Wednesday, April 15, 2009

With a Little Help from my Friends

I’ve been humming this song since Saturday when my sweet husband and friends Tom and Jodie all pitched in to help build some raised beds in my new kitchen garden.

We completed nine beds in all. Three are made out of concrete blocks and the rest out of untreated lumber. Now I know what you are thinking…concrete blocks?
Yes in deed…concrete blocks and I have my reasons which I will reveal as this new adventure rolls along.

The guys at the hardware store where we bought the lumber think I’m crazy for not using treated lumber (don’t you just love it when everyone is trying to second guess your plans) but I really don’t want to think about boards treated with arsenic in the same bed as my organic produce. Besides it is three times cheaper to use untreated wood. I know it will rot (thank goodness for that) eventually and then I will add some new boards. Ideally Cedar would be best and if I can find some at a low cost from a local mill I will use it for the next phase of raised beds (did I just type that?) It was about 100 bucks to build 6 raised four by eight beds – not bad.

I just needed extra space to grow more vegetables. Even though there are only two of us, I like to freeze, can, dehydrate enough garden fresh veggies to hold us through the winter. In fact I’m really planning on growing more vegetables and herbs year ‘round so as not to have to put up so much while having fresh produce all through the winter months.

This is my new place to play and experiment growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, and small fruits in an urban setting. Although I have a large yard, I know many folks don’t so I want to grow more produce in smaller spaces to help others do the same.

Did I mention this is in my front side yard? Don’t tell my neighbors (I’m sure they are wondering what in the world the cracked pot is up to now) I will stain the outsides of these beds to make them blend and look nice. After all, a kitchen garden should be pretty as well as practical.

I did plant 11 Mohawk viburnums (wow what a scent) as a hedge to soften the effects and as a barrier for west winds and to give the neighbors something pretty to look at until the boxes are full of beautiful, colorful vegetables, flowers and herbs.

Thank you Tom, Jodie and Sweetie – you are going to love the results!

Lilacs - Scents of Spring

The scent of lilac blossoms holds a special place for many. Often times a scent is associated with a memory, Grandmother’s perfume (or toilet water), picking bouquets with mom or for me growing up with a white lilac tree that grew just outside my bedroom window.

Warm spring breezes carried the heavenly lilac scent in my room morning till night while the old tree bloomed holding the promise of summer just around the corner.

My pet raccoon Shirley loved that old tree as well, hiding all things ‘shiny’ that she would steal from us when she thought we weren’t looking in a rotted out knot just out of my reach.

When I started renovating the gardens at Hyssop Hill in Franklin, TN shortly after purchasing the 1830’s house and property, I found old plant jewels that were thought to be lost. As we cut and beat back the growth of Mother Time, trees and plants would revive or germinate once they had sun, space and water once more.

One such find was Lilac trees that had been planted by Mrs. Thomas Henderson when she and Capt. Tom lived there. Two different lilac trees came back up along the path to the back garden. One of the Henderson’s grandchildren stopped by one day and told me about Grandmother’s friend, Helen Keller who use to stay with the Hendersons when she came to Franklin to learn about her family who fought in the battle of Franklin in 1867.

George (the grandson) explained that Ms. Keller could identify each lilac by their scent as she would walk out to the garden with Mrs. Henderson. He explained there were several lilac trees at that time and was happy we had recovered two of them.

I left the lilac trees at Hyssop Hill (now Collins Farm) when we moved but I did take a small piece of each tree that had suckered and I’m so glad I did because they disappeared like so many of the historic plants from that estate. Ignorance, naivety, or perhaps a lack of historic importance was placed on the horticulture of such a significant piece of Franklin’s history.

One of the lilac trees seems to be very ordinary in form, color, scent…the other one is incredible in scent, blue-lavender color blooms that seem to be doubled – If anyone can identify these please help.

I have three other lilacs in my current garden. This one was cut back to the ground when a screened-in porch was added four years ago. It has since grown back and in full bloom this year.

A Miss Kim is almost in bloom and is covered this year. This lilac has a compact rounded shape and blooms later than all the others in my yard.

I also have a white juvenile lilac that a friend gave me which I think will bloom next year. (Something to look forward to)

If you are crazy about lilacs make plans to visit Mackanaw (Mackinac) Island in Northern Michigan for their annual lilac festival. It takes place the first part of June. The festival lasts ten days with all kinds of activities and events but the lilacs, many of them planted in the 1800’s are the star of this show. This website gives all the details -

Morel Mushrooms

I found morel mushrooms growing in my kitchen garden amongst the corn salad. I have to say I was stoked! Growing up in Northern Michigan morel mushroom hunting is something to look forward to after a long hard winter. I never even considered the fact that morels grew in Tennessee…what was I thinking?

My son was visiting this past week. He and his friend were telling me about their turkey hunting adventure of the morning and they mentioned that although they didn’t bag a bird they did find mushrooms.

Of course I quickly showed them my find in the garden and my son’s friend told me they find morels in the woods around here every year. What rock have I been under all these years? More importantly, what else have I been missing out on?

Each May, a huge morel festival is held in Boyne City, Michigan where hundreds of folks come from all over the country to hunt the elusive shrooms. I remember as a child going mushroom hunting with the family. We always had a contest to see who could find the most.

We had our favorite spots on the family farm; the woods near Loeb creek, in the clearing by our family cabin, and along an old logging trail cut through the swamp. Sometimes we would go on a Sunday morning after all the chores were done to state land a few miles away.

It was hard to concentrate sometimes while looking for morel mushrooms. They blend into their surroundings so one has to concentrate. That was easier said then done when wildflowers like trilliums were catching my eye and I was haphazardly swatting black flies that insisted on swarming around my head. (a small price to pay for such an adventure)

My little brother Mike always found the most. He was younger and a lot closer to the ground then the rest of us. Or at least that is the excuse we always used.

After all the fun my parents could handle in the woods with 4 kids we would come home and my mom would wash and swish the mess of shrooms in a cold sink of water. Then she would melt some butter in the cast iron skillet and simmer the morels until tender. A little salt and pepper for seasoning and viola, dinner was served. What a treat, what great memories!

I dried the six mushrooms I found in hopes more will come up. It is easy to hydrate them when I’m ready to serve them up. Some folks hunt and pick morel mushrooms just to dry and sell to restaurants and the like. If I remember right, they bring a pretty penny per pound. (and it takes a lot of dried mushrooms to make a pound!)

I rather like the idea of morel mushrooms coming to me. No ticks, chiggers or other surprises. But now that I know they grow in Tennessee I guess I am willing to venture out and find more. Check out this website called the Morel Mushroom Hunting club. They have great information and reports of mushroom (not just morels) finds broken down into states with dates and names.