June 29, 2009

Pretty Things

Baby beets and a "mess" of greens. Apparently the term "mess" just refers to an unknown quantity, like "bunch". I've always thought it was a very quirky term! These two varieties of beets are both heirlooms, one golden and one called albino, though it has red veining. This year I took the advice from my very favorite gardening cookbook, "The Joy of Gardening Cookbook", and picked these when they were golf ball sized. Once we decide which recipe to try out, I'll post that and the picture of these beauties. We did eat the greens last night, dressed with a little olive oil and balsamic - yummy. I just steamed them in my rice cooker basket. You can put the veggies in the cooker near the end of the rice cooking time, and kill two birds with one stone. If you want to buy the rice cooker we have, click here. It's easy to use and very affordable too.

These fresh peas are sure pretty! We cooked them last night as well, as part of rice pilaf. They were very tender and sweet. However, I must confess that I'm not quite sure that growing this kind of peas is really worth it. This big pile of pods yielded less than a cup of peas. When you think about the affordability of organic frozen peas, and compare that to the effort to plant, water, pick and shell this little bit of peas - maybe it's not worth it. I would say that snow peas are much more worth the effort, since I have rarely seen fresh organic snow peas at the grocery store, and frozen snow peas are just not the same animal. What do you think? Are you totally hooked on fresh garden peas?

How do you like these curly, twirly garlic plants?!! I think they're just fascinating. The one on the far right made that pretzel twist all on it's own. Our experiment with garlic growing is good so far. Can't wait to dig it up! We did try digging up some potatoes. We've read that you can start checking them about now and continue harvesting them throughout the season, however, there were only two little bitty potatoes to be found under the plant we dug, so we'll leave them alone for a while longer. I will say that those two little potatoes were perfect, and very, very pretty things!

June 25, 2009

When You're Not Looking...

...nice things happen in the garden - like these beautiful heads of broccoli and our first peas! The reason we hadn't been looking in the past couple of days is our weather. I blogged about beating the heat on the 23rd, and it's been something else since then. Last night we spent just a few minutes outside and we were both drenched and dripping, and that was with virtually no exertion. Again, my thoughts went to those who have to work outdoors in this combination of heat plus extreme humidity. I don't know how they do it. We also had the lovely site out front of our daisies in full bloom. At least some things appreciate the weather!

When you're not looking, bad things also happen in the garden - bolted spinach and tatsoi, weeds, weeds, did I mention weeds? There was also a little garden damage from the awful winds and sideways rain that lasted nearly 45 minutes the night before. That amazing heat did in fact produce some horrible storms that same evening, and our electricity did go out, AND the generator did come on! Right on cue, just a couple of minutes after we lost power. We were so thrilled!

And when it comes to our God-blessed country - lots of things happen when we're not looking. It's a little like watching a train wreck some days, and it's tempting to shield our eyes. But perhaps if we take our hands away from our eyes, we may have a chance of getting a few things off the track before the train crashes into all of it. Things like the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, choice of public or private health care, and maybe most importantly our Constitution. Lately there are those who seem to want to lay it across the tracks. For the sake of our kids and grandkids, we have to fight to keep the good things intact so we don't have to tell them, that it was lost while we weren't looking.

June 23, 2009

Let's Play - BEAT THE HEAT

This hydrangea is called 'Endless Summer' - hmm??

Up at 4:40 AM today, to the sound of our alarm system beeping, indicating that the power has gone off at some point. It was on again, but DH went out at 5:25 anyway, to make sure the generator battery was properly in place, "just in case".

I got up shortly after this and started thinking through what needed to be done before the big heat came around. Shut all blinds, close rooms that don't need to be cooled. Plan dinner and make sure its something that can be grilled if needed. Make sure my cell phone is charged. Shut down as many electrical things as possible to reduce the load - big computer, big TV, etc. Forget the plan to do more laundry today.

Then it's off to run errands in town. The grocery store doesn't open until 8, so that slowed me down. It's 7:55 AM and 82 degrees. Drop off movies, get groceries, zip back home and ignore the mouse that just ran across the road in front of our house - ignore the mouse, ignore the mouse. Darn, it was a big old mouse.

Rush the frozen yogurt into the freezer in the garage. Then before coming inside, head out to the garden to pick some lettuce for dinner - ignore the weeds, ignore the weeds. It's too stinking hot to pick weeds.

Bring in the rest of the groceries and group all the dinner stuff in the front of the fridge so I will only have to have the door open momentarily to get dinner fixings out. That's just in case the power goes out and the generator doesn't come through. You see it's never been put to the test - only in theory will it come on when needed. Call me skeptical.

Back outside to pick one huge hydrangea bloom, so that if the bush wilts down to nothingness again today, we will at least have had one beautiful bloom inside to enjoy. Then on to watering the plants on the porch, while dodging the birds who are out there making their 5th nest. Guess the "wait them out - they'll get tired of rebuilding" tactic of DH isn't going to work??

Finally it's out to water the herbs and seedlings on the deck, only to find that the cilantro has totally croaked, and then I curse myself for not watering before I went to the grocery store, since I could have picked up some fresh cilantro there. The cilantro I needed for that very carefully planned meal for tonight - ugh!

I would say that except for the cilantro, I won the beat the heat game! It's 8:55 AM now, 84 degrees, 87% humidity. The prediction is for a temp of 95 degrees, with a heat index of 105-110. We're under a heat advisory until 7 PM. Stay cool and say some prayers for the elderly and babies who are stuck without the necessity of air conditioning on days like today. And for those who must work outdoors - that they may have intelligent and compassionate supervisors!

June 22, 2009

Garden Progress Report

Alright, so I was impatient. As you can see, the Swiss chard did grow after all! It's thriving finally. We have about 6 clumps this year, and last year we had about 60 - no exaggeration! This is a much more manageable amount for us and I don't feel as though I'm growing it for compost only. We do have family friends who love this veggie, and I have no doubt that we will be able to share some with them - don't worry! It may be in the fall however, since we will be replanting this in the near future and maybe it will come up more abundantly then. This bunch will be steamed to go with a shrimp/pineapple Teriyaki we're having tonight. The recipe and picture will be on the recipe page. Click here to see them.

We had wonderful Father's Day weekend with our girl. Part of her gift to her dad was being an extra pair of hands in the garden this weekend. Her reward was a happy daddy, and a bag of both spinach and lettuce to take back to her apartment. Next time she comes home we will hopefully have more to share. Dad and daughter dealt with a lot of weeds, and put down quite a bit more hay mulch. Just in time too, since it's hotter than a firecracker this week. There are heat advisories in some parts of the state where my relatives live, so I will assume they're taking precautions. Better heat than tornadoes, I suppose!

Here's a shot of how the garden looks overall. The table on the deck here is holding our herb collection for this season and a few pots with new seedlings. As you look at the garden, you can make out lots of bushy potato plants on the left side, and vigorous tomato plants on the right side. No close up shots for now, since there are a "few" weeds to be wrangled! Never ends. However, the fact that I can pop out there with a pair of scissors and a bowl, and come back in with the freshest possible produce, full of vitamins and minerals, minus the chemicals - worth it, worth it, worth it.

Finally, this picture is a testament to the riches of compost. This is a shot inside of the second compartment to our compost bin near the garden. It's the section that is not fresh veggie waste from the kitchen, but not quite broken down enough to use as soil enrichment. What you see here are myriads of little tomato plants that have come up from the waste that was thrown in here last summer! It always makes us chuckle to see the volunteers that come up all alone, since we put so much work into seed saving, and starting seedlings, and protecting them from the harsh weather, and keeping the bugs off of them. But out here, in the waste bin, are perfectly healthy plants that took care of business all on their own! I think the joke's on us!

June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day

"A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society." - Billy Graham

My dear husband, shown here reading to our infant daughter many years ago - we notice you, we praise you - hopefully enough - and society can surely count you as an asset. You have contributed to the upbringing of a very productive, God fearing child, who moves through the world in a gentle, helpful, loving way, and you also endeavor to be a godly example in all other areas of your life. By the grace of God, you have had the great honor of being a parent, and I know you feel that you are the one who is the more blessed by this honor. And THAT is a big part of what makes you such a good father!

Let's sing praises to all the good fathers in our lives, notice what they have given to us and to the world. Recognizing that they are not perfect, for only our Heavenly Father is perfect, and desires us to rely on Him more than any earthly father. And moreover, give encouragement to young fathers you know, that they may realize the value that God puts on their efforts to raise a family in faith. We look to fathers who are leaders and set an example of how to live in all the stages of our lives. The Bible sets out specific qualifications for elders, or leaders in the church, and these are wonderful guidelines for ALL men who want to make a lasting impact on the life of their family.

1 Timothy 3:2-4 (CEV)
"That's why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach. They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money. Church officials must be in control of their own families, and they must see that their children are obedient and always respectful."

You can bet that happy days for fathers, begin and end right here!

June 18, 2009

That Tornado Time of Year

Ahhh, nothing quite like spending most of a summer's evening in the basement with the weather channel as the main attraction! The other shoe has dropped, and we finally got some hot weather for our garden, but unfortunately that leads to something the Midwest is famous for, which are severe thunderstorms that lead to tornadoes. We went through quite a series of thunderstorms last night, with one in particular that caused us to go under a tornado warning. That's when we head to the basement and watch the t.v. to see the progression of the cells as they move across our county. We had to keep watch last night until 12:30 - stinko. We are very fortunate to have a sturdy area under our basement steps in which to take refuge. It made me think about the fact that we are even more fortunate to have a God that wants us to take refuge in Him every day, regardless of the weather.

We did have a bit of comedic relief during all the hail, lightening, and 60 mile per hour gusts! Just before things broke loose, we hurried out to the deck and front porch to put our potted plants under cover. That caused an intake of some little transparent, lime green bugs - sorry that's the best I can do for identification since entomology is not my thing! These buggies like the light, and congregated on the ceiling above my chair and table lamp. I looked up and saw them all, and of course did the "girl dance" and freaked out a little, which causes DH to do the "hubbie dance" - you know the one where they immediately spring into action to fix the problem? I love that dance and feel blessed to have a hubbie who knows the dance! He was sure that our new cordless Dustbuster would be just the tool to get the bugs sucked up, but he couldn't reach from the floor since the ceilings are higher than normal. So picture him standing in my upholstered chair with hail beginning to crack against the windows and lightening getting really wicked, and just as he turns the Dustbuster on to go after the bugs, the electricity pops off and then pops back on a few seconds later. He turns the Dustbuster on again, and out goes the electricity. Actually, every time he turned the Dustbuster off, the power would pop back on! It happened three times!! Finally the weather radio sounded a tornado warning, rather than just a thunderstorm warning, and we abandoned the bug quest and headed to the basement. It was truly a slapstick moment!

Not so funny is the damage that was caused to some people's homes and crops. Always such a shame. We were spared anything of consequence, though some of our garden took a battering. Below is an older shot of a "tomato nursery" that we started with some of our homegrown tomato seedlings. They have done extremely well, and we've even given a couple away. After the storm however, there was a bit of havoc in the nursery.
But DH thinks that the stems are only bent and should recover. We'll see. But that's the way the cookie crumbles, and besides, our darling daughter is on her way home for a long weekend, and we'll be celebrating Father's Day together. All is well!

June 16, 2009

Funny Weather

Alright - it's confirmed - by my Master Gardner Uncle - we are having very strange weather this year! And furthermore, it's causing some strange garden behavior. The things that should be done, are still going strong. And the things that should be coming on like gang busters, are just piddly. Our corn, for example, is really struggling, and apparently the nighttime temps need to stay above 60 in order for it to do it's thing. It was such an encouragement when my uncle and aunt were here on Sunday and compared notes with what's going on in their garden too. Truthfully we were beginning to wonder about our heirloom seed experiment this year, and now we feel more comfortable that the seeds are not the cause of the sluggish growth and spotty sprouting behavior we've seen. Whew!

Here are a couple of things that are thriving in the cooler temps - besides bugs galore that is! First, my hydrangea, which gets 'wilty' in hot temps, is just as happy as a clam, and actually much healthier than it was last year.

And then this begonia, that has been on our porch since just after Easter, can't bloom enough apparently! I've never had this much success with a plant that was mass produced for the holiday season. I kept it at church for a couple of weeks and then brought it home and put it outside, where I expected a few weeks of enjoyment but got much more.

Then there is the never ending lettuce and spinach still pouring forth from the garden. They're cool weather crops of course, and it has been so nice to have a longer time to enjoy them this summer. Below is a picture of the Greek pizza we cooked up on Friday night. Fresh spinach from the garden, piled high over the top of feta cheese, Calamata olives, sundried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. A pizza to make Popeye proud!
How is your garden doing this year???? Let us know!

June 11, 2009

Battling Bugs and Birds

This has certainly been a strange gardening year so far. Our roses are going bonkers, and as you can see in this picture, this bush is producing 5 or more secondary blooms around a middle bloom. It's quite an amazing spectacle and I have no idea why it's happening. However, the other thing that you can see in the upper corners is the white BT powder that we're using to try and ward off a little wasp that is feasting on most of the rose bushes. One bush in particular is about to disintegrate! So, tonight we're going to resort to a non-organic spray and hopefully that will do the trick. We'll be careful not to spray it on the sidewalk or porch so we can cut down the chance of tracking it through the house. The other battle out front is with a couple of swallows, truly beautiful birds, who have decided that the top of our shutter is the only place on the face of the earth that their nest can be. DH removed it, but of course they're back at it today, and I can't go out on the porch to water flowers without getting dive bombed! Not cool!! We won't do them any harm, but we'll be glad when they get a clue and relocate.

These are the first of our mini bok choy plants to be harvested. The egg of course, is just to give you a size perspective. These are called baby pak choy to be exact, and the verdict is still out on them for me. If you look at the one on the far left, you can see that even at this small size it has begun to go to seed. And the other issue is that the bugs have really loved them too- along with our pitiful looking eggplant bushes!! My thought at the moment is to go back to the slightly larger size of bok choy plant. However, I'll be using these pak choy in Pad Thai tonight and the taste of these little veggies will be the real deciding point. Last year I posted the guideline for making Pad Thai the way we like it. I posted it again, on the Favorite Garden Recipes part of our blog, so click the link and try it!

We're saying special prayers today for my 99-year-old grandmother, who just got out of the hospital with a touch of pneumonia, and for my sister and brother-in-law who are on the road to Alaska. May God bless them all.

June 9, 2009

Spinach and Monkeys

Our spinach is thriving now, thanks to a little rain and some sunny days. We've been having unusually cool weather this month. It's kind of like waiting for the other shoe to drop, since you know the hot, hot weather is just waiting to happen! We made a wonderful spinach salad this evening to go with a grass-fed beef steak on the grill. It's got hard boiled egg and chopped bacon on top, along with a tangy homemade dressing. We've been making most of our salad dressings lately. We're trying to avoid so many things in bottled dressings - soy products, bad oils, too much sodium, high-carb fillers, and high fructose corn syrup. Dressings are very easy to put together, and having a little collection of recipes on hand is the secret to making this a new habit. I also utilize a shaker jar, which makes the mixing a snap. I've put a couple of recipes up on the recipe page , so click the link to see them. The sock monkey in the picture above, came from our trip this past weekend.

We spent the weekend in Rockford, IL, the self-proclaimed Sock Monkey Capital! Here they manufacture the red-tipped socks, which make the traditional sock monkey. It was a very special weekend reunion of friends who knew one another in Maine. Now two of the three families have moved away from Maine, but the ties are still strong and always will be, Lord willing. We all felt very blessed to be together again, even for a short time.

Now that we're home, we're back to fighting the weeds and bugs, which have been incredibly voracious this season. Our roses and eggplant have been especially tormented. Today was more weeding, mulching and dusting with BT (bacillus thuringiensis, an organic bug fighter). I think I see a pattern developing here! But, it's worth every bit of the battle!

June 4, 2009

Baby Green Goodness

Tatsoi-Oriental Greens

Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix

Tatsoi, spinach, and lettuce - all up and ready to eat. These are baby greens at this point, the kind that some stores sell for a premium, for reasons that elude me frankly. It just means you went out and got to harvest a little early, and then you let the plant continue to grow more leaves and you harvest more - brilliant plan! I had also hoped to have baby beet greens, which accomplishes thinning your beets at the same time, but so far, this year's beets are not fully forthcoming. We'll reseed those as well as chard - a mystery for sure.

If you don't know what Tatsoi is, it's a leafy green similar in flavor to Bok Choy which you've probably seen in the grocery store. Very rich in vitamins and minerals and useful in salads, stir-fry, and the like. Supposedly it can even be harvested from under the snow, so we will certainly plant more in the fall.

On this mild June evening, I used the baby tatsoi and baby spinach in some outstanding Chinese chicken soup. Look at the recipe page to see the picture and the recipe that is based on a recipe from the Epicurious site. I rarely use a recipe without changing it to reflect what's ready in the garden or what's in the refrigerator that needs to be used ASAP. I never use questionable food (too many food science classes in college), but I do get creative in order not to waste. No waste, especially since we've gotten back to using as much organic food as possible. So, I changed the recipe around, and you should do the same to suit your own tastes and kitchen contents. Be brave!

June 1, 2009

Summer Beginnings

"Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January." Hal Borland

This is such a lyrical quote to mark the beginning of summer, and by an author that was a dear friend of one of my all time favorite authors, Galdys Taber. Her books are hard to find, but if you have a library that hasn't pitched out all the goodies from the 50's, it's worth checking out one of her books, and getting lost in the lovely word pictures she paints. Amazon does carry a few, however, so look here to purchase.

As you can see in the picture, our roses are bursting already and it seems like it's a little early, but no complaints from me. That's the pretty side of the growing season. The other side is WEEDS! Oh my, they seem so much worse this year. By the time October rolled around last year, we had harvested most of our garden and let it go to weeds without a fight. But since many things are just now fully emerging - potatoes, lettuce, spinach, Chinese greens, peas, and beans to name just a few, it's way, way too early to give in to the nasty weedy things. So each night will be dedicated to weeding and mulching another area. We made some headway tonight, but a thunderstorm is currently chasing DH around the yard on his riding mower, so we suspended garden work for the day. I was left with no other choice than to come inside and make dinner - roast chicken that was all cozied up in my Dutch oven with lemon, rosemary, onion, garlic, and white wine. Yeah, it'll just have to do! It was so nice to go out on the deck and pick some rosemary right off the plant too.

One more June 1st thought - 32 years ago today I graduated from high school. Now I have a "little" girl who is half-way through college. Savor the summer days.