Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Black Bean Soup

Here is a good recipe for garden goodies. Feel free to extemporize.

1 T (or less) olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T fresh oregano (or 1 t dried)
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
2 c. diced tomatoes
1 15-oz. can black beans
1 c. corn kernels
1 c. cooked rice
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a 2-3 quart sauce pan, saute onions and peppers in the olive oil until almost tender. Add garlic and oregano and saute another 30-60 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients (and optionally a little water, as this soup is not very soupy) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, long enough that tomatoes and corn are cooked to desired state.

I like to eat this with crushed Doritos (nacho cheese flavor).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fall Clean Up

Yesterday I forced myself outside to do something about the leaves. Last spring I bought a leaf blower, so I tried using that first. The reason I purchased it was to try to get at the leaves that cover the cotoneaster, but yesterday I discovered that the brambly nature of cotoneaster renders the leaf blower virtually useless. So then I tried blowing the other leaves around, but either my technique sucks or the leaves were too damp or something - it just was not as effective as a plain ol' rake. So I raked a bit around the front of the house, just enough to make it look I was executing due diligence. And my neighbors were not.

I also disassembled the Topsy Turvy, destroying one of the bags in the process. I'm not convinced this is the contraption for me, as my success has been mediocre. I may try it one more time, with something like grape tomatoes and cascading petunias. Or it may become a bird feeder support.

I also wrestled the tomato cages away from the dying vines, gathered a few other plastic odds and ends, and in general sighed a lot. This growing season was too long, with too many tomatoes and not enough zucchini (if you can believe that!) Sometimes I think the yard is just too much, but I keep reminding myself that it's not the yard, it's the job; if I didn't have to spend 40 hours a week in a cube, I'd have plenty of time for gardening.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Soup for You!

This tomato soup recipe started out in Joy of Cooking and my good friend L played with it and I played with it some more. It is a great way to use up some of those garden tomatoes.

2T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 lbs. fresh tomatoes (peeling and seeding optional), chopped
1 t. fresh basil, chopped
1 t. fresh oregano, chopped
3-4 c. chicken stock
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 1/2 c. half-and-half or cream

In a big soup pot, saute onion in olive oil until tender. Add tomotoes, basil, and oregano. Bring to boil, then simmer 25 minutes. Let cool enough to process in food processor. Return to pot, add chicken stock, half-and-half, salt, and pepper. Serve with shredded parmesan and/or fresh Italian parsley, if desired.

(This soup can be frozen before adding half-and-half.)

P.S. I washed and quartered and cooked more tomatoes, and ran them through my Foley food mill, with the intention of cooking the result down to sauce. But then I realized it could be used in the above recipe, so I poured the slop into canning jars and froze it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Hot. Hot, Hot, HOT!

It's October 8 and 90 degrees. Is this global warming? I'm moving north.

I keep declaring my kitchen a tomato-free zone, but it does not last for long. This summer I have eaten tomatoes with cottage cheese and in chili, lasagna, minestrone, and pizza. I have made tomato sauce and gallons of salsa. I take them to work, where my co-workers gladly make off with them. What was I thinking when I ordered SEVEN tomato plants?!? It wasn't my fault. It was winter, and there were gardening catalogs to peruse during those long cold nights.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Blessed Rain

Almost 2 inches of rain fell in my yard over the weekend. Yay! Unfortunately, the relative humidity is about 95%. The grass needs to be mowed, but I'm thinking, Another day.

Almost every time I take a moment to sit on the deck and observe the garden, I see butterflies and hummingbirds.

This past Saturday I even saw a hawk perched on the back fence.

What is a summer garden without zucchini? This is the first of the season. I was a little late getting the seed planted, then it was so dry. Tomorrow night: zucchini pizza!

Shred the zucchini and saute with onions, garlic, fresh basil and oregano, etc. Top flat bread pizza crust with this concoction and a cheese of your choice, and enjoy!

Every year I try some new things in the garden, sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidently. The results are sometimes successful and sometimes not. Here is an accidental success.

It's hard to see in the picture, but the tomato plant is supported by a typical tomato cage, but the cage is upside down. This is one of those cages that is narrow at the bottom and wide at the top and you are supposed to stick the bottom prongs into the soil to hold everything off the ground. My soil is so hard, though, that I can't get the prongs in deep enough and once the tomatoes set, the whole thing usually falls over. This year I temporarily set the cages upside down over the tomato plants, and there they stayed. The tomatoes needed a little encouragement to stay within the cage initially, but once the plants reached a certain height, they held the cages in place themselves.

This is Queen Anne's lace, and if you look closely, you will see the spot of Anne's "blood" in the center of the blossom.

It's really an invasive weed, but while I am getting my bird, bee, and butterfly garden up and growing, it fills in the gaps. In the future, I will probably regret letting it get a toehold.

I truly did not expect the Rose of Sharon to bloom this year since it is a newbie, but it did, much to the hummingbirds' delight.

My plan to plant mammoth sunflowers was not executed, but a few volunteer oil seed sunflowers are filling the breech.

Reach for the sky, stranger!

Friday, August 03, 2007

This Means War

A few posts ago, I mentioned some flying, presumably stinging insects in the ceiling of my Florida room. Well, earlier this week, I tried to eliminate them. The problem is the nest is not external to the house. That, and I believed in the "residual" power of the 8-year-old can of insecticide I used.

I waited until near dark, then generously sprayed the junction of the eave and the siding where the little buggers come and go through gaps I keep telling myself I should caulk. I used an ancient can of flying insect killer spray that I found in the garage. Maybe its powers had weakened, though, because the next morning the little buggers continued to come and go. So I sprayed them again, until the can was empty, but that night they were still coming and going.

Wednesday night I bought two more cans of spray, and Thursday night emptied one entire can, this time targeting individual bugs as they came and went. A direct hit produced the expected results, and after a while I felt I had decimated enough of the population (and soaked the side of my house and the deck directly beneath) with plenty of poison. Maybe the residual action would work this time.

This morning there were still a few valient bugs coming and going, but they looked a little hung over. I still have a whole can left, so I may keep zapping them one at a time, but what I would really like to do is spray something inside those gaps, to make sure I get the queen and any of her drones that don't come and go. Because I read that if you caulk up the holes and there are live bugs inside, they will chew their way through the ceiling in their attempt to escape.

Or I could call a professional, I guess, but that would be admitting defeat.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Brown Toes

This summer I have been a little surprised to look down at my feet and see brown toes. No, not from dirt, at least not always. This summer my toes have a sun tan. Usually, I wear old sneakers to mow in and these funny rubbery river shoes to garden in, but my feet have spent most of this summer in an old pair of Birkenstock knock-offs. Hence, brown toes and striped insteps.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Butterflies Are (Almost) Free

Butterflies are free, once you have planted the plants to attract them.

One nice thing about our dry weather this summer is I can "set a spell" on the deck and watch the butterflies, hummingbirds, wrens, finches, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. as they come and go.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Weed Seeds

I am not the most energetic weeder on the planet, preferring early scuffle hoe use followed by mulch to keep things under control, but this dry summer has resulted in a shortage of grass clippings, so some weeds got away from me. Then the clay soil would not surrender the weeds until - at last! - we received some rainfall recently. Just in time, too, as the errant weeds were starting to produce seed heads.

My yard is a work in progress, and each year has its share of experiments. One successful (at least, so far) experiment this year was the growing of greens for my bunny Hip Hop. When the mescaline I planted with the snap peas started to bolt, I planted more in a 6" x 24" planter that gets filtered light on the deck. I'm harvesting from that now, and have made a fall planting of more mescaline and snap peas. That rabbit is so spoiled.

(Mystery: why have the wild rabbits decimated my green bean plants but not touched the lettuces on the deck, even though they live below the deck? Knock on wood!)

I just can't get enough of that hibiscus.

And the chrysanthemums on the south side of the house are already blooming.

But these buggers are about to meet their maker. Ordinarily, when it comes to insects and spiders and other creepy crawlies, I'm a live-and-let-live kind of person - unless they come inside my house. The ceiling over the Florida room is a gray area, and in previous years I have let them be. They are not there every year, but this year they are more numerous than usual, and getting a little huffy about my using the door. So I am afraid they will have to go.

Still, I am not looking forward to this little task.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Stupid Weather

Last Monday I broke down and mowed the front yard (wearing shorts). That application of Turf Builder really greened things up, and the grass was so lush, I left footprints. I'm glad I mowed, as it was longer than I thought. The lawn looked great, especially after it snowed.

The weather post-Monday has been utterly rude. This is my sad little deck, looking decidedly unspringlike.

After the first night of 20-degree temps, the daffodils looked really sad in the morning, but by afternoon had perked up. After the second night below freezing, they again looked limp and bedraggled, but again recovered later in the day. But after the third and fourth and fifth night, plus the snow, they laid down and did not rise again.

A warming trend is predicted for this week, so we shall see if they resurrect (Easter pun - ha!) themselves once more.

I think the forsythia is done, though, as is my neighbors magnolia.

The weather did not deter these three love birds ducks, though. Look closely: female mallard in the leaf-covered garden, one male in left foreground, another male on right, behind the fence. (Note the nearly strawberryless strawberry pyramid. That's a story for another day.)

When I first spotted the female, I thought, "Oh, no, she's not planning on building a nest in the kitchen garden, is she? I haven't even tilled yet!" Then I saw two males on the other side of the chain link, wondering how to get to their lovely lady. When I returned to the window with my camera, one of the males figured it out and flew over the fence, but the female apparently favored Dumbo and in about ten seconds took off in a huff, both suitors in hot pursuit.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Five, Six, Pick Up Sticks

Weather forecasters get paid to be wrong, and today I was glad for it, as we enjoyed a sunny, if windy, day. Some neighbors actually mowed, but that seemed a bit extreme, so I limited my activities to picking up sticks (three bags full). This job also entailed the start of the dismantling of the brush pile. Just too attractive to the bunnies.

More plants are presenting evidence they survived the winter. Here is the old-fashioned bleeding heart (not sure what makes it "old-fashioned")...

... and one of many hostas on the north side of the garage where it is still soggy...

... and one of three peonies on the south side of the house.

The hyacinth is actually blooming. Last fall I planted more white hyacinth in front of the barberry bushes, thinking the contrast would be pretty. Hopefully, those hyacinth will hold off blooming until the barberry has leafed out a bit.

Two falls ago, when my daughter and I planted the daffodil bulbs, I added an English bluebell bulb to some of the holes, then promptly forgot that I had done this. Last year there were no bluebell blooms, but I did notice the greenery around the feet of some of the daffodils. The greenery looks even stronger this year, so maybe there will be some blooms as well.

And what would an Indiana garden be without Canada thistle?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

That's More Like It

Some of my neighbors have quite the daffodil display, and today mine caught up. Such a cheerful sight! The forsythia are right behind.

I still have crocuses (croci?) and in more colors.

There are many other plants making their green presence known: forget-me-not, coral bells, monarda, keys of heaven, Canadian columbine (one of them, at least), even the 'Betty Corning' clematis is showing signs of life. We had a mild winter until February when it turned brutal, but it looks like most of my botanical friends survived the bitter cold.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Dark Side

I bought something I thought I would never buy (after a snow blower): a leaf blower. The problem was all the clumps of dead leaves crowning the cotoneaster and mugo pine. I have tried all kinds of rakes to try to clean up the area, to no avail. So last night my SO and I trucked over to Home Depot to check out their leaf blowers (do we know how to have a good time or what?) My intention was to buy the smallest electric one they had, but did you know that the bigger models can also vacuum? I did not know that. And the more I thought about it, the better that sounded. Why stir up a bunch of dead leaves into a whirling mass only to have them land somewhere else, when I could suck them up instead? And shred them in the process? Sounded good to me.

After crabgrassing today, I was feeling lazy and contemplated skipping the blower/vac thing. But I decided to at least put it together, and once it was together, I had to plug it in and see how it worked, and once it was working, I thought I might as well suck up those clumps of dead leaves. My technique needs a little work - the extension cord kept winding up between my legs and I had to adjust the strap on the bag several times - but I did suck leaves. At the same time, I was acutely aware that I was vacuuming my bushes. How anal is that?

Time to tour the yard. BTW, I took these photos before vacuuming, so please excuse the mess.

The rabbits have not eaten the crocus... yet.

The tulips have made an appearance.

If you look closely, you will see the coreopsis starting to peek out.

The hyacinth are up, too.

And the daffodils are almost ready to pop.

In the foreground are chives, in the back spearmint.

And the rhubarb lives, although the strawberries are looking thin. I planted the rhubarb in the top level of a strawberry pyramid. I love strawberry-rhubarb pie, so it only made sense to plant them together. Right?

The rabbits gnawed on the burning bush this winter.

And I wonder who lives in this little hidey hole. Maybe a chipmunk? Under ordinary circumstances, a hosta grows here, so I am curious to see what happens later on.

Today was the first shorts day of the year, but I am trying not to get impatient. Two years ago, I put my houseplants out on the deck too early and lost a huge Norfolk pine. Last year I hit the greenhouses before they peaked, and had to return again and again to get everything I wanted. It helps that I am planning to take a week of vacation in May, just to play in my yard. Hopefully, I will be in better shape by then.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Running Hot and Cold

Saturday the weather looked beautiful, but there was a bitter wind blowing that kept me inside. Well, almost inside. I did swing by Home Depot for a few preparatory purchases: a new spreader, some crabgrass control, and more chicken wire for the ongoing battle with the bunnies.

The new broadcast spreader is to supplement my old drop spreader. The former will be reserved for the bad stuff (herbicides, pesticides, etc.), the latter for the good (Milorganite, compost, etc.) I chose a broadcast spreader this time, because I mow my grass high, and when I apply broadleaf herbicide on a dew-drenched lawn, the moisture clogs the drop spreader. And I bought the deluxe model because my lawn and I are worth it.

An aside: I am an organic gardener in spirit, but since I live in the surreal world of Suburbia, an attractive front lawn seems important enough to warrant a controlled amount of chemicals. I use some natural weed control strategies (like mowing high) and I have tried the natural lawncare products (but without very good results), so I have made the conscious decision to apply a limited amount of herbicides to my front lawn.

I also use a high-polluting gas mower. Again, I have looked into alternatives, but my yard is too big and my time too limited for anything more ecologically green. If only I could keep a sheep or two.

For the second spring in two years, my mower made it into the shop for servicing before I actually needed to use it. And my SO replaced the wheel on my Load Hog garden cart, which I happily used today while cleaning up the detritis from last fall.

Cleaning up some of that detritis revealed more spring arrivals, like this Stella de Oro...

... and 'Autumn Joy' sedum...

... and 'Dragon's Blood' sedum...

... and some nameless iris that has been here longer than I have.

The daffodils are trying to actually bloom, but not the crocus, which the rabbits eat anyway.

I was going to apply the Turf Builder, but the ground is still frozen in places. C'mon, Spring!

Get Along, Little Doggy

Another recent purchase is this new dog containment system, from Petco. Several years ago I installed an "invisible fence" type of system, but it has its shortcomings, currently a break in the circuit that I have not been able to find. This new system has its quirks as well, such as the collar issuing a "correction" when I turn off the base unit, so I either have to make sure Betsy is not wearing the collar when I turn off the base unit or simply never turn off the unit. Or remove the battery from the collar.

The Petco system has proprietary batteries for the collar which can be thrown out with the rest of your trash.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Signs of Spring

Despite temps in the 50's and 60's this weekend, there is still some snow, especially on the north side of the house.

But that has not stopped a few early risers from appearing. Besides the daffodils...

... some yarrow is starting to grow.

Last winter the rabbits did some serious damage to my new shrubs, so last fall my son helped me surround the susceptible plants with chicken wire. The rabbits had ignored the arborvitae, so we did too. This winter, with the preferred shrubbery protected, the rabbits decided the arborvitae weren't so bad after all.

And, for the first time in the fifteen years that I have been here, I have moles.

Despite a very odd winter - a mild January followed by a bitter February - my minitaure fruit trees survived unscathed.

Here is my xmas scooter, a gift from my SO. I think he bought it from Lee Valley, which is where I purchased the shears. Both were very helpful for cutting back the ornamental grasses. The cart is from Home Depot.

And for once, I did not overdo my first foray into the yard.

Friday, March 02, 2007

No Sheep for Me

There is a new book out called "No Sheep for You" and I (mistakenly) assumed that it was about someone like me, who would love to have sheep but is prevented from doing so by local zoning laws. But I ask you: What is the difference between a head of livestock and a pet? Why the discrimination against sheep, cows, chickens, pigs (well, we know why pigs), and horses? Is it the noise? Well, my neighbor's dogs bark a lot. Is it the smell? Personally, I love the smell of horse manure. I just don't get it. We have laws that limit the number of cats and dogs one may own, but no way can one keep a couple of chickens, let alone anything bigger.

Sometimes I daydream that my ex keels over (no, I do not wish him ill; in this reverie it is just a catalyst to set the rest in motion) and the kids decide they do not want to sell the old homestead, so I would live there rent-free, paying for utilities, taxes, and maintenance, keeping the property in trust for them, so to speak. Then I could have a few chickens (two-legged garbage disposals are what they are), some sheep and/or alpaca and/or angora goats and/or whatever else makes good yarn, and maybe a pony to pull a cart in the local parade. In this daydream I am also retired (haven't figured out where the money is coming from - maybe my blogs will support me by then) and healthy (i.e. no lower back pain) and the fences are magically dog-proof and a barn appears just as magically as the fences. *sigh*

My reality is one angora lop with an attitude. I'm beginning to think that angora crosses do not molt. Instead, they shed. And now that spring is on its way, Hip Hop is shedding. Talk about light and fluffy fur! The hair mats are 98% resolved, but now the race is to keep new ones from forming. I think I need a finer toothed comb. Maybe TSC has what I need.

Ah, TSC! I love to wander through there, but my Honda CRV looks out of place amongst the pickups in the parking lot. I suffer from truck envy.