Made Wassail and the House Smells of Apples, Cinnamon, Cloves and Cider

It’s a rainy day here in the Northeast. The chilly sort of weather that makes spending time in the kitchen a delight.

I finished preparations for my soon-to-arrive house guests early, so I thought I’d try a new wassail recipe for a project I’m working on. This evening, my guests will be my taste testers.

Wassail is an ancient spiced cider based beverage and associated with traditions of good health and camaraderie. 

I researched dozens of recipes, read up on the lore and began preparing my own version a few hours ago. It starts with baking apples in the oven, then simmering cider, citrus and spices on the stove. The last step is combining everything and letting the flavors meld. It smells wonderful. 

It is the perfect drink for a chilly day.

Wish you were here. I’d pour you a cup.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Early Signs of Spring in a Community Garden

strawberriesWho doesn’t love this time of year?

Everything is fresh and new and there is so much promise everywhere you look.

Even weeding feels good after a long winter away from the garden.

But don’t be tempted to plant tomatoes and peppers just yet in you live in a cold climate. It’s just too soon.  Wait a few more weeks until frost is no longer a danger. But you can plant lettuces, peas, spinach and other cold tolerant plants.

And if you just can’t wait, remember what Thomas Jefferson said: If you don’t lose a few plants each Spring, you planted too late.

He was motivated. Jefferson and his neighbors used to have a contest to see who could get fresh peas to the table first.  The winner held dinner and served, you guessed right, the early spring peas.

Quince: A Cherished Sign of Spring

Quince

It’s not surprising to find quince in gardens around older homes. There was a time when every household grew quince as the fruits are high in pectin and used to make preserves, jam and jellies.

Quince were also used in  recipes that called for apples or pears. And when cooked, quince turn a rosy color pink to ruby red.

The house I live in dates to the 1880s and has a magnificent quince in the garden. For me, it is the beauty of the blooms that make me cherish this shrub. The bloom color is a salmon pink and it is prolific and fragrant.

It is in its glory right now. A welcomed sign of Spring.

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American Community Gardening Association Column for Community Gardeners

My first column for the American Community Gardening Association was published today in ‘The Cultivator.”

It is my hope that a dialogue will begin among the thousands of ACGA members as we share our experiences.

I hope you enjoy it.

Natalieprtraitshot

Ask Natalie

At ACGA we recognize that the collective knowledge of our members is our greatest asset.

And we know from your emails that you have interest in everything from the ground up, including issues such as soil quality, raising funds, supporting volunteers and building community.

There are concerns about what vegetables to grow, food justice, water purity and gardeners looking for tips on what makes a community garden sustainable in terms of the people involved, volunteer support, cost and garden practices.

To this end, we are launching this community gardening column.  The goal is to support each other by providing tried and true experience on what works.

Community gardeners can email questions and each month we will address different concerns, show you images of what other community gardens are up to, share successes and sage advice.

As a team we are supporting not only our own community but the network of community gardens that are our members.  We collectively have knowledge and know-how based on years of experience from all our garden members from Key West to Canada and from coast to coast.

As an organization, we are experts on this subject and can help one another. Each of us brings something to the table.

I am a journalist, horticulturist, Master Gardener and community garden creator.  In the past two years, I have traveled more than 15,000 miles from Maine to Hawaii talking with garden directors about their experiences.  I learned so much.

In the coming year, I’m hoping to share what I learned with you. Just as I am hoping you will share your stories with me.  How did you get started? If you were to start over again, what would you do differently? What tips do you have to share? What challenges have you faced? What do you consider your garden’s greatest success? Do you compost? Do you have any tips?

Even tips you may think of as small can have a big impact. For example, watering plots during the summer can be an issue. One clever gardener I met suggested that anyone who wasn’t going to be to able to water stick a blue colored stake in their plot to indicate they were away and asked their neighbors water for them.  It was a huge help to the gardeners. And an asset as neighbors helping neighbors builds community, friendships and trust.

I look forward to sharing dozens of other tips and answering your questions. Send your emails to: Natalie.walsh@communiygarden.org and look for answers in our monthly newsletter.

The actress Helen Mirren wrote that gardening is about “learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning.”

This is an opportunity for us to learn from one another.

Thank you for sharing. I’m eager to hear from you.

Warmly,

Natalie Walsh, ACGA board member and an enthusiastic visitor of community gardens and orchards.

Community Orchards

I’m working on an article about community orchards. These are fruit or nut tree orchards grown as a community endeavor with participants sharing in the work and harvest, donating part of the harvest to others or selling produce locally. Often these orchards are part of a community garden, but not always.

The article will be published on the American Community Gardening Association website. I’m hoping to share what it takes to create and manage an orchard and include your personal experiences. As we know, there is a lot we can learn from one another.

Thank you, Natalie

Creating an Engaging Space for Gardeners at a home for High Risk Youth

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Yesterday I visited a residential home for at-risk youth 14 to 21 years of age in the New York’s Capital Region.

This is the garden’s third year and there is a lot of interest in growing food and flowers and in improving the soils.

Last year, a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers and herbs was popular. This year, residents will be choosing what they want to grow from a list that includes everything from carrots to strawberries.

Expansion Plans

At least four more raised beds measuring 4×8 will be added to the gardens which already have a total of 14 raised beds. The garden is in an urban area but backs up on a wild space where groundhogs, rabbits and squirrels make their homes. Unfortunately, they have found the garden.

At our meeting, the project’s overseers had questions.  Here’s what they asked, my answers and if you have any suggestions, please add your comments.

Groundhog

Location is everything. And, a very smart groundhog has taken up residence under the garden shed.  Literally, the groundhog lives a stone’s throw from the vegetable beds.

The best way to deal with wildlife is a good fence. I recommended a wire fence to keep groundhogs and rabbits out of the garden. Along the outside of the fence, plant garlic and onions to deter pests.

But it that fails and an animal is a nuisance causing damage, contact your local DEC office to see what can be done. Some animals can be relocated without a permit, others can not.   www.dec.ny.gov/about/558.html 

Adding Interest

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Echinacea is a good choice for a garden to attract bees and butterflies. It’s taproot, which means in can withstand drought and survive in hard, clay soils.

Right now, the garden only has raised beds, but there is space, potential and a strong desire to make it more engaging for the resident gardeners.

 

Here are a few ideas.

1 – A garden border that would attract butterflies and beneficial insects.  Milkweed, Echinacea and Rubeckia seeds were recommended because they are tough, spread easily and in the case of Echinacea and Rubeckia, drought tolerant. In other words, once established, this garden should need little care.

You could take it a step further, add more butterfly attracting plants and establish the garden as a monarch waystation.  For more information: https://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/

2 – A bird bath with a solar sprinkler to add to the delight of the garden, attract birds and add sound. The solar sprinklers are available online and cost under $20.

3 – Provide a shade retreat for residents and a comfortable place to hang out. Right now, the garden patio is concrete and in full sun most of the day, which means it is often too hot to enjoy.  A triangle sun shade sail would provide shade space to sit and relax and enjoy the garden. You can shop online and find several sizes and configurations.  They cost under $50.

Two corners of the triangle could be attached to the building. The third corner would need to be secured to a pole, which is an additional cost.

4 – A final possibility is a hummingbird feeder. I didn’t suggest a bird feeder because of the wildlife already visiting the garden. But a hummingbird feeder located outside a window might draw tiny visitors to the garden, and curious residents out to see them.

Any other ideas? Add them to the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Log of Magnificent Trees: Banyan Tree

The Banyan tree ignites the imagination and has for centuries.

It is easy to see why. It has multiple sinewy, strong, tail-like “trunks” that are actually aerial roots that drape to the ground, overlap and grow together in a mass.

It was commonly called the Dragon’s Tree because people thought the tree’s trunk resembled hanging dragon tails.

As you look at this tree you can easily imagine it as an awesome treehouse, a pirate’s hiding place, a wizard’s home or as the inspiration for a frightening tree that comes alive with a great branches entangling prey like a giant python.

For such a majestic monster, this tree begins life as an epiphyte, a plant that lives off another plant. The seeds lodge in a crevice of the host tree and take hold sending long roots down to the ground. In time, the roots engulf the host tree which dies, leaving a hollow columnar center that is the banyan tree’s core.

The aerial and surface roots mature into thick, woody trunks that spread and can resemble a cluster of trees, but are actually one.  The largest Banyan trees are in India, where it is native, and where it is regarded as sacred and the source of many medicines.

The name comes from a word meaning merchants as it was under the canopy of Banyan trees that Hindu merchants sold their wares.

Here in zone 10, the Banyan is a wonderful shade tree that is a delight to behold.

New Lake Worth School Garden Prepares for the Season

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My husband teases that if there’s a community garden anywhere in the country, I’ll find it.

I can’t deny that it certainly seems that way but I think Community Gardens find me!

Yesterday morning, we brought our bikes to the Lake Worth, Florida and rode in a beachside historic district known for its very sweet and petite cottages. The entire neighborhood is one charming little house after another, some with pretty gardens, picket fences or sculptural banyan trees.

While we were exploring, I spotted a community garden buzzing with activity.  It’s planting time in zone 10 and the gardeners and helpers were busy in this revitalized garden located across the street from a school.

Lori Vincent, Managing Director of Aurora’s Voice, which provides opportunities for underserved youth, is lending support to the project which they hope will provide job training, business experience and give students hands-on gardening time to grow nourishing food.

Vincent, who has gotten other community gardens off the ground, said there is a real need in this community where 85% of public school students live below the poverty line.

Of course I shared information with them about the online resources for starting and organizing community gardens at the American Community Gardening Association website.

The new school garden is looking for volunteers and supporters. Jason Clements, head gardener, has many good ideas and if anyone in the area wants to lend their support, this would be a great place to be hands on.

You can get in touch with the garden organizers by emailing: Lori@aurorasvoice.org