Showing posts from August, 2012

Container Planting

When we moved in, we inherited several outdoor planters full of dirt. We added the dirt to the compost pile and tossed the containers aside. I gave several away, threw out the broken ones, and the kids used the remaining pair as outdoor chairs for most of this summer. Finally, though, I decided to put them to use for their intended purpose:

In the center is a small plant of hardy chrysanthemums that I picked up for a few bucks at a local nursery. Those should give color throughout the fall, and I may try to tuck them into a cutting garden bed to overwinter and see if we can save them for next year. 
Around the edges of the container is some pennyroyal that I have been growing in pots this year. It was really tiny transplant when I bought it, but now it is big enough to divide into smaller pieces to set around the edge of the pot. Hopefully it will fill in and we'll have a lot more of the trailing stems cascading over the edge of the container. 
We now have two matching containers:

I g…

Putting Up Garlic

We harvested the last of our garlic back in July, and it has been curing out in the workshop ever since. It's been ready to store for several weeks, but I finally got around to it today.

A few steps of cleaning it up. First, I snipped them off the braids and dropped them into a basket. When the basket was full, I took them out on the porch of the workshop (in the shade!) to snip off the roots and give them a good once-over with a stiff brush to get rid of the dirt that was still on them. I was fairly gentle, but sometimes the outermost layer of skin came off as well. Once they were clean, I sorted them by variety and bagged them up in these mesh bags I got. (They are made of recycled plastic and are nice and sturdy, so we expect to be able to reuse them for several seasons. They are less than $1 apiece on

So here we have it. The bags in the back are for eating. From left to right, there is a bag of late Italian, Spanish rosa, and early Italian. In the front are our s…

Overrun by Tomatoes and Cucumbers!

Too much of a good thing? We can barely keep up with our cucumbers and tomatoes. I mean, you can only have so many meals built around them: 

This is tabbouleh that Kirk made with some tomatoes and bulgur wheat (also a great way to use up lots of parsley) with a cucumber-red onion-feta salad on the side. That was very easy — slice it thin and put in the fridge with some white vinegar and it comes out cold and crispy for supper (add the feta just before serving).
In addition to all the salsa (I think we're on our third gallon of it now, plus a half gallon in the freezer), we've been doing a lot of canning this month. A lot:

As you can see on the left, we still have slicing cukes (in the front), rose tomatoes, and pickling cukes left over from our harvest session this past weekend, and I'm sure there will be a lot more when I got out to pick again tomorrow (I pick Thursdays and Sundays, plus whatever we grab on a daily basis for cooking, in case you were wondering). I think …

Summer Perfection

The garden can be a lot of work, especially at this time of year. Although we've got the weeds under control, there is so much to harvest and then preserve that it can feel a bit overwhelming. Sometimes, though, you don't have to do anything except pick and eat and perfect fruit:

This is our first cantaloupe (ok, technically muskmelon, but whatever). We had a really tiny one once at the Red House, but this one is just right. It's a smaller variety than the giant ones you'd find in the grocery store, but that's needed this far north to end up with ripe fruit before you run out of warm summer days. The flavor is much, much better than anything in the grocery store. I'm not a huge fan of cantaloupe, but this I like. It's sweet (but not too sweet), and the best part is the texture — smooth and firm, not at all grainy (which I think is why I never liked cantaloupe in the first place — because the ones in the store are crappy).

And here is one big, perfect bell …

Nature: Simultaneously Gross and Awesome

While picking tomatoes yesterday, we came across this:

It's the biggest, grossest caterpillar we've ever seen! A quick google search of "big caterpillar with white things" showed us right away that this was a tomato hornworm, which is a pretty big garden pest that can defoliate your tomatoes in just a day or two.

Ours doesn't seem to have done much more damage other than just eating the leaves of the branch it's currently on, and we couldn't find any more (although, according to the internet, they are notoriously hard to spot — they are pretty much the exact same color as the tomato leaves, for one thing). Kirk was about to pick it off the plant when I read a little further to find out what the white things are ...

ParasiticBraconidae wasp larvae.

So it turns out that those white things are miniature cocoons for wasp larvae. The eggs are laid when the wasp injects them into a hornworm, and as the larvae grow the EAT THEIR WAY OUT OF THE HORNWORM AND FLY A…

What to Do With an Unripe Watermelon

Back on the first weekend of August we were so excited to see how big our watermelons were getting. We checked all the signs of ripeness: good sound, firm skin, yellow bottom. So Kirk brought one in:

And we sliced it open:

This is not meant to be a yellow watermelon. It only even looks that way in the photo because of the lighting — it's really white throughout. It's Sweet Favorite, and it's supposed to be red. 
After the huge wave of disappointment rolled through the room, we all took a bite anyway. 
It's not sweet, but it's not sour or bitter, either. It tastes like watermelon, just without the sugar. Kind of like a watermelon-flavored cucumber.
It's too big to let go to waste, and we felt obligated to wrap it up and keep it in the fridge until we figured out something to with it.  
Dish #1: Watermelon Kachumber

Kachumber is an Indian salad that is normally made with cucumber. Here we used some of our unripe watermelon instead. It's basically choppe…

Our Peaceable Kingdom

The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
~Isaiah 11:6

Under careful supervision, we started letting the chickens out at the same time Fletch was around. The chickens were terrified of him at first and all flew across the yard in a big pile of feathers and clucking. Fletch definitely looked interested and took a few stalking steps toward them, but I gave a warning and Tiegan gave him petting, and he has barely looked at them since.
After a couple days, the chickens calmed down enough to come out of the coop, even with Fletch standing guard:

I really wish I had been out earlier with my camera, when Fletch was literally lying down in the grass while the chickens ate the grass around him. That inspired my thinking about our own peaceable kingdom, which has really come along this summer. We have our own little lion lying down with our fat ... chickens, and…

The Masque of the Red Death — of Corn

The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.
~from "The Masque of the Red Death," by Edgar Allan Poe

We've got more than just squirrel problems with our corn this year (as if that weren't enough). We also have weird, red veined stalks (and these often these have red tassels as well). It starts with the center vein turning red:

Lots of our corn looked like this, and it did not grow very tall. They also had very small ears (well, the ones we beat the squirrels to did, anyway).
Not all of it turned out this way. Here's a nice, normal one with a good sized ear:

(To be honest, we have to assume that ear was good based on the size of the husk the squirrels left behind). These have nice, white center veins in the leaves:

So what is going on? According to a very thorough diagnostic chart from the University of Georgia, the Red Death might be a virus called Maize Dwarf Mosaic Virus, which stunts the growth…

Chocolate Beet Ice Cream

Remember all those beets? We had way more than fit in that red and blue tart, so Kirk puréed and froze the extra roasted beets. I just picked some more this weekend, so we decided to use up a bunch, this time in a dessert:

This is chocolate beet ice cream, and it is delicious. Do not be afraid! It is awesome.
Kirk got the idea from River Cottage, a BBC Show about a guy who grows lots of great food in England. I think he's rich and has an estate to play with, but it's still a good show despite the jealous-making aspect of it.
The River Cottage recipe called for eggs, so was really more of a frozen custard. As I mentioned before, we are not fans of ice cream with eggs in it, so we modified this recipe to be a Philadelphia-style ice cream. Here's how we did it to make a half gallon:
1 cup milk 3/4 cup sugar 1/4 tsp. salt 1 cup half and half 2 cups heavy cream 1 1/3 lb. roasted beet purée (room temperature) 1/2 lb. semisweet chocolate chips, melted
Heat the milk until it just …

Garden Zen Activity: Harvesting Chamomile

My mind-clearing, repetitive activity of the month? Picking chamomile blossoms:

The biggest of these flowers is about the size of my thumbnail, and (as you can see) there are an awful lot of them. Also, harvesting them requires some finesse. You only want the flower, not the stems (which are bitter). So I pinch them off with by thumbnail again my index finger right up against the bottom of the flower, and I catch the blossom in my other hand. I've become ambidextrous at this, so I can switch hands when one gets tired.
I get about a salad plate full of blossoms each week, which need to dry thoroughly before storage. This is what they look like after a week or two of drying:

This is actually a couple harvests' worth, because they lose a lot of volume as they dry out. I suppose technically I should have these up on cheesecloth-lined screens for maximum air flow, but I just give them a turn each day with my hand when I walk past, and it seems to work fine. 
Once they are dried, t…

First Day on the Job

Fletch made it through the mandatory week in his cage to get acclimated to his new home, and on Wednesday we let him out to roam around the workshop. By Thursday afternoon he was ready to see what we were up to in the garden, so he sneaked out the door past Tiegan during one of her frequent visits to the workshop. He was easily lured back with just the promise of some petting. This guy is a love bug — I think part dog, since he comes when he's called and rolls over on his back for belly rubs.
Since we knew he'd be out and about soon, I picked up a collar for him last night (breakaway, in case he gets stuck on anything). After we cut off the loser kitty bell, he was good to go — no complaints about the collar so far.
Last night around midnight I thought I heard some meowing, but it stopped after a minute, so I went to bed.
This morning Jonas woke me up with the (slightly panicked) revelation that Fletch was in the front yard. And that he had flushed a rabbit out of the perenni…

New England Okra

It can be done! Here are our somewhat productive okra plants:

This is one of our biggest ones, and it has several pods growing on it right now. Not all of the plants are this big, though:

As you can see, the ones to the left are much smaller than this on the right. They ended up being shaded by the mustard plants earlier in the summer, so they didn't grow as quickly. They have some pods on them, though not as many. (The vine creeping under the taller okra plants is sweet potato, by the way.)
I've been picking okra for a couple weeks now, and finally had enough for a meal. I decided to make an okra curry using some of the bhuna masala I put up the other night:

Obviously the okra is the green part, but you may be wondering about the pinkish-red stalks. Turns out that I didn't have enough okra for the recipe, so I went out and pulled a bunch of our (big) Swiss chard and chopped up the stalks to make up the difference. I used Veena's recipe, and it was great, even with th…

Building the Cutting Garden

Remember back in May when we were hashing out the design of the cutting garden? Because we had a gigantic pile of extra loam in the driveway? Well, we've finally gotten around to building them:

In the foreground of this photo is the blueberry bed. Kirk added a four-foot wide raised bed down the center as well as raised beds along the screened-in porch and the fence. The nice thing about adding a raised bed is that you can just load the dirt in right over the lawn, since they are a foot deep. The grass will die back on its own, saving the trouble of cutting of the turf.  

This bed against the foundation of the screened-in porch was a pain to put in because we had to wedge it under that concrete curb. I bowed out after a corner of this big, heavy thing got dropped on my foot (accidentally). Somehow Kirk shoved it into place, with the help of heavy dose of digging and cursing.

The beds along the fence are terraced, because there is a drop-off as you head towards the gate to the fron…

Rose Tomatoes

Among all the Romas we picked over the weekend were also some of the heirloom vining variety we planted this year. These are Rose tomatoes, a variety originally raised by the Amish:

The two giant tomatoes are Rose. They weigh about a pound apiece! The Roma that I put next to them for scale is a totally average one — Rose tomatoes are huge! It's hard to tell in this photo, but they are more pink-red than the traditional orangey-red of most tomatoes. This is especially noticeable before they are fully ripe, as they turn from green to pink before they redden up. 
They are also a vibrant pink-red when you cut them open: 

As you can see, this tomato is almost all meat. This isn't even the best photo of that — there are lots of of times when we cut into it and see no seeds at all. 
These tomatoes are delicious! They are less acidic (based on the fact they they don't sting my hands when I cut up a bunch), and sweet, and good. The only drawback is that they have pretty much no sh…

Saucing Up Tomatoes

Tiegan and I picked a few tomatoes on Saturday:

Most of these are Roma types (Monica and Bellstar). We picked all the red ones we could find and brought them in before it rained so we could get started on making pasta sauce. To do this, we had to dig up the old food mill:

Below you can see Tiegan cutting the tops off the tomatoes and quartering them. Then she throws them into the hopper where the red plunger is, and Kirk uses that to press them down against the grinder, which he is cranking. That pushes the juice and pulp down the chute, while the skins and seeds are filtered out the side. 

This thing is awesome. It saves us the trouble of peeling and seeding tomatoes (and I don't really see the point in canning them whole, when we're just going to end up crushing them anyway). Ours has a vice clamp that you attach to the edge of the countertop while you're working. 
Once we worked our way through that whole pile of tomatoes, we had three big pots of puree to cook down in…

Onion Harvest

Over the past few weeks, our onions have bulbed up and the leaves died back. We let them cure in the ground for about a week, and last weekend we finally pulled the last of them. We spread them out on the (new) countertop in the screened-in porch to dry.

This weekend I snipped off the leaves and roots and brushed off the remaining dirt to get the onions ready to store. Here's our harvest:

The ones in the colander are the ones that are completely cured and ready store (meaning that their leaves and necks were totally dried). It's hard to tell in the picture, but it's about half yellow and half red onions, even though most red ones are hiding at the bottom. 
The onions left on the counter are the ones that didn't quite seem completely dried. I cut the leaves anyway to make more room, but left a long neck that we can check next weekend to see if they are ready to store. It's important that they are fully dried before you store them, or else they can get moldy. We pla…