A Life Well Planted

Where you can grow your own health

Holistic Health Practitioner, Plant-Based Coach, Supplement Discounts, inspired by Anthony William

Neighborly Nuts


In the mid ‘80s, I worked for the telephone company in Connecticut as a sales representative. I traveled to different parts of the state canvassing small businesses to advertise in the yellow pages. The first time I was assigned to the rural northwest corner I immediately fell in love. I remember being particularly impressed with the beauty of the sky. At night there were more stars visible than I ever remembered seeing in our state.  By day, the sky was a clear, bright blue; it seemed closer to me, almost touchable, and the clouds seemed whiter and puffier. There were rolling hills, open fields, farms, lovely views, country stores! It felt like a place to call home and raise a family. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jamie’s cousin and lifelong friend was building his home in this enchanting area, in a lovely rural neighborhood within a tiny town called Morris. Jamie fell in love once he visited the area also, and soon after we bought a 2 acre lot; in 1987 we built our home adjacent to Bob’s property.

Almost ready to harvest.

During those early years Bob planted nut trees on his land and we planted fruit trees on ours. Once mature, Bob’s trees began producing beautiful annual harvests of chestnuts and black walnuts. He and his family didn’t take to gathering these gems each fall, so in later years he told Jamie to help himself. Gathering the chestnuts and walnuts has become a welcome addition to our harvesting routine, especially now, because sadly Bob suddenly passed July 2015. Now when Jamie and I gather these treats, we reminisce about Bob and the good times we shared while raising our families as next door neighbors. Our family and neighborhood suffered a loss, yet the seasons will continue to roll along, the nuts will still drop from the trees, and we will still gather like squirrels preparing for winter.



But the story doesn’t end there! My son, Kevin, has decided to start a permaculture farm in southern Maine. One of his cash crops will be chestnuts. So far he’s planted 25–30 trees that were germinated using chestnuts gathered from Bob’s trees.


Jamie’s fruit and nut picker is as old and sturdy as Bob’s trees

Part of one year’s bounty.

In the early spring of 2019 Kevin and Jamie planted four chestnut trees in our yard that were also started from Bob’s chestnuts.

Chestnuts are hidden inside of porcupine-like pods that are extremely prickly and sharp. Gloves are a requirement when handling; however, they are easy to break open revealing 2 or 3 chestnuts. Once harvested chestnuts need to cure for a few days at room temperature. This sweetens them up. During this phase it’s important to spread them out single layer so they fully dry to prevent molding. Afterwards, they must be kept refrigerated. 

Black walnuts are hidden inside of hulls that are smooth and easier to handle than chestnut’s prickly pods, but it’s hard to remove the hulls and requires a knife. Also, the hulls will stain your hands black; wearing gloves is advised when cutting into them. Once you break into the hulls, your work is only halfway done because cracking open the black walnut shells is also very difficult and requires a hammer or vice. Maybe these are some of the reasons why Bob and family didn’t care to gather their nuts. But if you enjoy fresh chestnuts and black walnuts it’s well worth the trouble!

Preserving the Taste of Summertime Tomatoes


If you’re like me, you only eat fresh tomatoes when they’re in-season, vine ripened, and just picked. Compare the bright flavor of summer tomatoes to the anemic taste of off-season, hothouse tomatoes and there’s no contest!

Want to preserve this incomparable summertime taste? Consider dehydrating them. Similar to when sun dried, dehydrated tomatoes contain an intense burst of flavor and color. If you grow your own garden I suggest planting extra grape tomatoes and/or cherries just for this purpose. If you don’t have your own bumper crop, see if a local farm or market will sell you them in quantity at a discount.

To preserve, simply cut in half and dehydrate at 135° until almost dry. I prefer to keep them a bit moist and store in the freezer. Dry completely if you prefer to store them in your pantry, otherwise they may grow mold. In either case, cool the dehydrated tomatoes completely before placing in glass mason jars with tight fitting lids. Try to fight the urge to eat these tasty jewels before they even make it to the pantry or freezer!

Although a bit pricy, Excalibur makes an excellent line of dehydrators. They even offer the option of stainless steel shelves. I upgraded to an Excalibur a few years ago and love that their models include a fan, timer, and adjustable thermostat.

Ready for the dehydrator after being seasoned with sea salt and oregano

Ready for the dehydrator after being seasoned with sea salt and oregano

 

Before the Excalibur, we used this Ronco for many years. It was bare bones, but with careful attention got the job done.

Before the Excalibur, we used this Ronco for many years. It was bare bones, but with careful attention got the job done.

Bursts of tomato flavor any time of year

Bursts of tomato flavor any time of year

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The Joy of Raspberries


Raspberries, like all berries, are packed with nutrients.

But, did you know they are super easy to grow?

Heritage raspberries

Heritage raspberries

A few years after we built our home, Jamie planted an everbearing variety called Heritage. Everbearing means they produce berries twice in the season. The Heritage plants produce berries on old canes in early summer and on new canes from August to frost.  Their round berries are small and delicate but have great color and flavor.  Now 20+ years later, our half dozen Heritage plants produce only a small crop because they're being crowded out by an unruly shrub on one side, and a vegetable garden on the other. I was enjoying a handful of these colorful jewels this morning, and it brought back memories of when the kids were young and we were teaching them the joys of berry picking.

About 10 years ago, Jamie became more serious about growing raspberries and decided to cultivate a more prolific variety called Caroline in a designated berry patch behind the greenhouse. Caroline is a vigorous everbearing variety which produces very large conical-shaped, flavorful berries. The bushes are sturdy as are the berries, meaning they don't easily break, wilt, or mildew like more delicate varieties. Jamie originally planted two 70 foot rows, but over the years the patch has more than doubled in size so now we have five 70 foot rows. How did this happen? Raspberry plants have an active root system. In the Spring new canes shoot up from their root systems; these canes grow into more bushes. This is why you should only plant raspberry bushes in an area that is conducive to them spreading. Each Spring Jamie digs up the new shoots and replants them in rows so the patch doesn't become unmanageable.

Caroline Raspberries - they grow over 6 feet tall! Bees are always buzzing and busy in our raspberry garden.

Caroline Raspberries - they grow over 6 feet tall! Bees are always buzzing and busy in our raspberry garden.

When in full production, the bushes gift us with 20 to 30 half pints each day for two months! That's a lot of berries and time spent picking!  But I'm so grateful Jamie planted, manages, and picks this incredible crop so we can enjoy the delicious and nutritious bounty. He spends many hours picking, and I contribute by spending many hours freezing them in single layer sheets, then packaging them using our FoodSaver vacuum sealer. I go countless times up and down, up and down the cellar stairs - from the kitchen to the stand up freezer while balancing trays and packages of berries. I put up enough to make daily smoothies for the year. Fortunately, raspberries (and blueberries) don't lose their nutritional qualities when frozen. I also make a batch of low-sugar jam every other season, so we never need to buy jam from the store. But the best is when we treat ourselves a few times each summer by making no-bake raspberry pies like the ones we ate many times at the Crossroads Restaurant while on vacation in Cobscook, Maine. It took me several tries to reproduce the recipe but it was well worth the effort! What we don’t eat or put up gets sold to New Morning Market, our amazing local Health Food Store.

In full production

In full production

Getting ready to make jam

Getting ready to make jam

I love my jam pot - I bought in online at Lee Valley Hardware.

I love my jam pot - I bought in online at Lee Valley Hardware.

Wait there's more! We also have a third variety called Purple Royalty growing in our greenhouse and spilling out onto the lawn, which Jamie manages by cutting them down with the mower. Jamie's beloved cousin and our prior neighbor, Bob, gave us Purple Royalty canes several years back and for whatever reason, Jamie planted them in the greenhouse.  They're wonderful berries and they are our connection to Bob, who's since passed. But they really shouldn't be in the greenhouse because they are growing wild in a corner and it takes work to keep them somewhat under control. Similar to Heritage, the berries are conical and very large, but they are even sweeter, although a bit more delicate.

Rope is strung on T posts to support the bushes as they grow tall and become heavy with berries.

Rope is strung on T posts to support the bushes as they grow tall and become heavy with berries.

Edible Flower Power

Not just a pretty face – nasturtiums contain nutrients, especially vitamin C and iron. They are easy to grow, lovely to behold, and have a unique peppery taste that's sure to spice up salads and other dishes. Consider planting them this summer - if you do, let me know what you think!

Edible Flowers Nasturtiums.jpg

How to Grow Garlic

Garlic planting day is one of my favorite days of the year; I love homegrown garlic THAT much!! It’s juicer with more flavor, and is sweeter with less bite compared to store bought. Besides adding flavor to dishes, garlic has many health benefits as well. Believe me when I say that we eat a lot of garlic. When I cook with it I go heavy handed and usually add 4 or 5 cloves to the pan. No one has ever complained that we smell like garlic, which is very surprising.

Growing garlic isn’t that difficult and doesn’t take up much space. Pests generally don’t bother this crop, so it’s easy to grow organically. I must warn you though, if you do chose to start growing your own, you'll never want to go back to store bought. I'm sure there are different planting routines depending on which grower you talk to.  Below is Jamie's easy 4-step process, and he has never had a crop failure or problem. It takes him around 4 hours to plant 360 cloves of garlic within 9 rows, each 20 feet long.

Mid-October is the usual time to plant garlic in Connecticut. This article in Mother Earth News states, "In fall, plant cloves in well-drained beds after the first frost has passed and the soil is cool. Cloves can also be planted in late winter as soon as the soil thaws, but fall-planted garlic produces bigger, better bulbs."

Jamie has had success growing both hardneck and softneck varieties in our Zone 5 (he has also grown elephant "garlic", which is technically a variety of leek).  However, for the past several years he's only planted hardneck varieties, which are the hardiest for cold weather zones. We buy our bulbs from a fellow in the area or from growers at the Garlic Festival held in Bethlehem each fall. If you don't have a Garlic Festival in your locale, you can order them online but be sure to look for garlic that was grown in your area or at least in your particular planting zone for best results. You can also grow the regular garlic that you get at the health food store or grocery store, but you probably won't find much variety and what they sell may not be right for your particular planting zone. Buying garlic from someone local is the best idea since it is already acclimated to your weather. We always buy organic garlic. Of course, if you grow enough and store it properly, you may have some leftover to replant for the following year.

Bulb refers to the whole head of garlic

Clove refers to the individual "toe"

HOW-TO

1.  SOAK THE BULBS

Jamie starts by mixing up a smelly concoction to soak the bulbs in:  2 quarts of water, 2+ capfuls of fish emulsion, and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Liquid kelp can be substituted for fish emulsion. Whether buying fish emulsion or liquid kelp, look for all natural, no chemical formulas. Jamie buys his from Garden's Alive. Soak the whole bulbs for an hour or more. Jamie always pre-soaks, but I know that there are also successful growers that skip this step

These are the starter garlic bulbs soaking in Jamie's "smelly concoction". Our stainless steel bucket has come in handy over the years for a variety of purpuses. KitKat seems to enjoy the aroma.

2.  PREPARE THE ROWS

While the starter bulbs are soaking, Jamie prepares his rows. First he shallow tills the area where he'll be planting, but if you don't have a tiller you can turn the soil over by hand. Jamie always uses a line strung around two posts to create straight rows. He also marks his rows with sticks or posts and labels them so he knows exactly what was planted.

Make the troughs 3" deep

Space the rows 8" to 12" apart

A note regarding soil:  Soil composition is a blog in and of itself and will be covered at a later time. I just want to make a couple of points regarding preparing the soil to plant garlic. Make sure the area drains well otherwise the roots may rot. To successfully grow nutritious food – the soil needs to be fertile and healthy. If you doubt the health of your soil, read up on the topic and make the appropriate adjustments. You may even want to have it tested. Jamie supplements his soil with our own compost, and sometimes Coast of Maine organic plant foods, as well as our neighbor's aged cow manure or aged chicken manure.

Each clove will grow into a new head of garlic.

3.  PLANT THE CLOVES

Push each clove into the soil so that it is 3" to 4" deep with the pointy end facing up; plant them 6" apart.

Jamie separates the cloves as he goes along.

4.  COVER THE ROWS

Jamie uses a rake to cover the rows with soil. Once all of the rows are planted he covers them with a thick layer of straw so they are insulated from the cold during the winter.

Covering the rows

So there you have it - Jamie’s 4 step process. Each season he plants around 300 cloves so that we have homegrown garlic most of the year.

Every single clove that Jamie plants faithfully comes up each year.

In early June the hardneck varieties of garlic will send up stalks from the center of the plant; these are called garlic scapes. They are thicker than the leaves. The scape, if left on the plant, will form a flower and then seed. We cut off the scapes so that the plant gets the signal to send all of it’s energy to the bulb, instead of putting energy toward flowers and seed. Scapes are a culinary delight and can be used for making pesto; they are also delicious grilled, added to soups, etc.

Scapes are an added benefit to growing Hardneck varieties of garlic.

Mild "elephant garlic", which is actually a type of leek.

After the garlic is harvested, we lay it outside to dry during the day, single layer on trays or tables. Then the stalks are cut off, and the bulbs are stored in baskets down in our crawl space - our makeshift root cellar.

 

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