Saturday, July 31, 2010

Annual fava bean supper

Fava beans are cushioned in pods. The skins of each bean will slip off after blanching.

I'm not sure how many years we've celebrated the fava bean, but it's enough that it's become an anticipated summer rite. The resident head gardener plants just enough fava beans in early spring so we're assured of one or two pickings and one or two generous dinners. Last night was the first one of 2010. In looking back, we're a few days early this year. Doesn't matter, the Fava Fest is one of those roaming, non-date-dependent jubilees.

Fava beans are easy to grow but require some work to prep them for eating. Hence, one reason we only grow enough for a few suppers. I harvested the gnarly-looking pods in the morning and shelled them immediately. It's a pleasant task -- peel back the pods and see how many beans are nestled inside the soft, comforting confines. The giant pods may hold six plump parcels of fava-beany goodness. After shelling there's still more prep work before the beans are ready for cooking. During a break from weeding, I blanched the beans for several minutes in a pot of boiling water, dumped them in a bowl of ice water and slipped them out of their skins. Each individual bean is pinched at one end so the edible bean slips out easily. Pinch and slip. Pinch and slip. Pinch and slip. The skins make a lovely pile of compost fixins'. The beans go back in the fridge until it's time to make dinner.

Now the favas are ready for a quick saute in butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. Quick, out of the pan and onto the table with lamb chops, garden-fresh greens, homemade chickpea flatbread (highly recommended!) and a bottle of pinot noir. Yum!

 Fava beans take on a beautiful color after a quick saute in butter.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Everyday miracles: Lilies

After a day of rain the damp air is perfumed with the scent of 'Regale Album', a Chinese trumpet lily.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Romancing the gypsy moth

The plane from the Department of Agriculture makes a pass over the homestead.
The sound of airborne engines started Saturday and continued on Sunday. First to the northeast and then to the southwest. Back and forth. Back and forth. Over and over. Heard but not seen.

But by Sunday afternoon the source of the noise was in full sight overhead. A bright yellow plane from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture was flying a pattern across land surrounding the Knife River. The plane flew low -- maybe 50-100 feet above the treetops -- as it delivered its payload of gypsy moth pheromone. 

Pheromones are chemical messengers emitted by insects (and others) to communicate all sorts of things, including the readiness to mate.

The pheromone drop is part of MDA's mating disruption strategy to fight the gypsy moth, a non-native pest that has the potential to defoliate forests and stress trees to the point of death. Here's how it works: The pheromone, called Disparlure, is sandwiched in plastic flakes or embedded in waxy droplets which are then dropped over the targeted area. Female gypsy moths can't fly so they produce this pheromone to attract a mate. But with all this extra pheromone around, the males can't find the females and there is no mating, no eggs and no offspring. The strategy works sort of like employing chaperones at a high school dance.

The MDA says the treatment is effective and safe and won't harm people, pets, fish, birds or mammals.The information the MDA sent us regarding the application said the flakes and droplets stick to leaves and branches and often go unnoticed. If we hadn't been home, we never would have known as we could see no evidence of the drop.

The view toward the end of the driveway.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Seventh Day July up for viewing

'President Tyler' morning glory in a pot with sweet peas and 'Wine Red Basket' alyssum. This alyssum isn't as vigorous as the white varieties, but it's nice in containers.
Here's a peek into what's happening in the July garden. Check out the slide show top right. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This morning

The sun burns off the fog in Clover Valley. Pinks and maroons dominate here with my favorite 'Lauren's Grape' poppies, left and right, leading the way. Lilies just started blooming a few days ago.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A good time was had by all

 A little fire, a little fountain, a little jerk chicken and (more than) a little mojito. Now that's a splendid Fourth of July!

Note to self: Plant more mint. I use common spearmint to make mojitos and grow it in several pots around the deck and yard. It's a no-brainer of a plant -- keep it well-watered, fertilize occasionally and snip at will. But keep it in pots unless you want it running all over the place.

Here's how I make mojitos for two. In a cocktail shaker, muddle eight or so sprigs of mint with 2 ounces of simple syrup and 1-1/2 ounces of fresh-squeezed lime juice. (Use as much mint as suits your taste -- I like it minty.) Add 3 ounces of white rum and a couple of dashes of bitters. Add ice and shake. Divide between ice-filled glasses and top with club soda. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Let's hear it for ...

... the red ...
Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)

... white ...
Shasta daisy

... and blue
Allium caeruleum

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Where else would I be?

The purple in the foreground is penstemon, the red is Maltese Cross. The purple in back is Baptisia australis.  The spiky foliage up front is blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens).
Normally, I wouldn't recommend mixing purple and red like this, but for some reason I find this particular combination appealing. The red Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) has moved itself about the bed, situating itself wherever it feels most comfortable -- this year that's pretty much in the middle of a stand of phlox (not yet in bloom) right next to purple penstemon (not sure of the variety). The plants seem to have made their peace with each other in a loud, semi-obnoxious sort of way. It's not co-existence for the faint of heart, but they do manage to get along nonetheless. Surprise, diversity and tolerance all grow here.

A boatload of blooms like these and a couple of days of summer sunshine and I'm reminded of a conversation several Julys ago with a former colleague. I had just returned to work from a week's vacation and John was asking me what I did with my time off. I stayed home, I told him, and did odds and ends around the house and garden. You know, I said, this time of year there's really no place else I'd rather be.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was struck by how true they were. When had that happened? When had my roots gotten so deep?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Comfortable summer evening

The silly dog monitors the situation while resting between the fennel and the just-germinating carrots in the vegetable garden. Dakota is good about sticking to the paths in the garden, but he's a big pooch so sometimes a few footprints are inevitable.

Meanwhile, just across the way, the head vegetable gardener tends to a patch of onions by the cold frame behind the potatoes. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A night's lodging, but no dinner

This painted turtle seemed to materialize out of nowhere. All of a sudden there he was motoring out from under the Arctic blue willow. He spent a night in our pond where, fortunately, he didn't eat the goldfish (or plants). And then, the next day he was gone. Just passing through, apparently, on the way to some grand adventure.

In the wild, painted turtles can live to be as old as 40. I wonder how old this one is ...