It’s hard for me to believe that, once again, it’s the last week of the year. Like any year, there has been a mixture of trial and joy, adventures and the mundane. However, I can truly say that it’s been a great year and I have much to be thankful for. I have a rich marriage and a great wife that shares my enthusiasm for life and friends, yet has enough different approaches and interests in life to keep it really interesting. Her companionship and commitment is irreplaceable and I’m thankful to have had another year with her.
Meeting so many of you at different gardening events or hearing from you after reading an article is a real blast as well. I count being able to write this weekly column a pleasure and a stewardship of trust. I take your faith and interest seriously. You and I are lifelong learners, and even though we’ve been traveling together for a bit, there’s a lot more to experience.
Even so, it’s fun for me to take a look in the rearview mirror of 2016 and highlight some of my favorite Garden Spot topics and articles over the last 12 months. There’s no way to author a different article each week on a wide range of topics without having a love of learning, surrounding yourself with knowledgeable people and becoming efficient at research.
If only my high school teachers could see me now! I did not do well with research papers, or writing any significant amount of text as a young person. I’ve come to love it as an extension of my natural curiosity about the world around me. If I don’t enjoy reading what I’ve written, it doesn’t see the light of day. Learning new things and being reminded of things already known, should be both educational and entertaining. So, it’s my goal to be an “edutainer.” Here are some of my favorites this last year.
In February, “Behold, Sucker Weather Cometh” called attention to the yearly tendency for us to begin planting and setting out vegetable seedlings too early. Yet, it happens year after year. I suspect getting started with gardening as fast as we can in the spring is a direct objection to winter. After all, seeing plants in the ground is a real spirit-lifter. So, if you do plant in the early spring, count it as pure entertainment, because unless you protect those plants, you’ll be buying them again after a cold snap. Your plant supplier will be glad to sell you plants twice. Just sayin’.
“Join the Poultry Revolution” called attention to the fact that backyard poultry has become a growing interest in all types of communities, from rural to urban, and everything in between. Having small livestock can provide plenty of life lessons as well to the little ones in your family. Our flock is a source of enjoyment both to visiting grandchildren as well as houseguests. We enjoy the fresh eggs, our family dog loves hanging out with them, and they provide a steady stream of fertile compost that greatly benefits our grounds.
Every year, I try to add a couple more new crops to our plot, or better understand the ones we have. Two come to mind that were featured: rhubarb and kale. We’ve been growing rhubarb for some time, both for appearance in our landscape, but also for the stalks that our “pie plant” contributes. They are made into incredible strawberry-rhubarb-orange rind pie that, when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is a delicacy. Many a guest who told us they didn’t like rhubarb has been “converted” after eating this pie. We also went down a bit of a different path in the article regarding oxalic acid, which is found in the leaves of rhubarb, and is the magic ingredient in “Barkeepers Friend” — the best cookware cleaner I’ve found.
“Why All the Fuss about Kale” piqued my interest personally to see if we’d like to add kale to our gardening repertoire. We grew it for the first time this last year, and it is a keeper. It’s low maintenance, prolific, pretty, and tastes great in a chopped salad with olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt and grated parmesan cheese. It’s also a real winner in a cream-based sausage and kale dish that is a knock-off of Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana soup. Delicious! If you’ve not grown kale before, be sure to try it next year.
Astronomy affects us gardeners more than we probably think. Why we have seasons, as well as constantly changing lengths of days, all because of the tilt of the earth, is always an intriguing topic. “This Article is Pure Lunacy” explored how the moon affects us not only with tidal patterns, but also as a time-keeper, night time luminary, and crop planting guide. The moon has played a role in culture for millennia, and there is a whole vocabulary that has developed over time associated with the moon, including precise terms for the different phases of Earth’s most visible and influential satellite. You can get quite geeky when it comes to matters of the moon and such. But, in a cool type of way.
One thing has become clear to me as I’ve explored the gardening, culinary and self-reliant capabilities in our valley. We live in a great place with many resources that are readily available to us. There is a wide range of suppliers and retailers that cater to us, people that like to grow, build, raise or maintain things for themselves.
We, as citizens, also play pretty well together. Sure, we have our problems and differences of opinion, but when trouble comes, people band together and show up to be a part of the solution. A couple of examples come to mind.
When an arsonist selfishly caused the destruction of several Tooele residences, the community stepped up and still is to this day. All sorts of people didn’t allow the loss to be shouldered only by the citizens that lost their homes and possessions. No, they stepped up and in.
Furthermore, “Living in the Epicenter” chronicled our personal experience in October when a freight train snagged a downed power line along Bates Canyon Road and brought down nearly 30 power poles which caused a significant power outage. We live on the block that was last to have power restored. We learned the value of having good neighbors that watch out for each other and assist readily. For instance, when access to our area was severely limited, one family graciously cut a temporary road across their property to allow quick passage in and out of the neighborhood. We also learned the value of preparedness — not only for yourself, but to assist others as well.
Lastly, “Low Down on Honey” was the result of conversations with people that had misunderstandings about honey bees and what honey is (no, it’s not bee vomit!). Several years ago, I was a beekeeper. I’ve never lost interest in it, and kept most of my beekeeping gear. Our valley is home to many that share my interest, ranging from those thinking about beginning beekeeping to others that contribute strongly to their family income from honey production or pollination contracts. When it became apparent that many want to know more, or desire to sharpen their apiary skills, we started to get together monthly. It’s been a great experience. Because of the impact these meetings had on me, I made the personal commitment to install some hives this spring. I’ve already started making some of the hive woodware in my shop. I’ll share my renewed beekeeping adventures in a few articles next year, and you are certainly welcome to attend the meetings. I’ll get the word out when they resume.
So, it’s my hope that what you’ve read over the last year has given you some tools, insights, skills and enjoyment as well as inspired you to do some cool things as a gardener and all around adventurer. As the calendar page is turned, and a new year begins, who knows what is in front of us and what we’ll get to be a part of? I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.