July 31, 2008

Back in the Garden

We were back in the garden last night and starting to feel a little return to normality. Thank you so much to all of you who have written and especially for the prayers. We still have lots of details to work out with the car situation, but one step at a time will do it. Below is a link to a photo album with pictures of the car and flooded area in case you want to peek. Click on the first photo and you'll be able to see the captions and go through the album.

Here are some oddities from last night's garden take:

It's strange to be getting so many snow peas at the very end of July. No complaining though, just noting that these are normally a much earlier crop and they are very sweet and crisp. These cucumbers are actually supposed to be white and are called "Pearl". I'm still a little freaked out by them and I don't know if I'll make weird pickles with them or not! These artistic looking curly peppers are part of a variety seed pack (which we will not do again!) and they are fire cracker hot. DH and I both tested them and suffered just a little!

Speaking of oddities from the garden, my sister-in-law out in CA told me that her zucchini plants are behaving normally, unlike our sluggish one, and she is now picking zucchini that are so big her dog barks at them when she brings them up to the house!!

Over the weekend we ate well from the garden again. DD made her wonderful Asian marinated cucumber salad for us, which uses only rice wine vinegar, water, toasted sesame oil, and a little sweetener. I made the Caprese salad I'd been anxious to do since our first little cherry tomatoes were ready to enjoy! I made the salad with our globe basil and some tiny fresh mozzarella balls called "perlini", plus olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We also enjoyed homemade Pad Thai, which uses any assortment of veggies and meat you have on hand. Other than having the right kind of Thai noodles, the most important thing is figuring out the sauce recipe that you like. It takes just a few unusual ingredients, which are well worth hunting down and they last for a long time as well. We've experimented a lot and have come up with this recipe for sauce: 1/4 C fish sauce; 1/4 C soy sauce or tamari; 1/4 C tamarind sauce; 1/2 C white vinegar; 1/4 C sugar; 2 tsp. chili paste; 2 tsp. paprika - stir well.
The basic method is to stir-fry your veggies and meat, then add the sauce and bring to a boil, then add your noodles (which have been softened in water first), and cook until the sauce is thickened up and absorbed by the noodles to your liking. The toppings we like are fresh bean sprouts or cucumber matchsticks, unsalted peanuts, lime juice, and fresh cilantro.

We're about to enter a new phase in the garden and rototill one large section where most things are done for the season-the beets, broccoli, lettuce, etc. Then it will be time for sowing some fall crops. We're still waiting on most of the tomatoes to ripen, and the corn, lima beans, and green beans to be ready. When the green beans are ready I'll be trying out my lovely Aunt D's recipe for the slow cooker which is green beans, onion, turkey bacon, and diced potatoes all simmering away together - yummmmm! Now when the CORN is ready, you won't hear from me for a few days!

Well, this is all then.

July 29, 2008

Growing Thru Adversity

The garden, the weeds, and even what we're eating from the garden have taken a back seat in our lives over the past 24 hours. We have finally been personally affected by all of the extreme weather and flooding in Iowa this summer. Our darling daughter (DD) is a resident camp counselor in the summer, at a nearby camp for at risk youth. In the wee hours of Monday morning, a flash flood came through the camp and caused havoc. Twelve cars, including DD's were destroyed by the wall of water, mud and debris that barreled through. The cars were sitting in a lower field that was overwhelmed by the flood and they were moved around like little match box cars. One was wrapped around a tree, one carried across the field to an embankment and the rest pushed together with tree limbs and debris caught between them. All of the cars are a complete loss and were left full of mud and muck up over the seats and dashboards. We are blessed and thankful by the lack of personal injury and happy to report that the camp is full of godly young women and men who pulled themselves together, cleaned up a lot of the mess, and will open the camp to the kids who were scheduled to be there this week. We ask for your prayers of support for these amazing young people (18-20 years old) who will be dealing with all the consequences of the loss of their cars just a few short weeks before heading back to college, for the staff who are working overtime to support the counselors and campers, and for the campers who will arrive today for a shortened but undoubtedly blessed week at this camp. God knows the needs of all and we are full of assurance that He will keep His promises - "He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might, He increases power." Isaiah 40:29

July 25, 2008

Turnip Town

Good Grief! How did we end up with 25,000 turnips?!! And recently there have been many other questions asked, like - why do have only one little old bell pepper plant, what kind of pepper plant is THAT, weren't we supposed to have Yukon Gold potatoes, what are those giant plants with cabbage looking leaves but no apparent fruit, how many kinds of cucumbers are planted out there, are there any yellow squash planted in there somewhere, what are those nice little plants next to the turnips????? I'm actually banned from asking DH these questions for the remainder of the summer because it's a little like rubbing salt into a wound at this point. He has a very nice map of what is supposed to be where, and at first his answer to my onslaught of questions was, "look at the map" or "we'll have to look at the map when we go back inside", or "the next time we go out we'll take the map with us". But, unfortunately even the map can't save us at this point. There are several mysteries out in that green oasis that just haven't been solved by looking at "THE MAP".

Now in his defense, DH worked really hard at planning the garden, indulging my every whim about what to grow, ordering seeds, starting seedlings, tilling, planting seeds, and putting out transplants. He got new garden toys at Christmas that helped with all of this work and he truly enjoyed it and was very successful in his efforts. He is no slouch. However, the one thing this Renaissance guy doesn't always excel in is the finer points of organization. I've told him that his nickname should be "Details Are Not Us". So somewhere along the line the tagging went astray and that coupled with the awful rains we had at the beginning of the planting season, which literally moved seeds and seedlings to new locations as well as wiping out some of them, you have the result - an ongoing game of twenty questions - and now he's tired of playing! What we've decided to do is institute the buddy system and utilize our paired talents so that maybe the garden will have some of these kinks worked out next year. DH made a gardening joke and said that we would do "companion planting" next year. If you get that joke you're as big a nerd as he is! But that's o.k. since we do love our nerds around here! Google "companion planting" if you're a really curious nerd!

The upside of having 25,000 turnips is that it's stretching our culinary brains and we're learning and experimenting a lot. I'm comfortable with using turnips in the traditional winter recipes like cooking them with a pot roast, or putting them in beef stew. But we decided to go beyond that and try making "mock" mashed potatoes, stir-frying them, and we even came up with what we think is a new relish for brats (we use lower fat turkey links). We grated a large turnip, added a sliced Vidalia onion, some shredded red cabbage and sauteed them for a while, then added a little apple cider vinegar, some honey, pepper and a little salt, and some caraway seeds. It was just fantastic.

Two more ideas we're going to try from The Joy of Gardening Cookbook are steaming the smallest turnips and dressing them with herb butter, and a recipe for turnip turnovers. It has bacon in it so it will automatically be good right?! A lot of our turnips are going to be stored according to the method in this same book. Janet Ballantyne says to store them in your refrigerator in perforated plastic, food-safe bags. This too will be experimental for us but we're interested in trying methods other than just canning or freezing from the garden. Ideally we'd have a root cellar but that may or may not happen for us in this house.

A departure from turnips - last night's dinner of stuffed zucchini - fabulous! This is a shot taken just before they went in the oven. I have an old, many-times-copied collection of recipes for zucchini from the Colorado State University Extension Dept., and the stuffed zucchini has remained a favorite of mine for about 25 years. Jeesh I'm feeling old! My vow this summer was to pick zucchini while still small and not let them get to prize winning size. The funny thing is that we only have one zucchini plant this year and it's not producing all that much zucchini - sounds like it's time to ask another one of those banned questions huh?!!

Well, this is all then.

July 23, 2008

Garden Battles

The Tale of the Horrible Hornworms - This little cartoonish photo of the hornworm is the most I could deal with posting. I couldn't bring myself to post a photo of them on our own plants. It causes responses in me that just aren't appropriate! This has got to be one of the most disgusting pests in the garden. The more they eat your precious tomato plants and the lovely developing fruits - the fatter, squishier, and more sickening they become. They may look like slow, slothful drunks, but they can move through your garden causing damage at an unbelievable pace. We saw no evidence on Saturday afternoon but were shocked on Monday afternoon to see first - the droppings all over the ground around our tomatoes, second - the bare stalks on the top of many of our plants and third - the hornworms in all their gooshy, bursting at the seams glory, wreaking havoc on our little babies! We were totally blindsided since we had none of these monsters last year. We should have been looking for the larvae on the leaves as the first sign, and then we could have sprayed to prevent the onslaught. Our first defensive action was to brutally kill them as we pulled them off the plants, which is not easy since they camouflage themselves so well and they have Velcro-like grip on the plant. Then we borrowed some BT from Uncle J - BT (Bacillus thuringiensis Kurstaki) is a naturally occurring bacteria that kills this kind of pest but is not harmful to the plants, humans, or other wildlife, which makes it perfect for organic gardening. DH mixed it with our sesame oil based pesticide and let loose on the varmints. Last night we found just a few more but most were in a state of decline. Whew!

Now this is a cute scene for a change of pace! Here are the "Three Biddies on the Bean Poles", captured by DH the other morning. These are barn swallows that we are more than happy to see in the garden. Lately I've come across a lot of articles about attracting birds to your property and the important role they play in organic gardening. They can eat an amazing number of insects and larvae in a days time, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that we really haven't had too much problem other than the hornworms. One report claimed that swallows could eat more than one thousand leafhoppers in twelve hours! We are very blessed to have a pond on our property, woods all around us, and farm fields as well. These naturally attract birds of course, but we also have a number of feeders that we fill in the winter. Here is one of our most lovely visitors this past February. Uncle J also made some nesting boxes for a fence at the back of our property and those attracted both bluebirds and swallows. "Organic Gardening Magazine" has a good online article about making nesting boxes for Kestrels, which are great predators of garden pests too. We've seen a few of them around here and it might be a good plan to encourage them to stick close by.

The other battle we've had in the garden this summer has been the unceasing string of strong storms bringing high wind and lots of rain. Even recently our corn has been pushed over by strong wind and we can see where the base of some of the stalks have been eroded by the unusual amount of rain and runoff. Last year we had some of the same battle with wind, which resulted in our using much sturdier tomato cages this year and making sure that those bean poles were deeply embedded into the dirt. We're thinking that our plan to use "square foot" gardening will help this problem too. Lax organization of seedlings and planting has also been a battle for us this summer, but that will be another post and I'll be looking for your ideas and what works for you.

Now to the really good stuff - food from the garden! Last night's dinner included this beet and orange salad, with green onion and curried honey dressing. Oh was it good - and this from newly reformed beet eaters! This recipe came from the Joy of Gardening Cookbook, which I blogged about in my first post. The green sprig on the top of the salad is some of our globe basil , called that because it grows in this globe shape.It's not actually an ingredient in this salad but it was in the turkey burgers I made last night. The burgers also had green onion (yes I will have major withdrawal when I don't have access to loads of green onion!) and chopped chard leaves. I did my "melting" thing with the greens in the microwave again and then mixed them into the meat mixture. Tucked in the middle is a small piece of blue cheese, which you can see is pooling out of the top of the burger on the left - what more could you need?! I got this basic idea from my little sister who came up with tiny turkey burgers loaded with herbs and a hidden piece of Manchego cheese. These were one of the many wonderful things she had for her gracious graduation reception for my niece this past May. So I combined her idea with the Joy of Gardening Cookbook tip, which says to add chopped greens to anything that comes out of the kitchen, and my burgers were born. I will be following my sister's lead again when the tomatoes are ripe by making Caprese salad with our globe basil, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Can't wait!

Well, this is all then.

July 21, 2008

This Just In

Our first cukes, eggplant and snow peas! For dinner, one of the cucumbers will be sliced into an Indian raita (a yogurt sauce or dip) along with fresh cilantro from this morning's pick. The cilantro was really slow to take off but is finally producing enough to enjoy. It is ten times more pungent than anything I've ever gotten from the grocery store. The eggplant and some of the other veggies will go into a mixed vegetable curry for dinner too. We'll see if I can sneak the eggplant past DH! These are the little Japanese-style eggplant and I think next year we'll plant the traditional variety as well. Lately I've been coming across some wonderful looking recipes that use large "planks" of eggplant. I think a gardener always has an eye out for the next garden as well as the current one!

Also picked more cabbage, chard, and bok choy. Look for my next posting which will include "The Tale of the Horrible Hornworms" and "Three Biddies on the Bean Poles"!

Well, this is all then.

July 19, 2008

Vegetable Frenzy

Things are rolling in from the garden and the weather is perfect for fast growth. I'm using all my tricks and pulling my cookbooks off the shelf in order to make the most of all this wonderful produce. Here is a BLT salad we took to a church function - made with turkey bacon of course. Gee it seems like I've written quite a few times lately about using turkey bacon! The package is finally gone so maybe I'll move on to another key ingredient now! Other vegetable dishes as of late: fried rice using our onions and chopped mustard greens; pasta primavera using our onions, green pepper, and baby zucchini; and tonight we're having our first roasted beets, yum! This is what we're trying for dinner with a little salmon on the side...
Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad with Sherry Walnut Vinaigrette

This recipe is from the Whole Foods website and looks wonderful! (We ache for a Whole Foods here - there are NONE in Iowa - why??????!) I have Feta cheese instead of goat cheese, so we'll go with that tonight. Last year was the first time I had really played with beets at all and we ended up liking them a lot. Now I've learned that if you want to roast them, you leave the root on and one inch of the stem, then remove those after roasting, along with the skin, which slips right off at that point. I have a younger brother who has always been a fan of pickled beets and will eat a whole jar in one sitting, but that's one form of beet I can't handle. It's associated with a memory of a favorite great aunt, who once thought it was important to force me to eat them, and they just gagged me! A few years later I was in 3rd grade and having my tonsils out, and wouldn't you know it, the hospital dinner tray had pickled beets on it! I pulled a drama act and insisted that my mom take them off my tray and out of the room before I would eat my dinner. What a little twit huh?!

Photos from our garden this afternoon of what's in progress:

They're getting closer! Watching these things grow and mature is a thrill and a reminder of how great a Creator we have.

Well, this is all then.

July 16, 2008

Learning Curve

Here is everything tagged and ready to head over to enter into the county fair. Rhubarb quick bread, vegan chocolate shortbread cookies (for the heart healthy category), my African violet, and a last minute decision by DH to enter one of our baby bok choy. I just got back from the fair grounds and it's so much fun to see all the vegetables and flowers that people grow and bring in for the show. There is a LOT of competition among gardeners apparently!

And yes, the currant preserves are missing from the picture. Why? Well...instead of making preserves, I ended up making, uhh... more like ROAD TAR! Yep, totally failed kitchen experiment for me. It was like the Bermuda Triangle in my kitchen. One, I had never made a jelly or jam that didn't have pectin added, and when you use pectin it means that the cooking of the liquid is more of a timed event and not so much knowing when something has reached the gel stage, so I had no experience with this. Two, I misread my recipe, which said to cook the preserves until they were
ALMOST at the gel stage, not AT the gel stage, which means that I cooked the bejeepers out of the stuff waiting for it to reach the gel stage! Third side of the triangle of disaster -I thought it would be a nice touch to add some orange zest to the currant mixture, and yes it would have been nice if I had added it at the end maybe. But after the disaster happened, I read on the internet that citrus peel is high in pectin - NOT what the currant preserves needed! They had more than enough pectin already. So these are my guesses as to why it happened. Sorry about the currants Uncle J, but I do think that if I can figure out how to get the stuff back out of the jars, we can melt it down, add some more liquid, and make it into some really nice pancake syrup because it sure does taste great! Now you KNOW if you saw Orange Scented Currant Pancake Syrup on the shelf in someplace like Williams Sonoma or Stonewall Kitchen, you'd pay a pretty penny for it wouldn't you?!

The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey says, is that when I went to enter everything in the fair this morning, I ran into Aunt P and ended up visiting her at their house afterwards. I told her my shenanigans with the currants and she opened her freezer and offered me another whole bag of currants so I could try again. I am so blessed, remarkably so.

This is a picture of the rhubarb bread and here is the recipe. It is divine and even better if you can force yourself to save one back, wrap it up, and put it in the frig for a day or two.

Well, this is all then.

Rhubarb Cinnamon Bread

1 1/2 C brown sugar

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 C whole wheat flour

1 C all-purpose flour

3/4 C chopped pecans

1 C milk, soured with 1 Tbs. vinegar

1 tsp baking soda

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

1/3 C oil

1/3 C applesauce

1 1/2 C finely chopped rhubarb, fresh or thawed frozen

Topping: 1 Tbs. melted butter, 1/2 C sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine brown sugar, salt, flours, and nuts in a large bowl. Add soda to soured milk. In a separate bowl, mix egg, vanilla, oil, and applesauce; add to dry ingredients alternately with milk. Fold in chopped rhubarb. Turn into two well-greased loaf pans.

Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle half on each loaf. Gently press topping into batter with back of spoon. Bake 45-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand for several minutes in pans before turning them out. Serve warm or cold.

Note - by substituting part whole wheat flour and replacing half the oil with applesauce, you increase the fiber, reduce the fat, and improve the nutritiousness of any quick bread!

July 14, 2008

Goals from the Garden

These beautiful currant berries came from my Uncle J. Wow, aren't they gorgeous?!! I've previously told you that he's a prize of a guy and my Aunt P is a total gem. They both came for a Sunday evening visit and brought these currants along with several TOMATOES from their garden - show offs! They said they thought that this was the earliest they have ever harvested them. They also brought potatoes and a few ears of early corn, which was very generous indeed considering that the rotten, dirty, sneaky, raccoons got into their corn on Saturday night and ruined a great deal of it. We have first hand knowledge of this nastiness since our entire corn crop was ravaged by these rabid sneaks last year. We had to keep adding and adding wires to our electric fence in an effort to keep them out. The test for us this year is yet to come since our corn isn't ready. We did send Aunt and Uncle home with Swiss chard, bok choy and some lettuce. They don't grow the first two and their lettuce had already bolted, so it felt good to reciprocate a little anyway!

These currants led me to set several goals. One is to make them into preserves and enter one jar into the county fair this week. I hadn't planned on participating again this year, but I got inspired when I received the currants and my Aunt and Uncle started talking about the fair last night. Then I set a goal to use some of my rhubarb to make a quick bread to enter into the fair as well. While I'm at it, I may as well enter my nice African violet too, since it decided to bloom this week more than it ever has in two years. No idea why!

We also set a goal for our little bitty green bean plants! DH put up the very large tepees that we used for climbing support for beans last year, and we gave the beans a pep talk and told them that they COULD do it! Even though the rain and storms have made them slow, we're confident that they can still do their thing this summer. This is a picture from last year's garden.

What we've been eating from the garden lately - bok choy with Kung Pao tempeh (you can look that up if you don't know what it is!), a curry dish with beet greens, potatoes and chicken, Chinese coleslaw with our cabbage, green peppers and green onions, and tonight is Swiss chard with grilled fish. Good stuff! And by the way, the grilled pizza with the sauteed beet greens was fabulous! They were cooked in olive oil with onion, Italian seasoning, balsamic vinegar and a little bacon, then layered on the pizza with two cheeses, fresh tomato slices, and sliced green onions. Onto the grill - great.

Well, this is all then.

July 10, 2008

Greens Runneth Over

Gardening "Tools"

I asked DH for greens in the garden this year and he came through - whew! Now I have more than I want, need, or know what to do with and it just kills me to waste them. I may call some folks to come and pick what they want before it's too late. We have Swiss chard coming out our ears and I really don't think I want to try and blanch and freeze it. I'll save my preserving patience for the tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, and squash. Those I can handle. Each year we experiment a little more with what we grow and with good record keeping we'll eventually get a formula that works well. Last year we had an overage of yellow squash and I discovered by accident that if you just leave it on the vine, it gets all bumpy and looks great in fall arrangements with the pumpkins. Who knew?

It's been fantastic to have the fresh greens but maybe a smaller amount and even more staggered planting would help. I will also be looking for a stash of recipes for greens so that when I harvest them I don't have to also figure out how to cook them.

Along with more weeding, I harvested these goodies today - bell peppers, banana peppers, green onions and a few early turnips. I plan on making a big batch of veggie soup tonight, which freezes really well and will use up lots of these wonderful things. I'm also going to experiment with sauteed beet greens as one of the toppings for a grilled pizza. Is that too weird???? Hmmm...

Well, this is all then.

July 9, 2008

Convicted by Weeds

Two hours of weeding and pulling up bolted spinach plants and I'm convinced even more that we want to try raised bed,"square foot" gardening next year. There's just too much bare ground out there and this wet weather has been ideal for weeds - ahhhh! With the raised bed method there's just more order and containment of the whole business. I think I could wrap my brain around weeding one box each day, but when you go out to a big plot like ours, you can easily stand there and turn in circles trying to figure out what's the most urgent. There is only so much time in the morning before it gets too hot to stay out there, and only so much energy to expend!

I'm also convicted about how much more time I need to put into the whole endeavor. I haven't been doing nearly enough out there and I think that my putting in more effort is a way to encourage DH to keep at it. It's fun but it's also a lot of work and when he's trying to do the lion's share of the garden work with his precious hours after work and on Saturdays, I suspect it gets a little tedious. It's important to both of us to grow healthy, organic produce and I want it to be a family effort. If he's willing to clean beet greens, I'm willing to pull weeds!

Among the weeds I found this gem! Since we hadn't sprayed any bug repellent this year (we use Organocide, which has the active ingredient of 5% sesame oil), I was afraid that I would find all sorts of buggies inside this cabbage, but look how beautiful it is! And the sharp, 'cabbagey' scent that came out of it when I cut it open was wonderful!

It was sad to retire the early crop of spinach, but it will be back in the fall. I learned last night from my "Joy of Gardening Cookbook" that the way to harvest it is to cut the small leaves on each plant right down to about one inch, and then more leaves will appear on that same plant. I will keep that tip for the fall crop. We found wonderful ways to use fresh spinach this year. "Melting" it down in the microwave with a little olive oil and various seasonings made it perfect for use in quesadillas, pizza, baked sandwiches, and a center filling for lasagna. There are also some wonderfully unique spinach salad recipes in the same cookbook mentioned above - how does spinach, celery, and apple salad with blue cheese dressing sound to you? Sounds like tomorrow's dinner to me!

Well, this is all then.

July 8, 2008

Going Green

We had an exciting evening of rain, lightning, and thunder and then more, and more, and more rain! Inches by the time it was all over and it lasted all night long. Good thing we rely on God's promise to Noah and all the rest of us - Genesis 9:13-16! Fortunately we were able to rush out to the garden before the downpour and lightning started and harvest a little bit of what was ready, though there is a lot more where this came from.

This is baby bok choy, parsley, mustard greens, and rainbow Swiss chard. We also got more spinach and lettuce. We cleaned and trimmed a lot of it and the frig is full of all these good greens to use this week. Oh, it's just thrilling to me! I'm easily made happy this time of year.

Then the fun really started because we lost
power as I was cooking dinner and DH was cleaning up greens! Fortunately I had two burners going on the gas stove, so we ended up having a great dinner by the light of our oil lamp.
We had green beans and new potatoes dressed with olive oil,
Mrs. Dash seasoning, and the fresh parsley. The main dish was scallops that were sauteed with onion, mushrooms, turkey bacon, and Swiss chard. I finished it with a little sherry and a dollop of sweet hot mustard for a sauce - it was goooooooood! Who needs power? Except of course for the lovely relief of air conditioning when the humid air is thick enough to cut!

Here's a shot of our garden from the second floor. (Click on it to make it larger if you want to.) Not too bad, and from this angle you can't see exactly how bad the weeds are! It's been a chore to keep up with them because of all the rain, but then again that's why the garden is thriving right now. In the background you can kind of make out my surviving pumpkin vines- grrrrrrr. But...see all those huge tomato plants, those bush-like plants at the back? Lord willing, that equals heavenly days ahead!

Well, this is all then.

July 7, 2008

Gardening is a Family Affair

We spent a wonderful weekend visiting family and celebrating the holiday. We enjoyed a picnic and patriotic concert in town with Uncle J and Aunt P, who gave us more potatoes and some amazing green beans. Like I said, their garden is ahead of ours! We also enjoyed fireworks on a country road overlooking a corn field. From that vantage we could see the shows from four different little towns - just the kind of night that reminds you how blessed we are to live in this country.

Our final bit of celebrating was at my cousin's family farm where we attended her annual 4th of July party, which was just terrific! I took these shots of their garden and their cows. So cute and they posed so well - ha! My cousin is the third generation to live and garden on this property. I wonder what her grandparents grew in this garden? This family also shares their garden produce and I once received some of their amazing tomatoes which were sent home, by special request, on a plane with my husband!! I savored every last one!

My paternal grandmother is 98 and recently told us about her gardening experiences. She, of course, relied on her garden as a source of proper nutrition for her family over the winter months and like most people she had an underground root cellar for storing her canned goods (and for taking shelter from tornadoes!). One summer night their sheep got out of their pen and when my grandmother awoke the next morning ready to harvest her abundant pea crop, she found the horrifying sight of nothing in her garden but root stubble. I wonder if they had mutton stew for dinner?!!

Our little family has also enjoyed gardening together over the years and this is a photo of my daughter and husband quite a few years ago with a little fall harvest.
Gardening with dad also got our daughter into the state fair one year as a finalist with her 4H project that compared "square foot" gardening with conventional gardening. If you want to read a very useful gardening book, check out Mel Bartholomew's "Square Foot Gardening" or, I just discovered that he has a newer version called "All New Square Foot Gardening". Hmmm...I think I feel a new book order coming on! We've just about decided that we're going back to that method next year. It will mean lot of lumber, dirt, and gravel, but we really think we'll get a lot more yield and have a neater, more manageable garden if we go that route.

Swiss chard is almost ready to harvest - mmmmmm.... Well, this is all then.

July 3, 2008

Gardeners are Generous!

Last night's supper was graced by freshly dug Kennebec potatoes from my Uncle J's garden. He lives close by and is a master gardener - the kind that gives tours of his garden to various groups - in other words an expert! He grows way more than he and my aunt could possibly eat and his goal is to share the wealth with as many people as possible. His other goal is to get his garden to produce before any other garden in the area and he's always successful. So, there goes my valid excuse for why our garden is behind this year! (See my first post below) So far we've enjoyed his green onions, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, and now his amazing new potatoes. He's a prize of a guy and not just because he shares his veggies!

My husband shared seedlings at the beginning of the season, getting our pastor and some other church folks into the tomato business this year. My husband's a prize of a guy too! He has a nice set up in our basement for getting seedlings started and it worked out pretty well this year. Gardening is an interesting learning process and never boring! Hopefully we'll have enough pumpkins to share again this year too. I had the grand idea of making a small pumpkin patch at the back of our property so that families could come out this fall and have their kids pick pumpkins - BUT - the stinkin' deer found it and had their way with it. That's two gardening myths busted by the way - they WILL eat pumpkin vines and they DON'T have any problem with walking across black plastic - stinkin' deer! Some vines have survived so far, and we'll pray for the best. Now I just hope they stay out of our new perennials in the front bed, which by the way, were transplanted splits from the gardens of a lovely couple from our church - more generous gardeners!

Back to the potatoes - I can hardly begin to describe the thrill of home grown potatoes. I never would have thought that the taste would be so different from store bought potatoes, but they are a totally different animal - totally! Did you know that a fresh potato from the garden actually makes a cracking noise when you cut it up??? They are sweet beyond belief and have a texture that's like silk when you bite into them. Completely and totally worth the space to grow them in your garden. So, supper was poached mustard salmon served over our own spinach (which had been sauteed with olive oil, shallots and garlic), and Uncle J's potatoes, tossed with peas, healthy margarine, and seasonings. Very delicious.

My other addition to the kitchen yesterday was a dozen free range eggs from a local woman who also produces honey on her farm. Don't be too jealous when I tell you that she only charges $2 for them!!! I snapped a picture of the eggs because I love how random the sizes and colors are. My favorite is the pale green one! We're trying to learn to purchase locally, especially if it's organic or close to it. This is something that I wanted to pursue anyway, and having gas prices go through the roof was a good motivator to get going in this direction. So far we've found local sources for honey, eggs, beef, apples, black walnuts, and turkeys. Hopefully the list will grow!

Well, this is all then.

July 2, 2008

First Fruits

Here begins my third blog! The first one helped me through a tough life passage and the second one was to keep family and friends updated on our move to Iowa two years ago. Both of those blogs were a little preachy probably, so this one is intended to be simpler and mostly about what we're growing and eating in our garden. Along the way I'll share our personal growth experiences when the mood strikes me.

This year has been VERY wet in Iowa as you've no doubt seen in the news. We were spared any real trouble and our sump pump did the trick. We feel very blessed! So we're using that as our excuse for our slow start on gardening for 2008 - hee! We do have lots of lettuce and spinach and it's been great. I also learned how to thin beets and use the greens that get pulled out. Last night I added them to a bean and ham soup that was delicious. I love the "Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special" cookbook and they're big on the soup, salad, and bread meal combo. If we do this for supper I like to make the salad special so I added cucumber, toasted walnuts and crumbled blue cheese to our lettuce, and dressed it with
Ken's Vidalia Onion Lite dressing. I baked some Rhodes multi grain frozen rolls (which are addictive) and we had a feast! Aren't these beet greens gorgeous?!

I'm big on using what's ready in the garden and not letting anything go to waste. I don't mind canning and freezing, but it's so nice to eat it fresh and try vegetables we haven't eaten before. One of my very favorite tools for helping with this goal is an old book I discovered last year - "Joy of Gardening Cookbook" by Janet Ballantyne. I got it in the used book section from Amazon.com and it's worth a hundred times the $4.48 I paid for it! I even bought a second copy for my aunt and uncle who have an amazing garden that I'll write more about tomorrow. Janet B. gives a wealth of information on growing, harvesting, keeping and cooking a huge variety of vegetables. I highly recommend the book.

I'll end this first post, and all others, with my grandmother's famous line - "Well, this is all then."