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The BLT: Assembly (and a Little Driving) Required

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BLT bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich 

While my list of favorite things about summer could stretch to Portland and back, I find the BLT (a.k.a. Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich) is rarely challenged in its top-ten ranking. Homegrown tomatoes or farmers’ market tomatoes know no match, but this year with our cool early summer, they are nowhere to be found outside of a hoop house or a produce aisle. My crop is no exception, emerald city green through and through. We took matters into our own hands and headed to Eastern Washington to load up on ripe toms and sweet peaches (peach pie also in the top ten). 

With the Cascades acting as a natural rain screen, Yakima, Washington enjoys 199 days of sunshine a year and abundant water from Cascade melt. It’s a combination that makes the valley a cornucopia of amazing fruits and vegetables. The orchards and farms of the valley redefine the word abundant. It’s a fun trip across Snoqualmie Pass and I made it back to Vashon, just in time for dinner, where yes, assembly and a little driving were required, but the results seemed worth it.  (Thanks to Beth driving, and owning a car that can make it over the pass!)

blt sandwich

Spotlight on Summer’s First Fig

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Negronne fig
Negronne, a.k.a. Violette du Bordeaux

Figs are delicious on just about every level. The tree looks tropical, the leaves are the preferred couture of modest statues everywhere, and the fruit is a sugary bon-bon that is comfortable in savory and sweet cuisine alike.

This is the first year that I’ve harvested a Negronne fig (a.k.a. Violette du Bordeaux fig) , and since the tree only produced one fig, you’ll understand why I’m giving it the star treatment on this august (and August) occasion. (Update: three more ripened in late September.)

 sliced negronne fig

I brought out the good china to savor the moment. After waiting three years, I can say after the first bite, it was worth the wait.  As for next year’s jam-like figs, only 364 days to go.

Growing tip: Since figs produce on last year’s growth, I will prune lightly and judiciously to ensure a bumper crop next year and for me anything above 20 would be a bumper crop in the cool clime of the Pacific Northwest. If you prune too heavily in the early years, you prune off the year-old fruit producing branches. In warm climates you may even get two crops of figs in one growing season.

Build a Wattle for Your Pole Beans

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Our friend Jack and his structurally-sound beanstalk are the things of which fairy tales are made. In my garden, a goldfinch can bring down a pole bean just by considering it as a pleasant and potential perch. Like everyone, poles beans need all the support they can get. Here’s how I do it: the modified wattle (not to be confused with the dance from the 70s).

wattle for your pole beans

Early in the season pole beans have a place to grow.

And when it comes to elaborate structures, I say less is more and besides I need to be able to rototill it into the ground next spring. As with most of my projects and thrifty nature, I ask, “What can I use that I already have?” The answer: tree shoots or saplings. Yep, I’ve got sticks for days.  After cutting down some young maples, the stump or stool sends up shoots; it’s a practice called coppicing, but any unbranched stick will do.  My hands-down favorite green bean to plant is Fortex. It’s french filet type that never gets stringy and has amazing flavor and vigor; at least in the Pacific Northwest.

How to Build a Wattle (or Trellis) for Your Pole Beans

Materials: 7-8 ft sticks, some sturdy, some more flexible

  1. Firmly push strong sticks into ground until secure.
  2. Space 6-8 inches apart and repeat down the row’s length
  3. When vertical sticks are in, start to weave weaker branches horizontally
  4. Alternate weaving the branches in and out of the vertical sticks
  5. Repeat but the next row weave out and in.
  6. Repeat until you have about 6-8 inches of sturdy weave.
  7. Plant your bean seeds at the base of each vertical pole.

woven bean pole panel wattle

A wattle is simply branches woven as a fence.

bean pole wattle fence scarlett runner pole beans in bloom

Strong enough for a flock of goldfinch and mess of beans.

How to Build a Better Berry Basket (or Bucket)

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berry back porch still life

A bountiful morning when you have the right tools.

Berry (and cherry) picking is serious business; you pick, eat a few, then try to get them in the bucket or basket without spilling your handful from a high altitude. And then there’s the bending down to fill the bucket part. (Bad backs need not apply.) There’s got to be a better way!

homemade berry or cherry picking baskethomemade berry picking basket

The tallclover prototype during its testing phase: lightweight and no rope burns.

I took my design inspiration for a better berry-pickin’ bucket from the clever folks at Bybee-Nims Farms at the base of Mt. Si near North Bend, WA. Their berry bucket: a clothesline cut to four feet, ends threaded through two opposite holes in an open coffee can and then knotted, basically a bucket pendant necklace.

 

ingenious berry basket

 

The prototype: cheap, comfortable and with several applications.

I adapted the idea, using a light weight plastic storage container and a soft twist tie (foam-covered, wire-core) for the rope.  My extensive testing proves the design reliable and my capacity to eat fresh berries without match.  It’s an especially handy when you’re on a ladder. But why limit it to a berry/cherry picking bucket, what about as:

 

  • a cereal bowl for your morning commute or late night snacking
  • a place to store your reading glasses
  • a new-fangled air sickness bag
  •  a popcorn holder when at the theater

Ah the list goes on, but for now I have a date with some overripe raspberries. Ladies, gentlemen, don your buckets.

About Tom

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Seattle Greenlake house

After years of living in some great Seattle neighborhoods, I left my teeny-tiny house in Seattle (a real-life version of the cottage I drew as a kid, complete with pointy-tip tulips of unnatural colors and spiral smoke escaping the chimney). I moved to the country, to a schedule of tides and ferries, to five acres of possibilities and a community of kind people.

Tom’s farmhouse in 1900

I found a gem of a house, just needing someone to provide the polish. (photo circa 1900)

blog_farmhouse

Locally, the farmhouse is known as the Peach Palace, a moniker not so much based on the fruit in the orchard or the size of the house, as much as on the paint hue that covers its frame. (One pays a price for the savings found in another person’s paint mixing mistake.) Actually the color has grown on me, and no matter what the hue, I am smitten with my home, its history and welcoming presence.

In the orchard, my newly planted trees bend with the promise of future bounty. For now, they’re just getting settled. I grow apples, peaches, pears, persimmons, quince, berries, figs and cherries, mainly because I love to eat apples, peaches, pears, persimmons, quince, berries, figs and cherries.

Tom and the Boz

On a personal note, I’m someone who embraces the beauty of the bulldog…

a slice of homemade blackberry pie

Succumbs to the power of pie…

Boz the bulldog takes a dip in the pool

Contends that summer is never long enough…

Boz and Gracie: bulldogs in a hammock

Shares his hammock…

Boz and Gracie, snuggling bulldogs

And sofa with bossy (and weighty) interlopers,

Plays with his food (reprising my role as Cyrano de Raspbergerac)

foot in tall clover

And finds  that any time his feet are walking in tall clover, it’s a good day.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me here. [contact_form]

Anna & Ryan’s Wedding: Love Set Sail for Vashon Island

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Ryan and Anna getting married on Vashon Island outdoor weeding

Anna & Ryan: The smiles say it all

Yesterday, love came to rest on Vashon Island. That’s not to say it’s not hanging around our island on a daily basis, but this was a different kind of love: the sneaking-up kind of love that gets you teary-eyed before you know it, the tonic kind of love that cures what ails you, the knock-on-the-door kind of love that doesn’t wait for an invitation or key turn before busting the door off its hinges to proclaim,  “I’m here. Join me now or get out of the way!” And I’m here to tell you, none of us stepped aside.

Yes, yesterday love set sail for Vashon Island, and I was fortunate enough to be caught in the wake of its charge, to be witness to a day where wishes came true and words melted our hearts. We all saw a different kind of love that day, not one that  wanes or withdraws but one that lives out loud and defines a lifetime. Congratulations, Anna & Ryan!

Anna, Tom and Kitty parents of the bride Vashon Wedding

Beautiful Anna, as held by the two who hold her so dearly.

Wedding location: AYH Ranch Hostel, Vashon Island

Letting the Art of Nature Drift By

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floating leaf in a stream One leaf, one stream, some sun, seaweed and a whole lot of pretty.

Nature can surely frame a pretty picture, and last Sunday, friends and I discovered the subtle beauty of one place where each step afforded a new work of art: Fern Cove and lower Shinglemill Creek. This chartreuse leaf caught the eye and imagination of my friend Mary Ann and lead me into the cold creek to catch a closer look and try to capture its artful pose. Nature cooperated handsomely.

Shinglemill Creek at Fern Cove

Fern Cove, Vashon Island (low tide)

The Vashon Park District just completed the restoration of the Belle Baldwin House , which guests can rent weekly. The 1912 house is located on the beach above, about 40 feet to the right of the driftwood.

The Grow Report: Cherry Trees

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Ripe Van and/or Stella Cherries cherry trees

Fresh tree-ripened Stella Cherries poised for the picking.

Here’s an update on how my young orchard grows.

  • Stella: Sweet Cherry, 4 years old, first harvest 2008, 3 pounds, healthy, no insect or disease issues
  • Lapin: Sweet Cherry, 4 years old, first harvest 2007, 1  pound, moderate grower, no insect or disease issues
  • Early Burlat: Sweet Cherry, 4 years old, no harvest, moderate grower, no insect or disease issues
  • Rainer: Sweet Cherry, 4 years  old, first harvest 2008, 20 cherries, healthy, no insect or disease issues
  • Montmorency: Sour or Pie Cherry, 3 years old, first harvest 2008, very healthy (despite shaded area), likely five pounds of small cherries, should be ready to pick in a week two.

In general, the cherry trees are healthy in a full-sun location (except sour cherry trees shaded by large walnuts), in very loamy, sandy soil with excellent drainage, which requires supplemental watering. Foilage is rich green and new growth is about 11 inches so far this summer.

Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries

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Life is just a bowl of cherries

Stella Cherries: the before picture; the after, no so pretty. 

Metaphors come in all shapes and sizes (as do cliches), and this morning one of my favorites came to mind and to rest at my breakfast table. Life is just a bowl of cherries indeed. And with such a glowing cache of fresh-picked gems before me, the world seems pretty fine. Mr. Ray Henderson’s 1931 classic sums it up quite nicely; words to live by, just keep an eye out for the robins.

People are queer, they’re always crowing, scrambling and rushing about;
Why don’t they stop someday, address themselves this way?
Why are we here? Where are we going? It’s time that we found out.
We’re not here to stay; we’re on a short holiday.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.
You work, you save, you worry so,
But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go.

So keep repeating it’s the berries,
The strongest oak must fall,
The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you’ve never owned?
Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh at it all.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.
At eight each morning I have got a date,
To take my plunge ’round the Empire State.
You’ll admit it’s not the berries,
In a building that’s so tall;
There’s a guy in the show, the girls love to kiss;
Get thousands a week just for crooning like this:
Life is just a bowl of . . . aw, nuts!
So live and laugh at it all!

MP3 music sample: Life Is a Bowl of Cherries

The Best Way to Ripen Peaches

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Peaches, dripping with juices, when left to ripen
Peaches, dripping with juices, when left to ripen

A Ripe Peach Is Worth the Wait

I love peaches too much to eat them as the rock hard flavorless orbs we’ve come to expect from the local grocer.  It’s worth every penny to buy from local growers or grow peaches yourself as it seems impossible to ship perfectly ripe peaches. Heck, I can’t take a bag full of my peaches to a neighbor across the street without having jam upon arrival.

After years of trying many techniques, I believe I’ve found the best way to ripen a peach if picked too early or trucked in from another local and picked firm.  It’s simple and it works.

Avalon Pride Peach
Avalon Pride Peach picked while firm and left to ripen off of the tree on my dining room table.

How to Ripen a Peach to Juicy Perfection

Step 1: Selection

Please, never squeeze a peach as you basically ruin it. The bruised tissue just rots and begins to consume the peach in a matter of hours. It took a full year to grow that peach, show a little respect. Select firm, unbruised peaches with nice color, full shape and nice weight for the size.

Beauty and the beastly (if not grubby) garden hand
Beauty and the beastly (if not grubby) gardeners hand

Step 2: Nap Time for Your Peaches

  • Place the peach or nectarine stem side down on a linen napkin, pillowcase, or cotton woven towel, as these fabrics breathe.  Forget  terry cloth as it holds moisture and tends to encourage mold and cut into soft ripe peach skin. (You are free to roll your eyes, but this works.) You could also set the peaches on (not in) a folded flat paper bag, another worthy nap pad.
Tucking in the peaches: nighty, night, sleep tight
Tucking in the peaches: nighty, night, sleep tight

Step 3: No Direct Sunlight

  • Make sure the fruit doesn’t touch and is kept in a cool place out of the sun.

Step 4. Keep Peaches Undercover

  • Cover your peaches up with another linen napkin, cotton cloth, or pillowcase. This shades the peaches and keeps any hungry insects at bay.
Let your treasure rest and ripen.
Let your treasure rest and ripen.

Step 5: Gauging Ripeness

Peaches are ripe when they smell like a peach and the stem side is pressed down a bit from the weight and softening of the peach as it ripens. The resulting peach: perfumed, juicy, soft, delectable. Ripening can take anywhere from a couple days to a week.

Step 6: Eat or Refrigerate Once Ripe

If you have too many that ripen at once, you can refrigerate them to stop the ripening, but that’s only if you can’t eat five to six peaches a day. Once refrigerated, the peaches should be eaten or used in the next few days.

Perfectly ripe white peach (Charlotte): patience well rewarded.
Perfectly ripe white peach (Charlotte): patience well-rewarded.

The juicy white peach above was slightly unripe and hard when picked. Four days later after its spa treatment between two linen napkins, the peach was a juice bomb of sugar. I picked them early to beat out marauding raccoon that had discovered the tree.

My (Amatuerish) Video: The Best Way to Ripen Peaches

Here’s to ripe peaches and pie in your life!

Peach pie: one of the best things about summer!
Peach pie: one of my favorite things about summer!