Monday, October 31, 2011

last night the rain came

Three days in a row the mercury edged toward 30 and we turned the ceiling fans on for the first time this season. We drank iced coffee. Pulled the blinds down. Shuttered the light out.

Then it rained.

Rain turns everything around. One minute it can be so hot I want to do nothing but throw myself on the couch and then the sky darkens, the wind swings around. Bad mood changes to good mood and I feel like a thirsty plant revived.

Outside the garden is rain washed. New mown only a week ago the grass comes over my boot tops today. I look around for small jobs. I want to be doing. I want to grub around in the dirt. I want to kneel – to tend seedlings tenderly – to have the damp sod soak through my trews at knees.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

starting seeds

Something besides good soil and seed is living in the mini greenhouse. 

My seed starter is a common piece of garden equipment available at any hardware or nursery but it is also as precious as a church. It is a humble relation of the fern cases beloved by the Edwardians. An even earlier incarnation was used by Cook to travel exotics from the New World to the Old. I love its venerable pedigree although mine is three plastic parts shipped in quantity from China. Every season I clean it and fill it and sow seed with a renewed mix of respect, hope and impatience. I write out labels with a waterproof pen. I check the whole business daily. 

Once a seed shucks its hard coat and shows the first tender shoot there are adjustments to be made. Sometimes I open one vent and leave the other be. Sometimes I travel the whole box into the sun. Fussing over it today I notice a deal of damage. Something has breached the security of the closely fitted lid. It is something that likes the young leaves of several sorts of bean. I dismantle the whole thing. There are three snails and a millipede in the water reservoir. They are well fed and slothful looking when uncovered. They are evicted. My hopes for an early crop are dashed but at this stage of spring I am willing to start over.

I clean out the seed tray – fill it with fresh soil. I poke a finger into each compartment and drop in purple podded peas and ying yang beans – the broad beans have survived albeit with slug-cropped leaves but they will do. The miniature cucumbers never showed up. M has rattlesnake, soy and scarlets runners in his hot house and is ready to set them out. It’s not officially a race between us but we are fierce about our babies. So far I have French breakfast radishes to thin and a good supply of table greens. Like I say it is not a contest….

Monday, October 24, 2011

after winter I feel hungry for greens

There is such an intense pleasure in eating fresh picked leaves. Nothing older is as bright in flavour. Nothing younger exists! And nothing marries so well with a sweet-sharp dressing. There are as many salad dressings as there are pages in the telephone directory. This one I toss through greens on an almost daily basis - with subtle variations of course. I favour a lug of good olive oil – a little less if you use walnut, an equal measure of raspberry vinegar, a teaspoon of honey – we are using our friend Gillie’s from his riverbank garden at the moment. Add a half teaspoon of grainy mustard, a pinch of salt and stir like crazy. Sometimes I rub the salad bowl with a clove of cut garlic, sometimes I let it be. I arrange the leaves for their beauty, favouring some red amongst the green and some bitter with the sweet. I line the bowl with the largest leaves.I like a base of something buttery like oakleaf or something crisp like cos - next a bitter like arugula or nasturtium. I toss in mizuna or mustard leaves, sometimes baby sorrel or young violet leaves. Then I want herbs. Lemon thyme or variegated oregano – a head of chive flowers picked, radish or broccoli sprouts, a handful of walnuts toasted in walnut oil and cooled. For luxury I cube the flesh of a ripe avocado. Dress the greens just before dinner – like a guest descending the stairs just ahead of the gong.