Monday, August 31, 2015

Garden Posts Neglected

At least my garden hasn't been neglected this season, but posts about it certainly have.

We've had so many big projects we're (still) trying to handle that I haven't posted much about the garden.

So, in an effort to catch up just a little bit, let's take a stroll and take a look at what's going on out there.

I planted both broccoli and cabbage from seed right in the garden for the first time.  (Rather than transplanting started plants from indoors.)  Their start was really, really slow, and I had to replant the cabbage twice in some cases.

The broccoli is just now forming heads big enough to harvest.  I grew a total of ten plants, a row of five on either side of a row of dill down the center of an 8' long raised bed.  Although the plants are big and healthy, the three plants from which I've harvested heads so far aren't putting out any side shoots.  What's with that?  Although not perfect (perfect would be a negative ten for me), I've found only three small worms in the three heads combined.

The cabbages are just now starting to head up.  That's fine because I didn't want to have to harvest them before the root cellar had a chance to cool down this fall.  Last year they kept fantastically there.

The twelve Brussels sprout plants look as though they will give us a heavy harvest this year.

I've already made two years worth of dill pickles and bread and butter pickles and given away as many pickling cucumbers as I can (!), but the vines are still blossoming like crazy and producing beautiful cukes.  Sad to say, I think I'll be pulling them out this week in the name of getting a jump start on garden clean-up.

I planted a row of dwarf sunflowers for cutting, and we've been enjoying bouquets of them in the house for a couple of weeks now.  What's more cheerful than a sunflower?  Our honey bees are working the center of them (with a vengeance) which is great.

Speaking of our bees, I planted this flower, Gilia, specifically because bees were supposed to like it.  The plants have grown to look more like a frilly ground cover with their very bushy, spreading greenery.  The delicate flowers (only about 1/2" across) are plentiful, and the bees do spend a lot of time working them.

Another flower I tried for the first time is this Blue Salvia.  Love it (and again, the bees do, too) and I'll plant it again.

I'm so pleased to report my third attempt at planting asparagus seems to be a success.  (So far, anyway.)  We saw a heavy sprouting of spears for this first year, and the display of ferns is lovely.  This part of the asparagus/strawberry bed shows everbearing strawberry plants at the foreground of the picture.  They are HUGE and are putting out a gazillion blossoms (which the everbearing should be doing this time of year), but (sob) I'm being a good gardener and popping all of the blossoms off (double sob) this first year.

Our main (new) planting of June bearing strawberries is also doing fantastically.  Strong, healthy, large plants in all three rows, all three varieties.  Next year we will be back in strawberries!

Our summer got off to such a slow, cold start that my two cherry tomato plants are just now starting to give us ripe tomatoes.  Both plants (upright in the two cages you see in this bed) have literally hundreds of green tomatoes on them.  Papa Pea suggested we experiment and cover one of the cages with clear plastic to see if the tomatoes ripen up faster than the uncovered plant standing out in the breeze and cool night air.

I prepped a bed in which to plant some fall salad greens . . . but have never gotten around to getting the seeds from packets to soil.  (Can't expect good results that way, can I?)  Just can't find enough time in the day to do everything.

Well, we didn't cover all that is growing in the garden today.  Maybe I'll manage to get in another garden tour installment soon.  Right now, my brute strength is needed to help move some file cabinets down into the basement.  Ugh.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Recipes, Recipes and More Recipes

Kristina over at Pioneer Woman at Heart and Susan at e-i-e-i-omg! have been talking recently about working their way through their stash of "to try someday" recipes they've accumulated.

Kristina has been pulling out a not-yet-tried recipe, taping it on her refrigerator and making an effort to use it before the week is out.  Susan commented that she has a stack of new recipes about two inches thick.

To Susan I say, "Piffle!  Move over, girl.  I've got you beat by a long shot."

Do you see that open box pictured above?  The dimensions of it are 12" x 16" x 11" high.  It sits in the bottom of my clothes closet.  It is nearly full to the brim with recipes and other food ideas I've clipped out of magazines or newspapers, found on the Internet or in other bloggers' posts.

Each fall I make a To Do List for the coming slower (ha!) winter months.  "Go through and try or toss all saved recipes" is always on the list.  For how many years I'd be embarrassed to say.  (I probably can't count that high.)

So, being sensible about this situation, should I make it a priority (and just how would I do this short of hiring an armed guard to stand over me?) to really, truly dig into this box or should I take it all to recycling and unceremoniously dump the whole content in the scrap paper bin?

Anymore, I actually feel a bit of guilt printing out a new recipe to try or clipping one from a magazine.  Why even bother adding more to my box in the closet when I know those at the bottom of the stack must be ten (or even twenty -- oh, my!) years old?

Do you save recipes to try?  Do you place them in your super-organized filing system?  Or do they get squirreled away helter-skelter in a cardboard box like mine?  When you come across something that sounds like it will be a new taste treat for your family, do you make it immediately?  Or are you like me and it takes you years to dig it out and actually try it?  Don't be afraid to confess.  After thinking about this, I'm hanging my head in shame and feel it is definitely time to do something with that box in my closet.  Goodness knows, I can use the space for my four new pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes.  Hahaheeheeheehohohoho!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Many Chopped Green Peppers Are Enough Chopped Green Peppers?

Last year I didn't keep track (when will I learn?) of the quantity of chopped green peppers I had frozen going into the winter season.  I do know I ran out sometime this early spring.  Or was it late winter?  Dunno.

Although fresh green peppers are available year 'round at our organic foods co-op, during the winter months they are quite pricey (and sometimes look like they've been separated from the plant they grew on for several months) so I tend to ignore recipes calling for green pepper as a key ingredient . . . unless I have a good supply from the garden in the freezer. 

Because the ones I just harvested weren't enough to make a batch of Stuffed Green Peppers (when I gear up the production line for making stuffed peppers I need lots and lots of peppers!), I chose to cut them up and freeze them in handy-dandy pieces.

I spread the pieces out on trays and left them in the freezer over night.  (No blanching required.)

This morning I shoveled them into a freezer bag where they remain fairly much separated into their individual pieces.

I can easily take out any amount I need for use in a recipe.  (About 3/4 to 1 cup of pieces equals one whole green pepper.)

The peppers I cut up last night measured out at just about exactly three quarts full . . . and I made sure to mark it down on my canning/preserving sheet for 2015!  I'll need more than this one bag full so hope to get more.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Go Figure . . .

I tell ya --- this gardening business.  I don't think I'll ever figure it out.

Remember my bed of green pepper plants that have been mysteriously dying, one by one?  (Another one kicked the bucket just yesterday.)

Well, the few that remain are producing peppers.

And what lovely peppers they are!

If all the plants had remained healthy and produced, it might have been downright scary.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

It Happens Every Year

When we hit mid-August, the days may still be sweaty-warm, but the nights turn cool bringing in the definite feel of autumn.

On my way to get milk from the dairy early this past week, I saw the first orange leaves on some maple trees.  For some reason (although it shouldn't have been a surprise), this year it hit me like a brick.  Probably because we've had such a busy summer with so much going . . . and (surprise, surprise) the list is not completed yet.

Sure, we've still got a couple of months of nice weather, but for us up here in the very northern part of the States, summer is over, folks, so I'd better switch mind gears pronto.

Last night I finished putting by our quota of pickles for the year.  (After my encounter with the bumble bee a week or so ago . . . they are still thick in among the pickling cucumber vines . . . I pick wearing hubby's heavy bee gloves that come up to my elbows.)

The desired quantity of beans (green and yellow wax) are in the freezer.  I haven't canned Dilly Beans for a few years, and because Daughter loves them, she's volunteered to help make a canner or two full of them today.

Cut our first head of broccoli last night.  If you remember, I planted them from seed in the garden later this year in the hopes of missing the egg-laying stage of the dreaded white cabbage moth and be successful in growing broccoli without any (shudder, ish-ish) little green worms.  Looks as though (shhh, could it be?) this may have worked because the head brought in was soaked in warm, salt water to drive any of the little buggers out and nary a worm did appear.  I can only hope the rest of the heads are the same.

When I planted my tepee trellis
of morning glories this spring
there was a volunteer sunflower
growing in the center
of the tepee.
 The sunflower grew and grew and now
 reminds me of Nature's Christmas tree
 with a star sunflower on top.

I've started to clean up the garden as crops are finished.  Two 8' x 4' compost bins are being filled with the refuge, and Papa Pea has been adding dirt and chicken house bedding in layers. 

Tomorrow (and today, also) is to be gray and drippy.  I'm scheduled to get together with gal pals tomorrow morning for a little sitting, visiting, catching up and handwork.  (Handwork?  What's that?  If it doesn't involve harvesting, washing, prepping and preserving produce from the garden, I haven't done any of it lately.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

For Those Of You Who Asked . . .

I've had two requests, one from Laurie and one from Susan, for my dill pickle recipe, so here goes.

They're super simple (once you stretch every muscle you have planting, watering, weeding, harvesting the cukes, scrubbing all those little black prickles off the pickling cukes, hauling your jars out of storage and washing, checking to make sure you have enough rings and lids, getting your canner down from the top pantry shelf, and . . . oh, never mind) and they have always turned out great for me.

The name, Easy Boom-Boom Dills, is kinda silly and does have a story behind it, but it's not very interesting so I'll just stop rambling and set forth the recipe.  

Here goes.  (I think I said that before.)

Easy Boom-Boom Dill Pickles

In each sterlized quart jar, place a fresh dill head and a peeled garlic clove in both the bottom and then in the top.  In between, pack in as many pickling cukes (about a 3"-3-1/2" size is best) as you can.

If you pack the cukes in tightly,
none will float to the
top of the jar during canning.

Fill the jar to 1/4" of the top with a (hot) brine made up of 9 cups of water, 3 cups of apple cider vinegar and 6 tablespoons salt which has been combined and brought to a boil.  Adjust caps and process in a boiling water bath 15 minutes for quarts, 10 minutes for pints.

Seven pounds of pickling cucumbers and the above amount of brine comes really close to making exactly 7 quarts.  If I have any brine left over, I store it covered in the refrigerator and use it with my next batch.

These dill pickles come out nice and crisp and we've been happy with them for years.  And years.  A long time.

I think the secret of them being crisp is to plant and grow actual pickling cucumbers rather than using slicing cucumbers.  Also, plan to get the cukes from garden to canning jar as quickly as possible.  If you have to accumulate a couple of day's pickings to have enough for a batch, be sure to refrigerate them until use.  Or cut the cucumbers and brine recipe in half.  No problem there.

Once I read that cutting off the blossom end of your cucumbers would make for crisper pickles so I did that (what a lot of extra work), but we couldn't tell any difference.  But, as I say, these dills have always turned out crispy-crunchy for me anyway.

Some time I'm going to add more garlic to make Garlic Dills.  Or how about a hot pepper?  One year I didn't have any fresh dill so I used dill seed and that worked okay.  But fresh dill has such a good flavor that I grow plenty of it just for the dill pickles.

Any question, class?  Feel free to "raise your hand" in the comment section if I've missed anything, okay?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In A Pickle

No, nothing bad.  More like "In The Pickles!"

I spent the day canning pickles.  Did 14 quarts of dills and 8 pints of bread and butter pickles.  I have to check the totals of what I've done before, but I may be done with pickles for this year.

It was a perfect day for it as we had a much needed steady rain for most of the day, cool temps and I didn't even get over-heated.  The only downside was that dinner was just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches . . . and even that was delayed while I got my last batch in the canner.

Checking out blogs tonight I see I haven't been the only one doing a bunch of canning lately.  Click on over to Laurie's blog, 111 LaLa Lane.  That gal just processed FIFTY pounds ot tomatoes.  Kinda makes my pickling efforts pale in comparison!

How 'bout you?  Were you in a steamy kitchen today?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Okay, Got That Over With!

Don't know why Mother Nature has done this to us, but we have hordes (yes, actual hordes) of those big, fat, round bumble bees in the garden this year.

Because I get such a bad reaction from stings, I've been talking to the little buzzers constantly as I work in the garden:  "I know you have your place in the grand scheme of things and do good pollinating work and you know I won't hurt you, so please, please, please don't hurt me."

This worked until last Friday when I was picking pickling cucumbers.  I even had gloves on (which I hate to wear in the garden) when I got zapped on the middle finger of my right (of course) hand.

This guy is no doubt a close family member
of the one that got me.

But I was down and out for only a day and a half.  Laid out on the couch with an ice pack on my head and an ice pack on my hand.  Feeling crummy and fitfully drifting in and out of sleep.

I figure that was my sting for this year, so now I'm home free.

Hear that, you grumpy, ol', unfriendly bumble bees?


Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Lesson Learned

This post could also be titled, "Don't Count Your Blueberries Before They're Harvested."

Our blueberry bushes were loaded with blossoms this year.  Then the blossoms all turned into tiny green berries.  The green berries grew and started to turn a dark blue as blueberries are wont to do.

We picked berries a couple of times getting a total of maybe two quarts.  But the berries seemed to be ripening slowly, we could never find as big a quantity of them as we were expecting, so we gave up checking them every day.  When one of us did go out to pick, we were dismayed to find so few berries ripe and ready.

Then this morning, Papa Pea was up and at his deck earlier than usual, just after dawn, in his second story office which overlooks all of our garden area.  What was all that movement in the blueberry patch?  Eventually he identified several crows hopping in and around the bushes.  Hunh.  Wait.  Could those crows have been making early morning raids and stealing our berries?

After I was up and functioning, we went out to check the situation.  With a sinking feeling, our suspicions were confirmed.  Those $^!&* crows have literally cleaned off the bushes of every last berry except a few (very few) tiny green ones.

Yep.  We've lost our entire what-should-have-been bountiful blueberry crop to the crows.  We have never had trouble with birds bothering our blueberries.  Nope.  Never.  Not once.  

Until this year.

We have netting with which we could have covered the bushes and saved our crop.  

We (obviously) weren't diligent enough or quick enough (or smart enough) to figure out the situation before it was too late.

Now there will be no blueberry jam this year.  No blueberry juice.  No blueberries in yogurt.  No blueberry smoothies.  No blueberry syrup for pancakes.  No blueberry pies.  Oh, stop!  I can't stand it!


It's not the end of the world.  We won't suffer or go hungry this winter because of the lack of blueberries put by.

I do confess to having a strong urge to go out and kill every crow with a blue-stained bill I can find.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

I Didn't Mean To Do It

This morning as I was starting my first batch of pickles for the day, I noticed my supply of spices needed for the recipe needed replenishing.

I went to my spice rack to see if I had adequate amounts of what I needed there.  (If your interest is piqued regarding the pretty-darn-spiffy, one-of-a-kind labels on my jars, you can go to a post I did in 2011.)

Turns out the jar of spice I needed was only half full.  Since these jars that fit my spice rack aren't large nor do they hold a very big quantity, I keep back-up amounts of herbs and spices in the pantry.

The bigger amounts for back-up are in 4 oz. canning jars topped with canning lids.  I store them on a north wall in the pantry, in a cabinet behind closed doors, and they stay cool even in the warmest summer weather. 

But back at the spice rack.  Before I knew it, I was checking another jar and then another jar to see if any more needed to be topped off from my reserve supplies.  I ended up doing the whole durn rack full and in the process realized that the date on some of my herbs and spices was getting a little old.  (I put a date on a little piece of masking tape on both the jars in the rack and those in the pantry.  Since herbs and spices do get old and lose their potency, I try to replace them when they've lived in the pantry longer than they should.)

In the middle of this little chore, a niggling voice in my head rang out loud and clear, "Hey, girlie, don't you have pickles to make here?"  Ooops, I didn't mean to get sidetracked . . . again.

The upside is that I did do a thorough check of which herbs and spices I need to get at our local co-op next trip in (it's really hard to make a good gingersnap cookie without ginger) and which ones I'll make a note to stock up on this fall.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This public service message on dating your herbs and spices
in order to keep them fresh and tasty
has been brought to you
by Mama Pea.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Let The Pickling Begin!

I made my first batch of pickles today.  Usually only pickling cukes for two kinds of pickles come out of my garden, into the kitchen and onto the pantry shelves.  Bread and butter pickles and dill pickles.

For the dill pickles, I like to harvest the cucumbers when they are on the smallish side, because I think they stay crisper that way.  Bigger than gherkin size but not much more than 3" in length.  For my bread and butter pickles though, I prefer larger slices . . . which come from larger cucumbers.  I'm picky that way.  (Hmmm, the picky pickler.)

Because I've got about a dozen quarts of dill pickles still in the pantry from last canning season (yeah, I got a little carried away), but no bread and butter pickles, getting my yearly quota of them put by first and foremost is high on my list.

So the first harvest of the pickling cucumbers was put off for a short time until the cukes reached the size I wanted.  When I checked the vines this morning, I decided I there were enough "big" cukes to make a batch of bread and butter pickles.

Beginning the process on my kitchen table earlier today.

And, ta-dah!  Magically (ha!), the first batch of 8 pints is out of the canner and cooling.

Another batch tomorrow?  I'll have to wait and see what the cucumber patch has ready for me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

My Day . . . So Far

This has been a fairly typical summer Monday.  Got our usual weekly laundry done and will glide through the ironing after dinner tonight.

Papa Pea got a really good start on the walkway off the new deck and work on the front foundation of our quasi-greenhouse.  I call it our "quasi-greenhouse" because we've never used it for an actual greenhouse as we originally thought we would.  It's permanent use/designation is still to be decided.

Our friend and lady carpenter, B, was here for a time to lend her expertise and suggestions on the construction and best way to tie things together.

This morning I picked a huge amount of edible podded peas.  We've had many more than we can eat so I've been giving about every other picking of them away.  I did freeze a lot last year, but wasn't pleased with the way they came out when cooked (limp) so I'm not going to do that again.  Methinks I should make a note to myself to plant only half as many next year.

Our daughter has a friend who doesn't garden but loves zucchini, BIG zucchini, so I always let a couple/few get over-sized for her.  These are three of the monsters that went to her today.  That's my morning mugga caffeine in the picture for comparison.  They added up to just under 25 pounds.

I ripped out some bolted spinach and lettuce and also some purple top turnips I had planted on a whim earlier this season.  The turnip tops were gargantuan, but the biggest turnip was only about golf ball size.  The problem was that the greens were taking over some peas on one side and kale on the other so into the bag they went with the rest of the excess greens for our daughter to take to her chickens.  Our own chickens are so full of lush greenery this time of year that they run the other way when they see me coming with garden gleanings.

I harvested 6-1/2 cups of blueberries putting a little over a quart in the freezer and leaving the rest out for us to eat fresh.  The bushes are loaded with tons of unripe berries.  They've really just started coming in.

Also harvested another large and lovely cauliflower head which I blanced and put in the freezer.  Only one more head left in the garden.

I knew I needed to strip lower leaves off the Brussels sprout plants for the second time so I attacked that, too.

I was glad I had only this one row to do and not a whole field of them!

This is a before shot . . . 

. . . and after stripping off the leaves.  Doesn't look like the same plant, does it?  I'm thinking we're gonna have a really good Brussels sprout harvest this year.

About an hour ago, the wind came up and dark clouds blew in.  It stormed buckets for about five minutes, and then was gone.  But that brief deluge gave us 1/2" of rain in our gauge and was welcomed because the garden needed it.  Papa Pea had just put away all his tools for the day before it happened.  Great timing, I'd say.

Now I think I'll go find, Agnes, my maid and cook and see what she's planning for dinner.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Checking In . . .

All is well in our neck o' the woods.  Haven't spent much time blogging as we've been working a smidge bit too hard, but accomplishing a lot, and that feels good.

Took some time off last Friday night to go visit some friends and bring home a new-to-us banty rooster.  They are (for the time being, at least) getting out of the chicken keeping business and wondered if we wanted a bantam rooster.

Just so happens we lost our bantam rooster last year when a hawk flew over the chicken pasture, scared heck out of the birds, most of whom ran for shelter, but either our bantam rooster panicked and tried to run through the electric fencing or possibly was driven into it by the hawk in hot pursuit.  Unfortunately, he got tangled in the fence and by the time we got to him he was in bad shape and died during the night.  So we were happy to take in this new guy as a boyfriend for our two banty hens.

He's a pretty boy, very docile and friendly.  I'm not positive, but I think he may be a Silver Laced Cochin.

D and M, our good neighbors, trundled over to our place late yesterday afternoon to get some dill.  D was making pickles and, for some reason, the dill he planted this year isn't doing diddly-squat.

I have plenty (and then some) so was glad to share as much as they needed.

While we were all out in the garden talking, I complained to M that my slicing cukes just weren't sizing up at all.  With that, she plunged her hand into the cucumber vines and pulled out a couple.

"These look big enough to eat to me," she said.  By gar, if she wasn't right.  I sliced them, added garlic salt and pepper, some dill leaves and a small amount of salad dressing, and we had them last night with macaroni and cheese.  Crunchy, crispy and F-R-E-S-H tasting.

Our edible podded peas are in their full glory right now, so I went out into the garden this morning to pick these for breakfast.  I sauteed a couple of diced scallions in butter, added the leftover mac and cheese from last night, put two fresh eggs on top, and cooked covered until the eggs were done.  A portion of that on each of our plates along with a helping of the tender-cooked peas with butter and salt and we called it a gooood breakfast!

I've still got shell peas to process tonight, and I suppose we'll need to eat something for dinner right soon now, so I'd better get back to my kitchen duties.

Hope you all had a good weekend!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Deck Construction and Garlic Harvest

Quite a bit got done on the deck today.

There's much left to do, of course, but the project tonight looks a lot different than it did this morning.  (Those four 4 x 4 poles are the start of my laundry lines.)

The above picture shows the new house color pretty accurately.  The painting officially got finished Saturday.  There are just a few little things remaining for me to take care of.

I dug the stiff neck garlic today.  We got about 36 nice look looking bulbs that are now hung and starting the curing process.  The harvest of the stiff neck was much, much better than that of the soft neck.  I still have no idea why most of the soft neck never came up this spring.  I'm sure glad we've got this big bunch of the stiff neck though.

Tomorrow?  More work on the deck, I think.  I know we have to do some measuring and figuring and possibly go get more lumber.  That gives me something to look forward to.  Our social outing for the week.  Going to the lumber yard.