Archive for May, 2009

Reclaiming the Northern Frontier

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Other than the perennial asparagus bed and a bed that was fallow last year but cleaned out for Anneliese’s gardening effort two years ago, I haven’t gardened any of the north beds since 2003. Besides the asparagus, I have a stand of perennial sunchokes and my compost pile, but the north garden is mostly in disrepair and has become infested with burdock, tansy, sumac and grass.

I needed more space this year so I cleaned out the double bed that Anneliese had used in 2007 and cleaned up a fallow bed east of that that was idle for five years. The north beds were always too big. When I planned the garden in 1986, I thought bigger was better, so I made the beds four feet across the top versus the three foot top widths recommended by John Jeavons in the raised bed reference “How to Grow More Vegetables”. Four foot tops are too wide to easily reach more than half way across.

As I work at re-starting gardening in the north, I’m re-shaping the beds down to three foot top widths. You may not be able to tell in the picture but the depth of the beds becomes really deep as I use the extra soil from the wider beds.

I planted 72 tomatoes (actually 70 tomatoes and 2 tomatillos) in the three beds shown here. The bed on the right butts up against a large comfrey plant, one of about a half dozen and spreading that have done well with no care whatever, and which I use as compost plants.

I hope to hack away at more of the neglect over the summer and re-establish several more beds. I would like to totally eradicate the sumac over time. The rest of the weeds are just part of the system and I’m getting to the point where I can somewhat control them. We shall see as the summer progresses if we can expand our foothold in the north.

Guess the Flower!

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Do you know what this flower is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s part of an edible plant.

Feel free to post your guesses in the comments section. The first person who answers correctly wins major gardening cred and a CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator.

No cheating!

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Vertie's Gravatar Potato?
# Posted By Vertie | 5/23/09 3:31 PM
Anneliese's Gravatar Nope. Not potato. Keep trying!
# Posted By Anneliese | 5/23/09 3:34 PM
Carol, May Dreams Gardens's Gravatar Are those radishes?
# Posted By Carol, May Dreams Gardens | 5/24/09 10:26 AM
Duckladynh's Gravatar Elderberry, that’s my guess.

Hey, I’m so glad I found your website. I am–believe it or not–a professional weeder. For some reason I love to weed and have discovered people are willing to pay handsomely for this service. I bought a Cobrahead at a garden show (Providence RI, maybe?) a couple of years ago from the daughter of the man who invented it (I think I have that right).

My Cobrahead has become my go-to tool for every weed imaginable. I totally adore it and can’t do without it. The balance is perfect, the colourful handle is sturdy, firmly attached, attractive (unlike the usual blaze orange recommendation) and hard to lose.

Nonetheless, I seem to have misplaced mine which caused me to search for your site. I was just looking at it yesterday and, thank goodness, noticed the name of the tool. I’m sure I’ll find it but am thinking of getting a back-up Cobrahead because I certainly don’t want to be without one.

By the way, can you put some more info on your site about your hoe? I’d love to see a close-up of the head, know more about how it’s attached. Am I correct in thinking that having a handle on the hoe like the one on the short handled Cobrahead would by physically impossible or prohibitively expensive?

By the way, unless you’ve changed the design since I bought mine, I find the tip to be not overly sharp. It’s sharp enough to take care of those weeds but I’m never in danger of cutting myself. Your information makes it sound pretty sharp and people might worry needlessly about cuts. ‘

Keep up the good work.

# Posted By Duckladynh | 5/24/09 10:58 AM
Anneliese's Gravatar Hi Carol!
You’re getting close, but no cigar (I mean CobraHead)!

Thank you for your very enthusiastic feedback! I am, in fact, the daughter of the man who designed the CobraHead, and I was at the Providence, RI Garden Show two years ago with my brother. We are hoping to update our website in the near future, but in the meantime, I’ll tell you a little bit about the CobraHead Long Handle. The blade tip is the same as the hand weeder, but the angle is a bit different to adjust for having it on a long handle. The blade is secured to the handle using a set screw, and therefore it’s replaceable should you manage to damage it.

OK, here’s another hint: By edible, I did mean food and not just “it won’t kill you” (someone asked me this). This food is fairly common, but the average person would never recognize it in its unprepared form.

Please keep guessing!

# Posted By Anneliese | 5/24/09 12:02 PM
Duckladynh's Gravatar Kale? (Am I allowed to change my vote?)

Hooray, hooray! I found my beloved Cobrahead–under a pile of weeds at the very bottom of my garden cart. Phew.

I’m definitely going to get that hoe. I worked on an organic farm two years ago and fell in love with that hoe or one very similar. My boss thought he got it at Johnny’s but nope, it’s not there. It looks like YOUR hoe. It was the best hoe I’ve ever used, in fact the only one I’ve ever really liked.

One more question and then I’ll shut up: I’m 5’2″ with very short arms and legs. Do you recommend the shortest sized hoe? I’m kind of on the cusp, not under 5″ but definitely made of spare parts with quite short arms and legs and someone else’s long torso. I’m thinking I should go for the shortest hoe.

If you are the young woman who sold me this hoe (and it seems you are), you were very nice and did a great job of describing the Cobrahead. I remember you as being genuinely proud of your dad’s invention. Now I know why. I practically kissed that sucker when it fell out of my unended cart today.

# Posted By Duckladynh | 5/24/09 4:45 PM
Anneliese's Gravatar Duckladynh,
No, it’s not kale, but you can guess/vote as many times as you like. 🙂

I think I probably would recommend the shortest handle length for you. If you use one that’s too long for you, it might feel a bit nose-heavy.

I’d have to say I am genuinely proud of my dad’s invention. I’m also quite happy to be working for our small family business. It can be challenging, but it’s also very rewarding — especially when we hear back from people like you who tell us how much they like using the CobraHead!

# Posted By Anneliese | 5/24/09 6:59 PM
Duckladynh's Gravatar This is embarrassing, but I’m going to try again. I’m convinced it’s a brassica of some sort, but usually their flowers are yellow, not white. Sigh. I’m going to guess rutabaga.

At some point I suppose I should stop…

By the way, I just realized today that I can bicycle to my in-town weeding gig, thanks to my Cobrahead. It’s become the ONLY weeder I use. I’m actually thinking of getting rid of the rest of my Cape Cod and other weeders because this thing does it all. If I only need to loop my trusty Cobrahead over my handlebars, then I’m good to go. My local greenhouse has had an enquiry for someone wanting my services so my tiny business is growing as the weeds grow.

Hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend in Cobrahead Land.

# Posted By Duckladynh | 5/25/09 6:00 PM
Anneliese's Gravatar You’re getting closer! It IS a brassica, and it IS a root crop (big clue there!).

Go ahead and keep guessing!

# Posted By Anneliese | 5/25/09 8:38 PM
Duckladynh's Gravatar Egad. Turnip? I keep thinking turnip flowers are yellow, though…

I’m so hooked on this now.

Duckie (who’ll be planting her brassicas tomorrow)

# Posted By Duckladynh | 5/25/09 9:17 PM
Anneliese's Gravatar No, it’s not turnip.

Don’t forget that I said most people (especially non-gardeners) wouldn’t recognize this particular food in an unprepared form. It’s relatively common, but it almost always accompanies other food.

Good luck with your brassica planting today!

# Posted By Anneliese | 5/26/09 8:59 AM
Annie in Austin's Gravatar Hi Anneliese, how about Horseradish?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

# Posted By Annie in Austin | 5/26/09 9:07 AM
maya | springtree road's Gravatar apple blossom?
# Posted By maya | springtree road | 5/26/09 9:12 AM
Vertie's Gravatar Daikon?
# Posted By Vertie | 5/26/09 9:19 AM
Anneliese's Gravatar Woo! We have a winner!

Those are Horseradish flowers! Way to go, Annie – you get a CobraHead tool!

Carol was quite close when she said radishes, but radish and horseradish, while in the same family, are not the same plant.

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

# Posted By Anneliese | 5/26/09 9:42 AM
Annie in Austin's Gravatar Thank you, thank you, Annaliese! At first I thought it was radish too – the photo looks so much like the radishes gone to seed in my vegetable patch.

We used to grow horseradish in IL but don’t know if it can survive in Texas. A family story is that my grandmother Kitty liked horseradish so much instead of using it as a condiment she ate it with a spoon. Guess I should try to grow some in her honor.


# Posted By Annie in Austin | 5/26/09 9:57 AM
Duckladynh's Gravatar Way to go, Annie from Austin. Thank you for putting me out of my misery. I never would have gotten it.
# Posted By Duckladynh | 5/26/09 3:15 PM

Nothin’ Like the First Spring Rhubarb!

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I like rhubarb crisps best at the beginning of the season. The stalks are succulent and juicy after all the spring rains. I realize there are a multitude of very good rhubarb recipes from pies to cobblers. (And we’ve tried a lot of them.) Following is a recipe I’ve developed over the years and our favorite way to enjoy the tangy stalks.

Rhubarb Crisp (10 inch pan )

6 cups chopped rhubarb

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour (unbleached or soft whole wheat)

Mix and let stand for 15 minutes.


1 tsp. cinnamon

1/3 cup soft whole wheat flour

1 cups rolled oats

ÂĽ cup butter, melted

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup walnuts, chopped

Place rhubarb mixture in shallow greased baking dish. Combine dry ingredients; add melted butter, mixing until crumbly. Sprinkle over rhubarb. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

May substitute part of rhubarb for some strawberries or raspberries.

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Duckladynh's Gravatar I love rhubarb crisp. I also make rhubarb-ginger jam (just add ginger to any jam recipe) and Shaker rhubarb tea.

I think of rhubarb as the quintessential New England fruit. It’s free, good for you and unusually tart.

# Posted By Duckladynh | 5/26/09 7:57 AM
Judy's Gravatar I love putting fresh chopped ginger in my rhubarb sauce too. I’m not familiar with Shaker tea but years ago I used to make a strawberry-rhubarb slush with vodka that you kept in the freezer. When ready to serve just add sparkling water.
# Posted By Judy | 5/26/09 8:15 AM
Duckladynh's Gravatar Shaker Cold Rhubarb Tea
4 C. rhubarb, diced (unpeeled)
4 C. water
Juice and grated rind of one lemon or orange
3/4 C. sugar
Simmer rhubarb in water until very tender, about 20-25 minutes. Strain. Add juice, rind and sugar. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Cool and serve over ice in tall clear glasses.
This is from Eldress Bertha Lindsay’s cookbook ‘Seasoned with Grace.’ It’s one of my favourites, good plain farm cooking with a great pic of Eldress Bertha on the cover. Visit to learn more about these special people and this serene and lovely place. There is also a small, still active community of Shakers at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, Maine. Their site is
I hope it’s okay to share these links here. Both organizations are agricultural and non-profit in nature.
# Posted By Duckladynh | 5/28/09 7:44 AM
Judy's Gravatar Thanks for the Shaker Tea recipe and the interesting links. I think I’ll make some tea for the freezer. That way I can preserve the rhubarb and spread out my intake of oxalic acid!:)
# Posted By Judy | 5/28/09 9:22 AM

Not a Cobra, but My Friend Just the Same

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

I found this little red-bellied snake while raking leaves off the beds. They nest in the leaves every year. This one is still a small juvenile. They are not big snakes even when fully grown. I like having snakes in the garden. They are harmless and they eat lots of insects.

Snakes and other creatures also give the garden a little bit of a wild side. I think preserving whatever wildness we can in our yards is important. The sterility of the suburbs is well commented on, but the suburbs are awful in so many ways. The sameness and lack of biodiversity is part of the issue.

Unfortunately, our two cats like snakes, as well, mostly for gastronomic and entertainment value. I don’t think the cats are endangering the snake population, but whenever I find a snake or a toad, which the cats will also terrorize, I try to hide them somewhere out of harm’s way.

Medicine Wheel Gardens

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Last Saturday Raemelle and I had the opportunity to attend a workshop about Medicine Wheel Gardens at the Alma de Mujer Center for Social Change. I want to convert a section of my front yard to an herb garden and the able crew at Alma de Mujer gave us some inspiration.

Ana Lara, Alma’s Program Director, led the workshop.

Before we went out to the garden itself the participants spent some time sharing information about the different kinds of illness that affect our families and our communities as well as the different kinds of medicine that we grew up with, both conventional and herbal.

The Medicine Wheel Garden divides a circle into four quadrants oriented to the four directions. Particular colors and elements are associated with each direction. These colors vary with different peoples. The volunteers who constructed this garden drew upon Mexica traditions and laid it out Yellow-East, White-North, Red-South, and Blue-West.

The garden is only two months old and already looks great. In the photo below one of the trellises awaits planting.

In addition to the garden at the center itself, volunteers from Alma have planted three smaller medicinal gardens around Austin, one at Resistencia bookstore, one at MonkeyWrench bookstore and one at the offices of PODER.

I look forward to ripping out another section of my front lawn and having more herbs to share with the neighbors.

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Ana Lara's Gravatar Thanks Geoff for coming out! It was great to have you here. We’re enjoying using the cobra heads you donated, too! Take good care. Ana
# Posted By Ana Lara | 5/15/09 3:46 PM
Dentist Flower Mound's Gravatar Your gardens looks really nice. There are many people who has herbs in their gardens because of it’s great medicinal purposes and you can put them as an ingredient in your cooking.
# Posted By Dentist Flower Mound | 7/30/09 2:00 AM
Dental Inglewood's Gravatar I like your garden! thanks for sharing your ideas. i might do this on my backyard too. Scientifically speaking, lots of herbs are proven safe and effective in treating some diseases.
# Posted By Dental Inglewood | 9/24/09 2:53 AM

More on Leaf Mulch

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

I’m really beginning to see positive results of covering the beds with leaves in the fall. I’ve been pretty diligent about doing this for the last five years. This picture shows a bed I just cleaned off. It is almost totally weed free, and the few weeds that have sprouted are easily removed.

I even got some leaves into several of the north beds, which is way more of a wild area than the south beds. You can see the results of leaf cover on the bed on the left versus the bed on the right, which has a cover of sprouted weeds. I used to spend hours getting a single bed ready to go in the spring, now I can get a bed ready to go in about an hour after I clean the leaves off. That takes about 15 minutes using the long handle CobraHead first, followed by a hay fork. The hour includes working in some compost and shaping and raising up the sides of the beds by dragging up some dirt from the paths and doing some shallow cultivation with the CobraHead long handle and a final shaping with a steel rake. I’ve quit deep cultivation totally. I’m now pretty sure it’s unnecessary, if not actually harmful.

In addition to less work, the clay soil is becoming much softer and the worm population seems to be increasing. I would recommend this to anyone whose garden is small enough and has leaves at their disposal.

Room to Move

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

I spent some time today potting off peppers and other starts. The first picture shows the results of moving the starts from their seed starting cups to individual larger cups.

I still have to pot off most of the tomatoes which are getting pretty crowded. Once they get potted off, they will explode in growth and I’ll start hardening them off immediately so I can get them in the ground by the end of May.

It was a beautiful day to be working outside and it ended with a full moon rising above our shed to the east. Since I had the camera out to take pictures of the pots, I took this one, too.