Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Can you take the heat?

I’ve been in a daring mood lately. So daring in fact that over the weekend I bought a horseradish root to plant. A member of the mustard family, horseradish (Armoracia lapathifolia) gets approximately two feet tall and 18 inches wide with small white flowers. This pungent herb was once used to treat a variety of ailments including tuberculosis, scurvy, food poisoning, and colic. It is also included in the 5 bitter herbs used during Passover.

Horseradish is planted approximately 4-6 inches deep. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. A soil pH of 5.5-7 is best. Planted in the spring, it can be harvested in the fall. For the most pungent flavor, it is advised to wait until after the leaves have seen frost. One plant will produce about 1 pound of root, needing no fertilizer (if planted in compost) and occasional water. You can harvest either the tap (main) root or the lateral roots, but one-year old plants supposedly have the best flavor, so replant a portion after your harvest.

The notion to plant horseradish has been bumping around in my brain for the last several seasons. When husband and I were first together, his dad gave me a mammoth horseradish root from his yard, with the stern warning never, ever to plant horseradish because you will never get rid of it. Hmm. Sounds like a challenge. I looked up several methods of processing the root to make prepared horseradish and set about grating it. The root pulled from the ground is fairly neutral, no odor, no tang. It is only when the root is ground and the cells pulverized that it releases it’s isothiocyanates and you are really in trouble. Every recipe I found warned against inhaling the vapors of freshly ground horseradish. Did I listen? No, of course not. I stuck my head right over the blender full of freshly ground root and was instantaneously very very sorry. I think I went blind for a little bit, and what felt like very strong acid made it’s way slowly up my sinus cavity and into my brain. Wow. Strong stuff. Adding vinegar stops the release of the offending volatile oil, so you add it right away if you won’t be using the horseradish to strip paint, or you wait awhile to add it if you want your future cocktail sauce to make people faint. I waited awhile cause I luv me some horseradish. When it makes you double over and clutch your head, its perfect. That batch got eaten pretty quickly and I’ve never had homemade again, just the stuff from stores which is quite tame by comparison. So I’ll try my luck at growing it.

I’m still debating whether to plant this legendarily aggressive plant in a contained space or perhaps to throw caution to the wind and plant it unfettered directly in the garden. I see myself battling horseradish in the lawn in years to come. I will keep you posted.

Said the Delphi Oracle to Apollo, "Radishes are worth their weight in lead, beets their weight in silver, but horseradish is worth it’s weight in gold" (possibly because they used it as an aphrodisiac). So any stories of triumphant horseradish cultivation out there?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Happy Chickens

There are five chickens in this picture. Can you find them? Or is all you see a great feathered mass of mulch kicking feathers? They so enjoyed Sunday, as did I. It was a lovely warm day and we were outside the whole day, getting beds cleaned up and pansies planted and distributing mulch onto the lawn (well I wasn't, but they were).

Remember when I said that once it starts, it just steamrolls and moves so fast? The snowdrops are over and even some of the crocus are starting to fade. How did this happen so fast? Where have I been? These crocus are still vibrant though, growing in the lawn. Not something I'd recommend, as they have to be mowed around for a little while until the foliage browns, but they do look so pretty against the very green growing grass at their feet.

In an area at the front of the house, there apparently was an old gravel driveway. Some grass grows there but mostly it is weeds. When mown, you can't really tell as it just appears green, but in the spring, the entire area is covered with Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica) shown below, Northern White Violets (Viola pallens) and Common Chickweed (Stellaria media). When the sun shines on it, everything just opens up and blooms profusely and for a weedy area, it is just lovely.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Things that are scary

Okay, first, go read this post at The Underpaid Kept Woman. GO ahead. I'll wait.









Scary right? Reallllllllyyyyyyy Realllllllyyyyyyy scary. And in a later post she actually says that she bought the thing AND IS BRINGING IT INTO HER HOUSE. And the scariest thing is one of the comments about that picture and having it in your house and hearing skittering feet in the night and turning the light on and the little boy isn't in the picture anymore and holy crap that makes my throat tighten up. Freaky little children scare me. There is nothing scarier than a movie about a possessed child unless it is a movie about killer ventriloquist dummies. I can't even watch the tv promos for that movie Dead Silence. I have to turn my head and look at the wall.

Other things that are scary:

  • very very short people. I don't know why. Maybe because I'm 5' 9", but I am freaked out by very short people. Not necessarily scared, but definitely disturbed.

  • peacocks. When I was little I stayed at my grandparents a lot and my grandmother would put me outside in one of those round collapsible play yards, you know, the kind you pinch your fingers in? And one of the houses in the neighborhood had peacocks. And you could hear them calling in the distance. And she told me that peacocks peck out bad little children's eyes. Especially blue ones. So I better behave. Guess what color my eyes are? And then she would go inside. And I would sit there motionless listening to the peacocks and being good. Thanks Nanny.

  • monkeys, but you knew that already.

  • my grandparents basement. Terrifying. Long and never ending basement with big sections of those bamboo screens hanging (that people hung on their porches) where totally anybody could hide and wait. even peacocks. And there were five bare light bulbs with pull chains that you had to turn off as you made your way to the steps, so the dark was always encroaching on you and by the time you were almost to the steps you couldn't see the area with the bamboo screens anymore. Or the dresser that belonged to the previous owner whose son hung himself down there that eveybody said was haunted and it was scary. Scary as a child and scary as a 30-something. I lived there for awhile after my grandfather died and I had to get the house ready to sell and even as an adult, I hustled for the steps and never ever looked back at the bamboo screens.

  • A Legend of Sleepy Hollow read along record narrated by Bing Crosby. I can't even bring myself to put it on, it is that scary. It just sits there in the extra bedroom collecting dust.

  • spiders that jump

  • Alberto Gonzales

  • Dancing with the Stars

This house. During a wetland job I came across this house. This abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. See that arty looking thing over the doorway? It is a female face with vampire teeth. I almost peed myself when I walked up to it and saw what it was. But why was it on an abandoned house out in the middle of nowhere? Ther person I was working with was not scared and insisted that there was a good explanation. Couldn't think of one, but insisted there was one. And then a little man came from around the back of the house and asked us what we were doing. And we told him and he said that we should stay away from there and then he went back behind the house. And there was no car, no driveway, no where for him to go but into this abandoned house. And I was totally freaked out and the idiot that I worked with kept insisting that there was a good explanation. Yeah, if weirdos that think they are vampires is a good explanation.

  • The guy that owns the shop where I buy my pet food. He thinks that he is Hunter S. Thompson I believe. Same glasses worn propped on his head, same kind of clothes, same gonzo approach to life, only here it isn't jornalism, it is kibble, but still. I don't know why he scares me. I can't even bring myself to speak to him, so when he talks to me I just kind of stare at the ground and nod my head appropriately.
  • The Count on Sesame Street. I think it is the pointy nose. I used to hide behind the chair when I was a kid and he came on the TV. I don't do that now, but if I flip past and see him, I definitely get a chill. Funny.
  • Old fashioned wheelchairs
  • Abandoned mental health facilities. Google Byberry. SCARY.

So what weird things are you scared of?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mother nature is a cruel, cruel mistress

Here in south central Pennsylvania last week, the mercury climbed to a summery 77 degrees on Wednesday. On Friday we got twelve inches of snow. It snowed and snowed and snowed some more. And then it blew and blew and blew some more so that anywhere that was shoveled quickly got unshoveled. But it is okay. There is something pleasing about a mid-March storm. It was lovely to look at and didn't put me in a blah mood because I knew that this would be the last. The forecast for this week showed temperatures in the 50s and 60s so I knew I wouldn't be looking at snow for weeks and weeks.
One exciting thing was the amazing variety of birds that it brought to the feeders. We are in transition here. Not quite all of the winter birds have left but quite a few of the summer birds have arrived. And everybody was hungy. On Friday and over the weekend I had to fill feeders twice a day in addition to scattering cracked corn and leftover cereal on the front porch. We had brown thrashers (which we almost never see), and lots of red-winged balckbirds which are very infrequent visitors to our feeders. A pair of bluebirds, white-throated sparrows, and elusive bluejays (rare feeder visitors for us). Many grackles and cowbirds, and tons of robins. The robins didn't some to the feeders however and wouldn't eat the cracked corn. I cut up some oranges for them, thinking they would eat those but they didn't. Maybe I was thinking of Orioles. They did however cluster on the cleared road in front of the house, drinking meltwater all weekend. Easily 100 Robins would be on the road, causing all traffic to slow and quite a few to blow their horns to scatter the birds. The dogs really loved this. Insane barking every 20 minutes or so.
Thanks to the foot of snow delivered, I didn't get peas planted, or anything else planted outside. I did however start some alpine strawberry seeds indoors and managed to squish them in to the already packed greenhouse window. I have lettuce ready to eat in there and tomatoes growing like there is no tomorrow. So I will enjoy this last of the snow and will almost be sorry to see it go. Almost. I am really ready for spring.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

busy, busy, busy

Out in the field for the next several days. Have to watch PENNDOT put up a habitat fence around some wetlands that may contain bog turtles (endangered species), so won't be around. Hopefully I'll get so see a turtle or two, but it would have to get really warm for that I'm afraid.
Tomorrow I'm starting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants and hopefully it will be nice enough to be outside most of the day, clean things up a bit. And next weekend I'll get peas, onions, and potatoes in the ground. St. Patricks Day is the day around here! So much to do. Once it starts, it steamrolls you and it seems there isn't a break until next fall.

My orange pansies from last year are shown. Nobody has them here yet, but its only a matter of time. Can.not.wait!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Staunch character

Okay, so remember when I said that I joined Netflix? Well one of the features that I recently watched was Grey Gardens, something I don't think I could find at a Blockbuster. Have you seen this? It is a documentary filmed in 1976 by the Maysle Brothers (of Gimme Shelter fame) about the Beales. Big Edie and Little Edie Beale. Mother and Daughter. Aunt and Cousin of Jackie Onassis. Living in squalor with 30 cats and raccoons in a mansion in Long Island. There is currently a very successful Broadway play with Christine Ebersole based on the story?
I've watched it three times now (and every extra on the DVD) and am probably going to buy it because I can easily see myself watching it many, many, many more times. I think I have a problem. There is probably no 12-step program for this.
And that woman's voice (Little Edie, pictured above) is in my head. I hear her odd quotes all day long. "This is the best costume for the day." "Its very hard to keep the line between the past and the present, know what I mean?" "Its just a sea of leaves." "Whose been dropping books around here is what I want to know." All done in the most grating Boston aristocracy accent you can imagine. Tennessee Williams could not have made these people up.
I feel like a crazy person because I honestly wish I could just step into the documentary and sit and talk to these people (even though both are now deceased). Thankfully, Amazon.com reviews and Netflix reviews reveal many more people that are mesmerized by this movie and also have seen it many, many times. So if you can get your hands on it, watch it. At your own peril. You'll either love it or think I'm crazy for spending more than 10 minutes watching it. Sadly, there is a movie coming out based on the story starring Drew Barrymore and Meryl Streep which will probably ruin everything.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Things I didn't know I needed

1. Giant reclaimed sheet metal roosters. I need at least three. Actually I wouldn't mind several reclaimed sheet metal animals in my yard. I think a donkey would be particularly keen. Note to self: learn to weld.

2. A hanging bed in my garden. Really, all of us need this, don't you think? How cool would this be? A little mosquito netting hanging around the sides and it becomes my summer bedroom. Although a futon type thing would be nicer, something you could sort of fold up and it would become a giant swinging couch? I happen to have a futon that I'm not using in the garage attic. Note to self: increase carpentry skills or befriend Amish men.

I'm determined that this is the year of the patio. A nice simple flagstone deal in the "L" of the house. But that might now include a pergola with a hanging futon off to the side. An outdoor shower would be nice too. I'd better buy some lottery tickets.
3. And a greenhouse. Although I did know that I needed this. Really an entire separate glass house would be nice. That way I could use part of it for a chicken house, attach the outside shower and outside bedroom to one side, connecting to the flagstone patio. Perhaps a fixed grilling station. Theoretically, I could live entirely in my yard for the entire summer And then I'd only ever have to go into the real house to retrieve refrigerated items.....unless......