Home & Garden

A new book, with a little help from her friends.

Kale, bean and vegetable soup. (Photo by Alison Shaw).

Excerpted from “Kale, Glorious Kale” by Catherine Walthers and photographs by Alison Shaw.

New from Vineyard Stories.
New from Vineyard Stories. (Photo by Alison Shaw).

I thoroughly enjoy being a cookbook author in a local community. People are so supportive. Both Rusty Gordon from Ghost Island Farm and Debby Farber from Blackwater Farm let me roam their fields and use their kale to test in many dishes. Debby introduced me to baby kale — which is something everyone should try -— it’s so tender and delicious. A lot of the local farmers sell baby kale now at the stands and farmers market and I have a whole chapter of recipes. Early fall is a perfect time to plant baby kale in your garden.

A number of local people contributed recipes as well — Tamara Weiss loves kale and gave me Kale Revolution in a bowl -— a massaged kale salad with lemon, garlic, hazelnuts and goji berries that people love. Chris Fischer has his Kale Caesar Salad in there; and Jim Feiner created a kale-slaw. [There’s also] photographer Randi Baird’s kale farro salad — a favorite of mine, private chef Nicole Cabot’s kale veggie burgers, Jessica Roddy’s kale and feta pizza and cheesemaker Jackee Foster’s kale, cranberry and apple salad. I got some great ideas — such as the kale latkes from my friend Sarah Vail, and a tortilla kale soup idea from Laura Roosevelt. People are so supportive on the Island — I run into people all the time who make recipes from previous books and send books to their friends. Of course, this is the third book I’ve done with Alison and I feel very lucky to have her translating my recipes into photos…  And of course, my husband Dave and son, who ate kale with me each and everyday during a six month kale testing period (140 days straight).

Kale, Bean and Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

This is a quick-cooking soup ready in less than 45 minutes to make use of fall garden or farmer’s market vegetables, including your kale.  I enjoy the bright green hue of kale cooked separately in this soup. To skip that extra step, add kale directly to soup after it’s simmered for 10 minutes.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 whole leek, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed, and sliced

2 cups butternut squash, cut into 3/4 inch dice

4 carrots, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 celery stalks, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano

6 cups water

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices, or 1 cup freshly roasted home tomatoes

5 cups kale, (about 1 small bunch), stalks removed, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed well with hot water

Salt and pepper

1. In a soup pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the leek, butternut squash, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté until leek is wilted, 8 – 10 minutes, stirring often. Add chili powder and oregano and stir 1-2 minutes until fragrant.

2. Add the water, a few pinches of salt and the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are cooked, but not falling apart.

3. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan and cook the kale, covered, in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, and add to soup, along with beans. Season with additional salt, until the flavors pop, and pepper.

Butternut Squash, Kale and Corn

Serves 4

Kale with butternut squash and corn. (Photo by Alison Shaw).

This is an attractive combo of three fall favorites, especially in that period when squash comes to markets, but fresh local Morning Glory Farm corn is still available. If you can’t find fresh corn – which does add a nice light crunch – try the Cascadian Farms frozen corn. We love this side dish with seared scallops and a basil or lemon sauce.

1/2 bunch kale, leaves stripped off stalks, chopped into bite-sized pieces ( 4 to 5 cups)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 -3/4-inch dice (3 -4 cups)

2 ears corn, kernels removed from cob (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Black pepper

1 lime, quartered

1. In a large skillet with a lid, bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the kale. Cover and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally until tender, 4 – 6 minutes, depending on the kale. Drain in a colander, shaking a few times, to release steam and stop the cooking.

2. Dry the skillet and add the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the butternut squash and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and cooked without falling apart, about 15 minutes. Add a few pinches of salt while cooking. (The pan should be large enough to fit squash in a single layer). Add the corn, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper and cook 4 to 5 additional minutes, until corn is cooked. When ready to serve, add the kale back into the pan and stir gently to warm. Add another pinch of salt for the kale. Squeeze a little lime into the dish or pass lime wedges around for people to squeeze their own.


Alison Shaw and Catherine Walthers will be signing copies of their new book on Sunday, September 7, 4-6 PM at the Alison Shaw Gallery, Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs. www.alisonshaw.com. In addition to books, and Alison’s “Best of” new work from the 2014 season, Cathy will be providing taste samples of kale recipes from the book.  

Corn chowder with potatoes, celery, and leeks. — Alison Shaw Photography

Excerpted from Morning Glory’s Farm Food: Stories from the Fields, Recipes from the Kitchen by Gabrielle Redner with photography by Alison Shaw; published by Vineyard Stories, August, 2014. Morning Glory Farm is one of the local farms participating in the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival, October 16-20, 2014.

New Fields for an Island Farmer

by Jim Athearn, Farmer

_DSC6850.jpgSince I returned home to become a farmer in 1973, I have enjoyed walking in the footsteps of my Island ancestors, as well as countless generations of other farmers, who have turned the soil with a plow, dried hay in the June sun, admired green rows of healthy crops, led cattle to green pastures, and sat gratefully at a family table laden with foods drawn from our own lands and waters. I have felt a common bond with the men and women from all centuries who have worked hard and experienced suffering and joy from living with the forces of nature.

After forty years of thinking I was living in the past by my stubborn insistence on agriculture as my living and lifestyle, I am now finding I am not alone. All around me are people defining the future through small farms, living locally, and appreciating the simple goodness of fresh, pure food. I see this in the way my two sons and daughter are raising and feeding their own children, in the scores of enthusiastic applicants asking for work on our farm, in the vibrant West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, and in the new small farms popping up on Martha’s Vineyard. Eating local food has generated a new word, locavore, while across the nation food buyers are asking where and how their food was grown.

To be honest, we have always had people wanting local foods since we first set up our planks and sawhorses by the side of the road to sell vegetables.Through the years I frequently heard stories from our customers about how they visited their grandparents’ farms and enjoyed the lifestyle and food. However, these were also the first generations to reject farming for a living.They had come to believe there was no money in farming, and that the only food possible was from mass production on large farms. They got used to the supermarket quality of tomatoes and corn.They forgot what a good, fresh vegetable tastes like. Our customers, who have for almost forty years gone out of their way to buy fresh vegetables, were the exception, not the rule.

Many years ago, I ate in one of our local restaurants where the carrots — not my carrots but cheap ones from off-Island — were served as an afterthought to the entree and were tasteless mush. I thought, “These cooks do not respect the vegetables.” More recently, my daughter, Prudence, then a vegetarian and now a nutritionist, expressed great delight in the taste of some simple vegetable. I marveled that she could get so excited about a mere vegetable and realized that I, too, did not respect my vegetables, not the way she did.

I began to really taste each vegetable, unadorned with butter or salt, and now I know they are indeed equal partners to the meat on the plate. I could make a meal of sautéed shallots and bok choy now, if there wasn’t so much other good food to enjoy. I also began to appreciate their nutritional value.

I’ve realized:You can live on this stuff!

Like a converted agnostic, I want to preach to the world,“Respect your vegetables!” I want more of our customers to enjoy beets, Napa cabbage, and, of course, bok choy.This is one of the themes of this book and through these pages we are hoping to bring people a little closer to full appreciation and respect for our great home-grown foods—and the work and love that goes into them.

It was a great surprise and joy for me when our sons Simon and Dan wanted to join us on the farm. They’ve added new thoughts, energy, and excitement.Yet since the beginning we have been blessed with talented, dedicated employees who have contributed to our farm culture. Many have continued to work in agriculture after they have left us.

And many of the employees today reflect a growing interest in farming.They are serious about learning the technical skills of farming—about soil structure and chemistry, bio-controls, and cover cropping. On Chappaquiddick, four bright, educated men and women, led by Lily Walter, created a new farm from scratch on rolling land and unimproved soil. All veterans of our own farm, they have the experience and energy to make it work. Other young people, either new to the Vineyard or raised here, are launching serious ventures in food production.

Some of them may have picked up some lessons from Morning Glory Farm, but they have also created a new community of forward thinking farmers.They may be motivated by media buzz about the local-food movement and a recognition that people who work the land are to be respected. But this newly vitalized acceptance of farming as a way of life is reflecting what I believe is a universal desire to work with the land to feed ourselves. Chefs and food writers have it right: they want to use what’s grown close, and they know it tastes better. Local farms are the focus of it all.

I feel stirrings of excitement as I discover new fields of learning and improvement opening up for farmers today. In particular, I am excited about discussions of soil health and how new methods of tillage and cover cropping, combined with better soil tests and more precise balancing of crop nutrients, can lead to healthier, more productive crops with less fertilizer. This year we have started growing some of our corn and pumpkins using no-till methods. Daniel is experimenting with ways to grow strawberries that don’t get swamped with weeds, and Simon is expanding our greens and winter crops for extended seasons. Our kitchen, bakery, and cannery keep finding new ways to process our vegetables, fruits, and meats to create more products for our customers to try. A young woman on our staff who has been trained in viticulture has planted our first vineyard.The grapes will be used for jams and fresh eating.

On an island it is easier to conceive of finite-ness. In America at large the experience has been that there are no limits: go west, go up, get more. Here on the Island each resource is limited.The natural resources of the Island—good fishing and hunting, shellfishing, crop fields and pastures, and nature trails on conservation land—help us share our values with each other, reinforcing the bond between Islanders. This environment is supportive to farmers trying to earn a part or all of their living by selling local food.

Our Island values have helped the Vineyard become a prime place for people who want to keep land free for farms and for conservation. Here, we want to eat flavorful fresh eggs, grass-fed, hormone-free beef, humanely raised chicken, fresh vegetables, and even milk and cheese from cows and goats raised here. Here, we also want to teach our children about what that means.

It is gratifying to see bright young people eager to learn agriculture and to witness the evolution of respect and demand for wholesome, fresh, sustainably-grown food. I hope they’ll become the next generation of farmers and locavores. And that, just as I did, they will want to protect our land for the many creatures who call Martha’s Vineyard home.

Corn Chowder

Special equipment: Baking sheet, 6-Qt. saucepan/servings: 4–6

  • 4 ears corn, kernelled; reserve cobs
  • 1  lb. onions, 2 medium, medium dice; reserve skins
  • 2  ribs celery, medium dice; reserve ends and leaves
  • 1  leek, white only, medium dice; reserve green
  • 2  lb.Yukon gold potatoes, divided, 1 lb. large dice, 1 lb. medium dice
  • 1 c. milk or cream
  • 1⁄4 lb. pork belly, salt pork or bacon, medium dice, or cut in strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1⁄4 tsp. mustard seed or 1⁄2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1⁄4 tsp. crushed red pepper 1⁄2 tsp. thyme, finely minced Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dill, coarsely chopped 1⁄4 tsp. lemon zest
  • Corn broth


  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Prepare corn broth (see chef’s note below.)
  • Place large diced potatoes in 4-qt. saucepan with enough broth to cover, boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, cook 20 minutes. Strain, return potatoes to pot, add milk, and stir vigorously to combine texture of mashed potatoes.
  • Over medium heat, render pork in 6-qt. saucepan.When fat is opaque and begins to brown, add onion, celery, and leek; cook 8 minutes.
  • Add garlic, mustard seed, red pepper, thyme, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking while adding corn kernels and medium diced potatoes. Cover with 2 qts. of reserved broth, boil, and simmer 30 minutes.
  • Fold in mashed potatoes; mix until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle dill and lemon zest over soup prior to serving. Keep extra broth in the refrigerator and use in dishes that call for water or canned vegetable broths.

CHEF’S NOTE: Corn broth is a great way to use leftover parts of plants. Combine cobs, onion skins, and leek greens, roast until beginning to brown, 18–20 minutes. In 6 qt. sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine 3 qts. water, roasted trimmings, bay leaf and any stems and herb ends, boil. Reduce heat to medium, cook 30 minutes, strain and set aside. Keep broth in the fridge.

Rainbow chard, part of the rainbow chard, bacon, and cheese quiche recipe.
Rainbow chard, part of the rainbow chard, bacon, and cheese quiche recipe.

Rainbow chard, bacon, and cheese quiche

Recipe contributed by Barbara Leckerling of Chappaquiddick.

Special Equipment: pie pan, large skillet; servings: 6

  • 1 prepared pie crust (recipe, page 184)
  • 8 oz. bacon, cut into small chunks
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 6 c. chopped rainbow chard (about 1⁄2 bunch)
  • 5 oz. brie, cut into small chunks 8 eggs
  • 1/3 c. milk or fat-free half-and-half 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1⁄2 tsp. salt
  • 1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper


  • Heat oven to 450°.
  • Unroll the pie crust and set into a pie pan, crimping and trimming as needed to form an even edge. Set aside.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, combine the bacon, onion, and chard. Cook until the chard has wilted and released water, about 6 minutes.
  • Let the bacon mixture cool slightly, then use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the crust, arranging it in an even layer. Scatter the brie evenly over it.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, thyme, salt, and pepper.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the pie crust, then bake for 25 minutes, or until puffed and set at the center and lightly browned at the edges. If the crust browns too quickly, use strips of foil to cover the edges.

CHEF’S NOTE: This recipe calls for brie cheese, but I recommend substituting Springbrook Reading, a wonderful melting cheese from Vermont that is carried both at Morning Glory and in other fine cheese stores.

Roasted chicken with roasted peaches, tomatoes, and leeks.
Roasted chicken with roasted peaches, tomatoes, and leeks.

Roasted Chicken with roasted peaches, tomatoes and leeks

Special equipment: Large, oven-proof skillet; servings: 4

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1  tsp. butter
  • 2  stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 whole medium carrots, tops removed, cleaned, and sliced
  • 1  medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2  large leeks, white part only, sliced into rounds
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced sea salt
  • pepper
  • 4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped 2 peaches, sliced
  • 4 split breasts on the bone, skin on, or one whole chicken, halved or cut into parts
  • smoked paprika


  • 1⁄2 c. orange juice, or juice of 2 oranges
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Dash of hot sauce or Morning Glory’s Mellow Yellow chili sauce


  • Preheat the oven to 375°
  • Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat in a skillet.Add the celery, carrots, onions, leeks, and minced thyme. Sprinkle with two pinches of sea salt and four grinds of black pepper.
  • Sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Stir in tomatoes and peaches and immediately shut off heat.
  • Situate the chicken on top of the sautéed vegetables in a single layer.
  • Whisk together all the glaze ingredients in a bowl.
  • Brush on chicken or spoon over the top of the chicken. (Use only what you need; you won’t need all the glaze).
  • Sprinkle the chicken with a liberal sprinkle of salt, a grind of pepper, and a pinch of smoked paprika per chicken piece.
  • Cook for 45–50 minutes, basting every 15 minutes with the pan juices.

Justin Melnick, executive chef of the Terrace Restaurant at the Charlotte Inn, gave reporter Rich Saltzberg a tour of the wine cellar. — Rich Saltzberg

For Islanders like you who’ve graduated to accumulating wine by the case, the time may have come to consider cellaring your loot.

If you can’t imagine stowing your bottle bounty in anything but an actual cellar, so be it. In July your correspondent was inadvertently locked in, and therefore had ample opportunity to examine a bona fide, lavishly-stocked Edgartown wine cellar while interviewing award-winning executive chef Justin Melnick at the Terrace restaurant. Since Chef Melnick’s cell phone signal couldn’t penetrate the cellar to reach help upstairs, we were afforded ample time to talk about the chamber’s construction.

“The building of the wine cellar was pretty remarkable to witness,” said Chef Melnick. “Gery Conover [owner of the Charlotte Inn & Terrace Restaurant] has such a great vision for projects like this expansion, and gets results quickly.” He expanded on the process in a later conversation. “As I mentioned when we were locked in the wine cellar [lest readers think I exaggerated], it was all dug out by hand and transported out one bucket at a time through a small window leading to the back of the inn.”

Max Barbosa, who works at The Charlotte Inn, led the labor force with a helper and had the entire cellar dug out in just over a week, Chef Melnick said. After that, the concrete was poured, and the shelves were custom made by Dave Root who does a lot of the carpentry work for the inn. “This was a good winter project,” Chef Melnick continued, “when there is otherwise not much else happening. The attention to detail in the wine cellar is in line with the rest of the inn. All the copper pipes are glistening, everything was painted, light fixtures installed, the ‘stage is set’ as Gery often says around the property. Then it was my turn to fill it with wine, organize the locations of everything, and get it to a point where it is streamlined for easy access during service. Each bin has a number plate that Gery installed once I had an outline for how we were going to be setting it up.”

Done in a sort of an Edwardian style, the cellar has a regality you just wouldn’t expect from what is essentially a specialized storage room. As time wore on during our stay there however, the handsomeness of the surroundings gave way to crackpot ideas: maybe we could drink our way out? Eventually, after rapping on some pipes and then positioning his cell phone against one so it acted like a booster antenna, Chef Melnick reached somebody upstairs and we escaped without having to use the Remy XO as a battering ram.

The design moral? Like walk-in coolers and even, say, automobile trunks, wine cellars should have an exit failsafe. Remember that when you get the desire to go big and subterranean.

Cellar beware

If you’re unable to bankroll a stone-by-stone castle transfer from Europe to house your own subterranean bottle hoard or you haven’t inherited something with catacombs, you’re not out of luck. Without the need for so much as a crawlspace, safe storage for your liquid loved ones can be achieved above ground, sans masonry, for a relatively modest investment and with less risk of being trapped underground. A simple household closet, for example, can be transformed into a proper wine room, albeit a little one, with a short list of supplies and building materials and a solid understanding of what type of defenses you’ll be setting up for your wine’s wellbeing. Those defenses are as follows:

1. Blocking the sun: Sunlight is the bane of wine. Consider all your bottles (red or white) to be so fair skinned they’re practically albinos — with exposure akin to climbing into a skillet with bacon and eggs. Just because your wine comes in colored glass (as a minor hedge against sun damage) that’s not an invitation to display bottles where sunrays can reach them. Curb the urge to install a glass door on your budding wine closet. Your wine wants to hide in the dark like a mushroom. Let it. If you have more than one closet in your house, choose one that’s not adjacent to a window so opening it in the daytime doesn’t cause intermittent solar damage. You’ll of course need illumination in your wine closet but avoid mounting fluorescents. They can emit ultraviolet light that over time may degrade your wine.

2. Maintaining temperature: Wine likes it cool and steady. When wine gets too hot or too cold, its flavor and longevity are gutted. Fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature wine is most content at. Anywhere between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit is acceptable, however. You will need R19 insulation (at a minimum) throughout your wine closet to be able to keep temperatures in that range. Rigid insulation is easier to cut and sandwich. Though some homes may sustain these temperatures through beefy insulation alone, it is more likely that a small cooling unit (widely available online from companies such as Breezaire and CellarPro) will be necessary. Try not to choose a closet space adjacent to a refrigerator, dishwasher, or dryer, as those appliances are heat emitters. Definitely avoid choosing a closet space adjacent to a furnace. Be conscious of hot water pipes, or occasionally in old houses, steam pipes, running inside walls. Extra insulation may be required to offset the heat these can generate. Be wary of light fixtures that burn hotly.

3. Keeping moisture: Though horizontal storage is the customary method of keeping corks moist, uniform humidity augments that method and keeps corks extra happy. Wine with screw caps or artificial corks are not subject to threats from dryness but wine sealed with genuine cork risks cork-shrinkage, and the damaging oxygen intake that can occur as a result of such shrinkage. Fifty percent to eighty percent humidity is the accepted range for wine storage with seventy percent being the sweet spot. If shelling out for a humidifier seems too much, a bowl of water may suffice. However, humidity can’t be decently retained without a vapor barrier (likely polyethylene sheeting) lain over the insulation. If you store wine by the case, store the case upside down so the corks remain steeped.

4. Nixing agitation: Though the effects are different, shaking a bottle of wine is like shaking a bottle of Coca Cola in that you likely won’t enjoy the results upon opening. Safe to say you’d have to be pretty angry to shake a bottle of wine, unless it’s champagne and in that case you’d be just plain reckless. You can, however, be of otherwise sound mind and neglect to situate your wine away from sources of vibration such as some of the aforementioned appliances. Railroads not being extant on the Vineyard, exterior sources of chronic vibration are uncommon. However, if you suffer from one, shaking champagne and aiming the cork at the problem may prove therapeutic. Suffice it to say, wine, especially maturing wine, thrives on stillness.

Assembling the materials to realize your wine closet will take time and care and most assuredly, additional research but knowing how badly you want one, you’re going to make it happen. If for some reason you find you can’t muster the skills necessary to execute the wine closet of your dreams, an actionable backup plan is available. Standalone units can be bought from a wide variety of manufacturers and simply inserted in the designated closet with little more than a plug needed. Contrary to the preceding warning, you’ll need to accept that these units almost always sport glass doors. A sun-tight outer door is then a prerequisite.

You can manage that.

Lobster trap or not, Chef Melnick’s wine cellar aids him in holding some of the best wine events on Martha’s Vineyard. The next one features Lorenzo Savona on September 19 and 20 – well worth attending; theterracemv.com. Chef Melnick is also one of the featured chefs in the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival on October 16-19. For more information, visit: mvfoodandwine.com.

Red Mallow. — Susan Safford

Abigail-HigginsThe sun is falling steadily lower in the sky. It signifies not summer’s end, but tells us that it is drawing nigh. This amazing season has given gardeners much to appreciate and be thankful for. The heat waves experienced elsewhere did not materialize, despite predictions, and there have been few Japanese beetles and mosquitoes. Nights have been cool. Rainfall has been sufficient and often at night.

Scene-stealers in the August garden are the hybrid hibiscus now in bloom. Those unfamiliar with the theatrical plants’ dinner-plate sized flowers and stature are literally stopped in their tracks by them. What a floral tour de force!

The question of the August garden has become more perplexing, with height-of-bloom times speeding up almost yearly: stars of high summer such as oriental lilies and some phlox cultivars are almost passé by the beginning of the month. Fortunately, hibiscus hybrids seem to have resisted this speeding-up process, and still reliably take center stage in mid-August.

According to “Herbaceous Perennial Plants,” Allan M. Armitage’s big book of perennials (Stipes Publishing LLC), many of the garden hybrids were bred from Hibiscus moscheutos (“mos-KEW-tas”) a North American native, along with other vigorous members of the genus. Islanders know the beautiful pink stands of them, along our brackish coves and salt ponds, as “marsh mallows.”

Hybrid hibiscus plants share the hardy nature of their wild ancestors and the brilliant colors of their tropical relatives. (Armitage mentions the outstanding work done by the three Fleming brothers of Lincoln, Nebraska, in this hybridizing.) Many are patented plants and not always available in small local nurseries, but finding and growing them is worth the effort for the show they put on. The color range is white through pinks/lavenders to red and beyond red, to an almost black; one, ‘Old Yella,’ is a buttery primrose.

Space them out

The heights of hardy hibiscus hybrids vary from compact to super-sized, but most require plenty of room and air space. Do not try to shoehorn a hardy hibiscus into that small blank space that “just cries out” to be filled. Hardy hibiscus hybrids prefer full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. They appreciate adequate moisture but, unlike our beautiful, Island “marsh mallow,” they do not need to be planted in a swamp! Figure two to three feet wide and about four feet high for spacing most, with some becoming one to two feet taller where happy.

Hibiscus plants are categorized as woody shrubs. They are one of the last perennials to break dormancy and emerge in the spring. In the gardens where we care for them, we leave the woody stems until next year’s growth is well up, to avoid disturbing new shoots by cultivating. These woody stems are sturdy enough to be pressed into service to support the current year’s growth, a sort of built-in, self-grown, staking system.

You may encourage sturdier, bushier growth by pinching hardy hibiscus when the shoots are about six to eight inches tall. They benefit from fertilization, but hold off after the third week of June, or you may encourage vegetative growth at the expense of blossoms. Excessive feeding by Japanese beetles or hibiscus sawfly may indicate plants that are stressed; step up efforts at soil improvement.

Turk’s cap lilies

An emblem of Island roadsides and quiet shaded spots in August, the turk’s cap lilies have shone in recent weeks. While there are some people whose aesthetic prevents them from welcoming these towers of elegant orange into their premises, most of us are enchanted with their bright presence, easiness, ability to reproduce and increase on their own, and general resistance to the red lily beetle. So I am dismayed to see that many — though not all — are suffering from browning and loss of lower leaves. Am hoping to learn the cause of this disfigurement.

In the garden

Check grafted trees and shrubs, such as roses, for suckers originating from below the graft union. If they are not removed, eventually the entire plant will revert to whatever species supplied the rootstock.

Watering is paramount now. The afternoon sun is especially hot. The sun’s wavelength shift towards the infrared causes solid matter to heat up and hold heat differently than when the wavelength is primarily ultraviolet. Pots and garden seedlings may need watering twice daily. Keep plants looking good with a liquid feed.

Lift and divide bearded iris. Choose young, strong sections of rhizome. Trim off foliage and roots by two thirds and one third, respectively, and replant about one foot apart, with rhizome just at soil level.

I have seeded beets, carrots, more zucchini ‘Romanesco,’ Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, radicchio, and Portuguese kale but could have done much more — nothing ventured, nothing gained. Continue to weed and cultivate in vegetable gardens. The uncultivated crust that forms accepts less water, including dew, than cultivated soil does. Reemay over my three seeded rows of carrots will, I hope, hold in the moisture the seedlings need to grow well and keep out the bunny that has wormed its way through my fencing.

Parts of well-established clematis vines have succumbed to clematis wilt in my garden, and in others too. It is always a disappointment: to go for years without wilt, and then, in an otherwise satisfying season, to have it appear — “for no good reason,” as we always say. (Well, there is a reason, probably, but it’s not apparent to the gardener.)

If there are empty spots in your vegetable garden, or if you are clearing it out preparatory to departure, mulch them or sow with a green manure (cover crop) of some sort. If nothing else, it occupies the space and prevents the blown-in seeds of weeds becoming established.

The Pedler house in West Tisbury is one of only one hundred certified passive homes in the US.

Daryl Owens, builder Farley Pedler and their daughter Kazmira at the kitchen counter/dining table of their new home. — Photo by Tony Omer

Certified passive is not a psychological condition. It is the highest energy efficient standard used in home building today, according to Farley Pedler, owner of Farley Built, Inc. (formerly Drews Cove Builders). In May, Mr. Pedler, his wife, Daryl Owens, and their twenty-month-old daughter, Kazmira, moved into a finely appointed 800-square-foot, certified passive home he built on Doctor Fisher Road in West Tisbury. The home is one of one hundred certified passive homes in the United States.

“I have built seven homes on Martha’s Vineyard in the last couple of years that use energy efficient design and construction elements that far exceed the building code requirements,” Mr. Pedler said. “But our house is more energy efficient than any of those.”

Few cost saving measures were used in the modern looking interior of the architect-designed house. Mr. Pedler said the house would cost over $400,000 if he hadn’t built the house himself. He said the energy efficient aspects of the house added about ten to fifteen percent to the total cost.

The Pedler’s new certified passive house has a fifteen foot high interior peak giving it a sense of being larger than its 800 square feet of floor space.

The Pedler house has a large multipurpose room that incorporates a living room, kitchen, and dining area with a half bath. There is an expanse of windows on the south side, facing a large yard of new grass and woods beyond. The bedroom is a separate room with a full bath that takes up about a third of the total floor space. There is a loft area above the bedroom. The mechanicals are in the full, partially finished basement along with laundry and storage areas.

The house uses a energy recovery ventilator that is connected to a geothermal system. Tubing buried around the perimeter of the house maintains a constant exchange of air with little heat loss, but also conditions the air by removing excess moisture. The heating requirements for the house, even in the dead of winter, are so minimal that a water source heat pump designed to heat a small boat was used.

Mr. Pedler said that he expects to incur only about $1,600 in total energy expenses per year in the new house, while the owner of a conventional built house its size could expect to spend at least $4,000.

The house is wired and plumbed for solar panels that Mr. Pedler said he plans to add in the future. The panels could produce more energy than the house uses, eliminating energy costs.

A passive energy efficient home is built to optimize heat gain in the winter by locating the building so that the windows allow the most amount of sunlight possible. It is super-insulated to retain that heat for as long as possible. In the summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, less sunlight hits the windows and an awning system will be used to block the sun and keep the building cool.

To be certified passive, a house must meet standards set by the non-profit Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), a national organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. “Only about 100 houses have been certified to date in the United States, and there are at least that many now under construction,” Michael Knezovich, PHIUS director of communications, told The Times.

Mr. Knezovich said PHIUS uses standards first developed in Germany, where thousands of houses have met the stringent requirements. They also use a German computer-modeling program to determine the design’s passive capabilities before construction begins.

The upstairs loft of the house.

In order to achieve the certified rating, Mr. Pedler was required to hire a PHIUS certified consultant who helped guide the process from design through construction, and a third party PHIUS certified inspector who made multiple inspections during the course of construction. The house plans had to meet minimum standards when cranked through the computer-modeling program. Four blower door tests, where a large exhaust fan is used to detect leaks, were conducted to test the efficiency of the construction at key points during construction.

Mr. Pedler hired an architect with certified passive design experience, Steven Baczek of Reading, who is now working on his fifth certified passive home design. Mr. Baczek told The Times, ”Mr. Pedler’s house is an energy efficient house on steroids.” He said there are four major areas of concern when designing passive homes that breed success or failure: the mechanical elements and materials, air sealing, windows and doors, and insulation.

Mr. Baczek said that meeting with the building team before the design is complete is an important step in getting everyone on the same page. “We try to keep our window of heat loss for the entire project to less than the size of a playing card. Any mistake during construction can open that window.” He said that he hopes his designs will not only help set a new standard for energy efficiency, but will produce homes that will still be relevant in 150 years.

The house’s southern exposure has the most glass to increase the solar heat gain in the winter. The lower walls are 20 inches thick and filled with insulation.

The Pedler family wanted to buy land in Chilmark, where they rented for four years, but real estate in Chilmark was more than they could afford, so they settled on four plus acres just north of the West Tisbury school in West Tisbury. “Our new house will become our guest house when we win the lottery and build our big house,” Mr. Pedler said, half joking. He said for him, the new house is as much a learning exercise for the future main house as it is a place for them to live. He hopes to begin on the main house in a couple of years.

The chickens scratch up everything outside the bricked-in herb gardens, weeding and fertilizing as they go. — Lily K. Morris

The huge oak that was the centerpiece of our Chappaquiddick front yard died from a gall wasp infestation a couple of years ago. The house was sited to be near this tree that was magnificent, even in its youth. It shaded our house and yard for 40 summers, and it held our children and friends’ children in its branches for the photos that show them growing older year by year. It was a hard loss to accept, but as a 17th century Japanese poet wrote: “The barn’s burnt down… now I can see the moon.” With the oak gone, our yard has entered a period of slow but exhilarating transformation.

The stump of the huge oak that once shaded the Chappaquiddick lawn.
The stump of the huge oak that once shaded the Chappaquiddick lawn.

The biggest change was the amount of sunlight filling the yard. Some plants seemed happy with this, like the lilacs and shad that had been shaded for years by the oak’s long reach. Much more sun fell on the vegetables growing in the fenced garden, but large patches of the grass and moss that made up our lawn started dying. It didn’t take long for things to look pretty shabby. I was still mourning the oak when a visit to Island gardener Pat Brown’s yard last summer got me thinking more creatively about ours. His front yard is filled with vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, and vines, making a pleasant and riotously vibrant jungle of vegetation between the driveway and the front steps. I realized that while I like a bit of lawn, vegetables are much more interesting, and I’d rather grow food.

Since we didn’t want to fence in the whole yard — to deal with the deer, and occasional goat escapees — I decided to try to plant things they don’t like to eat. I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a deer-proof plant, but from my years of gardening, I know there are some things they’re less likely to eat, for example, wild arugula, garlic, some herbs, and maybe raspberries. The challenge, though, was how to turn our sandy, rock-hard soil full of oak tree roots into a bed loose and fertile enough to plant anything.

Last July, I laid cardboard on the mostly dead grass next to the front wall of the house, between the chicken patio — so named because our chickens like to sun themselves there — and the front steps. I covered the cardboard with layers of hay from goat bedding and seaweed. Then I lay boards across it to keep the chickens from strewing it everywhere in their search for worms. By October, the soil was soft enough to dig up, and I transplanted herbs from my fenced garden. I surrounded each plant with old bricks to keep the chickens from digging it up. The chickens scratch up everything in between, weeding and fertilizing as they go.

Some plants in the old flower bed outside the fenced garden always get eaten by deer or rabbits, while others, like daffodils, are never bothered. In the fall, I moved the vulnerable plants inside the garden, and transferred a couple hundred daffodils to the edges of the yard, where I figured they could fend for themselves. In the newly freed up bed, I transplanted some raspberries suckers from the canes I’d dug  into a vegetable bed “temporarily” – about four years ago. I’m not sure if raspberries are on the deer’s list of likely edibles, but I’ll find out! Next to that bed, I laid some more layers of cardboard, hay, and seaweed, topped by dead oak branches for chicken protection, for future expansion. I cleaned out another old flower bed, added some compost, and planted garlic there. Next to it I added some more “lasagna” layers to widen it, too, after the cardboard and hay rots.

During this period of transformation, I heard about hugelkulture, a kind of raised bed made by piling up logs and other woody debris, and adding a layer of soil on top into which the plants are added. Permaculturists use it because its woody debris holds water and slowly releases nutrients over many years as the wood rots. It’s a good way to clean up the yard as well as add a growing bed without the work of digging. A good article on the Web is found at:  http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/many-benefits-hugelkultur.

I think it’s best to let the hugelkutlture pile settle for at least a few months, but I didn’t bother. Our yard had several piles of rotting logs from trees we’d taken down, and a pile of old fire wood from before we converted to a pellet stove. In the fall, I piled some of these up, added some goat bedding, dried stalks from the garden, and topped it with little dirt here and there. Into it I transplanted some gooseberries suckers, which are nice and thorny and so maybe deer-proof, a few poke and dandelion roots — weeds that I like to eat — and a couple of flowering bushes.

Unfortunately, our yard’s biggest crop in recent years has been voles. Last summer they ate every single green bean I planted, many tomatoes, potatoes, etc. Well, it seems that while I thought I’d built a hugelkulture mound, the voles were busy converting it into a vole condo. Tunnels appeared everywhere, and by spring, all the plants but the gooseberries were gone. Gardening is nothing if not full of disappointment and constant learning experiences!

In the spring, when I was ready to plant another hugelkulture bed that I’d made around the base of the big oak stump, I decided the plants needed to be vole-proof as well as deer and goat-proof. I have a small arugula business, so I was glad to have an extra area to put these plants that seem to be eaten only by humans. I transplanted about 50 from where they had seeded themselves in my fenced garden. They look happy enough so far.

Grass has its uses, such as at the edges of the yard where it can be mowed to limit the sassafras, honeysuckle, and bittersweet vines always invading from the surrounding woods. It’s also nice to walk on from one place to another, and to look at — where it’s growing really well. When I spent summers on Chappy as a kid, I don’t remember people having lawns. There was a little grass around the houses that got mowed at the beginning of the summer. Flower beds were rare, too. People were more interested in being at the beach or out on the water than taking care of a yard. That was before landscapers were doing the work. I like grass, but I see no reason to work at growing it where it clearly has decided it doesn’t want to grow — there are so many more interesting plants than grass!

Tina Miller's herbed potato salad. — Photo by Alison Shaw

Summer’s finally here, and after a very long winter (and spring.) spent warming ourselves and our food over hot stoves, it’s pretty nice to look forward to cool dishes we don’t have to cook. These are all great salads to make for company on the Vineyard. They can accompany anything — barbeque, luncheons, dinner for your family or just a treat for yourself.

quinoa.jpgQuinoa Salad with Black Beans, Corn and Edamame

Serves 8

You can be flexible with the dressing: if you don’t have cumin, just use chili powder or try adding a bit of cayenne for additional heat if you like it spicy. Dress the salad just before eating. The quinoa will absorb dressing as it sits, so you can add more lemon or lime juice as desired. This recipe makes enough for a crowd or can easily be cut in half. (Recipe from “Soups + Sides,” by Catherine Walthers.)

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed well and drained

2 1/4 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup frozen edamame beans, without the pod

Kernels from 2 ears fresh corn (approximately 1 cup)

1 cup canned black beans, rinsed in hot water

1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, and diced

1/2 to 1 cup cilantro leaves, washed well, spun dry and loosely chopped

Dressing:  6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon each chili powder and ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1.  Place the quinoa, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Bring  to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook on low for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Turn off heat and let rest for 10 minutes.  Fluff with fork, add to a large bowl and cool to room temperature.

2.  Bring another saucepan with water to a boil. Add edamame and boil for 2 minutes and then add corn, and continue boiling for 2 minutes longer. Drain the edamame and corn and run under cold water to stop the cooking and keep the color. Roast the red pepper. Add corn, edamame, red pepper and black beans to the quinoa.

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and salt. When ready to serve, pour dressing over quinoa and vegetables and toss  gently to combine all ingredients.  Add cilantro and mix gently. Taste and add more salt and citrus if necessary.  Serve at room temperature.

Herbed Potato Salad

Serves 6

New potatoes are just young potatoes — they’re harvested early and are small in size. They are very sweet and tender, and do not need peeling, which makes them perfect for potato salad. This salad is made with a Dijon vinaigrette, and is best when it’s served warm or at room temperature. (Recipe adapted from “Vineyard Harvest: A Year of Good Food on Martha’s Vineyard” by Tina Miller.)

2 pounds new potatoes, such as fingerling, red, and/or purple

Dijon Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, then add the chopped herbs.

2. Fill a large pot with cold water, add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes, until they are tender and can be easily pierced with a knife. Remove pot from heat; drain. Set potatoes aside and let them cool just enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Slice the warm potatoes in half and place them in a serving bowl. Gently toss with the vinaigrette before serving.

Summer Peach and Baby Kale Salad

salad-square.jpgServes 4

This 3-ingredient salad is nice for company, especially with flavorful juicy peaches. Baby kale is available weekly at the West Tisbury Farmers Market and at Cronig’s. The salad also features fresh mozzarella marinated in lemon, garlic and basil. The marinade/dressing, along with the mozzarella, is then poured over the baby kale and sliced peaches. Easy and delicious. (Recipe from “Kale, Glorious Kale” by Catherine Walthers, coming out in August.)

5 to 6 cups baby kale, long stems removed, rinsed and spun dry

1 large or 2 medium juicy, ripe peaches (or nectarines)

1 (8-ounce) container small, fresh mozzarella balls, cut in half or quarters

Lemon Basil Marinade/Dressing

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 pinches kosher salt and black pepper

6-8 basil leaves, cut into thin slices

Make the marinade/dressing in a medium bowl by combining the zest, lemon, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Add the basil and mozzarella and let sit for 10-15 minutes (longer is okay too).

Place the baby kale in a wide salad bowl. Just before serving, pour the mozzarella and all the marinade dressing onto the kale salad and toss gently with tongs. Peel and slice the peaches, fairly thinly. (Nectarines don’t usually need to be peeled.) Add to the salad, and serve immediately.

Catherine Walthers is a private chef and the author of “Raising the Salad Bar,” “Soups + Sides,” and the upcoming “Kale, Glorious Kale,” all with photographs by Alison Shaw.

Crabgrass can creep over an entire lawn...but is that a bad thing? — Rasbak, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Late June has come and Vineyarders, when they’re not madly serving the tourist economy, are snoozing in hammocks, hurling Frisbees, tending barbeques, and enjoying countless other recreational activities on the surface where summer fun gets done: the ubiquitous lawn. It’s about this time of year you may find something has begun to creep in amongst your precious blades of fescue, something pale and sinister. (Cue John Williams’ infamous two note progression). You may think it’s a trick of the light. Not your lawn! You baby your lawn. (Let’s hear that two note progression again). You take another look. One, just one — you reach down to rip it out. (Two-note progression with a little more tempo). Oh, it seems connected to another. That seems connected to — (let’s have maximum tempo) — dozens, no scores, of little green octopi. You, friend, are in the midst of a crabgrass invasion.

Of the two major theories on how crabgrass, an immigrant from the old world, came to our shores, the government introduction theory is fuzziest, as it seems to lack verifiable documentation. It purports that in the mid 19th century, prior to the establishment of the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Patent Office imported crabgrass for use as a forage plant for livestock. The other theory is that crabgrass seeds contaminated one or more shipments of grain to England in the 19th Century. After it flourished there, it somehow leapt to North and South America.

However it arrived, crabgrass is now found in every US state except Alaska. Whether or not it was a forage plant well over a century ago, it certainly is now. As dismaying as it might sound, you can buy crabgrass seed in bulk. For the homeowner, such a purchase might seem like a prelude to madness. But for the rancher, a grass that’s packed with nutrition and flourishes in poor soils is smart choice.

In other parts of the world, particularly Africa, crabgrass is a food crop. In the late 20th Century, an engineer from Senegal named Sanoussi DiaKite developed a husking machine for a variety of African crabgrass called fonio. The previous method of husking had been tedious manual labor. Once husked, the fonio seeds, which happen to be gluten free, can be made into pasta, bread, porridge, beer, or couscous. So the next time you find yourself in certain regions of Africa, you can have sweet revenge on an old enemy by simply devouring it. Look at your lawn long enough and it may be motivation enough to plan a trip.

Here on the Vineyard, where the linguini potential of crabgrass has yet to be tapped (take note entrepreneurs), battles for homogeneous turf are ever-raging. What many homeowners may not know is that the enemy has almost certainly established a beachhead the preceding year. The two crabgrasses rife on the Island, large or hairy crabgrass (digitaria sanguinalis) and smooth crabgrass (digitaria ciliaris) can sew up one-hundred and fifty-thousand seeds per plant. According to the Penn State Extension, since crabgrass grows quite low — lower than your mower blade can safely cut — if upper growth is mowed off repeatedly, a single grass could produce two or three crops in a season (up to four-hundred and fifty-thousand seeds). In the decade of chemical innocence following the Second World War, cuddly compounds like potassium cyanate, and even tear gas, were used to sterilize crabgrass seed in residential lawns. Today, there are saner chemical controls. Like many nurseries and garden centers on the Island, Vineyard Gardens in West Tisbury sells many of them.

“Our best selling lawn product would have to be Jonathan Green crabgrass preventer,”  said Laura Stone, nursery manager at Vineyard Gardens. “No one likes crabgrass. We have one for established lawns, and another you can put down when seeding a new lawn.” For those who are chemical shy, skip Cross Fit for the week and slip on those gardening gloves to remove crabgrass manually. A rainy day is best as the grass pulls easier. Pulling must be repeated for several years in order to work, however. A single grass can bring you back to square one. If you’re planting a new lawn, and the area is small enough, consider solarizing the area by covering the soil with clear plastic, nuking seeds that may be hiding in there. Wait for the window between late August to the first day of October if you want a new lawn and fear old crabby. According to Thomas Kowalsick of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, grass grown at that time, when property selected and fertilized, will mesh densely and make penetration by crabgrasses more difficult.

If you do find yourself harboring more crabgrass than traditional turf, there are likely support groups available. In lieu of attending one, you can take solace in crabgrass’s ability to help hide all your dandelions, chickweed, and clover.

Rain barrels collect rain that would otherwise be wasted, and provide water for thirsty plants, in an environmentally friendly way. — Photo by Michael Cummo

In the coming months, hot sunny days are likely to outnumber rainy ones. Plants and gardens around the Island will suffer if they don’t get the water they require, but water pumped from coastal ponds can be expensive, not to mention harmful to the Island’s natural resources. The Lagoon Pond Association (LPA) offers a solution to keep your plants thriving in an environmentally friendly way year-round: the Ivy Rain Barrel Program.

Rain barrels are large plastic containers that connect via downspouts to the exterior of a house, preferably near a garden. The LPA lists the following reasons as the top 5 for rain barrel use:

1.To protect rivers, streams, and ponds from runoff pollution

2.To divert water from the municipal storm drain system

3.To conserve a vital natural resource and reduce water bills

4.To use the nitrogen-rich rain water to grow healthy and lush plants

5.To control moisture levels around the foundation of your home

The 42’’H x 22’W x 18’’ L Ivy Rain Barrel, which is made from recycled plastic, sports a child- and bug-proof lid and holds up to 50 gallons of water. Valves toward the barrels’ underside can be fastened to hoses and irrigation drip systems, allowing for immediate reuse of the water collected during a storm that would otherwise soak into groundwater and cause nitrogen levels, and therefore algae, in local ponds to increase.

Ivy barrels, $81, are available for purchase at the Tisbury Farm Market or Middletown Nursery on State Road. For more information visit www.rainbarrel.org/lagoonpond.

Not too big, not too small…

In the home of Anna Edey, tendrils and blossoms fill the air with fragrance. — Photo by Michael Cummo

No two people are alike in their sense of the perfect-sized home. And over a lifetime, our needs change as families expand, then shrink. Sometimes the waist-band of a home is let out once again as an elderly parent is taken in or a post-graduate needs time to explore new options.

These days, for so many of us concerned about our poor besieged planet, our priorities have shifted from showing off to maintaining a decent, honorable, non-glacier-melting carbon footprint. This too dictates our sense of what defines a Just Right House.

The Too Big House — the trophy homes that dot our Island — are on their way, let us hope, to being sneered out of existence, much the way the seaside mansions of Newport, Rhode Island’s, gilded age were derided as white elephants.

On the other end of the house-sizing spectrum these days, an idealistic movement is afoot to patch together — usually it’s a DIY job — a house so conveniently tiny, one can place it on the back of a flatbed truck and move cross-country with it. This only works for individuals with zero degrees of claustrophobia, and this narrows (no pun intended!) the field considerably, although hats off to anybody giving it a try.

Three sets of householders on Martha’s Vineyard, out of a wide population of people who’ve found similar satisfaction here, shared their Just Right homes with the MV Times this month.

Anna Edey wanted to live in a greenhouse

The iconic Anna Edey, pioneer in the Island’s long march towards organic gardening with her greenhouse, Solviva, built her house on an expanse of dewy emerald acres in West Tisbury in 1980. She raised two daughters here, both of whom come back for visits with their children and, all the while, the home has breathed in and out around the original chatelaine without an inch of its indoor space being wasted.

The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability from solar panels to composting toilets.
The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability from solar panels to composting toilets.

“I especially wanted to live in a greenhouse,” she says under the pale morning light of a ceiling-length skylight. Indeed, everywhere one looks, tendrils and blossoms fill the air with spring fragrance. Originally she’d needed to prove she could grow fruits and vegetables indoors. “For four years I had the most persistent tomato plants, big around as tree trunks. There were avocado branches pressed up against the skylight as if they had fists trying to break higher. It was crazy!”

Eventually the cultivation of food transferred to the Solviva greenhouse on the acreage below. Nowadays Ms. Edey grows only flowers and herbs in her home. Her favorite spot is a claw-foot tub set into the far corner of her narrow solarium in an Eden’s bower of geraniums and begonias. The Swedish weaver has a positive libido for color and aesthetics and every cranny holds something exquisite — a rose-hued Tiffany lamp, a copper bowl of salmon-pink roses, paintings, stacks of coffee table books, and vibrant Persian tribal rugs strewn over hardwood floors.

Ms. Edey has added a studio and an office, but the domestic sphere by itself factors down to a cosy 1,500 square feet. The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability, from solar panels to composting toilets with a filtration system, to her beloved Nissan LEAF which she tops off herself at home.

And let us not end this discussion here: For more fascinating information on this way of life, pick up a copy of Ms. Edey’s book “Green Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Learning The Art of Living Well Without Causing Harm To Our Planet And Ourselves.” Included are designs for similar sanctuaries (as Ms. Edey calls them) of 600 to 800 square foot patterns.

Tom and Jaye Shelby wanted a just-right life

Jaye and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather) bought a snug house in the Campground with just enough room for them (and their dogs).
Jaye and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather) bought a snug house in the Campground with just enough room for them (and their dogs).

Educator Jaye Shelby and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather), with an empty nest in Manhattan and Rockland County after their three grown kids followed their bliss to other corners of the country, purchased a small Victorian cottage at the western edge of the Campground in Oak Bluffs.

“We bought it for the view,” says Mr. Shelby. Who wouldn’t? The two-bedroom cottage faces Sunset Lake across the street, with the commanding vista of Squash Meadow rising high and green beyond it. Adjust your head a mere 20 degrees and you’re staring at the glittering sweep of the Oak Bluffs harbor, arguably one of the world’s most alluring seaports.

Typically, the cottage had declined for decades in the hands of an elderly lady, a situation more congenial to cars than houses. Mr. Shelby explains, “It was falling apart. We had to open it out, insulate it, put in heating, rip out the orange shag carpeting — like that.”

Similar to Anna Edey’s house, the Shelby manse expands and contracts as needed for company. A small downstairs guest room is snugged up against the front parlor. Should all the Shelby crew come for a family reunion — grown kids, significant others, and significant pets as well — then the two upstairs offices — what the Shelbys call their “man cave” and “girl cave” have sofas that fold out to beds. At the rear of this upstairs second floor, Jaye & Tom have their master bedroom under a fairy tale steepled roofline.

An upstairs balcony and a downstairs porch, crammed with wicker rocking chairs, keep the ever-loving view in focus.

And there’s another element of this Just Right House: No mortgage. Tom and Jaye love to travel and, in fact, when you’re friends when them, it’s hard to catch them between trips to the Galapagos, the Turks and Caicos and, this month, the midnight sun of Iceland.

Hmm, must be a connection between the Just Right House and the Just Right Life?

Paul Mohair downsized year-round

Paul Mohair in his downsized kitchen.
Paul Mohair in his downsized kitchen.

New Jersey lawyer Paul Mohair, now director of Edgartown Council On Aging, has lived in houses big and small. His first house here, while not a trophy home, was nonetheless a glam spread, off Tea Lane Road in Chilmark. In the classic year-round Vineyard ritual, he made his nut by renting it out in the summer, and luxuriating in its spacious rooms during the off season.

In the last few years Mr. Mohair decided to settle more organically into Vineyard life. He sold the Chilmark home and took the hugely satisfying COA job. The transition was made smooth by the adorable two-story cottage he found off a rural road in West Tisbury; close to the business district, yet “private and quiet” — his top priorities.

Sometimes a dwelling is designed with perfect feng shui, calculated or otherwise. The cottage is set back from a minimally-landscaped front yard, and a commodious stone patio behind for all of one’s entertaining needs. Indoors the small living space is divided by a long deep gourmet-friendly kitchen, a dining area to seat up to eight people, and a nook with over-stuffed cushions around a low coffee table. The single bathroom is sited downstairs, along with a bedroom.

The piece de resistance lies up a spiral staircase: a second-floor turret room with windows open to every point of the compass. Full disclosure: I lived here myself in the spring of 2010, and I did more writing, reading, meditating, wind-watching and star-gazing from this room than I’d done in the whole of my 23 years of living on the Vineyard (a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea; this room is a creativity-incubator).

Does Mr. Mohair use this tower room for dream-weaving?

Not so much; he’s an outdoor guy, in the sun and rain pedaling his bike the 12 miles into his office in Edgartown (“It’s 8 miles to my girlfriend’s house,” he cheerfully adds.) And what does he do on his days of leisure, you might ask? He makes a concerted effort to cycle 40 miles a day.

Still, the house perfectly suits his own requirements for privacy, charm, comfort and, ah, that quintessential, sublime sense of being home.