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Flower Garden or Salad Bar for Deer?


tulips buds before the deer find them

Their midnight snack…


My morning indigestion…

We can all remember the first time the magic of Disney brought us Bambi and his ilk (or should I spell that ‘elk?’). We never saw the dark side of our little antlered friends did we; the one where they sneak about the night bounding over any fence shorter than a Sequoia, smug in the fact that they can devour a drift of daisies, a row of roses, and a lane of lilies before their two-legged foes so much as pour their first cup of coffee.  And while I’m planning my imaginery all-venison buffet, they are reclining in some shaded glen planning their own menu of late night snacks to be had in my unfenced and well-stocked outdoor larder.

Potato Sausage Casserole: Embracing My Inner American Breakfast


Potato Sausage Casserole: Who wants breakfast?

farm fresh eggs cracked in a bowl

Farm fresh eggs have amazingly bright yolks.

I had some friends over for breakfast last Sunday, the perfect occasion to celebrate the best meal of the day. Don’t get me wrong; lunch and dinner are okay, but let’s face it, they share the same menu items. Breakfast is unique enough to hold on to its moniker no matter what time it’s served. When it comes to the Big American Breakfast (BAM), I consider it a gift to the world that rivals such Yankee contributions as the fountain pen, peanut butter, moist towelette, Space Shuttle and waffle cone.

I thought I’d keep it simple:  fruit, farm fresh eggs scrambled (courtesy of the girls), blueberry scones and my potato sausage breakfast casserole cooked in a cast iron pan the size of a manhole cover.  Here’s how you make it.

potato sausage casserole in a cast iron pan

This is a two-person fry pan, use your legs to lower into the oven. 

Cast Iron Pan Cookery: Potato-Sausage Breakfast Casserole


  • 2lb ground breakfast sausage
  • 2 Cups diced mushrooms
  • 1 minced onion
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Cups milk
  • 2lb thickly grated potatoes ((or diced as cubes))
  • 2 Cups cheese ((swiss or cheddar or half and half))


Step 1
Saute the first three items slowly, and caramelize the onions and brown veggie bits and don't overcook the sausage. Drain if really greasy (or if someone healthy is watching).
Step 2
Add the flour and stir, coating the pan and scraping and stirring, cook another minute to create a pasty roux.
Step 3
Add milk in a slow steady stream and stir mixture. Simmer until it thickens.
Step 4
Add potatoes and mix together
Step 5
Add 1 C cheese and stir mixture
Step 6
Top with remainder of cheese, cover with foil or lid and cook at 350 degrees for an hour.
Step 7
Remove lid or foil and cook another 30 minutes or until golden brown and potatoes tender.

Now you’re ready to climb a mountain or plow your back forty or collapse on the sofa with The New York Times. With a full stomach, Sunday is yours to decide.

How to Plant a Bareroot Fruit Tree



bareroot peach tree year after being planted

 My Avalon Pride peach tree takes root and sprouts some shoots one year after planting.

I wanted to add some peach trees to my orchard and thanks to One Green World nursery and UPS, three peach leaf curl resistant varieties showed up on my doorstep in no time at all. I chose Avalon Pride Peach, Oregon Curl Free Peach and Autumn Rose Peach. Since peaches move me like spinach, kale or broccoli never have, I decided to encroach upon my vegetable garden and plant the peach trees on the eastern edge.Here’s how I planted these bareroot babies.

 Step 1: Trees arrive

Planting a Bareroot Tree

Arriving in March as bareroot trees, I unwrapped the box, removed the trees, and soaked the roots in a bucket of water up to top of the root graft for a couple hours to hydrate the trees. So when you order trees, know where they are going and plant them within 24 hours of arrival for best results.

 Step 2: Dig the hole

digging a hole to plant a tree

 This is probably the most important step next to watering: digging the right size hole. It’s simple; always make it a little bigger than you need. From the research I read, it seems a shallower wider hole encourages more robust growth in the tree than placing it in a narrow deep hole. 

 Step 4: Plant the tree

golden lace wyandotte hens look some worms while I dig

Step 3: Work the soil

When you’re taking out the soil, really break it up and chew it up with your shovel. You want to create a lighter, less compacted soil. As you can see in the photo, my Golden Lace Wyandottes, Millie and Weesie (their names change weekly) are out to pluck as many juicy worms as they can, working top six inches of topsoil, the darker band in the photo.

.bareroot tree and shovel ready to be plantedA bareroot tree is one that is planted when it’s dormant and without soil binding its roots. It’s sold that way. You only see bareroot trees available at nurseries in the late winter or early spring. There is a limited window as the trees are removed from the fields, roots kept moist in some sort of wet medium like sawdust or mulch and then sent to market. Shipping costs less and usually there are a greater choices and variety at this time of year. The roots are healthy and fibrous and well-represented. Say no to wimpy roots.

dig4.jpgStep 5: Settling the tree in

Determine the finished soil level and make sure the roots have plenty of room and spread them out in each direction. Place a stick across the hole and keep the tree trunk and root graft just above the soil so when the soil is returned, the tree is level with the soil.



Step 6: Don’t amend the soil

Gardeners will duke it out over this controversy. During my stint as a Master Gardener, the debate was heated, but university research shows that trees do not benefit from soil amendments, generally. In fact, loading up the soil with a bunch of compost, manure, sand, and kitchen sinks only discourages the roots from leaving their comfy well-fed hole. In my own experience, I’ve planted trees both with and without soil amendments and the well-dug, same-soil specimens took off after the third year. The pampered ones just hung out and grew lush, but seemed dwarfed.


Step 7: Gently return the soil

The roots are tender, exposed and fragile so be gentle and lightly drop the soil around the roots, filling in the hole and compressing lightly. Remove air spaces, but you don’t need to stomp down hard like its a hoedown.  In the photo above, I still have to add more soil to reach my guide, the horizontal shovel handle. Add more soil if it settles after watering.

Step 8: Create a berm

Young trees need ample water, so I create a berm, a ridge around the tree trunk about two feet out to hold water. Fill the area with a slow flowing hose until it reaches the top of the berm. Drainage is important and if the water tends to sit there for a long time without draining, you may want to consider a new location. Prune out the dead branches and smile at your new long-term garden pal.


Step 9: No Staking Needed

Unless you’re planting a tall specimen with no root ball, no need to stake it for stability.  Again there are two camps on this: to stake or not to stake. I’ve never had a tree blow over and again research indicates a tree that bends in the wind is a stronger tree. A metaphor worth remembering. Happy Planting, Tom

He’s a Smooth Pollinator — When Peach Trees Need a Helping Hand



Let me just say peach trees are worth the effort, and in the Pacific Northwest that’s some effort. Our rainy cool climate tricks the peach into blooming early–early enough that no bee worth his knees is going to be foraging for pollen or nectar. Even the heavy hitter pollinator of the hood, the orchard mason bee, is barely stirring with night temps visiting the 30s. As day temperatures lumber up to almost 50, the peach tree begins to awaken to a lonely garden, where few fellow photosynthesizers have even peered above the soil line. I did see one bumblebee, but my burly bomber was more interested in bluebells and tulips. 

Being the resourceful fellow that I am, I called upon the best and most available pollinator I knew: me. After one hour and 15 minutes of my household scavenger hunt to find my old artist paintbrushes (from my faux finish period), I discovered them next to my gold leaf, glue gun and fishing lures in a bottom drawer reserved for neglected hobbies. I took my lovely sable Daniel Smith 75-01 and strutted out to the orchard to save my peach trees from a fruitless year. I use one brush for all the trees, assuming a cornucopia of various peach pollens are bound to find a home on a willing pistil. With brush in hand, I ‘paint’ each open blossom with gentle swirls, collecting and distributing pollen as I go about the limbs. Sure I may look silly, but it’s never stopped me before and besides, come July, August and September my mockers’ memories will fail to recall my April escapades when they’re wiping peach juice from their chins.


peach3.jpg                   peach6.jpg

Where’s the bees?                   One of my plan Bs

Yoga or Plan B: Fish and Chips


blog_pintsizefryer.jpg making fish and chips in a presto fry baby

ummm, homemade fish and chips…

Saturday was one of those days where each step I took seemed out a pace and out of place with the universe. Much like a dubbed low budget foreign film, nothing was in sync — lips, story progression or otherwise.  Considering Seattle’s last three days of sleet, snow and pelting hail in the presence of the daffodils, I was in good company.

With gardening off the agenda, I dared to be seen in public, venturing out in my middle-aged guy’s yoga outfit (rest assured,  not a stitch of stretch knit to be found). Yep, a Target T-shirt and cotton shorts a fashion statement do not make. When I learned the yoga class had been canceled, I masked my glee, commiserated with my fellow yoga peeps at the door of the closed studio, and then quickly moved on to Plan B: “What’s for lunch?”

Thriftway and fate answered the burning question for me as corn oil and fresh fish were on sale.  Two things that would have been left out of my cart had I not rediscovered my Sunbeam half pint deep fat fryer from last summer’s garage sale leftover box.  (How could I ever have thought to dispose of this kitchen indispensable.) And did I mention I had relatively fresh pancake batter in the fridge, a perfect coating to encase some succulent mahi mahi. (Poaching it never entered my mind.)


Here’s the recipe for a perfect lunch in lieu of spending an hour in a timeless and spiritual exercise for both body and soul: fish and chips, coleslaw,  and  tartar sauce (all homemade) with a healthy squirt of ketchup, courtesy of Heinz.

  • Fish: Mahi Mahi deep fried in pancake batter

  • Chips: Washington potatoes hand cut, and twice fried to add crispness, sprinkled with kosher salt

  • Cole Slaw: cabbage tossed with a mixture of sherry vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise, salt

  • Tartar Sauce: mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallots, homemade bread & butter pickles chopped

Thankfully for me, the universe tilted back to its rightful place on Sunday, and a yoga practice found its way into my day (fueled by the power of deep fried fish, no doubt). All was right with the world.

Jam Up and Jelly Tight: Apple Jelly Is Out of Sight!


jar of homemade apple jelly with chopped cranberries

Homemade apple jelly with chopped cranberries for one-two flavor punch.

It’s that time of year when I instinctively begin to ration my homemade preserves. It truly is summer captured in a jar. In the photo, I’m holding one of my favorite concoctions: apply jelly infused with rosemary and punctuated with dried cranberries.  Apple jelly is one of my unsung larder heroes, a jellied jewel of rich flavor.

To me store-bought apple jelly is a diluted impostor,  a bottled blob of sugary pectin with little flavor to speak of.  As a result, there is a true bias in the jam world. When I leave a jar of raspberry jam with a friend, eyes lights up. Should I share some peach preserves, the cooing ensues. But when I hand over my apple jelly, the reaction is similar to that of being offered a wrapped mackerel.  Of course, that reaction is fleeting and rarely repeated if recipients actually open the jar and taste it.  A healthy dollop on a warm biscuit has erased many a misconception on the worthiness of apple jelly.

Greenmantle Nursery: Vintage Apples off the Beaten Path


greenmantle nursery heirloom apple trees benchgraft

In my neverending quest to cover every square inch of Tall Clover with anything that bears fruit, I stumbled across a remarkable site: Greenmantle Nursery of Humboldt, California. The nursery has been in business since 1983, and features some old homestead varieties from plant breeder Albert Etter (1872-1950). Today I received three small bench-grafts (on M111 rootstock) of his small dessert/cider apples that the nursery calls Sweetmeat Crab ™ I ordered Muscat de Venus™, Amberoso™, and Atalanta™.

These whips will be nurtured and well cared for before they are placed in their permanent spot. I will need to make sure the graft takes and that there is central lead to take the tree to new heights.  I can wait, especially after reading the catalog description for Muscat de Venus™, “While the texture is crisp, the flavor is intensely vinous and suggestive of muscat grapes. This is an extraordinary choice for dessert or cider. There is more pleasure in a single little Muscat de Venus™ than a bushel of most big apple varieties.”

apple blossomsUpdate 2013: One of the bench-grafts died, but that was my fault in how I handled the young rootstock. Two remain and bloom each year, but still no apples. Perhaps 2013 will be the year of my first ‘crop.’

Update 2015: Amberoso produced a few small apples for the very first time, and I’d have to say it’s been worth the wait, as they were truly exceptional in flavor and texture. Sweet-sour flavorful treats, the diminutive gems are true to their description on the Greenmantle Nursery website: “The flesh has a pronounced amber tinge and is remarkably crisp and juicy, with pineapple aromatic overtones.” Hopefully next year the other Etter variety will produce apples and reveal itself as either Venus de Muscat or Atalanta.

Tall Clover Farm: Warm Welcome on a Chilly Night

snowy day outside my window winter scene
From the guest room window, black locust branches dusted with a rare spring snow.

The chill of the evening cannot dissuade me from writing my first blog entry, not even at my desk upstairs. The heat in my house is most comfortable on the first floor where it remains insolent to most basic of nature’s laws: heat rises.

Not so here; the warmth loiters on the stoop with nary an inclination to ascend past my ankles, nor spend an evening in the company of those who snore.

In the winter, the second floor of this fine old home is a haven for the hardy, those blessed with fur and four paws and those familiar with the thermal benefits of layering.  This is no complaint for when the slow lean toward spring finds a foothold in summer, every cool breeze that I chide now will embrace me with forgiveness on its way out the window.    -Tom Conway

Snowy day at Tall Clover Farm
My house tucked in for the night with a fresh coverlet of snow.