Sunday, August 31, 2008

The End is Near

The world must be coming to an end. This is what I found yesterday afternoon shortly after lunch time. I have never . . . I mean NEVER . . . N-E-V-E-R . . . seen my husband lying down in a hammock. Admittedly, there have been occasions when we've spent recreational days on a beach somewhere when I have seen him stretch his body out on the sand to soak up some sunshine, but taking good, profitable, working, daytime hours on the homestead to lie in a hammock?? Although his moment of forgetting where he was or what he was doing yesterday lasted only 15 minutes, but maybe this means he's finally starting to feel like he's retired and has a little time for such lapses of leisure.

Lordy, lordy what IS this world coming to?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Attitude Adjustment

I haven't been sleeping well. I know what the problem is. Each day I push on "time sensitive" projects long into the evening, and don't give myself any wind-down time before bed. I wake around 2:30 or 3:30 a.m. for a potty stop. (I drink too much . . . water, fortunately.) Then when I get back into bed, I cannot fall asleep again. Because I'm a "morning" person and do my best work, mental or physical, during the first half of the day, sleeping-in always guarantees a bad day for me. After being awake for a good share of the night (well, it feels that way), dragging myself out of bed at a decent time these mornings, does not make for a happy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Mama Pea.

So 'bout half an hour ago, I knew I had to make an attitude adjustment. "Get thyself out into thy garden," a voice in my head said. Ah, such a wise voice. It worked.

This is the clematis that won't die. Roy's very fond of clematis so for Father's Day two years ago, I bought this one for him. Dummy me. It was very much overgrown and terribly root bound in its little pot and wound a million times around a small, inadequate trellis. (Have I mentioned I don't know a lot about flowers?) But I did the best I could planting it along the seven foot high deer fence that separates our yard/garden from the woods beyond. Sad to say, the Chief in Charge of Weed Whipping (we will not name names here . . . but I'm sure glad it wasn't me) accidentally cut it down two years in a row. When it happened this spring, I was sure that was the end of this poor clematis.

Who says plants don't have feelings and know what's going on? After being whacked off at ground level, it sent out one spindly stem that headed straight up the fence, hit the top and tried to run for the safety of the woods beyond. All the bloom is on the other side of the fence where it's hoping it will be safe from the dreaded weed whip.

My double row of sunflowers has finally headed out. Who can't feel good when you look at these smiling faces? They probably won't mature enough for us to gather seeds from them but we're enjoying the sunny display they're giving every day now.

I'm so pleased with the way my morning glory trellis grew. Remember I said I had started seeds inside, much too early this spring, and couldn't transplant them? So I started over from scratch with seeds in the dirt around the trellis and, viola, scads of beautiful purple morning glories on lush vines. The ugly brownish pipe you see to the right of the trellis is the tower for our solar panels. We keep saying we have to paint it a natural green color. That would help a lot. Plus, I could plant a vining perennial to help camouflage it at least part of the year.

When on my attitude adjustment walk, I also started a list of changes to make so my days aren't so overly stuffed full of must-do tasks next summer. More hammock time (I've been in it once this year) really sounds like a good modification. I've even heard of some people who actually get in some quilting time in the summer months. Wow. What a goal to work toward. I think I'll sleep better tonight.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Making Time

My Scottish grandmother (and grandfather) raised seven children with no outside help and very little money. Each week day morning at 10 a.m. (undoubtedly with a good half day's work done by then), Grandma put the teapot on, placed a platter of cookies or some other homemade goodie on the table, and took time to sit and visit for a half hour or so with a neighbor or two and anyone else who dropped in. Grandma was always sure to grab her knitting before sitting down for this morning ritual. This time was important to her and not much got in the way of it.

Yesterday morning a good friend and I took a ride down the road to a coffee shop at the other end of our county to meet with two other gals for a couple of hours of handwork, camaraderie and conversation. We make this jaunt twice a month and it's something I always look forward to.

There are usually no more than four to six of us that gather around the big table in one of the coffee shop's small meeting rooms. Occasionally only two or three are able to make it of a particular Thursday morning. The conversation is casual and flows easily, most of the time we laugh a lot. Once in a while our talk is interspersed with a poignant sharing of personal feelings or a touching anecdote from an individual's life. Although there has never been an ultimatum issued, I think it's understood that what is said around the table stays around the table.

All the while we're visiting, each of us is doing one type of handwork or another. Hand quilting, embroidery, hardanger, doll making, applique work, knitting, tatting, it matters not what we choose to do. It's always something we enjoy but can rarely find adequate time to do.

These few hours of a Thursday morning a couple times a month certainly aren't the same as my grandma's daily time with her friends and handwork but continuing to make time now and then for reconnecting with friends, infrequent though it may be, is sometimes all we can manage in our jam-packed, too fast moving lives. For me, these times are calming and up-lifting, relaxing and stimulating, bonding and centering. And important.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tail End of Another Slow Day on the Homestead

Oooof. I'm tired. I was going to have today's batch of pickles done before dinner time tonight, but then I thought I'd better go check to see if I should pick beans. And, of course, there were about a gazillion of the little buggers just hanging on the bushes, taunting in a sing-song voice, "Pick me, pick me, ya better pick me."

Dear Husband volunteered to help. (Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.) It's true: a chore goes more than twice as fast when there is someone else working along side you. This afternoon, I think I would have expired in the bean patch without his much appreciated assistance.

Back in the house, I crammed the beans in the refrig. (I really need another refrigerator this time of year. And I already have a spare in the entryroom besides the one in the kitchen.) The beans will have to wait until tomorrow to be prepped, blanched and frozen. The kitchen was more than a bit of a mess with my pickles half done, Roy in the midst of making a crock full of dills that will age in the basement (the old-fashioned way), and me trying to put together a meal for us. Oh, yeah, and Zoey the Wonder Dog had to be right in the middle of everything because it was her dinner time, too.

Neither of us had finished up our respective pickle projects when dinner was ready so we made room (just barely) on the table for our two plates and kinda hurried through our meal. Then I had to do dishes and tidy up before I could even manage to finish my project. (No room to function.) So I just now at 8:15 p.m. took eight jars out of the canner. Roy's crock-full is in the basement starting to do its thing. The house definitely smells like Eau d' Pickle ('scuse my French, I have no idea if that phrase comes close to really meaning anything), and I'm so pooped I'm wondering if I can go to bed without taking a shower tonight. But, hey, no real complaints here. I'm doing what I want to do. I just wish there wasn't so much of it right now.

P.S. Yes, Zoey did get her dinner on time tonight, too.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Avoiding Work?

Typical late August weather for our part of the world . . . one day it's stifling, hot, humid, nearly unbearable and the next day is dry, breezy, in the 70s and a delight to experience the out of doors. That's my excuse for not starting canning until late yesterday.

I went out before breakfast to do some watering before it got (expected anyway) hot. We still haven't had any rain in close to a month now. Roy came out to do somethings in the yard and we both kept commenting on how wonderfully pleasant the weather was, especially compared to the day before when we were both close to heat prostration.

One thing led to another and we ended up doing some early fall clean-up/put away jobs. (How virtuous we felt getting a jump on those things.) I decided to do some needed tomato pruning while waiting to periodically lend my brute strength as the "other end" of some carrying projects. Gak! What is that substance that comes off the tomato plants and onto one's hands? Yesterday, it was absolutely iridescent (which doesn't show in the picture), very yellow/green and shiny. Plus the stuff doesn't want to wash off easily. I usually have to scrape it off with a fingernail. Oh, well. I'll just have to cancel my hand modeling job for Monday.

Although I got a later than expected start, I did make a batch of pickles and a batch of Raspberry Jam last night before Roy said he was gonna make me stop even if he had to conk me on the head with something heavy. Stop I did and, oh, was it a wonderful night for sleeping. Even had the quilt pulled up. Temp was down to 49° by this morning and today looks like it may be a repeat of yesterday. Bring it on!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Harvest Day

So, what did you do yesterday, Mama Pea? I picked things in the garden. All day?!? Yup, that's all I got done yesterday. Amazing how long it takes just to harvest ripe 'n ready crops.

The day was hot, humid and on the miserable side. My face stayed kind of a pulsing shade of beet red all day. The rain never materialized (dang and drat) so I was able to keep at it until about 5:30 p.m. when I was maybe one-third of the way through picking blueberries, the last thing on my list to be harvested. Roy came out to let me know it was getting close to time for dinner (poor boy was hungry, methinks) and suggested that I knock off the garden work for the day and he would come out first thing this morning to help me finish up the blueberries. Didn't take much arm twisting to talk me into that.

Here's a bowl full of the first ample picking of our lemon cucumbers. If you're not familiar with them, the answer is no, they don't have a lemon-y flavor. The name comes from their yellow color and lemon-like shape. They're an old heirloom variety of cucs and take longer to mature than your basic green slicing cucumber. There's no mistaking that they are a cucumber, but the taste is . . . somehow different. Don't know a good way to describe it . . . perhaps a smidge denser, crisper but at the same time more liquid-y? (My vocabulary is astounding today, huh?) No need to peel them. Just rub off the tiny, black prickles as you wash them. I tend to sit with a salt shaker and eat them like an apple.

Topping the bowl of lemon cucs is our first red-ripe Antohi Romanian sweet pepper. We sampled it at dinner last night. Very thick-walled, succulent and sweet! Found out you can eat the pale yellow ones (before they turn orange or red) and we will try that but the vitamin and mineral content is higher after they color up. Always fun to experiment growing something new.

So today shall be a processing day for all the bountiful harvest I gathered yesterday. I want to make a batch of Bread and Butter Pickles, two batches of Dill Pickles, Blueberry Jam, Raspberry Jam, and Zucchini Relish. Will I get all that done? Oh, heck, no. But working at it should keep me from wondering what to do with any extra time on my hands. I'll be in the kitchen if you're looking for me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Gigantic Growth Spurt

A very strange thing happens to the homestead garden when no one is home for a day.

Yesterday we had to make a trip to The Big City; left as soon as we got up and going in the morn and didn't return home until after 10 p.m. By the time we unloaded and wound down a bit, bedtime didn't come until close to midnight.

This morning, after pulling my beat-up body out of bed (with the help of a small crane), I took a garden tour to see what needed to go on my To Do list for the day.

First let me make the point that as of late afternoon Wednesday (day preceding aforementioned Big City Trip), things looked to be well under control. So what happened yesterday when no one was here to keep an eye on things? EVERYTHING grew about three times as fast as it normally would have. The garden looks as if I'd been gone for a week! Today I need to pick raspberries, blueberries, pickling cucumbers, green and yellow beans, lemon and slicing cucumbers, cabbage, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini. (All tomato plants are in dire need of pruning again -- wow, what a growth spurt they've had recently.) And, of course, once harvesting is completed, that means all will need to be processed. Either frozen, canned, made into jam, or readied for delivery to the restaurant.

AND . . . it looks like it may start raining at any moment. This is not a bad thing. We haven't had any rain for nearly three weeks and watering the garden and berry patches has been a routine occurrence. But it does mean that if I don't stop this yammering and get my rusty-duster out there, I'll be even farther behind. Gotta go . . .

Monday, August 18, 2008

August 18th Is A Very Special Day

Today is the birthday of the love of my life and best friend. He's my rock, my strength, my always-there back-up through all times, good and not-so-good. Solid. Never wavering. Forever with an idea of how to work it out and make it better.

It might seem to the outside world that I'm the one who takes care of him (these intellectual types always have a little trouble finding the butter in the refrig and knowing when it's time to put on a clean pair of jeans) but without his presence in my life, I'm the one who would be non-functioning.

I sure am glad he was born 67 years ago today. There's nothing I'd rather be doing than sharing this day and every other day of the year with him.

Happy Birthday, Honey!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Knit One, Purl None

Recently I was in need of a mindless handwork project . . . something I didn't have to think about while doing.

Until I stumbled onto quilting, I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool knitter but in recent years my knitting needles have been sadly neglected. Every now and then though, I still find it very enjoyable to pick up my needles, some yarn and go to it. And, let's face it, although you can join a bunch of other quilters at a retreat or modern day facsimile of an old-fashioned quilting bee, impromptu get togethers of a few knitters ensconced around a table accompanied by softly clacking needles and good conversation is much easier to come by and more apt to happen than quilters gathering to quilt.

But I digress. Back to the needed handwork project. I picked up a skein of yarn at my favorite small yarn shop, and this is the end result. This new (at least to me) self-patterning yarn is the coolest thing to come down the pike in an age! How amazing is that? No carrying colors, no need to knit at home in solitude with eyes glued to a pattern, no endless tails of different colored yarn to weave in. I've got to get more of this stuff!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Good Morning, Glory

My morning glories have actually made it to the blooming stage. They've wound their way up only half the height of their trellis but each morning when I make my tour of the garden, I'm greeted with a few more beautiful purple blossoms. So pretty.

Yesterday I picked our first yellow beans. (Remember when they used to call them "butter beans"?) My daughter stopped by on her way home from a town day late yesterday so I sent them with her for them to enjoy. This afternoon I checked the plants again and picked these few more that were ready. They'll be enough to have with our dinner tonight. Just beef patties, yellow beans and sweet potatoes (no, not from our garden -- darn). And for dessert Blueberry Crunch made with berries from our blueberry patch. Not as flavorful as wild blueberries (which are prolific in our area this year) but pretty yummy, all the same.

Talk about being totally oblivious to what's going on in your own garden! I've been glancing at the two rows of pickling cucs noticing lots of pretty little yellow blossoms and the lush, dark green vines that are only about two feet high. For some reason, when I was in the garden an hour or so ago, I got down on my hands and knees and took a peek inside the vines. Omigosh. I have enough cucs for more than two (possibly three) batches of pickles. I'm not upset about some of them being overly big because I had decided to make my sliced Bread and Butter Pickles first since my dill hasn't grown big enough yet to use in making the dill pickles.

You know where you can find me tomorrow morning. I'll be making pickles, pickles . . . and a few more pickles.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Making Sourdough Bricks

I'm trying to learn how to make sourdough bread. I ordered some sourdough starter a couple of weeks back and attempted my first loaf last week.

The starter was rye sourdough starter but the instructions said you could use any flour when making bread. Rye was okay with me as we like rye bread a lot. Even though I know that rye flour contains very little gluten and doesn't rise well without the incorporation of at least some white flour, I went ahead and used all rye flour. Again, the instructions said that would be okay. (Why do I believe things just because someone writes them down and prints them out?) I even ground a batch of rye grains up so the flour would be fresh and "live."

Go ahead and chuckle if you must. This is what my first loaf of sourdough bread looked like. Yeah, quite brick-like, I would say. Roy is eating it and says the flavor is good (bless his little heart), but I think he's just desperate for homemade bread as I haven't been giving top priority to bread baking this summer.

Last night, I "refreshed the sourdough" culture -- must be done weekly -- so all was ready for another go at it this morning. Decided until I got the hang of this sourdough thing, I would use 3/4 spelt flour and 1/4 unbleached white. Spelt is an old, old variety of wheat which hasn't been as modified and/or corrupted over the years as much as most wheat has so I thought that would give us some nice spelt (whole wheat) sourdough bread.

And here is today's loaf. Gee, looks like I can not only make Rye Sourdough Bricks but now I've added Spelt Sourdough Bricks to my repertoire. Oh, my. I had to let it rise 5 hours in the bowl before it looked like it had risen even a little bit (certainly not double in size as the recipe suggested) and then 4 more hours in the loaf pan to get it to barely reach the top of the pan. (Good thing I started early this morning, huh?) Wonder what I'm doing wrong? I know I had it in a warm enough place for rising to take place. Roy has been kind enough to suggest the starter I got isn't good. Wonder how many more times I should try this before giving up?

I really do know how to bake bread. Just apparently not sourdough bread. Oh, well. Cement slabs, anyone?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Bee Man

Roy checked our honey bees this afternoon and found things to be looking good.

Here he's "smoking" the bees to calm them down before taking the hive apart.

Opening the hive and looking to see what condition the hive and bees are in.

A nice, heavy brood pattern which indicates a healthy, vigorous queen is in the hive.

This past winter wasn't an easy one for the bees. There aren't a great number of beekeepers in our area but nearly everyone lost some hives; quite a few lost all of theirs. We went into winter with eight hives; we lost four. Why? It's always a conundrum when it comes to beekeeping Up North.

Although the winter wasn't extremely cold, it was a very gray and sunless one. The bees need a few sunny, warm days over the winter months in which to take critical cleansing flights. This could have been a problem this year. Or perhaps there weren't enough bees in the hives to generate enough heat to keep themselves warm. When Roy checked first thing early this spring, there was still honey in the hives we lost which means they didn't starve.

Last year at this time we had had about nine swarms. This year we haven't had one. What's the difference between last summer and this one? A month of cool, wet early summer weather that kept the bees dormant because of poor flying conditions and lack of available food. That in turn made the first-of-the-season build-up of bees and hives go much slower.

So far, Roy's managed to build the bees back up to seven hives. He reports three are quite strong and four are only moderately so. Three of the new hives were started from scratch by making nucs and splits.

A nuc is made by taking a couple of frames of brood along with young bees sitting on the brood and putting them into a small box with a few frames of honey and pollen for food to help things get going during the time the bees build themselves up. The bees, incredibly enough, take a started worker egg and put it in a specially constructed cell. Then they make a "magical" food called royal jelly and fill the cell with that. The emerging larva feeds on the royal jelly and instead of turning into a worker bee, she becomes a new queen bee. The nuc can then be used to establish a complete new hive.

A split is taking one strong hive and dividing it into two hives forcing the bees in the second (new hive) to raise their own new queen in the same way described above.

I readily admit Roy is the bee expert in the family. I do know bees are fascinating creatures to study because of their many unique traits, social behaviors, and incredible beneficial aspects to farmers, gardeners and our environment as a whole. There is much more to understanding bees than I have the brain cells to absorb. I gladly leave that aspect of our homestead to The Bee Man in the house.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Send Help

The garden is going great guns and I'm outta gas. All of a sudden (not really, I've been waiting over two months for this), more than I can handle needs to be harvested and processed.

Yesterday I picked our first six slicing cucumbers. Sent all but one with the box of produce to the restaurant and I can see there will be several more today. Also had our largest delivery of mixed salad lettuce yesterday. Just short of eight pounds. All our lettuce is gourmet baby lettuce . . . imagine how much one leaf of baby lettuce weighs. So how many of those little leaves does it take to make up eight pounds? A lot. An amazing lot. Also sent baby Swiss chard and possibly the last of the snow peas.

I pulled all of the shell pea vines on Wednesday as they were done, done, done. The vines went to some happy chickens. Here's the naked trellising still standing (I haven't gotten that down yet) with the sunflowers behind. With the lush pea vines gone, I'm hoping the sunflowers will get more sunshine and grow a little faster than they have been.

I had planned on making some jam with the raspberries in the refrig that I had picked two days ago. But yesterday looking at my list for the day, I knew it wasn't gonna happen so I spread the berries on cookie sheets and froze them. Here's a sheet of them frozen solid and ready to be shoveled into freezer bags. Freezing this way keeps them individualized; they don't smoosh together. I can make jam with them at a later date or most likely we'll use them as the fruit sweetener in smoothies this winter.

Last night after dinner, I had to pick raspberries again. Also picked a small amount of blueberries and combined them with the raspberries and then made a batch of Blueberry-Raspberry Jam today. Mmmm, good.

This bush doesn't have many blueberries on it but the berries sure make a pretty picture.

I had to plant beans twice this year as most of the first planting rotted in the ground. When I did the second planting, I left the few of the first plants that did sprout. Now those have inch long beans on them so I know it won't be long before I'll be blanching green and yellow beans for the freezer. Also planted some French fillet beans, which are my husband's favorite, but they don't freeze well at all, so we'll eat them fresh and send some to the restaurant.

So you see, just when I've given my all to get the garden to this point, it's rewarding my efforts with an abundance of beautiful produce . . . and I feel overwhelmed and under-powered. I've used up all my oompf. Gardening is hard work . . . especially if you strive to grow enough veggies to can, freeze and process to take you through to the next growing season, plus some extra to sell.

Okay, you can send in the harvest crew now. Has anyone seen that person who's gonna work full time in my kitchen to process everything? And, oh yeah, do you know of anyone who does windows and would clean my bathroom?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lo and Behold

Here it is, folks. Our first ripe tomato!

Hrumpf, you say. That's a mighty puny excuse for a tomato. Au contraire, mon cheri, I say. This isn't a regular size tomato. It's one honkin' big (as you can see by the comparison to one of our eggs) cherry tomato.

The cherry tomatoes usually do ripen before the regular ones, and this variety - the Washington Cherry - has always been a good one for us in our garden. The plants have had approximately two gazillion green tomatoes in evidence for ages and are so big I can no longer completely close down the cold frame tops at night to give them maximum protection from the cooler air. I kept wondering when one of the tomatoes would turn just a little orange, please? Well, finally last Thursday, July 31st, this one started to color up. And once it got started, it didn't take too long to fully ripen. I picked it yesterday.

This is the year I'm supposed to grow enough full sized tomatoes to harvest so I can can my year's supply of stewed tomatoes. I've got cold frames over three garden beds with full size tomatoes in them and seventeen plastic wrapped wire cages where a variety of heirloom tomatoes are living in comfort. Although I see lots of blossoms, unless I'm missing something, I can find only a few tomatoes, mostly about 3" across and very green.

The only people I've ever heard of who have grown enough tomatoes up here to can are those with greenhouses. I know I've never come close to managing the feat. When we lived in Illinois, the first October frost that killed the tomato plants was almost welcomed. By that time I had made and preserved every possible tomato product I could think of. We had stewed tomatoes galore, catsup, tomato sauce, paste and juice, salsa, on and on. Ah, to have even half of one of those harvests up here in the frozen tundra. Sigh.

You'll have to excuse me now. I'm going to go sit down at the kitchen table and enjoy our first tomato of the season. I'll even share!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Stealing Spuds

I know. I said I wasn't going to do it this year . . . but I just couldn't stop myself.

Supposedly when potato plants blossom, the potatoes underneath have sized up enough that you can dig a few to use as "new potatoes." These little guys won't keep like the more mature ones will but, boyohboyohboy, they are soooo good parboiled and sprinkled with fresh cut chives and butter. Directly from the garden to dinner plate in 20 minutes.

Last year I pilfered so many new potatoes that Roy said our main harvest was severely affected. So this year I wasn't going to steal even enough for one meal. But tonight's dinner is Swiss steak and gravy I had in the freezer along with fresh snow peas picked this morning and, well, what would be better with that than just a few new potatoes?

I just couldn't stop myself.