Sunday, June 3, 2018

Asparagus Beetles and More

Weather-wise it has been a great Spring for asparagus. We have had very few hot days and adequate rainfall. At the beginning of May it looked like this was going to be my best year yet for harvesting my favorite vegetable.

The asparagus in May were tender and plentiful

Deformed asparagus spears.
However, after a couple pickings, it became apparent that something was wrong. The asparagus became deformed and seemed to be rotting shortly after emerging from the soil. At the same time I began to notice asparagus beetles on the ground and on the plants. In the past I have dealt with asparagus beetles after harvesting is over and the plants have gone to seed. This year I learned that there are two different asparagus beetle pests. The earlier arrival is the common asparagus beetle, or Crioceris asparagi. This beetle arrives as soon as the spears start emerging from the soil and they are extremely destructive. As I looked around the deformed stalks, I saw the beetles crawling on and around the soil. Close up the beetles are colorful, being orange, yellow and black with a geometric pattern on its wings. 
Common Asparagus Beetle
Although I have seen the beetles and their eggs, I have not yet seen any larvae, which is a good. I try to go out daily picking off the beetles and tossing them in a bucket of soapy water and rubbing my fingers along the stalks to remove the eggs. Although it seems like a futile exercise since just as many beetles appear the next day, I know that if I don't do this the numbers will increase and the damage to the plants may severely impact the plants survival and it's ability to produce new spears next year. The second beetle to arrive is the spotted asparagus beetle or Crioceris duodecimpunctata. I noticed a few this morning. They have arrived right on schedule, about three weeks after the common asparagus beetle. The photo at left shows a pair of spotted asparagus beetles mating. The life cycle of asparagus beetles is between 23 and 37 days with three generations born in a year. Interrupting this cycle as much as possible is key to keeping populations under control.
I have learned that the adult beetles will overwinter in the hollow stems of old asparagus plants. This fall I will make sure that once the plants are no longer green, to cut the stalks down to ground level.

Unfortunately, beetles are not my only worry for the asparagus plants. In the beginning of May, I realized that I also have a slug problem.
Where does this slug think it's going?

Probably right inside.

I have not noticed them in the past couple of weeks, so hopefully, now that temperatures have warmed, the moist conditions that encourage slugs will be diminished. I will also avoid watering in the evening, physically remove these creatures when I find them (although picking off beetles is more palatable than removing sticky slimy slugs), and space my plantings to encourage adequate air flow. Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate as well with weather that is not too cool or damp.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Risotto with Asparagus and Peas

With Asparagus being the first vegetable to harvest in the garden I am always excited to find new recipes. This one is perfect when the season says it's Spring, yet the evenings are still chilly. Adapted from

1 bunch fresh asparagus
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves garlic minced. 
4 - cups broth + 1 cup water
1/4 cup short grain brown rice
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1 cup frozen peas (or fresh if you have them)
1/2 cup grated Parmeson
1/2 cup white wine
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
Lemon zest from 1/2 lemon and juice

-Preheat oven 375 degrees.
-Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and a dash of salt. Stir until softened.  Lower heat and add garlic, saute for 1 minute.
-Add 3 cups broth, 1 cup water and bring to boil. Remove from heat, add rice, cover and place in oven. Bake for 55 minutes.
-Trim and slice asparagus length-wise. Place on greased baking sheet. Brush with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
-After 55 minutes, add asparagus to oven on lower rack.
- Add peas to risotto and return covered to the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
-Remove Dutch oven. Roast asparagus until done - 5 to 10 more minutes.
-Add 1 cup broth and remaining ingredients to risotto on the stove. Stir until cream. Add asparagus and serve.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Bluebirds and Swallows

Now that the outdoors has come alive with the singing of birds in the morning and frogs in the evening, there is no shortage of Spring-time activities of which to participate. The only problem is deciding where to go. This past weekend, I went on a bird walk at the Massabesic Audubon Center with my daughter-in-law and baby grand-daughter, who at eight months, was told that she was the youngest birder that they had ever had on a walk. One is never too young to appreciate the wonders of nature.

Participants of all ages learning about bird habitats at the Massabesic Audubon Center
It was a picture perfect day.The property has bird houses set up throughout their open fields to attract Bluebirds and swallows. It was like a mini subdivision.
This Tree Swallow is calling #88 home
This Bluebird has claimed #90
Both the Bluebird and Tree Swallow are blue, but the Tree Swallow has a white breast and the Bluebird's is orange. Over the next couple of weeks, both the swallows and Bluebirds will be laying stake to their new homes with some, having already settled in.

Birdhouses line the path to the woods.

After observing the birds in the field, we walked down to a small beaver pond where the Audubon folks had bagels and coffee set out. Here we learned about the ecological value of beavers as they create ponds and wetlands that support a wide variety of wildlife. We saw a water snake in the pond, and a Wood Duck flew overhead.

Milne Pond
Our final stop was a vernal pool in the woods. It was rich with vegetation.

Marsh Marigold
Ferns growing on a tussock
Soon we were back at the center and although we didn't see many birds, the walk was enjoyable and provided an opportunity to appreciate the awakening of new life in Spring.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Chicken and Ham Pot Pie

Although the days have been warm, the evenings are cool and just right for a comforting chicken pot pie.

Single pie crust dough
2 Tablespoons butter
4 oz. ham diced
8 ounces mushroom sliced
1 leek chopped
2 cloves garlic mined
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon thyme
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breasts of thighs

In dutch oven melt butter. Add mushrooms and leeks and cook until soft. Add ham and garlic and cook about 1 minute. Stir in flour and gradually add broth, lemon zest and thyme. Stir in cream, add chicken, cover and simmer for 8 - 10 minutes.Transfer to a 2-quart casserole dash and top with pie crust. Poke crust for steam to escape. If desired, brush crust with cream. Bake at 400 degrees about 40 minutes until bubbly and crust is brown. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Simmering chicken, ham and broth


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Celebrate Earth Day!

Today, April 22nd we celebrate this precious planet that we call home. This year's Earth Day theme is "End Plastic Pollution." That is a bold statement, since this material has become so ubiquitous in our lives. According to the Earth Day Network, the organizer of Earth Day events across the globe, their goals for 2018 "include ending single-use plastics, promoting alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials, promoting 100 percent recycling of plastics, corporate and government accountability and changing human behavior concerning plastics."

By simply becoming more conscientious in our shopping and disposal decision, we can all make a difference. Although I am a good steward of the environment, and if you are reading this blog, you are too, I have learned that I can always do better. As I reported back in January, recycling plastic bags and wraps is one of those ways. So many things come wrapped in plastic, like our daily newspaper delivery. In addition to reusing these bags to pick up pet waste, I collect the extras and recycle them at our local grocery store. It amazes me how much plastic wrap I collect within just a few days.

Plastic wrap awaiting recycling.
When possible, I try and purchase items without extra wrapping. If I feel that items are unnecessarily wrapped in plastic I contact the manufacturer and let them know. Your voice as a consumer can influence their sustainability goals, particularly as the problems of plastic pollution in the oceans has become more publicly recognized and as outlets for recycling these materials become more scarce.

If possible, try and get outside today and enjoy the signs of Spring that are emerging, from the sounds of peepers and wood frogs, to the smells of the soil as it comes alive, to the sights of the first daffodils, there is much to celebrate. And, don't forget to bring a big to pick up those plastic containers on the side of the road that are now visible since the snow has melted.

It won't be long before these daffodils are in bloom.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shrimp on Bed of Zucchini

A light and simple weeknight meal which uses a bed of zucchini in place of pasta or rice.

1/2 cup onion
3 cloves garlic
fresh parsley (1 - 2 Tablespoons)
3 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
1/2 cup white wine
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 cup Panko crumbs
1 medium zucchini
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp

Grease large casserole dish. Shred zucchini in food processor, set aside. Chop onion and garlic. Melt half the butter with the oil and saute onions for about 3 minutes and then add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and add to skillet. Cook 2 minutes, then turn and cook for an additional minute. Remove shrimp. Add lemon juice and wine to pan, stirring until it begins to butter. Add remaining butter and oil and stir until melted. Place shrimp in casserole dish, then add zucchini, mix slightly and poor sauce over both. Return pan to medium low heat and add panko, stirring until golden. Sprinkle over the top of dish and bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes or until bubbling. Serve immediately with parsley sprinkled on top.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Looking for Signs of Spring

April is an unpredictable month. The sun definitely shines a bit brighter and the longer days indicate that winter is past, but sometimes the season just doesn't want to let go. That was the case this past weekend. We drove North to Vermont Friday afternoon and encountered snow most of the way. Saturday morning the sun was out briefly, but snow returned throughout the day as the temperature remained below freezing. 

The wind blows snow across Lake Memphremagog

Nevertheless, Saturday afternoon I put on my hat and mittens and walked along the lake looking for some signs of Spring. The nice thing about early Spring is that trees and brush take on a different appearance before their leaves come out and I realize that although the landscape may initially appear dull and uninteresting their is actually lots of color to be seen.

The branches of Red-Osier Dogwood stand out among other wetland plants in Spring

One of the most recognizable wetland species and a welcome sign of spring are the fuzzy white catkins of pussy willows.

Pussy willows and clouds are a nice contrast to a bright blue sky

It's amazing that the berries of this viburnum were able to survive the cold and wind of a very long winter.

Post-Winter berries of viburnum

Although most of the lake was still covered with ice, fishermen were out drilling holes through the ice Saturday morning, there were some open areas of water. This was fortunate for those migratory birds that decided to return before ice-out.

Canada Geese and a Mallard brave the cold water in April

If you have been near water this month, you have probably heard some red-winged blackbirds. Another common bird that you may here this time of year are Common Grackles.  These two were making quite a racket as they perched at the top of a tree.

Common Grackles 

Even though I won't be putting away my winter clothing yet, I know that the upcoming days will continue to reveal the sights and sounds of a new season of life.