Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wet Weather is For the Birds!


It’s been a really cold and wet spring here in NW PA. In a way, that has been great, because I have not had to do much mowing and yard work. But my gardens are kind of hung up, too. All the leaves are on the trees about halfway out, and they’re just kind of hanging there, waiting for it to get warmer. My early plants like spinach and radishes are about the same. I read all these things about spinach being a cool weather crop and how you can’t grow it later in the spring, but I’m going to have to make a note in my garden book about this one, because I thinking I’d be having spinach salad and spinach quiche and all good things like that if we’d had a few days where the temperature got over fifty degrees.

I have my main vegetable garden turned over, but the lower one is at a standstill because it is too wet. Even if you have a tiller or a plow, you should not work muddy soil and you should not even think about working a garden patch with standing water. It destroys the soil structure and causes all sorts of problems. You can’t put seed in standing water anyway, it might as well just rest some more. Around here, direct seeding doesn’t happen until after Memorial Day. Tilling and plowing is a different matter, though, and tilling time, according to my grandmother, is when the dogwoods are blooming. Luckily, this year, the dogwood flowers are in refrigeration mode, the same as everything else. All blooming trees keep blooming and blooming, which is a good thing, because the cold, wet weather is keeping the pollinators from getting out and about. The bumblebees are plugging away, but the little sweat bees and other things like that are nowhere to be seen. A couple years ago, we lost a lot of songbirds because a late frost killed off all the bugs.

The birds don’t seem to be having a hard time this year, though. I keep reading stories about the different problems birds are having with pesticides and cats and disruptions in migratory routes, but I’m not seeing the results of that here. I would guess that bird populations really started to go up a lot about fifteen years ago. I’ve always spent time outside and one of my prized possessions is an old Roger Tory Peterson bird book I got at a yardsale when I was about ten. Roger Tory Peterson is a local person who actually got his artistic start painting pretty things on furniture in the factories in Jamestown, NY, and I’m partial to that book.

Anyway, when we had our previous couple dogs, we were lucky enough to live right on the edge of town and had miles of farm fields and logging roads to walk with them. When they were a couple years old, I really started to lose them a lot walking in the field, and it was because the volume of bird noise had gone up so much just in the space of a few years that I couldn’t hear them moving through the long grass anymore. After that, I started to notice birds of prey in increasing numbers and I would say that I have not noticed a significant overall drop in bird numbers since then.

Right now, I’m playing around with submitting bird species counts and observations to, which I am too lazy to make a link to. It’s called Cut and paste. Which is a project to track numbers of birds. It’s kind of fun, because you can have your data sent to you through email and keep and eye on everything you’ve seen. Scientific bird people use the counts submitted from all over to find trends in population and migratory patterns. It also just takes a little bit even on my slow, slow phone lines. I’m incredibly biased towards stuff that doesn’t require you to have broadband or even normal dial up. And I actively hate You Tube, because on all the news sites and entertainment sites that I usually browse for headlines, they used to have transcripts or descriptions of what went on in an interview on some cable TV show or other and now they just say: “Look at this Video!” So, like everything else, instead of an advance or innovation making people more creative or more informed, it has just made people lazier. Just what we needed.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed sitting by the window and making lists of the different kinds of birds I see. I’m still feeding birds, which I know I shouldn’t be, but I do like to watch. And I’m extra lucky because of the pond, so I get water birds as visitors really often. I saw a female common merganser last week. A pair of solitary sandpipers hung around for a week or so, though I figure they’re long gone now, as they generally breed up in Canada. A Great Blue Heron has made several pitstops in the shallow end of the pond over the last week or so. There are actually a pair of them which I see flying over every few days. They are big birds. When they fly in pairs, they go so close together that the legs of the one in front are overlapping the body of the one in back. When they take off they seem a little clumsy, but on the ground, they are really impressive. I know they are taller than I am when they have their heads up. When nothing spooks them, and they get a chance to fish, they are better than TV. They take a step about every five minutes or so and go down into the water very slowly. Then they hold their heads down, and after a while, they go so quick and grab out a fish. It’s amazing to have something like that going on right out the back window.

The cold weather has not stopped ay of the birds from breeding. There are egg shells everywhere, and every tree is full of peeping little chicks. I’ve already seen fledgeling mourning doves and robins and the cattails in the pond are full of redwing blackbird nests. The redwing blackbirds, I never thought of as watery kind of birds, but they also dive against the pond for bugs like sparrows and bats do. My favorite birds are bobolinks. They nest in the hayfields and have the best song. It sounds like a computer printout on a low budget TV show from the ‘60’s. It is definitely not tree cutting time or even time to limb the trees we cut in the smaller stand of pines over the winter. Last year around this time, I accidentally went over a nest of sparrows on the ground clearing a sunflower patch in the long grass, so it is actually too late to break any ground or clear any of the overgrown places too.

I did feel the other day like I was going to be the victim of a reenactment of “The Birds” when I got too close to what must be about ten robins’ nests in a patch of cedars and spruces at the edge of the yard. Lots and lots of very large very ornery birds came out of the trees and flew around in a not nice way. Birds get really strange and aggressive during the breeding and nesting seasons.

There is actually a theory that the true story of bird attacks which inspired the creepy Hitchcock movie was caused by birds eating toxic algae that washed up on the beaches of California. That story has given me lots of motivation to keep the goat water trough clean. I got a new stock tank for them last year, and it seems like to grows algae a lot faster than the washtub I watered them out of before. I keep emptying it and scrubbing it, though. I can just imagine “The Goats.”

On the goat front, things are finally moving along to replace their very pathetic shed. I went to the sawmill, very impressively reconstructed from the pile of boards and the field of mud which it was in January! and put in an order which was finished a day or two later. So, I have to borrow my uncle’s truck and it is time for another adventure in hauling very soon. This weekend, the weather is supposed to be nice, so I went shopping and bought some chicken legs which I will use to lure my family over on Saturday or Sunday to help with the “goat shed raising.”

Of all the pets we have right now, the goats are a combination of the easiest and the hardest. For a farm pet, I totally recommend goats, even over chickens. You can buy a goat for next to nothing. You can feed them for next to nothing. They can’t bite. (Only have teeth on the bottom.) They are cute, and if you handle them a lot while young they are very friendly. I’ve been thumped by them before when they barged through somewhere I was standing, but they have never actually tried to butt me. I’ve heard a lot of things about how goats are stinky. I have neutered male goats, and they smell really sweet.

Drawbacks of goats are they are escape artists. They will get out of any fence. Ours just climb right over the top of the wire fence. the really naughty one will hang there for going on minutes until he can just make one more rung. A friend of ours hates goats for just that reason. She suggests as an escape-proof goat solution, use razor wire like at a prison and then a shotgun if any make it over. She is a funny lady.

When goats get out, they will go for your favorite flowers and trees. Lots of people get goats to keep down weeds and help clear fields. You would have to have dozens of goats for that, even in a small yard. They are not focused, and they will eat where you want for a few minutes before wandering away and destroying the asparagus patch or stripping the bark off that tree you got as a wedding present or just deciding they aren’t hungry anymore. My goats love to loiter on the porch, pull down windchimes and kick over flowerpots. They’re like bad kids! They are also fools for tomatoes. A white angora goat with a tomato smile is kind of funny/kind of scary.

They are pretty stupid. No matter how many times I’ve handled the goats, they still think you are going to kill them when it is time to trim hooves or shear. Wrestling them to the ground and doing any work on them has never gotten any easier. This year, I tricked my sister’s husband, who is in law enforcement, into helping with their hooves and with shearing, and we had a relatively easy time of it because he is trained in positional asphyxiation techniques. It is less mean than it sounds. He wasn’t choking the goats. They were choking themselves!

Other than hoof and hair time, though the goats need very little care, and they are funny, personable little creatures. And hopefully they will not butt their new shed into tiny pieces like they are with the old one!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Getting Started in Bread


I’ve not included a recipe for a while, so I’m thinking I should make a couple available.

I went on a grocery store run yesterday and was flabbergasted when I saw the price for five pounds of my favorite King Arthur Flour is now around four dollars. I’m glad a stocked up a few weeks ago when it was about fifty cents less! right now, I’m going to sit tight and try not to use up what I have too much and hope things go on sale in a month or so. If not, I always have the prairie gold bread flour that they sell down at the Amish store I can fall back on, and I actually use very little wheat flour for bread baking.

I got into bread about ten years ago. After I got out of college, I kind of went through a phase that I really haven’t kicked yet. (Maybe not a phase, then?) I learned how to knit and spin and took up a lot of hand crafts. At the time, I was working in the deli of a grocery store . That’s where I learned to decorate cakes which is really cool, because I got paid to go to work and learn from the touring cake expert lady and learned how to do all the Wilton-style decorations. It’s come in really handy, since I only worked in the grocery store a year, but I’ve done everything from big cakes for my sister’s wedding and every birthday cake for my family for a long, long time. I even made my own cake a couple years ago, because I wanted orange chocolate cheesecake for my birthday cake, and no one else was going to make the candied orange peel or bake the orange shortbread cookies for the crust or anything like that. I give little “cake decorating clinics” for one of my cousins when she comes to visit since she is actually going to be a real artist but she likes to play with cake frosting. One of my sister’s friends from high school went to school for graphic design and actually makes decent money on the side with cakes.

I’m the worst business person in the world, and I haven’t yet made a cent from cake. I just don’t see how to do it. Just last night, I saw a report on the news about a stay-at-home mom who has a cake making business right in her kitchen. Then, I saw another one about this woman who has a commercial monkey bread business, supposedly right in her kitchen. Now, I’ve worked in commercial kitchens before, and I don’t understand why these ladies don’t get the health department knocking on their door after they go on TV. They have kids just running through the kitchen. No one has their hair up. There’s no thermometers or separate storage. All I can conclude is that they live in states that aren’t Pennsylvania and/or these cheery little pieces of propaganda really aren’t telling the (whole) truth. For goodness sakes. I’ve seen people writing up the Amish kids who do their family’s bake sale by the side of the road every week.

Anyway, to make a long story even longer, I was slightly horrified to find out the way bakery bread is made in the store. Those nice loaves that you pay extra for are just about the same thing that comes in the bags. The loaves are just frozen and shipped to the store and baked in the bakery. There isn’t anything about them that is any more “handmade” than Wonder bread.

I made bread a few times when I was a kid, of course. And those frozen loaves you can get in the freezer section of the grocery store are a good shortcut for making pizza. I seem to remember one very cash strapped weekend away from home where the sum total of my food was some carrots and a couple loaves of frozen dough that I baked up, but there may have been some chocolate involved, too. I also remember being horrified when I was working as a camp counselor at Camp Evil in the the Adirondacks. We had all this special camping cookware to make PIZZA IN THE WILDERNESS, but no one knew how to knead the dough. That’s what I hate about rich people. I grew up literally on the Allegheny River. I’ve been on the water my whole life, and I can canoe for miles, catch a fish (with my bare hands if I want to), hike through woods with nothing and not get lost. I’ve been stranded on an island in high water, helped a friend with a severely broken arm hike miles back to the house in zero degree weather, and at Camp Evil, I looked stupid and incompetent, because I didn’t know any of the secret handshake stuff from the Official Canoeing Manual the Official First Aid Manual the Official Directions for the really expensive junk I can afford that they advertise in Outside Magazine. Needless to say, that’s just one of many work experiences which was way more awful than what I signed up for. And the Adirondacks are not prettier than the Upper Allegheny area.

Back to bread!

While I was working at the grocery store, I decided to start baking bread, and I have done ever since (except for one miserable stretch of time when I baked nothing because my filthy neighbors had our apartment infested with bugs!)

What you need to start baking bread, in terms of stuff:

2 bowls
a good spoon
bread pans (at least two, three is better)
an oven

The bowls should be the size of a large mixing bowl at the smallest. A high sided bowl like a mixing bowl is great for letting bread rise. You can get them at thrift stores and junk shops. Bowls can be metal, plastic, glass, wood. Doesn’t matter. You can even just have one bowl and wash it in between or let the bread rise in a basket lined with a clean floured tea towel (no terry cloth, though! It makes a mess.) The oven has to be able to get up to 350 degrees. Bread loaf pans come in many sizes, and I recommend medium because the loaves fit in the 11.5x 12.5 inch bags that they sell at the store for bread bags. You don’t need anything fancy. Grey painted metal loaf pans like they have at the dollar store or K Mart. Don’t get anything heavy, fancy or anything that costs double digits. Junk stores are great! I use a hand carved cherry wooden spoon for my bread spoon. I destroy wooden spoons, but I’ve had this one for years. Spoons are not a splurge. You can’t make bread in a mixer unless you have a commercial dough machine. Your wooden spoon replaces a very expensive piece of equipment. You can afford to get a heavy one.

When I first started baking bread, I made the mistake of rushing out and buying a bunch of whole wheat flour and all these ingredients. I made a few bricks before I started looking for the basic beginner recipes and learning on those. Start with white bread. It’s nice, it’s fun, it’s still better for you than store bought.

If I had five seconds to get out of my house and could take only one cook book, I would bring my 1969 Betty Crocker. I have other cookbooks, but Betty is the go to book for everything basic and good. I get more people who ask me for my recipes when I use Betty than any other thing. Everything is covered and it’s the best book ever. I don’t know about these contemporary and revised cook books. Try libraries and used book sales and estate sales and things like that, but the older books are better.

Basic steps of making bread:

1. Mixing: Getting all ingredients together.
2. Kneading: working the dough to finish combining ingredients and to break up the gluten in the flour so the bread will rise and be airy.
3. First rising: in a big lump in a bowl (usually about an hour)
4. Shaping: Cutting the big lump into loaves or rolls
5. Second rising: bread rises again in final shape
6. Baking

Betty Crocker White bread is as easy a loaf as you could want to make, and tastes good too. The original recipe calls for the bread to be panned in two large loaf pans, but I pefer to cut it into three medium sized loaves instead.

White Bread

2 packages Active dry Yeast
3/4 cups warm water
2 2/3 cups warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening
9 to 10 cups All Purpose Flour
Soft butter or margarine

Dissolve yeast in 3/4 C H2O, add 2 2/3 c. water plus the salt, sugar, shortening, and five cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Add flour gradually to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic, 10 minutes. pull it into a ball shape, and place in greased bowl in a warm place until doubled. (about an hour)

Punch down the dough. Use your fist to smash down the middle, and pull outsides of dough down through the hollow -- try and get rid of all air bubbles.

Put dough back on lightly floured counter, cut into loaves - two large or three medium. Roll dough out into a flat oval about half again as long as the pan. Fold in sides and pinch a seam in the middle. Tuck in ends and pinch closed. Put in greased loaf pans, seam side down.

Brush tops with butter and let rise until doubled.

Near end of rising, heat over in 425 degrees. Get racks as low as you can. Bake 30 to 35 minutes (I usually turn the loaves at 10 minutes for even heating) until golden brown. Loaves that are done sound hollow when you tap the bottom crust.

Turn the loaves out of the pans immediately. Paint the tops with more melted butter. Let cool before eating.

A couple notes: Active dry yeast in packages is ridiculously expensive. If you plan to make more than five batches of bread in a six month period, you should buy bulk yeast and keep it in a jar in the vegetable crisper in the fridge instead. Don’t freeze it. One package of ADY is 2 and 1/4 teaspoons. If it’s in bulk, you might have to do a little math.

The step at the beginning of the recipe where you dissolve the yeast (also called proofing) is kind of an old fashioned thing. You let a the yeast foam up a little in the warm water to make sure it is viable before you go through all the trouble of baking bread. Also, the water temperatures in old recipes are a little more strict than they need to be. Very hot water will kill yeast, but they are a little more durable and reliable now.

I also hardly ever make any recipes that call for two packages of yeast. If you have that much yeast, the bread rises a lot faster, but the cost of the bread goes up. You can get by with just one in almost every recipe.

This recipe calls for just all purpose flour. I wouldn’t do that with cheap or store brand flour, though. Really, even with costs going up, you need less of better flour to get the same results, so better flour is more economical.
Kneading is actually a matter of personal preference. You can twist or hit or slam the bread. I got my nephew to knead for me once by just letting him wrestle and punch the dough for a while. The accepted method is “push-turn-fold”. You take the ball, and push down and away with the heel of your hand, it makes kind of a flattened oblong. then, you pick up the dough and bring it back close with the long way pointing at you. Fold it back into a ball shape. Repeat.

For white yeast bread with fat, I usually knead about eight minutes, even though this recipe says ten. There is some scientific thing about chemically what happens inside the bread that is based on time, though, so no skimping on the kneading! For sourdough and French type bread that don’t have any fat and which use high gluten flours, kneading times can be as long as fifteen minutes, which is another reason why it is better to start with boring old white bread and not try and bite off more than you can chew.

A friend of mine who pays attention to all those things that “they” say, says that eating hot bread is bad for you. She also says that “they” will buy burdock roots. I thought that meant that she was going to dig them up and sell them, so I left them in the ground and got an extra large bunch of sticktites on my dogs and in my clothes a couple years ago. So, there is a cooking process that still is taking place inside the crusts when you bring the bread out of the oven, and slicing pieces of warm bread kind of squishes the loaf, but hot bread out of the oven is really nice.

Obviously, I haven’t just been baking Betty Crocker white bread for the last fifteen years, so there will be more on other kinds of bread later. To be continued....

Thursday, May 8, 2008

One Month and Counting to Planting Time


Right now is the middle point of one of the busier times of year. I’m turning over the gardens and getting things ready to go in the ground. The greenhouse is set up, and all of the plants are out in it. I’m also trying a new experiment with some “cold frames” which are actually just three sections of glass fronted book shelves laid out in the yard. I put broccoli and cabbage plants in them because I don’t think it would be too big a loss if it didn’t work! I’m not just picking on two of my less well liked vegetables. Both broccoli and cabbage can be started again from seed in July and planted out in the cooler weather. So, if this batch doesn’t quite work out, it’s okay. There will be more later.

Seed Starting update: As I said, everything is in the greenhouse and started, even the melons which is exciting, because they are started three and four weeks before the last frost. I ran out of peat pots a couple weeks back and could only find one of those “mini greenhouses” which is basically a covered salad pan like you get from the grocery store or when a restaurant caters something. Hint, hint: If you have a family member in the medical field and you want a good planting container, wait until the drug reps bring lunch and save the plastic containers they brought the meal in.

I bought the mini greenhouse thing, because I needed the cups out of it. I suppose I deserved to get fleeced because I went to Tractor Supply, which is almost as bad as the Devil’s Playground (AKA Walmart) to get planting stuff. I usually don’t get hung up on having to get the exact right thing, especially if it’s overpriced and encased in a completely unnecessary piece of plastic. BUT I have been very unhappy with the plants that I started in flats. It was fun and all to just dump seed starting soil into whatever and chuck in the seeds, but I really had trouble after that. Because:

1. The seeds planted in flats too up too much room. It just seemed inefficient. I either had to plant rows of different seeds in the flats or hog up one whole pan for just one kind of seeds.

2. When I gave in and mixed seeds, different things were ready to transplant and different times. You generally start pulling things apart when the real leaves sprout. The first little leaves that come out of the seeds are are really generic. It’s so exciting to see the real leaves. They are different colors and jaggedy or feathery or hairy or spiky. The plant starts to look like a real plant. Then, you pop it into a cup by itself. When I mixed plants in flats, I’d be ready to transplant some while others were still immature. Then, I had even less room, see complaint about flats No. 1.

3. It’s hard to water flats. Sure, at the beginning, I’d just mist away enough to get the seeds going, but young sprouts generally need to be watered from the bottom. There was no good way to do this without just dumping water in and exposing some of the roots. Meanwhile, every time you move the plants, the surface shifts and cracks open, and more roots get exposed. In cups and pots, you just water through the bottom, and the water just kind of osmoses gently up to the plant.

4. The seeds just didn’t start good in flats. I didn’t skimp on seed starter. I made the flats nice and deep, and still, compared with things started in peat pots, my plants started in flats were spindly and slow to develop. Eventually they stalled, and I just started transplanting things too early for their own good. Which led to :

5. TRANSPLANT CARNAGE!!! There is no neat way (at least for me) to get the plants out of the flats. In cups, I rip off a cup, wiggle out the things I’d like to transplant, and pop them into the new pots and cups. In the flats, things were getting ripped and tangled and mauled and buried under the soil thrown up by other plants, and it was awful. And because the plants were spindly and under-developed, the stems snapped very easily. A lot of plants that looked like they had made it through okay were just withered away by the next day.

So, peat cups. Even though a lot of the books and things say flats. I like peat cups. Are they cost effective? I’d say yes, since, I have three living broccoli plants out of about two dozen I tried to transplant and another couple dozen I tossed out when picking which plants to transplant, and I’ve also lost quite a few flowers and herbs that were started in flats, too.

Other than the fiasco with the flats that consumed about a third to a half of my cosmos, calendulas, and gallardias plus most of the first crop of broccoli and cabbage, seed starting has gone fine. I have some tomatoes which could have been started earlier but weren’t due to the peat pot shortage. The strawflowers are late, too. Some hot pepper seeds I did not plant last year that I saved and tried to use this year didn’t come, and I wasn’t able to find a good replacement for them, but nothing horrible. I started more seeds and more kinds this year than ever before, and I even needed to add a new shelf to the greenhouse. I haven’t let anything freeze yet, and things are going well.

Everything is just sprouting its head off. I put in three new currant plants a couple weeks ago, and they won’t bear for a year or two, but the other currants are loaded with blossoms which are like little green flowers. Currant jelly is the jelly to have in my family. In the fall, I’ll sell strawberry, I’ll sell elderberry, I’ll sell grape, but I would get killed if I didn’t dole out the currant to my mom, aunts, and grandmother. At the house where I grew up, we had an old fashioned berry patch with gooseberries, rhubarb, and currants, and I remember learning how to make jelly by picking the berries with my grandfather and then moving into the kitchen and helping my mother and grandmother with the cooking and canning. My mom doesn’t care to make jelly, and my grandmother doesn’t like to get bothered with it anymore, but I usually combine my currants with the ones from her bushes and get about two batches a year.

I “inherited” an asparagus patch from the lady who had my house before I lived here. Asparagus are some of the longest-lived plants there are. You can grow them from seed, but most places will sell roots. Asparagus are one of those weird plants that has a funky chemical in it that some people can taste and other people can’t. Kind of like rolling your tongue. Elderberries are the same way. About ten to twenty per cent of people are deathly allergic to a chemical in raw elderberries. When you cook elderberries to make wine or jelly, that chemical is broken down, and they are perfectly safe, but I have read about some people getting poisoned from drinking maple sap from elderberry spiles. For the record, when I was a kid, we did maple syrup one year and used elderberry sticks which hollow out really well to make the spouts. No one got sick, but I don’t remember drinking the sap before it got boiled.

Back to asparagus. I don’t care for it, because I can taste whatever funky chemical that is, and I don’t like it! However, just about everyone else love asparagus. You can munch them raw or steam them. They are kind of an ongoing difficulty for me, however. Like I was saying, you get the roots, you put them in the ground, and they take a few years to get going. After that, asparagus can grow for decades.

These asparagus are planted in a raised bed that I have to mow around all summer. I understand the appeal of a raised bed, but I don’t like them. They are like special little weed factories that grow big, healthy weeds. I got rid of the strawberry pyramid last year, because it grew weeds and grass better than it grew strawberries. And every year, I vow that I’ll keep the asparagus patch weed free, and every year, I lose.

At first, I didn’t weed it that well, though, because I wasn’t sure what was growing there. When weeds came up, I thought they might be the asparagus, and I didn’t pull them out. Now, I know better, and I know that asparagus looks exactly like it does in the store, just sticking out of the ground.

In any planted bed like strawberries or asparagus, weeds are a problem. Because the plants stay in the ground and grow in the same place year after year, you just can’t cultivate and weeds the same way you can in a garden with annuals or vegetables. Strawberries don’t stay in place as long as asparagus, so after a few years, you just start a new patch and start out with a clean slate. Not with those darn asparagus!

So, I caught a reference in my favorite book “Garden Magic” that said something about dressing the asparagus beds with salt in March or April. Now, I’ve heard a lot of different things about weird stuff to put on your garden. And my grandmother says you should sprinkle epsom salt on the tomatoes when you put them out in the garden (along with a cup of manure tea) but that asparagus reference was a little too brief and too vague for me to just go pitching salt around.

I checked all my other books and found nothing about salt and asparagus. So, it was off to the internet, which is less fun than you’d think. We have a running joke that in the post that marks the underground phone lines, there is actually just one of those pre-historic woodpecker birds that like carve out the grocery receipts on the Flintstones. Every few minutes, it stops to say “I gotta get a new job!” And that’s our internet access. It’s just heck, I tell you!

Basically, since there have been asparagus patches, people have been dealing with how to keep the darn weeds out. Asparagus are native to the salty coastlines of the Asian Pacific (or something) and they tolerate salt well, even though the weeds in the garden do not. So, to keep a weed free asparagus patch, sprinkle a little rock salt around to burn up the unwanted plants, and it should not hurt the asparagus.

I tried that with a few plants, and I haven’t noticed a dramatic reduction in weeds or anything. But, I wasn’t too keen on just salting the earth out there in the raised bed. Last year, I used the raised bed as a kind of overflow area for tomato plants, and they did really well, and the asparagus was doing better than it had the year before, at least until the goats ate it. Two years ago, the plants were really buggy, but they seemed fine last year.

By chance, I read a book called “Carrots Love Tomatoes” over the winter which gave some scientific reason for the things I kind of noticed anecdotally. Apparently, there are chemicals in the roots of tomatoes which chase away the bugs that eat asparagus most, and there are chemicals in asparagus that tomato-living bugs just can’t stand!

There are some other kinds of hints in that book, too. Like: other plants just hate fennel. That one, I’m not sure about, because we had a lot of fennel growing here when we first go here, and the lower level plants did just fine all mixed in. I’ve tried to migrate the fennel other places, but it takes a while, because you need to just wait for the old fennel to go to seed and rip it up and start seeds elsewhere because fennel does not transplant well.

Another one I thought was funny was the advice to scatter a little lovage in amongst the garden beds because it has some kind of insect repelling qualities. Now, I have lovage I also inherited, and it is not a “scattery” kind of plant. Lovage looks like what would happen if flat leaf Italian parsley mated with bamboo. It smells very strongly of celery and grows about seven feet tall. It has a mighty root and will spread and grow back every year too. So, I’m not going to take that advice, but I will mix tomatoes with my non-salted asparagus this year.