The Gardener Will Interview You Now

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How did your garden perform for you this year? Were you happy with the results of your labors? Did everything you planted meet or exceed your expectations? Or did you have clearly defined expectations to begin with – other than just a great garden with lots of vegetables?

If you’re not happy with the results from this year’s garden, may I suggest a new approach? Think of yourself as the CEO of Your Household, Inc. One of your functions as CEO is to provide enough nourishing food to feed the employees of Your Household, Inc. (a.k.a. your family). One of your initiatives for next year is to meet part of that food need with fresh fruits and vegetables, and one of your strategies for accomplishing that is to grow, rather than purchase those fresh fruits and vegetables. To make this happen, you have to hire a Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth (a.k.a. a garden). This Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth must be able to provide specific kinds of fruit and vegetable outputs to maximize the nutritional needs and the eating pleasure of Your Household, Inc.

How can you be certain that your future Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth will meet expectations? Just as a company has to interview prospective employees to make sure that they hire the best employees that will perform the functions for which they’ve been hired, you must interview your Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth to make sure that it will be capable of delivering the aforementioned expected fruit and vegetable outputs.

At this point, you may be thinking, “The Garden Troubadour has truly lost his marbles.” If you haven’t yet figured out what I’m really saying, then allow me to express it in plain English. You’ve got to determine exactly what you want out of your garden – what kinds and cultivars of fruits and vegetables you want to grow. Perhaps you are just starting to garden and you want to begin with the classics – tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Maybe you really have a hankering for fresh corn on the cob, and you want it to be as sugary sweet as can be. If that’s what you want, then in next spring’s garden, you may decide not to plant cucumbers and instead, use that space for corn. Furthermore, you’ll research available cultivars and perhaps choose a sh2 cultivar such as Illini Xtra Sweet, which can retain its sugar content for as long as ten days before that sugar begins to convert to starch.

Maybe all your tomato plants died from verticillium wilt in this season’s garden. Frustrating, no doubt, but you’re not yet ready to give up on tomatoes. So in next year’s garden, you plant a cultivar like Better Boy, which is resistant to verticillium wilt.

By now you get the picture. To have a successful garden, you have to think like a CEO. You have to know what you want your garden to accomplish for you, what fruit and vegetable crops to “hire” to make that happen, and how you’re going to develop them in your organization (a.k.a. garden).

It has been shown time and again that corporations that do not have adequate strategies for growth usually end up going out of business. The same is true of your gardening efforts. If you want your Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth to succeed (a.k.a. provide you with bumper crops of colorful, flavorful, and nutrition-packed fruits and vegetables), then you have to “hire” the right garden and provide him with the inputs he needs to succeed.

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The Worth of a Gardener

Me with Sue and Judy's Garden

 

Your garden is something to be proud of, no matter how it turned out. A bumper crop of sweet, crunchy, mouthwatering fruits and vegetables is something to celebrate; a less than perfect garden can generate many lessons and a feeling that your garden will be a bigger success next year.

It’s great to be proud of your garden. But there is something of which you should be more proud of, or maybe I should say someone. That someone is you! Yes, you! You decided that you weren’t going to accept the flavorless, artificially colored, pesticide-laden supermarket produce. You decided to do something about it by making the effort to put a seed (or a plant or a tuber) in the ground and grow something better looking, better tasting, and better for you. You raised a bumper crop of those delicious fruits and vegetables and you shared them with family and friends. The efforts and dedication of you and others like you have made a small contribution to the overall health and well-being of the world around you.

So dare to hold your head up high and proclaim to the world, I’m a gardener! And from one gardener to another, I salute you! Keep up the good work! Our world needs your talents – as well as your fruits and vegetables!

Take Two Fungi and Call Me in the Morning

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Those of us who grow our own mushrooms know how fresh and flavorful they can be. And I previously discussed the nutritional power of the mighty mushroom. But mushrooms may also have therapeutic benefits as well. Fungus for the diseases among us? Seriously? Yes indeed! Here are just a few ways that mushrooms may help us feel better.

Anti-cancer effects – Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants, which are important agents in neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells, which may then become cancerous. Mushrooms also contain selenium, which can potentially detoxify some cancer-causing substances in the body. Scientific studies have shown that turkey tail mushrooms, when taken in combination with other therapeutic agents may be effective against cervical and other types of cancers. Lion’s mane mushrooms have been shown to be effective in the treatment of esophageal and other gastric cancers

Cardiovascular health – Mushrooms are high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, all of which are important nutrients for a healthy cardiovascular system. Potassium and sodium together help regulate blood pressure. Eating mushrooms, which are low in sodium and high in potassium may help to lower blood pressure. The beta glucans in shiitake mushrooms have been shown to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol. Studies on patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol have shown that when given reishi mushrooms their cholesterol and blood and blood plasma viscosity were all significantly lowered

Immune system enhancement – Studies on turkey tail mushrooms have shown that they can increase interferon production, and scavenge superoxide and hydroxyl free radicals. They have also demonstrated anti-viral activity, possibly even inhibiting HIV infection. Reishi mushrooms have shown potent action against sarcoma, as well as stimulating macrophages and increasing levels of tumor-necrosis factor (TNF-α) and interleukins

So someday you may be able to throw away your pills, because the mighty mushroom will cure all your ills!

A Time of Change

Those foxes barking at the moon
Tell me easy weather will soon be gone
Frost is in the air
Change is everywhere, darling
This time of year, a change comes over me

― Dillon Bustin, Almanac
Slowly but surely, the world around us is changing as Earth’s Northern Hemisphere prepares for its long winter sleep. Squirrels are gathering nuts for winter food. Birds are flying south since food here will soon become scarce. And the lazy warm days of summer are turning into the cool nights of autumn, soon to be followed by the frigid snow-covered days of winter. Change is, indeed, everywhere, as Dillon Bustin sings.

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It has been said that the only constant is change; that change is inevitable (except, of course, from a vending machine). The changes of autumn all around us make an excellent time to look back at our year and think about any changes we might like to make in our own lives. Yes, I know the tradition is to do that on New Year’s Day via the resolution. But let’s face it — New Year’s resolutions are well nigh worthless. They’re made in the heat of a holiday moment with a lot of fire and gusto that quickly gets put out by the snows and cold of winter. But carefully thought out life changes made in the lengthening cool nights of autumn have a better chance of sticking.
Fall is indeed a time of change. Let it change you too.

To Dog or Not to Dog — That is the Question

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Last month, I spoke of the different kinds of animals that should be welcomed into your garden because they prey on or repel the critters that are generously helping themselves to your garden bounty. But we’ve been overlooking one animal that lives very close to you. In fact, he may even be a member of your very own family! No, I’m not talking about your mother-in-law or your brother-in-law. I’m talking about man’s best friend — Canis familiaris – the dog.

 

Allowing the family dog to roam around your yard near the garden or even inside the garden is a great way to keep the critters away. Most dogs will naturally chase squirrels and rabbits, and even opossums and raccoons would rather be left alone then have to deal with a dog. Besides, since you’re feeding it all that expensive, high-class, natural ingredient dog food, your dog ought to be earning his keep by contributing to your gardening efforts.

 

If you’re going to use your dog as a critter repellent, there are several things to consider. First, consider the kind of dog you have. A retriever, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or Great Pyrenees will probably do an excellent job of scaring off the garden thieves. A Chihuahua, Yorkshire Terrier, or a Dachshund – probably not so much. Second, if your dog likes to dig, then letting him in the garden is probably not a good idea. Better to have a high fence, and let the dog do its work outside the garden. Lastly, if your dog has a lazy or cowardly personality, it probably won’t make a very good critter repellent.

 

A dog by itself probably won’t be enough to keep the marauding critters away all of the time. But combined with other repellents – fences, odor-emitting products, predator urine, etc., the family pet can be another tool in your arsenal of critter chasers.

Friends in High and Low Places

One of the tasks in cultivating a garden is the never ending battle to keep marauding critters from helping themselves to the fruits of your labor. We erect fences, put up scarecrows, sprinkle predator urine, put up row covers, and all the other different methods of keeping the four and six-legged thieves out of your garden. And despite all our efforts, the aphids, beetles, squirrels, rabbits, and other creatures still manage to make off with part (or sometimes all) of our harvest.

 

What’s a gardener to do? Well, why not meet thief with predator? Why not encourage the animals that prey on these garden thieves to take up residence in your backyard? Why not let the same Mother Nature that would despoil your bounty protect it as well?

 

Who are these predators of which I speak? Allow me to elaborate.

 

Bats – Bats are voracious eaters of insects. Bothered by mosquitoes? The bats will take care of the problem for you! Note – bats are not going to get caught in your hair and they are not going to suck your blood. They are not horrible vicious creatures to be feared and reviled. They are an important member of the ecosystem and should be welcomed with open arms!

 

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Birds – Bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, and nuthatches will happily devour such pests as larvae, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, etc. And if you’re having problems with rabbits, mice, voles, and other rodents, then birds of prey such as hawks and owls will dispose of them.

 

 

Frogs and toads – Invite these wonderful amphibians into your garden and they will repay you by hungrily devouring any six-legged creature that dares invade your garden.

 

 

Lizards – Anoles, or the North American version of the chameleon, will climb to the tops of plants to eat the insects there. Skinks are fast-moving lizards that will work the ground level and eat slugs, snails and other ground-dwelling garden marauders.

 

 

Snakes – Yes, snakes! What I said previously about bats also applies to snakes. Snakes are not slimy horrible creatures to be feared and destroyed. They are a vital part of our planet’s web of life, and can be another ally in your battle against garden pests. Garter snakes feed on slugs. So do sharp-tailed snakes – and they’re especially fond of Japanese beetle grubs. Rubber boas eat mice and voles, while gopher snakes prey on mice and rats.

 

 

Spiders – All right, everybody repeat after me. Spiders are our friends! And for a vegetable gardener, there’s no better friend than the members of order Araneae. There is no end to the insects they will eat — aphids, armyworms, leafhoppers, flea-hoppers, leafminers, spider mites, caterpillars, thrips, plant bugs, cucumber beetles, grasshoppers, scarabs and flies to mention only a few. And very few are venomous to humans. So don’t destroy them. Welcome them!

 

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So how to you attract these natural allies to your garden? We’ll discuss that in the next blog post.

Don’t Let Autumn Get You Down

Country Road Autumn

The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember
That September — in the rain.

― Harry Warren and Al Dubin, September in the Rain

 
I don’t know about you, but the coming of autumn brings on some wistful feelings inside. Seeing the multicolored leaves careening earthward reminds me that the long warm days will soon be replaced by long cold nights. And snow. Lots of snow.

 
Autumn also brings on feelings of bewilderment as to how the days managed to pass by in the twinkling of an eye. Wasn’t it only yesterday that the snow had finally melted away and the earth was bringing forth new life? Didn’t school just let out a few days ago? Why am I now seeing back to school sales in the stores? And wasn’t it just recently that I turned over the soil in the garden and planted the seeds and/or seedlings? Where did spring and summer go?

 
Autumn can also bring on feelings of regret for all the things we said we were going to do but didn’t. The friends not visited; the vacations not taken; the new hobbies not tried; etc. Once again, we let obligations, real or imagined, get in our way. Like thieves in the night, we’ve allowed them to steal time from us — time that should be spent enjoying all the warmth and joy that the spring and summer have to offer.

 
But even now, it’s not too late. Cold weather doesn’t start popping up until late September or early October. Bone-chilling cold doesn’t start coming around until November and the snow doesn’t start rearing its ugly head until late November or early December. There is still time to enjoy the warmth before it’s all over. So visit that friend. Throw that party. Take that vacation — even if it’s only for a weekend. And whether or not you planted a vegetable garden in the spring, you can also plant a fall vegetable garden. Those same cool season crops you planted in the spring, work equally well in the fall.

 
So do it now, while the days are warm and still somewhat long. Then you’ll have no time for bewilderment and regret, as it will be replaced by sweet memories that will keep you warm all winter long.

Your Cheese Ain’t The Rage If It Ain’t Got That Age

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What is this thing called cheese? Cheese can be defined as coagulated milk solids that have been drained, pressed and aged. A simple broad definition that barely scratches the surface, because cheese is so much more than that. And what makes it so is that last part of the definition — aged. It is aging that gives the product its flavor and character.
While most of the soft cheeses such as Cottage Cheese, Mascarpone, Neufchȃtel, etc. can be enjoyed immediately after making them and do not need to be aged, hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, etc. have to be aged to develop the flavor that makes them what we expect from, Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, and any other hard cheese. If they ain’t aged, then they’re not really cheese. They’re just compressed curd.
So how do we go about turning compressed curd into cheese.
To properly age cheese, it must be placed in a temperature and humidity controlled enclosure for a length of time. The ideal temperature and relative humidity for aging cheese is 45-60ºF and 75-95%, respectively. These conditions allow for optimum exchange of ripening gasses from the cheese (e.g. carbon dioxide and ammonia) with oxygen from the air, all of which is highly important for flavor development.
If your aging chamber is too cold, the cheese will not develop the proper amount of acid for a safe and flavorful product. If the temperature is too warm, then the cheese will develop a sharp and pungent flavor and/or undesirable microbial growth. If the humidity of the aging chamber is too high, then undesirable mold will grow on the cheese and it will have to be checked more frequently. If however, the room is too dry, then the cheese will shrink and crack.
So where do you find a place that meets the aforementioned temperature and humidity requirements? Many home basements will satisfy this requirement. If necessary, you can purchase a small humidifier or hang wet towels in the basement to control the humidity. You can also purchase a second hand refrigerator or a small dorm-sized refrigerator. Your regular kitchen refrigerator is usually too cold and dry for aging cheese, but with a second refrigerator, you can set the temperature where you need it and then place a small bowl of water or damp paper towels inside to raise the humidity. Lastly, you can purchase a wine cooler. These are specially designed for precise adjustment of temperature and humidity.

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How long should you age cheese? That depends on the cheese and how strong a flavor you want. Cheese can be aged for as short as a few days to as long as a few years. The longer a cheese is aged, the sharper and stronger is its flavor. The difference between a mild Cheddar and a sharp cheddar is simply the length of time which it is aged. Most hard cheeses should be aged for a minimum of sixty days. Some hard grating cheeses like Parmesan and Romano may be aged for years to develop a very strong flavor.

 
With an enclosure set at the proper temperature, you too can turn your compressed curd into flavorful, delicious, honest to goodness cheese!

Plant A Garden And Share A Harvest of Love

Garden in Heart

Plant a garden. Why bother? That’s a subject I’ve covered in previous newsletters. There are lots of good reasons to plant a garden – fresher and safer produce for you and your family; exercise and fresh air; better for the environment, etc. But there is yet another good reason for planting a vegetable garden – to extend all these wonderful benefits to the world around you.

Look around your neighborhood or town. Is there a poor family that barely gets by on meager earnings that doesn’t allow them the luxury of fresh fruits and vegetables? Has a family’s sole breadwinner recently lost their job and then beset with other challenges such as sudden illness, injury, natural disaster, etc. that put new pressure on their finances? Or maybe you just know some folks that for whatever reason are unable to grow their own garden. Well, why not share some of your bountiful harvest with them?

When you share your garden bounty with others, you are making a difference in other human beings’ lives in ways you may never be able to even imagine. For starters you are providing them with fresh and nutritious food. That’s a given. But you are also doing so much more. The simple act of sharing what you have with those who are hurting is a blessing that not only feeds bodies, but lifts spirits, wipes away tears, and forges bonds of friendship that can last a lifetime.

So don’t let that excess harvest go to waste. Share it with your neighborhood or even with your community or town. Because, my friends, your simple act of generosity is doing more than filling bellies. It is spreading love. And boy, do we need to be sharing more of that!

How To Grow A Lousy Garden

Yes, you read that right. The lousy garden. A patch of dry ground that is either completely bare or choked with weeds. Truly, the anti-nirvana of gardening. Its creation has always been a closely guarded secret. But for you, my loyal reader, I’m now going to reveal the secret tactics for growing and harvesting this bumper crop of nothing.

Use the soil as is – Heck, it’s good enough for the lawn, so it should be good enough for the vegetables. Why waste money and time with compost and fertilizer?

Give little thought to where you situate the garden – No sun? No problem!

Never water – My water bills are high enough. Why do I need to provide water for my garden? Don’t we get rain? Isn’t that enough? Now excuse me, I have to go water my lawn, because a green lawn is a happy lawn.

Never weed – Weeding is hard work! I don’t want to break a sweat. Besides, it’s the weekend. My tee time is at 9:00, and after that, I plan to spend the rest of the afternoon lying in my hammock and drinking a tall cool glass of lemonade.

Use lots of pesticide – Uh oh, there’s a bug on my tomato plant. I don’t know what it is, but it’s probably up to no good. I want it dead, so I’ll spray gallons of this stuff made of complex chemicals I can barely pronounce. Besides, the manufacturer says it’s safe, so I believe them. They wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. And who cares if I kill a few birds, bees, or fish? All that matters is that my plants are bug-free.

Just follow these simple instructions, and I absolutely promise you that you will have the garden of your nightmares.

But what if you want a garden that actually produces? Well, there are simple tactics for achieving that too. All you have to do is the opposite of all the above.

You’re welcome.