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Showing posts from 2018

The End

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There is a season for everything in the garden, and that is also true for this blog. Fall is settling in now, and as days shorten and cooler air settles in, it’s typically a time we put things to bed for winter.


I’ve been writing this blog for over seven and a half years, and in that time we have built a pretty amazing garden for food, flowers, and all the creatures that call it home. We’ve had plenty of successes and failures, and we’ll continue to enjoy it each year.

But nothing lasts forever, and even the most fruitful plants go dormant after a time. Now that I am writing full time for a career, writing for fun isn’t that appealing any more. And honestly, I think that I’ve shared just about all I’ve got in the way of advice, experiments and innovations.

The garden will still be here of course, and we’ll be in enjoying it in a variety of ways — just not publicly. Likewise, the blog will still be here as a reference, gathering dust on the shelf of the internet.

Thanks for reading.

Poblano Pepper Harvest

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In addition to a strong harvest of chicken heart hot peppers, we’re also enjoying a bumper crop of poblanos:

(This isn’t even all of them.)
These did really well for us this year, and we’ve been using them instead of bell peppers in our recipes all summer and fall. We had to bring them all in this week since we had a frost warning, though, so now we have piles of peppers to use.
They’ll last for a while at room temperature, since they’re fairly tough, but to make sure we don’t lose any, we’ll have to roast and freeze them:

These have been roasted in the broiler to char the skins. (They probably could be even blacker next time.) Once charred, you let them steam in a bag and then peel off the skins. Once prepped in the way, we can stack them in a freezer box and use them all winter long in recipes. 
I used these four to make chiles rellenos. Since I am lazy, I didn’t batter and fry them, though. Instead, I put the cheese-stuffed peppers in a baking dish and poured an egg mixture over t…

Chicken Heart Peppers

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This year we planted a different variety of hot pepper: hinkelhatz.
Hinkelhatz is German for "chicken heart," which describes the approximate shape and size of these peppers when they are ripe. The plants are prolific, and last weekend I harvested plenty from our second round of picking:

The hinkelhatz are the small ones on the left; the big ones on the right are poblanos, which also did extremely well for us this year. 
The first round of hinkelhatz peppers were sliced and pickled like jalapeños, and we plan to enjoy them on nachos all winter long. (Hopefully they’re not too spicy for that application — these are supposed to be several times hotter than jalapeños, but we’ve had such extremely spicy jalapeños in the past that I think we can handle it.)
Now that we have a second batch, I blitzed that whole basket of mixed hot peppers above to make a new batch of homemade sriracha. We did this for the first time back in 2013, and it lasted pretty much forever — we have the ta…

Apple Butter

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Our enormous Gala apple tree had another great year, and we are once again buried in apples. The tree is so tall that we can’t pick them all — even with a ladder! That leaves us plenty of apples to turn into wintertime treats.
This year, I decided to make some apple butter. This is a common Pennsylvania Dutch treat that’s basically super-concentrated applesauce. You just keep cooking it, so that the sugars caramelize and the whole thing turns into a thick, brown spread. It’s excellent on toast, and you can also use it in other desserts.
Making it is an all-day affair, even with the help of the Crockpot. To start, I made the world’s laziest schnitz, which should be cored, sliced and peeled apples. 

As you can see, all I did was cut the apples into quarters (they’re small) and toss them into the Crockpot. I like the color that the red skins give to the apples as they cook down, and it’s much easier just to run the whole pile through a food mill once they’re soft than it is to fuss with…

Jenny Lind Melons

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In addition to the heirloom tomato seeds we bought in Pennsylvania last spring, we also picked up a packet of melon seeds. Jenny Lind melons are a variety of cantaloupe from the 1800s, and we gave it a try on a whim since it was described as cold-hardy. We always had trouble getting melons to ripen in our relatively short growing season, so this seemed like a reasonably good bet.
We picked the first one at the very end of August:

As you can see, they have a funny shape. The bump on top is not the end that connects to the vine, by the way. 
The inside is also different:

It’s a cantaloupe, but it’s green instead of orange. (This one has already had its seeds scooped out.)
I’m not a huge melon fan — with the notable exception of melons we grow in our garden. These are sooooo sweet and juicy and fragrant that they’re really a totally different thing from the sad melons you get in a restaurant fruit cup or from the grocery store.
This didn’t disappoint! It’s delicious, especially served w…

Both Sides of My Skin — On Sale!

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ICYMI: I wrote a book of short stories:

If you haven’t read it yet, now’s your chance! Annorlunda Books is having a 50% off sale at Gumroad, where you can download the ebook for just a couple bucks. 
To do that, you’ll need the coupon code BACKTOSCHOOL to use at checkout. 
Enjoy!

Heirloom German Gold Tomatoes

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Last spring we spent a week traveling across Pennsylvania, visiting some parts of Amish country. While we were there, we purchased several seed packets of heirloom fruits to try. But since we had already started our seeds for the year, they had to wait until the next growing season.
Fast forward to today, when we finally get to see what a German Gold tomato actually looks like:

These are enormous heirloom tomato from Germany. They are a gold variety with bright red streaks along the sides, making them very colorful (though we picked the first ones way too soon, not realizing that they would redden up). 
The flavor is really good — mild, juicy and well-balanced. And since they’re so big, they’re perfect for stuffing:

This one practically took up my whole salad plate and was filled with chicken salad. It was a perfectly filling meal! I’m also thinking these tomatoes could make a pretty salsa, too, but mostly we’ve just been slicing them for sandwiches and eating on the spot.

Raspberry Lime Rickeys

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Our main raspberry harvest is just about over for the summer (though we should get a second flush of our everbearing variety in another month or so), but two weeks ago we were still completely inundated with them. We have gallons of raspberries sitting in the freezer, but I also found another great way to process a bunch of them: raspberry syrup, which is then added to one of the prettiest drinks around:

It’s really easy to make. Just bring a cup of water and a cup of sugar to boil, then add 2 cups of fresh raspberries. 

Bring the mixture back to a boil briefly and then take it off the heat. Let it steep for at least 30 minutes before straining into a pint jar:

The straining process is pretty slow, but it keeps (most) of the seeds out. Raspberries are so delicate that they break down into a nice, thick goop pretty easily.

Once the syrup has cooled, it’s ready to use for mixing some drinks! To make that easier, I highly recommend a flip-top spout lid designed for Mason jars. We also u…

Bunny and Toad

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Yesterday while Kirk was mowing the lawn, he accidentally flushed out a couple of creatures who jumped out the way to escape certain doom from the blades of the very loud machine. Kirk turned off the mower and took a peek under the cucumber vines.


It wasn’t one, but two little animals getting out of the way. This baby bunny is very young. Last weekend it was still in its nest, which Kirk partially dug by accident while dealing with a weedy portion of the garden. 
We have seen a couple rabbits in the yard all summer, and they’ve nibbled a few items — notably the beet tops. Mostly, though, they have only been interested in the big patch of clover growing on this year's fallow sections of garden. Since we no longer have an outdoor cat to take care of critters, this is a great way to peacefully coexist. We’ll probably plant a decoy clover section on some portion of the garden every year, especially now that we’re content to do slightly less intensive growing.
Anyway, the nest of babi…

Berry Bounty

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Berry season is upon us!


This is, as they say, just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past week we have easily picked 2 gallons of raspberries, and they just keep coming. For reference, those are ceramic pint containers in the photo. So 16 of those. Jonas has been eating about a pint of raspberries a day, and we still have too many.

It’s not just quantity, either. These are the biggest, sweetest raspberries we’ve ever had. Kirk compares it to 2014, but I’ll have to take his word for it since the kids and I were in Costa Rica and missed all of the raspberries that year.

The key seems to be a wet spring followed by lots of sunshine and no drought. Not that we can control that, but we’ll certainly take it when we can get it!

These conditions create a raspberry jungle, though:


Walking in that path will get you scratched even if you’re careful, so picking raspberries is not for the faint of heart. It takes a good two and half hours to get them all because there are so many, and because you…

Turkey Day Spa

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We have wild turkeys visit the garden from time to time, but this year is much more interesting:

That’s a pair of females, but they’re not alone! Between them they have 11 little poults that follow them around, just like ducklings imprint on their mothers and travel in a line:

When they saw me, the mothers hopped up on the fence. The poults soon followed:

When the little ones jumped up, they had to work a lot harder to get air, and plenty of dust flew out of their wings. It turns out that our garden is their preferred neighborhood spot for dust baths:

If you look closely, you can see five or six little hollows where the babies were getting a dust bath. The chickens do this too — they wallow in the dirt and spread it over their feathers, working it in like dry shampoo
This turkey group has got things pretty well together now, but about a week ago Kirk and I saw one of the mothers and her half dozen poults crossing the street at the hospital. The little guys were much smaller then an…

Adjusting the Office Garden

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We added a small landscaping project to our to-do list this weekend: 

It was incredibly sunny yesterday, so the photo isn’t great. Hopefully you can see that Kirk added a brick edging to delineate the small flower garden in front of my office. Before, it just kind of blended into the utility yard — and that meant that tons of weeds bled over into the flower garden. Now there are no weeds at all, since Kirk took a hoe to the whole area. 

To keep the weeds out of our hair forever, we’re adding some landscaping fabric and will cover the whole area with wood chips. This will make a nice surface for the area in front of the compost bins and chicken coop, and hopefully any new weeds that pop up will be easy to pull.

The new little wall left some space to plant, so I moved the hosta and black cohosh that used to be along the side wall of the office to the front bed. I also added some pink snapdragons to fill in the gaps. 

From another angle, you can’t even see the new plants, because they’r…

Just Because It’s June

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May and June are the prettiest — and most aromatic — months in the garden. Here’s a taste of what’s busting out all over this month:

Alyssum, miniature petunias, cosmos, pansies, and sweet potato vine.

Coleus, miniature petunias, impatiens, and heucherella. 

Peonies, snow in summer, veronica, and Siberian iris.

Irises.

2018 Master Plan: The Driveway Quadrant

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The plan for the final quadrant isn’t very interesting this year:

This entire section will be left fallow. That’s not really about crop rotation so much as it is about making repairs to many of the raised beds in this section of the garden. These were built back in 2011, and after seven years of service, parts are rotting or have warped and come apart where they were screwed together. For example:

To make fixing them easier, we aren’t planting anything here and instead will be able to move all the dirt we need to get at the joints to patch them up. 
Once that’s taken care of (probably in June, after all the planting is complete), we’ll sow cover crop of clover to add nitrogen and generally keep the beds looking nicer for the rest of the season. Next year we’ll choose a different quadrant to repair, thus working our way around the garden until it’s all back in fighting form.

2018 Master Plan: The Workshop Quadrant

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Last weekend was a fairly big planting time for us, and just about all of it happened in the central "C" of the workshop quadrant:

In this central bed we have Swiss chard, early and late carrots, cilantro, mesclun lettuce, head lettuce and spinach. Most of this bed is really only in partial sun once a nearby maple tree leafs out, but that usually works for leafy salad greens to keep them from bolting in the heat. I also used some onion sets as dividers between these plantings to mark the rows.
Across the top of this quadrant are still perennial grapes and herbs. The right side and bottom are largely empty. We have a few repairs to do in these sections, and after that we’ll plant a cover crop of clover to give these beds a rest for the season. That leaves the left side, which is a much-reduced tomato section. Because the area is so much smaller, we’re not planning to do much tomato canning this year, but we should have enough for plenty of fresh eating and frozen salsa.

Happy Harvest

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Though the loss of the bees was very sad, not everything about this winter was a disaster. For example, we had a large bed of winter carrots that happily spent the season underground. In this case, the warm February weather brought on an early thaw and allowed us to access them throughout the spring.
But as we were about to revamp their bed for a new planting of cabbages by April, it was time to dig the rest of them up: 

Carrots that are harvested after enduring freezing temperatures are very sweet, so these are delicious roasted plain or diced into soups. At this point they are purely cooking carrots, though, as their crunch is long gone thanks to the weird free/thaw cycles this year.
So we had a mini carrot festival this month, enjoying them in all kinds of dishes. Ginger Carrot Soup was a favorite:

To make it, Kirk sweated some leeks (another vegetable that we overwintered underground) in butter and added rough-cut carrot chunks to the soup pot, along with slices of fresh ginger a…

Sad Harvest

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When we last looked in on the bees in February, they were doing well. The hive that had swarmed had made it through the winter, and the bees were foraging for pollen during the unusually warm February weather. We even saw the queen when we took a peek, and they had honey stores left. To be safe, we gave them a few extra combs from the hive that had died off over the winter. We figured they had only to get through a few more weeks.

And then March happened.

Temperatures plummeted, and the whole month was far colder than usual — as if February and March had switched places. We went from a high of 76 on February 21 to a low of only 12 on March 18, and it struggled to get above 40 for most the March. The average temperature for the month was 35 degrees.

That was too much cold coming on too fast for the bees to reorganize after they had broken cluster to forage on the warm days during the last two weeks of February. Bees huddle together and beat their wings to produce enough heat to stay a…