Thursday, July 21, 2011

Attracting pollinators, beneficial insects

My Aunt Martha always planted flowers in between rows in her garden in West Virginia. These French marigolds are a great choice as they only grow about a foot high, don't require dead-heading and bloom from late-spring to frost. In the background are blooming buckwheat. I scattered some seeds (you can get them at most feed stores) when I planted the spring garden. Kale to the left, beets to the right. Flowering buckwheat attracts not only pollinating insects (such as bees) but beneficial insects (for instance, wasps) that feed on nasty pests like Colorado potato beetles and Japanese beetles. Here's an interesting article from Cornell on the subject.
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Easy tree nursery

These tree seedlings were started last year from cuttings. Basically you make a clean cut from a small branch and place it in water. Then stick into moist soil. It helps if you have the best soil on the planet - Maury Silt Loam from central Kentucky. Burr Oak, Cypress, and Redbud here.
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Killer Cukes

Even bush-type cucumbers can use some trellising. Here I used the tomato cages -- cattle fence with pig-ring closures -- and just placed them over the cucumbers when they were small. I prefer pickling cukes, which are smaller and sweeter, imho. I've never seen such healthy plants. Tons of blooms and finger-size cucumbers as we speak.
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Tomato Patch

Some honking green tomatoes. These are Mortgage Lifters, a pink heirloom tomato that originated in West Virginia.

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How the Garden Grows

There are three plots this year, combining veg, herbs and flowers. 
Totally organic (of course), lush and healthy.

Gardening and blogging are not that compatible. There's too damn much to do. Although we've been blessed with lots of rain this year (I've only had to water the garden 3 times so far), this set off a chain of chores like weeding, trellis and cage making, tying up vines and suckering lots of tomato plants. Still, it's hard to complain (obviously I still can) as the bounty is about to explode.
Thought I'd post some photos to show off. This may be the most gorgeous garden I've done. Just wait till the flowers bloom.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Don't Farm Animals Get the Respect Pets Do? -

My friend Mark Bittman wrote about the sad lives of most conventional livestock in this country. I bet if most people knew how the majority of animals are treated - especially chickens and pigs - they wouldn't want to eat them. He makes the point that we should be treating animals more humanely, raising them properly, and eating less of them.
Why Don't Farm Animals Get the Respect Pets Do? - "- Sent using Google Toolbar"
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Pound Cake People

I come from pound cake people. My great grandmother, a big-boned sturdy farm wife, was the queen of pound cake. She made hers by hand, beating the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon in a large crockery bowl. It was baked in a large, ring-shaped iron pan in a coal stove with a pan of water in the bottom to ensure it came out moist. Rather than a glaze, she would slather the top with butter and sprinkle it with confectioner’s sugar before slicing.

That pound cake was one of the few sweets the farm family indulged in, my mother says, as their small dairy provided the copious amount of eggs (nearly a dozen per recipe), buttermilk, and butter required.

It's a plain butter cake that's always the star of state fair competitions and every state seems to have its official recipe. My favorite is West Virginia pound cake (where I grew up), a half-pound version that uses confectioner’s sugar in lieu of granulated cane sugar. It has a very fine texture and is wonderful on its own or as a based for a strawberry or peach shortcake. Actually a thick slice makes a supreme breakfast. And it’s even more excellent if you can use some local butter and eggs.

West Virginia Pound Cake

From The Cake Club: Delicious Desserts and Stories, From a Southern Childhood by Susie Quick (St. Martin’s Press, 2005).
Makes one, 10-inch Bundt or tube cake or one, 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf, serves 12 to 16

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 (1-pound) box confectioner’s sugar, plus more for sprinkling over cake
6 large eggs
3 cups cake flour (not self rising)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan.
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl with the sugar. Beat with an electric miser on medium speed 5 minutes until light and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Scrape the sides and beaters and then beat in vanilla.
Stir together the flour and salt. With mixer on lowest speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, a third as a time, alternately with a little milk until just blended. Scrape the bottom and sides to make sure everything is smooth.
Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a long wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the edges are slightly pulled away from sides of pan. Cool in pan on a rack 20 minutes. Invert pan to a wire rack and cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

If you want to try an authentic pound cake recipe, here’s the no-nonsense Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe (in it's original terseness) from 1918, which is no doubt close to the mother of all pound cakes. If you attempt it I’d half the recipe and bake in a 10-inch Bundt, or 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. Obviously, you can make up two loaves.

Fannie Farmer Pound Cake

1 lb. butter   
Whites 10 eggs
1 lb. sugar
1 lb. flour
Yolks 10 eggs
1/2 teaspoon mace
2 tablespoons brandy

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, and continue beating; then add yolks of eggs beaten until thick and lemon-colored, whites of eggs beaten until stiff and dry, flour, mace, and brandy. Beat vigorously five minutes. Bake in a deep pan one and one-fourth hours in a slow oven.

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