Friday, September 27, 2013

Losing My Gardening Mojo

I turned out I didn't have as much time to work in the garden today as I had planned.  But late this afternoon I did take a fast run through it to harvest some things I needed/wanted before the forecasted heavy rain hits tomorrow.

Uhm . . . what's with the empty bowl, you ask?  Oh, that was full of Brussels sprouts we ate as part of our dinner before the photo shoot.

Whoops, I forgot to include the cherry tomatoes in the first picture.

Yep, there is still a plethora of good food in the garden to harvest and to be gratefully squirreled away for the coming winter months.  And, of course, there is plenty of clean-up work that could/should be done, too.

However . . . I can't seem to muster up as much energy and enthusiasm for the garden now at the end of September as I did first thing this spring.  I think my gardening mojo has left the building.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thinking of the Chickens in Winter

Being on our restricted retirement financial budget, we're always trying to think of ways to reduce costs in any way we can.  But perhaps even more than that, we're committed to the nutrition of the food we eat and the feed we provide for our chickens . . . which comes right back to our personal nutrition because their eggs and, eventually, their meat ends up on our table.

A day or so ago, I was noticing the beautiful stand of kale growing in the garden.  We've been enjoying eating a lot of it lately because, like Swiss chard, kale becomes more lush and flavorful in the cooler fall temps.  Next I started thinking of it as a possible supplement to the feed we have to buy for the chickens.  Hmmmm, if the chickens had some of that lush, nutritious, green-ness to eat in the winter months . . . 

So because I was looking for something to do with my time (insert hysterical laughter --- hubby did question my sanity), I took my old, beat up, giant colander out into the garden and piled it high with kale.

I cut the thick rib out of each leaf and then chop, chop, chopped it as finely as I could, and spread it out on trays from our dehydrator.

Our dehydrator has eight trays and by harvesting four heaping colanders full, I did two full batches with the chopped kale.  (Truth to tell, I finished off the second dehydrator filling with chopped Swiss chard as I wanted to save some of the kale in the garden for us.)

It took about three hours for each batch of the greens to dry thoroughly.  I dumped the finished product from the trays onto a sheet of newspaper which made it easy to funnel into glass jars for storage.

From the four huge pickings of kale (and a little Swiss chard) I got a smidge under a gallon and a half of dried, green goodness.  You may detect some striations of red in the jars.  That's the Swiss chard (Ruby Chard).

I'm thinking this is going to be much appreciated by our poultry during the many months of this coming winter when they're confined to their chicken house and solarium.  (Even when we provide tiny little snowshoes for them, they do not like to go out in the snow.)

How will we feed these dried greens out?  How long will it last?  This first year will be an experiment, for sure.  Papa Pea is thinking we will either mix it in with their laying mash or sprinkle it on the floor (we use the deep litter method).  I have a feeling it certainly won't last all winter, but it will be interesting to see if we can tell if the chickens appreciate it, and if our egg yolks maintain more of an orange color as they do when the girls are out foraging on green grass all spring, summer and fall.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Good Harvest Salad

The last couple of weeks I've been making a simple, fresh-tasting salad by mixing grated carrots and beets together.

These carrots are Danvers Half-Long. I think.  (But don't hold me to it.  Spring planting time seems a long time ago.)  Chunky little devils, aren't they?  The beet is Forono, the only variety of beet that I grow anymore.

Just grate the carrots and beets in the proportion you want into a bowl.  Approximately even amounts of both seems to taste great to us.  I use my trusty hand grater to do the grating.  It might be faster using a food processor or the shredding attachment for my KitchenAid mixer, but then I'd have to clean those parts and pieces which would take more time than cleaning my handy-dandy stainless steel hand grater.  (No free lunch, I guess.)  I do have to admit the hand grater is a little messy since I usually end up with shreds of carrots and beets flying hither and yon all over the kitchen counter (and my person).

To the grated veggies I add some roasted and salted sunflower seeds, raisins and a good sprinkle of salt.  (The amount of these ingredients should be to your own preference.)

Mix in just enough mayo for a binder and . . . voila!  An easy and, to my mind, very tasty salad.  As beets are wont to do, they tend to color anything they come in contact with so the salad will be more red than orange.  But that's fine as an attractive red salad surely does add color to a meal.  Try it, you might like it!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our "Sweet" Corn

Up until last year (2012), it had been many years since I'd tried to grow sweet corn in our garden.  I tend to stay away from the hybridized varieties (ones developed for short growing seasons such as we have) because I want to be able to save seed for future plantings.  I need an heirloom variety for that.  The downside of this is that I have trouble getting sweet corn to mature sufficiently before Jack Frost comes along and knocks it deader than a doornail.

Then Papa Pea read somewhere about an heirloom corn from the mountains of Montana which was hailed for hardiness and . . . earliness.  Aha!  Just what we needed.  It was called Painted Mountain corn and I found it last year in Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog.   In their pages it was advertised as ornamental and dry field corn.  However, the article my hubby had come across said it could be eaten as "sweet" corn if picked at the right stage.

As I said, I planted it last year and had a wonderful crop from my sample test plot.  Although the average ears were said to grow to only 6-7" long, many of ours last year (pictured above) were bigger.  Unfortunately, we waited way too long to harvest any of it to try as eating ears.  This year, I was determined to not let that happen.  And, wahoo, I succeeded!

We've had corn to eat for about two weeks now.  The above ears were just recently harvested.  As you can see, the coloration isn't fully developed yet.  I think that will take another few weeks.  

Here's a shot of the corn right after cooking for dinner tonight.  I've got to say, it does seem strange to be eating "colored" sweet corn.  How's the flavor of it?  Although different, definitely not as sweet as the sweet corn we are all used to, we find it very tasty.  It has very much of a "corn" flavor, it's tender and we like it.  I'm guessing that before corn was hybridized to taste sweeter and sweeter, our ancestors' sweet corn probably tasted much like the Painted Mountain corn does.

We're feeling very fortunate to have gotten what we have so far from the corn this year.  It got a very slow start after being planted in our cold, cold spring and trying to grow in our cold, cold early summer.  Then we had that bad wind storm that flattened much of it.  It recovered from that (I was amazed) only to be hit by an early "rust" which has made the stalks and leaves look terrible, but according to the research I've done won't harm the harvest.  However, in searching for good sized ears to eat as sweet corn, I'm noticing that there are many (many!) stalks without a single ear on them.  Another result of our crazy weather this growing season?  And whether the corn that is out there will mature properly depends a lot on our weather in the next few weeks.

Time will tell, but overall I'm pleased as punch knowing I can grow corn for us to eat as sweet corn and, in a decent growing season, get dried corn to feed to our poultry.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Garden's Still Producing

Slicing cucs have always done well for me and this year is no exception.  The cooler weather now has definitely slowed down the rate of growth, but I still have as many cucs as I want.

We eat them in one form or another once or twice every day, and I've given lots and lots away.  By the looks of this current cache, I think I'll see if Chicken Mama wants to take some to work with her tomorrow for her fellow employees. 

The above peppers are the first ones I've picked, and I did so today because I want to experiment with a new recipe for Stuffed Green Peppers.  Even though my pepper plants have remained dwarf size this year, they are loaded with as many peppers as I've ever seen.  Go figure.  This recipe I want to try . . . the only seasonings in the recipe are garlic powder, salt and black pepper.  Do any of you put in any other seasonings when you make stuffed peppers?  If so, I'd love to know what you use.  (The other ingredients in the recipe are rice, ground beef, onions, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.)

We haven't had even a slight frost yet, let alone a killing one.  I do have the cucumbers and peppers under a cold frame now, and I could/should put one over the two beds of cherry tomatoes . . . but I don't think I'm going to.  Chalk it off to laziness and our fill of cherry tomatoes.

Next post I'll do an update on the Painted Mountain Corn I grew for the second time this year.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Didn't It Rain!

We've had two deluges of rain today that were enough to knock a person down.  (And I guess if you were dumb enough to be standing out in it, you'd deserve to get knocked down!)

Daughter and I had just left our local recycling center when the second of the torrents hit.  We cut our stops in town short because it would have meant getting drenched to the bone and beyond the moment you stepped out of the truck.  Driving home, I nearly had to pull over to the side of the road because the wipers could barely keep the windshield clear enough to see.

It's still raining now so I haven't ventured out to the deck to see just how much water is collected in the rain gauge, but I'm guessing it must be close to two inches total for the day.

I wanted to spend most of the week doing the last of the harvesting in the garden and a lot of clean up work, but the weather hasn't been cooperating.  Not a problem as both Papa Pea and I have found lots to keep us busy indoors.  (Imagine that.)

We had a big rack of clothes upstairs in a storage area that we went through yesterday.  I think we're to the point in our lives when we both want to simplify and start sorting (and even getting rid of!) a lot of material things we really, truly don't need.

Our recycling center has a second hand clothing store attached to it and daughter and I filled the back of the Suburban with 6 garbage bags of clothing and four shopping bags of shoe boxes.  I was glad to get it out of the house and know that everything would go to someone who could make good use of it.

I'm hoping we still stay with this purging (lots more areas to sort) and keep making sensible decisions as to what is really important and necessary in our lives.

* * * * * * * *

A little lapse of time there while I stopped to make a batch of hamburgers for the freezer.  Kept two burgers out for dinner along with Creamy Cucumber Salad and a big, ol', lumpy, luscious tomato from our neighbor's garden.  I am evidently cursed as I can't grow standard sized tomatoes like they can.  But their bean crop was a total bust this year so we were happy to share our plentiful crop of green and yellow beans with them.  (I'd still rather be able to grow tomatoes!)

Just in from reading the rain gauge . . . we got one and 7/10ths inches of rainfall today.  That's a fairly wet fall day.

When I was out on the deck reading the rain gauge, I noticed the impatiens in the window boxes.  After a summer of struggling to make a decent showing, now when I want to fill the window boxes with fall leaves and miniature pumpkins, the flowers are looking better than they have all season.  How can I pull them out now?

The Virginia Creeper made lush growth this summer completely covering the window (yes, there is a window above and slightly to the left of the deck chair), but not yet showing a bit of the brilliant red color it takes on in the fall.

Folks around here are saying we're going to have an early winter.  But so far, we've yet to have much of a fall.  The trees are just now starting to show autumnal coloring and we're fast coming up on the third weekend in September . . . which usually is marked as our peak color weekend for all the leaf-lookers.

Yep, the odd weather seems to be continuing right on into the last months of the year.  I'm going to concentrate on enjoying whatever comes our way.  Maybe it will turn out to be a long, late fall yet.  But if it's an early winter, so be it.  All the more time for cozy hours spent by the wood stove.

But first, I need a little dry weather so I can go finish up my work in the garden!  (Oh my, it's pouring rain again.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What's Goin' On?

::  Our heat has abated but the humidity refuses to leave.  We've been getting a bit of rain which has been much needed, and we're thankful for it.  But between the rain and humidity, the garden has remained so wet that I almost have to suit up in full rain gear to work out there.  (I actually haven't resorted to that.  I just get wet and sloppy.  And a titch muddy.)

::  I put an arched trellis in the field garden this year leading to the back section where I put the corn and potatoes.  I planted morning glories at the base of it thinking they would climb and completely cover the trellis.  Like everything else this year, their growth was slow but when the finally made it to the top of the sides instead of growing over the horizontal top piece, they just kept growing straight up.  The vines were about 18" high before they flopped down and have started to cover the top.

::  Wood working this week has gone by the wayside in favor of getting a lot of little jobs (maintenance, repairs and such) done.  They're necessary and it's great to have them out of the way, but at the end of the day you can't see much for your efforts.  Papa Pea did put in an hour or so this morning with the chainsaw, and I've been getting in a little time on working up kindling.  The bin is actually getting close to being filled.

This nice stack of wood magically appeared in our back wood working area yesterday. Truthfully, no magic was involved.  Our good neighbor told us he had to take down several big trees in conjunction with an excavating job he was doing and asked if we wanted the wood.  Yes, please, and thank you very much.  A good neighbor indeed.

::  I seem to be requiring more sleep lately.  Or maybe it's just because it's not getting light out as early in the morning anymore my body doesn't think it's time to get up until daylight makes an appearance.  I'm really looking forward (as I do every year) to it getting dark earlier in the evening so we're encouraged to wind down sooner.  Game called on account of darkness and all that.

::  I spent some time today making up some goodies to give the folks we got the horse manure from last weekend.  Two quilted pot holders, a bunch of Oatmeal Cookies and a Raspberry Crumble Pie.  Since I had the oven going, I made a pumpkin pie for us.  That's our daughter's favorite so I hope she'll be around to get a piece.  Or two.

::  And now it's time to rustle up some dinner.  Hot dogs (chicken franks) on sprouted grain buns, cucumber salad and cherry tomatoes, and pumpkin pie for dessert.  I can handle that.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Horse Feathers!

We have a euphemism in our family for horse sh*t.  We say horse feathers.

Papa Pea brought home a lovely trailer load of horse feathers Sunday afternoon.  Wahoo, is it nice stuff!

Since we don't have any large animals, we never really have enough manure to use as fertilizer or in making as much compost as we want.  We'd been planning on getting some horse manure from a nearby source for a while, and last Sunday turned out to be the day to do it.

We've got plans to expand our garden/planting area and ideally we wanted to have the new areas plowed up and ready to receive the manure.  But dang and drat, getting that done just hasn't happened yet.

So.  Where to put the horse feathers manure?

We decided to unload it in a corner of the poultry pasture near the planned, new, to-be-plowed up areas.

Well, the chickens took one look at the lovely pile of interesting stuff to explore and sort through, and we soon saw we had a problem.  I'm sure it would have taken them less than a day to scatter the whole pile all over their yard.

Hubby made a quick trip to the Fence Storage Area (ha, like we really are that organized) and brought back and put up some portable net fencing.  It made the chickens mad to have this great looking heap beyond their reach, but it had to be done.

Strange thing to feel good about, I suppose, but we both are more than happy to have that big pile of horse sh*t feathers in the yard.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Working Hard at Making Sawdust

It's about time, you say?  You be right about that, because the wood we're cutting, splitting and stacking in our wood sheds is wood that will keep us warm this winter.

In a normal year (are there any of those anymore?), we would have our sheds full of wood in early spring, all stacked, out of the elements and ready to dry all summer long.  But because we got most of our last winter's snow in April of this year (now, that threw a lot of plans of all kinds out the window!), we didn't get our wood cutting done in the usual time frame.

Then when nice weather finally arrived, we put our priorities on a few other tasks like gardening and repairing roofs.  Plenty of time to get the wood done, right?

Well, as you all know, time has a way of flying by faster than we could ever imagine, and here we are in September still working on getting the wood sheds filled.

However, the picture isn't as bleak as it may seem so don't go worrying about us freezing our whazoos this winter.  The logs we're working up have been in our back yard for three years now, so it's not like they are green cut.  Logs in 8' lengths, as these are, do not dry nearly as well as when they are cut and split and stacked under cover.  But as we're working through the pile, we've been pleased to see that there's been some seasoning of the wood that's taken place, and very few logs are punky (rotten) which can happen with old wood that's been left sitting out in the elements.

Plus, we have a big bunch of wood that has been under cover for 2-3 years that we can start the heating season with.  

It was at the very back of the smaller wood shed and had to be moved out to these racks before we could start putting the most recently worked up wood in the shed.

This rack holds great, big, hunky chunks of wood that we use for overnight fires on the coldest winter nights.  Papa Pea puts one of these stout logs on a bed of glowing coals before we go to bed, and it holds a fire all night long.  This wood is also left over from last year.

This is our smaller wood shed.  It's about 1/3 full right now.  We started filling it because Chicken Mama had some of her things (from her move in January) stored in our large wood shed.  But the large shed gets more sunlight and breeze which makes the wood dry faster so once it was emptied, we switched and started putting cut and split wood in there.

This is the big wood shed.  One and a half more rows and it will be halfway filled.

In spare moments, usually when Papa Pea is cutting the 8' long logs with a chainsaw, I've been working on getting the kindling bin filled.  There's not much harder (or more frustrating) than trying to start a fire without dry kindling.  Won't be too much longer and the crib will be full to the very tippy-top.

We've been trying to get out to work on the wood first thing every morning before it gets too hot.  This morning was a no-go though because our temp didn't cool off over night and a big batch of heavy humidity moved in.

When hubby came in from early morning chores, he said, "There's a word to describe it out there.  SUL-try!"

Then when Chicken Mama dropped off Tucker this morning, she said, "Well, now I know what autumn in Louisiana must feel like."

It didn't take us long to figure out there were several things we could do this morning rather than work on wood!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Garden on September 1, 2013

I took pictures of the garden yesterday to do the comparison with the pictures of June 1st, July 1st and August 1st of this year.

It's indeed been a "different" gardening year.  Because of the slow start this season, I think the garden looks better (less done-in and on-the-way-out) than it usually does this time of year.

The Raised Beds

The raised beds on June 1st.

The raised beds on July 1st.

The raised beds on August 1st.

The raised beds on September 1st.

The Field Garden

The field garden on June 1st.

The field garden on July 1st.

The field garden on August 1st.

The field garden on September 1st.

The Pumpkin Patch

The pumpkin patch on June 1st.

The pumpkin patch on July 1st.

The pumpkin patch on August 1st.

The pumpkin patch on September 1st.

Still lots of life in the garden and lots to be harvested and processed for the coming winter months.  Some crops such as the winter squash and pumpkins aren't going to make it this year.  Remarkably enough, the corn is looking good and some ears are almost ready for eating.  The majority of it will be left to mature for use as cornmeal and feed for the poultry.

The sweet pepper plants that have never grown to what I consider full sized are loaded with big fruit.  I don't think they'll have time to turn red this year, but I'll use them as sweet green peppers with no problem.

Onions are still in the ground and although most of the tops have fallen over, they aren't brown or withered yet.  There's still more growing time for the bulbs.

The last heads of broccoli went into the freezer two days ago, Brussel sprouts are forming as well as cabbage heads.  The carrots are a really nice size and the beets are ready for processing.  I just have to get to it!

Slicing cucumbers are producing faster than we can eat them.  Organic ones at our co-op in town are still selling for $2.29 EACH so I'm pickled tink to have the bonanza in our garden.

For all of us with gardens, this is a time of year when finding time to do all that needs to be done is (puff-puff) a challenge.  Also, trying to fit wood working with Papa Pea into my day has made me less than a good blogger lately.

But the push now should make for a comfy, easy winter with full bellies and toasty toes . . . and more time for blogging.  I can hardly wait!