early summer

garden in early May, all planted up and freshly mowed

garden in early May, all planted up and more or less mowed

Writing this towards the end of May, which is probably still Spring for some people, but I’ve harvested my first batch of strawberries. Where I come from that’s a summer activity, as are temperatures in the high 80s and the fact that School is out. Yes!


first fruits

Here are the strawberries in question. These must be an Alpine variety. I wasn’t really paying attention when I bought them: just grabbed up the four strawberry plants waiting for a new home outside the Duke Gardens shop and made them a new bed. The fruit is ovoid, not overly large and has that distinctive Alpine flavour. Really good with locally made ice cream from Maple View Farm!

My other new fruit ventures are moving along nicely, although please feel free to skip this paragraph if you find fruit bush updates boring. Blueberries are forming, which is great but puzzling, since the label told me I needed two different varieties of blueberry for cross-pollenation or the fruit wouldn’t set. Well, the second variety I bought are still tiny bushes, twigs really, not a flower in sight. Hm. Not that I’m complaining. Raspberries are small, hard and green as yet, as you’d expect; rhubarb is looking healthy. Skinny but healthy. I’ve harvested a small fistful of wonderberries too, which I’ve frozen until I have critical mass enough for jam. People have been wondering what they taste like. Well, the one I tried was okay. Not amazing. Perhaps I need to let them ripen further. They’re supposed to be a dull not a shiny black apparently, so I’ll double check with the next ones that they are looking dull. Oh and the fig tree surprised me a couple of weeks ago by growing back. Really thought I’d lost it, to the extent that I was about to dig it out and use the space for tomatillos or something. So glad I didn’t!

Peppers. Let’s just stop a moment and think about peppers, because I am rubbish at growing them. I can mostly get them to germinate, but then they take ages to grow. In the time it takes a tomatillo to be bursting out of its pot with a load of flowers on it already, begging to be planted out (this was true by mid April), my pepper seedlings have barely managed four leaves. So I gave them longer, allowed them to dehydrate between waterings to encourage their root ball to develop. A couple of them vaguely responded to that by popping out another leaf. I called time on them a couple of weeks ago and put them in the raised bed with the arugula. They were supposed to have the whole bed, but you can’t argue with arugula once it establishes itself. Four frying pepper and a couple of thai pepper plants. Three plants were still there a week later, although one of them seems to have shed all its leaves. I’ll see how they do, but I think, officially, this is the last year I attempt to grow peppers from seed. Next year I buy starts. Hold me to that.

Sage. Or Salvia. I now have four varieties: ordinary, pineapple, scarlet and meadow. I need to find uses for sage… Other than just wandering up to the pineapple sage and stroking it.

And finally, a recipe. Pesto with garlic scapes and arugula (rocket for those Brit-side).

When you find a recipe as part of a blog, there’s always a little preliminary story about it. I can’t decide whether I find that endearing or annoying (just tell me the recipe already!!), but here I am falling into the trap. Because there’s a history to the garlic I’m growing. It started out life as some old cloves lost and forgotten in the bottom of my fridge. I noticed (I’m sure it was already winter) that they had sprouted, and just decided to stick them in the ground. If they liked it in the fridge, they’d surely love winter in North Carolina. There were several cloves at that point. Most of them sprouted; three hung on in there. Last weekend I noticed long bud stalks on them, curling like flamingo necks. Bizarre and pretty. I took a picture for Instagram, but what was I supposed to do? Let them mature?

The Instagram community pitched in with advice, and so I found myself going back to the garden a couple of days later and picking what I now know to be called scapes. I thought my ignorance of all things scape was just a freak accident of me looking the wrong way all my life. But then I sent a picture of said scapes (see below) to my parents who have gardened all their lives, and their parents before them, and they said, “What on earth are they?” In fact they dropped everything to FaceTime me immediately and ask what I was holding in my fist with the rocket. So, maybe we just don’t grow this kind of garlic in the North of England.

fistful of arugula and garlic scapes

fistful of arugula and garlic scapes

Enough of the story, here’s how I made the pesto.

Ingredients: A good handful of arugula, roughly chopped; 2 scapes (which is all I had), chopped; scant 1/4 cup of pine nuts; about 1/3 cup of olive oil; zest and juice of 1/2 lemon; salt and pepper to taste; at least 1/4 cup of grated parmesan; about 1/2 lb penne pasta or similar.

Method: Toast the pine nuts first over a low heat in a dry pan if you want to (I don’t always bother). Throw all the other ingredients into a blender and pulse until nicely pulverized. Remove from the blender and mix in the grated parmesan. (If you plan to freeze the pesto, don’t add the cheese.) Meanwhile, cook your favourite pasta (I think with pesto you are supposed to eat penne-type pasta shapes, but if you aren’t Italian, just go with the shape that makes you happy). Toss pesto sauce with pasta and enjoy! Add extra cheese, I would. And pour yourself some prosecco. Everything goes with prosecco.

Serves 2.


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By North Carolina standards, it’s been a long cold winter, but I think Spring might finally be here. The first hints of it (a month later than usual) were the daffodils, in full bloom by March 10:

mid-March daffs

mid-March daffs

Since then, everything has started to green up. First leaf buds are on the trees now; redbud is in flower, and we have dogwood blossom, flowering quince. The grass is looking lush. It will never look better: give it a couple of weeks and all the invasives will have taken over.

The seedlings (follow them on Instagram!), all hatched and nurtured in my basement potting “shed”, are ready for the most part: three different kinds of tomato, basil, mustard, nasturtium, scarlet sage and ordinary sage, tomatillos, frying peppers and Thai peppers, wonderberries, wild strawberries, calendula, blanket flowers…. The peppers seem way too small as yet, and the wild strawberries are still tiny, but the tomatoes, nasturtium,  calendula and blanket flowers want out there. I’ve started to give some plants away to friends. Wrenching moment, but I know I have too many of some things, not enough garden bed for everything. (Where the hell am I going to put the wonderberries??!)

Because there have been a few developments in the last week or two. The forest garden is turning into a forest fruit garden! I bought some blueberry bushes and raspberry canes a week ago and got around to planting them over this past weekend. Here’s a view of the garden showing most of the beds. All those tall greens that look like grass are actually wild onions!

the state of the beds, early April 2014

the state of the beds, early April 2014

From front to back, you can see garlic, rows of perennial onions (going strong from the Turkeysong gift!) and on the other side of the cement blocks arugula/rocket hanging on in there by sheer force of will (I thought they were done weeks ago). In the next bed, small blueberry plants are on the left; catmint, peppermint and rhubarb on the right. Behind them, sticking up all green are the raspberry canes, and to their right strawberries (planted last November). Then at the back, in the hugelbeet, the two slightly more mature blueberry bushes I bought at Wholefoods. There is a new bed in preparation for tomatoes and basil, and an extension (also in preparation) to the bee garden flower bed for the tomatillos. Peppers are going to go where the rocket is now, and to the left of the garlic and onions is quite a large space which I think I’ll use for three sisters planting.

But where will I put the wonderberries? In the forest? I walked the trail yesterday (Sunday), hoping to spot morels. No luck. But on the trail itself were these wildflowers:

sweet wildflowers on the trail

sweet wildflowers on the trail

ID pending… Suggestions are starting to come in, but I think I’ve nailed the ID (as of 2:30 PM Tuesday April 8): Claytonia Virginica, Eastern Spring Beauty. I’m going for this rather than Claytonia Caroliniana (despite where I found them) because the latter have much more marked pink stripes on their petals, and are often pinker. I love the fact that another name for these is Fairy Spud!

And here to finish is a shot I took of one of the creeks towards the end of February, when I thought winter might have been ending. Any other year and I’d have been (nearly) right.

beautiful creek!

beautiful creek!



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late(?) winter

Delinquent blogger returns… The plan is to update the blog this year at least every season. Because stuff is happening! The garden is expanding slowly, both inside the deer-fenced area and out of it: two new beds will be ready to plant this year, and I’m expanding the flower/herb bed too. And outside the fence, I’m starting to prepare some ground for fruit trees!

What’s in the Ground?

Today I put in some onions,  the same stock that came from TurkeySong homestead about a year ago. They are in a bed near garlic, which is doing okay, and some experimental fingerling potatoes that are probably not okay. We’ll see. The plants still going strong, despite the long, bitter winter we’re experiencing, include: the mints (nothing can deter cat mint, it seems); the strawberries I planted in late autumn, and I think the lemon balm is coming through again. Something has been eating the little fig tree, though (something bigger than crickets), so I’ve given it one of the vegetable cages. Really hope it pulls through.

Otherwise everything looks very brown and drab. With the vegetation so low, this is the time of year when old bits of trash seem to surface. Old plastic bottles catch the eye, and glass bottles too in archaic shapes and shades. And bits of rusted metal. After I’d messed about in the garden for a bit, and despite the fact that I’m quite tired at the moment and wasn’t planning to do anything too strenuous, I glanced over the rest of the homestead site and realized it needed some help. There were (and still are, despite today’s efforts) so many fallen branches. I cleared as many of them as I could, imagining the many camp fires all that wood will fuel in months to come. Once I’d started clearing the natural debris, all the man-made stuff started to stick out as well. The old wooden buildings that are slowly (too slowly) decaying. But also plastic and glass bottles that are still turning up, despite the bags and bags of trash I hauled away in the first year of owning the land. Today I hauled away another big bag of trash, mostly plastic items, from the homestead area but also from beside the trail.

The photo below was taken after I’d cleared away most of the fallen branches from around the Old Man. For the moment I’m piling them up in a heap you can see in the middle ground of the picture. If they were a bit more substantial, I’d use them to make fences. But I suppose if they were a bit more substantial, I wouldn’t be able to drag them anywhere.


faded winter colours

And here’s one final shot that seems to promise spring is on the way. After the derecho last summer had blown down lots of trees on the property and huge numbers of branches, I had to clear myself a path from the trail to the homestead site. I pushed a load of fallen debris to the side of the trail, but when I visited the land about a month ago, I realized that I had piled it all up over the spot where daffodils come up every spring. So I shifted all that and enjoyed the results today. The daffodils are up! This time last year they were already in bloom, which just shows how long and cold a winter we are having.


daffodils on the way

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