September 28, 2009

Full of Surprises

I think I've said this before, but I almost enjoy fall gardening more than anything! We're no longer pampering seedlings, or fighting the voracious weeds, or wondering whether or not we need to water. In fact we just let her go, and visit once in a while and find treasure - it's awesome! This weekend we found gorgeous Swiss chard which hasn't been eaten by the summer bugs. More peppers had appeared, some of which were hidden and actually had the chance to turn orange and red since we weren't snatching them off the vine as soon as we saw them. No surprise there were more cucumbers, and there are lots of these "Green Jenny" melons, which are an heirloom variety that tastes something like a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew - jury's still out on this for me, but DH likes them. Soon we'll do an overview of all our heirloom attempts and see what we thought was worthwhile.

Heirloom tomatoes will always be in our garden, and they're still going strong. But since we've done all the canning we want to do, it's now just a joy to go out and pick only what we want to eat in the next couple of days, and I think I appreciate them more when I know they'll soon be gone for another year. We're always surprised by how long the tomato season lasts, but temperatures are dropping this week and the end is near!

And now for the littlest surprises, these teeny little pumpkins! The smallest one shown is about the size of a half dollar. I thought I had picked all of the "Jack-Be-Little" pumpkins this year, and you can see here that I have decorated some of them. But surprise, surprise there were these tiny little guys out there trying hard to ripen before it was too late! I think these delightful surprises are a big part of what makes us look forward to the garden year after year.

September 25, 2009

Farm Pond Art

In the past several years, since moving to our little acreage, we've enjoyed the pond views from our family room and dining room every day. I've taken lots of pictures, including this refelctive shot, that I used as a birthday card. There's just something about water that draws people - even if the body of water is a smallish, overgrown, once upon a time cattle drink pond!

We've loved the frigid winter sunrises over the frozen pond...

The stormy sunrises that turned the pond orange...

And particularly we've loved the birds that come to the pond. Everything from occasional ducks and geese, to seasonal hoards of red-winged black birds, to rare and surreal visits from blue herons and white egrets. These just seem too exotic to be fishing in our little pond!

This week I had the happy accident of turning a blurry photo into something that to me, resembles a water color painting. I really do mean an accident, since I was rushing to try and capture a picture of this egret from our porch without the benefit of a tripod. Now, truthfully I know just enough about cameras and the art of photography to capture what I like in a decent manner, but it's always a roll of the dice for me. In this case, I was using the super zoom abilities of my camera, but I'm unskilled at getting a clear shot using this feature. After being disappointed in the fuzzy photos that came up, I played with a few of my photo editing features, including "saturation", and I was really tickled with the way this photo ended up looking like a painting, since that's about as close as I'll ever get to creating a painting! Fortunately for me, the term "art" is subjective...just ask all those people who've been using your tax dollars to create filth and trash in the name of art - now THERE are some folks who know how to make the most of the subjective. I'm not sure if that's worse, or tax dollars being dangled in front of people to encourage them to produce propaganda art for the current "administration"... hmm, I think I've just gotten off on a tangent, and I know for sure I've just ventured into areas that I consider anything BUT subjective! I think I better go gaze at the pond for a while.

September 22, 2009

Fall Harvest

This was a picture perfect first day of fall! It was a perfect day for a picnic in the park with a dear friend, and a great day to be out in our own back yard as well. This is our garden from a new view. We're still getting a nice bit of harvest from it too!

Our tomatoes are still producing, especially all the cherry tomato varieties. This little heirloom cherry was originally in our "tomato nursery", in other words it was one of the seedlings that DH grew, gave up on, and which I insisted we go ahead and plant outside and protect with one of the tin cans we used for fragile little plants. It's simply called a red grape, a non-hybrid variety, and you may recognize that these are the type of tomato that cost an arm and a leg at the grocery store, but they never taste like this!
These little plants in this picture all lived, and we almost waited too long to transplant them to the fence trellis area of the garden, since they eventually grew far out over the cans. I hauled water out to them and babied them for a while and then we just let them go without much hope that there would be time for fruit to form and ripen. However...the payoff came this week when we were picking other cherry tomatoes, and DH was surprised to come across an abundant load of tomatoes on this transplant. Without a doubt, these are absolutely the sweetest tomatoes we've ever eaten, EVER. We took some to a church BBQ this weekend and one friend claimed they tasted like candy!

Then we have our adorable carrot people recently harvested! Most of our carrots have been absolutely gorgeous and very sweet, but we think these little fingered/legged creatures are testament to the fact that the sand layer in which they were planted, probably wasn't deep enough in some spots. As they fought their way through the clay-like garden dirt, they did what they had to do to thrive - divide and conquer!

Now for another odd little fall harvest - the hedge apple. Ever heard of it? We hadn't until we came here. It's tree is part of the Mulberry family and is called an Osage-orange. It's rather interesting in its twisty, gnarly nature. In Iowa's history, it was once planted as a living fence and was impenetrable to livestock. The wood is very tough, and doesn't swell or shrink much, making it good for everything from fence posts to archery bows. And the fruit of this tree is oddly pretty. It's sold around for as much as a dollar each in the grocery store and some people swear by it for warding off bugs, especially in basements. O.K., if you say so! I just like the knobby, green skin as a contrast to all the orange and yellow pumpkins and gourds of the season."As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." Gen.8:22

Happy Fall!

September 16, 2009

Perfect Timing

New kitchen counter-tops in the middle of canning/freezing season? Really? Is this necessary now? Apparently so! It had been our plan to simply reserve the materials we wanted, which were part of a discounted supply the contractor had that wouldn't be around forever, and then wait until a less hectic time to have them put in. But then we found out that it would only take a couple of hours to install them. So...right in the middle of this season, we (well, primarily DH) took apart the kitchen, tore off the old counters, took out the old sink, and made way for the new. Here's the picture story:

Goodbye old sink that never fit the counter and was jury-rigged in place! Goodbye cheapo counters that had numerous pie shaped jigsaw pieces in the corners - who put these in anyway? Contractors gone wild would be a good guess. Apparently the previous owner of this house wasn't as snooty as us, but those counters were stinko and getting worse since we use our kitchen a lot, as you may have noticed.

This shot is all the proof we need that we have too much junk in this kitchen! Such a pretty mess with the vinyl table cloth over the nice one, and all the terribly "necessary" stuff piled around. Plus another utility table at the end of the dining room to hold more extremely "necessary" stuff. Our thought is that we'll put it all back slowly, as we need it, and anything left over gets the boot! We'll see if either one of us can live with the clutter that long!

Ahhh...such a treat to have these pretty new surfaces for working. I took this picture before we got any of the "stuff" put back, but after DH repainted the walls - oh, he had a busy day since he also had to reconnect the dishwasher, disposal, and faucet, which again had been jury-rigged by the contractor - lovely little surprise. The counters are a solid surface material, similar to Corian, and they're a darker shade of our wall color, which is a grayish green. My favorite part is the recessed sink, which means it's flush with the counter surface - no seams, which means no place for gook to accumulate. Nice, nice, nice. And I'll be honest, it was good to have an excuse to skip freezing some random garden item for a few days. Yeah, maybe it was good timing after all!

September 12, 2009

Fall Color

Trees are just beginning to turn here in Iowa, but our fall color is coming from the garden. The tomatoes are just going crazy, and the larger ones pictured here have taken their sweet time to ripen. They're called "Gold Medal" and are a lower acid tomato. They're kind of rough and rustic looking to me, very old fashioned. These were added to pounds and pounds of our other varieties and made into more stewed tomatoes for the freezer - 7 more pints to be exact. Good stuff. A few of my roses are in the corner of this picture too, and those poor bushes have had such a hard year! Now the tenacious things are making a comeback of sorts, with beautiful new, deep green foliage, but there is some sort of worm on them - we're about to cut them all down to ground level and call it good for the season!

Oh, Charlie Brown would be impressed huh?! A nice pumpkin patch indeed, and these big beauties are heirlooms called "Connecticut Field" pumpkins. They date back to before 1700 and were meant to be planted in the corn fields, which was a Native American practice. We've heard that it kept some pests out of the corn. If you ever visit Des Moines, you might enjoy the Living History Farms, where one of the exhibits demonstrates these kinds of farming practices used by the Ioway Indians.

And speaking of corn...FINALLY, we have a crop to talk about! While I was peeling and chopping tomatoes today, DH went out and pulled all the remaining ears, and took down the stalks. We've got enough to blanch and freeze, and that's a victory this year for sure! He even shucked it all out there in the garden, a good guy heh? In front of him are crops of both carrots and leeks, still waiting a turn at harvest and process. The garden list seems never ending at times, and we try not to be governed completely by what needs to be done, but utilizing all that bounty from God's earth is certainly compelling!

This just might be our favorite fall color this year!

September 10, 2009


These are our heirloom French fingerling potatoes. I just love the color! Most of the color remains even after roasting or boiling. And yes, they taste great too!

The potato vines died off completely about a week and a half ago, and have all been pulled from the garden. Now is the not so easy task of getting all those spuds up out of the dirt! DH also loosened the soil along the sides of both potato trenches. This was some hard labor, because even though we've been working this garden for three summers, we still have a lot of clay-like soil. Pictured here is what he got out of the ground this weekend, both the fingerlings and the German butterballs, and represents about half the crop. The other half is still out there calling to us! As usual, our weekend got away from us, and this week has proven no less hectic, but hopefully we'll get out there together and get the job completed tomorrow afternoon.

The potatoes are currently laid out in the basement, curing. After consulting with both gardening uncles, DH came up with a method for keeping the potatoes, hopefully for months to come. The potatoes need cool temperatures, air flow, and darkness. We found these smallish baskets and thought they'd be a good size for storage. Not too heavy, and when we need to refresh our supply of potatoes in the kitchen, this would be just about the right amount. The idea is to layer the potatoes in the baskets, with newspaper between layers to absorb moisture. Another detail, the potatoes don't get washed before storing them, but just have the majority of the dirt wiped off. We don't really have a root cellar type of spot in our basement since most of it is finished space, but we'll do the best we can and see what happens. Our access to affordable, quality, organic potatoes around here has been abysmal at best, so Lord willing this will be the answer to that frustration!

O.K. - only one cousin has provided pictures of the hyacinth bean vine growing in her yard. Where are those pictures family and friends?????????!!!!!!!!! I know life is busy, but come on now - click, click, send.

September 4, 2009

From the Jungle

All in an evening's picking! There was such a variety in this haul too. Down the center of the picture is a cabbage that was a second growth plant after the original had been picked, a mini cantaloupe that DH decided to grow vertically this year, a turbin squash, and our one and only mini watermelon of the season! And yes indeed, there is corn in that picture - FINALLY!! So far, we can't say it's the best corn we've ever planted, but it's satisfying to have some ripen. The cucumber vine will not stop - it's a total beast! We've supplied several rounds of cucumbers to much of DH's office staff this summer! My favorite thing of all however, is that bag full of mini pumpkins. They just ring my chime! I love any kind of pumpkin, and I'm looking forward to the other two kinds still on the vine in the jungle you see below.

Yes, it is out of control and we don't much care at this point in the season! We've had some nights dip into the 40's already, so the rapid growing season has come to a close. There will still be plenty of goodies coming out of this overgrown plot though, including a whole big bunch of potatoes that need to be dug. That's the project of the weekend and we'll have our DD here for Labor Day weekend too. But we haven't told her that this labor is in the mix - it might keep her away! We'll soften her up with homemade Pad Thai when she gets here tonight, and then we'll tell her that the jungle is calling!

September 2, 2009

Ready, Set, Salsa

READY - pounds of tomatoes, pounds of onions, a dozen jalapenos, nearly as many Anaheim peppers, back straining amounts of chopping, and a pair of rubber gloves to prevent pepper burns! Finally, finally we were ready to make salsa!! It was a two day job, with yesterday being the day for chopping, extra runs to the garden for more tomatoes, and extra runs to the store, since I didn't read my recipe very carefully - ugh! Today was the actual canning, which I'm getting more comfortable doing on my own, especially since I have an aloe plant growing in the kitchen to deal with my inevitable burns!

SET - this is one batch cooking away - 30 minutes of simmering, and the second batch before any cooking was done. Fresh cilantro, cumin, and garlic season these batches. Each batch yielded 9 pints, and I canned 14 of those, with the remaning salsa going into the refrigerator or freezer. I have 7 slots in my canning rack, and that's why I chose to make it easy on myself and can 14 jars. More than two rounds of boiling and canning, and I'm not a happy woman anymore!

SALSA- this is a great batch. The taste is spicy, but subtle and flavorful rather than just being HOT! Because of the difference in tomatoes and peppers each year, there's always a little mystery about how it's going to taste. I used a recipe from New Mexico State University Extension Center. Be sure you use a very reputable source for your canning instructions. I've harped on this before, but I'll harp again - NEVER just wing it with your salsa canning, or any canning for that matter. Canning acid foods and non-acid foods together, i.e. tomatoes with peppers and onions, takes a very specific acid balance and you need to follow it carefully for food safety. Another tidbit I learned inadvertently from this site - our altitude is 1089 feet! The processing times for salsa are dependent on altitude, so I had to "Google" and find out. It made me think about the fact that we have lived at altitudes that range from 14 feet above sea level, to 5630 feet - more than a mile above sea level!

This was a wonderful side benefit of using cilantro in the salsa. Last night, DH cut up the 8 tablespoons we needed for two batches of salsa. Then he got curious about how to freeze all the extra, and found this ice cube tray method on the internet. You chop the cilantro finely, pack it into the trays, and top them up with water. Then freeze, pop out the cubes and put them in a freezer bag. We knew about doing this with prepared pesto, but had never seen this done with fresh herbs. I think it's brilliant and I can wait to use these in our Indian, Mexican, and Thai dishes. But tonight - it's salsa smothered burritos all the way baby!

P.S. Happy Birthday to my youngest brother today, who is an "Irish twin" to my older brother. For the next several weeks they will be the SAME age!