Saturday, August 29, 2009

A rained out farmers market, tomato hornworms and an organic garden tally

Considering the east coast is supposed to get a predicted three to five inches of rain today it's not surprising that the parking lot of the farmers market is empty. So, I unfortunately can not bring you a glimpse of local Ipswich, MA produce for the Farmers Market Challenge. I can, however, put on a big batch of Farm Share Soup, bring you a few pictures of a fascinating garden pest and update everyone on what they can do with a mere 6 foot by 14 foot veggie bed.

I want to introduce you all to an adorable beastie I met in the tomato patch yesterday while doing some emergency staking in preparation for Tropical Storm Danny. This is a tomato hornworm, which is actually a bad thing to find in one's tomato patch since if they get out of control they will do a lot of damage. I do remember seeing the moth that must have laid this larvae a months ago feeding on some of my flowers. But, have no fear, I also saw a second hornworm that looked like this below:

This guy has been parasitized by the small braconid wasp so he won't live long. Those white things on the worm's body are the wasp's eggs. Neat huh? You're more likely to see the damage these guys do than the worms themselves as they are so cryptic. I've been seeing their droppings and the giant holes they make in my tomatoes for weeks now. Yet, these are the first full grown worms I've seen and they're bigger than my thumb.

Since my garden is organic I will let these worms be and let nature take her course, which she seems to be doing already. And considering my garden has seemed to have luckily escaped the late blight sweeping the state I have at least fifty tomatoes ripening. If I lose one or two to a worm it's OK.

My little Monsanto Sucks, Michelle Obama Rocks Organic Veggie Garden is a bit out of control. I've been harvesting like crazy. So far in the raised bed and a few small patches around the rest of my small yard I have eaten, shared or frozen the following:

  • 35 Strawberries
  • 42 blueberries
  • 5 large salads
  • 5 tomatoes
  • 9 zucchini
  • 1 cucumber
  • 5 large bunches of cilantro
  • 274 green beans (just over 3 pounds)
  • 67 carrots
  • 3 batches of basil pesto
So if you too have a small yard or even just a patio you can still do a lot. You just have to dream big.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ted Kennedy: thank you from my whole family

Ted Kennedy was my senator longer than I have been on this earth. Like many of my fellow Massachusetts residents I have never known a time without Ted Kennedy. One of my earliest memories is when he granted my mother an interview in the late 80s while she was the editor of a small town newspaper. The photo of that meeting hung proudly in my grandmother's entryway until she died, now it sits on my mother's desk.

Outside of my Kennedy-loving family Ted is often a man deeply disliked. Sure, he's had a colorful history. The most noted incident was leaving the scene of a drunk driving accident and letting his coworker to drown off Martha's Vineyard. But I should think that all that he has done for the "little guy" should have been his repentance.

Every single one of you have benefited from him. It's astounding when you look at the list, and this just a very very very short blip of it. A complete list is on his website:

  • Created the Individuals with Disabilities Act
  • Expanded HIV/AIDS funding and research
  • In 1971 he quadrupled the amount of federal funding towards cancer research, tripling the staff of many of Boston's research hospitals.
  • Broadened health coverage to include mental disabilities and substance abuse disorders.
  • Led the fight to enact COBRA which extends health benefits after the loss of coverage (I was on COBRA for two years after college)
  • Along with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch he set up the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) helping states provide health care to low-income children
  • Introduced the Affordable Health Care Act lowering prescription costs and extending Medicare to pregnant women, legal immigrants and low income children.
  • Championed the Head Start program, providing early education to needy children.
  • And probably one of the single most important pieces of legislation was the 1972 Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). This program offers food, access to health services for low-income women, infants and children and most importantly, nutritional counseling. In 2008 8.7 million people benefited from this program meaning our children are growing up with proper nutrition giving them an important start to their little lives.
Last night 20,000 people visited the Kennedy Library in South Boston to pay their respects to his flag draped coffin. The library extended viewing hours to 2 AM to accommodate the crowds. And WBRU reported people lining up this morning before dawn.

Yesterday afternoon a motorcade with his family and coffin left Hyannisport to travel towards Boston. Six hours later I left neighboring Dennisport on my way home from my mother's Cape house. It was very moving to see the signs and flags hanging from highway overpasses stating thanks to the Senator and saying goodbye. When I neared Boston the digital MassHighway signs usually announcing accidents and backups simply flashed "Thanks Ted".

As I passed the Kennedy Library with my sleeping eleven-month-old daughter in the back I whispered "thanks". The library was lit up like usual, a blazing beacon on the waterfront, emulating the sail boats the Kennedy brothers spent so much time on. My thanks was for me and my daughter who was born five weeks early. Both of us benefited from the funding Kennedy helped pass over the decades boosting health research. I don't like to think what health care in this country would be like without him. It would be even more broken that it is right now.

Kennedy was a man who fought for the little guy. A man that didn't need to work, came from wealth and privilege yet who dedicated his life to improving the lives of Americans and making sure we never had to worry about being sick, or how we're going to feed our children. He deserves our thanks. So "thanks Ted" from my whole family, I really hope the bill that will provide health coverage, now named the Kennedy Bill, will be realized soon so you can truly rest in peace.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One thing for the planet: compost

I've been meaning to do a blog about compost and an eco-friendly backyard for some time. This week's Reduce Footprint's Wednesday Challenge finally got this out of my edit folder and into blog format. Thanks for the motivation Small!

There are many eco-friendly things going on in my small backyard. First of all is its size: the entire lot is 40 by 60 feet. My compact neighborhood fits about 15 families in the size of your average McMansion property. A small lot means a small lawn, which is a fescue and drought tolerant mix anyway. I don't water it. The brown spots in the picture below aren't from drought but because we've left items such as dive gear, surfboards, toys and gardening tools for too long on the grass.
The flowers are either drought tolerant, native or both. Sadly the garden was in full flower a week before I shot this picture from a second story window, now it's in a transition phase from day lily craziness to late summer sedums and black-eyed susans.

The Monsanto Sucks, Michelle Obama rocks organic vegetable garden is only watered with rain barrels that are against the house, see my April post about them for photos and how to build your own.

Then there's the clothes line and drying rack which I don't use as much as I'd like, but they do get used for cloth diapers every wash if it's sunny, the drying rack goes inside if it's rainy.

And finally, the compost pile. Can you see it? I didn't think so, look at a closer picture:

Still can't see it hidden in the back corner against my neighbor's garage? I didn't think so. So many people I know claim they don't have a compost pile because they're unsightly, or they smell, or they don't have the room, or they attract "vermin". Well, ours in none of those things. Even from a second story window you can't see it. The only bad smell is when the five gallon bucket we keep on the front porch gets too full and then we get a heat wave (yuck). We already have a few mice that live in the garage, which is OK with me, they're cute and amuse Jack the cat from his perch in our window. And we most definitely have the space, even in our tiny lot.

Compost is easy, a great way to keep trash out of landfills (once buried in a landfill your average squash will last decades) and the sewer system (food that gets down your disposal pushes sewage treatment plants to their limit) But, the best part is the homegrown garden gold you get in the spring! This spring I filled two fifteen gallon bins with compost from last year and spread it all over the garden and veggie bed. My plants are so much happier than last year when I was too pregnant to lift a shovel so I never reaped the benefits of our compost pile.

If you'd rather have a composter there are many for sale on the market, but they're not cheap. We just have a pile. It's easy to do. To start, dig a shallow hole and put your first batch of rotting organic matter in it (no meat or bones) and put a layer of soil on top. Every time you empty your bucket dig a hole into the middle of the pile, add your stuff and bury it. You can add grass clippings, weeds, whatever. Every so often my husband attacks the pile with a pitchfork and churns it up a bit. We even had garter snakes have babies in it two years ago taking advantage of the warmth! They were awfully cute and I don't consider them vermin at all.

For a much more in depth look into composting and a great how-to website visit How To Compost at There's even info on there to start a worm bin for those city dwellers with no yard at all.

I have an evil plan to start a clandestine compost pile behind the shed at my mother's Cape house. They don't have trash pick up so we have to haul all our trash home with us. It gets kinda nasty in the hot summer. My mother is one of those people worried it will attract "vermin". She'll never know it's there! It'll be our little secret.....

Happy composting!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A farm share and kitchen garden recipe: Peruvian potato, zucchini and carrot pancakes

The past two weeks' farm share from Green Meadows has yielded more purple Peruvian potatoes than I know what to do with! Considering I had so many yummy carrots from the garden, and had just picked a nice plump zucchini, I took to the grater and made veggie pancakes. Plus is was too hot to make the carrot-ginger soup I planned on. This was better!

Purple Peruvian potatoes really are purple, as you can see to the right in their grated form with the carrots and zucchini. They're great for baking and worked very well in potato pancakes.

Peruvian potato, zucchini and carrot pancakes:
-about one and a half to two pounds potatoes, grated.
-one cup grated carrots
-one grated zucchini
-one egg
-1/4 cup flour
-dash of salt and pepper

-Heat skillet on medium and add a bit of oil (I used olive, canola is fine too).
-squeeze excess liquid from grated veggies (I just do it in handfuls over the sink, but cheese cloth would work well too)
-mix veggies with flour, egg, salt and pepper
-spoon about one cup of mixture into skillet and flatten with spatula.
-cook about four minutes each side.
-serve with sour cream

Makes about six, and we ate them so fast I never got a photo of the finished product! sorry!

For extra added yumminess heat an oven to 425. With a rounded spoon make an impression in the middle of each pancake and crack an egg into the well. Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment for about 12 minutes or until the egg is cooked.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

A magical carrot harvest

This was the first time I've ever grown carrots. It shouldn't seem magical, but it was. I've never grown anything before that matures underground. Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, and cucumbers all develop their fruit above ground, so I can see their progress daily.

There's really something magical about planting carrot seeds and seeing the green leafy tops emerge from the soil. Then they stay about the same for many weeks, the whole while there's me hovering, not knowing what's really going on underground. About once a week I'd pull up one just to see it's progress. And every time I did I was always shocked that this amazingly orange thing was under there the whole time, just waiting for me to yank it out of the ground.

Well, I couldn't wait anymore. After about ten teaser carrots I gave in and harvested about a third of the patch yesterday. And man were they yummy! Forty-one impossibly sweet and crunchy organic carrots each about six or seven inches long. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the ones I didn't eat right away, but I'll publish the recipe when I decide. I'm thinking carrot-ginger soup....mmmmmm, I can already taste it!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Snack taxi: my reusable snack and sandwich bag

With the concern over creating trash I recently bought a reusable sandwich bag. I saw them for sale at my local farm stand, Green Meadows, where I pick up my CSA produce share. My husband and I used to wrap sandwiches in parchment paper and carry snacks in waxed paper bags, and very rarely I did use a plastic zip-lock. I'd reuse the bags or paper, but I'd rather not make trash in the first place.

Green Meadows sells a bag called a Snack-Taxi (formerly Happy Sacks). And I really liked it because they're made in the western part of Massachusetts in a small cottage industry. In the bag was a little card with the following statistic:

"Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide - that's over 1 million per minute."

Sadly, many of these plastic bags end up in the ocean and then often in the stomach of sea turtles who mistake them for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. We get many of these injured turtles into the Aquarium's rescue and rehab department, and we do save most of them. But, I'd like to think that some day everyone will be more mindful of the bag they pack their lunch in and we can save even more sea turtles.

So for everyone who packs lunch or snacks to work or on the trail there are alternatives out there. The only problem is that I had to go out and buy another Snack Taxi since my husband kept stealing mine!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A farm share and kitchen garden recipe: Cheese ravioli with fresh chard, shallots and basil pesto

When I got home from work tonight there was literally nothing obvious to cook for dinner. It's been over a week since I've been grocery shopping. But no fear! I have plenty of things growing right outside my kitchen door and sitting in the crisper drawer from this week's Green Meadows CSA farm share.

After a rummage in the back of the freezer I found a bag of cheese raviolis. I put the baby in the yard to play while I clipped the top two inches off every basil plant I have. In the back of the baking cabinet I found some walnuts, add a bit of olive oil and some fresh Parmesan cheese and voila! Fresh pesto! I made enough for two more dinners which I froze for later.

To add to the pasta I cut up all the chard I got last week from Green Meadows before it was too far gone. I sauteed it with diced garlic scapes and a shallot, also from the farm share. Toss that all together, sprinkle on some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and it was so good my husband finished his plate before I even finished a third of mine. And then he ate my leftovers.

I don't like to measure when I cook so here's about what I did in recipe form:

Cheese Ravioli with fresh chard, shallots and basil pesto:

-A colander of fresh basil, washed.
-a handful of walnuts
-a few tablespoons of olive oil
-a few small chunks of Parmesan cheese
Blend everything in a blender until it's minced.

-chard chopped into approximate 2" square pieces.
-one diced shallot
-one diced garlic scape

Saute the garlic and shallot in butter for about 5 minutes. Add the chard and cook until soft. Toss with cooked ravioli and stir in pesto. Top with fresh Parmesan. Yum! Sadly my photo is out of focus and we ate it all so I can't retake it!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Freezing herbs and a garden tally

One of the many things I've learned this summer with my new 6 foot by 14 foot "Monsanto sucks, Michelle Obama rocks" organic veggie garden is that I have a super green thumb. I've always known I had a green thumb but I never realized just how green it was. OK, some of the credit must go to the new top soil, fish emulsion and copious amounts of rain that are keeping my rain barrels overflowing. But I'd like to think I deserve at least some of the credit, my dirty finger nails are proof of my labor.

As an afterthought, I sprinkled cilantro seeds along the edge of the bed just along the wood. Who knew it would have done so well that I would have to freeze some to keep up with the growth! I've seen little squares of frozen cilantro and basil for sale at Trader Joe's so I figured it would be easy to do, and it is.

Step 1: pick your cilantro (or other herb), chop into very small pieces:

Step 2: Squish into an ice tray and freeze:

Step 3: pop out of the ice tray and store any way you like:

Super easy and now I can enjoy cilantro all winter long. I did the same thing with basil a few days later. Now if only the tomatoes would ripen I can eat salsa and caprese salad.....

Garden tally so far:
  • blueberries: 42
  • strawberries: 35
  • salads: 3 large
  • zucchini: 8
  • cilantro: 5 large bunches
  • green beans: 234 (2.7 pounds)
  • carrots: 51
  • basil: more than I can count!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A field trip to Knowplastic

I want to introduce you all to an excellent blog called Knowplastic written by Sunnye, a coworker of mine. She is saving all her plastic for one year in a spare bedroom in her house. I can't wait to see the outcome, and I'm happy it's not in my spare bedroom!

She just posted her Week 49-50 blog and I wanted to share some of the fun statistics she posted along with a picture of her plastic pile from last week. What really impressed me were the following stats:

-1995 was the highest year for recycling in the US (data from 1991-2006). So we are recycling LESS and not MORE. It should be the opposite.

-The ratio in pounds of plastic waste in the ocean to zooplankton is 6:1. So there's six times more pounds of plastic than animal plankton floating around. That's just scary.

-And finally Ireland charges an equivalent of US $0.15 for each plastic bag used in a store. It's reduced their plastic bag use by 90%. Another reason to remember your reusable shopping bags.

For a complete list of Sunnye's insightful, and unsettling, statistics check out her blog post at Week 40-50: Plastatistics!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

World Cat Day: meet Jacques Cousteau

Squirrel Queen's blog "The Road to Here" has just informed me that it is World Cat Day. So I thought I'd take a minute out of my Saturday to introduce you to Jacques "Jack" Cousteau, fittingly named after my childhood hero. Jack is one of those rare cats who you can say has a good soul. He's super smart, lovable and seems to think that my head makes a great pillow. He has a rich personality, so much that when friends come over one of the first things they often do is look for Jack.

One of the most amazing things this 12-year-old creature has done happened when I brought my newborn daughter home from the hospital ten months ago. At first he was wary. And then he accepted that mommy had a kitten and it was here to stay. Within three weeks he went over and licked her face and purred.

Now he lies down in front of her and lets himself be used as a standing platform, hitting post and tactile learning center. Often the baby stands up holding handfuls of his hair. And yet he just purrs and takes it. At night if I check on her he'll jump in her crib, sniff her as if to make sure she's OK, and then jump back out. Her first word at nine and a half months was kitty cat, although it comes out more like "itty at!"

What's amazing to me about all of this is until Lizzie came home he was so afraid of children he'd hide under the bed for hours until they left, and sometimes for hours after that. And he has a heart condition. I seriously thought the baby would be the last straw. Yet he continues to dote on Lizzie and allow her to play with him a lot more roughly that I would expect he'd take.

I am so thankful that I picked him that day at the MSPCA twelve years ago my first summer out of college. I wanted an orange male cat and he was the closest thing. I really lucked out with him. And when Jack is gone I will mourn him more than I have ever mourned another pet. I am so fortunate that my husband fell in love with him as fast as I did. Jack has some annoying habits like purring so loud in the middle of the night he wakes Brian up. And chewing on my hair while I'm sleeping, or drooling in my ear. When I first brought Jack home he spent the first month suckling on my neck all night since he wasn't completely weaned. I spent that month with a sheet wrapped around my head trying to keep him away. But I would do it again. He's a special animal and he has given me so much love and seen me through so many bad breakups. Until I met my husband a few years ago he's the only guy that ever stuck around.

So I hope you have enjoyed meeting Jack, and I hope he lives another year so Lizzie can continue to enjoy playing with him. I get unbearably sad knowing he's at the end of his life, and it's hard to see him slowing down and losing weight. I doubt I'll ever have another cat quite like Jack. He really does have a good little soul. I hope I gave him the best life a cat could have.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A revisit to the fluoride and babies issue

By far the biggest hit on The Holdfast Seeker is from google searches of "fluoride for babies" or "fluoride and baby dangers" or something of the sort. I get at least four or five hits on this subject a week and today already two. I thought it's time to revisit this issue since I have dug up even more information and this is very important to me.

If you haven't already read my original post, "Fluoride and Babies Don't Mix", it provides most of the info I want to convey so I won't reiterate much. The basic gist is that silica fluoride, the highly toxic compound unfortunately added to many water supplies (including mine), is toxic. And especially toxic to babies with their tiny, developing brains.

However, sodium fluoride, the less toxic compound in toothpaste, might actually help teeth since it's topically applied. The important point is there are no data that show ingested fluoride does a damn thing for your teeth. It's that simple.

The scary stuff I just found out is that because fluoride is so toxic it's used in pesticides and rodent killers and all sorts of nasty things. According to Friends of Water fluoride doesn't break down so it accumulates over time. It has become so prevalent in our environment that the background levels are four times higher than they used to be back in the 50s when it started getting added to the water supply. An adult who drinks fluoridated water is getting far more than he or she needs just because of background levels.

Any child under two who drinks fluoridated water is therefore being even more overdosed than I previously thought. This can cause serious health effects such as cancer, lowered IQ, brain damage, kidney and thyroid problems. Many government and non-government agencies are finally listening to the research out there and are warning parents not to mix formula with fluoridated water or let their children drink fluoridated water until the age of two.

For a more complete review of these agencies and their research please read my original post and advocate for the removal or fluoride in your water supply. Your teeth don't need it. Many European countries banned the use decades ago and their dental health is in many cases better than in the US.

What can you do? If you have a small child don't give them fluoride drops if your pediatrician prescribes them or mix formula with bottled water (Poland Springs has some of the lowest levels of fluoride) and please spread the word. I'm amazed at how many doctors, dentists and parents think I'm crazy when I tell them this, and then I show them the research. Many of them have realized the dangers and continue to spread the word.

Plus, do you want medicine in your drinking water? I sure don't.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cash for Clunkers for MORE Clunkers. WHAT?

Since I first heard about the Obama administration's Cash for Clunkers program I have been questioning it. Generally, I approve of programs coming out of this White House, but this one I'm not so sure of. As soon as I heard that you can trade an 18 MPG "clunker" for a more fuel efficient 22 MPG new car and get a big rebate I said "WHAT? Are you kidding?" The energy and resources it took to make that new car would take years to make up when you're only getting four more MPG.

Finally, someone has my same thoughts. This evening on NPR I heard a great story by Christopher Joyce who seemed to be asking the same questions I had. In "Critics Say 'Clunkers' Program Isn't Very Green" Joyce lays out how un-green the program really is:

For instance:

"...if you trade in an 18 mpg clunker for a 22 mpg new car (22 miles per gallon is the minimum mileage allowed for a new car under the program), it would take five and a half years of typical driving to offset the new car's carbon footprint. With trucks, it might take eight or nine years..."

If you buy a Toyota Prius it might only take a year and a half, but most people are trading in clunkers for newer clunkers. And that's not worth the two billion MORE dollars Congress is about to approve to expand the program. I would much rather see that two billion dollars go towards expanding the public transportation system and get all clunkers, old and new, off the roads.

While in theory the Cash for Clunkers program is a great idea it doesn't go far enough. We need to make bigger changes if we're going to make a difference.