Garden Update

The blessings that are still being received:

Butternut growing earlier in the season

The garden season is almost over. I am currently enjoying fresh greens: lettuce, turnip greens, spinach, and Swiss chard. The bok choy is almost ready to eat. I had enjoyed these leafy vegetables in the spring, too, but they die out once the weather warms up. I also have a large bounty of winter squash to enjoy with three varieties: butternut, acorn, and delicata. I really need a larger garden so I can grow and experiment more with various types of squash and pumpkin! And soon, there’ll be root vegetables to roast and to blend into soups: beets and turnips.

Lettuce, Swiss chard, turnips & beets
The blessings that are gone for the season:
Last sandwich of the season

Gone are the summer squash: zucchini and yellow squash. Gone are peppers, although I have enough for one more round of poppers (half of a jalapeno pepper packed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon and baked). Gone are the tomatoes. There were only a few days between late July and the day before I left for Michigan that I didn’t have a sandwich that featured a thick sliced tomato. For prosperity’s sake, I took a photo of the last sandwich of the season.

The blessings saved for another season:
Canning on the back deck

But there’s plenty saved for winter, too: sweet lime pickles like my grandmother made (34 pints), salad cube pickles made from too large cucumbers (11 pints), salsa (25 pints), tomato soup (43 pints), chow chow (6 pints).

This year’s plantings and lessons learned
Planting cucumbers

Unlike previous years where I purchased my tomatoes and peppers and other plants and then transplanted them into the garden, this summer I grew everything from seed: tomatoes (7 varieties: Salvaterra, Select Paste, San Marrano Paste, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Amish Paste, Dester, and Virginia Romaine), peppers (bell and jalapeno), cucumbers (4 varieties: Early Fortune, Japanese Climbing, Russian Pickling, and Arkansas Little Leaf), and eggplant. Sadly, the only plant that never produced was eggplant. It likes hot weather, and I planted it a month after tomatoes. Next year I will try to plant my eggplant earlier. After last year’s failure with okra (I only got one mess of okra before cool weather returned), I didn’t plant any this year. Next year, I might try starting it inside and transplanting outside when it’s warmer. I also struck out with Kohlrabi. I would like to try more crops, but my deer protected garden is only 1250 square feet.

I really need to take a photo of the whole garden when it’s growing!

Back half of the garden in mid-summer

The garden, summer projects, & the killing of al Qaeda

Below I am reposting something I wrote in early May 2011, upon learning the death of Osama Bin Laden. At the time, I posted it on Facebook and in a church newsletter. Facebook discontinued showing posted “notes,” so I am posting it here. After the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s successor this week in Kabul, along with the carnage in Ukraine, it seems we need to be reminded again of the value of life and the tragedy of a life lived in hatred and evil. But before we go there, let me tell you about my garden. It is a more pleasant topic.

The Garden

The garden coming along nicely. Over the past week, I have enjoyed daily tomato sandwiches. The tomatoes are just beginning to come in. I grew 7 varieties from seeds and have 21 plants. Most of the tomatoes will be canned or frozen for sauce, soup and salsa.

The cucumbers are fantastic (I have 5 varieties), but they are beginning to fade out. So far, I have put up 8 quarts of lime pickles (and have another 8 quarts soaking as I write), along with 6 quarts of sweet salad cube pickles. Last summer, I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when the bulk of cucumbers came in and only put up one batch of pickles. I shouldn’t have to buy any this year!

In the middle of the garden (The hay is way too high and too brown, but we’ve had so much rain the farmer who cuts it just finished it this week)

I have eaten plenty of summer squash (yellow and zucchini) and have given a few away and some have ended up being recycled in my compost bin. Swiss chard is also doing well. The lettuce I finally turned over and will replant later this month.

This year, I am also growing winter squash and it appears the harvest of butternut squash will be incredible. There is no better soup than butternut squash soup, in my opinion. Acorn squash is also good to bake. Both tend to hold better than the summer squash. If you don’t eat the yellow squash in a few days, it goes soft.

My other summer project: The basement

bathroom tile

In addition to my garden, I have been working in the basement. Last week I finally finished tiling the bathroom. Next week I hope to get in the tub and toilet and be done with the bathroom A lot of the remaining work is finishing up with door trim and painting and putting in baseboard moulding. What have you been up to this summer?

The Death of Bin Laden

As an American, I went to bed happy last night after learning of the death of Osama Bin Laden. The man was capable of great evil and brought much suffering into the world. Yet I felt a tinge of guilt at the jubilation I and others were feeling. I spent much of the past 18 hours wondering about what an appropriate Christian response to Bin Laden’s death should be. How should those of us who follow the man from Galilee, who teaches us to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors, handle the death of an enemy who has been responsible for so much evil in the world? Should we rally and jump for joy, or should we be more subdued and ponder the deeper mysteries of life and death? I think the latter is more appropriate.

In the Book of Proverbs, we’re advised not to gloat over the demise of our enemies. Such behavior is not pleasing to our God (Proverbs 24:17-18). King David had an opportunity to gloat over the death of his enemy, King Saul, whose death opened the way for David to assume the throne. But David grieved for Saul and his sons (2 Samuel 1). Death should always remind us of our humanity. Although God has created us with remarkable abilities, we are not God, and once life is gone, we cannot restore it. At the time of death, we should be humbled. Bin Laden was obviously endowed by his Creator with great talents which could have been used in ways to have alleviated suffering in the world. Instead of using his talents in such a manner, Bin Laden used his talents to build a network of hate and evil. We should grieve over a life wasted and which caused such much pain. But we should also remember that Bin Laden, although an evil man, is not the author of evil. Just because he is dead doesn’t mean that the world is going to suddenly become a harmonious place. Evil is still present. We will still face temptations and, until this age ends, we will deal with evil people. And although few of us are capable of the evil of a man like Bin Laden, none of us are completely sinless. 

At a time such as this, we should humble ourselves before God and one another, confessing our own sins and the sins of the human race. We should thank God for those who were brave enough to carry out this mission, but we should not celebrate over their accomplishment. Instead, we should continue to pray, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, for God’s will to be done and God’s kingdom to come. And finally, we should challenge evil, not just with the sword, but with acts of charity and kindness, demonstrating the grace that our Savior has shown us.       

–Jeff Garrison
May 4, 2011

Gardener Spirituality and Olmstead the Gardner: Book Reviews

Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul


(Chicago: Moody Publishing, 2016), 206 pages.

I heard Anderson at the HopeWords Writers Conference I attended in April in Bluefield West Virginia. Another speaker referred this book of hers for its ability to create a sense of place, which is why I chose it as the first of hers to read. Anderson lives with her family on a small farm near Roanoke, Virginia. This book consists of eleven essays that draw on the natural world, especially the rhythms of agriculture. Among the topics Anderson explores include: planting seeds, cultivating grapes and apples, raising honey, appreciating vine-ripe tomatoes, the role of pollinators, and dealing with thorns and thistles. 

In each of these essays, Anderson also explores aspects of our lives and our faith. Some of the themes she explores include having enough and being blessed, trusting God, remaining humble, spiritual maturity, and being an image bearer. Each essay comes back to being humble, a topic she addresses throughout the book. Humility is a challenge for if we think we can accomplish it by ourselves, we have already lost the battle. Just thinking we can overcome pride is prideful. We must depend on God even for our humility, yet we can see how it works through the natural rhythm of life that surrounds us.

A few favorite quotes: 

“Fascinating, while humans were made to rule over the earth, we were also made from the earth. And perhaps even more significantly, we only came alive by God’s Spirit. Without God’s breath in us, we are nothing but a pile of dirt.” (page 65)

When we use fear to persuade a person to decide ‘before it’s too late,’ we make God like a cosmic bully who is just waiting for the opportunity to strike them down.” (page 112)

“The problem with privilege is that we rarely see our own. Because we only know our own experience, we rarely recognize how much we have been given and how much those gifts have smoothed our way.” (page 142)

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in living a worthwhile life, especially those who are interested in our role in the world.  

Others books that I reviewed of authors at the conference:

Makoto Fujimara, Art & Theology

Malcolm Guite, In Every Corner Sing

I still have books to read by Winn Collier and am finishing up a collection of essays by Lewis Brogdon. 

Justin Martin (Richard Ferrone, narrator), Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmstead 

(2010, Audible, 2014, 18 hours and 48 minutes). 

Olmstead, A Man of Accomplishments

Frederick Law Olmstead led an incredible life. He started out as a surveyor, then went to sea, traveling from the east coast to China, then with the health of his father became a farmer, a traveling correspondent before entering the new field of landscape architecture with his work on designing New York’s Central Park. While he would continue in this field the rest of his life, he took time out to run the United States Sanitary Commission (a Red Cross forerunner) during the American Civil War and later operated a gold mine in California. While in California, he became enthralled with Yosemite and lobbied for the sight to be saved for future generations years before John Muir.  His travels in the American South changed his mind on slavery and his books on these travels were probably second to Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in building abolitionist support. Because of this writing popularity in Great Britain, he’s partly credited with keeping England out of the American Civil War. 

Influence on Landscape Design

But what Frederick Law Olmstead is mostly known for is his landscape designs. He felt parks should be for the people and that they should help our emotional state by allowing city dwellers an opportunity to be in nature. Many of his parks and estates still exist and he influenced generations of landscapers who followed him. Not only does he have Central Park (which he designed with Calvert Vaux) to claim, but Brooklyn’s Prospect Park along with parks in Boston, Chicago, Buffalo, Rochester, and a host of other cities. He influenced park designs in San Francisco and other places. With his work in Buffalo, he helped preserve Niagara Falls (sadly, he came upon this a little late, but it appears it was more of a tourist trap in the 19thCentury than today). His landscape ideas shaped Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair and he designed the landscape for the grounds of the Biltmore House near Asheville, North Carolina. The later also helped establish forestry as a scientific study in America. 

Failure in his early life

In a way, Olmstead’s early life was full of failure. Thankfully, he had a wealthy father who helped his son out on many occasions, such as buying farms for him and sending him on fact-finding journeys through Europe. These trips helped prepare Olmstead for his career. His life also had its share of sorry, including his brother’s early death and the deaths of friends. He would later marry Mary, his brother’s wife, and adopt their children. Mary would also give birth to several children, two who died young. His adopted brother’s son, John, and his own natural son, Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr, would continue their father’s role as premier landscape architect through the first half of the 20th Century. 

Olmstead was always interested in words and would often look for the right word for a project. Many words we use today came from Olmstead and his associates. His first park in Boston was a marshy area in which he named “the Boston Fens.” Fen is an old English word for marsh and lives on now in baseball with “Fenway Park.” 

Sadly, Olmstead began suffering from some sort of dementia after the Chicago World’s Fair and the creation of Biltmore. He would spend his last years in an institution and died in 1903.

My recommendation

I have been aware of his name for some time. I knew of his work for the Chicago’s World’s Fair from Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. I also knew he designed the Biltmore and Central Park. I had some ideas of his additional work through Nick Offerman’s book, GumptionHe led an amazing life, using his influence to save Yosemite, helping to end slavery, and providing a framework for what would become the American Red Cross. I recommend this book! 

Turnips (and other goodies from my winter garden).

Early December harvest: cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, kale, chili peppers (hanging on from summer) and turnips

I am loving my winter garden. It is the only advantage of living where there is no real winter. In the fall, I planted cabbage (red and green), cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, three kinds of lettuce, beets, onions, rutabaga, and turnips.  The brussel spouts didn’t do very well, and only a few of the beets came up, but everything else has been wonderful. I’ve enjoyed roasted root vegetables (turnips, beets and rutabaga), lots of cauliflower dishes, salads, various dishes with mustard and swiss chard, and my favorite, turnips. I have grown even fonder of turnips. I eat them raw. I will grate them and sauté with just a pinch of sugar, or prepare them like mash potatoes. Turnips are also my favorite greens. After washing the greens to get any dirt off, I will boil them in a large pot of water with some ham or bacon added for an hour or so. Then, about 30 minutes before eating, I will add some of the turnip root that I’ve peeled and diced to the greens, bringing it back to a boil and cooking until the root is soft. I’ll dip out and drain off the greens and root, place it on a plate and drizzle the greens with some hot vinegar (vinegar infused with chili peppers). That’s good eating!

Turnips destined for the pot (waiting to be cleaned)

My Turmeric Harvest

The turmeric is in the front. This was taken in early November as the winter garden is being planted.

Some of you have followed this on Facebook, but I thought I would compile the process here.

What started with a neighboring farmer offering a couple of turmeric rhizomes (the tubers from which spice is harvested and which also grows new plants) ended up last weekend with enough dried turmeric for a year or so (8 ounces).

Turmeric takes a while to grow. Last March we were given to rhizomes which were planted at the edge of our garden plot. The soil must have been good (the plant likes soil with lots of manure) for the plants grew and by early summer were a foot high. Turmeric takes ten months to grow as the growth isn’t about the leaves above ground but the rhizomes below. In mid-January, the plant above was turning brown, so I dug up the ground under it and found a nice harvest of rhizomes. For the next few weeks, I was adding fresh grated turmeric to everything, especially eggs. But I knew the turmeric wouldn’t last long, so I saved a few rhizomes for planting and the rest I prepared for making turmeric powder.

Boiling rhizomes

After reading up on drying turmeric, I found that most suggested the rhizomes to be cleansed and brushed thoroughly to get off all dirt (and manure) off the tubers. Then, they are placed in a pot with just enough water to cover the rhizomes and boiled for 30 minutes. Once done, they are taken out and sliced thinly (they are not pealed). Then they are dried. As we have been having a wet and humid winter, I opted to dry them in the over for several hours at 175 degrees. Afterwards, the sliced and dried rhizomes are frozen solidly (most say to freeze overnight, but I froze them for a longer period because I was waiting for a time to finish processing the turmeric. The freezing helps make the grinding easier.


Rhizomes ready to dry

Grinding into powder

When ready to grind, you can use a food processor or a coffee grinder. I tried both. It takes a long time of constantly pulsing either one to turn the chips into powder. This process also tends to stain your food processor, but in the end you have nice powder that I stored in two 4 ounce mason jars. Turmeric can be stored for years if sealed and stored in a dark place.



Final product

After this adventure, I’m thinking about raising ginger, too. At least this turmeric is not corrupted from bad soil or added with things like lead (which has been known to be added to the dangerous for the consumer). Some of the spice that comes from India is known to be corrupted.



Next year, maybe I’ll try to grow ginger, too, as it is in the same family. .