The laundry can always wait

This story is about a photograph taken in Homer, Alaska, shared by a friend of mine, LA Holmes…

On a clear winter day, Cy and I loaded the “toter” Toyota pickup truck with our laundry for the weekly cleaning event. It was 2008 and we were living in a 8×12-foot cabin while building a 48-foot boat right next door to the building. For me, having a scheduled laundry day, a structured routine, was important.

After locking up the cabin, I looked across the drainage ditch that bordered the boat yard and noticed a lot of activity around my homemade bird feeder. Dozens of small birds, Pine Siskins and Red Poles, were scurrying around the feeder.

“Cy, get the camera,” I said. “I want to try feeding the birds. If you go up in the boat, I’ll cross the ditch and head over to the birds.” The camera was a Nikon D200, the one we used for killer whale research. It was set up with a 300mm lens that brought things in pretty close.

A fine and agreeable fellow, Cy climbed up onto the boat. As I headed toward the bird feeder I stopped by our stash of bird seed that we kept in a garbage can near the door to fill a small bag with sunflower seeds and millet.

When I approached the feeder, the birds fluttered away. I wasn’t worried, though. It doesn’t take creatures of the cold very long to come to food, especially if their eating perch is heated.

I sat down in the snow, grabbed some seeds with each hand and opened my palms to the sky.

LA Holmes feeding Pine Siskins out of her hand in Homer, Alaska.

LA Holmes feeding Pine Siskins out of her hand in Homer, Alaska. Photo by Cy St-Amand.

After a minute or so, the birds returned. They landed on my sleeves, my fingers, my head, my legs and my boots, waiting for their turn to feed. After about two hours, we called it quits.

Cy took about 200 pictures that afternoon. It wasn’t hard to find the best of the group, and we promptly emailed it out to friends and family. My dad, sick with cancer, loved the photo and had an 8×10-inch copy printed and posted on the wall by his bed. Whenever we talked on the phone, he often described the birds’ flared wings, landing gear and postures with amazement and delight.

“See the one by your sleeve? He’s landing,” he’d say. “His wings…you can tell he’s already committed.”

Two months later, Dad passed away, right there, under the birds.

You know, the laundry can always wait.

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Building a better waffle: Healthy, cheap and gluten free

I love waffles, but I don’t like the heavy feeling they leave in my gut.  Then I ate a waffle that changed my attitude, for good…


On a gray Sunday morning in Kodiak, Alaska, I sauntered into the kitchen in search of a cup of coffee. I hadn’t slept well the night before, thanks to 50-knot winds that drove rain and salt spray against the windows. Ocean swells, a lentil soup green in the morning light, rolled through the channel like giant folds of fabric. I hugged my coffee cup. This was going to be a slow breakfast morning. A waffle morning.

But not just any waffles. I reached for a cookbook, the one with a yellow spine, long faded to a vanilla white. I thought about the time I first learned about this gem of recipes…

Meanwhile, in Hawai’i

While visiting friends on the Big Island, our hosts treated Marty and I to a breakfast of homemade Belgian-style waffles. Since they lived in a modest, owner-built home with rustic furniture, I figured the waffles would not be made from a box.

waffles, gluten free, oats, peas, beans, whole grainThe warm plates arrived and, trying not to be rude, I poked at the waffle with my fork for a quick look. It was light brown and dotted with darker bits. I took a bite. There was a whole grain goodness to them, yet they were light, fluffy (not heavy and doughy) and quite tasty.

I looked up from my plate. “They’re made from soybean and rolled oats,” my friend Carrie explained.

Carrie smiled and handed me a stained and withered copy of, The Oats, Peas, Beans & Barley Cookbook. As I flipped through the pages, I remembered when I started cooking with lentils, rice, soy products and beans in the early 70s. “That’s hippie food!” my Mom used to say.

Back in Alaska, I logged onto Amazon and bought a used copy for $2.00.

The waffle recipes call for blessedly simple ingredients like pinto beans, garbanzo beans, soybeans, rolled oats, lentils, millet, rice, cashews and buckwheat. No eggs, milk, flour or baking powder—great news for people with lactose and gluten issues.

For pennies you get a million dollars worth of nutrition and health

“One 9-inch soy-oat waffle contains approximately the same amount of protein as a 3-ounce serving of T-bone steak, or six slices of bacon and two medium eggs,” says author Edyth Young Cottrel, a research nutritionist from Loma Linda University. “But the cost for ingredients for the waffle is only about one-eighth that of the steak or bacon and eggs.”

Since my first experiment with the original recipe, I’ve found it to be quite forgiving. You can mix and match ingredients, creating a meal base for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Here’s the basic recipe:

waring pro waffle iron

The Waring Pro Waffle Iron, available on Amazon, sometimes with free shipping.


  • 2-1/4 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup soaked beans (approximately 1/2 cup dry)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Soak beans for several hours or overnight (preferred). Drain. Combine and blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until light and foamy, about 20 to 30 seconds.

Let batter stand to thicken up a little while the waffle iron is heating. (We like the Waring Pro). Grease the waffle iron with a vegetable cooking spray or high-quality solid shortening. Bake in hot waffle iron for a full 8 minutes. This is important in order to cook the beans. One recipe makes three to four waffles. Tip: Soak extra beans, measure and freeze them for later. The cooked waffles can be frozen for later use–so handy for snacks and quick meals! Just pop them in the oven, microwave, or toaster oven.

waffles, cooking, recipes, waffle iron.

These bean-based waffles need to be fully cooked for 7 to 8 minutes. They’ll be golden brown, with a perfect crunch like a fine cookie!

Toppings for a breakfast meal include berries, yogurt, bananas and peanut butter, jam, stewed apples, or rhubarb sauce. I’m sure you can think of other goodies.

Waffles aren’t just for breakfast anymore (pizza waffles?)

For lunch or dinner, try creamed variations using one or more of the following: broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, cooked halibut, smoked salmon, turkey or chicken. Sprinkle with cheese if you like. You could probably make a waffle pizza by initially topping it with a thick base of tomato paste.

As for what you can add to the waffle batter before cooking, the list of ingredients (and combinations) is extensive: Lentil-oat, pecan-oat, rice-oat, almond-oat, sunflower seed-oat. And here’s a way to include more of your garden’s harvest: Add herbs, dried or fresh spinach or kale. Tip: For grated zucchini, mashed potatoes or squash reduce the amount of water.

The last word

I really hope you include The Oats, Peas, Beans & Barley Cookbook in your collection. It’s filled with delicious recipes for desserts, vegetables, entrees and breads with natural, unprocessed foods. Even though the publish date was 1974, I’ve noticed that Amazon editors have selected it as one of the best books of 2014.

Oh, and you’ll be pleased to know that the oat bean waffles are not only gluten-free, they are gas-free!


galley gourmet dinner cruises, Kodiak, Alaska, wildlife tours

I spend much of my summers on our boat, cooking for dinner cruise guests and running wildlife viewing trips in Kodiak, Alaska.

About Marion: Writer, photographer, and teacher Marion Owen of Kodiak, Alaska is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul. In the summers, Marion is the chef on their Galley Gourmet dinner cruises and wildlife tours.

Follow Marion on Google+ and Facebook.

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A trip down Red Zinger lane

Ever had a roommate that changed your life?

In 1976, I lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment in north Seattle’s Green Lake district. My roommate, Cathy Childs, was 15 years older than me. She had long blonde hair (with split ends that I thought needed trimming), drove a Volkswagen Beetle (way too fast), ate brown rice with tamari, dressed her granola with yogurt and drank lots of Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger tea.

red zinger tea, celestial seasonings

For me, Cathy was a new pair of glasses. She showed me where to shop at local food co-ops, shared the benefits of honey, and introduced me to (then) alternative books by Adelle Davis (Let’s Get Well) and Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet) — two women who contributed to the rise of a nutritional and health food movement that started in the 1950s.

Though Cathy and I were roomies for only a few months, she had a profound influence on my life, from the ethics of food choices to taking personal responsibility for my health. (Today I write a weekly garden and food column for our local newspaper, in Kodiak, Alaska). To this day, whenever I sip Red Zinger tea–pink and lively with orange, lemongrass, hibiscus flowers and rose hips–I think of Cathy.

Fast forward to October 2014. Knowing we were going to visit friends in Boulder, Colorado, I thought, “Finally, here’s my chance to see Red Zinger’s birthplace.”

So on a sunny Saturday, we turned onto Sleepytime Drive and stopped for a photo op by the sign with the signature Sleepytime bear on it. We parked in front of the door marked “Tours”, went inside and signed up for the 1 PM group. The receptionist gave us packets of Wild Berry Zinger tea as our entrance tickets.

celestial seasonings, tea, herbal, colorado, boulder, sleepy time

We had a few minutes to kill, so we sampled iced teas and took a seat near a wall display of black and white photographs. They were a timeline dating back to 1969 when founders Mo Siegel, John Hay and others began gathering herbs and flowers in the mountains around Boulder and selling them to local health food stores.

A group of young, 20-somethings came over and began pointing at the photos. “These are hippies,” one of them announced. “See, hippies had long hair, grew their own food, and tried to eat healthy.” I smiled at their history lesson.

“Celestial Seasonings was started by a group of hippies. See them harvesting wild herbs in the mountains? Eventually they bought real ingredients.”

Real ingredients? Indeed.

Our tour guide, Sandy, handed out nifty blue hairnets. “Guys with beards get an extra one,” she said. Then she highlighted a few rules: “This is a working factory, one of the largest specialty tea companies in North America. Please stay in the yellow safety zones and don’t touch any of the equipment.

“As you walk through the facility it’s best to shuffle because the floors can be slippery from tea dust. Also, no photographs.” I stuffed my iPhone in my pocket and followed the group through a set of double doors.

We entered a large room, stacked floor to ceiling with totes and large sacks. We learned that Celestial Seasoning sources over 100 ingredients from 35 countries. Colorful signs and posters, taken from the company’s packaging, lined the walls. A rainbow of sweet odors filled the air. “Stay within the yellow lines, please,” reminded Sandy. “The forklift drivers might toot, but they don’t always stop.”

She explained that there were three steps to making tea: Milling, blending and packaging. “Today we are processing lemongrass from Guatemala.” An assistant passed around a metal bowl of twigs.

The lemongrass, like most of the other ingredients, is milled for blending by going through a process of cleaning and cutting before being run through 20 different screens, from coarse to fine. Then it goes to the blending room.

“That’s the kitchen of the factory,” Sandy said into the microphone over the din of the machinery. “Our taster, who has worked here for many years, samples over 120 cups of tea a day.”

We were escorted past bins of chamomile, ginger, cloves, ginseng, ginger, blackberry leaves and lemongrass. “If you don’t like any of the smells,” said Sandy, “just walk faster.”

Then we approached a room with a red, garage-like door with a giant red and white candy cane painted on each side. “Welcome to the Mint Room.”

The Mint Room is rather famous. It’s where the company stores giant bags of spearmint and peppermint tea. (The challenge–and joke–is to see how long you can bear the powerful aromas before you need to step out for some fresh air). Sure enough, a strong, menthol-mint smell filled my nostrils. My eyes began to water. “Mints are so potent, we keep them apart from the rest of the ingredients,” Sandy said. The good news is that you can put sachets of mint in your gym shoes or gym locker to kill the smell.”

After we walked around an assembly line of tea boxes snaking their way along a narrow highway that ended in cardboard boxes, the tour finished in the gift shop. I stood next to a display of colorful mugs that said, I survived the Mint Room. “Any questions?” asked Sandy.

“What are the top selling Celestial Seasoning teas?” I asked.

“Well, I can tell you that Sleepytime is number one,” said Sandy.

“What about Red Zinger?”

Sandy scrunched her face a little. “Hmm, I don’t think it’s even in the Top Ten.”

You know what? I really wasn’t disappointed. For me, Red Zinger will always be Number One.


Writer, photographer, and teacher Marion Owen of Kodiak, Alaska is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.

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How to prepare and appreciate those beautiful rose hips

It’s funny how marketing wizards embedded in my brain that only oranges were synonymous with vitamin C. But over the years I’ve learned that papaya, strawberries, bell peppers, kale, cauliflower–even broccoli–have more vitamin C than oranges. It gets better. Recently I discovered another super source of vitamin C right outside my door: Rose hips.

rose hips, wild harvest, hands, red

Hands of grace: My friend Lucile Holmes’ hands form a nest for a bounty of rose hips.

I discovered rose hips sort of by accident. I mean, during my summers in Kodiak I pick rugosa rose petals by the quart to impart a sweet-nutty fragrance to cakes and muffins for our dinner cruises. But I never really dabbled with hips, the fruit of the rose, until I took a different route home one day.

I drove passed a front yard that was edged with large rose bushes festooned with red balls, like Christmas tree ornaments. I asked permission to pick. And pick I did…

Since then I’ve picked at my local credit union (after making a deposit, of course), at my neighbor’s house, and in the lot across from the boatyard. You don’t need any extra equipment to pick rose hips. Just pinch or twist gently to de-stem it. It should feel a little soft, with some give, not hard like a marble. (I’ll cover how to process rose hips in a minute).

rose, bush, hips, red

Rose bushes dripping with red orbs in front of my credit union.

Rose hips, also known as haw or rose hep, are one of the richest plant sources of vitamin C available. And I was pleasantly surprised to read that two medium-sized rose hips have more vitamin C than a medium orange. (Eat your hats, marketing wizards!) Plus, they contain vitamins A, B, E and the minerals calcium, iron, and phosphorus.

There’s a saying that roses in general are good for “the skin and the soul.” Turns out rose petals and rose hips have a long tradition of medicinal use.

According to Wikipedia, during World War II, the people of Britain were encouraged through letters to The Times newspaper, articles in the British Medical Journal, and pamphlets produced by Claire Loewenfeld, a dietitian working for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, to gather wild-grown rose hips to make a vitamin C syrup for children. This advice arose because German submarines were sinking commercial ships, making it difficult to import citrus fruits. In China, the hips are known as jin ying zi and are mainly used as a kidney chi (energy) tonic, an astringent prescribed for urinary problems.

Like a cross between an apricot and a kumquat

Rose hips, recipes, harvest

These rose hip “hippies” are the size of quarters.

Rose hips have a rich, tangy-sweet flavor, like a cross between an apricot and a kumquat. If you haven’t tried one, find a local bush and sample one. (Wild is best. Either way, be sure it’s pesticide/chemical-free). After taking a shallow bite, (lest you end up with a mouthful of seeds), take a moment to admire the ruby-red outside and the salmon-orange inside.

So what do you do with these beautiful orbs? Rose hips are happy campers. They can be used fresh, dried or preserved in a variety of dishes, including syrups, preserves (rose hip catsup is superb) jams (my favorite is rose hip-orange marmalade) and jellies, teas (often mixed with hibiscus), sauces, breads and desserts.

And fall is the best time for gathering rose hips. They should be bright orange or red, and preferably kissed once or twice by Jack Frost. Remember, go for the soft hips, not hard ones.

Two basic ways to prepare rose hips for recipes:

  1. Dried
  2. Cooked and pureed
wild plants, wild edibles, alaska, western canada, the northwest, book, resource, guide

Discovering Wild Plants is one of my favorite wild plant books. Full of lore, recipes, medicinal applications and more. Though out of print, you can find used copies online. Janice told me she plans to re-publish it. Good news.

Either way, you’ll first need to rinse them off and then pinch off the dried, octopus-looking flower end.

To dry rose hips

Spread them on a cookie sheet. Place them in an oven set on the lowest setting. A dehydrator works great, too, or simply put them in a dark, well-ventilated area to dry. After drying (thoroughly, to prevent mold), store them in glass jars in a dark, cool place.

To make rose hip tea, trim off the flower stem, cut the hip in half (and again in quarters, if they’re large), and scrape out the seeds and hairy pith. (A vegetable peeler or knife tip are good tools for the job). This can be very tedious with small hips, so save the small ones for jellies. [Note: Rose hips used for jellies don’t need to be seeded or scraped. Janice Schofield, author of the out-of-print book, Discovering Wild Plants, says “most people prefer to de-seed their rose hips, but it’s not absolutely necessary.”] By the way, a half and half mixture of rose hip juice and apple juice makes a tasty jelly.

You can use dried rose hips in place of raisins in quick bread recipes or sprinkle them on oatmeal or granola. They also freeze well. Here’s a recipe for Rose Hip Nut Bread, I adapted from the book, Cooking Alaskan:

recipes, Alaska, seafood, fish, cookbook

This book has the best recipes for all kinds of seafood, wild edibles and more. A classic for all cooks.

Rose Hip Nut Bread

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup seeded and chopped rose hips
  • 2 TBL melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, sesame or sunflower seeds

In a large bowl, mix the first six ingredients. Sift together dry ingredients and blend with wet mixture, stirring only until moistened. Fold in nuts or seeds and spoon into a greased, 5×8-inch bread pan, muffin tins or 9×9-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for one hour (less for muffins and a 9×9 pan).

To make rose hip puree

Gather your rose hips, clean them and either chop them or put them in a pan with a little water and cook them on low heat until soft. I use a potato masher to speed up the process. Don’t be afraid to add extra water to keep them from sticking. The hips tend to absorb water.

rose hips

Okay, so this looks awful, but it’s an ugly duckling kind of photo. It gets better with the next stepl

food-millAfter you’ve created a mash, run it through a food mill, a very handy gadget for pureeing apples, creaming soups, ricing potatoes and so on.

The photo below shows the end product: Isn’t it beautiful?

rose hips, recipe, prepare, wild food, puree

After running the seedy rose hip pulp through a food mill, what remains is a beautiful, silky puree.

From here, you can create all sorts of things:

Jazz up your next pumpkin, apple or rhubarb pie by replacing some of the ingredients with rose hip pulp or chopped bits.

Here is a simple recipe for Rose Hip Soup, heartwarmingly wonderful on a snowy day. (It’s a variation of Nyponsoppa, the popular delicacy served in Sweden).

Rose Hip Soup

  • 4 cups rose hip pulp + additional water
  • 2 TBL sugar (or to taste)
  • Cardamom and/or cinnamon (optional)
  • Lemon juice
  • Orange or lemon zest
  • 2 TBL cornstarch

Bring pulp and water to a boil and add sugar, seasoning, lemon juice and zest. Thin with more water to a desired consistency. Mix cornstarch with a few teaspoons of cold water. Add it to the soup while stirring. To serve, top with vanilla yogurt or ice cream and shaved almonds or toasted coconut.

Variation: Mix half and half with rhubarb sauce or applesauce

There you go. Roses aren’t just beautiful to look at and sniff during the summer. They’re incredibly edible, all year. If you have a favorite recipe using rose hips, I’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, thanks for visiting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

galley gourmet dinner cruises, Kodiak, Alaska, wildlife tours

I spend much of my summers on our boat, cooking for dinner cruise guests and running wildlife viewing trips in Kodiak, Alaska.

Marion Owen is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul. She is a professional photographer writes a weekly garden-food column for the Kodiak Daily Mirror, in Kodiak, Alaska, and teaches photography and gardening through the University of Alaska. Find her on Facebook,  and Google+.

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In the presence of angels

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Marty and I took a gaggle of photo-friends on our boat to a small island, an hour’s run from downtown Kodiak. Once anchored, we piled into the inflatable skiff with our tripods and camera bags and hit the beach to hike among Sitka spruce trees, dripping with moss and September rains.

Kodiak, Alaska, photography, workshops, puffin, dinner cruises

Our boat, the M/V Sea Breeze, at anchor in a quiet lagoon near Kodiak, Alaska. We use our trusty vessel for wildlife viewing trips, photo workshops and gourmet dinner cruises.

Most of the group took off to the north in the direction of sea lions that gather on barnacled rocks. My friend Pam and I had smaller ideas: Autumn is mushroom season and we were anxious to explore the mossy understory.

While I was looking forward to an afternoon of picture taking, I was also hoping to hoof the trails for a cardio workout. But within minutes of entering the forest, I spotted a huddle of celestial white mushrooms growing sideways along the side of a fallen log.

“Hey Pam, what are these ‘shrooms?”

“I think they’re angel wings,” she called out from behind a stump.

When I knelt down for a closer look, I noticed how the light, filtering through the trees, illuminated the mushrooms from within, like alabaster wall sconces.

The angel wings were in perfect condition; yet to be discovered by curious, nibbling creatures. I set up my tripod and took a variety of exposures on either side of the “correct” exposure. Later, at my computer, I worked in layers within Photoshop to emphasize–ever so slightly–some of the magical inner glow enhancing Nature’s own composition; a delight to work with. Here is the final result:

Angel Wings, Pleurocybella porrigens, mushrooms

Angel Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens) are favorites of wild mushroom hunters, if nothing else just for their beauty.

After we returned home, I connected with my friend Natasha who had been foraging for wild mushrooms that same afternoon. “I will bring some by for dinner.”

I was delighted when she arrived with a container of angel wings! We sautéed the tender mushrooms in olive oil and served them with roasted squash and salmon.


Welcome fall.

mushrooms, chives, recipe, angel wings

Beautiful, delicate and tasty: Wild angel wings, sautéed in olive oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper and sprinkled with garden chives.

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A recipe for stained glass potatoes, and late summer gardening tips from Kodiak, Alaska

To a plant, it’s all about light. Light is the magic engine that drives growth. It also drives my gardening activities here in Kodiak, Alaska. Not to poo-poo gardeners in the Lower 48, but during August, we lose a whopping two hours and 20 minutes of daylight. Poof. Just like that. So, what to do?

fishing boat, Kodiak, Alaska, sunrise, professional photographer, Marion Owen, Canon

A fishing boat heads out to sea during a late summer sunrise. To calculate day length for your location, follow this link: [Use Table A (for U.S. cities), Table B (for international)]

When summer wanes, it’s easy to throw in the trowel and think, “Ah, what’s the use. The season’s almost over.” But what if we were to face the end of summer thinking the best is yet to come? Call me a Pollyanna, but to this gardener-photographer, late summer and early fall brings rich smells and sweet light that feeds my soul…

North of the Mason-Dixon line, August is a giant tap on the shoulder. Many folks react by pulling back and devoting less time and attention to their yard and garden; even ignoring it altogether. Is it because school started? The silver salmon are running upstream? (we’re talking Kodiak, remember). Or is it because the flowers we planted in May and June are looking tired?

No matter where you park your wheelbarrow, don’t give up. Your yard will look much better, and you’ll enjoy a longer bloom and harvest season if you take care of a few things. Here are seven ideas to keep you enthused:

1. Your flowers worked hard all summer. Give a little back.

So it’s time to deadhead. Deadheading is like pulling old clothes out of your closet. Out with the old to make room for the new. If you want to increase bloom time and stretch it into the fall (who doesn’t?), continue to pinch, clip, and prune wilted flowers on a regular basis. Deadheading tidies up plants and it strengthens them, too. Don’t make deadheading a big deal. Just pick off faded blossoms of calendula, pansies and other annuals each time you walk by.

I like to deadhead flowers just before my husband Marty mows the lawn. I pinch off the flowers and toss them onto the grass. Pinch and toss; pinch and toss. The lawn mower shreds them up into invisible bits, which in turn, feed the lawn.

lawn, grass, mulch, organic gardening, gardening tips, fall, late summer, compost

How to make a lawn mower happy: Sprinkle your wilted flowers on the grass. The next turnaround with the mower turns them into beautiful mulch which also feeds the lawn. [Marion Owen photo]

2. Compost: Forget gadgets. Use a shovel.

If you come across plants that are really done, then pull them out and add mulch (grass clippings, kelp/seaweed, cow manure, compost, whatever) to boost the depleted soil. Which brings me to a great way to compost. It’s really nothing new, our grandmothers used to do it: Whenever you have a blank space in the garden, dig a hole and add kitchen scraps, such as banana peels, coffee grounds, and egg shells. Cover with a few inches of soil and walk away. The worms and other soil creatures will take care of it, and silently thank you.

3. Perennials are crying for attention

Perennials come back every  year (much to the dismay of garden centers) but like us, they need love and attention. Otherwise, growth will be stunted. In late summer, cut back tall plants like irises, lilies and delphiniums after blooming. This is also a perfect time to divide perennials and move shrubs and trees: The ground is warm, meaning roots have time to re-establish in their new home.

Special note: Oriental poppies should be all but done by now, and rather than leave the area looking like a bomb went off, follow the advise from the gardener who tended the Pioneer Home gardens in Sitka, Alaska for many years: Cut the stalks and the tallest of the leaves to within four inches of the ground. New, fuzzy green shoots will appear within a couple weeks and you’ll be on your way to healthy, strong plants for next year. Plus, the beds will look neatened up.

4. Potted plants: The last hoorah

For potted plants like fuchsia, dahlias and other late bloomers, they are getting tired. Days are growing shorter and the end is near. Keep pots evenly moist, but stop feeding. Still, rotate pots and hanging baskets so both sides can enjoy the sun.

tomatoes, tomato, homegrown, organic, vegetable, garden, alaska

While rinsing these tomatoes, I’m smiling ear to ear. Why? Because home-grown tomatoes, let alone RED ones, are a very rare sighting in Alaska! [Marion Owen photo]

5. Meanwhile, back in the greenhouse…

If you have a high tunnel or greenhouse, keep up with the watering but be super careful. Too much moisture in the air causes grey mold and other diseases to explode and flourish. Irregular watering also causes plants to suffer. Tomatoes for example, can develop blossom end rot: a flat and darkened spot develops near the blossom end of a tomato and then spreads out over time. Continue to feed cucumbers and squash compost tea + kelp solutions that are high in many minerals, like potassium and phosphorus.

6. “V” is for veggies

Pick snap peas as they reach a tasty size. Don’t wait for some magic, do-it-all-at-once time. They are much sweeter when just ripe. Try pickling them. When broccoli (and later as their sister crops like cabbage and Brussels sprouts) stop producing, pull the plants out, roots and all, chop them up and put them on the compost pile. Thin carrots and other root crops, eat turnip greens and sow more salad greens while the soil is still warm. Make herb-garlic vinegar.

7. Putting in a good word (and recipe) for potatoes

It may be too early to harvest the main crop, but you can cheat a little and harvest early spuds. Slip your hand into the soil alongside the stem of a flowering spud and root around for  young (new) potatoes. Don’t pull the plant out; you’re just sampling for early ones and leaving the rest to harvest later. Potatoes are a stem crop, so you’ll find the older and larger potatoes near the bottom; the still-forming ones closer to the soil surface.

At this point I want to share one of my favorite ways to prepare potatoes. I call them stained glass potatoes, a recipe I included in my 2014 wall calendar, “Flavors of Kodiak Island.” (The 2015 calendar is available as of August 1, 2014 through To let your fingers do the walking through the pages online, click here).


potatoes, recipe, organic

To make Stained Glass Potatoes, sprinkle flower blossoms and herbs on the bottom of a baking pan covered with olive. Place potatoes, cut side down, on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. [Marion Owen photo]

This technique has to be one of the most beautiful ways to dress up a spud. Potatoes are cut in half and then baked, cut side down, on a bed of herbs and flower petals. The stained glass effect occurs when you turn the potatoes over to expose an artist’s palette that’s splashed with bright colors, like a Jackson Pollock painting…

  • Small to medium-sized red or white potatoes
  • Fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme…
  • Fresh, edible flower petals from pansies or calendula (my favorite)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a baking pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle herbs and flower petals onto the oil. Cut potatoes in half and place them cut-side down on top of the herbs and flowers. Brush tops of potatoes with olive oil and bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until done. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve, cut side up.

THE LAST WORDS: You must admit, these seven gardening tasks are pretty simple and they don’t take much time. And the rewards are many. For one thing, (Ha!) your arms, abs and legs get a good workout, you spruce up your yard for you–and your neighbors–to enjoy. And oh yeah, when the first snow flies, you can smile, knowing that you did your best leading up to that point.

winter gardening, winter, garden, organic gardening, snow, low tunnel, Alaska

Hibernating garden: Raised beds of spinach seedlings (seeds sown in September) are comfy and cozy under a plastic cover. In February, when the day length pops above 10 hours, plant growth resumes. [Marion Owen photo]

Posted in Food and recipes, Kodiak Island, Alaska, Organic gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Blue on blue, with reflections on St. Francis

My best times in the garden happen in the early morning: Dew-kissed strawberries, slow bumblebees (an oxymoron, I know) and flowers backlit by the new-day sun.

New-day sun. Brother sun. Makes me think of the 1972 movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon — the story of St. Francis of Assisi. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli with soundtrack by Donovan. When the movie arrived in our little movie theater in Lakewood Center, Washington, I went to see it with my friends. Then with Mom.

“That’s the story of St. Francis,” she announced as we left the theater lobby.

“Really?” I knew nothing about saints and wondered if they were real people and if I could ever be like them.

As for the movie, I was so captivated by it, I went to see it again. And again. So many times I lost count. To avoid using up all of my allowance, I snuck through the side door of the building with my cassette tape deck under my coat to record the songs during the movie.

I’ve watched the movie probably 30 times. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll watch it with you.

But I digress. Terribly. Here is the image from this morning’s stroll through our oceanside garden. Our B&B guests weren’t up yet. A quiet time for me.

garden, blue poppy, grandis, meconopsis

Blue poppies (meconopsis sp) are a true, top-of-the-world plant. They bloom like crazy in my Kodiak, Alaska garden, to the point where I have to divide them every 3 years or so. (Marion Owen photo).

Posted in Essays and inspirations, Kodiak Island, Alaska, Where curiosity leads me | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments