yogurt. It’s so easy to do and makes an absolutely delicious quart of  Greek style yogurt. I learned how from Jennifer Reese’s wonderful book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: what you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch – over 120 recipes for the best homemade foods. This book is very entertaining, often hilarious, and it truly does tell you what costs less or tastes better to make and what you’ll do better to buy. Highly recommended!

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May 16 2012

Squirrel Wars!!!

by Dea Anne M

I posted here last month about my adventures this year in raised bed gardening. I can report a lot of satisfaction with the way the garden is progressing. Here’s a picture:

Well you can imagine my dismay when I looked out my kitchen window a week or so ago and saw two squirrels whooping it up in the beds. Their tails were going like propellers and they were leaping about with the sort of lusty glee appropriate to a couple of forty-niners finally hitting gold or a pair of Visigoths deep into the Sack of Rome. A few angry shouts sent them fleeing, but when I went down to the beds to check out the damage my suspicions were confirmed. Every one of the baby lettuces that I had recently planted  from seed were gone.

image from thejacksack.com

When I was a kid, I loved the story of Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. I mean, I thought squirrels were the cutest thing going. These days…not so much. The sorts of furry herbivores that I once considered a delight to witness: squirrels, deer, rabbits look like destruction on four legs now. There’s a real danger when you become a dedicated gardener of developing an us against them view of the animal kingdom and that’s not really where I want my mind to go. After all, squirrels have to eat. On the other hand, I’m not in this gardening thing as a way of providing backyard denizens with a 24/7 salad bar. Measures have to be taken, though I strongly favor those methods that do the least harm. Cayenne pepper tea, made by steeping the chopped peppers in boiling water then straining, has so far been very effective. The trouble with this method is that you have reapply the spray after each rain. Then again, gardening isn’t meant to be without effort. My friend Ray, recommends putting cat hair on the beds as a squirrel deterrent and I have heard this from other folks as well. As my own cats shed hair in quantities that rival the amount of pollen coating the surface of my car on any given day this spring, I’m guessing that I will be experimenting with this method  too.

If you too need to figure out how to deal with unwanted garden incursions and raids, then DCPL has resources to help.

Dead Snails Leave No Trails: natural pest control for home and garden by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor emphasizes an organic, humane approach to controlling all sorts of garden pests without poisoning the garden in the process. This compendium of useful information includes tips on identifying garden-helpful insects that you might otherwise think to repel.

Bugs, Slugs & Other Thugs: controlling garden pests organically by Rhonda Massingham Hart includes a lot of great information on how to attract “beneficials” (i.e. birds and insects that naturally help control garden pests). Special features include tips on gently repelling pesky garden intruders when they have started helping themselves to more than their fair share. For example: “Clippings of cat or dog hair might be enough to ward off rodents and other pests.” Homespun wisdom is the best!

Outwitting Critters: a surefire manual for confronting devious animals and winning by Bill Adler, Jr. extends its reach beyond the garden to include other areas of animal driven trouble. Here you’ll find information on how to safely and humanely deal with everything from the ant parade in your kitchen, to the coyotes roaming your property, to that annoying alligator who has chosen your front lawn as her favorite sunbathing spot.

Finally there’s Squirrel Wars: backyard wildlife battles and how to win them by George H. Harrison from which I, quite shamelessly I confess, stole the title of this blog post. Harrison approaches critter problems with a sense of humor and documents actual, often off-beat, methods that real homeowners have used to cope. In the interest of understanding the “enemy” Harrison spends a significant portion of the book providing a natural history of squirrels, rabbits, wasps and other potentially problematic fauna.

How do you keep critters at bay?

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Apr 4 2012

Gardening for squares

by Dea Anne M

I’ve posted here before about gardening and particularly food gardening for small or unusual spaces.  You might have decided by now that I’m a little fanatical on the subject and all I can say to that is…you might be right. This year, we’ve expanded our gardening ambitions around my place a bit and have put in some raised beds at the side of the house and in the back yard. The strawberry pyramid measures 6ft. X 6ft.at the base, 4ft. X 4ft. in the middle, and 2 ft. X 2 ft. at the top.  The rectangular beds measure 4 ft. X 8 ft. I have great hopes for this project and I’ve already planted potatoes, peas, radishes, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, chard, and tomatoes. Strawberries are coming out now, and we’ll soon be putting in tomatillos, eggplant, beans, melons, and corn (notoriously difficult to grow so we’ll see). Here’s a picture…

You might notice the grid pattern laid across two of the beds. Allow me to explain. We’ve taken our planting  inspiration from Mel Bartholomew’s All-New Square Foot Gardening. The idea is that you measure your raised bed out into square feet and plant a specific number of vegetables in  each. There’s much more to it than that, but suffice it to say that  Bartholomew’s technique promises to produce healthy, densely planted beds that are easier to tend than the traditional row garden set-up. He provides clear instructions on plant spacing as well as various tips on vertical gardening. More vegetables and fruit in less space…who doesn’t love that? I highly recommend this book, even to those who are new to vegetable gardening. It’s well-illustrated and very user friendly.

Are you interested in small space gardening? Be sure to check out these titles as well:  Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces by Patricia Lanza,  The Edible Container Garden by Michael Guerra, and The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith.

Finally, let me brag a little and show you my beloved Top Hat blueberry bush. I’ve had it in a pot on my deck for 4 years now and it’s still going strong. It’s a “dwarf” variety but it’s put out an increasingly larger crop each year of deep blue, intensely flavored fruit. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a muffin filled with berries you’ve grown yourself. Tri it and see!

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Feb 8 2012

Planting a promise

by Dea Anne M

Most of us know that Arbor Day is a holiday celebrated by planting trees.  The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 19 1872 and an estimated million trees were planted that day. Arbor Day is now celebrated worldwide, though dates vary, of course, due to climate and other considerations. The best time for planting trees in Georgia is between November and mid-March so this year, Georgia’s Arbor Day will be celebrated on February 17th. The Georgia Forestry Commission is encouraging everyone to get out there and plant a tree and leave “a lasting legacy for future generations.”

Do you want to learn more about planting and tending trees in Georgia? Check out these resources from DCPL.

…and young gardeners can learn more about Arbor Day and trees with Arbor Day by Kelly Bennett and Tree by David Burnie which is part of the wonderful Eyewitness series of photograph laden, non-fiction books for children. If you’re interested in planting more trees throughout the year, you could also become involved with Trees Atlanta, a non-profit group dedicated to replenishing the urban forest in metro Atlanta.

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