Sunday, April 26, 2015

There's a New Tool in Town! Barebones Hori Hori Garden Knife (+ a giveaway!)

This past week's Earth Day festivities, ongoing since the first Earth Day in 1970, are meant to call attention to our planet and to urge us to be kind to it. It is life-giving in that we derive our sustenance from it, either directly or indirectly. Did you do anything special to observe Earth Day?

Just a couple of days before, I had received a new tool in the mail to test. It was not only new to me, but new to the rest of the world as well, with it being officially introduced on Earth Day by Barebones. The Hori Hori knife is a multi-purpose tool that comes in handy in ways that might surprise you.

The Barebones Hori Hori Knife sells for $29.99 and is available online
and at Home Depot.

"Hori" means "to dig"
in Japanese
Having its origin in Japan, the Hori Hori knife as a tool is not new to me and I have owned one for several years. It's my go-to general purpose tool, especially in spring, when I'm doing such gardening tasks as weeding, trimming, small digging, etc. Many companies make a similar version of it.

So what makes the Barebones Hori Hori knife different or special from others?

Though I haven't had much time to put it to heavy use, right off the bat I noticed that this is a heavy-duty tool. It has some serious heft to it. The handle is made of sustainable bamboo and the blade is rust-resistant tempered steel, giving it exceptional strength. One edge is standard sharp blade - with a bottle opener and twine cutter! - and the opposite edge is serrated.

The steel at the base of the blade goes all the way through the handle to the bottom, where a one-inch solid piece makes it strong enough for pounding. (Why aren't more hand tools designed with this???)

One side of the blade is marked in inches, which can be a help
in measuring depth when planting bulbs.

I'll be using this over the next few months to see how it holds up under use by a gardener who is notorious for abusing her tools, but I don't really have any concerns that it won't. You can tell it's a high quality tool that has had some thought put into its design. It feels really good in your hands. If I could improve on the whole hori hori knife experience, I would suggest that Barebones provide a leather protective sheath for it that can be attached to the waistband of my jeans.

Listen to Robert Workman, founder of the Barebones Company that you may know for their outdoor lifestyle products, tell about the Barebones Hori Hori knife in this short video:

The Barebones company got its start four years ago with Workman's vision...

"At barebones, our products are designed to lift the poorest of poor while still being relevant to the richest of rich. Think about that for a moment. If we have products that will really do that, then those products are a great equalizer in lifting us all to a higher place. After all, we are all here on this earth together sharing a human experience.

We can offer reliable power, provide sustainable living shelters, and teach sustainable food growth to every human being on this earth without overwhelming our resources. There is enough for all."

A portion of the sales of Barebones products benefit TIFIE (Teaching Individuals and Families Independence through Enterprise) and Goal Zero. For more information about the Barebones company, their philanthropy, and their other products, visit their website here.

Want to win a Barebones Hori Hori knife?

How would you like a Hori Hori knife of your very own? Barebones has generously allowed me to give one away to one of you! All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post, telling me about your favorite garden hand tool, as well as fill out the Rafflecopter form below. In order to be entered into the giveaway, you need to do both things. It won't take you long at all.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway will end at midnight EDT next Sunday night, May 3, 2015, so make sure you enter by then. Good luck!

Note:  I was given this tool by the Barebones Company to test in my own garden. I was encouraged to give an honest opinion of the tool, which any reputable company will do in order to get feedback for possible improvements on their product. As always, my opinions about any product I review are my own. I did not receive any compensation from the Barebones Company other than the tool I received for testing and will not receive any compensation from any purchases that come about as a result of my opinion about the tool.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Winter Jewels™ 'Painted Doubles'

I picked this up today at The Anderson's in Maumee, Ohio, making it the first official plant purchase of the 2015 season. A fine choice, don't you think?

Helleborus Winter Jewels™ 'Painted Doubles'

Hybridized by Marietta O'Byrne, owner of Northwest Garden Nursery in Oregon, this fully double hellebore is just one of the Winter Jewels™ series.

Of course, I want all of them.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Weekend Wisdom: I Like the Way the Greeks Do It

Having been the guest in homes outside the U.S., I know that different locations and cultures have what they consider to be proper guest etiquette. I try to take my cues from my hosts, but sometimes you just don't know what to give your host as a thank you gift for having you in their home, whether it be for a meal or for a few days.

Huffington Post to the rescue!

Photo of Aglaonema from my book, Indoor Plant D├ęcor: The Design
Stylebook for Houseplants

A cut flower bouquet is always in good taste for your host, now matter where you live, but in Greece, a potted plant is a common gift.

Despina Trivoli, HuffPost Greece's Head of Life and Culture says, "The most usual gifts include alcohol, dessert (cake is very popular) or plants." Flowers in general are welcome, but usually potted plants are preferable -- something that will be able to grow in a balcony or garden.

I like that.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Trees of Our Little Acre: Cornelian Cherry

Several years ago, I visited the historic home of Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924), Indiana author of more than 20 books, and a celebrated naturalist. In the latter part of her life, Gene and her husband built a home near Rome City, Ind., on Sylvan Lake, which they called "Cabin in the Wildflower Woods." There, she worked on her nature studies and her writing, before moving to Los Angeles about 1920, so that she could be more involved in the making of movies based on her books.

Cabin in the Wildflower Woods
Home of Gene Stratton-Porter

When I visited the cabin, I was given a tour of the gardens, which were in the process of being restored to their original plan as Gene planted them. Martha Ferguson, who was in charge of the gardens at the time, gifted me with a Cornelian cherry seedling - one that grew from the original one that Gene had planted there.

That was in 2007.  I planted the seedling then, and this spring - today! - it rewarded me with its first blooms ever.

If it's bloomed in years previous, neither of us noticed, and that's not likely since it's located just out our back door where we pass by it countless times in spring. If we didn't notice the blooms before, we surely would have noticed the bright red drupes that follow and take all summer to ripen.

The Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is in the dogwood family and in my experience is easier to grow than other dogwoods. It hasn't been a particularly fast grower, but it has grown to be about 5-6 feet tall in the eight years that we've had it.

If I can get to the berries before the birds do, I'll make something with them, such as jam or a fruit sauce, as they are edible, reaching complete ripeness after they've fallen from the tree. This could be a challenge unless I net the tree.  The flavor is said to be like that of the cranberry with a tartness similar to sour cherries. They are very high in Vitamin C and have been used medicinally to treat cold and flu.

Cornelian Cherry
Cornus mas

Zone: 4a to 8b
Light:  Full sun to part shade
Height:  15-25 feet
Bloom time:  Late winter to early spring
Soil pH: Prefers slightly acidic
Other:  Fruit is edible, can be grown as shrub or tree, bark sheds on mature trees

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

65 Gallons of Sap on the Wall...

The second year of maple syrup making is now completed. We were first-timers last year and we beat ourselves on the noggins for not doing it before then. Eating real maple syrup made from the sap of your own trees is like a taste of heavenly nectar.

We were just a tad late getting the trees tapped last year, so I watched the weather closely this year in order to take advantage of the sap season as long as possible. Sap begins to flow when the daytime temperatures are above freezing, but the night temperatures are below.

Our first taps went into the trees on March 2nd and we found that the sap was already flowing, although not very fast. The weather up to that point had been unseasonably cold, delaying its start.

In the four weeks that followed, we collected a total of 65 gallons of sap, from the same three trees we tapped last year, plus two more at the back of the property that were smaller, but we didn't get more than a couple of gallons total from those.

The average ratio of sap to syrup is generally 37:1 for sugar maples and 40:1 for other types. We have mostly silver maples here and no sugar maples (maybe one, but it's too small to tap). We had two exceptionally good collecting days during all that time, with nine gallons being collected once and eleven gallons just a week ago before it all came to a halt.

The sap stops flowing when the trees are finally all thawed out from winter and that is signaled by not only a reduction in sap flow, but a change in its color, from clear to light yellow. At the same time, the buds are beginning to break open on the trees and it's all over but the processing.

This year we boiled the sap down outside since we'd just redone our kitchen and didn't want that sticky steam getting all over everything. Thanks to a suggestion from Susy Morris (of Chiot's Run, and a former fellow Buckeye now living in Maine), we purchased an induction burner from Amazon, which made the whole process incredibly easy. That doesn't mean it went off without a hitch, however. One day, I got busy and forgot to set the timer as a reminder to check it and I burned a batch. Four gallons of sap, ruined. (Boo.)

You need a stainless steel pan that a magnet will stick to the bottom in order for
it to work on an induction burner. I didn't really use the candy thermometer you
see here. It was just easier to eyeball it to determine when the syrup was done.

Taking into account the burned sap and one gallon that went bad before it got processed (it poured out of the milk jug in gelled globs), from 60 gallons of sap, we ended up with a little more than 1¾ gallons of syrup, making our ratio somewhere close to 32:1. Not bad!

Almost all the sap processed darker this year than last. I boil it until it's the right
consistency and the darker it is, the stronger the maple flavor.

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