Saturday, August 27, 2011

Peachy keen

I can be quite the procrastinator, but some things won't wait.  Like the half bushel of peaches I picked up last night at Huntertown Gardens.  Red Havens from Michigan.  The best.  Today I froze 6 1.5-pint jars, using a light honey syrup.  These will probably be used in smoothies.  I also froze some on cookie sheets, after a bath in Fruit Fresh.  There are still a few left, which I am going to put through my sauce maker, to make peach juice as I did last year.  Looking forward to peach martinis!

My current read is a book called The Feast Nearyby, by Robin Mather (which I would link to but the stupid Amazon Associates widget is not cooperating).  The book is part memoir, part how-to-put-food-by, and part recipe book.  One of the philosophies the author arrived at is, local trumps organic, and I have to agree in part.  As important as I think it is to eat organic, just because something is organic doesn't mean it will taste good or be as nutritious as locally grown produce, especially if it is shipped across the country.  I find it difficult to find fruit (especially peaches) that is organically grown AND local AND of high quality regarding freshness and taste.  And then there is the cost.  I do expect to pay more for organic produce, but sometimes it feels like I'm being gouged.  I counter those feelings by telling myself that buying organic is an investment in my health. 

And I try to grow my own, although this year has not been stellar in that department.  For example, I planted 5 pounds of seed potatoes and harvested 7 pounds, not a very good return on my investment, especially considering all the effort we went through to enclose the potato bed in hardware cloth, to protect the crop from voles.  By the way, while the hardware cloth did keep the voles away, it was difficult to harvest the crop, especially because some of the potatoes grew beneath the hardware cloth.

Unlike Robin Mather, I am fortunate to have a local source of milk.  Today I made mozzarella cheese, using Ricki Carroll's 30-minute mozzarella recipe.  It really did take just 30 minutes and it really does taste like mozzarella.  My experience was a little different than what was described, but that may have been because I was using fresh, raw milk instead of pasteurized.  Now that I (kind of) know what I am doing, maybe next time I will take photos.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Not my fault

The lousy results in the garden this year were weighing on my green thumb, so I was relieved to discover that other people experiencing the hot-and-dry this summer also have zucchini with only male blossoms, beanless bean plants, and few tomatoes.  The plants are too stressed to set vegetables.  I don't know how to combat this in the future, though, assuming hot-and-dry is here to stay.  Shade cloth?

This past weekend, my SO and I left the garden to fend for itself and visited Milwaukee (details here).  One home we visited merits mention here, because despite it's postage stamp size, the yard was not only full of plants but also boasted a koi pond and a patio canopy, the latter from Target.  After the heart-stopping estimate for an aluminum pergola, I have been looking at alternatives, including Coolaroos (thanks, ErinFromIowa, for the idea!) and patio canopies at Lowes (which was my SO's original idea for shading the patio), so it was helpful to be able to quiz someone about their personal experience with one.

Today, while watering (no rain fell while we were gone) I spotted a few bag worms on the arborvitae.  Not the infestation from several years ago, but I'm glad I noticed them before any damage was done.  I also found a winter squash growing on the vine in the meadow, a nice surprise.  And the sweet potatoes and Meyer lemon tree are still very happy with the weather so far this summer.  Good for them.

Speaking of the meadow, I am rethinking it.  In its current incarnation, it is just too much work to maintain, even with the help of my SO, so I am contemplating reducing it to two 4'x8' beds near the patio (the better to photograph butterflies, my dear).  Then I will turn the space into an orchard.  Maybe.  It will be something to meditate upon this winter.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

This year's BIG home improvement project

One reason I was rather dejected over the estimate for a new pergola is because I already had a boatload of money earmarked for a new driveway.  No before pictures, but some during and after.

The rusty basketball hoop by the driveway really bothered the concrete guy, so when he offered to haul it away, I said, Sure.  The old sidewalk ran along the castleblock in front.  This also bothered him.

So he suggested adding a swoosh - no extra charge.  At the time, I thought, Whatever.  But I really like the results.

Another bed to fill with plants!  And to weed!

My old driveway was 50 feet of concrete plus an asphalt apron to the street. 

Now it is 70+ feet of shiny new concrete.

One reason the old concrete driveway crumbled was water sat on it after spring/fall rains, freezing and thawing until the low areas looks more like gravel than concrete.

A little drain tile on either side of the driveway will help prevent that in the future.

 What  a wonderful (and wonderfully expensive) facelift to the property!

AND I had contacted the city about the lakefront view I have each spring.  AND someone actually came to the house today to discuss it.  Not that anything will happen in the near future, but this is more than I expected.  You know what they say:  If you keep your expectations low enough, you will never be disappointed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sad but glad

In the corner of my neighbor's lot stood a clump of mulberry trees.  On the one hand, the robins love mulberries and could be seen swooping into the berry buffet all day long.  On the other hand, baby mulberry trees sprout like weeds on my property.  And those robins?  Dive bombing purple stain makers, that's what they are.

Said neighbor decided to have the mulberries removed along with a dead apple tree.  The elm gets to stay. 

The removal of the mulberries opens up that corner of my yard to more light, which is a good thing for the garden.  My compost pile is on the other side of my shed.  I was planning to clear that area out and plant hostas, but now will need something more tolerant of sunshine.

Now if the neighbor would also take down the silver maple in the middle of his backyard that rains whirly birds onto my backyard, life would be, well, not perfect, but improved.

Speaking of sunshine, a pergola guy came by Friday to give me an estimate for an aluminum pergola over my patio.  $$$$$  More than twice what I expected it to cost.  I want something maintenance-free, but gah.  I will definitely have to look into alternative (and hopefully cheaper) materials.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the house, I am having my driveway and front sidewalks replaced.  It is funny how one day something that has been sitting there all along suddenly looks horrible.  I think it is because the lawn looks horrible as well - the combination of crumbling driveway and weedy lawn with dead grass makes the house look abandoned.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


FINALLY.  A break from the heat.  We had 22 days in July where the temperature reached 90 or above. 

And FINALLY some tomatoes!

These are from the Early Girl, although the salsa tomatoes are catching up.  And that is what I have been eating lately:  salsa, made with garlic and onions from the garden.  The Georgia Fire is supposed to be good for salsa, but I'm using up the damaged garlic bulbs first, and I did not keep track of which was which.  In my book, all garlic is good.

Earlier this summer I contemplated purchasing a picnic table, primarily so I would have some place for tomatoes to sun themselves.  I never got around to pulling the trigger on that purchase, but a neighbor left this table by the street, free for the taking.

The only problem is the patio gets so brutally hot in the afternoon that the tomatoes actually cooked.  I really need a pergola.

This is the time of year I see the most goldfinch.  They love the coneflowers and the sunflowers.

I have hung finch feeders outside in the winter, but rarely do any birds show interest.  The other day, I found out why:  niger thistle gets stale.  I purchased mine from a pet food store several years ago, and since the birds would not eat it, it never ran out.  (What is the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.)  Now I will discard the old and get some fresh, but only a little bit at a time.

This is the first year I have planted sunflowers with abandon, as in previous years they would get nibbled on by rabbits.  But now my yard is rabbit free.  Or WAS.  Last night my SO spotted a baby one near this sunflower.  It looked almost too little to be out of the nest, which is probably why it was able to squeeze into my yard.  Now what?!?

Almost everything in my yard is girded by poultry netting, even the tulip tree.  I'm glad I take that extra precaution, because this tree is starting to look like a TREE, a giver of shade.

A nursery man once tole me NOT to plant a tulip tree because the bark is soft and it won't flower for years.  But the tulip is not only our state tree (at least, for now - I think my son told me they are contemplating changing that), it also serves as a host plant for the tiger swallowtail butterfly and the promethea moth yet is ignored by other insects.  And it is a fast grower.  C'mon, shade tree!

It took a while, but now that the Brown Eyed Susans are established, they are popping up in areas beyond the meadow.

East side of the fence
 The columbine is spreading, too.  Both plants complement just about anything they are near.

West side of the fence
This one is hiding the 'Love Pat' hosta, a hosta I plan on moving, once I get a round tuit.