Monarch butterfly

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Photo credit: Rick L. Hansen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wikimedia

Monarch butterflies have been in decline for years. As a result, backyard gardeners, butterfly lovers and environmentalists have been encouraging homeowners (and renters) to provide plants for Monarchs. I found the following graphic on Facebook and thought I would share it here:

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  1. Plant milkweed. It is important to locate seeds and plants that are native to your area. Very, very important.
  2. Encourage your locals schools and businesses to allow a Monarch-friendly patch of milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants to thrive. Important: do not mow down plants until and unless they have gone to seed or died back naturally.
  3. No pesticides: my property is a pesticide-free zone. During the warm months, there are hundreds of insect species that stop by or live here including butterflies, bees, wasps (not all are bad), dragonflies, flies, and more.
  4. Share this information with others. If I had my way, pesticides would be banned from use by the general public and government entities.

More information: Journey North Monarch Butterfly project.

Snowy day in New England

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Old goat house

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Mountain laurel, a native shrub to Connecticut

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Mums are still alive even in December

Roasted Pumpkin Pie

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Last year’s pies made from home grown organic pumpkin made into pumpkin pies

Every year my sons (and daughter when she is here) declare that my pumpkin pie is the best in the world. I must confess: it is delicious.

Yesterday, after forgetting to get celery and pumpkin pie fixins’ I was planning out my Monday shopping trip to pick up the items I forgot yesterday.

My 20-year-old son buys organic pumpkin puree and keeps it in the pantry as a reminder that he wants me to make pumpkin pies whenever I can.

But I don’t use canned pumpkin puree in my pies.

I use something better: roasted sugar pumpkin.

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Sugar pumpkin ripening

And then it hit me; it is the roasting of the pumpkin that gives it that rich, most amazing flavor.

The years that I grew my own organic sugar pumpkins (above), of course, resulted in the best-tasting pies of all.

But this year I must locate a farm-grown sugar pumpkin for my Thanksgiving pies.

For those who don’t know, sugar pumpkins are a specific variety of pumpkin that has just what it says it has: more sugar in the flesh.

A few years ago I paid $.79 a pound for a sugar pumpkin. I have no idea what it will cost me this week.

Roasting a pumpkin

Prepare the pumpkin

Wash the entire outside of the pumpkin with room-temperature water and a vegetable brush. Dry with paper towels (or a clean cloth towel).

Cut the top of the pumpkin around the stem out, but not large as you would for carving a Jack-o-lantern. You want as much of the flesh to remain on the pumpkin as possible (it is precious, delicious, wondrous).

Cut the pumpkin in half down the center from top to bottom (not side to side). I use a large carving knife for this job.

Scrape out the seeds and strings, leaving as much flesh as you can. Do not be afraid of a few strings remaining.

Roasting time

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

 

  • Large baking dish (13×9 inch)
  • cup of water (or more so there is about 1/4 inch of water in baking dish)
  • 2 pumpkin halves

 

Pour water in baking dish and place pumpkin skin-side up, flesh facing down in the dish. (No need to oil the dish.)

Roast the pumpkin for an hour or more until the flesh is tender. It will change to a darker orange color throughout when it is completely cooked.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes (or until it is cool enough to handle).

Scoop out the flesh. It is easier than cutting off the skin which can result in wasted pumpkin (again, it is precious, delicious and wondrous).

Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pumpkin pies made with this roasted sugar pumpkin will knock your socks off. The recipe I use is below (comes from Joy of Cooking 1975 edition – a gift to me from my mom when I was 15 years old).

Pumpkin Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie (so I double the ingredients and make two pies, always).

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Pie shell (unbaked) in pie plate.
  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin
  • 1-1/2 cups cream, condensed milk or whole milk (I always use whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice (I use nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs

Directions using a mixer: Beat the cooked pumpkin first to break it down a little (I don’t puree it ). Combine all ingredients with a mixer. Pour mixture into pie shell(s) and follow the next part of the directions CAREFULLY:

Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes more or until knife comes out clean.

Serve with fresh whipped cream (whip heavy cream adding in teensy bit of sugar and vanilla after the initial whipping).

Give roasted pumpkin pie a try and let me know what you think.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and Happy holidays to all!

[Use any leftover pumpkin to make pumpkin pancakes. Yummy!]

Don’t rake those leaves!

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For years now we (that’s a royal we) have not raked leaves in the fall.

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Some years they were left in place untouched until spring due to my own health issues (nothing gets done around here unless I plan and organize the job). Some years, we did something a little different:

Mowed the leaves and left in place.

As a final mowing (my yard is mowed no more than 6 times each summer season), the yard is mowed chopping up the leaves. But even that is not recommended. It might be better to wait until spring to mow those leaves.

In his article Scientists Urge: Don’t Rake Your Leaves! – Here’s Why, David Wolfe cites the National Wildlife Federation’s recommendation that readers not rake up and throw away leaf litter. Here is Wolfe’s summary of the benefits of leaving leaves in place:

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Leaf litter provides habitat for creatures (small, smaller and smallest), nourishes the soil, and not raking keeps leaves out of landfills, reduces carbon emissions (no leaf blowers, please — hate those things), and gives you more time to do other things.

Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director, in Leaf Litter: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Work?,  discusses the benefits of allowing leaves to remain in place:

  • moisture retention from precipitation
  • stormwater runoff slowdown
  • availability of nutrients for organisms and soil as they are broken down

Although his article mentions the year-round drop of leaves in Florida, the science behind his recommendations apply to all parts of the country.

We do rake leaves off of the driveway because they are quite slippery and make it more difficult to remove snow in the winter months. But those leaves are raked into areas nearby beneath shrubs and trees so their nutrition is not lost to the environment.

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Rethinking fall chores is easy: just don’t rake those leaves!

First snowfall – video

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Surprise snowfall this morning in Connecticut, New England, USA. Snow before Halloween is unusual in the southern half of the state. After about two hours it turned to sleet and then rain leaving only small, sheltered reminders of the winter to come.

Note: Video and still photography captured using Canon Rebel T3i. YouTube video put together using YouTube Video Editor which was a complete nightmare. Never again.

Autumn in New England

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Fall in New England is pure pleasure. The  colors, textures, sounds and even smells evoke a sense of tradition, comfort and home. For those who can’t make it here to Connecticut and other northeastern states to witness the changing of the leaves, there are people like me who are happy to capture the beauty and share. Enjoy!

Updated photos (forgot to export with watermark)

Connecticut woods in June

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Early morning sunlight reveals interesting veining on these Sassafras leaves

My Sassafras patch is thriving after removing a few saplings that were blocking sunlight. I located another Sassafras near my driveway that would benefit from clearing more saplings and a few of the larches that the previous property owners planted (that are not doing well in that location anyway).

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Poison ivy casts leaf-shaped shadows

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Beautiful birch bark that seems to have some kind of black mold

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Clustered Bellflower Campanula glomerata is a volunteer that was most likely the result of a migrating bird. I initially thought this was in the Gentian family.

The Clustered Bellflower is a food source to butterflies and other pollinators so I will let it stay.

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The only characteristic of this Clustered Bellflower that is different from images I found online is the flower stem on my plant is green while those in other photos are red.

The book New England Wildflower Society’s flora Novae Angliae : a manual for the identification of native and naturalized higher vascular plants of New England by Arthur Haines (2011) indicates that Campanula glomerata has been found in many New England states except Connecticut. I’m guessing a migrating bird dropped the seeds and they are now naturalizing.

Beautiful, edible landscape

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Late spring and early summer in Connecticut can be just as lovely as the first blooms of spring. Most flowers in my yard have yet to open as the early fake spring that occurred in March seemed to actually delay the progression of flora in this region.

I have few blueberries forming, but more blossoms and buds on flowering plants that do not bear fruit. My pear tree has some fruit as well, but certainly fewer than previous years.

I have this partial shade-loving Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa) in my front yard, and this year it is completely covered in gorgeous flowers.

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Kousa Dogwood in front yard. Growing around the Kousa Dogwood are lowbush blueberry plants and Sassafras trees.

The white parts are bracts, not petals. The actual flowers emerge from the bumpy green center.

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Over the years, I removed most of the cultivars on my property, allowing the native plants to grow. But this small tree is too beautiful to destroy.

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Four white bracts are the background for the tiny flowers that will emerge before the fruit ripens into a beautiful red color.

The bumpy fruit from the Kousa Dogwood is listed as edible. I never thought to taste them. I might try to make jelly this fall.

Morning fog, and then it’s gone

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Foggy Connecticut morning after a night of thunderstorms

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…and then it is gone.

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Garlic planted over 2 years ago has gone wild with unseasonably warm temperatures (in my neglected garden)

Through the forsythia

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