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Tower of (potato) power. April 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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Our friend Ben is not referring to that weird home-science project where you stick electrodes into a potato and generate charge, but rather to a potato-growing experiment we’ve launched in the backyard here at Hawk’s Haven this year: growing potatoes in a bin rather than a bed. Since so much of our property is shaded, we only have three raised beds for veggie growing here (if you don’t count the in-ground bed in the greenhouse). One of those three beds is reserved for perennial vegetables—asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, and comfrey—so as you can imagine, space in the other two is at a premium. Still, our friend Ben cannot resist the pleasure of growing potatoes.

Mind you, we get plenty of potatoes every year from our CSA (organic subscription farm), and we have access to three wonderful farmers’ markets to supply any shortfalls. It’s not like we have to grow potatoes. But they’re one of the easiest, most fun crops you can grow. I love growing them. How to have my potatoes and my bed space, too?

This year, our friend Ben decided to see if the answer is a potato growing bin.* As it happens, we have one of these contraptions folded up in our toolshed. We bought it years ago from Gardener’s Supply Company (www.gardeners.com), and it’s been languishing in the shed ever since. I checked the website to see if Gardener’s Supply still offers these, and the answer is yes and no. They do offer a potato growing “bin,” but it’s basically a big landscape-cloth pot, as opposed to ours, which is a huge black open-ended cylinder punched with so many 1-inch holes it resembles blackened Swiss cheese. Our cylinder is made of extremely durable black plastic and is screwed together down one side. When set up, it’s at least 3 feet wide and perhaps 4 feet tall.

Our friend Ben carted this contraption out to the back of the property and set it up midway between one of our growing beds and our three-bin pallet compost system. (To get the full picture of this farthest property line, you’ll have to also picture two pear trees, a peach tree, two grape arbors, one with a bench beneath, two apple trees, and an enormous shagbark hickory with a bat house on one side, as well as the compost bins and veggie bed. That’s some lineup! Behind it all are farm fields and, ultimately, cows: borrowed scenery.)

I used a very tall stake to stabilize the cylinder, pounding it into the ground just inside the back wall, then added a thick layer of straw. On top of the straw I placed a thin layer of soil, then laid out my ‘Yukon Gold’ seed potatoes, sprout-side up (planting late meant that the eyes had already produced short, fat sprouts), and covered them with more soil, then finally a thin layer of straw, watering the whole thing well.

The top half of the bin is currently empty. My plan is to continue to to alternate layers of soil and/or compost and straw as the potatoes send shoots up through the existing layers, leaving only an inch or two of top growth visible at any time. That’s because, just as tomatoes will continue to root all along buried stems to create stronger plants, potatoes will produce tubers from the buried portions of stem.

Once the potato shoots have reached the top of the bin, our friend Ben plans to let them grow and flower as much as they like in the open air. Then, once frost strikes and kills the tops, I’ll lift off the bin and paw through the soil and straw to reveal, I hope, a bunch of comparatively clean, injury-free potatoes. Then the soil and straw from the potato bin can go onto one of the veggie beds or into the compost bins.

Will this actually work? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ve read so much conflicting advice that at this point my head is spinning: straw is good, straw is bad, ‘Yukon Gold’ is a great potato to use in this sort of setup, ‘Yukon Gold’ is a disaster in a bin setup. Shriek! The one consistent piece of advice is that potatoes need steady, uniform watering to do well in a bin setup. The thought of staggering back there with my gallon milk jugs of water numerous times a week is already making our friend Ben feel exhausted, but it’s all for a worthy cause. And if worse comes to worst, we’ll still have our potatoes from the CSA and farmers’ markets.

Stay tuned.

* As an aside, our friend Ben is very glad that I’m not called on to read this post aloud. In my native Southern dialect, “Ben” and “bin” are pronounced the same way—“bin”—which could be very confusing. And in an attempt to refrain from doing this, I’m all too likely to end up pronouncing them both “ben.” This has always driven me crazy when reciting Yeats’s wonderful poem “Easter 1916,” in which the words “minute,” “moor-hen,” “within,” and “hen” follow each other repeatedly and swiftly in a dance almost certain to trip up the Southern tongue.


The first pet cats and dogs? April 29, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I realize I’m five years late with this post, but that’s because I was just made aware of this discovery by our friend Sarah this morning (thanks, Sarah!). According to an article on the National Geographic website (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/), a burial on Cyprus predates the whole Ancient Egypt-cat thing by almost 8,000 years. The article, titled “Oldest Known Pet Cat? 9,500-Year-Old Burial Found on Cyprus,” relates how archaeologists unearthed a 9,500-year-old human grave that contained, among other prized possessions including polished stones and shells, a perfectly preserved cat. It’s thought that this is the earliest evidence to date of domesticated cats.

It’s lovely to think that cats have been our constant companions for almost 10,000 years. But dogs still retain the title of “man’s best friend.” According to the article, pet dogs and puppies have been found in human graves in Israel dating back 12,000 years.

Or let’s say 12,005 years; the article is dated April 8, 2004. But in case, like me, you managed to miss it, at least now you can say that you’ve caught up with the last 12,000 years of pet history!

         ‘Til next time,


Anticipation. April 29, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Spring is typically a time of anticipation. Our fellow garden bloggers are anticipating all kinds of wonderful things—a new home or deck, a potager or chicken coop, new lambs or kids, the arrival of the first hummingbird, the unfurling of beautiful leaves and flowers as their gardens return to life, new vegetable beds and the appearance of those tiny, precious seedlings from the sea of fresh-dug soil. It’s a delight to read blog posts and revel in the excitement and inspiring photos.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are experiencing a different sort of aniticipation here at Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. That’s because it finally got warm enough to reestablish our container water gardens this past weekend. We’d had them both filled with water for weeks so it could warm up, and had put the piece of clay pipe horizontally in the bottom of the deeper container so our fish would have a “tunnel” to hide in if they needed to escape from predators. We’d already put the oxygenator plant anacharis in the water, too (it grows like a weed in our indoor aquaria so we always have plenty to spare for our outdoor water gardens). It was going to be a hundred-degree weekend. It was time to get going.

So last Sunday, Silence and I trekked over to Aquatic Concepts and came back with three goldfish, six snails, a water lettuce, a water hyacinth, a variegated papyrus, a variegated cattail, and a pink-flowered arrowhead. Mind you, we already had water hyacinths, water lettuce, and papyrus overwintering in the container water garden in our greenhouse, so we’d assumed we were in great shape until a power failure occurred one frigid winter night and, by the time we woke up, the plants had departed for that big pond in the sky. Back to the drawing board.

Once home, we divided the plants and snails between the deep and shallow container gardens and floated the goldfish bag in the deep container until the water temperatures equalized, then released the goldfish into their new home. And here’s where the anticipation comes in.

For the past several years, we’ve had a raccoon come through here for a couple of weeks in the spring and a couple in the fall. It apparently considers Hawk’s Haven like a motel stop en route to wherever it’s ultimately going. While it’s here, it pulls down our tube feeders and eats the birdseed, empties the outdoor cats’ food dish, and fishes in our water gardens for goldfish and snails. (See our earlier post “Raccoon 1, gardeners 0” for more on this.) We have seen it at the cat-food dish and it is big. And it seems to have an unerring insinct as to when to arrive, since it inevitably appears about the second we’ve planted the water gardens.

Well, we’ve made it to Wednesday without an attack. (You can always tell because some plants are shredded and the water’s all muddy, even if you don’t see partially consumed fish floating on top or hurled to the ground nearby.) As always, we’re hard-pressed not to hope that this year we and our goldfish will be spared. But we once again bought inexpensive goldfish, having learned from bitter experience not to pay for the premium specimens early in the season. And now… anticipation. It’s making us late, it’s keeping us waiting.  And not in a good way.

Giving pirates a bad name. April 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we love pirates and all things piratical. Every year, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood head down to the North Carolina coast, home of that most famous of all pirates, Blackbeard. We fly the skull and crossbones in our backyard, and our little red VW Golf, the Red Rogue, not only sports a pirate fish on the back but a sticker that simply says “AAAARRRGGGHHH.” Last May, we collaborated with our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders to create an entire week of piratical posts, two of which, “The best pirate movies” and “Food fit for a pirate,” continue to be among our most-viewed posts and are both climbing towards 2,000 views.

WordPress hosts our blog, and one of its many wonderful features is that it shows us our top ten posts and how many hits they’ve each gotten. The two pirate-themed posts continued their upward climb on the list until, last week, a funny thing happened: They disappeared. They’re still on the blog, people are still reading them, but they vanished from our most-viewed list, replaced by two other posts with fewer hits. What the bleep?!

Our friend Ben had to wonder if political correctness was at work, given the real-time atrocities being committed by the Somali pirates. Certainly, their behavior has been putting a damper on us. We had planned to have “Pirate Week II” on the blog this May, but were agonizing about whether that would be appallingly insensitive. We even wondered what impact the whole international incident would have on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. So I was delighted to see an article addressing this in the Wall Street Journal. I quote:

“Mark Summers [cofounder of the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day] has a beef with the pirates who are seizing cargo ships and taking hostages off the coast of Somalia: They’re ruining his bad name. For years, Mr. Summers has been donning frock coats and plumed hats… His alter ego symbolizes a spirit of freedom, he says: the romance of the open sea, self-reliance, defiance and loads of jolly good fun with a barrel (or two) of rum. At least, it did until real pirates had to come along and wreck it all.”

Our friend Ben’s feeling exactly. I commend the article to your attention (www.WSJ.com); it’s actually hysterical, especially the comments from the director of public relations for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And who knew there was a flourishing subculture of pirate reenactors with their own newsletter, No Quarter Given? Not our friend Ben. But I guess it was inevitable.

The fact that the Somali pirates are teenagers makes our friend Ben wonder how old the pirates were back in the Golden Age of Piracy (roughly 1660-1730). Perhaps we’ll make that the subject of a future Pirate Week post. Until then, we can only say “Aaaaarrrrrrr!!!”

Frugal living tip #17. April 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another frugal living tip here at Poor Richard’s Almanac! Today’s tip was inspired by a post over at Tomato Casual (www.tomatocasual.com) that mentioned a chocolate cake recipe that used green (as in unripe, not as in heirlooms like ‘Green Zebra’) tomatoes.

I’m a big believer in using what you have, and especially if using what you have means your ingredients are essentially free as opposed to costing big bucks at the store. Being a vegetarian, I’m an old hand at substitutions, converting recipes with meat into equally delicious vegetarian fare. But you certainly don’t have to be a vegetarian to put this money-saving practice to good use!

Suppose, like me, you home-can applesauce, or you have a jar or two of applesauce sitting around on a shelf. Rather than using oil in your zucchini or pumpkin bread recipes, or, say, in your spice or even chocolate cake, you can substitute your applesauce and save the oil for sauteeing. You’ll get a moist bread or cake and save calories as well as money. (I’ve heard of adding tomato sauce and even Coke to cakes as well, should you have some lying around. Green tomatoes seem like a natural by comparison, and it’s another way to use up produce that might otherwise go to waste.)

Here are some other examples of how substitutions can save you money without sacrificing flavor. As in the case of applesauce, they often are lower in calories and better for you, too:

 Try low-cal chips. Craving a dip but out of chips? Try crunchy Romaine lettuce leaves instead. If you grow your own, you’ll have “free” chips with almost no calories, yet you’ll still get a really satisfying crunch, plus the flavor hit of the dip. I’m a white-tortilla-chip addict, but I’ve found that I enjoy my Romaine “chips” just as much, and if I use a really crunchy lettuce, I can even make a taco salad without the taco and still feel satisfied.

* Go for the zuke. Use grated zucchini to thicken dishes that normally use beef. Unless it’s in zucchini bread, I generally hate zucchini, with its mealy texture and lack of flavor. But I’ve found that it makes a great thickener. I use zucchini to add a lot of body and thickness to meatless spaghetti sauce and chili; you could replace part of the ground beef in either with zucchini for a fraction of the cost (or nothing, if you’re growing it).

* Make your own cream cheese. If you make your own yogurt (or happen to have plain yogurt sitting around), it’s so easy to make your own yogurt cheese. For some reason, the sour tang that characterizes yogurt seems to drain away with the whey (give the whey to your cats, dog, or chickens, who will all love it, or use it instead of water in any recipe), and the result is a smooth, creamy cheese. I have a yogurt drainer for this purpose: I pour plain yogurt in the mesh top, the whey drains into the bottom of the container, and voila! I use the creamy yogurt cheese instead of cream cheese or sour cream in dips and dishes. No yogurt drainer? Pour the yogurt into a cheesecloth bag and let it drain, or into a mesh strainer suspended over a bowl.

* Make kitchen-sink soup. Soup is the most forgiving of foods. You can toss in pretty much anything you have on hand and, as long as you add some herbs and a little fat (either from meat or oil), it will probably be good. Soup is a great way to use up the last of the rice, pasta, ketchup, greens, green onions, chicken, you name it. You look in your crisper drawer and see one carrot, two wilted stalks of celery, a dozen mushrooms, an onion you can’t even remember buying? There are two new potatoes left in the bag, way too few to feed your family? Yow, there’s still a slice of breakfast bacon or some leftover roast beef? Is that some rice you put in a plastic container because you couldn’t stand to throw it out? Or how about that extra spoonful of tomato paste or pesto or whatever that was left after your last recipe, the end of the salad dressing or hot sauce or marinade or barbecue sauce bottle? The last spoonful of cheese in your shredded cheese bag? It’s just amazing how the dregs of practically anything can come together to make great soup. The key is this: long, slow cooking; some fat or oil, herbs and/or spices, and ingredients to give the soup body. Thin, watery, flavorless soup is pathetic. Rich, thick, flavorful “kitchen sink” soup is marvelous, and you can almost always make it with stuff you already have.

Or kitchen-sink pasta. Whoa, almost forgot to extol the delights of leftovers or dribs and drabs on pasta. Pasta is both adaptable and forgiving, accepting both leftovers and almost used-up ingredients with grace. Say you have a cup of lentil stew, beef stew, dal, or stir-fry (chicken,veggie, seafood, beef, or pork) sitting in the fridge. Cook some fettucine or thick spaghetti or whatever you have on hand, make a fresh tossed salad, heat the leftovers, toss them with the cooked pasta, add a little shredded or grated cheese (where appropriate), and you have an instant and instantly good meal. 

* Consider cottage cheese. Yogurt often gets star billing when it comes to substitutions, but price cottage cheese (especially store brand) versus ricotta and consider this: I’ve found cottage cheese to be a fantastic sub for ricotta in pasta casseroles and lasagna. Cottage cheese makes an inexpensive, healthy, satisfying lunch when combined with a leaf or two of Romaine lettuce and a few slices of tomato, too. Dried herbs already in your pantry, like basil and oregano, can perk up cottage cheese, and so can that old fallback salt and pepper.

Wow, I haven’t even scratched the substitution surface. If you have great frugal ideas, please share them with us! There really is so much you can do to substitute less expensive, more wholesome foods without blowing your budget or your cooking cred with your family.

         ‘Til next time,


The real joy of cooking. April 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was re-reading the introduction to one of my favorite cookbooks, Laurel’s Kitchen, when I came upon a wonderful quote that I’d completely forgotten about. I think anyone who loves to cook and finds cooking a peaceful, centering activity will enjoy it, too. It was written by Brother Lawrence, who lived in the 1600s:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

Wow. If I were trying to cook in the midst of chaos, far from possessing God, I’d most likely start throwing things at the perpetrators, and probably not the things they were calling for. But in the quiet of the sunny kitchen, or with music playing, preparing food can focus and settle me. It’s a lovely experience that sometimes does approach the sacramental.

            ‘Til next time,


Ott’s Exotic Plants April 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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One of our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s favorite spring activities is taking the beautiful river road, aka Route 29, to Ott’s Exotic Plants in Schwenksville, PA. (For more on Ott’s, see my earlier posts “Ott’s: An obscure plant paradise” and “Heading to houseplant heaven.”) Saturday was the big day, and after doing our chores, we hopped in the little red car and headed into the beautiful countryside.

After stopping in Green Lane (yes, this really is the name of a town, along with other scenic townlets along the route, including Chapel, Palm, and Red Hill) for our traditional lunch at Rockwell’s—oh, wait. Our friend Ben should confess to terminal stupidity here. Silence and I have eaten at Rockwell’s a number of times over the years, while heading to Ott’s or after attending the annual Scottish and Irish Festival at Green Lane Reservoir or going to the annual Goschenhoppen Historians’ Christmas show and sale. Not being a Norman Rockwell fan, our friend Ben had always ignored the numerous Rockwell prints on the walls. But this time, I was delighted to see that the restaurant was displaying a selection of beautiful watercolors of local scenes and scenery—including Ott’s!—by one of their servers. Silence and I took a little gallery tour while waiting for our food and did a bit of oohing and aahing. But ugh, there were still plenty of Rockwells up there clashing with the lovely watercolors. Why hadn’t they taken those tired prints down to make room for actual original art?! Suddenly, our friend Ben had what a friend’s mother immortally referred to as a rush of brains to the head. Rockwells… Rockwell’s! Duuuuuuhhhhh. It only took me, what, ten years to figure this out? How humiliating.

Getting back to Ott’s, we wound along the Perkiomen River until suddenly the most unlikely of sights appeared before our eyes: A true Victorian glasshouse with an enormous “mountain” rising behind it covered with pansies of every conceivable color. The elegance of the glasshouse combined with the tackiness of the multicolored mountain (it’s coated with chrysanthemums in fall) would make a visit to Ott’s a unique experience even if you didn’t go inside.

Trying to shield our eyes from the blinding spectacle of the “mountain,” Silence and our friend Ben rushed inside and proceeded to systematically go through every room to see what was new and exciting and to try to find the plants on our lists. Yes, this year we were trying to be budget-minded and had actually made lists of the plants we wanted to buy. As a result, our friend Ben very sadly passed up the jewel orchids, which I love but have managed to kill more times than I can count. (If anybody has culture tips to share on these, I am all ears. Help me, please!!!) Silence resisted the lure of new African violets, since hers are the healthiest plants on the planet but apparently don’t get enough light to bloom here. 

What was on our lists? We’re so glad you asked. Our friend Ben’s list began with terrarium plants. Our friend Ben kept American chameleons (now called anoles) as a child. I fondly remember the Borgias, Cesare and Rodrigo. I have wanted for years now to get some for the greenhouse to assist with natural pest control, but have resisted in a rare burst of common sense because I figured the greenhouse wasn’t really tight enough to contain them, so they’d manage to find their way to the great outdoors, enjoy a blissful summer bug-hunting, then freeze to death in our snowy Pennsylvania winters.

However. Let me just say that this is all Mr. Subjunctive’s fault. If you head over to his blog, Plants Are the Strangest People (http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/), you can read the saga of how he discovered an anole in a shipment of plants at the greenhouse where he works and ultimately adopted her. The story of Nina pushed our friend Ben over the edge, coupled with seeing a brand-new aquarium at a yard sale when last en route to the nearby town of Kutztown. Have terrarium, need plants, right? Mr. Subjunctive somewhat made amends for luring OFB down the road to ruin by featuring an entire week of posts on houseplant toxicity this past week, including notes on toxicity to reptiles. So our friend Ben consulted these lists religiously before deciding on some terrarium plants for the future anoles’ home.

Our friend Ben was also looking for some pothos (Epipremnum aureum) to hang in the greenhouse and keep it from looking too lonely while most of its winter residents spend the warmer months out on our deck or hanging from trees in the backyard. I found two cultivars, ‘Golden’ (with lovely yellow foliage) and ‘Marble Queen’ (green and white variegated), and they went into the flat I was (by now) staggering around with. Unlike the usual practice of Ott’s to specialize in selling endless genera, species, and varieties of Plantus unknownus, at most including tags with labels like “African Violet” or “Rex Begonia,” glory hallelujah, the pothos were actually labeled with the cultivar names! (Our friend Ben watched in horror as the checkout clerk thoughtfully removed said labels while ringing the plants up.)

I was also keeping an eye out for pots of ‘Tete-a-Tete’, the little sunny yellow daffodils, since I knew Ott’s grew them better than anyone. Our friend Ben loves daffodils, tulips, and crocuses, but hates having to plant them in fall, when their in-garden relations have died back so you don’t have a clue where they are. I have had great success planting out these pots of ‘Tete-a-Tete’ after we’ve enjoyed their blooms indoors and having them brighten the yard every spring. And since I can still see where the other bulbs are while I’m planting them, I can actually plant them strategically for best effect. Our friend Ben was thrilled to find them looking as healthy as ever and on sale for half price. A big, glorious live bouquet that will turn into a garden accent for $3 isn’t too bad!

Our friend Ben was also on the lookout for a gold-variegated ivy to match the one that we had successfully overwintered in the greenhouse; its twin had died sometime during the winter. We set out these ivies in clay pots suspended from the shepherd’s crooks on either side of our front door to welcome friends and visitors during the warm months, and obviously, a single ivy wouldn’t do. Fortunately, I found a mate for it among the many kinds of ivy Ott’s grows.

Silence’s agenda was a little different. Her list included more edibles for the greenhouse. She was looking for the ever-elusive olive tree, but we didn’t see any. She did, however, come home with lime and coffee trees, which we quickly potted up, as well as tender perennial herbs like lemon verbena and the beautiful tricolored ‘Well-Sweep Wedgwood’ Cuban oregano (plectranthus). With her usual presence of mind, she also seized an opportunity when she saw it and snagged a couple of pots of golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), which is perennial with us and brightens the shade as a groundcover in the beds under our many trees.

Ott’s also has a huge and beautifully grown selection of ferns, and after considerable agonizing, Silence succumbed to a gorgeous button fern. The black-green of the button fern foliage looked so good with the yellow of the ‘Golden’ pothos and lysimachia that we were both sorry we couldn’t figure out a way to make some kind of combination. Not with these plants! But there must be something…

And yes, Silence did drag our friend Ben kicking and screaming away from all of Ott’s gorgeous begonias. As she pointed out, we have begonias. We have quite a few really nice begonias. We have enough begonias already. (Our friend Ben remains unconvinced, but with what had now become a huge box of plants already selected, I allowed myself to be dissuaded. For now.)

Our friend Ben would be remiss not to note the bazillion other container plants Ott’s has for sale—these don’t even touch the massive selection of cacti and succulents, herbs, hanging baskets, veggie transplants, and every sort of foliage and flowering plant imaginable—much less the expansive outdoor nursery and bedding plant area. (Remember all those pansies?!) Not to mention a vast selection of pots and their own custom mix of potting soil, seed packets, bulbs, and etc.etc.etc.

And though I talk about it every time, I have to say a good word about the Victorian conservatory in the center of the greenhouses with the classic old tableau of huge tropicals and a waterfall and pond with equally enormous goldfish. Nothing here is for sale, but there is a path up the slope through the tropicals so you can view the waterfall from above as well as at ground level. Our friend Ben would hate to have to maintain this, but I love seeing this reminder of a different age and time-travelling to a past when all tropical plants were exciting and new and people created these glass conservatories to show them off in what they felt was a natural setting. Thank you, Ott’s, for keeping this glasshouse up and running!

As always, Silence and I had a great time. Our friend Ben recommends Ott’s to anyone within driving distance.

This point in time. April 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.

“At this point in time,” that dreadful pompous-speak for “now.” But now, as spring changes everything around us day by day, our friend Ben likes to capture what each new day brings. Here in our part of Pennsylvania, we are just now in peak daffodil season, when the early tulips are opening and the last crocuses are starting to fade. Some of the points in time that our friend Ben enjoyed today:

Driving through a golden tunnel of huge forsythias spilling down the road embankments.

At a local nursery, watching an old dog roll in new grass.

Children walking home from school, taking their time in the late afternoon sun.

Goldfinches emerging in their sunny breeding plumage after a long winter disguised in olive-drab.

The red-brown earth freshly turned as the fields await spring planting.

At a small vernal pond, a pair of mallards and a pair of Canada geese quietly sharing the water.

Our redbud trees with the red-violet haze of bloom spreading over the bare branches.

The smell of freshly watered plants in the greenhouse.

Feeding dandelions to our chickens. It adds a new dimension to weeding when you know that the pulled weeds will be so nutritious and so enjoyed.

Our cat Marley once again sleeping in his favorite spot—on top of our (once again) flattened Boston fern, newly returned to the deck for the season.

The first monarch butterfly of the year, drifting over the road like a flake of fire.

Finding sturdy ‘Sungold’ cherry tomato transplants.

Bringing four perfect pink-brown eggs back to join the two we collected this morning.

Watching cherry-red bleeding heart blooms peep out under chartreuse ‘Gold Heart’ foliage.

Hearing an unseen bird sing “weed-it, weed-it, weed-it” while I was weeding the veggie beds.

Soaking up the clamorous delight of neighboring children enjoying their outdoor trampoline, surrounded by dogs and the extended family.

The last daylight filling a daffodil’s cup with a sudden burst of color.

Sinking into sleep with that blessed tiredness only gardening brings.

So many points in time that, once noticed, are taken out of time for us to treasure. What will tomorrow bring?

Can you grow olive trees from seed? April 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here (again). Since our friend Ben and I are fortunate enough to have a greenhouse here at Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, we yearn to grow edibles that would normally be out of our geographical reach: limes and lemons, ginger and cardamom, bananas and cinnamon, coffee and tea, figs and olives, maybe even a pineapple. But, while many of these plants are pretty affordable, the price of an olive tree—even a tiny one—is out of sight. Ouch!

The whole olive-tree issue returned to mind this morning when I was straightening up the house and saw that, grrrrr, someone had left some kalamata olive seeds in a non-standard place, i.e. on the coffee table, after an apparent midnight snack. Eeeeewwww!!! As Louis XIII famously said after waking up with a headache, “Someone will pay for this.” But I digress.

I was in the process of tossing them into the trash when I wondered if maybe I could sprout them instead. Hmmm. Unfortunately, some internet research turned up the Olive Oil Source website (www.oliveoilsource.com), which had a comprehensive section on propagating olive trees. It pointed out that few olive pits were viable in any case, but that no olive pits were viable if they’d been brined (like, say, our kalamata olives). Oh, well, back to the trash. It also listed some propagation techniques I’d never heard of. In addition to the usual grafting, hardwood cuttings, stem cuttings, and suckers, it went on to talk about propagating from ovules (and no, this has nothing to do with fertilized eggs) and rooted truncheons. (And anyway, aren’t truncheons those clubs people used to crack each other over the head with back in the day?!) But of course, to do any of the above requires you to have an olive tree to begin with.

Back to the drawing board. Does anyone know of an affordable source of potted olive trees? Maybe I could, ahem, persuade OFB to get me one to compensate for this lapse in table manners…

               ‘Til next time,


Patriotic pennies. April 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben would like to know what’s going on here. If you read our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders’s post, “Burying Ben,” earlier this week, you’ll recall that Ben Franklin’s grave in Philadelphia is always littered with pennies, since it’s a tradition that tossing a penny on old Ben’s grave will bring you good luck. This may seem to be counterintuitive, given Ben’s maxim, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” but our friend Ben can see how the tradition would have come about. Ben Franklin, pennies. They do go together.

However. This morning, our friend Ben was catching up on Dave Duffy’s blog over at the Backwoods Home Magazine site (www.backwoodshome.com, or click on our blogroll at right). Dave’s been on vacation in Boston, and was sharing some photos of his trip with us. One photo showed Paul Revere’s grave. Only, it was sort of hard to see the grave under all the pennies people had thrown on top of it. What the bleep?

Now, when he wasn’t busy making his Midnight Ride, Paul Revere was a silversmith by trade. So our friend Ben could understand it if a tradition sprang up that throwing a dime on his grave would bring prosperity, at least back in the days when dimes were actually made from silver. (Not that anyone could have afforded to throw one away back then.) But pennies?!!

Our friend Ben couldn’t find anything online about this “tradition.” A quick call to Richard didn’t turn anything up, either. Now I’m wondering if every Founding Father’s grave is littered with pennies. (This would be more appropriate on the grave of, say, Alexander Hamilton, the founder of our treasury and banking system, than on the grave of that large-living spendthrift, Thomas Jefferson, who died bankrupt and left his estate and family to an uncertain but certainly a bleak financial future.)

So, what’s the deal with patriots and pennies? Does anybody know? And I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to go around tossing out pennies in the hope of attracting good luck, I think I’ll spend them on a lottery ticket and let our Founders rest in peace.