Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not too bugged

Maybe it is the heat or the humidity or the lack of rain, but I have not seen very many garden pests this year.  Now that the harvest is dying down, I have noticed some evidence of bugs - bites taken from beans, trimmed tomato branch tips, holes in potato leaves - but not the kind of infestations I expected.  I like to think it is because I attract so many birds to my yard, but even they seem to be hunkered down elsewhere these days.  (I just saw a female cardinal in the tulip tree - panting!  That is how hot it is.)

Cabbage whites are another story, however.  I want to plant brassicas next year, but from the plethora of little white butterflies flitting around my yard, I can tell that bringing broccoli and cabbage to maturity will be a challenge.  I'm planning an investment in floating row covers.

This year I discovered one problem with mechanical plant protection, and that is accessing the plants.  My rabbit barrier allowed the bean plants to grow big and healthy, but bending over from the waist to do all the bean picking was not so healthy for my back.  I eventually resorted to climbing inside the fence, so I could also crouch and squat.

I am still battling the rabbits.  I thought I had only one, living under the shed, but while photographing flowers the other day, I found this one in the meadow.

I have been setting the trap every night, but so far I have not been able to lure either of these to a one-way ticket out of the yard.  I also need to perform a border patrol, to make sure the fence has not been breached somewhere.  Maybe this weekend, after it cools off a bit.

Not too many flowers are left, but my new hydrangea has not yet received the memo.

More pink than lime

A little lime
Also, the hostas and rudbekia on the north side are still hanging in there.

Besides the cabbage whites, I have seen a lot more butterflies this year.  I recognize the monarchs and swallowtails, but can't name the others.  For years, I have had milkweed growing in the front yard, but no eggs or caterpillars.  Now I have the milkweed established in the meadow, so I am hoping the monarchs take advantage of that.

Or is it too late already?  I am not up on my entomology, but this site says there should be another generation before their migration.  Let's hope!

Monday, August 30, 2010

My next camera

... is going to have a telephoto lens.

Can you spot the squirrel?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Summer bouquet

The flowers are fading, but a quick trip around the yard yields a few heat-resistant beauties.



Russian sage



End of summer bouquet

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Where ya bean?

I'm starting to get sick of saucing tomatoes and freezing beans, but other than onions and garlic, those have been my two most successful crops this year.  Obviously, I need a more balanced diet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wascally wabbits!

Or, I should say, rabbit.  One down, one to go, as far as I can tell.  Once fall comes, I will have to mount a border patrol, to make sure there are no breeches in the ramparts.  Ironic, isn't it?  I am trying to keep the bunnies out of my backyard habitat.

No rabbits were spotted at Lurie Gardens in Chicago during our visit last Saturday, either.  Other than bees, not much wildlife at all.

Like my gardens at home, the ornamental grasses were coming into their own.

Hostas were hanging on for dear life.

The garden is a bright spot in a Garmin-defying valley of high rises.

There was even water (ala the Beverly Hillbillies "cee-ment pond").  It was people friendly - you could sit along side and dangle your feet in the water - but again, no sign of animals.

My own coneflowers are rarely without goldfinch these days, but the only birds we saw downtown Chi-town were raggedy redwing black birds, sparrows, sea gulls, and "sky rats" (pigeons) hanging around "The Bean" and scavenging for dropped hot dog buns and cheeze doodles.  Ah, well.  The Lurie was still a lovely respite to the city streets.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Putting food by

In a previous lifetime, I grew all our vegetables, some of our fruit, and even a chicken or two, filling freezer and pantry with homegrown organic goodness.  I was a full time mom at the time.  Once I started working outside the home, the gardening and home canning/freezing began to dwindle, though.  Now that I am once again in the throes of stocking up, I understand why.  Preserving for one takes a bit of time and effort, let alone for a family of four.

Last Monday, we took another trip to Grabill, where I purchases a replacement gasket for my pressure canner (plan to can some dry beans), a kitchen scale (my little digital one is not up to the job of weighing out the influx of produce), a salsa screen for my Roma Tomato Strainer, and freezer bags (on sale).  As we left the store, we were greeted by the incongruous sight of an Amish girl driving her horse and buggy down the street while talking on a cell phone.

Then we stopped at a new grocery in town, plus a farm stand outside Leo, and then we headed to the opposite side of town, to Huntertown Gardens, where I purchased a lug or a half-bushel or whatever it was of Red Haven peaches.  I have been in peach heaven ever since.  It has been years since I have had a good peach.  Even the ones at the Co-op are not only flavorless but aroma-less.  But these!  I picked one up and took a good sniff and swooned at its peachiness.

I tried putting some of the peaches through the Roma, hoping to get peach puree, but it was more juice than solids.  I froze that in pint jars.  I thought about trying the salsa screen, but decided I lacked the time required for experimentation.  Instead, I peeled (by scalding first) and quartered the peaches, and after a brief soak in a Fresh Fruit solution, froze some on cookie sheets and some in freezer bags.  I'm thinking mid-winter peach cobbler for the former, yogurt parfait for the latter.  And, of course, I have been eating some of them fresh.

Oh, yeah, experimentation.  I think that is something that will have to wait until my retirement.  Every year I have some garden experiments in mind, like taste testing tomatoes, but rarely do they come to fruition.  Instead, all the paste tomatoes get thrown in the hopper together for sauce, and all the non-paste tomatoes for juice, and the green beans?  Well, who the hell can tell the difference between Provider, Empress and Blue Lake Bush?  Not me.

And yields?  Sometimes I remember to weigh the produce before eating/freezing/canning it, and sometimes not.  I need a better system of picking and recording before using.  The new kitchen scale will help, as prior to its purchase, I had to weigh large tomatoes individually on the digital scale and add up all those pounds and ounces.  Not very efficient.

And efficient, workable systems are what gardeners who work outside the home need if they want to keep track of the fruits of their labor.  I'll get right on that, in my spare time.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It is risen

I recently provided the venue and food for a baby shower for my daughter.  The menu included angel food cake, which I had not made in a while.  The recipe on the box said the cake pan had to be at least 4" x 10", and while my angel food cake pan is what I would consider standard, still I measured it.  Yep, 4" x 10" - but just barely.  With trepidation, I watched it rise...

... and rise...

... and rise.

But it never overflowed.  In fact, it shrank back down to a normal height.

Then I tried not to butcher it when cutting it out of the pan.  Not quite successful there, but it was very edible. I've never tried an angel food cake from scratch - I'm daunted by what to do with the left over egg yolks.

With a little rearranging of furniture and a lot of decluttering, the West Wing proved to be a nice place for the gathering.  With the newly laid mulch, the backyard was almost presentable.  If everyone hadn't been focused on the food and the gifts and the mother-to-be, they might have noticed that, while the coneflowers are fading, the goldfinch visit them often to feed on the seed heads.  Their yellow is matched by the brown-eyed Susans and zinnias and the gooseberry tomatoes as well as the swallowtail butterflies, but the marigolds and monarchs are orange.  Then there is the almost-black purple of the pokeberry, the rich purple of the butterfly bush, and the lavender of the Russian sage.

I was hoping my garden would provide most of the food for the repast, but the potatoes aren't quite ready (and I think the experiment of growing potatoes on newspaper under straw is not going to produce a great harvest), it has been too hot for the zucchini and peppers to set blossoms, and I don't grow sweet corn.  A local farm stand helped me out, though, and we enjoyed a summery feast that at least used up some of my tomatoes.


There is something about the light in mid August that whispers, Summer is almost over.  With the help of my SO, I accomplished many of my gardening goals this year.  Now it is time to reap what we've sown, put food by for the winter, and start dreaming of what we hope to achieve next year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You say "frittata" and I say "frittahtah"

One nice thing (among many!) of occasionally working from home is I can make myself a fresh lunch.  Today's entree was based on a recipe for Baked Zucchini Frittata for One or Two (found here), but really, all you need to do is saute some garden produce, mix it with eggs, milk, and herbs, top with cheese and bake.  I used zucchini, onion (lots!), garlic, sweet pepper, paste tomato, all from the garden, cilantro and cayenne for spices, and sharp cheddar and parmesan for cheese.  Yum!  No pictures - I ate it before I thought of blogging about it.  And, yes, I ate it all by myself, but this recipe could serve two if there were a couple of side dishes.  Like bacon?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Like drinking a vine-ripe tomato

The tomato harvest has begun.  In an effort to clear the decks (i.e. my breakfast bar), I decided to juice the current crop, using my super-duper Roma Food Strainer and Sauce Maker.

Talk about easy peasy!  Put the thing together (like most things, it gets easier after the first time), wash and stem the tomatoes (I cored them a bit, too), fill the hopper, crank the crank, and presto!  Tomato juice!

Seriously, it is that easy.  No peeling, no cooking, no Foley Food Mill to wrestle with.  Ten pounds of tomatoes filled five 1.5-pint jars, which I put in the freezer.

There was a little left over, which I drank.  My first reaction:  this does not taste like tomato juice from the store.  My second reaction: it tastes much better!  Up next:  my own V8.

In other news, my SO and I trimmed the privet - a much easier job than last year - and trucked the trimmings to the biosolids site, returning with our final load of mulch for the year.  It did not quite stretch to cover everything that remained to be mulched, but close enough.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Summer doldrums

I was out of town for a week and my SO did the honors of keeping things watered and somewhat picked.  It was a "safe" time to abandon the garden, though, as not much was happening.  My intention was to pull up the onions and let them "rest" in the sun for a day before I left, but I forgot until late in the day.  I still pulled them up, but my SO - who is allergic to onions - had to transfer them to the shed for me.  There they are curing, in the doodad I use for screening compost.

That should last me all winter.

Before I left, I also picked the first tomato.

Okay, not much to look at, but I still cut off the blossom end rot and ate the rest.  And it was good.

As you may recall, I purchased a paste tomato sampler last spring.  The plants had to be nursed back to health before I could transplant them, and in the process, the varieties got mixed up.  One variety, despite regular watering and an application of calcium, seems susceptible to blossom end rot.  Too bad I don't know which one, so I can avoid it in the future.

After a week of eating food-that-I-am-not-used-to, it was delightful to come home and whip up an omelet with my own onions, peppers, and tomatoes.  Last night's supper included my own potatoes, green beans, and cucumbers.  I'm not being as anal as I need to be re weighing the harvest because I just can't wait to eat it!