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Keeping garden tools sharp makes chores easier

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog sharpened edgerMy grandfather's edger still does a nice job when it's sharpened right. Photo by Doug Oster

As the days get longer and cabin fever takes hold, sharpening tools is job which helps gardeners get through the winter.

I use an Accusharp tool to keep the edge sharp on shovels, trowels, edgers and others.

2-9b accusharp

I treasure my grandparents tools, some date back to the 1930's and I want to keep using them for as long as possible.

Keeping them sharp is one way to make them last, but it also makes the job at hand easier.

I never thought of sharpening shovels, edgers and trowels until I spoke to a group of sheet metal workers who showed me the way.

Every winter not only do I sharpen and oil the metal parts, I rub the wooden handles with boiled linseed oil to keep them from cracking.

If treated right, most tools should last a lifetime, or maybe even a few generations.

Here's a video showing how I use the Accusharp tool and get schooled on how to sharpen a pair of bypass pruners.



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Making holiday plants thrive all winter

Written by Doug Oster on .

poinsettia winter-rosePoinsettias are just one plant which can live inside all winter. Photo by Doug Oster

I've already seen some poinsettias on the side of the road. Don't throw them away, here's how to make them and other holiday plants thrive all winter and beyond.

This segment from Pittsburgh Today Live shows all the tricks to making any holiday plant of houseplant thrive.

 

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I'm growing mushrooms...on purpose!

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog tight mushroom bThese Shiitake mushrooms can be grown just about anywhere indoors. Photos by Doug Oster

I included the Shiitake Mushroom Kit from Gourmet Mushrooms in this year's Shop Holiday for gardeners for a reason. They are easy to grow indoors and are absolutely delicious, just like all things picked fresh. You haven't had a mushroom until you've tasted one which has been freshly harvested.

The log is set on a moist sponge (included in the kit) on a plate and then water is added to keep the growing medium moist.

For around $20 the company sends two logs which are ready to go, along with instructions. All I had to do is add water and in just a few days the mushrooms sprouted.

If you're like me and need something to grow, give these mushrooms a try.

I'm interested to see how long they will produce and if I can get a second flush too.

blog mushrooms growingbThis log started putting on mushrooms only a few days after watering.

 

 

 

 

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Italian lunch was the best ever!

Written by Doug Oster on .

 

VERBANIA, Italy — Serendipity and a chance encounter on my recent trip to this Mediterranean country led me to the very best lunch I’ve ever eaten — anywhere.

It began back in September as I sat exhausted on a stone garden bench at Villa Della Porta Bozzolo in Casalzuigno in Northern Italy.

Eight days into a 10-day tour of Italian gardens and villas and all the travel had finally caught up to me. I took a break from my tour and sat outside with Anna Maria Massimi, who was guiding another group traveling with us.

We talked about relationships and traveling, and then I mentioned my love of cheese and dried meats and how the night before a group of friends shared both on my balcony overlooking Lake Maggiore.

Anna Maria smiled and offered to take me to her old friend Eros Buratti’s shop in Verbania, which specializes in meats and cheeses.

The next day she encouraged me to invite a few people from my bus and hers. There was room for only 15, so I asked for volunteers. Seven lucky people joined me on the short walk to Eros’ meat and cheese shop and four from her bus.

Walking through the front door was like entering another world. Giant prosciutto hams hung in the doorway leading to a counter jammed with customers, and it was loud, really loud. Eros yelled orders and went back and forth with his loyal customers, making sure they were happy. As I walked past him, he smiled, said something in Italian and handed me a slice of meat. I shared it with two friends; it melted in my mouth.

Eros greeted Anna Maria saying, “The most beautiful woman in Italy, where have you been?” She hadn’t visited in a year. It felt special to be included, and everyone in our group was thrilled at what was going on around us.

Above the counter were more cured meats and an unbelievable amount of cheeses in the case. I’d never heard of most of them. At the end of the counter, Eros’ mother helped move the customers along.

It was sensory overload, small tables squeezed into every corner, waiters and waitresses hurriedly walked past trying to keep up with the demand for food. It was like a visit to the Strip District on steroids. We sat together at a long table.

blog20140913dotravelmeal3Joseph DiLuccia of Bangor, Pa was charged with cutting some spicy sausage before the meal was served at Eros Buratti's meat and cheese shop in Verbania, Italy. To tide us over, Anna Maria brought over a large dried sausage. Joseph DiLuccia of Bangor, Northampton County, who lived in Italy until he was 14, was charged with cutting the meat. As he cut thin slices, we started eating the homemade bread sticks and fresh, hard-crusted white bread.

Two types of olive oils were deep green and exploded with flavor — one had a kick to it. A drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar worked as a perfect foil, and the guests soaked up the concoction with the breads. It was already a magicallunch, and that’s before we were served most of Eros’ specialties.

Just about the time the sausage was going around the table, two bottles of wine were served, one white and one red. When those were emptied, two more appeared.

What we had in front of us would have been enough. The sausage had a soft, fatty texture and finished with a hint of hot pepper, the breads each offered a different texture and flavor, the oil was heavenly, and the balsamic tied everything together.

There was a collective gasp as one of Eros’ employees carried out a long board filled with 10 types of cured meats and set it down in front of us: a local specialty called speck along with prosciutto, venison and other offerings that looked like bacon and tasted like heaven.

Then he returned with a board just as long filled with cheese. There was runny gorgonzola, a hard variety, baked ricotta, a goat cheese filled with pistachios and more. The feast began.

Each bite offered a different flavor and texture, and we all ate until we couldn’t eat any more.

Italians expect the best, whether it’s in gardens, art and certainly when it comes to food. That day I was lucky enough to experience the most amazing lunch I’ve ever had. Walking back to the bus in a euphoric afterglow, I saw one of my fellow diners. We were trying to play it down so the folks who didn’t come wouldn’t feel so bad, but there was no holding back.

Spontaneously she hugged me tightly and laughed hard because we both knew it was the best meal we’d ever had and might ever have.

Doug Oster: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 412-779-5861. Visit his garden blog here. Twitter: @dougoster1.

blog20140913dotravelmeal2Hanging hams at Eros Buratti's meat and cheese shop in Verbania, Italy. Mr. Buratti works behind the counter with his mother. blog20140913dotravelmeal5A shot of the cheese board served at Eros Buratti's meat and cheese shop in Verbania, Italy.

 

blog20140913dotravelmeal8Dried meats at Eros Buratti meat and cheese shop in Verbania, Italy.

blog20140913dotravelmeal6A shot of the cheese counter at Eros Buratti's meat and cheese shop in Verbania, Italy.

 

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Taking chances in the garden pays off...sometimes

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog viola winter

Fall is when gardeners can take a leap of faith by planting cold weather crops, betting the winter won't be as harsh as the year before. Some seasons the decision looks like genius, others more like foolishness.

This winter, late planters look brilliant.

Tiny yellow violas are luminescent in the late afternoon sun. They are planted along the edges of containers, the centers are filled with pretty purple flowering kale.

Both of these plants love cool weather and have thrived during this mild early winter. Cold, snow and everything which comes with it are on the way, it's inevitable. Depending on just how cold it gets, these plants might survive until spring. That's the wonder of winter gardening, you never know when the garden will come to close.

In the vegetable garden 'Red Russian' kale shares a cozy spot in a cold frame with other greens. In other beds 'Red Sails' lettuce and other varieties wait patiently to be harvested.

Radishes, carrots and other root crops seem happy too.

Pots on the front porch were filled with left over flowering kale on sale from Hahn Nursery only a few weeks ago. 

Having color and something fresh to eat out of the garden when January looms is a wonderful feeling.

Every fall the garden is planted with these cold loving crops, it's always a roll of the nice, but when things go our way all you can do is smile.

 

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