Category Archives: Food & Gardening


by Nathaniel Smith

As mentioned in “Summer Solstice Report“:

This is the season for my summer favorite forage food, purslane. To the left is a small patch that I was happy to find on June 27.

Purslane is a succulent related to the garden plant portulaca. It’s an annual that seeds itself very efficiently whether you like it or not. So you might as well like it and consume it! It adds a nice taste and crunchiness to salads and sandwiches, and has exceptional food and health value.

Now with 3 weeks of hot weather, more purslane plants have grown up and flourished. I find that if you keep picking off and consuming the ends of the shoots and the more developed leaves, the root keeps putting out new tender leaves. Then it forms a succulent mat (this one is over a foot across) of salad materials that you didn’t even need to plant.

Theoretically purslane can be cooked, but I prefer to do that at most for a few seconds and only to add as a sort of herb to a plate you are warming up in the microwave. Purslane, like some other fairly sturdy edibles such as bloody sorrel, does contain oxalic acid, of which you don’t want to eat a lot if you have kidney issues; so if that worries you, you can boil purslane as a vegetable or soup ingredient to remove most of the oxalic acid.

A more rustic trellis

Here’s a more rustic trellis than the one pictured earlier and made with metal supports and nylon mesh.

This one is made out of fallen branches tied together at the joints with pieces of wire or string. Pieces that fall apart are easily replaced. Very good for peas, but not recommended for heavier veggies like squash and cucumbers!

My view of composting

by Nathaniel Smith, June 8, 2020

I have never figured out how to build a compost heap that would heat up enough to kill weed seeds. The compost manuals make it sound simple, but it isn’t! (See lots of really good composting advice from the Chester County Solid Waste Authority, though.)

For me, patience is the key. I just make a big pile and turn it over every couple of months (more often is better, of course!). If it’s not turned over, pockets of wet leaves or dry branch parts can form and sit for years.

My heap is long, narrow, and tall. I leave a blank spot from which I remove usable compost, and then I move the next 4-foot segment into the gap….

Read more here.

Compostable packing on compostOf several photos in the original linked  post, here is one showing compostable packaging materials, used by Bob’s Red Mill, well on its way to returning to nature on a bed of fresh cuttings in my compost heap.

Here’s an add-on as of July 17: one of the pleasures of gardening and composting, for me, is the surprise factor, the unpredictability, as when sparse echinacea suddenly fills in an entire bed, or a persimmon tree that has produced 3 fruits in 3 years seems on its way to dozens. My experience with the patient compost method was that the pile only really decomposed into usable product in the lowest 6 to 12 inches. Today, while moving one section onto Dirt layer in compost copyanother to get to the bottom of it, I came across a good layer of compost perfect for loosening up the soil where I was about to plant potatoes. It was like doing archeology, finding a productive layer in the middle of the accumulation. It even had earthworms (look closely) in it! It was above a matted layer of leaves, which may have stopped moisture from permeating and made a wet area that decomposed faster than the rest.

Read more of the original post here.

“Nature abhors a vacuum”

Life tends to fill all possible niches, from the extreme depths of the sea to roofs of our homes to even our own digestive system. Gardeners know this all to well, because it’s not as if we weed once and relax. There are millions of weed seeds just waiting to be dampened, or warmed by the sun, or turned over in the soil, and then they will be hard at work to fill the void, that is, the open space between our vegetable plants!

Here is a hosta that has fond a presumably hospitable spot (we’ll see if it gets enough nutrition to flower) in a crevice in bark on Sharpless St., West Chester:

Building a backyard veggie trellis

by Justice Mogano, West Chester

Here is my tip for building a backyard trellis. Purchase two pieces of 1/2” thick rebar, about 3’-4’ long. Space them appropriately and hammer them into the ground, leaving about 18” above ground.

Then, slide two pieces of 3/4” diameter conduit over the rebar These will be the uprights. These are 6.5’ tall in this photo.

Next, connect the uprights with a shorter length of conduit using elbow connectors.

Finally, fasten a nylon garden net to the frame using zip ties.

These cucumbers will grow quickly, and produce a lot of weight. The vines will grab hold of the netting. If your trellis is firmly staked in the ground, it will support the weight, prevent the vines from snapping and allow for better exposure to the sun.

This can be assembled in under 30 minutes.

For our other trellis, I used the exact same construction, but made it slightly wider from side to side. In the past, we used wooden two by fours to suspend our tomato plants. But the tomatoes are much too heavy and they completely warped the wood. Now we use the trellises for squash and cucumbers, but for tomatoes, we use the ordinary tomato cages you can buy at the hardware store.