Healthier Boxwoods (and Free Holiday Greenery!)

IMG_1701Boxwoods often get a bad rap for being fussy and highbrow – shrubs more befitting Versailles than a New Jersey backyard. Not so, I say! We have at least 5 different varieties of boxwood in our yard (there are about 70 in the Buxus family), and they’re much more Sallie Sue than Marie Antoinette.  These well-mannered evergreen shrubs provide year-round structure in a landscape, and don’t demand much in return. As an added bonus, if you open-prune them in early December, they’ll reward you with free holiday greenery and healthy new growth come spring. 

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Mini Pumpkins with Farro Pilaf and Crispy Sage

Farro-stuffed mini pumpkins

Looking for a Thanksgiving side dish that’s traditional yet a “little” different? These stuffed mini pumpkins deliver big autumn flavors in an adorable little package. Even better? They’re highly nutritious (thanks to the whole grain farro), easy to prepare, and can be made a few days ahead.  Continue reading

Strawberry Short Course

garden strawberry

Few things are as delicious as garden-grown strawberries. Unfortunately, the chipmunks, birds and squirrels agree. As a result, despite numerous attempts at fencing and netting, we never yield more than a handful of strawberries from our 4’x6’ patch. Frustrating! So year after year, we trot off to the local U-pick farms for our fill (literally – see photos below). Those berries are good, but they’re still a commercial variety—bred for maximum yield and disease resistance. They’re not the same intensely flavored, deep crimson jewels that home gardeners can experience (if they are lucky enough to live in a squirrel and chipmunk-free zone).

This year, however, we’ve unleashed our latest weapon in the battle of the backyard rodents: Keith’s Strawberry Cage 1.0!

strawberry cage

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Cheating Spring: Growing Pea Shoots Indoors


Even though the promise of spring is only a few weeks away, my vegetable garden is still a threadbare blanket of winter’s despair.

OK – that’s a little dramatic, but month after month of cold, dark days can really bring on a case of Spring Fever in a person. The remedy? Planting a pot of pea shoots or micro salad greens indoors, to savor spring a little earlier than Mother Nature intended.

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Tomato Caramel

Did September swoosh past anyone else? It seems like just yesterday we were chasing the ice cream truck and agonizing over First Day of School outfits, and now we’re cracking open the candy corn and planning Halloween costumes.

Well – the month is almost over, and with it comes the end of one of the best tomato seasons in recent years here in the Garden State.  (Or at least in our garden, and this is a nice consolation since I’m sorry to report that the zucchini plants never fully recovered from their vine borer surgery.) Needless to say, we’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes lately, and some of us are happier about this than others. . .

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Borer of Bad News

Friends, I’ve got a zucchini problem and it’s not what you think. I only wish I could join in on the “too much zucchini” jokes and share the bounty with friends, neighbors and the UPS guy. Alas, there’s something sinister squelching my summer squash:

The dreaded squash vine borer! Right before leaving for vacation, my two zucchini plants were thriving and we were harvesting zucchini daily.  Thinking I’d whip up a zucchini risotto for dinner the night we got back into town, I headed out to the garden only to find the plants half-dead, with two mini zucchini withering on the vine.  The sawdust-like stuff around the base of the plants (frass) was a sure sign that this was the work of the squash vine borer. Immediate surgery would be required to save the plants!

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Kitchen Garden Tour

With locally sourced food all the rage these days, I thought I’d keep on trend and share some highlights from my backyard vegetable garden. Forty feet from “farm” to table is about as local as it gets. I will warn you, however, that my gardening methods are far from orthodox, and that true gardeners might find some of my admissions scandalous.

For example, I often forego a fall cleanup and leave dead plants in the ground all winter. This is not good garden hygiene! I also let cilantro and dill go to seed every summer, thereby delegating the sowing of next year’s crop to the wind. Rather than double-digging the beds, I let the worms do most of the soil preparation. I don’t even pinch the extra growth off my tomato plants, even though doing so would theoretically improve the fruit quality. The encouraging news is that despite my laissez-faire approach, things still grow! Mother Nature is one of those control-freak moms who gets her way no matter what.

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A Happy Mother’s Day

I’ve been saying this every year for the past 9 years, but This Is The Best Mother’s Day Ever! I was awoken nice and early – narrowly missing the Tooth Fairy’s departure but in time for sunrise – and presented with a custom-made Breakfast in Bed menu.

After making my selection, I fell back asleep while the Breakfast Fairies worked their magic (under Dad’s supervision). Soon the fairies were back, this time with a tray of goodies, fresh-picked flowers and my Mother’s Day favorite – homemade cards. Those get me every time!

The only thing that could make the day better would be to have my mother here to share in the festivities.  A phone call later will have to do, since she’s 2,401 miles away in University Place, WA. Sorry, Mom – I didn’t even get a homemade card in the mail this year! This post will have to do.

Mom gave me this vintage print years ago, after I had flown the nest and settled far from home (in the Garden State of New Jersey, via DC and Paris). I’m not sure she even remembers giving it to me, but I’m a sentimental sap and borderline hoarder so naturally I saved it. With both of us gardeners (she Master, me apprentice), the Goethe quote seems written for us. (Even though I know the term “garden” is meant figuratively; I take similar liberties when interpreting fortune cookies.) To run with the figurative angle, albeit in a slightly different trajectory – is it a coincidence that Mother’s Day is the unofficial start of Gardening Season? After all, don’t mothers plant the seeds, nurture the seedlings, protect them from environmental dangers, beam with pride at harvest time and delight in the cycle’s repeat?

Happy Mother’s Day to my Master Gardener/Mother, Karen, and to all mothers out there. I’m off to plant some bean seeds and tomato seedlings. (More on that soon!)