Meet The Mantis

This is my new toy.  It is a Mantis 4-cycle rototiller.  I am going to use it in the raised bed garden to ready the rest of my soil for planting.  It will be great to turn my winter rye grass cover crop into the soil so that it can break down and release needed nutrients into the garden soil.  It will also cut down on my sore back and knees due to the fact that I won’t need to do these chores by hand anymore.  It will up to the Mantis (with a little help from me).

My Mantis weighs only 24 pounds and, given that it only have two tines attached, it is perfect for my small raised bed garden.  The tines can quickly cut through sod, clay, compacted soil or weeds.  It can also dig down 10 inches so my plants can establish themselves in soil that’s cool, deep and water retentive.  I’m hoping to use it all season–to dig my beds and plant my garden and then all the way to the end of the season when I will turn it all under and re-establish a new cover crop.

My Mantis is easy to start and there is no fuel mixing required.  It is 9 inches wide and has fold down handles.  It can run most of the day on one gallon of gas due to its powerful, Honda 4-cycle engine.  It even has a kickstand so I can “park” my rototiller anywhere and the kickstand flips up when I am tilling the soil.

The easy-grip handles include an on/off switch, a lock key that must be released before the rototiller can operate and an accelerator handle to start the tines working.  The tines are guaranteed for life, so I can only imagine how strong they work.  The tines can spin up to 240 rotations per minute, so that is plenty for the garden that I have here in Connecticut.

I can’t wait to get into the garden with my new toy and do some tilling.  I was so happy when I received the box containing my Mantis.  It reminded me of a little kid getting a bright, red wagon.  So watch out cover crop, your days are numbered.  My Mantis and I are coming to till until we drop…or run out of gas, whichever comes first.  What cool gardening tools are you using in your garden?

Raising Rhubarb

This is what I received this week…some rhubarb crowns ready for planting.  I have been obsessing about planting rhubarb, also know as rheum rhabarbarum, here on Glen Road for quite some time.  I’m sure it has to do with wanting to grow something that reminds me of my youth.  You must all know at this point that my Grandma was a great gardening inspiration in my life.  My Father was also inspirational, but due to my close relationship with Grandma, she brought me slowly into the process and let me get into the garden when I wanted to do it.  She slowly made me value it.  You know how it goes with parents…they want to bring you into it, but many times you feel forced and then you end up crying and rebelling and not wanting to do it.  I guess that is the sad story of all teenage angst…sorry Dad and Mom.  I’ve talked about her horseradish a few times, but my Grandma also had a killer rhubarb patch.  We ate a lot of rhubarb in Spring…rhubarb sauce, rhubarb pie….all of it so fresh and so tasty.  There were times my brother and I would snap off a stalk and chew on the tangy sweet and sour fruit in her backyard.  Do any of you remember the Schwann’s man?  In our town in Iowa, the Schwann’s man drove a pinkish peach truck up the road and you could stop him and buy frozen items.  Grandma bought pizza dough and ice cream.  In the Spring, she scooped this ice cream into whatever rhubarb creation she had made for the night.  How great was that? 

So I wanted to plant a rhubarb patch for a long time and this year, I got my wish.  I planted six crowns this weekend in some well-drained soil.  The patch was in a location that received full sun, just behind the two espalier apple trees.  I set the crowns about a foot apart, which is a little tight, but I’m sure they will be fine.  I watered the crowns very well and then placed a little over one inch of soil on top of them.  Then I firmly tamped down the soil to prevent any dry pockets from forming around the tender crowns.

There will be no harvest this first year.  During the second year, there may be a light harvest, actually a few stalks (botanically, actually petioles) per plant.  In subsequent years, all stalks one inch or more in diameter may be harvested for six to eight weeks.  The harvest period is from May to June.  Some harvesting in Fall is acceptable if we feel the urge.  However, smaller stalks should be left to make food for the crowns and next year’s production.  We will harvest by snapping or cutting the stalks at the base.  We need to remember to remove seed stalks to encourage additional stalks in the next year.  What I also know is that rhubarb leaves from un-harvested stalks are quite beautiful.  Don’t be afraid to plant them in a prominent spot in your garden given their beauty.

After three to five years, we will need to divide the crowns to maintain stalk size and production.  A well-maintained patch will last 10-15 years or longer.  That sounds like such a long time, but as my Grandma used to say, time goes by much quicker the older you get.  Here’s to a few stalks next year.  Do you grow rhubarb in your garden?

Strawberries and Bread

This is a pint of organic strawberries.  I got them at the organic market this week and needed to use them or they were going to go bad.  That’s the problem with strawberries for me.  You quickly need to use them or they need to be thrown out.  I know, you’re saying to me “that’s why them call them fresh”, but I wish they could last a little longer.  You know, like an apple or a pear.  Even given this one downside, the taste of a strawberry is one of my favorite fruit flavors.  So what should I make with them?  Shortcake seemed a little too summer like.  Strawberry ice cream was out given that it is still a little cold outside.  So I decided on making strawberry bread.  This recipe makes a very moist bread marbled with crushed strawberries.  It is a real change of pace and a great way to use those pesky strawberries that seem to lose their freshness way too fast.

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter softened, plus more for pan
  • 1 pint strawberries rinsed, hulled, quartered, and mashed with a fork
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. In a small saucepan, bring strawberries to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar, and eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Add flour mixture alternately with 1/3 cup water, beginning and ending with flour.

Fold in reserved strawberries.  Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour (tent with foil after 45 minutes if top is getting too dark). Cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges; invert onto a rack. Reinvert; cool completely.

I love that the loaf is so golden brown in color and I wish you could have smelled my kitchen.  The smell of baking bread and strawberries filled the air.  Add a little butter or cream cheese to a slice for an added taste bonus.  This bread is great for breakfast, a snack or any time you need something a little sweet.  Try strawberry bread for a real change of pace.  Your bananas will be jealous.  What have you been baking this weekend?

Friday Dance Party-Vintage Whitney

This is another edition of Friday Dance Party here on Acorns On Glen.  I want you first to give thanks for living and thriving through another week.  No matter how hard or how easy your week was, the important thing is that you made it through and you are still here.  You are alive!!  Did you give thanks?

Good, now let’s dance.

I love to watch videos of when a major star first shows their stuff to the world.  The first time we see their talent and understand that talent really is a major gift from God.  There are certain stars where you remember everything about the first time you saw them in a movie or heard them sing.  The first time they took your breath away.  Think Crosby, Sinatra, Streisand.  Then there was Whitney.  Before all the stuff.  When she was just this unbelievable voice.  This video was one of her first major appearances on television on her way to becoming a star.  It was 1985.  She was there to belt out her first hit.  Before ‘The Greatest Love of All’ and ‘How Will I Know’.  Did you know she had a hit before these?  That someone can sing this well live and without lip synching is incredible.  Who really can do this in today’s music world?  Britney, Madonna, please!  Give me a break.  Whitney has pipes….or had them….I want her to get them back.  So sit back and give thanks that you made it through another week and then start slow grooving to some vintage Whitney.  You deserve it.  What stars took your breath away the first time you saw them perform? 

When Did I Become Such A Follower?

This is the question I’ve been thinking about since we started Acorns On Glen.  When did I become such a follower?  Not when I was a kid.  In fourth grade, in the comments section of my report card, my teacher wrote that I was good at leading other children towards a common goal…..and that I was a good talker.  I was an officer in one of my grades in high school….I think it was freshman year.  I was editor of my school newspaper for a few years.  All signs were pointing in the right direction.  I was still a leader in college.  I was president of my pledge class at the fraternity.  I was a member of the elite summer orientation staff for incoming freshman.  Again, all signs were a go.   So when, as an adult, did I stop producing original ideas and leadership potential?  My vote…..when my sad ass discovered the internet and that damn do-it-yourself television.

Think back to your grandparents.  How did your grandmother learn to cook something simple, say a meatloaf?  She either learned by word of mouth or she learned by trial and error.  The recipe could have been handed down from generations of hard cooking women in her family.  She could have talked to a sister or a neighbor about making meatloaf and wrote down the ingredients and instructions that they gave her and then began to cook.  She used real, live human interaction versus online social networking.  She could have also gotten the idea in her head and cooked it through several different incarnations making sure to tweak things she didn’t like from the time before and remembering to keep things in it that were good.  Old time trial and error versus instant internet gratification.  With my family, maybe my father, aunts and uncle didn’t like my Grandma’s first shots at meatloaf making, but by the time I was a child, she had perfected her art.

The garden is the same story.  How did my Grandmother know to only dig horseradish and grind it up in months that contained an ‘R’ in them?  She was right.  Months without an ‘R’ produce lousy horseradish…Julys and Augusts are just too hot.  Again, she had an idea and either consulted a real, live person or experimented on her own.  Somehow, she managed to figure things out.  She must have talked with someone on the rules of horseradish or sat down to some sad tasting pulp, but she figured it out.  She accomplished tasks knowing she had done her own research, made all the decisions and had done it her way.  She was her own expert.

Now take me!  I’ll confess.  I look at all of the things that I do to my house, that I cook or bake in the kitchen or that I grow in my garden, and while I’m proud of my accomplishments, they have most likely come from someone else’s original idea.  Ideas from others that I’ve said “Wow, I’d like to do that” and either copied or took the initial idea and tweaked it to fit my lifestyle.  When is the last time I sat down and said I’d like to make a dish in the kitchen that contained a certain ingredient and then added it and other ingredients in a bowl trying to create my tasty little idea?  Never.  If I ever did do that, God forbid if it was bad tasting.  Would I try it again with some new twists or would I just abandon the idea altogether?  If the first time was a flop, would I try to think it through and make it a success a second or third time?  I doubt it.

I’ve made meatloaf and worked in my garden recently, just like my Grandma did years ago.  My meatloaf recipe came straight off the internet from http://www.MarthaStewart.com.  I found the recipe in less than a minute.  As I printed my step-by-step instructions out, I sat there in a panic thinking what was meant by “good” ketchup in the recipe.  What the hell is “bad” ketchup?  In the garden, I decided to plant artichokes this year and see if they would grow in Connecticut.  How did I come up with this idea?  A picture showing them growing in my area off of someone else’s iPhone.  So what was my next step?  I googled “artichoke growing” on the internet and received hundreds of sites with step-by-step growing instructions.  So I then ordered the seeds (off the internet) from a seed company I saw mentioned on a TV show and then planted them in a growing system I heard described on the radio and then put them under a grow light I saw on another internet site.  By the way, the grow light had four and a half stars attributed to it on the internet meaning it was a customer top favorite.  How could I get the one that seemed better, but with fewer stars attributed to it?  Do you see what I’m saying?  Not one original idea in my head.  No leadership; no innovation; no thought leadership.  I’m a lemming just following the leader until I eventually fall off the side of a cliff.

In business today, there must be a slew of followers.  Perfectionist people who scour for innovation and new ideas by reading the internet for hours.  Site by site; post by post.  Anything new and exciting is printed off or typed into their computer.  They search on Google to find exactly how to make the idea a reality.  They tweak the original just a little to call it their own.  Then they introduce the final product to the world.  In fact, aren’t followers in the business world now called great executors?  This new term utilized in order to soften the blow to a group of people trained to follow others versus taking a risk on their own.  An executor, that’s what I am.  Not a leader or a thought provoker, but rather someone who can execute someone else’s idea to perfection.  My meatloaf looked just like the picture in Martha’s recipe; my grow light artichokes are picture perfect. 

Ideas=F; Execution=A+……that’s me. 

I curse you, Martha, Emeril and Ina.  Up yours, Vern and you Design Stars.  May seeds never grow in your Victory Garden, Old Man Crockett! 

So how do people of today change this course?  How do we become thinkers again versus just executing?  If my Grandma were here, I’m sure she could sit down and think up a solution.  Me?  I’m just going to Google it.  What do you think about leaders versus followers in today’s world?