Sunday, August 28, 2016

Yellow Jacket Attack!

Last weekend I was watering the garden (the drought continues) when I noticed a few small bees flying about. That’s not terribly unusual near the fruit, and since I am fairly comfortable around bees now, I didn’t pay it much mind.  

Big mistake.


It turns out that there’s a nest of yellow jackets in the blueberry bed, which you can see above. I watered the blueberries first, then stepped over the nest (an error I realize now, but obviously not at the time) to water the raspberries. 

And that’s when the yellow jackets decided to attack.

I got stung and backed away, but one got up under my shirt. And kept stinging. 

I did manage to get inside the house before tearing my shirt off (you’re welcome, neighbors!), and pretty much dashed upstairs for immediate Benadryl. 

Meanwhile, Kirk shook out my shirt inside, which released that angry yellow jacket and terrified the children. He managed to shoo it out the door without further incident.

So six stings later I wasn’t feeling so great. I’m not allergic, but that’s a whole lot of venom — and it was all on my torso, near the important bits like lungs and such. This is a great example of why living with an RN is super-convenient. I definitely felt like I was going to throw up and felt my adrenaline kicking in, but it wasn’t an allergic reaction. Just a perfectly normal response to being poisoned

Yellow jackets will die out with the first frost, but it’s awfully inconvenient to wait until then. We won’t be able to get to our fall raspberries without a fight, and Jonas is petrified of going outside. They also are competing with Smithy for his cat food, so there’s that. 

Since the nest is right in our blueberry bed, we need to avoid a lot of things that will harm the soil or their roots, so popular internet advice like pouring gasoline (!) or soap into the nest are out. Boiling water is probably also out, though it might be far enough away from the roots not to matter.

I also read that a vacuum cleaner might be the way to go: You just set the hose near the hole and turn it on from a distance. The aggressive little bastards will all come out to attack the loud thing and get sucked up inside. Then you have to tape the hose shut and wait for them all to die. 

That gets a solid maybe. I could also just don my bee suit to pick any future raspberries, so we’ll see.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Himrod Harvest

We’re missing a lot of big-ticket fruits and veggies in the garden this year: no peaches, nectarines or pears, thanks to pests last year and a badly-timed cold snap in late February. No cucumbers or green beans, thanks to a voracious (but since removed) groundhog. And everything is suffering from the drought, which is still a major player in the 2016 garden. 

Despite the issues, our grapes are doing relatively well, since they tend to prefer drier conditions (not this dry, of course, but they’re holding up). We have two vines each of four different varieties, and Himrod is the first to ripen:  


Himrod is a white grape bred to do well in the Fingerlakes region, so it makes sense for our northern garden. It’s sweet with a musky-tart skin, and it’s a variety made for eating, not winemaking. Ours are seedless.

Because they ripen so early — and because all our grapes are green at this point — we haven’t timed the harvest properly in the past, and the birds got a lot of our white grapes. This year we had a bumper crop, though not all were able to ripen due to the drought:


It’s a huge shame how many grapes we’ve lost this year, based on all the sad, on-the-vine-raisins everywhere. The Concords are especially hard-hit in this area, though our other varieties are having better yields than ever before, even with the losses. 


It’s not only rain holding our grapes back. We also had a pretty nasty Japanese beetle infestation back there this year, as you can see above. It was at its worst while we were away on vacation, so there wasn’t much we could do about it. Next year, we should be on hand to go out there and pick them off by hand and feed them to the chickens. 


Still, even with no rain and opportunistic insects, we’ve filled up a big bowl of sweet, juicy grapes. These are nice and refreshing on these hot days when you grab a handful out of the fridge, so I imagine we’ll just eat them up without having to worry about making any jelly.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Heirloom Tomato Tasting

It’s been slow going for our tomato plants this year. The cold, cloudy spring and dry summer have basically put our plants on pause. Still, they are growing — albeit at a glacial pace — and producing. They’re just several weeks behind schedule.

When we lost most of our vining tomato seedlings, we replaced them with transplants. To cheer ourselves up, we took advantage of the opportunity to sample several new-to-us varieties. Here’s our first basket:


Not pictured: our Amish paste and Paisano tomatoes, which are all still green on the vine. We also planted a new variety called “Mexico,” but the one reddish one wasn’t quite ready to be picked yet. Below is one of everything except Early Girl (the small red one in the 10 o’clock position above), which is a perfectly okay tomato if you like the grocery store kind.


Above we have the more interesting ones for tasting. Top row, from the left: Black Krim, Rose, Red Brandywine. Bottom row: Yellow Pear, Sungold, Green Zebra.

Kirk and I sliced these up and ate them plain to get a good comparison. Here are our tasting notes:

Black Krim: Nice flavor. Less acidic and a little earthy around the skin.

Rose: My all-time favorite tomato. Its meaty throughout, with barely any goo around the seeds at all. Acidic and bright, with tons of amazing tomato flavor. 

Red Brandywine: Mild and not as tomato-y as I have been led to believe. It’s more flavorful near the skin, but this one was pretty seedy. Maybe it’s a dud? I don’t get what everyone keeps going on about

Yellow Pear: Very mild, kind of mealy. Meh.

Sungold: Very tomato-y, very acidic. Bears early and often. Great for snacking.

Green Zebra: Very sweet, with a slightly tart finish. Thick outer flesh kind of makes me want to try drying them.

We had planned on planting Black Krim from seed, and that seems like a solid choice — we really liked it. It remains to be seen if our plant produces a better Brandywine later; in the meantime, we’re looking forward to a Mexico ripening to give that a go!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Edible Souvenirs

Back in mid-July we went on vacation. (With such a big garden and several animals, the likelihood of me ever making that statement again seems slim — we really should save our vacationing for the off-season.) We drove all over Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, and it was great. 

When we travel, we’re not super into souvenirs, though we do tend to pick up some edible ones. This time we bought prickly pear syrup with the intention of making our own prickly pear ice cream (we had some in Prescott, AZ, and it was really good!) and some Southwesternized gin and tonic concoctions. But alas! We forgot about the liquid rule and it got confiscated at the airport (very nicely,  I should add, considering I also left my phone in my pocket and we were generally completely brain dead after 12 days in the desert).

What did make it home was a package of stoneground blue corn meal and Hopi tea that we bought at the Hopi Cultural Center from the couple who harvested and dried them. We haven’t used them yet, but we’ll eventually have an Arizona supper to test them out (just as soon as I order a bottle of prickly pear syrup to replace the one being enjoyed by the TSA). 

We also bought a fun new item from a potter in Jerome, AZ. This is a handmade garlic grater: 


The concentric circles in the middle have little raised teeth that smushes up garlic and ginger when you rub them over the surface. We don’t have a great garlic harvest this year, but to test out our new toy I grabbed a nice couple of cloves of Spanish rosa:


I’ll admit that I was a little afraid of scraping my fingers, but I don’t think this is sharp enough to actually cut skin. It does a nice job, and the plate holds all the good garlic juice so you don’t lose it on a cutting board:


This plate is designed to hold just the right amount of olive oil for bread dipping, which is exactly what we did:


In addition to the two big garlic cloves, I also added a couple twists of black pepper, a pinch of salt, and some smoked Spanish paprika (perhaps the single most interesting gift I’ve ever received from a student!). The verdict? Everyone wants more! And the grater is a success, too.