Friday, June 7, 2013

To Market, to Market, to Buy Something Green Home Again, Home Again…..What the Hell do I make with this? Enjoying your produce from Farmer's Markets

The last day of school, the first hummingbird sighting, the opening of the pool and last but not least, the Farmers Market; all of these are rites of summertime.  I wake with anticipation on the opening day of the market.  What will I buy?  What will I cook tonight with it?  I arrive at the market and am usually enticed by almost each and every stall. Flowers, produce, organic meat and eggs, bread, honey and wine.  Yum.  I undoubtedly leave with a huge bag of impulse purchases. I get home, unload the bad and think, "now what?"  There is nothing worse than looking in my fridge the following week and seeing my expensive, uber-healthy produce rotting because I couldn't figure out what to do with it.

Several years ago, I was taking a gardening class at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.  The professor there recommended a cookbook called, "Food to Live By" by Myra Goodman for gardeners.  Myra Goodman is one half of the couple that created Earthbound Farms in California.  She and her family are omnivores and are committed to eating organically.  Over the years it has become my go-to before and after Farmer's Market trips.  I can not say enough good things about this book.  It contains delicious, easy recipes for every vegetable, fruit and berry that summertime offers.  It also has a wide variety of dressings and marinades for meats.  I have made a delicious "wild" Mushroom with Ragout and Polenta when a bag of wild mushrooms perplexed me.  I  also highly recommend the Tomato, Eggplant and Zucchini Tian for a different, delicious healthy side dish.

Myra has quite a sweet tooth and also has recipes for lots of desserts.  She features a Strawberry Ruhbarb Crumble, Fresh Peach Pie, Farm Stand Carrot Cake and Bing Cherry Sorbet to name a few.    Since berries are in season right now, here is  Myra's  recipe for Summer Berry Crisp:

Summer Berry Crisp
Makes one 2-Quart Crisp


6 cups assorted fresh berries, such as hulled strawberries, blueberries or blackberries
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Coitreau or Grand Marnier (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch


3/4 unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. all-spice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup Homemade Creme Fraiche (optional)*

*(I have substituted non-fat plain Greek yogurt and it is really good )

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F

2. Make the filling; Place the berries, orange zest,lemon zest, lemon juice and liquor, if using , in a large bowl.

3. Place the granulated sugar and the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Add the sugar mixture to the berries and toss gently to combine.  Transfer the berry mixture to a shallow 2- quart baking dish.

4.  Make the topping: Place the flour, allspice, salt, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter in a medium size bowl.  Using your fingers, blend in the butter until it is pea sized bits.  Add the rolled oats and stir to combine.  Sprinkle the topping over the berries but do not pack it down.

5. Bake the crisp until the fruit juices bubble up around the edges of the baking dish and the topping turns golden, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let the crisp cool slightly before serving it warm with creme fraiche (or no-fat yogurt!), if desired.

The Farmer's Market is a wonderful place to help you get out of your comfort zone and try new foods.  The right cookbook can help turn those impulsive grabs into a mid-summers night dream dinners.  Myra Goodman has come out with several more cookbooks but I find I have no need to stray from her original.  

Get out there and grow something! (or buy it at the Farmer's Market)
Happy Gardening,

Maggie Flynn

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Veggie Power or Power Outage?

I am constantly trying to get me and my family to eat more fruits and vegetables.   They are the basis for health and well-being.  At least that's what I have been told.  As a gardener,I am very keen to grow hybrid versions of plants, fruits and vegetables.  They are usually easier to grow, have larger harvests, and are disease resistant.  I have never really considered whether or not they are healthier than their ancestors.

This weekend in the New York TImes, Jo Robinson wrote an interesting Op-Ed piece called, "Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food".  Mr. Robinson is the author of the soon to be published, "Eating on the Wild Side, The Missing Link to Optimum Health".   He writes about the phytonutrient content in our produce.  A phytonutrient is compound with the potential to reduce the risk of four of societies largest health problems; dementia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Researchers now have the capability to analyze the milligrams per pound of plants, wild and supermarket produce.  The results are pretty shocking.

Spinach and I have a love-hate relationship.  I love it sautéed and hate the way it tastes raw.  My solution has been to add it to my smoothies, soups and sauces.  It never occurred to me that I would be much better off sneaking in Dandelion Greens.  That's right, dandelion greens. They are popular in the vegan set for raw salads right now. Dandelion greens  are such a super food that they make spinach look like iceberg lettuce.  Dandelion greens have seven times the phytonutrient content of spinach.  Forget the Weed Be Gone, grab a spoon and start digging!

Farmers throughout history have worked to make produce more palatable.  This usually involves removing the bitterness and making it sweeter.  Think of a Golden Delicious Apple.  It is sweet and fairly nondescript as far as taste goes.  It also has 100 times less phytonutrients than another heirloom species of apple.  Arugula on the other hand is very bitter and similar to its ancestors.  It is loaded with flavor and phytonutrients.  The produce America gravitates to, myself included are corn and potatoes. They have basically been hybridized to globs of sugar and starch.

Some of the other produce that Robinson recommends are; herbs (parsley, rosemary, basil), purple peruvian potatoes ( 171 phytonutrients per pound versus 1.03 for a white potato), and purple/yellow carrots (38.69 phytonutrients per pound versus 2.34 for an orange carrot).  Deeper colors seem to equate to higher levels of nutrients.

U.S.D.A.plant breeders have been tirelessly working on developing produce resistant to disease.  Robinson found they have spent decades without measuring the nutrient values of the new species they have created.

The next time we begin the debate of healthcare in America, we need to address the elephants in the room, us.  We have become a nation of obese, diseased, lethargic people.  It is no surprise that our medical system is overburdened.  Until we change our thinking to preventing the current state of our diets, we will continue to grow unhealthier.  Doctors and pharmaceutical companies are just like the boy with his finger in the dam.  The dam is starting to burst along with our waistbands.

Maybe the solution to our healthcare crisis is not another diet, pill, operation or exercise craze.  Maybe the solution is changing the quality of what we eat.  Hippocrates famously said, "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".  I think it's time that we as a nation take it to heart.

I'm never going to love eating raw spinach or kale but I am sure going to try.

Get out there and grow something (preferably very deeply colored)!

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Say Pumpkin, You Say Squash...

The other day in my home town in upstate New York, the weather was rainy and cool despite it being the middle of May. The mist had settled in and I could barely see the trees up in the hills. This kind of weather makes me want to bake sweets or make a big ol' pot of soup … I chose the healthier option.

The day reminded me of my favorite season – Fall, so a fall vegetable was called for, well technically a fruit. Butternut squash, otherwise known as butternut pumpkin in my native homeland of Australia, is classed as a fruit because it has seeds. I love butternut pumpkin and I especially love that it's a power food.

Butternut pumpkin is low in fat; delivers an ample dose of dietary fiber, making it a heart-friendly choice; provides significant amounts of potassium, important for bone health; has vitamin B6, essential for the proper functioning of the nervous and immune systems; and has folate, which reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood (a cardiovascular risk factor).

The pumpkin's bright tangerine color also indicates a noteworthy health perk. The color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids. Studies have shown that people consuming diets rich in carotenoids from natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are healthier and have lower mortality from a number of chronic illnesses.

The gourd also has very high levels of beta-carotene. Alpha, beta, and gamma carotene are considered provitamins because our bodies automatically converts them to vitamin A.

What's more, just a cup of this power food gives you nearly half the recommended daily dose of antioxidant-rich vitamin C.

The first night the soup tasted great, but the day after it was even more amazing. My husband is not a fan of butternut pumpkin and he's told me more times than I can keep track of how much he dislikes thick, pureed soups, but I begged him to try it. His verdict was a sincere thumbs up as he finished off a bowl.

This is my recipe for Butternut Pumpkin Soup. It's simple and worthy of being served to guests. I typically like to keep my intake of foods low-fat, but this misty day beckoned me for some comfort food so I added cream cheese at the blending stage. You could certainly omit it, but I think it gave it more of a wow-factor, and let's face it, the nutritional value isn't that bad when the recipe yields at least 8 servings.


3 shallots, chopped
2 Tbl spoon olive oil
2 medium-sized butternut squash *
4 cups of hot water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 tsp dried marjoram
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper (or more according to your taste)
4oz cream cheese

*Cut squash length-ways, spray flesh with a little olive oil and bake flesh-side down on a baking sheet at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45mins.


Dissolve bouillon cubes in the 4 cups of hot water. In a large pot, heat oil and saute shallots until tender. Add peeled, cooked squash, stock, marjoram, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 40mins. Puree squash and cream cheese in a blender in batches until smooth. Return to saucepan and heat through. Do not allow it to boil.



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" Could Never Have Been "Children of the Potatoes"

Lately there has been a lot of back and forth about the importance of organic. Is organic healthier or is it a scam to get us to spend more money? I have been reading several posts on Facebook that suggest since all produce whether organic or not has the same nutrient value, there really is no difference. The only difference in their opinion is price. What is the real cost of non-organic, mass produced produce? Should we be willing to spend more for food when the agriculture revolution has made it so inexpensive?

In Michael Pollan's book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma", he writes about his trip to a conventional potato farm located in Magic Valley Idaho;

""It was fifteen thousand acres, divided in 135 acre-crop circles. Each circle resembled the green face of a tremendous clock with a slowly rotating secondhand. That sweeping second hand was the irrigation machine, a pipe more than a thousand feet long that delivered a steady rain of water, fertilizer and pesticide to the potato plants. The whole farm was managed from a bank of computer monitors in a control room. Sitting in that room, the farmer could, at the flick of a switch, douse his crops with water or whatever chemical he thought they needed.

One of those chemicals was a pesticide called Monitor, used to control bugs. The chemical is so toxic to the nervous system that no one is allowed on the field for five days after it is sprayed, even if the irrigation machine breaks during that time, farmers won't send a worker out to fix it because the chemical is so dangerous. They'd rather let that whole 135 acres crop of potatoes dry up and die. That wasn't all; during the growing season, some pesticides get inside the potato plant so that they will kill any bug that takes a bite. But these pesticides mean people can't eat the potatoes while they're growing either. After the harvest, the potatoes are stored for six months in a gigantic shed. Here the chemicals gradually fade until the potatoes are safe to eat. Only then can they be turned into french fries.""

REALLY??? Pesticide so toxic that corporations would rather lose 135 acres of product than send a person out to the fields? And what is happening to the soil underneath that is soaking this crap in? What happens to the water that this soil runs into? What happens to the unfortunate who drinks that water? What happens to a bird that flies through to eat some insects? Common sense would dictate that when you could die growing something you are going to later eat, it's time to find a better way.

An organic potato will likely have the same nutrients as a non-organic one. That's really not the point. If we can produce food without using toxins why don't we?

Cancer, autism, ADD, ADHD, and the list goes on. We all know someone affected by something that seems potentially environmentally caused. 1 in 88 children born today will be diagnosed with autism. While science is trying to figure out the exact cause of all these awful diagnoses, why don't we eliminate the things that are potential culprits? It makes sense to grow and consume food that was made with little to no toxic footprint. It makes sense to support healthier ways to produce our food. Maybe chemicals aren't making us all sick, but maybe they are.

Potatoes are very easy to grow in containers. All you do is put the tubers in the soil, cover it with more soil, water, and a few months later, dump them out. Voila! Potatoes that didn't need six months to become safe to consume. You can grow sweet potatoes the same way. YUM.

I know organic is more expensive and not always realistic for everyone. Growing your own is an option. Also, knowing which inorganic produce to avoid is a good idea. The Environmental Working Group,, lists the “Dirty Dozen” of the produce with the highest pesticide levels. They also list the "Clean Fifteen" of the produce with the least levels.

Knowledge is power. Get our there are grow something! (just not with Monitor!)

Happy Gardening,
Maggie Flynn

Sunday, May 19, 2013

ADHD - Should I Medicate?

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade my husband and I were given the choice to medicate him with a stimulant, the most common form of treatment. Most people struggle with the thought of putting their child on conventional ADHD medication. My husband and I were thoroughly opposed to medicating him, and rightly so, have you seen the warnings and possible side-effects for taking those drugs? The thought of putting that into a tiny, growing body made me feel sick and guilty. We decided to ignore the advice and hoped he'd be able to cruise by; he was bright, tested with an above-average IQ and got great grades, but the almost daily emails and notes from his teachers made ignoring it impossible. So we tried for over six years the natural approach: Omega 3 and 6; over-the-counter herbal concoctions said to reduce or eliminate symptoms of ADHD; eliminating artificial food coloring, especially Red #40, which has been proven to cause hyperactivity in children; giving him half a cup of coffee before school; controlling sugar intake; brain games which aid in focus and attention; and of course, a strict, regimented routine. These kids thrive on knowing what comes next - they don't do well with surprises or changes.

All of these approaches at different times worked well although the teachers all had the same complaints: Work quality inconsistent, wanders around classroom chatting and disrupting classmates, seems to space-out. He held it together though and his grades were consistently As and some Bs, that is until 6th grade. It amazes me and our entire family at what these sixth graders are now being taught. The academics are a lot harder. What my generation and previous generations were taught in 8th grade these 6th graders are now learning. It isn't so easy to play catch-up anymore when you miss a portion of a class because you've submerged into your own world. We found the things that had worked well in the past weren't helping him as much. For the first time in his life he was bringing home some failing test grades. He was really beginning to hate school and he was calling himself stupid.

So, recently we did what we said we'd never do; we spoke to his pediatrician and decided to put him on the lowest dose possible of a short-acting stimulant. His doctor recommended a morning and lunch time dose, but my husband and I decided we'd give it to him just once a day in the morning. I contacted all the teachers and asked them to watch for signs of any side-effects. His teachers, apart from the mid afternoon teacher, saw immediate improvements in his concentration and his ability to remain on task and finish classwork. The end result is that my son hasn't brought home a grade lower than a 93% in any subject. He actually made honor role. The confidence and pride it gave him was a gift in itself and he likes school again.

I still feel guilty about medicating him, but I do have the small consolation that it's just one low dose and only given if he has a full day of academics. I want my son to have every chance possible for a successful, happy future - it starts now, now earlier than ever. Life is demanding and so much more competitive as the world's population rises to over seven billion. If your child has dreams of getting into a top-notch college they can't afford to graduate with a C average.

As a parent, though, you still have to put in your time. Medicine isn't a magic potion. It's what you do at home that makes a big difference: Make sure they study, do homework and help them if they're unable to; make sure you help your kids get organized as this can be an issue - my husband sets time aside every Sunday and along with our son they go through his school bag and reorganize it; make sure they sit at the table with the entire family at meal times without television; make sure they know their schedule and have it where they can refer to it; and most importantly, make sure manners are taught and adhered to – trust me, teachers are more forgiving towards your child if he/she is sweet and has impeccable manners.

If your child is young, then you need to decide which route you want to go, otherwise talk it over together with them. Find out your child's dreams and hopes for the future. Remember, that if they want to reach for the stars, you need to give them every opportunity to get there!


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Want to be a Hipster Gardener? Contain Yourself!

Everywhere you look right now there are advertisements for growing your own vegetables. The buzz is overwhelming. You'll save money, have better selection, better taste, and the list goes on. There are pictures all over the magazines of the "new hipsters" - the cool people who have turned their entire properties in to sustainable farms. They grow enough food to feed their entire brood. These "hipsters" usually look like they just stepped off the page of an Abercrombie ad. As a Master Gardener I am here to fill you in on a dirty little secret: These people don't really exist. If they do exist you should not spend your precious time envying them. Why? Because traditional vegetable gardening sucks. Why do you think that there was a mass exodus from farm to city living in the 1800's? If vegetable gardening was so easy and fun wouldn't the city people have all left their factory jobs for a life in the country? When the "hipsters" aren't posing for a fancy photo shoot they are most likely screaming at their kids or drinking, and having their gardeners help them with their plants. Take heart though, there is a compromise. To feed a family you don't need a huge plot. If you think small, you can make vegetable gardening doable without weeding, excessive watering, and hours spent scorching in the sun. You may not be as cool as Organic Gardening magazine would like, but you'll be a lot happier. The solution is container gardening.

Living in Dutchess county, we have a tremendous deer population. It makes vegetable gardening in your yard without proper fencing impossible. I do all my own vegetables on my deck. I have a 5x5 planter box from Gardener's Supply Co.The box cost about $100.00 and it holds 3 gallons of water to slow feed the plants. It's ideal for a deck because decks get really, really hot. In this box I have grown; lettuce, tomatoes, peas, squash and eggplant. I use "grow bags", that you can buy at Gardener's Supply, also to grow onions, sweet potatoes and fingerlings. All you do is fill the bag with soil, plant your plants and when they are ready to come out, dump them upside down; beats the heck out of rotot tilling, and digging. For my herbs, I use pots. The herbs are beautiful and deer rarely have an interest in them. I put the pots throughout my backyard flower gardens.

My favorite book on container gardening is called, "Vertical Gardening" by Derek Fell. This book gives great advice on what veggies grow well together in tight quarters. It also shows you through photos and drawings ways to support heavy fruit and vegetables that can vine upwards. Another recommendation is "All New Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew. He uses an excellent method of raised planters and sectioning them into different square feet. You can reach all the plants without stepping on the soil and it basically eliminates weeding.

One thing both these authors spend a significant amount of time on is soil structure. What you put into your containers, grow boxes and raised beds really makes all the difference. A high benefit of using small spaces to grow is that you can have much more control over your soil. Personally, for smaller containers I like moisture control potting soil. For my raised bed and grow bags I use Sweet Peet. Sweet Peet is a mixture of peat moss, manure and compost. Plants really thrive on it. You can make a mixture of soil 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. These can all be purchased inexpensively in bulk from any gardening center. Once your plants begin to grow, placing mulch in-between them helps prevent the growth of weeds.

Now is the time to get your vegetable garden started. Mother's Day is the benchmark I use for when I put my summer vegetables into the soil. I will keep you posted on what varieties I am using and how they do.

Get out there and grow something!

Happy Gardening,
Maggie Flynn

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ADHD and Your Child's Education

Not too long ago the acronym ADHD was a dirty word.

The fact that someone in your family had it was a cause for secrecy. And with good reason; if parents knew your child had this neurobehavioral disorder they'd steer their children away from your's or give you a knowing look like, “This is why your child acts the way they do.” ADHD kids were thought of as stupid, and your parenting skills were certainly questioned.

I'm by no means an expert on this subject. What I can share is first-hand experience on living with my two peas, both whom have ADHD - it tends to run on my husband's side. I kept my son's condition a secret for the longest time because I didn't want him labeled; labeled as my husband was – he was tossed into a classroom with seriously mentally handicapped children and forgotten about until a substitute teacher realized how incredibly intelligent he was. I didn't want people to blame my son for everything because it was certainly easier to blame the kid with ADHD - they're not always in complete control of their emotions and actions. One parent I knew blamed my son for any argument between our kids even if hers were at fault: “It had to be your son; he's the one with the mental condition, and ADHD kids blurt out stuff without thinking how it's going to affect others.” Sometimes that is true, but it's true of most children, too.

The majority of people I know who have ADHD have a very high IQ, but channeling that intelligence into mainstream, conventional learning practices is a challenge in itself. All that most teachers see is a child that inhibits the learning of others, is fidgety, is inattentive, is unable to follow directions or the curriculum, and seemingly isn't interested in learning. If you're lucky you might get a teacher that sees the potential in your child, but even if they do they're unable to do much due to a class full of other students. So what can you do to bring out that creativity and know-how to show that your child is indeed above-average?

There's no simple answer.

Homeschooling is an option. It allows you and your child to discover what interests him or her. It allows for a more hands-on learning style; to touch, to create, to visualize rather than slapping worksheet after worksheet in front of them, which drives most kids insane let alone a child that finds focusing a true battle. But homeschooling isn't for everyone nor can some parents afford the time.

Another option is finding a private school which offers different approaches in learning, the kind where the teachers engage the students with lots of hands-on experiments; field trips; lots of sports to tire them out; a teaching style that makes kids think out of the box and applaud them for trying even though it may be incorrect. Again, not everyone can afford the cost of private school tuition even with financial aid.

As a parent you have to be your child's biggest advocate. You have to stay on top of what they're learning or not. You have to meet with teachers, you have to talk with the guidance counselor and you have to demand from the principal that your child gets the learning they deserve. And after all of that you have to have hope that in the long run your child will find their way.

A lot of times my house is crazy with energy, but that whirlwind are my peas doing what they do best: Creating, working, building, blogging, mapping out business projects, planning fundraisers … and that's just my 12yr old!


Monday, April 29, 2013

Taking the Plunge

The day my husband Bill and I looked at the house we live in was a gorgeous summer day. We walked the wooded backyard and admired a very small water feature that the owners had dug into the ground. As soon as I assured my husband that if we bought this house I would not press him for major renovations, the wheels in my brain started turning as I imagined a large koi pond in the same spot. Two years later, we broke ground on an 11' x 16' koi pond.

The construction on the pond took a week. An excavator was brought in, a pond kit purchased and lots of rocks were removed from our stone wall to decorate the sides of the pond. We also had to hire an electrician to run circuits out to the pond for the waterfall and the lights. After they all left, the water was running, the pond was barren and Bill and I had no clue as to what to do next: Do we start stocking the pond? Do we invest in plants for around the pond? Do we have to put plants in the pond?

Bill and I have a 65 gallon aquarium in the house. Our experience with the aquarium has been invaluable in helping us get the pond up and running; we started out small buying comet fish that cost about 10 cents each. They have been a very easy fish to maintain. We bought plants to put into the pond; water lilies, water hyacinths and water lettuce - they keep algae from forming, bring a layer of naturalization to the water, and provide hiding places for the fish. These plants are all annuals and can be purchased from local nurseries or from catalogs like Dr. Fosters, and Smith and the Pond Guy.

After a few months of getting the hang of the comets, we invested in 3 small koi costing about $15.00 each. Fast forward two years and they are the length of my forearm. They live happily with 3 other koi, about 20 comets, an assortment of frogs, and the occasional turtle and snake.

You may be wondering: Was the expense and the hard work worth it? Absolutely! I would highly recommend a pond to anyone. First of all, it is a great hobby for a married couple. Bill and I select fish together, plant together, feed the fish together and clean the pond together. The maintenance on the pond is simple and really easy. Cost wise, we probably spend about $300.00 a summer on new plants, fish food and natural algae control. For something we enjoy everyday, it's worth every penny.

There are so many things about the pond that I enjoy; I love watching birds come and bathe on the rocks, my sons enjoy naming the fish, watching them grow and catching frogs. Bill and I spend many summer days sitting by the pond relaxing. The sound of the waterfall drowns out all kinds of background noise; fighting kids, annoying neighbors, and too fast cars to name a few.

If an aquatic garden is something you have been thinking about, do it! If you have any pond or gardening questions, please feel free to send them to me. In the meantime, I have a kitchen renovation idea I need to pitch to Bill...

Happy Gardening!
Maggie Flynn

Monday, April 22, 2013

Helping Your Garden Grow

Hello. I hope you all had a great weekend. It was chilly but sunny here in the Northeast and it gave gardeners a perfect chance to prep our beds for summer. Maybe you have gone out and noticed plants just starting to pop their heads out of the ground. Are you wondering what to do to help them along? Here is a list of things to do to help your plants spring into summer;

1. Weed your beds. Now is the time. Wait for a day after a heavy rain when the soil is easier to work with and then go get those dandelions, garlic mustard, and anything else that doesn't belong there. Make sure you get the whole root out or like Arnold, "they'll be back."

2. Rake all the leaves and debris out of the beds and from around the plant bases.  My yard got hit hard by several windy storms this winter.  I have been picking up branches by the wheelbarrow.

3. Prune back butterfly bushes to about 12" from the ground. This will tell them it is time to grow!

4. Do you have any plants that need to be divided? Either send me a question about it or check on the web to see if you can divide the plant now. The divisions can be replanted in other areas, given to friends, or donated to garden clubs that are preparing for their annual plant sales.

5. Mulch the beds. For my sanity, please skip any dyed or colored enhanced mulches. Mother nature did a wonderful job with her box of colors and dyed mulch not only takes away from this beauty but also leaches chemicals into the ground. Your mulch should smell organic, fresh, and possibly like horse or cow poop. We have a wonderful product here in Pawling that is called "Sweet Peet". It is a mix of peet, compost and manure. The plants LOVE it. Garden centers will deliver mulch.

After all this hard work, sit back, grab a drink and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Please feel free to send me any questions you have about preparing your garden.

Next week I will be featuring my aquatic garden.

Have a great week!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are We Robbing Our Children of Creativity?

If you have a child in grade school then you probably know all about state and standardized testing. Every spring grades 3 to 8 are subject to these rigorous exams. The results are used to determine how well a child has mastered skills and content in a variety of subjects. The state also uses these results to develop and improve curriculum as well as be able to give assistance to children who need additional support. Sounds great, right? The problem with some of these tests are the way teachers are preparing students. Good results matter to the teacher, principal, school, district and state. What school doesn't want their students to get great results? The better they look, the more students they attract and the more funding they get.

But high test scores don't always equate to a well-rounded education.

I'm going to talk briefly about ELA or English Language Arts, and more specifically about essay writing. Teachers are programmed to teach in a very specific formulaic way because that's what the assessors are looking for. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with real essay writing.

The following, from my son's school, is a shortened list of teachers' requirements to get a good essay grade:

  1. An essay must have five paragraphs.
  2. You must use transition words to go from each paragraph, such as; first, second, third, then.
  3. The introduction must state the main idea and three supporting facts.
  4. The conclusion must say what the intro says.
  5. Supporting sentences must use descriptive adjectives.

And the list goes on...

Remember, teachers are teaching this style primarily because of standardized testing, but it doesn't prepare students for the real world of writing. All that this formulaic style is managing to do is prevent students from excelling at writing. They end up detesting writing essays...and who wouldn't? Quite frankly, it's monotonous and completely uncreative!

My son loved to write when he was in first grade. He actually began to write a novel and completed a few chapters. It was about a hamster, kind of like a superhero who was a commander of a ship. It was actually a really fun read and cute! Back then he had a lot of passion for writing. Now when he needs to write essays he hates it; he's completely fixated on the number of paragraphs, his use of transitional words, making sure his conclusion states what his intro states … urgh! This isn't the way to instill creativity in our children.

Don't believe me? Just go to any website and search for Best Essays. None of these follow the insidious formula taught in public schools. In fact, some universities require an essay from their applicants as part of the admission process. One university I found, ranked 13 in the US, had their best applicants' essays posted on their website; none of the half dozen I read came close to following the formula. Had these essays been graded by assessors in a state test, those students probably would've flunked! But by gosh they were wonderful, creative, worthy of being published and those students were accepted into one of the top colleges.

I realize the purpose of teaching a formulaic style is to set up a solid groundwork so eventually it can be built upon. That's not what irritates me - it's the narrow-mindedness; if a child writes a great, creative essay, but doesn't adhere to “the formula”, they won't get a good grade. It's for that reason that standardized testing kills the creativity in our children.


Photo: Wikipedia

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Live and Let Live

My name is Maggie Flynn and I am a Master Gardener in Dutchess County, New York. Unlike Patricia, I am not a total vegetarian.  I will say that I almost never eat red meat and pork.  I limit my consumption of chicken, turkey and fish.  I try to eat as much of a plant based diet as possible.  One day perhaps I will be a total vegetarian.  Patricia and I run together every week.  Sometimes we do 6 hilly miles and occasionally we do 9-10.  Exercise is an important part of my life.

Until Patricia gets sick of me, I will be a regular contributor to this blog. My writing may focus on a variety of topics but will mainly be about finding ways to realize nature's presence in your everyday life.  As a mother of two boys, ages 10 and 12, it bothers me that the outdoors has become to most kids a foreign, scary concept…a little like Gerard Depardieu. I decided to start volunteering my time, teaching others about plants and gardening in an effort to help people and kids regain the joy that comes with being outdoors. Whether it's a view through a window, air quality, meditation or a vegetable garden, each experience changes our quality of life.

My gardening passions include; native plants, beneficial bugs, birds and butterflies. I always assumed all people were as enamored with these as me, not so. In the past couple years, I have met a man terrified of butterflies, the majority terrified of bugs and spiders, and a woman who really can't stand to see any birds in her trees.  There is obviously more of a challenge to getting everyone to embrace the outdoors than I originally thought.

Part of my volunteering time has been manning the phones for a horticulture hotline. People call in with a variety of questions regarding their lawns, homes and oh yes….bodies. The questions range from, "why is my grass a little brown?" to "what are these tiny bugs that are biting me in my sleep and living in my mattress?"  The most common question by far and away is "how do I kill……?"  It could be flies, grass, rabbits, moles, wasps, snakes, aphids, mosquitoes - you name it, people want to kill it. Americans are obsessed with killing anything and everything that lives on their property. Obsessed.  Don't believe me? Go into a home and gardening supply store and breathe in...that's right, take in a big breath of chemicals; chemicals to kill everything that even think about flying, crawling or creeping onto your grass. If you can identity it, you can find a spray, powder or liquid that will suck the life out of it. In physics I learned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Wouldn't this be true with our actions toward our perceived invaders?  Why do we have such imbalances of beetles, aphids, ticks, deer, geese, bats and pretty much everything? Has our Spartacus-like need for control and domination of our 1/2 acre lots manifested itself into a giant environmental cluster *%$#?  Evidence would tend to point in that direction.

Europe has banned chemical fertilizers and all pesticides; organic and non-organic.  You can only get them with a license.  Ontario, Canada has recently banned these items as well.  What will probably shock you, as it did me, is that NY State has been trying to get similar legislature through. So far, it has been blocked.  What we don't seem to want to understand is that everything has a place in an environment. Bugs feed birds, brush houses birds, bees and butterflies pollinate plants, bats eat 1000's and 1000's of mosquitoes. Oh yeah and snakes eat white footed mice. The biggest carrier of deer ticks is not deer; it's mice. Predators like hawks, snakes, fox, coyote and even chipmunk will eat them if they are alive to do it. Without predators, the mouse population has gone haywire. Coincidence that lyme disease which is carried by deer ticks is out of control?  Probably not.

As you prepare for summer and the beauty it brings, accept imperfection. Embrace it. Instead of spraying the roses, stop and smell them. Yes your parsley may have caterpillars in it, but either a bird will feed its young with the caterpillar or you will get to see an amazing metamorphosis. A sign of a healthy environment is a sign of life; a damaged plant, a hole in the ground and yes, BUGS!!!!!!!

Happy Gardening,


Monday, April 8, 2013

The Pod and the Peas...

Thirty years ago I made the decision to become a vegetarian, not for health reasons, but because of my love for animals and their rights. I'm not one of those vegetarians that preach to people though, nor am I disgusted that people around me eat meat; everyone has the right to how they want to live their lives. This, however, brings me to the name of my blog: Two Peas and One Pod. I'm the pod and my husband and son are the peas; they are the non-vegetarians.

Being the only veggie in my household hasn't been easy. I want to be a good wife and mother, which I believe includes providing meals that my husband and son enjoy; unfortunately that includes meat, which goes against my ethics. My husband has never made me cook meat nor has he ever asked that from me, in fact he's always said that he'd do the cooking of the meat so I wouldn't need to. But there was always a little voice inside my head that wouldn't allow me to let my husband, after ten hours of work each day, to come home and begin to cook for himself and our son. So discontented and rather miserable, I used to cook meals with meat for them.

After 12 years that discontentment turned into irritability, anger and then finally culminated in sheer resentment! It needn't have gotten that way though. Vegetarians and omnivores can coexist in somewhat harmony. Yes, in a perfect world my husband and son would be vegetarians, but the world isn't perfect. Just recently, I came to the conclusion that I needed to do what's right for me; and that means no longer cooking something which goes against my beliefs. And my husband? He's completely fine with cooking. He says it's a way for him to wind down after a busy day.

We also have vegetarian nights to look forward to, those couple of times a week when my peas will eat what the pod cooks up. It's a win-win situation for this two peas' and one pod's house.

This isn't a blog about vegetarianism; it's a blog about everything that's important to me and maybe to some of you: Raising a child with ADHD, gardening, nutrition, pets, exercise, cooking, life.