Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's Spring Without Radishes?

These sweet little radishes may be called ‘Easter Egg’ radishes (Raphanus staivus), but we didn’t harvest them until several weeks after Easter. Despite the delay, however, we’ve become fans of this early radish.  The pretty variety gets its name from the delightful pink, red, scarlet, lavender and white radishes it produces in about 25 days.

Radishes are root vegetables from the Brassicaceae family, and are related to broccoli, kale and horseradish. A few quick facts:
  • Radishes grow best in cooler spring temperatures. You can start plants 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.
  • When temperatures get hotter than 75 degrees, radishes go to seed or turn pithy. In warmer climates, consider a more heat-tolerant radish such as 'White Icicle' or 'French Breakfast.'
  • This easy-to-grow vegetable tolerates many soil conditions, but you'll have better results if you plant seeds in well-amended soil.
  • Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and cover with fine potting mix or seed starting mix. Thin to about 2 to 3 inches.
  • Make sure your radishes receive 1 inch of water weekly. These plants are light feeders, so you'll only need to fertilize them at the initial planting time.
  • Radishes grow well in containers, or in garden beds between slower-growing plants like carrots. As radishes mature quickly, you might want to stagger plantings so you have a continuous supply.
Serve radishes in salads, sliced on bread with a little salt or even add them to honey for coughs. Don't forget the radish greens are also edible and healthy. In fact, they are high in vitamin C. Just another reason to love these pretty little spring vegetables.
"For heaviness of the mind . . . eat radish with salt and vinegar; 
soon the mood will be more gay."
T.O. Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, 1864 

Here are more varieties of radishes to consider from North Carolina State University.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unforgettable Day at Andrew Molera State Park

You know you’re somewhere special when you drive into California's Andrew Molera State Park.  This lovely park – 21 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 – is where Big Sur River runs wild into the Pacific Ocean. It’s also the largest state park in the Big Sur area, with plenty to impress nature lovers.

Flower-filled meadows, wooded pathways, walk-in tent campsites, secluded beaches and more than 20 trails await you at the 4,800 acre park. You can even rent horses here and ride the paths.

Last May, we were lucky enough to find ourselves here again. As you can see, the California poppies and wild lupine were blooming wildly that day.
Here's a close-up picture of lupines and poppies blowing in the breeze, with just a touch of sea salt in the air.
Walk along the grassy meadows and you'll see plenty of butterflies. It was right around here that we also found not one, but two, four-leaf clovers. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of this miracle. So, you'll just have to believe me.  But even if you don't find any four-leaf clovers, you'll consider yourself lucky just to be in this lovely spot.
As you head towards the beach, you'll walk among wildflowers, trees and grassy meadows. The trees provide much-needed shade on a hot, sunny day.
Keep walking up the tiny path, overflowing with giant wild phlox and other wildflowers. Overhead, you'll see hawks looking for lunch, while below, little lizards scurry off into the plants.
After walking a few miles among this beautiful scenery, what do you reach?  Good question.
Look what awaits you at the end of the trail. A perfect picnic place. Find yourself a comfy spot and look around. See how that yellow lupine hangs stubbornly to the cliff, even in the blustery ocean breezes?
A peek at the beach at the end of the trail.  Now wasn't that worth the walk?  Spend a couple hours at this state park for an unforgettable day in what many call one of the world's most beautiful locations.
Learn more about Andrew Molera State Park.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mendocino in May

A soft wind is blowing as we walk across the wildflower-filled bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. What could be more marvelous than a May day spent in Mendocino, California? This little coastal village, about 165 miles north of San Francisco, has charmed the hearts of travelers since the 19th century.

Spectacular scenery. Charming old houses. And private little gardens. These are just some of the jewels of Mendocino Village and surrounding area. Not to mention, plenty of fine restaurants, accommodations, art galleries and shops that can almost compete with the million dollar views.
Believe it or not, the popular mystery television series "Murder She Wrote" was filmed in scenic Mendocino. Not Maine, as you would imagine.

Squint your eyes, and you can see how this historic village in California could be confused with 19th century New England. A perfect example is the Maccallum House Inn above. The original mansion was built in 1882 by William H. Kelley as a wedding gift to his daughter, Daisy MacCallum.

I've had the good fortune to visit Mendocino several times in May, and highly recommend it. The crowds are smaller. The weather is perfect. And the gardens are a real treat. Just look at this charming garden at Maccallum House's cottage (above).

Roses, lavender and wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri) welcome visitors to Agate Cove Inn's 19th century farmhouse, where a full breakfast awaits guests.

A little outside of town, the inn features 100-year-old Cypress trees, large gardens and charming cabins for rent. Several rooms have two-person tubs and excellent ocean-front views.

In fact, this inn may just have one of the best views in Mendocino.

Who wouldn't enjoy a nice glass of chilled wine at sunset in this idyllic spot?

Along one of the streets in Mendocino Village, lies this cheerful spring garden filled with tulips, borage, sweet alyssum, daisies and more.

This garden space shows that small can certainly be spectacular.

And what trip to California would be complete without succulents combined in colorful and unusual patterns?

Not surprisingly, the drought-tolerant plants thrive in this Mediterranean climate.

A few days spent in Mendocino and you'll be thriving too, no doubt.

Get more travel tips from:
Mendocino Guide to Mendocino Village

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Joyful May

"The moon shines bright, and the stars give a light,
A little before it is day
So God bless you all, both great and small
And send you a joyful May."

These soothing words are from "The Night Song," commonly sung in 19th Century England while Maying... Learn more about May Day customs.

The photo was taken during the March full moon in Boise, after a recent snow storm.

The next full moon will be May 8-9, depending on your location. Traditionally, this full moon was appropriately named Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon or Milk Moon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Can You Name This Plant?

Ask any gardener. Plants can look downright strange at times. That's especially true when a little seedling is just bursting out of the ground.

Need proof? Take a look at this plant popping up. Why if I didn't know better, I'd swear it was some weird prehistoric bird wanting a little food.

Fortunately, it's not -- it's actually a . . . Wait a minute, can you guess this plant?

A couple of tips to get you started:
Give up?

This odd-looking seedling is actually a 'Purple Podded Pole' Bean, Phaseolus vulgaris. In fact, the purple stem is another clue to the delicious purple pole beans that will, hopefully, grow on this little plant soon.

Remember it's best to plant warm-weather vegetables like beans, summer squash and tomatoes after the last frost date in your area. Here, that date is May 8. To find out your last frost date, contact your cooperative extension service or ask your local nursery.

And if your little plants happen to look a bit odd while they are growing, please try not to notice. I'm sure they feel sensitive enough about it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Historical Look at May Day

“The fair maid who the first of May,
Goes to the fields the break of day,
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever handsome be.”
Old Proverb

The first of May - otherwise known as May Day - is “rich in customs, perhaps more so than any other day of the year,” writes The Oxford Book of Days. 

Unlike some seasonal celebrations, there’s also solid evidence that pre-Christian rituals happened around this day, according to Ronald Hutton, history professor at the University of Bristol

So, while you’re out smelling the May flowers, consider these facts: 

Start of Summer:  May Day was the beginning of summer in traditional calendars for centuries. It was also around now that the livestock were brought out of winter pens to graze in summer pastures.  So, for the pastoral communities it was an especially important time in their annual agricultural cycle.

May Day and May Eve were also considered among the scariest days of the year – a time when fairies, witches and other evildoers created havoc.  That’s why so many seasonal rites were designed to protect families, animals and communities from these potential problems.

Fire Rituals: Ancient Celts made huge purification bonfires on this day they called Beltane or something similar. The fire tradition in various forms survived in Ireland well into the 19th century.  Cattle were led through flames to protect them in fields. Travelers jumped over fires to ensure safe journeys. Young women leapt to find husbands. Even babies were carried over dying cinders to keep them well. Similar fire rituals can be found in Scandinavia, Germany, Austria and other European countries. 

Incidentally, it was considered dangerous for someone to take fire from your hearth at this time.  Try to borrow a light on May Day in 16th century Ireland, for instance, and your neighbors would likely have called you a witch.

Plant Uses:  Speaking of witches and fairies, now was a particularly good time to scatter marsh mallow and primrose petals on your front steps to keep away misfortune.  Or, you might hang rowan (or mountain ash) around cows, doorways and dairy equipment to keep those areas safe from harm too.

Garlands and crosses – made from plants like hue, hemlock, rosemary, birch, elder and hawthorn branches – were also hung around the home for centuries to keep families and farms protected from evil spirits. 

In addition to warding off witches, flowering branches and bouquets were gathered on May Day to decorate the home and give as gifts.  Even today, it’s common in France to give lily-of-the-valley bouquets to loved ones on May 1.

However, the plant selection was particularly important in the olden days.  Rowan and hawthorn symbolized a sign of respect. But other plants conveyed other meanings. For example, a thorn meant scorn and a nut meant a slut, but a plum in bloom meant married soon.

“The May Pole is up,
Now give me the cup,
I’ll drink to the garlands around it.”  
Henry Bold, 1657

Maypoles:  Nothing symbolizes May Day better than a maypole made of birch or some other tree, and festooned with flowers and ribbons.  In England, maypoles were well established as early as 1350 to 1400.  The poet Nicholas Breton wrote in 1618 that the maypole was “where the young folks smiling kiss at every turn.”

Famous Parties:  If you think only the villagers participated in May Day festivities, guess again. King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, for example, celebrated regally with Robin Hood in 1515. Sixteenth-century English historian John Stow writes that the group feasted in “harbours made of boughs, and decked with flowers . . . with venison and wine by Robin Hood and his men.”

Sounds quite nice, don’t you think? 

Learn more about May Day’s seasonal rituals from the sources used for this post:

How do you intend to celebrate the start of May?

Here's information about other holidays:

Images Credit:  These Victorian scenes came from an amazing collection belonging to T's Altered Art on Flickr. Go check ‘em out.