Vegan Caramelized Carrot Risotto

IMG_2868     After seeing the movie The Fault in Our Stars where they eat the Dragon Carrot Risotto, I knew I had to make it.  So last Fall, I ordered organic seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, and began planning a few dishes to make.   I found this recipe online and veganized it.  Swapping out the animal products still produced a classic, restaurant-style risotto, with a real flavor of parmesan.  Caramelizing the carrots is genius, and this is good enough for company, for a birthday, or even for Thanksgiving.  In the end, I did use a mélange of carrot cultivars to make this dish, because that day, along with the Dragon carrots, I also pulled Cosmic Purple carrots and Atomic Red carrots from the ground.   This dish makes a lot and reheats well.


Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided  (not canola oil)
3 Tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, divided
6 medium carrots, peeled and chopped as finely and evenly as possible (about 3 Cups)
(I used a food processor for the carrots)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
5 Cups vegetable broth  (I used Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base)
1/3 Cup minced onion
1.5 Cups Arborio rice
1/2 Cup dry white wine
1/4 Cup vegan cream cheese  (I like Trader Joe’s)
1/4 Cup vegan parmesan, I like Go Veggie Vegan Grated Parmesan
1 Tablespoon finely-chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1 Tablespoon for garnish
1 teaspoon roughly-chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil and 1 Tablespoon vegan butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Add carrots and stir until well coated.  Ad 1/2 Cup water, salt and sugar, cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender.  Uncover and cook a few minutes more, stirring occasionally until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown.  Reserve half of these cooked carrots.  In a blender, puree the other half with 3/4 Cup hot water.

Bring broth to a simmer and keep hot, covered, over low heat.

In same (unwashed) pot used for carrots, heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add rice, stirring to coat rice with oil, 1 minute.  Add wine and cook, stirring until wine evaporates.  Add carrot puree and cook, stirring, until mixture no longer looks soupy.

Add 1/2 Cup hot broth, stirring often, until rice absorbs most of the liquid.  Repeat process, adding 1/2 Cup broth at a time and stirring often until each addition of broth is absorbed before adding the next, until rice is al dente (about 20 minutes).  At least 1 Cup of broth will remain.

Set aside 2 Tablespoons of the caramelized carrots.  Fold in the remaining carrots, cream cheese, parmesan, 1 Tablespoon parsley, and the thyme.  Add up to 1 Cup broth (1/4 Cup at a time) to loosen the risotto.  Season with pepper.

Garnish each bowl of risotto with the remaining parsley and reserved carrots.  Serve immediately.

Notes:  Better Than Bouillon also makes a very good Seasoned Vegetable Base that would work fine.  When reheating, add some leftover broth or water to loosen it up again.

cropped-IMG_2825.jpg  Organic carrots from my garden.

BAMONA, Butterflies and Moths of North America

IMG_0400     Did you know there’s a web site where you can post photos of butterflies and moths you see?  No, it’s not Instagram,  it’s BAMONA, Butterflies and Moths of North America.  With Instagram around, why would we do this?  Because it helps track our little friends, who are also very valuable pollinators.  Some think butterflies are not as effective at pollinating as bees are, but butterflies can travel longer distances, ensuring coverage of equal amounts of flowering plants in a larger area.  So, although they’re only looking for food (nectar), they actually help plants reproduce in an important way, on a larger geographic scale than bees sometimes.  Moths also pollinate and are vital.  I went over all this in episode three of the podcast by the way (the gardening episode).   Posting butterflies and moths on BAMONA is also a great activity for kids.  I caught the image above on a little Canon automatic camera in my backyard.  I realized this fritillary was larger than the tiny ones that I sometimes see, grabbed my camera and got lucky.  You can see my actual submission and another photo of this Great Spangled Fritillary here.

My latest submission to BAMONA is not a good photo–it was taken by my husband with his phone, outside a Chili’s Restaurant on a busy bypass road in Easton, Maryland.  We think he/she was drying her wings, and we didn’t want to get too close and scare her.  It was a huge Silkmoth, about the size of a coffee cup, although the photos don’t show the perspective of her size.  By the way, at Chili’s Restaurant, I got the citrus rice, black beans and sweet potato fries, in case you’re wondering, ha ha!  Anyway, outside this Chili’s, are growing several of the host plants for this gorgeous Silkmoth (the adults do not feed, but these host plants probably supported this Silkmoth when it was a caterpillar).

Caterpillar Host plants for the Cecropia silkmoth include various trees and shrubs including box elder (Acer negundo), sugar maple (Acer saccharinum), wild cherries and plums (Prunus), apples (Malus), alder and birch (Betulaceae), dogwoods (Cornus), and willows (Salix).  Luckily, outside this Chili’s Restaurant on this busy bypass, are growing some birch trees and small dogwood trees.  These are plants that were probably required by the shopping complex as part of the approved landscaping plan, and this really highlights the importance of local plantings at new developments.  We’re already destroying large swaths of habitat with these developments, so a few plantings among the sea of pavement and sidewalks are the very least we can do, and we should be doing so much more.   Anyway, a female Silkmoth laid 2 to 6 eggs on leaves of a host-plant tree or shrub, and these eggs hatched in 10-14 days, and the young caterpillars then fed on those very leaves in a perfect symphony of sustainability, especially since moths and butterflies then help to pollinate the flowers of the host plants.  Then the flowers produce berries that support bird life, and on and on.  And her work is not done, because the flight range for Silkmoths is Nova Scotia and Maine south to Florida, and/or west across Southern Canada and the Eastern United States to the Rocky Mountains.

Participating in posting and tracking butterflies and moths creates Awareness and Consciousness of caterpillars and who they become, and of the beauty around us and of how we’re all connected.  Every life is important, no matter how tiny their earthly shell!
IMG_1701   River Birch trees planted as part of the shopping complex landscaping, near the entrance to Chili’s Restaurant where we saw the above Silkmoth.   Birch are host plants for various moths and butterflies.

IMG_1703  One of two young dogwoods (host plants) outside the restaurant.

Old Virginia Heirloom Tomato

IMG_0673    Vegan Mofo 2013.  Behold the Old Virginia heirloom tomato.  This is my first time growing this particular variety.  I’m a wicked tomato snob, and one year grew eleven varieties of organic heirlooms, which is no easy feat because if you plant one heirloom variety near another, they can easily cross-pollinate and hybridize.  I planted these seeds on April 14, here in my backyard on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Lars told me I should have started the seeds indoors 4-8 weeks prior, which I knew, but with the new podcast, lots of things fell to the wayside this year.  Old Virginia is supposedly a mid-season tomato but I started late from seed, and my two 12-foot-long raised beds are behind the garage and don’t get maximum sunlight.  I didn’t even pinch any axil buds this year, something I always do.  Anyway, I think we must have picked the first tomato right around September 1.  And now, of course, they’re coming on like gangbusters.  I figured with a name like Old Virginia, this cultivar could take the heat of a Maryland summer, and it has.  This beautiful tomato is also crack-resistant and has fewer seeds than many varieties.  I got my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Saving seeds is worth it to me, but only if I’m growing heirlooms where I know they’ll reproduce true to the parent.  And it’s important to me to always get an organic seed, especially if I’m going to all the trouble to grow something from seed, and then save the seeds from harvest.  Also, I don’t want to grow GMO.  The flavor of this cultivar is good, although not the best of any heirloom.  However, heirloom tomatoes are often stingy in their production, and prone to cracking and other problems.  I’ve had summers where I have the most delicious heirlooms, but a low yield.  Of course, this beats any restaurant or supermarket tomato to Hell, and the other benefits make this a good, reliable addition to the heirloom tomato catalogue.

On the last episode of the Peaceful Table Podcast, I mentioned a few of my favorite tomato recipes.  Roasted Cream of Tomato SoupFried Green Tomatoes, and a lovely Indian salad called Timatar Ka.
IMG_0697  Fewer seeds than many other tomato varieties.

Easy Fig Jam with Lemon and Sesame

IMG_0598    Vegan Mofo 2013.  For weeks, we’ve been having a contest to see who could get to the figs first–me or The Squirrels.  As you can imagine, the Squirrels are way ahead, but I did manage to snag a pound a half of these White Italian Honey Figs, and make some easy, vegan fig jam.  This fig jam is great with salty crackers on a vegan cheese board.  You can double this recipe, and you can use any type of figs–I’ve also made it with Brown Turkey figs.


Makes about two 8-ounce jars.

1/2 Cup water
1/2 Cup sugar
1.5 pounds ripe figs, rinsed
zest from one organic lemon
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (no more)
1 Tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast sesame seeds, shaking the pan gently until seeds turn golden.  Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, simmer water and sugar, until sugar is dissolved.
Cut each fig into about 8 pieces.
Into the sugar-water, add zest and lemon juice and figs.
Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, 1.5 to 2 hours.
Stir in sesame seeds.
If you want to, you can now use a potato masher to break up some of the fig pieces.
I like a mixed consistency.
Let cool a bit and then ladle into heavy little canning jars.
When fully cool, cap the jars.
Keep in fridge for one month, or put in freezer for up to six months.

Notes:  I’ve tried making this with stevia, and did not like the flavor at all.  One time I added extra lemon, but that made it taste kind of like Pledge, so keep it subtle.  I also tried adding more sesame seeds, but it was too much, threw the balance off.  This fig jam is great with salty crackers and vegan cheeses.  If you need to collect figs over 2 or 3 days, gently rinse and dry them, and keep them in a covered container in the refrigerator until you get enough.
IMG_0579  White Italian Honey Figs

IMG_0510  Here’s my haul from day one.  It took me two more days to steal enough from the squirrels to make jam.

IMG_0591  The picture of health, but not ripe yet.

IMG_0589  This fig tree gets cut back each Spring and then it grows about 4-6 feet in one season.  You can see it towering over our one-story garage roof here.  This fig tree faces SW, and is protected from wind by the garage.

Early Bloomers for A Back Porch Flower Bed

I like a succession of blooms in the flower bed that runs along our back porch.  This is Act One, and it provides early color while the longer-lasting perennials are maturing for their turn in the spotlight.  Invisibly growing up, hidden under and behind these purple and white blooms, are Butterfly Weed, Cone Flowers, Liatris, tall Sedums, tall Phlox, Russian Sage, tall Soapwort, Veronica, Daylillies, Obedience Plant, etc.  Here below are some easy, early-flowering combinations that I use almost every year.  These flowers bloom for several weeks in Spring, for parts of April and May, maybe a month, or more or less, depending upon the weather that year.  So this year, we have a good example of some of the blooms.  Please note that usually, I also have big red and pink poppies blooming with these, but am just now in the process of replacing poppies that have gotten pushed around and inadvertently dug up over the years during plantings of annuals, etc.  So here we go with some of my favorite old standbys.

IMG_9923 Tall purple Dames Rockets (Hesperis matronalis) are an old-fashioned favorite that used to be planted outside the back/kitchen door of early-American farm houses in Pennsylvania and other nearby states.  They also come in white.  Each year, I let one Dames Rocket go to seed and then save the seeds from the long, thin seed pods once the pods dry out and start to crack.  In August or September, I scratch the seeds into the soil and keep them lightly watered for a couple of weeks until they start to sprout and take.  If you look closely, you can see the dark green leaves of tall phlox coming up.  In this photo, the Dames are fronted by an early daisy called ‘filigran’ as described below.  Oh and p.s., the Dames Rockets have a lovely, faint floral scent.

IMG_9924 Purple blossoms of the common chive are in the foreground of this photo.   I use these chives all Spring and summer for cooking.  When the flowers are spent, I cut the whole plant down to the ground and they re-grow quickly, several times over a summer and into late Fall.  These slowly spread over the years, so that you can always have one little patch flowering while the other regenerates and blooms again.  You can also pot up a little patch to give away.

IMG_9926 The tall red/pink flowers are Centranthus ruber, otherwise known as Jupiter’s Beard.  This is an “ever bloomer” meaning that if you cut it back as you go, it will bloom from May to the first frost.  It does spread and go to seed, so I deadhead the spent blossoms, and pull out a clump of it here and there as the summer wears on.  Later, if it gets leggy or the blooming slows down, I’ll cut a foot off it and let it start over for another bloom.  I planted 3 of these in April 2007 and have had descendants ever since.  They bloom early, and provide that little contrasting pop of red needed to offset the predominant purples and white’s I have going.  You can’t see it, but I always start packs of white alyssum along the bottom front of the beds, so that it smells like honey.  The honeybees love the alyssum and the low alyssum look sweet down at the front edge, and sort of hang over and soften the front edge of the bed.  Alyssum are also easily started by seed.  I have not tried the purple alyssum, always love the look and scent of the white.  Please note the darker-purple spires of Salvia just starting to open on the middle right of the photo.

IMG_9933 Daisy, Leucanthemum ‘filigran’ is the cultivar.  I’ve tried different oxeye daisies and Shasta daisies, and this is my favorite for various reasons.  It’s early, it’s a little shorter, so it’s a bit more manageable than some of the taller shastas.  This one is a winner; it can take a beating under wind and rain and stand back up for you, even when we get the Spring storms off the water.

IMG_9929 A close-up of the dark-pink Jupiter’s Beard.

IMG_9932 The deep purple spires of Salvia are among my favorites, because they bring a different shape and intensity of color to the garden.  There are so many good things about Salvia!  They’re deer resistant, rabbit resistant, can take it dry or even a bit salty.  They attract hummingbirds and bees.  They can take clay soil to sandy soil, and are not invasive.  Once spent, you can cut the individual stems back for a second bloom.  What’s not to like!

Harvesting Chestnuts

Inspired by Vegan Mofo 2012, today we went Chestnut picking for the first time ever.  Here in Maryland, we’ve had a warm Autumn so far and there are a lot of chestnuts already on the ground.  The old trees we picked from have probably never been pruned, or sprayed.  After reading conflicting instructions online, we picked up perfect-looking chestnuts off the ground, and gently shook some branches until other chestnuts fell.  I devised a system where we would lay down an old sheet on the ground and the freshly-fallen nuts would be easily seen.  Standing under the venerable old tree, I’d hear a thunk every few minutes, and another chestnut or two would fall.  The ground was littered with old burrs and nuts, but we got good at tracking the falling chestnuts with our eyes so we could pick the freshly-fallen ones right up.  There’s a lot of chestnut information on sites like eHow.  Here are some theories that are interesting:

Chestnuts should be observed all through September and October.  It can take five weeks for all the nuts to fall from the time the first nuts drop.  Observe and pick up nuts each day so they don’t sit on the ground too long.

Chestnuts fall when they are ready and fully ripe.  They do some critical ripening in the two weeks prior to dropping, so do not pick or shake from the tree (oops).

Some supplies to bring with you for harvesting are a sheet or tarp, heavy gloves, a bag or two to hold your harvest, and bug spray.  Now that I have a fine kettle of chestnuts, I must figure out what to do with them.

Growing Beets

This is the first time I’ve ever grown beets.  I have two raised beds that Lars made for me last year, and so last Winter, I placed an order with Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply.  I bought organic seeds, vegan fertilizer, etc.  As for the beet seeds, I chose the Chioggia “Candystripe” variety (organic, of course).  The Chioggia beet is an Italian heirloom that has red and white rings within it (see photo below).  I saw online sites that advised eating beets raw, grated into a salad, etc.  I was still a bit leery of eating them raw, due to worries about the oxalic acid present in all parts of the beet plant.  You see, I once knew someone who almost died eating undercooked taro on a camping trip in a Hawaiian rainforest.  So, as I was preparing the raw beets, I ate one small slice, just to test it out.  Sure enough, within 5 minutes, my throat was sore and inflamed.  Some people advocate putting raw beets or beet greens into the juicer, but others have allergic reactions, so please be aware that not everyone can eat raw beets and raw beet greens!  Beets are disliked by many, and there’s a theory that this is due to an organic compound called Geosmin that lies within the beeting heart.  Geosmin is what makes beets smell like the earth, and this earthy scent also translates into the taste of the beets.  Geosmin is also what we smell when soil is newly wetted or disturbed, and human animals are very sensitive to this.  It’s my theory that the extreme sensitivity to Geosmin (in soil) often helped humans find water in the desert.  Eating beets is primal, and humans have been eating beets since the 2nd millennium B.C.  I have a lovely roasted beet salad on this site, that involves a light pickling of the beets in a simple marinade.  These Chioggia beets cook up to a peach-and-pink confection of color (see photo below).  My beet seed packet said to soak the seeds for 12 hours, but I did not.  I watered my seed row every day for a week though, and then a couple of times per week.  Once the seedlings pop up and are beginning to look crowded, you will thin the seedlings, as seen here on this video.  You plant the seeds 2″ apart for greens, 3″ apart for summer harvest, and 4″ apart for “storage growing beets.”  If your soil is not too compacted, the beets will pull up easily out of the ground.  For best flavor, harvest beets (roots) when they are 2-3 inches in diameter.  If you leave the beets in until they are too large, there will be some cracking at one end of the beet.  Below is a photo of a beet that had pushed its shoulders out of the ground, and announced loudly that I better harvest it pronto (it was still good, but only just).  Once I roast and pickle my beets, my favorite way to eat them is in a wrap with hummus and toasted almonds; it’s amazing.  OK, there are photos at the bottom, but first, here are some other basic rules about growing beets:

Beets are easy to grow.
Beets will tolerate light shade.
From germination, beets take about 60 days to mature.
In Spring, make sure ground is at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit before planting seeds, and plant as early as possible because beets don’t like the heat of summer.
Plant beets in succession about 3 weeks apart, so you don’t have too many beets all ripe at once, unless you want to do a big canning.
Beets like mulch to protect their roots from heat.
Beets are not harmed by Spring and Fall frosts, so you can also plant them in late summer for Autumn harvest.
For Fall planting, calculate when you think the ground will have a hard freeze, and backtrack 60-65 days for the date of the last Autumn succession planting.  Then move back another 3 weeks and then another 3 weeks for the first Autumn planting.  You will have to know your own climate in order to avoid having beets growing in high summer heat.
Fall beets can use some slow release granular fertilizer in the soil when they are planted, and maybe some kelp too.  In my little raised beds, I will probably not do a Fall beet planting in the same place that I did my Spring beets, so that my soil has longer to rest between like crops.
Beets prefer a soil that is not heavy clay.
Beets prefer a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
If you grow beets in a very acidic soil, they can get black spot and be small and bitter.
Plant the beets the proper width apart (see above), so that the leaves shade the soil and keep it cooler.
Beets have a tap root, so just sow the seed, and do not start indoors unless you have to.
Beets do like sandy soil, but I do not have sandy soil.  I used the Vegan Mix Fertilizer from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply and apparently, it works, because I have beautiful beets coming out my ears.

Here is the raw, sliced Chioggia beet.
A beet showing large shoulders must be harvested.
Here is the roasted and peeled Chioggia beet.

Hand Pollination of Passion Flowers

Some friends here in Maryland gave us this little potted passion vine last year.  We transplanted it this spring, so it’s had a slow start.  The mother vine had been hanging on their house for many years and it was massive.  Despite its size, she told me it rarely bore fruit.  The yellow passion fruit sometimes has a hard time becoming pollinated.  And I’m assuming it’s a yellow passion fruit, of the Passiflora family.  If it turns out to be purple, it’ll be a surprise.  I don’t even know what I’ll do with it if I get enough to cook with, but I’ll think of something.  When I was a young girl, living on the island of Kauai, there was a restaurant called Green Garden, and they were famous for their Lilikoi chiffon pie, so I know they taste amazing in sweet desserts.  I could make a curd and use it in between layers of yellow cake, or on top of vegan cheesecake.  But I’m getting ahead of myself because they’re only flowers right now.  So, if you look at the above photo, you’ll notice the little flat, striped paddle-shaped things–these are the anthers.  As the blossom opens, the anthers ingeniously flip upside down and the undersides of them are loaded with bright yellow pollen.  This particular pollen is heavy and sticky, so wind pollination does not occur often either.  That little dark-purple bullseye at the center of the blossom is the nectary.  So when the bees go to drink nectar, the pollen gets rubbed onto the fuzzy backs of the bees.  Supposedly, the yellow passion flower is self-incompatible and needs a different cultivar to pollinate it, which I do not have, so this experiment may be a long shot.  But seeing these blossoms brings back fond memories and so I’m going for it.  And the fact that my friend Nancy did get some fruit once in a while gives me hope.  If I can find some other pollen in the garden (from a different plant altogether), I’ll try using that pollen too, and mark the blossom accordingly.  Part of the problem is that the anthers are located beneath the stigma.  The mottled three-legged thing on top, is what needs to get pollinated.  The legs are styles and the round knobs are the stigma that are to be pollinated.  With other cultivars, you can take pollen from one blossom and then pollinate a different blossom.  In doing so, you could cut one blossom and carry it around to others still hanging on the vine.  Or if you only have one blossom that day, you can supposedly pollinate a blossom from its own pollen.  I only had two blossoms yesterday, so I left them on the vine and cross pollinated them with each other’s pollen.   If I have a choice, I’ll use the pollen from a different blossom, of course.  Although we call them Lilikoi in Hawaii, here in the South, they’re called Maypops.  Cute!  I’m starting late, because it could take 60 days or more to get ripe fruit, but it’s worth a try.  So, here we go:

Take a child’s paintbrush and brush the pollen from underneath the anthers, onto the paintbrush bristles.  FYI, the frilly lavender and white filaments are the corona.  In the legend of the passion flower, this corona represents the crown of thorns or something (don’t quote me).

Take the pollen you’ve gathered, and gently brush it all over the three round stigma at the top of the styles.  You are now
pollinating!  One more photo below.

 Lastly, mark your pollinated blossom somehow.  I chose a contrasting colored piece of scrap yarn.  This way you won’t be pollinating the same flower twice, and also, you’ll know not to trim off that old blossom, because it’s a possible fruit.  You could get really detailed and put a tag that has the date, and whether you pollinated it with its own pollen, or pollen from a different blossom, etc.  But I want to keep it at about one minute per blossom here.

Growing Blueberries

We love to grow our own blueberries, and here’s how we do it.  We grow them up against a fence and this has several advantages.  The shade from the fencing protects the blueberries from the fierce SouthWest afternoon sun here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (photos below).  Also, I was able to write (stencil) the cultivar name on the fence, so I would know which variety I was picking, which were tasting good, producing more, etc.  The fence also provides the support to staple the netting onto.  We use cicada netting for a couple of months every year, and it keeps the birds out.  If you don’t use the netting, the birds will get to the berries before they’re fully ripe (and before you do). 

One thing to remember is that blueberries don’t like to get their feet too wet.  Here on the Eastern Shore, the land is very flat, and so we have to dig drainage swales (small trenches) so the rainwater won’t just stand in the yard.  Our fence just happened to run along the top side of the swale that ran all along the SW property line.  So, being planted on the top of the swale, they are kept out of any standing water.  If the blueberry bushes were in standing water for even a day or two, it could damage their roots.  Because we have plenty of clay in our soil, I don’t water them unless it hasn’t rained for several weeks.  If you have very sandy soil, you’d have to bring in plenty of organic matter and water more.  Another advantage of being planted at the fence and on the top of a swale, is that the ground directly around the blueberries does not get walked on, mowed and compacted (blueberry roots are shallow and sensitive).  Blueberries like an acid soil with a PH between 4.5 and 5.  I never did test the soil because I knew we had acid soil here.  However, we do pile old pine needles from our yard around the bluberries as an acidic mulch.  You would never want to mulch around your blueberry bushes with a hardwood mulch, for example.  You do want to use an acidic mulch such as pine bark mulch, if you have to buy the mulch.

You can re-create similar conditions and take advantage of what you have around you, as long as you are somewhat close to the correct growing zone.  I chose “highbush” blueberries so that we don’t have to squat to pick every berry.  I also chose multiple blueberry varieties so that some are early, mid-season and late.  For example, Earliblue (early), Bluecrop (mid-season) and Jersey (late), but there are many other varieties and they all have their own time in the season and their own taste and growth characteristics.  Another benefit to planting multiple varieties is that they’ll pollinate each other.  More photos and information below:

This haul might not look like a lot, but it equals six cups and exactly 2 pounds of blueberries.  And we got approximately the same haul 2 or 3 days ago.  I know this because we just about filled up this same little colander.  We are in the beginning of our picking season now.

Here’s how I label the cultivars.  Acrylic paint and some cheap cardboard stencils.  Some varieties are self-pollinating, but many need cross pollination with other varieties.  I painted this on the fence about 6 or 7 years ago, so you can see it’s still highly visible, and should be for years to come.  This fence is conveniently on a narrow side-yard where the air conditioning equipment stands and so we don’t mind how it looks there.  You can see the old staples from previous years, still stuck in the fencing.

We have to weigh down the cicada netting to keep the birds off the berries, to keep the netting from flying all over on a windy day, and most importantly, so that birds don’t go inside the netting and get trapped.  I have had to lift the netting and release many little birds, so now we place the bricks and rocks closer together to keep the little creatures out.
Another good thing about this placement of the blueberry bushes is that you don’t have to mow around them when you mow the lawn.  We have lost a bush or two over the years (blizzards), so this year, I planted two young ones on the far left, not visible here.  Our cultivars include Bluecrop, Bluegold, Blueray, Chippewa, and Patriot.

By planting various varieties, I also was able to plant early varieties, mid-season varieties and late-season varieties.  This way, we keep the berries coming for more than a month!

Potted Herbs

For some years in my 20’s, I lived in an odd apartment made out of the end of an antique brick warehouse near a river, a la Flashdance.  I didn’t have a balcony, or even a fire escape, but I did have some front steps and would keep plants there.  So now that I have a yard and garden, I still know the value of potted edibles and herbs, especially in early Spring when other plants are still dormant.  There are some things you don’t want to plant in your garden, such as Mint and Johnny Jump Ups (or Viola tricolor, also known as Heartsease).  You plant some Mint or Violas in one spot and the next thing you know, they’re coming up at the other end of the property, and everywhere else.  Same thing with Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), but I digress.  Anyway, it can take years to eradicate these things once you’ve let them loose.  And yet, we still want Mint for iced tea, and we still want to see the happy faces of Johnny Jump Ups, and we want to protect our cilantro from the burning heat of July and August.  So the answer is Potted Herbs.  Usually I plant a few more things in each pot, but this year I kept it to the essentials so i could photograph them and display them here for you.  The pot on the left has some spearmint for iced tea.  There are various other mints, and you can pinch a tiny leaf and taste them at the nursery, that’s the best way.  But think of Chocolate Mint, Pineapple Mint, Lemon Mint, etc.  I do love the spearmint though.  And then in that same pot is the other invasive beauty; Johnny Jump-Ups.  They’re so darn cute, and incredibly romantic, even Shakespeare thought so.  And the pot on the right has a Rainbow Chard, the Cilantro and a nasturtium (possibly an Empress of India cultivar, not sure).  The cilantro will tend to fade away in the garden once the heat of summer starts here in Maryland, despite my cutting back, so I grow it in pots where it can have afternoon shade.  The nasturtium will provide pretty edible flowers to adorn salads, and the rainbow chard is there to provide a different height and texture, a bit of ikebana and the lovely magenta color of its stems.  And yes, some night a month or two from now, I’ll do a quick saute on it for dinner.  I’ve got other edibles in the yard, including blueberries, figs, rhubarb and then the usual garden vegetables, but I still love my little potted gardens.  I water them every single day and don’t let the brutal afternoon sun hit them.  One thing I learned years ago is to make sure I plant in clay pots, so the evaporation effect after watering can cool them down.  And I also make sure there’s a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, because not having one spells d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r.  Know that potted plants actually prefer a liquid fertilizer, just check to make sure the fertilizer is not animal based.