Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Will This Work?

Last summer I experimented by growing half of our potatoes under mulch and half hilled-up with dirt in the old traditional way. Those grown under mulch produced exactly half the amount as those grown in dirt.

For some reason, my husband didn't want me to grow any under mulch this year. Heck, why does he have to be so sensible? Where's his sense of adventure?

Actually, I kinda sort agreed with him. It's just that I hate hilling up potatoes.

But I went ahead and planted our 80 feet of taters the old-fashioned way; in four rows, hilled-up with dirt. I've hilled them up three times now, and that's all I'm gonna do. (How's that for showing a real streak of independence?)

Still, I wanted to try growing some under mulch.

This then, dear readers, is my interpretation of growing potatoes under mulch in a wire cage, or in tires stacked on top of each other, or in a barrel. It's a three foot tall cold frame that we originally built as an experiment last year . . . one that didn't work, but we won't go into that just now.

I planted 21 seed potatoes in a 4' x 8' raised bed and then set this cold frame on top without a cover on it. As soon as the potato plants started emerging from the soil, I tossed in some mulch.

I've already added three layers of mulch, but I'm having trouble keeping those plants that grow right up against the side of the cold frame covered. I don't know why, but they pop right up and out almost as soon as I finish covering them with mulch. Oh, well. Maybe they'll still grow good potatoes underneath.

As the greenery grows, I'll keep tossing in more mulch until it reaches the top of the cold frame . . . if the plants grow that high.

Is this gonna work? Obviously, the sides of the enclosure are made of greenhouse plastic which lets the sun's rays in. But when you grow potatoes under mulch in a wire cage, the sun gets in there, too, right?

It's definitely an experiment and time will tell if it's going to produce an acceptable harvest. In the meantime, it's 21 potato plants that I don't have to hill-up with dirt!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not Easy, Not Fun

The latest step on the pantry construction was to do the preliminary work on getting the doorway cut from what will be the kitchen into the pantry.

The first part of this was to remove the siding from that area. (The pantry is added on to what was once an outside wall of the house.)

Our house is sided in fiber cement board which is NOT easy to work with. It didn't go up easily, and it sure didn't come off easily. We used this particular type of siding because it's fire-proof . . . but definitely not hard labor-proof!

Hubby first cut the shape of the door through the siding with a circular saw equipped with a special blade.

Cutting through this stuff makes a tremendous amount of dust and grit, and smells bad to boot.

Then getting the siding off the wall proved to be an arduous task accompanied by lots of vocal mumblings and grumblings.

I think I see real possibilities for the beginning of a Halloween costume here.

Finally done and area vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed to remove all of the dust and debris.

Next the window gets popped out (oh, if it would only go that easily) and inserted in the outer pantry wall.

Merry Christmas?

At holiday time, I've always given away baked goods as gifts. But for the past couple/few years, it's become a little bit more of a chore to do all the baking than something I look forward to doing.

I love making jam. Don't know why, I just find it a very satisfying and enjoyable project. So this summer season, when our berries are prolific, I'm going to make up extra jars of jam to give at Christmas time rather than doing so much holiday baking.

This is the haul from yesterday's two batches of strawberry jam making. Twelve half-pints and three full pints. Hubby wanted to open one at breakfast this morning, but I had to put the kibosh on that as we currently have an open jar of last year's jam in the refrig.

Hope this "new" gift idea pans out. Seems like it should give me extra time for doing things I want to do but never seem to find the time for during the holidays.

So bring on the berries . . . we'll be making LOTSA jam!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dried Strawberries

There's a chance I may be getting a smidge wiser in my old age.

I like to dehydrate a portion of our strawberry harvest each year to use as an addition to granola and trail mix. But for some reason, I wait until the end of the season to do this, first putting by as much jam and frozen berries for smoothies as I think we will need.

One reason this doesn't make good sense is because at the end of the season the berries are much smaller. That means I spend more time slicing the smaller berries and laying out a gazillion more slices on the dryer trays than I would if I used larger berries.

So yesterday I took the biggest berries from the most recent harvest, sliced and dehydrated them. Much easier, faster and more efficient. Just HOW many years did it take before I figured this out??

I had four full trays of sliced strawberries.

Ten hours later . . . a very full quart of dried berry slices to stash away in the pantry.

Today? I'm making strawberry jam as we speak. Doesn't it smell dee-licious?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ya Gotta Love A Sunflower

I'm not sure what happened, but I didn't plant any sunflowers in the garden last year. And I missed them. Although I've never gotten any to mature enough that I could actually harvest seeds from them, that doesn't really matter. The old-fashioned look they lend to a garden is enough for me.

This shot was taken in 2008 of me showing how tall the sunflowers were (I'm 5'3") the last time they appeared in my garden.

This year I made certain to remember to put in a 35' row of them on the far south end of the field garden.

They're still not very big so far this year, maybe 12" tall. And I didn't get very good germination either. But then we haven't exactly had sunflower-friendly weather either. I planted them a foot apart for the whole 35' and only sixteen germinated. Would you question my gardening know-how if I confessed the seeds I used were from . . . 1999? ("We-e-e-ll," she says in a whiny voice.) I do have extremely good luck saving and using old seeds . . . but I may have pushed the envelope just a little too far on this one.

I filled in the gaps a couple of weeks ago (with more of the same old seeds) and a couple more have made an emergence. The row won't be perfect but I look forward to seeing those big, bright, happy faces following the sun across the sky each day.

Reminder to self: Order sunflower seeds for 2011 garden.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nary A Raindrop This Day

I suppose there's still a chance we could get rain in the five more hours remaining of this day, but for all practical working outside purposes, we made it without any moisture falling on us.

Even though I waited until 1 o'clock to go pick strawberries, the plants were still wet. Not a good situation as I've read you can spread fungus in a strawberry patch by handling the plants when wet. I'm just hoping there was no fungus in there to be spread!

That's a regular sized egg with the strawberry in my hand. The berries are always biggest when they first come in and then get smaller as the season goes on. I harvested 11-1/4 pounds today. That brings the year's total to 17 pounds 6 ounces.

I managed to get a fairly good picture of Mama Mallard and part of her brood. She still has all ten ducklings she hatched on May 10th. She is standing in the foreground with six of her ducklings behind her. You sure can't tell the males from the females yet, can you? (They all still look identical in coloring to her but I can't believe all ten are females.)

The goslings are no longer the fuzzy butts shown in my blog header photo. They're almost totally feathered out and very close to the same size as Mother and Father Goose. We've definitely got three females and four males. Mom and Pop are in the foreground in this picture.

I hope you all had as nice a weather day as we did here.

Pull On Your Boots

We're going for an early morning garden tour. It's still very, very wet out there but we have lots of sunshine. A little, teeny-tiny bit overcast, but I'm ignoring that and hoping we'll have enough sun to dry things up by noon so I can pick strawberries.

Yippee, my little stand of Swiss chard is big enough to harvest for a Green Pie. I think I personally prefer a Green Pie made with Swiss chard over one made with spinach. Hubby would vote for just the opposite, but we've already had several using spinach so it's time for the Swiss chard edition. Besides that I'm the cook, and I can do whatever I want. And any time anybody else wants to be the cooker, I'll gladly eat whatever he/she chooses to prepare. I never get enough of other people's good cooking and really do get tired of my own. Can any of you out there relate?

I'm so happy with my mizuna mustard greens. Love these little leaves in a tossed salad. Usually by this time of the season all my mizuna would have bolted and been done gone. Must be the rain and/or cool weather this year?

Despite lack of sunshine and warm weather, lo and behold, my zucchini plants are looking happy and healthy. Small but healthy.

The four cherry tomato plants are lush and green. I don't think the little blossoms have changed one iota in the last few weeks, but I still have hopes.

My second planting bed of lettuce is lookin' kinda purdy, don'tcha think? Growing up I never knew there was anything but iceberg lettuce. What a shame. No wonder tossed salads taste so good now when I know there is a plethora of colors, tastes, and textures of lettuce to use.

Here is a row (unthinned by the by) of Osaka Purple Mustard coming along nicely. But what is that right in the center of the row? Obviously, somebody slipped a seed into the packet that didn't belong there. Who is this foreigner? Is it some kind of radish? Needless to say, I can't pull it out until my curiosity is satisfied.

This mish-mosh of a bed is my "wild flower" bed. As it was growing, I pulled out everything that I knew for sure was a weed even leaving some that were questionable.

You probably can't tell from this picture but it looks to me like the whole bed is stuffed with only one kind of flower. (At least I hope it's a flower.) The packet said the seeds were a mixture of Bachelor's Button, Shasta Daisy, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Calliopsis, Foxglove, Purple Coneflower, Blanket Flower, Catchfly, Dame's Rocket, Blazing Star, Toadflax, Evening Primrose, Phlox, Corn Poppy, and Black-eyed Susan. Now, I am NOT a flower expert but I know what some of those look like growing and I can't find anything but the one kind of plant.

The packet was supposed to sow 25 square feet. My bed is 32 square feet so the seed shouldn't have been too crowded for some of each seed to take hold. Oh, well. Time will tell. At least something germinated this time. I think this is the third or fourth time I've tried to establish a wild flower bed without much to show for it.

Okay, time to get off my duff and make some progress on my list for the day. Hope you all have a wonderful, sunny Saturday. (But not too, too hot!) Unless you need rain, of course. If I could, I'd share some of ours with you!

Friday, June 25, 2010

No, I'm Not Losing It

I totally remember blogging about this pie last year in July. But it is just sooo good that I had to remind you of it today again. Besides, maybe some of you weren't on board last year, and I wouldn't want you to miss such a good thing.

Every year when I have fresh strawberries from the garden, I make this pie at least once, maybe sixteen times. It's so easy and the flavor is light and refreshing and oh, so wonderful.

I made it first thing yesterday morning, and put it in the refrig. Then we did serious damage to it at lunch time.

I had a hard time getting the whipping cream to set up stiff enough (I think my cream was too fresh) so the individual pieces were a bit on the sloopy side, but we ate it just the same. No problem.

If you have an uncontrollable urge to make this pie, clicking on will take you right to a step-by-step how-to for preparing one of your very own.

There are more strawberries out in the garden right now that should have been picked today but the rain started early on and continued up until a short time ago. The strawberry patch is soaking wet and (just to add a little diversity to things) mosquitoes are rampant tonight. I'm hoping 1) the slugs don't eat all of the berries, and 2) we have sunshine tomorrow so I can get at the harvest.

Beating the Rain

Before breakfast this morning (thank heavens I had had my latte), hubby announced he wanted to get out and seed the pumpkin patch with buckwheat before the rain started.

First order was to move the pile of rocks unearthed in yesterday's tilling operation.

A lot of weight ended up in that wheelbarrow. He had to push it down the driveway a ways, across our small hay field and into the wood's line to dump it on our designated rock pile. When he got back, he announced he'd used up all his deodorant for the day.

I worked at leveling out the ground before planting.

Then we seeded the ground liberally (using the latest technological methods, as you can see) and raked the area one more time to bury the seeds.

Now we're inside, we've been fortified with a hearty breakfast, and the raindrops have started falling. Perfect timing! A gold star to my better half for getting us out there first thing today.

Back in the Pumpkin Patch Again

Remarkably enough, the thick stand of oats and barley we cut down in the pumpkin patch recently had dried enough by late yesterday morning to till it under.

The northwest corner of this patch is just full of rocks. (I think they grow there.) One that hubby encountered was so big he had to break it apart with the humongous maul before being able to move it. (If you don't think banging on that for a while jars every fiber in your body . . . !)

"No problem. I think (grunt) I can (groan) move it (grit, grit) now."

Once again, the job of getting it all tilled in took longer than we expected.

Finally done!

Now all we have to do is move the rocks and rake it smooth so we can plant some buckwheat.

Hubby asked me at dinner last night which job I wanted to do: Move the rocks or rake the soil smooth. I thought about it and replied, "Neither."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chomp, Chomp, Chomp

A few days ago a friend and commenter asked if I had much trouble with insect damage on any of the things I grew in the garden.

Well, it seems like there is usually something every year but it certainly doesn't always mean total death and destruction to the plants. Supposedly, the better shape your soil is in, the less the insects will bother your plantings.

When we first started gardening on this piece of land, we had a lot of trouble with cut worms for several years. And I mean A LOT! So far this year (knock, knock), I have yet to see my first one.

Then there was the year the grasshoppers ate just about everything. Now that was depressing.

This year there is something that is taking big bites out of a lot of different things. Something else is making little holes in some leaves. Then there is the sneaky creepy-crawly that is stripping the leaves completely off my Moss Rose plants. So far I haven't been able to spot any of the insects that are tormenting me . . . and my plants.

Big bites are being taken out of ---

This was my very first cosmos to bloom and it immediately got chomped on.

More bites out of some potato leaves.

The Red Kuri squash is not being left out of the taste testing.

Nor are the Morning Glories.

All the little pickling cucumber sprouts have these tiny holes in them and some have bites taken out.

This is the second planting of slicing cucumbers I've made. I'm a whole month behind on them because the first ones were about three inches high when something started munching first on the leaves and then went on to the stems leaving only about 1/4" of stem sticking up out of the ground.

This is what Moss Rose plants are supposed to look like. See the spikey little leaves on the red stems?

These are Moss Roses in a different part of the garden. Something has stripped all of the leaves off the stems.

These pictures probably make my garden look like a total disaster area but it's truly not. I could show you maybe fifty or more pictures of healthy, vibrant plants that haven't been bothered by anything.

So, to answer your question, Jen, there is usually one insect or another each year that seems intent on spending their summer vacation in my garden. But most of the time if the damage looks as if it's going to be too great, there is some safe, organic spray or solution or remedy that I can use to discourage them.

Also, even a very harmful insect won't be bothersome for the whole summer. They have their life cycles and if a plant can just make it through the critical stage, it will go on to thrive and produce a harvest. And in most cases, as I had to do with my slicing cucs this year, I can replant at a later time and avoid the destructive stage of that particular insect.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Can I Have a Do-Over, Please?

This has been one of those days that we all have occasionally. Nothing has gone exactly as I had hoped or planned today.

The highlight of the day was the haul from my two forays into the strawberry patch. Our first day's harvest of berries totaled exactly 5 pounds. Can't beat that with a stick.

After our misty morning, the sun actually did come out for about two hours. What a treat! Unfortunately, I wasn't home for most of that period so we didn't make any headway on construction nor did I move ahead on garden projects.

When I got home it was starting to gray up again so I grabbed my bowl and went out to pick more berries before rain came again.

Got this lovely bowlful for my efforts.

Then I managed to get some lettuce, scallions, radishes and rhubarb harvested just before the rain drove me in.

I chopped up the rhubarb and started to make some sauce for the freezer. After lighting a flame under the full saucepan, I left the kitchen . . . and completely forgot about it.

Ever had your house filled with Eau d' Burned Rhubarb? No? Lucky you. Sure hope I can resurrect the pan.

The rain has stopped right now but the weatherman is telling us to expect thunderstorms with possible damaging hail tonight. Oh, my poor unprotected tomaters!

First Strawberries

Morning made its appearance today in the same way it has been . . . foggy, wet and gloomy. I knew the strawberry patch would be soaking wet, but I was willing to brave anything (weeell, almost anything) to have fresh strawberries for our breakfast. (This first harvest of the season comes about two weeks earlier than normal.)

How can just reaching into strawberry plants (lush though they are) to pick ripe berries make you feel so totally drenched? I know I was wet up to my elbows for sure, and my garden shoes were squishy (why didn't I put on boots?), but the reward was worth it.

There are plenty more out there, but I stopped when I knew I had enough for breakfast. I'm keeping track of the poundage we harvest this year so when I got inside, onto the scale this bunch went. One pound, 6 ounces . . . and we consumed every smidgen.

Unfortunately, because of our wet weather, the slugs have been enjoying the berries, too. As I'm picking and find a berry that has been too decimated by the ugly-bugly creatures, I lob it up over the seven foot high fence into the poultry yard, and the birds come running to claim it before it even hits the ground. Maybe they aren't such dumb clucks after all.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Wee Bit More Progress

We didn't manage to finish the insulating of the pantry ceiling today, but we got close. Rain added that little bit of a challenge to our efforts again. More cutting in the garage and running to the pantry and back.

The hole you see in front of hubby on the ladder is where the one window in the pantry will go. The hole in the ceiling behind him isn't really a hole; it's a skylight which will bring a smidge of natural light into the pantry.

He got a little more done after I took this picture. Doesn't it look nice and sunny outside the cut out for the window? Yup, just as I went in to fix dinner, the sun came out and it was lovely for about 15 minutes. Then the fog and grayness rolled back in. Talk about a teaser.

I'm hoping for some nice weather tomorrow because I think our first strawberry picking of the season is ready. Yahoo!

Cut . . . But Soaked

Even though our morning remained foggy, gray and very damp, the mower man decided he wanted to get the oats and barley in our small (14' x 23') pumpkin patch cut today.

Of course, as soon as he started mowing, the rain began to fall.

The first pass was a little difficult and messy but the rotary mower on our old Gravely garden tractor was up to the task.

Almost finished.

View from an upstairs window of the oats and barley laid low.

Now we'll have to wait for better weather to till the green stuff in. If that never happens, I suppose it would decompose nicely into the soil. I'M KIDDING! There will be a break in this weather soon. There will be a break . . . there will be a break . . . there will be . . .