Thursday, June 26, 2008

Silkey Gardens Strawberries

Among the local foods I've purchased at the co-op lately are Silkey Gardens strawberries. (Check the "Local Foods Recently in My Kitchen" sidebar item for others.) They were marked as Minnesota Grown, but I wasn't familiar with the name so I checked out their website and their listing with the state department of agriculture's Minnesota Grown directory. Turns out they are about as local as you can get -- they are right down the road on 115th St., technically still in Northfield, adjacent to Dundas. Their Ag department description reads:
A family owned small fruit farm and orchard offering pick-your-own and pre-picked strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples and more.
Their website notes that they are just in their third year of production, and so far strawberries are the main crop, though they will have limited quantities of blueberries and raspberries and hope to expand their offerings of these and the other fruit mentioned above as their plantings mature. Pick-your-own hours are most days 6-11:30 a.m. and 6-8 p.m., but they ask pickers to call for current conditions before coming out (the number is 507-645-4158).

I've eaten my way through my first quart of Silkey Gardens strawberries the last several mornings, and bought another today. I've not had a good track record of eating enough fruit and vegetables -- especially fruit -- in recent months. I'm trying harder (and finding the food tracker at to be a useful tool to help make sure I eat a more balanced diet). Local strawberry season makes it easy to change my ways.

Recipe for a very pleasant breakfast:
  • One slice of Just Bread multigrain bread made by Brick Oven for Just Food co-op, spread with...
  • chunky natural peanut butter (I definitely go for the with-salt kind and the chunkier the better), accompanied by...
  • 5-10 ripe strawberries, plus...
  • half a glass of orange juice, and
  • tea or coffee
On another local-foods note, I have been invited to write an article about eating locally for the next issue of ComPost, Just Food's member publication (also, I'm sure, available at the store), which will highlight the annual summer Eat Local challenge. Watch for it in a few weeks.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Navel Gazing

What's a blogger to do when she doesn't have her camera for a month, having lent it to her daughter who is on an island in Lake Superior, attending music camp? How about taking the time to look back at 10 months of Penelopedia? I started the blog in July 2007, but only have decent statistics from the time I signed on with Sitemeter at the end of last August. Sitemeter tells me the following:
  • Penelopedia received between 482 and 988 unique daily visits per month; the average visitor looks at 1.5 pages while on the site
  • 25-30 visitors check out the site on a typical day; currently, 28 visitors subscribe to Penelopedia through a feed reader (info supplied by Feedburner). There may be some overlap in these populations if people click through from their feed readers to the actual site.
  • Peak readership so far has been been in April and May 2008, when I was writing and posting photos often about waterfowl migration through southern Minnesota and gearing up for the gardening season; the low points were in the heart of winter, when I had little to talk about.
People who found Penelopedia through a search engine in recent months were most often looking for information on:
  1. box elder bugs
  2. apostrophe use in phrases like "farmers' market" (one of my tangentially related rants)
  3. wasps' nests
  4. local berry farms in general or Lorence's in particular
  5. the phrase "just us boys" (that'll teach me to name my posts more carefully); odd, those visitors don't seem to stick around very long
  6. locavores and the eat-local movement
  7. freegans
  8. house sparrows
  9. spirea
A few weeks ago I listed Penelopedia on Nature Blog Network, a compendium of blogs that deal with wildlife, birdwatching, botany, ecosystems and the like. Penelopedia is currently the 136th-most-visited of their roughly 350 ranked blogs (ranking changes daily based on a running count of average daily visits tracked through their icon).

The posts I am most pleased to have written include:
My favorite photo I've posted so far is probably the one of pied-billed grebes swimming through the reflection of Ames Mill in the Cannon River (I later incorporated it into my header image, though that may change next time I have a yen for a new look).

I like the fact that blogging about nature and gardening helps give me the impetus to get out and experience/do those things -- and readers have helped improve that experience. One of the high points of the year was a reader's tip (thanks, Brendon) about the presence of a loon on a pond at the southeast edge of Northfield; I would not otherwise have known we might see loons over an extended period in Northfield. I also appreciate the role the local-blog aggregator at has played in helping me "grow" a readership. (That's a jargony expression that I can't yet use outside business hours without quotes around it, but which feels suitable for a blog that's in considerable part about gardening.)

Thank you, my core of relatively faithful readers, and welcome to any who stumble upon Penelopedia in their travels around the Web. I hope you hang around for more. To quote The Blurred Birder, a British blogger whose site I found through Nature Blog Network, "Stick with it, it might get better, you never can tell."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seven Songs (Barely)

I've been tagged by my blogging, Berkeley-based sister-in-law:
“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they're listening to.”
As soon as I saw this, I realized the grim fate before me. I have now to reveal myself as someone who currently hardly ever listens to music. It hasn't always been that way, of course, and I'm a musician myself (lapsed flute player, choral singer), which makes it seem odder still, and I live a happily vicarious musical life through my daughter the flutist/violinist, which makes it especially hard to admit: I just don't listen much these days. The truth is, living with an 8-year-old boy who watches lots of videos and plays lots of computer games, when the house is quiet enough that I could turn on some music, I usually prefer to bask in the rare silence. And in the car, or while I wash dishes, I listen to NPR news and Car Talk and stuff like that -- something that informs or amuses me and engages my mind.

That being said, I will admit to having discovered The Weepies (from listening to public radio) this winter and liking them very much -- enough to have downloaded one album and to have received another from my older daughter for my birthday. (And I just discovered that one of the pair that make up the group, Deb Talen, is a fellow Brown alum, which is cool.) So I'll let them get me started:
  • "World Spins Madly On" - The Weepies (I downloaded the single first, and then the whole Say I Am You album, so I have this song twice in my iTunes and that is just fine). This is so darn listenable.
  • "Painting by Chagall" - The Weepies. Not one of my favorites at first, but one of the more memorable songs on the album.
  • "Slow Pony Home" - The Weepies. Sticks in my head.
  • Beethoven String Quartet in c minor, Opus 18 No. 4, because that's the string quartet my violinist daughter is working on this month at music camp. I've listened to it once so far, and not with great attention, but will surely do so again.
  • "Prisoner" - Aztec Two-Step, from their debut album whose plaintive harmonies permeate some of my best college memories; I was thrilled to download the album some months ago
  • Oh boy. This is getting hard. Oh, I've just remembered the Emmylou Harris CD I bought a few months ago. So, "Little Bird" - Emmylou Harris (from Stumble Into Grace). Lovely song by one of my very favorite artists of all time.
  • And "Plaisir d'Amour" - Emmylou Harris, from the same album. Because it's French. Or Louisianan. Or something.
Older daughter, who gave me The Weepies for my birthday, also burned an "I'm a Cool Mom/Mom's Birthday Mix" CD for me. I've only listened to it once so far, but I expect if I were tagged to do this again in a few months, I'd need to list some of those songs.

I guess I am obligated by the playground rules to tag others. Here goes: Mary, Rob, Christopher, Jim, Deb, Brendon, and I'm afraid those are all the bloggers I can think of right now that I know even arguably well enough to tag or at least I think I'd enjoy knowing what they're listening to, whose blogs do not seem so serious or issue-specific that this would be totally out of place, and who haven't already received this tag. But if they feel it's not for them, I won't hold them to it. I've done my best. No backs!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sunny, breezy days in Garden #2

Finally, some sun. But without excessive heat or humidity. Amazing, for Minnesota in June. Now I have to start keeping a mental eye on my second garden -- the one I don't see every day because it's a few blocks away. Since planting in late May I've not needed to worry about watering, but I don't want to forget about it. I was over there Saturday morning, working the soil around the plants to get rid of weed grass that is rampant in the planting bed. It's a semi-raised bed; the front (where I grow the vegetables) is raised, but the ground rises so that the back (home to perennials including rhubarb and lots of tall ornamental grass run amok) is flush with the surrounding lawn.

Here's how things are doing this week: lots of happy little lettuce seedlings are up. I've always treated my lettuce beds as a cut-and-come-again, take-a-few-leaves-as-needed salad bar, rather than aiming to raise big beautiful heads that will each be harvested all at once. The zinnias (the one flower I started from seeds this year), unfortunately, have been nibbled considerably by rabbits. Full-size and cherry tomato plants are doing well, particularly the Big Beef plants, which are now almost triple the size of the others. Pole beans and cucumbers have emerged from the ground in some quantity, though I replanted on Saturday in a few spots where they either didn't germinate or served as somebunny's or somebirdy's lunch. No sign of pumpkins; I replanted there, as well. There is a well-established clump each of chives and sage in the bed, and just this weekend I planted some of the smaller basil plants I still had in my seed-starting set-up, as well as a leftover patio-size tomato plant.

Never did get around to tilling an additional patch for zucchini and other squash, so I guess I'll be relying on the farmers' market for that this summer. Or, for those of you who may find yourself looking for a car to leave some extras in, I'll leave a window open.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Water Street Construction Close-ups

This was the scene today as a gigantic trench was dug along the Water Street parking lot and, I assume, pipes were laid. It was seriously deep -- there were workers standing in it who often couldn't be seen at all from these angles. By the end of the day much of it (perhaps all -- I didn't check before I left for the day) had been filled back in.

I won't have my regular camera back for several weeks, as I lent it to my music-camp-bound daughter, so these were taken with my camera phone. Not good quality photos, but you get the idea.

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Walking a Little More, Driving a Little Less

I'm excited that this summer my son will be participating in YMCA programs based at the Armory downtown. Not only does the schedule look like a lot of fun, but the location is ideal: he and I can walk the six blocks downtown together, as the Armory is right on my way to work. During the school year I often feel I need to have the car for convenience in picking him up from his after-school program at the end of my workday, since it is a little too far to walk unless I leave work earlier than would be ideal, but this arrangement frees me up delightfully. I'm far too sedentary, and this will be a nice restructuring of my daily routine. I bought some springy but work-suitable shoes from the Clark's store-wide sale at MOA last weekend that will let me avoid having to change shoes at the office. With the current parking crunch downtown due to the Water Street parking lot construction, I'll also feel good about removing one vehicle from the street more days than not. And I'll save some money on gas (the shoes will almost certainly pay for themselves by the end of the summer, and I needed some new shoes anyway). It's a good situation all around.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Container Garden, June 8

A week after planting, my patio container garden is waterlogged but otherwise coming along nicely. There's obviously been no need to water, except for my basil pots that are on a window ledge under the roof overhang. When severe weather was forecast Thursday night I pulled the pots back against the house, under the same overhang, to help protect them from a pounding by hail, which in the end never materialized.

The sturdy container-size tomatoes are growing well, and the lettuce, chard, radishes and cucumbers I planted as seeds last week have all germinated (cucumber seedlings can be seen below). My hand slipped with the radishes and so I have a veritable forest of little radish seedlings. They will clearly need to be thinned considerably -- and soon -- to allow them room to form proper radishes, but the thinnings can be tossed into a salad. In the foreground of the top photo, in the white pot along with some lobelia, is a cluster of three little marigolds my son started at school and brought home for Mother's Day.
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Friday, June 6, 2008

Dandelion Clocks Aglow

On a recent evening walk, I found the glow of dandelion seedheads, or "clocks," illuminated by the setting sun, quite magical. My son, like many children, loves to blow the dandelion clocks. Adults, on the other hand, tend to consider dandelion clocks an eyesore and shudder at the thought of those countless seed parachutes wafting over their lawns. I remember my mother teaching my brother and me to "tell the time" by counting the blows it took until the seeds were all blown away. There is still something compelling about those weightless, silky orbs, if we take the time to notice.
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Riverfront Birdwatching - Not So Much

This was the view earlier this week from in front of the building where I work, as Water Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets, and its associated parking lot, are under construction. Usually I can wander over to the the riverfront and easily see what's going on with the local duck and goose population. Now it's something of a no-man's land -- muddy and dotted with miniature ponds from the recent rains. Yesterday I could see large groups of rapidly growing goslings practicing running back and forth on the far bank of the river, strengthening their legs and wings in preparation for the flying lessons that will come soon enough. Today the heavy machinery was back, and enormous sections of concrete pipe are lying in wait to play their part in the infrastructure work.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Beautiful Spirea

For the rest of my life, no matter where else I live or for how long, I think I will associate spirea with Northfield, and Northfield with spirea. The large, lovely, old-fashioned shrubs seen so often in Northfield's older neighborhoods are notable for their gracefully arching stems covered with white flower clusters in late spring. These distinctively arching spireas are Vanhoutte spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei), and are often called bridalwreath, although apparently this name more properly belongs to Spiraea prunifolia, which looks quite different.

These spirea, along with the tall, lush, many-colored lilacs that grace many of the same neighborhoods, epitomize for me the nostalgic "grandma's house" charm of historic Northfield: lovely old houses, both large and small... big backyards with vegetable gardens and fresh-smelling laundry hanging on the line... stately, mature shade trees... front porches that actually get used on warm summer nights... That's the Northfield I fell in love with when we moved here more than 18 years ago, and spirea is inextricably a part of that experience.

The group of spireas that includes the Vanhoutte (there is another group that bears pink or red blooms in summer) blooms on old wood, so it is important to do any pruning only after it has finished flowering for the season. If you trim it in the early spring, you'll have no flowers, which would be unfortunate indeed. And -- let me be blunt here -- this is one of the shrubs which it is a crime to prune into a standard boring snowball shape, since the beauty of this shrub is in its long, arching, blossom-laden stems. We've probably all seen the pitiful results of spirea that have fallen victim to both the mistakes described in this paragraph: a featureless round blob of a shrub, pruned in spring, so that it bears only a few stray blooms at the bottom where no trimming was done. It's such a sad sight, though I'm sure the tidy-minded property owner meant well.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Think It Was a Cold Spring? It Was!

I just got my Xcel Energy bill, which stated that this billing period was 11 degrees colder overall than the same period last year. 11 degrees! That is a pretty major difference when we're talking about a whole month. I don't always look closely at this feature, and speak up if you have more information about this, but I don't know if I remember ever seeing a larger year-to-year temperature differential.