Recipes & Gardening Tips



Henry’s African Squash and Peanut Soup


This is my interpretation of a soup served throughout West Africa that I learned to love while living in Cameroon and Mali. You can vary the proportions according to your taste – a lot of hot pepper or a little; a lot of peanut butter or not so much. Improvising is good: I have been known to add kale or even fresh cranberries to it. Bon Appétit!


8 cups steamed winter squash, preferably Hubbard, but use what you have.

8 cups water

2 onions 2-4 cloves of garlic 4 fresh jalapeno peppers, chopped, or 1 tsp ground dry jalapeno

(add peppers in small portions until you decide how much you like)

2 stalks celery or half a large celeriac (which I use, because I grow it), chopped

6oz tomato paste

½ cup peanut butter

3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon cumin

2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence or dry rosemary

2-3 bay leaves

2 Tablespoons honey (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Directions: blend the cooked squash with water in food processor, add to a large heavy kettle in which you have sautéd the onions, garlic and celery. Add the other ingredients and let simmer for an hour or two. If you wish you can stretch the soup by adding more water.


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Song Garden Flower Farm


Gardening Resources

Sources of Shiitake spore plugs

I got my spawn plugs from Mushroom Harvest, P.O. Box 5727. Athens Ohio 45701. George Vaughan, the owner, is very knowledgeable and helpful. Contact him by e-mail at, or by phone at 740-448-6105. 150 plugs, enough for 3-4 logs, cost $9.00

Hardscrabble Enterprises Inc, P.O. Box 1124, Franklin, W. Va.,26807. Paul Goland, the owner is very helpful, and his prices are the same as above. Contact him by e-mail at, or by phone at 304-358-2921. He sells both the standard spawn plugs and the thimble spawn.

Where to get soil testing done

In New Hampshire you can get three tests done at the UNH Analytical Services Lab: a basic test gives you the pH (soil acidity), plus general measurements of phosphorous, magnesium, magnesium and lead, and costs $12. For an extra $5 you can get a reading on the level of organic matter present in your soil, and for $20 more they will tell you about your soil texture (the percentages of sand, silt, and clay). Call 603-862-3210 or your local county Extension Service.

For information on soil testing in Vermont call 802-656-3030, the UVM Extension Testing Lab. A basic test is $10 (pH and minerals), an organic level reading is $2, a measure of heavy metals is $10, micronutrients is $5, and soil texture is $25). They will send you a questionnaire and directions. 

Protecting Lawns and Flower Beds

At a gardener’s Christmas Tea recently I learned a trick I’d like to pass on to you. If the person who plows your driveway gets dirt and stones up onto your lawn and flower beds, you can save yourself a lot of work by buying a roll of burlap, and covering the affected area. Then in the spring, just pull off the burlap, dump the rubble, and you are ready to garden! Be sure to dry the burlap before storing. This tip thanks to Mrs Dorothy Somers of Hanover, N.H.


I have also read that you can protect tender shrubs with burlap, giving them the illusion of moving south a hundred miles or so (one half of a USDA climatic zone) by wrapping them with burlap to protect them from the chilling and drying effects of the north wind.


Repelling Moles

I am receiving many questions about apparent mole damage over the winter. Moles have pushed up a lot of dirt making new tunnels and seem to have been very active this year. Moles will not eat your plants, they are looking for earthworms and grubs. I think as things dry out they will move deeper into the soil and be less noticeable.


I’ve had very good luck chasing moles away with a castor oil emulsion which I read about in Organic Gardening magazine. Here’s what you do: mix one tablespoon of castor oil (available at local pharmacies) with 2 tablespoons of liquid soap in a blender until it gets stiff like shaving cream. Then mix in 6 tablespoons of water. Use 2 ounces of this mixture in 2 gallons of water in a watering can, and sprinkle on the lawn. When you buy your castor oil make sure it is the old fashioned type, not the new, improved de-scented type. Obviously, you will need to make up quite a bit of the stuff to sprinkle if you have extensive lawns, but I have been told that you can just do the perimeters. There are commercial mole mixes which are also based on castor oil. They are probably the same basic recipe, but more expensive.


Handling Dry Spells

The dry spells we have been having in the New England area are very tough on shrubs and trees you planted last year which still have minimal root sytems. You may lose them to dehydration soon after they leaf out unless you water them. Five gallons per shrub twice a week right now will help. Be sure to water your peas and lettuces to keep them moist until they germinate, and giv


Keep Those Tulips Coming

In recent discussions with two gardeners whose tulips keep coming back, year after year, I was told that the key to success is fertilizing them regularly. One said she fertilizes with a bagged organic fertilizer three times a year: once when they first come up, once when they have finished blooming, once in the fall. She just spreads the fertilizer on the soil surface. The other gardener just fertilized once or twice. So if your tulips run down hill and stop blooming after a couple of years, try adding fertilizer.


Henry’s Recipe for Making Soil Blocs

For decades, some gardeners have been making soil blocs as an alternative to buying sterile mix and those plastic 6-packs. Although the planting mixture is not sterile, it provides better nutrition than the sterile soil mixes and hence stronger, healthier plants.

Soil blocs are made with a simple hand press available from Fedco Seeds or Johnny’s Select Seeds. Following the recipe below, you can make 2-inch cubes that will support balanced growth for the 6-8 weeks most seedling will need before heading out to the garden.


To make enough mix for about 500 blocs, mix the following ingredients in a wheelbarrow:

  • 10 quarts of dry peat moss
  • 1/4 cup limestone
  • 1 cup azomite or granite dust (optional)

Then add and mix well:

  • 10 quarts coarse sand
  • 10 quarts of peat humus
  • 1/2 cup colloidal or rock phosphate
  • 1/2 cup greensand
  • 1/2 cup organic blood meal


Finally add and mix well :

  • 8 quarts of compost
  • 8 quarts of garden soil.

To make enough mix for about 500 blocs, mix the following ingredients in a wheelbarrow:

The mix is somewhat dry, and needs to be moistened and used in small batches. For a start, mix 4 quarts of mix with 1-2 quarts of water, stirring it with your hand (wearing a rubber glove). It should be gooey, but firm, not watery. Experiment with it until you find just the right consistency.

To make the blocs, make a pile of the gooey stuff 4-5 inches deep in a recycling bin or other flat bottomed container. Then compress it by squishing it with the bloc maker. Fill up the cavities of the blocker, then get rid of any excess by pushing the blocker down and rotating it against the bottom of the bin. You can eject the blocs with the squeeze of the spring-equipped handle. Line up the rows of blocs so that they do not touch.

Each soil block has a divot on top where you should drop a single seed. Most seeds do fine without any soil covering, though vermiculite can be sprinkled on top if you prefer. A sharpened wood dowel that is moistened will pick up tiny seeds easily, and drop them onto the bloc when you touch it.

You can easily make a self-watering system for the soil blocs. Use those plastic trays that are sold to hold for seed flats as water reservoirs. Make platforms that will sit above the water by cutting 1/2-inch plywood into pieces 9″ by 19 “, and attach 1 1/2 inch cubes of scrap wood for feet with screws. Place these platforms in the trays and cover them with a sheet of polyester backing material to wick up water. The material should fit over the platforms and dangle into the water. The material keeps the blocs evenly and consistently moist, but not soggy.


The advantages of this system are numerous: Germination rates tend to be very high because they hold lots of moisture. The cubes also contain more soil than most six packs, too, allowing for better root development. Plants don’t get root bound as they do in plastic containers because the roots stop, poised for action, when they hit free air at the edge of the bloc. And they transplant into the garden beautifully, with no root disturbance. Once you have the tool for making the blocs, it is a less expensive system than buying those disposable plastic six packs every year.

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