Archive for February, 2012

Organic Gardening NOT JUST in the Northeast

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

We knew little of what is referred to as “Lawn & Garden” in the worldwide marketplace before we started CobraHead.  But we soon learned that if you can make garden writers familiar and happy with your products, there is a chance they might mention them when they write, and possibly the Lawn & Garden industry might notice, too.  So we’ve promoted CobraHead products earnestly to garden writers and it’s been a very smart move.

Henry Homeyer was an early CobraHead convert and he’s been a long time champion for our tools.  Henry is a professional garden writer, Master Gardener, gardening magazine editor, radio broadcaster, and gardening teacher who lives and gardens in New Hampshire.  He writes a weekly gardening column for a long list of newspapers in New England, and he has an avid following.

Henry recently published another book and it’s one I can recommend, highly.  We like it so much we now offer it on our website HERE.  The book is a collection of gardening articles Henry has written.  They’ve been edited and updated, and formatted into a month-by-month discussion of what gardeners should and could be doing throughout the gardening year.

The title, Organic Gardening NOT JUST in the Northeast, is important.  In Wisconsin we have real winters as do about two-thirds of the geographical US.  So what Henry writes about is good for most everywhere except the deep South and west of the Rockies, and it certainly applies to most of Canada, too.  Just remember that seed starting and planting dates can vary widely, even within your own state or province.

Henry approaches growing and caring for both ornamental plants and food plants with totally organic methods.  It’s one of the things that I find so useful about the book.  I’ve met a lot of professional and amateur gardeners who seem to think organic is for the veggies, but it’s okay to use chemical pesticides and herbicides on the flowers, lawn, and trees.  My thinking is it’s all the same garden, why do I want to poison any of it.  I’m glad to find a really good gardener who thinks the same way.

A beginning gardener will find much useful information in this book.  It’s easy to read and understand.  While it is a well indexed and useful reference, it’s also a good read and enjoyable just to go through it, front-to-back.  Henry’s an excellent story teller and the book can almost be read as a collection of short stories.  The solid advice dispensed is not just for new gardeners, however.  I found a recipe for a soil mix to use in soil blocks, which I never had good success with before, that will get me to try them again.  I’m sure even professional gardeners can find lot of good information here.

Henry starts the book with March, so the last chapter is February, which is where we are now.  Here are a couple interesting comments Henry has about Groundhog Day and what is the last “full” month of winter:  “I think we should take time out to recognize that February 2nd is halfway though winter.  The worst is over.  That’s worthy of celebration”.  And, “It’s still real winter, and too early for starting seeds indoors, but in a couple weeks we can start onions and leeks.  Then, by the first week of March, I’ll plant peppers and artichokes.  And before you know it, spring will be upon us, with snowdrops and crocuses.  I can barely wait.”  Henry’s book is loaded with optimism and, of course, gardening is a most optimistic endeavor.

I know I approach this with a bias, but my favorite part of the book is really the cover.  It’s a woodcut of Henry, squatted over his onions and working them with a CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator.  Woo Hoo!!  Thank you, Henry!

Sweet potatoes are for lovers

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Happy Valentines Day.  If you’re like me,  the first food that comes to mind when you think of romance is the sweet potato.

This dish is usually served as a Christmas time children’s treat in Mexico.  However, hand feeding this to your special someone will turn it into an adult dish.  I also added a couple additional spices to increase the romance level.

Normally, I don’t sweeten sweet potatoes and I almost always cook them in ways that heighten their savory nature, but this is a special treat.

Peel two medium sweet potatoes, cut them in half and then slice lengthwise.  Put them in medium saucepan and add just enough water to cover.  Add 1/2 cup panela (or use brown sugar), 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 15 whole cardamom cloves, and 15 whole black peppercorns.

Prepping the Sweet Potatoes

Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft but not mushy.  Serve.

Ready to serve.

Winter Fruit Tree Pruning

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Ten days ago I pruned my peach and plumcot trees. Given our exceptionally mild winter, the first week of February was already on the late end of optimal pruning time. I still consider myself a novice pruner, but while at the State Master Gardener conference in California last year, three basic principles for fruit tree pruning were clarified for me during a workshop.

With both of these trees that I planted in 2009, my goal is to achieve an open-centered “wine-glass” shape with no central leader. I have done some pruning on them each year since their planting.

First I removed any branches that were growing vertically. In general, vertical branches will not produce fruit. I also removed branches that angled back in towards the center. Most of these branches were smaller growth from last year. I also removed a couple of larger branches that were growing too closely to others and throwing off the evenly radiating wine-glass shape that I want such as the one pictured on the right side of the plumcot below. Ideally, I would have removed this branch last year before it got this big.

I removed the smaller vertical branches seen here.

I removed the large branch on the lower right side of this plumcot.

Second, I removed up to 30% off of the ends of the remaining branches in order to obtain a series of “y”s. See the picture below.

I cut this branch back to make a 'y'.

Third, I began training branches that were growing at an angle of higher than 60 degrees. A branch angle between 45 and 60 degrees encourages more fruiting. Again, I should have started this training process last year or even two years ago, but better late than never. I will need to replace the training tape that I’m using in the picture below with something more firm, as this tape will stretch, but this is what I had on hand.

Training the plumcot branches. I'll need to replace this trellising tape with something more sturdy.

It’s gratifying to see the form of trees move slowly towards the shape that I envisioned in my mind. Next year I’ll continue the process.

Early Riser

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012


Here’s a snowdrop that’s shown up over a month early.  A lot of snowdrops and crocus have sprouted with our unseasonably warm weather.  I’m going to drop some leaves over them to see if I can help them hang on until their normal blooming time later in March.

Early blooming due to warm spells can be a real problem.  Tender new growth can be frozen when the temperatures return to really cold.   I worry about my fruit trees where new buds that come out too early may get frozen.  That could eliminate fruit production for the year.   As I’ve mentioned before, a warm winter is not necessarily all good.

Corn Potato Chowder

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Corn and Potato Chowder

Here’s a quick soup recipe that was ‘loosely’ adapted from a cookbook by Jeff Smith, ‘The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American’.   I say loosely because the original recipe was made with cream and crawfish and garnished with hard boiled eggs.  Well, even though the Crawfish River is only a few miles from us here in Wisconsin, we aren’t particularly into crawfishing.  We didn’t have any cream sitting in the fridge, and when the soup was done, we really didn’t desire to have any hard boiled eggs in it.

This simple soup is very good and takes less than a half hour to prepare.  You can decide if you want cream or extra accoutrements to dress it up.

Corn Potato Chowder

4 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Medium Chopped Onion, about 1 cup

4 T. Unbleached Flour

8 Cups Veggie Broth, heated

3 Cups Cubed Potatoes, unpeeled

1 Bay Leaf

3 Cups Garden Corn, thawed if frozen, or cut and scraped from fresh ears of corn

Parsley or Cilantro for garnish

Salt & Pepper to taste

On medium heat sauté the onion in the olive oil until golden.  Stir in the flour to make a roux and cook for a couple of minutes.  Mash in the flour well so there are no lumps.  Add the hot broth and simmer for a few minutes until it thickens a bit.  If you have any trouble with lumps use a stick or immersion blender to smooth it out or use a regular blender doing a few cups of liquid at a time.  When you’re happy with the texture add the potatoes and bay leaf.   Simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10-15 minutes.  Add the corn and cook until heated through.  Remove the bay leaf and serve with garnishes of your choice.  Enjoy!