All posts by SpruceKnob

What’s Eating the Mint?

Mint attacked by four-lined plant bug


Mint and other herbs generally should be pest free, so it really “bugs” me when I find something has been eating them.  The damage seems worse than usual this year, perhaps because of the cool, damp spring.  It’s only this week that I figured out what makes those annoying black dots on the upper leaves of my peppermint, as well as on the lemon balm and sage.



Four-lined plant bug
Four-lined plant bug on sage

Some internet sleuthing got me to the answer – “four-lined plant bug”.  I’d never heard of it before, and I had never caught it in action until I knew what to look for.  It’s a small bug, about the size of a striped cucumber beetle, and depending on its stage, has yellow and black stripes with orange or red coloring as well.  It feeds on leaf tissue, leaving spots and holes, sometimes causing leaves to shrivel up.  The good news is that the bug only goes through one life cycle each summer; the damage to the plant is finite and mainly aesthetic.   There is not much one can do for management beyond cleaning up leaves and stems at the end of the season, so there is no place for them to overwinter.  I will just continue to snip and discard the affected plants, and in the fall cut back and clear the bed more carefully.


White above the Green

IMG_0036 May snow
Snow above Smokey House

You don’t usually see green grass and budding leaves against a backdrop of snow, but that’s what we have at Smokey House this week.  As beautiful as it is, we’d prefer to be dealing with warmer temperatures!

IMG_0039 ramps
Wild leeks (aka ramps) headed to the kitchen

However, the chilly weather hasn’t stopped the signs of spring in the woods.  We dug up some ramps (aka wild leeks) and used one in an omelet yesterday after sautéing the greens and bulb in butter.  We plan to pickle the rest tomorrow.

Sweet Maple in the Kitchen

We love maple syrup, and we have plenty of it, so we have been cooking up a storm in POD 8.  As we learned about the sugaring process and helped out in the sugarbush, we were also trying out different recipes, mainly relying on one cookbook:  Maple Syrup Cookbook by Ken Haedrich (Storey Press, 2001).

Some recipes have been more successful than others.  Here is the list:

IMG_9369Day 1 – Indian Pudding.  A traditional New England dessert, this might have been a real treat for us 200 years ago.  This version is quite luscious, and it smelled particularly good while cooking.  Not everyone was a fan of the texture or of the molasses flavor, but it’s something I will make again.

Day 2 – Maple Hot Chocolate.  We were busy in the snowy woods this day, so we made a rich hot chocolate that required 2 ounces of chocolate per cup of milk.  It was too chocolatey for some, but easily thinned with more milk.  The maple part of it was not impressive – a simple teaspoon of syrup in each cup.  You couldn’t taste the maple unless you added many more spoonfuls.

Day 3 – Maple Granola.  This was a standard granola recipe that uses maple syrup instead of honey.  Very tasty.  Again, some students thought it could stand to be sweeter, and some were not crazy about the nuts and sunflower seeds.  It’s very easy to adjust sweetener and additions to taste in this kind of recipe.

IMG_9496Day 4 – North Country Basting Saucy and Hot&Spicy Kabobs.  This was a winner.  The basting BBQ sauce was tangy, and with the addition of onions, lemon juice and spice made wonderful kebabs.  One student brought in venison, and another brought in shrimp.  Five stars from everyone.

gorp barsAlso on Day 4 – Gorp Bars.  These were a disappointment.  The description indicated a bar that was “moist and chewy” and great for taking on a hike. (Think “good old raisins and peanuts” plus oats.)   Instead, it was a bit dry and crumbled easily.  I won’t be making this again, but will look for a similar granola bar recipe.

img_9508Day 5 – Maple Fudge.  Made with maple syrup, sugar, and cream, it’s trickier than you think!  Working on a sample batch the day before,  I was beating it, and just as it was almost ready, the phone rang.  By the time I asked the caller to call back in 10 minutes, the fudge had set.  It was too hard to press into the pan, but the chunks and crumbs were delicious.  When we tried it again the next day, it seems that we didn’t beat it enough, or else we didn’t get the temperature just right.  It never set properly, so we ended up with a tasty maple caramel.  My portion is waiting in my freezer, as I’m still trying to figure out how to use it.  Perhaps next time it will by “just right.”

IMG_3111Day 6 – Lasagne.  This project was leftover from the previous POD.  We had already made the sauce, so it just needed an assembling of the pasta and cheeses.  However, we added some maple syrup to the sauce so it “counted” as a maple recipe. (Many recipes add sugar to tomato sauce, so why not add maple syrup?)

Day 7 – Maple Vanilla Tapioca.  We didn’t have much time for cooking this day, but tapioca is quick and easy.  Mix 3 Tbsp of instant tapioca crystals with milk, egg and syrup (instead of sugar.)  Let stand 5 minutes.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, add 1 tsp vanilla, and let stand 20 minutes.  Done!  It was well received by those who like puddings, the only critique being too much vanilla.

Day 8 – Maple-Orange Wings.  This was another disappointment – so bland and flavorless.  Looking again at the recipe afterwards, we noticed that it described the flavor as “delicate and subtle”. The wings were soaked in a marinade of orange, buttermilk, cinnamon and maple syrup.   Maybe they would have been better cooked on a grill instead of baked.  (With our old gas oven, we didn’t have the option of broiling.)  We won’t be making them again.

Also on Day 8 – Maple Baked Beans.  This was a winner that saved the day.  Earlier we had shelled the Vermont cranberry beans that had been drying in the barn all winter.  I soaked and cooked the beans, and baked them at home, bringing them in to share.  They had just the right mix of sweet and tangy, and the beans themselves had a firm, smooth texture.  Everyone loved them and filled up on beans instead of wings.


IMG_9576Day 9 – Maple Bacon and Buttermilk Pancakes.  We ended the POD with traditional pancakes and syrup and with bacon glazed with syrup.  Yum.  We reviewed at least four different buttermilk pancake recipes before deciding (by majority vote) on the NY Times version.  “Not as good as the Joy of Cooking recipe”, said Tom, “but still a good choice!”

My thoughts on the experience?  If I were doing it again, I would not rely on this one cookbook.  I trusted it too much, and we could have done better.  Instead, I would research the best IMG_9588recipes and reviews from a number of (mainly online) sources, keeping the best of what we have discovered.  I am already trying out more maple recipes at home.  (This week I made Maple-Pecan Sticky Buns – yum.) Also, learning from our experiments, I am now more comfortable substituting maple syrup for white sugar in a variety of recipes (1 for 1 volume, but reduce liquid).

Let the sap run on….








Maple Sugaring POD Begins

We just started a new 3-week POD on maple sugaring. Along with learning about the history and science of maple sugar, we’ll be helping with the sugaring at Smokey House.  Today was an orientation day.  After a little tour of the farm area in the snow, we talked about the origins and history of sugaring (including an Abenaki myth about how sap became so watery). We had lunch with Jesse Pyles, executive director of Smokey House, who shared some of his knowledge and experience with sugaring in West Virginia and Vermont.  And we made Indian pudding, a sweet dessert made with cornmeal, molasses, and maple syrup, that we might have eaten if we lived here in Vermont 200 years ago.  We also worked on blog posts and squeezed in a bit of sledding to get the blood flowing.  A great first day.

Garden Bounty

img_8525It’s hard to believe that the garden is almost “put to bed” for the winter.  It feels so empty, even while it looks  neat and tidy.  Well, not totally empty – we still have leeks and kale growing, and the cover crop of winter rye looks like green hair in various beds!

Orca (aka Calypso) beans

Inside, we still have work to do.  Today we worked with pumpkins – baking, scraping, and pureeing for freezing.  We have garlic, onions, and potatoes to store, and the jalapeno and Thai peppers are slowing drying.   The orca beans are done, but we still have Vermont cranberry beans to shell, and bags of frozen tomatoes to turn into sauce.


“Glass Gem” field corn


Unfortunately, we missed our opportunity with the popcorn.  We picked it and left it in a bushel basket inside to deal with later.  Then, last Friday, I discovered that the basket was full of mold and mildew.  I managed to save some of our lovely field corn, but most of the popcorn went into the compost pile to nourish next year’s crops.


Harvesting for Farmers’ Market

POD #1 – Garden Bounty.img_7983

During this POD, we  harvest vegetables  from our garden on Wednesdays and sell them at farmers’ market on Thursdays.  Right now we have an endless supply of sweet Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and three kinds of beans – Kentucky Wonder pole beans, Provider green beans, and Butterwax yellow beans.   We also have Vermont Cranberry beans and Calypso beans ready to dry for future use.


Hunting the wild zucchini in the “3 sisters” plot, where squash leaves protect the corn and corn supports the bean vines.

The Costata Romanesca zucchini are growing without stop, interspersed with corn and pole beans in a “three sisters” plot.  We have plenty of these huge, meaty, ribbed squash.


Sorting young tender beans from tougher older beans.

Woodshop Wall – in progress (by Nick)

IMG_1565 Me and Scott and Robin have been redoing the back wall of the woodshop.  First we stripped all the siding off.  Then we had to take off some of the plywood because it was rotten.  Then we replaced some of the studs, nailed them to the foundation. And put more plywood up.  Then we put tarpaper up.  And then we put scaffolding up and tore off some of the slate roof.  Then we put a sheet of tarpaper up to seal it until we go back to it.  Basically, now we have to build the overhang on the roof.  It’s to keep the siding from rotting out again.