Monday, December 15, 2008

Spinach and Egg Pie with Bacon

My daughter ate a healthy meal tonight. Usually one has to point out that dessert is conditional on eating at least a serving of dinner, including vegetable, but tonight she ate so much dinner she had no room for pumpkin pie (a first in this house).

This Spinach and Egg Pie is basically a quiche, except it makes its own crust. I have been experimenting with variants on such egg pies; this is my most successful by far:


* 5 pieces bacon
* 1/2 yellow onion

* 8 large eggs
* 3 Tbsp flour
* 1 oz. parmesan, grated
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/8 tsp nutmeg
* 2 grinds pepper

* Butter

* 2/3 bag of fresh baby spinach

* 2 oz. cheddar


* Preheat oven to 375F. (Or 340F if you don’t have a microwave.)
* Put steamer on stove with water to boil.

* Put bacon in skillet at medium.
* Finely chop onion and fry with bacon

* Remove the onion bits when lightly browned, to cool.
* Chop the bacon when cooked.
* Meanwhile, combine egg group 7 ingredients in bowl.

* Add cooled onion to egg bowl.
* Puree with immersion blender, or whisk (if eaters don’t mind little pieces of onion).

* Butter 2 liter Pyrex pan (11” * 7”)

* Pour a thin layer of egg mixture into pan, put in oven until set.

* Meanwhile, steam the spinach until just limp.

* Add bacon on top of set egg layer
* Add spinach on top of bacon.
* Pour rest of egg mixture over spinach.
* Grate cheddar on top.

* Microwave for 2 minutes on high, turn and microwave a second 2 minutes.
* Bake for 15 minutes at 375 F, then check for doneness.
(If no microwave, instead cook at 340 F for 30 minutes).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pink and Purple Season

The early yellows (Narcissus) are gone, and now it's pink and purple (and mauve) season, at least in my garden, featuring Dianthus (pinks, lower left), Iris, Allium (chives), Lupinus, and Tradescantia (purple near the center, bright pink to extreme right). Not shown: Perovskia (Russian sage), Nepeta (catmint), Digitalis (foxglove). Photo taken June 12; today the clumps of low Sedum (in wall, lower right) showed visible yellow buds, and Alchemilla (ladies' mantle) was starting its chartreuse bloom. Warmer yellows, reds and oranges will become more common over the summer, with Hemerocallis (daylily) and various daisies taking the lead. This seems the most common color progression. Perhaps you have a different scheme?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Frost, Death and Growth

Plant growth is most notable at this time of year, when above-ground growth is just taking off. It was clear in my garden, as from the weather report, that today was the first significant growing day in about a week. For most plants, growth follows temperature in an almost linear response, from zero growth at 40F to maximum growth at 80F (leveling off suddenly, with distress beginning at 86F.)

What had shut things down, of course, was that after weeks with much warmth and without frost, we got a 25F frost in Adams last week, followed by cold and clouds. The frost had been predicted at least 5 days ahead of time on, and so I was ready, and put inverted buckets over the two Weigela "bushes" (a few inches high) I made from cuttings last June. The plants had overwintered successfully, and are generally considered hardy to zone 4, but I wanted to be sure of their safety. Fresh spring growth is far more sensitive to frost than is a dormant plant (if that weren't true, the plants wouldn't bother going dormant now, would they?), and tiny cuttings are less likely to have reserves of energy and bud tissue if they lose their growing ones.

As it happens, none of my other bushes or perennials suffered any significant setback -- a trivial one is mentioned below -- so I probably hadn't needed to protect the Weigelas. (Not that there was a downside to doing so.)

But I had forgotten to protect the one plant obviously sensitive to cold - a just-planted blooming pot marigold (Calendula), which was entirely turned to mush. Not valuing annuals much, or at any rate, not being afraid of losing them, I did not give any thought to that plant even though it was the only thing I had really blooming except for some of my daffodils, and even though it's native to the Mediterranean and Middle East.

So what was damaged? The bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), the one plant which was just starting to open its blooms (the earliest blooming perennial of significant size, to my knowledge, and a great plant in part for this timing), seemed to have had its flowers shriveled a bit even though the plant itself is hardy to zone 3. The flowers and top-growth are still a bit small and limp, but not dead.

Finally, most of the pink magnolia trees in the area saw their magnificent flowers turn to brown mush overnight. Perhaps they had another week in them. Magnolia x soulangeana is hardy to zone 5, but those ratings refer to the plant's reliably not dying, not to its never losing flower buds.

Speaking of hardiness, I once had a conversation with a local woman who told me that she had planted some Gladioli and then never lifted their bulbs, and yet they came back strong for a couple years, until a (probably colder) winter killed them off. I left some Glads in the ground last fall, since the late-planted ones would probably not have the energy to bloom again this year anyway, I felt like trying something else in their place, I am always looking to experiment, and I am lazy.

As it happens, those Gladioli in the normal ground position and in turf all died (nothing came up), while one I had planted in the best-drained position possible (in loose earth just inside the loose rock wall of a 2-foot-high raised bed) has come back this spring, although apparently having split into separate little bulbs (there are several growing points). This makes sense. I had read (e.g., by the late Christopher Lloyd, IMHO the greatest of garden writers) that for many such Mediterranean plants, hardiness is more a matter of drainage than of absolute temperatures. (This winter's snow cover may also have helped.)

Does anyone know of anything else damaged by last week's frost, or have a surprising tale of hardiness?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Forsythia Time, And the Garden is Needy

Well, tree budding seems to be about two weeks earlier than average. More specifically: The Forsythia are blooming – and this is perhaps the most useful harbinger of spring, and of several spring chores.

When the Forsythia are blooming it is time to:

1) Spread pre-emergent herbicide on your lawn, if you do it at all.

2) Divide Hostas and most other perennials.

3) Fertilize your bushes, if you do it at all.

4) Prune your bushes, which you really ought to do if it has been more than a couple years.

1) Lawn Work
If, unlike me, you care about having a green, uniform grass lawn, you may choose to spread pre-emergent herbicide on your lawn. Such chemicals kill the sprouting seeds which annual weeds rely upon to regenerate, but do not kill lawn grass or other perennials. Still, they are potentially toxic chemicals. Except for corn gluten. Regular corn gluten is an effective pre-emergent herbicide, which also provides Nitrogen and Phosphorus (NPK of 9-1-0). It is sold in garden centers, but not, the last time I looked, in places like Home Depot. If you are to use corn gluten or any pre-emergent herbicide, you really should do it this weekend, before most of the weeds have sprouted.

2) Divide Hostas
Most Hostas are an inch or two tall as of today. It’s easy to see where they are, and even which ones are variegated, dark blue, etc. Now is the time to cut a chunk out of a Hosta, and plant it somewhere else, preferably with half-sun or less, in rich and humusy earth. (A week ago was fine too, but the job becomes much more destructive of the plants once they are all up and flopping about.) Fill the hole up with rich soil, or soil mixed with composted cow manure, water immediately, and water every couple days in dry weather (which we have been having).

Most other perennials can be similarly treated. There are perennials which don’t like to be disturbed, but all those which spread, and/or form “donut” shapes by expanding while their middle goes into decline, are suitable for propagation by shovel, and most even benefit from the shovel and subsequent soil enrichment. (Throw out the dead middle of any donut-shaped plant.)

3) Fertilize Bushes
This is most important with sheared plants such as hedges and most foundation plantings of yew, because shearing removes a lot of nutrients over time. But most shrubs in most locations would benefit from some fertilizer, be it a top-dressing of composted cow manure, some other rich compost, or a granular product (ideally, with at least some leaf compost or peat moss or a natural bark mulch which can break down and add organic material to the soil). If you have Rhododendrons (that includes azaleas), Pieris/andromeda, Kalmia/mountain laurel, Vaccinium (e.g., blueberry) and Erica & Calluna/heath & heather (apart from variegate Euonymous, most broad-leaved evergreens are in this family, the Ericaceae), then I recommend the Holly-Tone acidifying fertilizer, especially if you garden in a limestone area, such as most sites in the Northern Berkshires. Read the instructions. Don’t apply more than recommended. Instead, apply that amount, or half as much. You may repeat such treatment in early summer, but for most plants this second treatment should not be delayed past mid-July, lest you encourage lush growth which will fail to harden before an early frost. Note that many shrubs, notably Rhododendrons, have very shallow roots, so you should not try to dig fertilizers in.

4) Prune Bushes – Especially Hydrangeas
Pruning bushes is especially important for those with a tendency to build up congested and dead wood, such as most Hydrangeas. But almost any shrub needs pruning if it hasn’t gotten it in the last 2 or 3 years.

Pruning is needed for a number of overlapping reasons:
To remove dead, diseased or damaged wood
Remove rubbing or crossed branches
Open up the center to air and light
Make physical space for new buds to grow
Increase flowering or fruiting
Remove non-variegated reversions
Make the shrub more compact or a certain shape, to fit a spot or allow views out a window.
Make the shrub more compact, to look less scraggly
Deal with a fungal, bacterial or insect problem

Don’t Fear Radical Pruning
Even more so than with carpentry, there are several tools for removing wood, none for putting it back. But shrubs are far more forgiving than trees. You don’t have to worry about making multiple cuts so the branch won’t tear out of the trunk. You don’t have to worry about killing yourself. And you don’t have nearly as much reason to worry even about killing the plant. Shrubs aren’t just smaller than trees, they also tend to have multiple stems, and the ability to readily sprout new stems from the ground or close to the ground.

It is very hard to kill a shrub or permanently make one ugly due to pruning. Cutting a shrub all the way to the ground could kill it if hot dry weather ensues and you don’t water it daily, or if the shrub has no dormant buds near its base. But any shrub without such buds would be short-lived anyway, as it would not be able to replace old or damaged stems (e.g., lavender and some other woody herbs, and brooms, quick-growing plants most of which aren’t reliably hardy here anyway.)

There are a few rules to follow, but usually there’s no need to commit to a particular course of action when you start pruning. You first cut out the dead wood, clean out any refuse, and remove any intruders (weeds, seedlings, aggressive neighbors). With the lines of the shrub’s living wood revealed, you may now see that it’s a hideous misshapen mess. In that case, you may go straight to “radical pruning” – to cutting the plant to within an inch of the ground, or to a foot or so of trunk for those with a single trunk at their base (Rhodies, again). More likely, you’ll be merciful to the plant, because a hideous bunch of stems in April can still become a beautiful shrub once it’s leafed out and made new growth. But you will likely see that the remaining plant could still be reduced by a third (or perhaps even two-thirds). So you will remove some of the oldest stems (thicker, or with rougher bark), and you will remove stems with ugly scars or possible signs of disease or infestations.

If the plant is in leaf, and has leaves which are variegated or in colors other than green, you should remove any reversions to solid green. Most variegated cultivars will show such reversions over time. Even if you like the striking combination of areas of green contrasting with areas of a finer two-tone look, it is often best to remove the sold-green leaves since they will likely out-compete the rest of the plant.

For shrubs, like most Hydrangeas, with branches sprouting from the ground, almost all of your cuts will be to the ground. Easy, apart from the possible difficulty of reaching your clippers into the space. For other shrubs, with one or a few trunks which divide as they go up, you will be cutting higher up. Just remember not to cut a branch to some random point along its length, or to where you think that will make the shrub the right overall size. Instead, cut to where the branch sprouts from a larger branch, to just outside any branch collar (the swelling around the base of a branch).

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ode to My Laziness

I'd like to say
that I've been busy.
Putting up Yule lights
and trimming trees.
But the house was dark,
we holidayed on the Cape,
My only active pursuit
cooking a few meals,
and donating old toys and clothes
in time for a 2007 tax deduction.
The firebush can wait.
My wife is a redhead,
but that's not what I meant and you have a dirty mind.
Perhaps 2008 will be different.