Well, hmmm. . .

I hardly recognized my own (very recent) painting in this photo. My current theory, after many fruitless color and hue adjustments, is that the cold winter’s light this afternoon is not kind to the primary pigment here – Permanent Yellow Light. I’ve decided to post it as a record for myself and will document it again the next sunny day I’m home. Fair warning that, given the forecast, it may be March before that confluence of events happens again.

Crabapples and Teapot, 18 x 24 inches, oil on panel, heavy on the P. Yellow Lt.

New painting

Elder-Flower Fritters

elder blossomsThe Western Mountains Alliance is working on a project called the Maurer Meals Fruit Cookbook. They have had a great response for the usual suspects like apples and berries, but are looking for recipes for under-represented fruits that are also available in Maine such as chokecherry, elderberry, nanny-berry, kiwi, and many others.

I’m contributing my grandmother’s recipe for elderberry blossom fritters. We have 4 productive elderberry bushes around the yard and make juice, cordial (by adding brandy to the concentrated juice)  and dry the sweet purple berries to use as “raisins”. The flowers are also very tasty but most of the recipes I’ve seen include too much of the stem and woody growth, which is slightly poisonous and can make sensitive people nauseous.

The elderberry bushes in my yard bloom in early May. Pick in the morning when the flowers are fresh, and choose large, platter-like blossom clusters when they are fully in bloom. Use an open bowl or cloth bag because they will immediately start to wilt lose fragrance in plastic. Keep them in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to make the fritters, then strip the blossoms off the stems as thoroughly as possible (a few small stems won’t hurt anything).

Elder-flower cordial, or water, is available in specialty cooking or liquor stores. It has a fragrant, faintly citrusy aroma and flavor that really adds a lot to the fritters. I’ve never tried to make it – maybe next year! I’ve successfully substituted orange-flower water in this recipe, and I think rose-water would work as well. I’ve also tried using the juice concentrate with disappointing results – the fritters taste good but they turn a dark purple color that is less than appetizing!

  • 2 beaten eggs (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sparking wine or seltzer water
  • 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
  • 1 cup elderflowers
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Pour enough oil into a deep fryer (I have a “Fry-Baby” that takes 4.5 C and works well for this recipe) or a large, heavy pot to come up to a depth of 4 inches or so. Turn on the fryer or turn your burner to medium-high and bring the oil to 350 degrees.

While the oil is heating mix all the other ingredients into a large bowl. I use a flat whisk to minimize lumps. The consistency should be thicker than pancake batter, but not so thick that it will completely hold its shape if scooped. If it is too thin, add flour, too thick, more champagne or seltzer.

Drop about a tablespoon of batter into the hot oil for each fritter. It is important not to crowd them, so you’ll have to cook the fritters in batches. I can fit 4 into the Fry-Baby. After about 30 seconds or so, if the fritters have not floated to the surface of the hot oil use a chopstick to dislodge them from the bottom of the fryer or pot. Fry until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels as you cook the rest of the fritters. When slightly cooled, I like to put 4 at a time into a small paper bag with confectioner’s sugar and a few extra blossoms and shake gently to coat.

The same bush loaded with fruit in early September,

Elderberry, Sambucus

Fedco tree order 2013

Snow is falling fast and thick outside my windows and the garden is at rest, a good time to plan for next year’s layout and inventory. Listed below is my 2013 order from the Fedco tree catalog. Per requests in previous years I have included prices and an occasion description from the catalog. Fedco’s shipping rates are very reasonable, but it’s more fun to make a daytrip with friends to the warehouse in Clinton next April. The only down side to visiting in person is that I can’t resist buying more from the floor stock once I get there.

209A – Black Ice Plum ( 1 ) 1 x $25.00 = $25.00

Black Ice Plums

Photo courtesy of egardeners place.com

Black Ice Plum Midsummer. Prunus Lydecker [Prunus besseyi x (Prunus salicina Oka x Prunus salicina Z’s Blue Giant)] U of Wisc, River Falls, 2006. Large 2″ round early-ripening high-quality hardy blue-black dessert plum. Very sweet juicy reddish-purple semi-freestone flesh. Precocious and productive tree with a naturally compact growth habit. Bred by Brian Smith who I visited a few years ago on a fruit exploration trip in the Upper Midwest. He graciously showed us all through his amazing nursery in River Falls. He was growing many of his plums in huge tubs, manipulating bloom time using greenhouses and coolers. This enabled him to cross species or varieties that would never normally flower together. Though we’re not fans of plant patenting, we have been eager to offer his first major introduction. PVP 16621. The literature recommends Toka or La Crescent as a pollinator. Now on trial at our farm. Z3.

230A – Bluejay Highbush Blueberry ( 1 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00
236A – Meader Highbush Blueberry ( 1 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00
238A – Patriot Highbush Blueberry ( 1 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00
271A – Aesculus parviflora Bottlebrush Buckeye ( 1 ) 1 x $16.25 = $16.25
289A – Caragana arborescens Siberian Peashrub ( 1 ) 1 x $10.50 = $10.50
300A – Corylus Experimental Hybrid Hazel ( 1 ) 2 x $15.00 = $30.00

Corylus Experimental Hybrid Hazel Badgersett Research Farm, Canton, MN. Seedling shrubs produced from crosses of three hazelnut species: American hazelnut, Corylus americana; beaked hazelnut, Corylus cornuta; European hazelnut, Corylus avellana. The nuts from these trees will likely be larger than those from the N.H. seedlings, as they are crossed with the larger europeans. Highly resistant or immune to filbert blight. Currently we have them in a long-term trial in central Maine. So far, so good.

304A – Cydonia oblonga Pineapple Quince ( 1 ) 1 x $24.00 = $24.00

Pineapple Quince

Photo courtesy New So Wales Dept of Agriculture

338A – Mespilus germanica Breda Giant Medlar ( 1 ) 1 x $25.00 = $25.00


Photograph © Andrew Dunn

Mespilus germanica ‘Breda Giant’ Medlar 2-20′ Introduced in the Netherlands. Cinnamon-flavored spicy pear-like fruit shaped like a large rose hip, just under 2″ in diameter. Good for fresh eating when ripe, thin-skinned with applesauce-like texture. A culinary delight in Europe. One source recommends roasting in butter with citrus slices. Also makes good jelly, paste, chutney and “cheese.” Fruit is hard when harvested after the first hard frost and must be bletted—allowed to ripen for several weeks in a cool place. Tastes best just before it turns mushy. 1–2″ white flowers blushed with pink bloom May to June. Shiny green waxy leaves, a nice addition to the landscape. Begins bearing fruit 2–3 years after planting. One tree could bear 20 pounds of fruit once established. Fruit cultivated in Europe and England since the Middle Ages or earlier. Plant in well-drained fertile soil, 9–10′ from other trees. Full sun. Pest and disease-free. Native to southeast Europe and Iran. Self-fertile. Z4/5

363A – Rosa Therese Bugnet Rose ( 1 ) 1 x $12.50 = $12.50


Photo courtesy of Cindy’s Flowers. http://cindysflowers.us/Main_Folder/Other_plants/Other_favorite_plants.htm

L515B – Large-Flowering Gladiolus Mix ( 20 ) 1 x $7.50 = $7.50
L518B – Aconitum napellus English Monkshood or Friars Cap ( 3 ) 1 x $8.00 = $8.00
L588B – Veronicastrum virginicum Culvers Root ( 2 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00

Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s Root Makes a beautiful addition to the back of the perennial border and is a requirement in any well-built rain garden. Elegant towering native dons huge 9″ flower spikes with densely clustered tiny white blossoms that open from the top down in early summer. Lance-shaped leaves form whorls on rugged upright stems. Bees love this flower. Plant 2′ apart in full sun, in wet, well drained soil. Grows 4-6′ tall yet rarely needs staking. Our grower Lauren Cormier says, “Culver’s Root is so beautiful it belongs in every herb garden!” Z3


The August garden

The Principe Borghese tomatoes are coming along, with a few Juliets and the big, buttery Paul Robesons. I picked a cookie sheet full to finish ripening in the house. After a few weeks of drought the weekend rains will swell the fruit and cause the skins to crack. This coming weekend I should have enough to can a batch of sauce.

principe borghese tomatoThe Dolgo crab apple has fruit so brightly colored it looks unnatural, especially following its pure white blossoms in spring. The tree is an excellent pollinator for the other apples, and the fruit makes wonderful sauce.

Dolgo crab apple

The peaches won’t be perfectly ripe until early September, but they look good and are beginning to cast a wonderful aroma on a hot, still afternoon. I’ve been looking into drought gardening – dust mulch and other techniques – and the caveats for smaller fruit with lesser yields per tree balanced by extraordinary flavor sounds very familiar. It’s very much how we’re gardening at present with some extra hints for preserving as much moisture in the soil as possible. Can’t wait to learn more about it, but that’s what winter is for.

Peaches ripening

Eupatorium purpureum, Joe Pye Weed or Queen-of-the-Meadow, is 10′ tall this year. I’m not sure if the new height is a function of the age of the planting (3 years), or if it just really likes extreme heat and drought. Our bees love it, no matter how tall it gets.

Eupatorium purpureum Joe Pye weed

At the opposite end of the height spectrum just a few feet away, heather “Wave” is only an inch tall, but has spread out to about 30″ square. It also attracts pollinators.

Wave Heather

This sprawling mass of pink blossoms is one plant of Bouncing Bet, or Soapwort. The bees aren’t so fond of the blossoms, but the plant is doing very well for not being watered since June and the deer don’t bother it – both real plusses for the gardener.

bouncing bet soapwort


Surround crop protectant

mix it up

Surround WP is my favorite pesticide. Surround and the occasional small dose of Bt is all I need in a good year, and in a bad year I add in some Serenade for the cherry trees that are particularly prone to brown rot.

Surround is 95% kaolin clay, sold in powder form to be mixed with water and sprayed, as explained in the Fedco Organic Grower’s Supply catalog:

Surround™ WP Crop Protectant Forms a particle film which coats the surface of leaves and fruits, creating a barrier which acts as a broad-spectrum crop protectant, reducing damage from various insects, mites and disease-carrying pests. Recommended for controlling European apple sawfly, plum curculio, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, CPB, thrips and other maleficial insects on fruit crops and field crops, effective against cucumber beetles on cucurbits. 95% kaolin clay, Surround’s layer of white particles creates an unfamiliar environment for the attacking insects, prevents them from recognizing their target, and, if they land, the particles rub off on them causing irritation and excessive grooming. The white surface also reflects sunlight, preventing sunburn and heat damage. Michael Phillips at Lost Nation Orchard estimates that one 25# bag is sufficient to treat 10 trees for one season. Begin application before petal-fall. Apply 2–3 times the first week to build up a good coating and then every 10–14 days or as the film weathers or new growth appears, more frequently in rainy weather. Maintain a good coat until plum curculio season ends, around June 30 in central Maine.

seckle pear with Surround WP

Agricultural Solutions also has an informative entry:

Surround W. P. is made from 95% kaolin clay, a naturally occurring mineral. When applied to fruit trees, crops, and other plants, it forms a white film. Surround suppresses a wide range of pests, especially those which damage fruit crops including pears, apples, grapes, berries, and some vegetables. The manufacturers use a super-magnetic centrifuge in Georgia to refine the impurities out of raw kaolin and then filter the clay particles to a critical 1.4 microns in size.

I really like the part about the centrifuge.

The best technique I’ve found for my 2 gallon hand pump sprayer is to mix the 2 gallon dose of powder into a quart mason jar of water and shake well for at least 30 seconds, then dump the mixture into the full (minus 1 qt) sprayer. Agitate the sprayer during use. Several sources comment that hand sprayers are a good way to apply this agent because you can really pay attention to coverage. The best thing about Surround is that I don’t have to closely monitor what it falls on under the trees: it is rated for vegetables, it won’t harm the grasses and wildflowers, and it washes off the occasional Adirondack chair (although that takes a few days – move furniture and cover paving stones if you don’t want them temporarily decorated with faint white patches).

I also find that a good coating of Surround reduces deer predation. Perhaps it limits the aroma of an attractive plant? Here I’ve sprayed some mallow growing outside the electric fence – normally a tempting target and they’ve left it alone all season.

mallow with Surround coating

The weekend is forecast to be sunny and not too breezy – time to apply another coat!


Bees in boxes

Co-worker Carl meets the BeeWeaver bees that were delivered to the office at noon today. The UPS driver was funny; “You want these inside the office? Really?”. It was pouring rain out there so yes, he brought them into the conference room for everyone to admire.

bee box

The bees did very well in transit considering the long haul from Texas in the rain. I sprayed them lightly with sugar syrup and HoneyBHealthy and loaded them into the car for the trip to the island.

There was an hour’s respite from pouring rain and dropping temperatures at around three this afternoon. (I work for a very understanding organization that’s all about flexible time off for agricultural crisis so I was home for a day.) I’ve been cleaning equipment and stockpiling sugar syrup for a few days now so was all ready to load up the smoker and hives some bees.


Where I ran into my first problem: what to do when the boxes are fastened together for ease of shipping? I tried levering them apart, but there are 3 deeply sunk staples in each of those cross pieces. I finally just opened one box and a time and emptied them into the hive as I would normally. It worked out fine – I think the bees were happy to have a warm dark place to dive into to – but I don’t know as it was the most elegant solution. Are you supposed to use a saw?

Almost everyone was in their new home by four o’clock. Now it’s 39 degrees F with a possible low of 25 and wind chill to 16 so I’ve tacked a skirt of insulation around  the hives to cut down on the air circulation around the screened bottom board. I checked on them a few minutes ago and can still hear the cluster loud and clear inside the hive, with very few bees lingering outdoors. The top feeders are full of sugar syrup and they’re as protected as I can make them.

active hives

And there will be peach tree blossoms to find tomorrow.

red haven peach



Last Friday I picked apples at an abandoned homestead on my commute home from work.

The tree is big by Maine standards, about 40′ tall and 20′ around. Deer have pruned the branches back to 5′ above the ground by eating all the fruit they can reach. I used my walking stick to knock down enough to fill a canvas tote – about 15 lbs. of hard red, conical apples with minimal insect damage and no fungus. I haven’t looked up the variety yet, but the combination of large tree with that shape fruit hanging on a  tree past first frost is fairly uncommon and I should be able to find it in my loaner copy of “Apples of Maine”. Thanks, Agnes!

We don’t eat much jelly and jam, and space is scarce in the chest freezer downstairs. When the grapes came in (and in, and in some more) I made quarts of thick, sweet grape juice concentrate and we used that up very quickly indeed. I’d never made apple juice but honestly, how hard could it be?

You can see where this is going, right? I followed the directions in the Blue Book; cutting the stem and blossom ends off the fruit and then coarsely chopping the rest. I added a pint of water and a little lemon juice and cooked the apples down to “mushy”. Then the recipe says to drain the mush through a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth and after an hour I had about half a cup of juice. Very nice juice, but half a cup seemed unrewarding. Compared to the huge amount of apples in the strainer, ti also seemed stingy. I added more water, switched to a colander instead of cheesecloth, and generally made everything in the kitchen sticky sweet with apple residue and got 4 quarts of very thin applesauce for my trouble. Again, very tasty (those are good apples) and a pretty color, but not what I had in mind.

I think the next painting I sell will turn into a steam juicer.