An Ode to Soup

The weather has turned cooler and many of our dinners are turning to soups. We been enjoying a variety of soups both at home, dining out, and at friends’ homes. There is just something about fall and winter soups that warm not only the body but seems to warm the soul.

mister gardener has prepared some mighty tasty soups… always from scratch.  Last night it was butternut squash soup topped with homemade croutons and toasted pecans for a little contrast.

butternut soup 2018

mister gardener does the cooking and everyone in the fam agrees soups are what he does best. It’s comforting to hear him in the kitchen chopping those root vegetables into small pieces. His mother was his inspiration. I must admit that she taught him better than my mother taught me….although I loved 💕 my mother’s cooking.

Vegetable soup is probably my favorite of his soups cooked with garden fresh vegetables. In the summer, he can add tomatoes straight from the garden. In the winter it must be canned tomatoes.

vegetable soup 2018

Another of his most tasty soups is chicken noodle. Yes, he stews the entire chicken and, yes, he makes the noodles using the method his mother taught him when he was knee-high and standing on a chair at the kitchen counter. No pasta machine. He uses the old-fashioned cut-with-a-knife method and it’s the kind of egg noodle that melts in your mouth.

Homemade noodles 2018

Beef stew, corn chowder, ham and potato..all good. We eat a lot of potatoes in soups and otherwise, because he’s the cook and it’s how he ate growing up. I existed on more rice, hominy, breads for starches down south. I’m sure he ate healthier. Our southern eats seemed to be too much salt, sugar, and butter, something we siblings laugh about to this day!

Lately our book club is also feeling the call for soup like this delicious one chocked full of zucchini, mushrooms, sausage, tomatoes and tortellini topped with parmesan cheese…. a very Tuscan theme for the Italian book we just finished. Good job, Connie!

connie's soup 2018

Book club is here this month and I’m trying to think of a soup to compliment the classic book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that we all wanted to reread as adults.  The setting is the slums of Brooklyn, early twentieth century when food was way too scarce. Hmmmm…. If you’ve read the book and have menu ideas, please share!

Leaves work for me

 

We’ve already had a few hard frosts and freezes, lots of leaves 2018rain, a snow flurry, too, so the leaves are withering here in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. The wind has been howling and leaves that were the color of caramel and bright yellow just a few days ago are now all brown. They are being blown from trees in great clouds, twirling through the air and become snagged in shrubbery and across lawns. I don’t see many oak trees around the neighborhood but when I look out the window, it looks all oak on the lawn. We have a small-ish yard now so the leaf work is small-ish. I do feel bad for those who must remove truckloads of leaves from their property.

This year, our association has decided to forego leaf blowing. That’s good and bad. The company hired to do leaves 2018the annual job comes with powerful blowers and blow away every last leaf along with an inch of the topsoil and mulch from the gardens. After witnessing this the first year I lived here, I’ve instructed them to skip my borders! Just the front lawn, please!

As the second most forested state in the country, New Hampshire has a whole lot of leaves. Already we have great piles in our neighborhood with more to come. Piles of leaves left on lawns over the winter isn’t a good idea for grass. Some leaves are fine but the piles that I see from my window can create grass killing conditions. We’ll see what the association plans to do. It may be lawn mower mulching or it may be nothing, then tackle the problems it causes in the spring.

My mother didn’t remove all leaves but had the niftiest leaf Electric Leaf Shredder 2018shredder for fall lawn cleanup. The tiny mulched leaves were then returned to the earth. I wish I had one for excess leaves on the back lawn but I don’t. I rake them from the lawn. But I leave all that fills my borders unless I see signs of leaf disease. Where I have mulch is where the leaves remain… under shrubs and around perennials. Leaves serve as an insulator and return organic nutrients to the soil.

Maybe our gardens don’t look as pristine and clean as neatly blown borders but our leaves also provide a valuable habitat for insect species. There are butterfly caterpillars and eggs in there, and queen bumblebees, spiders, beetles and more.  In late spring, I remove some leaves after the bumblebees are active but sometimes I mulch right over the leaves.

It’s a very good thing!

Goodbye Summer

It’s still August but I’m learning just how short the growing season is in New Hampshire. Summer is fast shutting down. I don’t mean seeing preseason football on the telly or all those fall decorations I’m seeing in stores. It’s the plants and nature that are showing signs of ending their cycle of growth.

Our tomato plants look ratty but there are a few pink ones still hanging on. I’ve been picking the green tomatoes that are certain not to ripen. I’ve sliced, breaded, and fried them up in bacon fat as my southern roots dictate. If you’ve never tried this treat, you’d be surprised at how tasty it is. mister gardener, born and raised in Ohio, once turned his nose up at this delicacy but now can’t say not to this treat. I think we’ll be eating more as the month comes to a close.

fried green tomatoes

On a drive through Vermont last week, we noticed a few species of trees are beginning to show color. In our garden, our Little Lime hydrangea shrubs are entering the color phase of late summer and fall. The booms emerge green in the spring, turn white through the summer, and finally present a lovely blush of pink in the fall. It’s happening now and it’s beautiful.

Little Lime Hydrangea

The crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, and cicadas are sounding the calls of fall. It can get noisy out there this time of year. Spider webs are festooned across much of what grows in the garden… and with egg sacs full of little “Charlottes” ready to greet the world in the spring.

katydid

We’re seeing the birds begin to gather for their annual migration. Several of our male hummingbirds have already left. It seems early for migration but the number of males around the feeders are fewer.  We are keeping the nectar fresh for the females, the young, and those few that may wander through during migration. The nuisance around the nectar these days are the yellow jackets….. not a bee, but a pesky wasp that is drawn to sweets as the summer wanes.

yellow jacket

The sun is rising a little later and setting earlier these days bringing some refreshing cool nights. We’ve dragged out the down cover for those nights that drop into the  50’s.  I wish this time of the year lasted longer. It’s amazing to think the first frost in this part of the state can occur in less than an month!

garden gloves 2018

I love all the seasons but maybe not equally. I must admit I’ll be sad to put away my garden gloves for another long New England winter

 

 

A few of my favorite things…

This is officially the first full day of fall but I’m not ready to put the garden to sleep for the winter.  No way! Daylight hours will shorten but there’s plenty of garden left to enjoy on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. In fact, fall may be my favorite season. Late blooming flowers, shrubs at peak, and happier grass with cooler temps… all good.

Limelight hydrangea blooms have become a focal point, turning from spring green and summer white to shades of pink and burgundy. Aralia cordata”Sun King” is finally opening its spikes of snow white flowers, purple spikes of liriope muscari blooms attract the late season bees. There is wonderful texture in spent flowers, too… the clethra, the echinacea, the baptisia seed pods, the butterfly weed pods… all display lovely seed heads and the viburnum, juniper, and holly are displaying colorful berries that are being gobbled up by migrating birds. It’s a wonderful time of the year.

I’ve been working as usual around our small garden. With rains and morning dew, it’s a perfect time to overseed the lawn, and it’s time to divide grasses, day lilies, iris, plus a great time to transplant shrubs.  I’ve designed a new sweep of dwarf Russian sage that should become a sea of purple next summer. Finally bulbs that are on order from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs go in the ground in the coming weeks. Yes, I’m in the garden every day!

We all have our favorite garden tools. In my years of gardening, I’ve used a multitude of tools… some expensive, some not. I have a garage full of rakes, hoes, pitchforks, loppers, etc. but I thought it would be fun to share the tools I use daily for gardening these days.

Below are the shoes I use the most… an old LLBean pair… that stay in the garage. I have tried the rubber clogs and the British wellies but fall back to this pair every time. They were once indoor shoes, a lovely Christmas gift from a son many years ago. I think of him every time I slip them on.

Garden Shows

These micro-tip pruning snip from Fiskars are used daily for precision snipping to deadhead or to cut fresh flowers. They were recommended by a horticulturist who spoke to our Virginia master gardeners. I was immediately sold and bought one of the few he brought with him. One side is serrated and the other side a blade. They came with a sheath that clips onto my pocket or waistband. I’m never without them in the garden.

Fiskars

When I opened the Christmas gift (below) from my daughter, my first thought was “weapon.” I wondered if she thought I needed to cut sugar cane, but, no. She insisted this tool would replace several that I cart around the garden. Darn if she wasn’t right!

I’d never heard of a Japanese Hori-Hori knife but that master gardener daughter in Kentucky certainly had. It’s multi-purpose gardening tool that I use all the time. It’s great for popping up a dandilion, but it’s also great for planting small plants in the spring and bulbs in the fall. I can slice open bags of mulch, it easily divides plants, and I can rough up roots on pot-bound plants. It has a blade on one edge and a serrated edge on the other.  This tool I recommend to all gardeners!

Hori Hori Knife

Talk about tough gloves… these Atlas gloves wear like a second skin and the thick coating of Nitrile makes them stronger than rubber! Nitrile is also used in super glue and that says a lot. Just throw them in the washing machine and they clean up beautifully. I own a dozen pairs, a gift from another gardening daughter when I accepted employment at a local nursery. She knew best!

ATLAS NITRILE Gloves

I love a good sturdy bucket. It is a versatile tool for moving mulch and soil, grass seed, carting tools, collecting weeds and spent blooms, gathering flowers for arranging, and turn it over and it’s a stepping stool for reaching the bird feeder or deadheading tall blooms from the arbor. I bought two of these tough 8-quart horse buckets at a tack store at least 10 years ago and they are constantly in use.

IMG_1541

Finally, the magic shovel… it belonged to my mother, a dedicated gardener and gifted designer and horticulturist. The handle is worn smooth and even a little thin in places. It has a pointed tip, quite sharp, and becomes my tool of choice for edging, transplanting, turning soil or compost. There’s a tiny scar on the blade where it wore too thin. We found a welder nearby to “heal” the blade and it continues to work its magic.

Mother's Shovel

We all have favorite garden tools. Are there ones you couldn’t live without?

The American Beech

Last but not least in stunning fall yellows is the beech tree, perhaps my favorite tree of all. The maples have shed their leaves. Oaks are hanging on to drab leaves. Soon the forest will be owned by hemlock and white pine trees but now it’s all about the beech tree. This forest was aglow with shades of yellow as we trekked about 3 miles on beautiful trails.

White pines in the picture below grow through and tower above the slow-growing beech tree’s lemony fall canopy.

white-pine-and-beech

The leaves of beech trees are alternate with toothed margins and straight parallel veins on short stalks. The trunk in the background below is a white pine.

Beech leaves against white pine bark

The beech trunk is said to resemble an elephant’s leg with the smooth, thin, wrinkled light gray bark. What do you think?

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The leaves that fall and cover the ground are springy and odorless, thus the perfect filler for mattresses for early Americans and those in other countries.

“The leaves of the chestnut tree make very wholesome mattresses to lie on… [Beech leaves]… being gathered about their fall, and somewhat before they are much frost-bitten, afford the best and easiest mattresses in the world to lay under our quilts instead of straw; because, besides their tenderness and loose lying together, they continue sweet for seven or eight years long; before which time straw becomes musty and hard; they are thus used by divers persons of quality in Dauphine; and in Switzerland I have sometimes lain on them to my great refreshment…”
John Evelyn, Sylva: A discourse of forest-trees, 1670.

Beech Leaves

To see the massive old beech tree we left behind in Virginia, click HERE. Beneath the tree we recovered a wine bottle from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s and very large oyster shells discarded in a pit. It was fun to think the tree sheltered those folks at an early American oyster roast.

“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree…..”
– Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 1862

The Midas Touch

The peak of color has passed in our neck of the woods and life is inching closer to the dreaded leaf raking season.  For the first time since moving to New Hampshire, we did not follow the thousands of foliage watchers in the jammed motorcade to the mountains. Instead we traveled the seacoast area of New Hampshire and found the colors were magic right here. The only drawback locally is dealing with telephone poles, wires, billboards, fences, and especially a plethora of POLITICAL SIGNS that obstructed or took away from the full views.

Although our first hard rain has done a job on the leaves, it’s still common to spot a tree like this one that we passed by on our walk this week.

fall colors

The fading maples are giving way to later and less dramatic oak tree leaves that have already shed their acorns en masse like marbles across the landscape… causing one to be very cautious while treading on sidewalks, parking lots, etc. over which they spread their canopy.

The view from our living room faces a woodland where one of my favorite native small trees grows along the edge. It’s the native Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that turns an attractive apricot-yellow before dropping its leaves to reveal blossoms of pale yellow that hang like tassles from stems. I cut a few branches of tassels for a flower arranging workshop that I chaired last week and the effect in one arrangement was outstanding… adding height and texture and the right color for a pale yellow container.

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witch hazel

 

 

 

 

View of the Waterfront

Yesterday, our walk in light rain took us on the opposite side of the Squamscott River with the town of Exeter NH in the distance. This is the first time we’ve viewed the town from this vantage point and it looked beautiful to us on this fall day.

The tidal Squamscott River begins here, fed from the freshwater Exeter River and it runs 6.3 miles through rural areas and small towns to Great Bay, which connects to the Piscataqua River and, finally, the Atlantic Ocean.

Not prepared with umbrellas or raincoats, we were fully drenched by the time our walk ended but we kept our smiles. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to feel a raindrop and it was a very good thing….

Exeter NH

Hayride to the Pumpkin Patch

Climb aboard the wagon, find a good spot on a bale of hay, squeeze between your grandchildren, and let the tractor take you away…. over hills, through the cornfield, past the pond, beneath the murder of crows that were startled in the corn, to the tangled vines of a pumpkin patch…. acres of pumpkins and gourds.

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Two tractors and four wagon loads from our grandchildren’s preschool were ready for the bumpy expedition that twisted and turned through the fields.

hayride

Parents and grandparents, siblings and more, all armed with cameras and smart phones fanned out across fields to help youngster find the perfect pumpkin, all shapes, sizes and colors, and to capture that moment with a photo.

pumpkins!

Me included…

 perfect pumpkin

pumpkin

A perfect pumpkin for us and small enough for a little tyke to carry….

Room for all

Then the bumpy journey back up to Farmer Zach’s Farm to visit the cornfields in search of the best and most colorful ears of corn.

pumpkins

Ahhhh…. what an adventure!  Making fall memories with little people…

Cool Weather

I like Winter, Spring is Nice, Let’s Skip Summer, And do Fall Twice(Rusty Fischer)

Fall is my very favorite season. We have officially transitioned in New Hampshire. There is an invigorating crispness to the air so we’re wearing sweaters now, we sleep under down at night, it’s darker in the morning and in the evening, football is on the tube, leaves are changing, and it’s apple picking time!

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at our outdoor farmers’ market in Exeter, the 2nd largest in the state, where an abundance of fall crops, meats, sweets, meals, crafts and friendly faces greeted us. We didn’t have a shopping list but browsed from booth to booth stocking up on mostly vegetable goods but, oh, how to resist the flowers!

Exeter Farmers' Market 9/29/16

Browsing the booths with fall crops was a little like walking through a rainbow!

Click to see anything up close

That was yesterday. This morning I made the 4-mile drive to Applecrest Farms, New Hampshire’s oldest and largest apple orchard. They grow a variety of goods from peaches, berries, pumpkins and all the summer vegetables. A popular pastime is Pick-Your-Own. We’ve participated and ridden the wagon to the far fields for a variety of fruits.

Here is the ancient sign at Applecrest to help customers make good buying decisions. This week I’m making an apple crisp with cinnamon whipped cream topping so today I was seeking Macs, Courtland, Ida Red for cooking and Honey Crisp for eating.

Applecrest Farm

The Applecrest weekends are filled with autumn activities: music, Pick-Your-Own, hayrides, petting zoo, pie eating contests, fresh pressed cider, and fire roasted corn, sausage, dogs & burgers….. and a bit of clam chowder for me, please. On this Friday morning, they were abuzz setting up and getting ready. Mums..pumpkins…apples galore.

Oh yes, let’s do fall twice!

 

Autumn in New Hampshire

Orange pumpkins, colorful gourds, vibrant mums, and Indian corn at garden centers and roadside stands tell us that fall has officially arrived. Although today, September 23, marks the first day of fall, subtle signs have been all around us for weeks.

Click photos to enlarge.

Rolling Green Nurserygourds at Rolling Green Nursery The change of seasons seems to begin around the time of our Harvest Moon when days begin to shorten, nights become cooler, and frequent morning mists create crystal dew drops on spiderwebs and fading blooms in the garden.

Harvest MoonGrasses become the star of the late summer/fall garden. The inflorescences of various species of grasses, whether fuzzy or lacy, replace the fading flowers of summer.

grasses at Rolling Green NurseryFall seeds, such as this milkweed seedpod, ripen slowly. The milkweed pod opens late in the season and releases hundreds of seeds attached to fluffy white hairs that aid in dispersal by wind.

Milkweed Seed Pods at Rolling Green NurseryIn my garden, a volunteer sunflower from our bird feeder slowly changed from glorious to battered and faded, but it is busy producing small sunflower seeds.

The magical transformation of leaf color comes a bit later to the Seacoast of New Hampshire. But with the cooler nights, mild days, and intense blue skies, colors are beginning to be teased from the maples.

MapleThe biggest sign of fall so far, I spotted while working at Rolling Green Nursery. When is the last time you saw a handsome puppy fully outfitted in a lovely argyle  sweater (It’s a people sweater!) on a cool day? That’s the surest sign that Autumn has officially arrived.

JD in his argyle sweater at Rolling Green Nursery