Sunday, July 30, 2017

In the Garden/In the Kitchen

I'm having trouble with my Sweet Peas again this year, same as for the past couple of years.

I keep rotating them into different beds but not seeing much improvement.  New seeds this year, too.  Finally got the first couple of blossoms a day or so ago, but the vines are drying out and look as though they're gonna give up the ghost.  Darn.

The Morning Glories have been so, so slow this year.  They're hardly halfway up their teepee trellis and I've seen only one blossom.  Sigh.

There is one decent sized green pepper already on this widdle-biddie pepper plant, no less.  When I first started my pepper seeds early this spring, I thought I was getting very poor germination on them so a couple/few weeks later I started a whole new batch.  Turns out the first were just slow germinating so that batch went outside much earlier than the later batch.

This is the bed of the earliest set out.  Do they have any peppers on them yet?  Noooo.  But one of the later transplanted very small plants (above) does.

Our kohlrabis are coming in.  This is just the nice size we like for cutting into sticks and eating raw with dip.  Yum, so fresh, crisp and yet tender.

I can hardly wait for fresh slicing cucumbers to put in salads, on sandwiches and munch out of hand.  This biggest one I've found so far is a whole 4" long!

Gilligan gave me some gladioli bulbs (corms) for my birthday back in April and these are the first ones to bloom.  I think they're gorgeous and I'm enjoying seeing them in their unique color combination.  My friend in Wisconsin sent me a nice sampling last fall of the glads she grows.  (Karen, the green spears of those are up high and healthy and I'm eagerly awaiting their showy blooms soon.) 

I haven't grown any turnips for several years and I think I know why now.  They're good sized already and we've sampled them both cooked and raw with dip.  We're just not crazy about them.  Actually, Papa Pea asked me to grow a small sampling of turnips and mangels this year to try as a supplemental feed for the poultry this winter.  Both are doing well in the garden . . . and I hope the poultry like the turnips better than we do.

I just made another big batch of strawberry fruit leather.  I peel it off the parchment paper sheets . . . 

. . . and cut it into strips, fold the strips in half, wrap in wax paper and store all in glass jars tucked away in the pantry.

The peppermint has grown enough to cut again.  These eight trays of it went into the dehydrator this morning and are now dried and put away as part of the supply I'm trying to stock up on for the coming year.  I'll do another eight trays tomorrow.

AND my shell peas will finally be ready for the picking to start on them tomorrow.  Whoopee!  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Only Option Left May Be Alcohol

On Wednesday of this week we harvested our haskap berries.  We found it hard to tell when they were ripe by depending on the taste.  (That would be sour.)  But, supposedly, they are different than other berries and ripen all at the same time and since a few were starting to fall to the ground we figured it was time.

The berries were abundant this year.  We picked 5-3/4 quarts from our three 4-year old bushes.  They're not easy to pick because the berries grow at random spots on the branches, sometimes deep within the heavily leafed bushes.  And they are squishy.  Even when they come off easily, they are soft and juicy.  And the juice stains.  Trust me.  I know.

Cleaning them is much more time consuming than cleaning blueberries.  Many had the stems still attached.  Because they're juicy, your hands get wet and sticky and leaves or any other debris ends up in the picking container.  (Isn't this fun?  Shall I go on?)  The above shows some of the berries after I cleaned them.

They're more oval than a blueberry and bigger.  Kinda funny shaped.

I decided to take one quart and make a pie.  I used my tried and true blueberry pie recipe which calls for 1/3 cup of flour as thickener.

Taking the pie out of the oven, I noticed the juice showing between the strips of lattice crust seemed quite "liquidy."

After letting the pie cool completely (hoping the filling would firm up), we sampled it.  Runny?  Oh, yeah.

The flavor?  Tart.  Not as sour as eating the raw berries, but tart.  I'm not sure I could have eaten a whole piece without ice cream on top to cut the tartness.  I can only state that the pie has not disappeared as quickly as pies usually do around our house.

Just to give the haskaps a fair trial, I made a batch of jam.

A batch of runny jam.  Too thin to put on bread, but we'll try it one of these mornings on waffles or pancakes.  You know, like syrup.  How's the flavor of the jam?  Tart.  And almost medicinal.  Huhn.  I'm not at all sure using it as a syrup is going to fly either.

Oh, I almost forgot.  We tried dehydrating a tray of them.  Hours and hours and hours (maybe it was days) later, they were still wet.  And tasted slightly bitter.  Almost as if they were burned . . . but still wet.  We tossed them.

So what is all the hype about haskap berries being the best thing since sliced bread?  Why did we plant some bushes in the first place?

Well, they have been proven to have a huge amount of antioxidants in them.

They have a tradition of medicinal (aha!) uses in Japan.  They are five times more potent in polyphenals than blueberries.  (Polyphenals are believed to protect against some common health problems and certain effects of aging.  Yay!)

Haskaps have the highest anthocyanin content of any fruit, they're high in Vitamin C, A, fiber and potassium.  (Anthocyanins have a positive effect on cardiovascular health, have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.  All good.)  But what good is all this if you have to force yourself to stuff them down your gullet?  Sigh.

Papa Pea and I both have a feeling they would make good wine.  It certainly would be an attractive color.  (Wonder if it would stain your teeth?  Oh, crickey.)  Dear daughter of ours has been wanting to try making a cordial from them.  I've assured her I have a nice amount squirreled away in the freezer for her to do just that.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

In The Garden

I've mentioned that the couple of short rows of purple carrots I planted this year have been growing like they're on steroids.

Purple carrot and our first zucchinis.

I couldn't resist pulling one of the carrots yesterday just to see how big the root was.  The top measured a full 20" tall . . . but the carrot was still on the puny side.  Although the above doesn't give a good picture of the coloration of the carrot, looks to me as though the purple color starts at the top and works it's way down.

In slicing up the wee carrot to add to our cottage cheese salad last night, I found it curious that the center of the carrot was not yet purple either.  When mature, this variety is totally a dark purple, top to tip and all the way through.

My little pumpkin patch of full-size, jack o' lantern-type pumpkins is finally taking off.  Still no blossoms though.

Don't tell my husband, but I've got four eggplants tucked in in unobtrusive spots in the garden.  (He's not a fan.)  I started these from seeds and am hoping I get at least a few fruits for my own pleasurable consumption.  (They don't usually do well for me, and I'm beginning to wonder if Papa Pea puts a hex on them.  Just sayin'.)

Onions are easy for me to grow.  This is one bed.  I have one and a half beds of yellow onions and one and a half of reds.

Look, look, my pie pumpkins are starting to climb the arbor trellis!  Okay, they've had help from me (we all need a little help now and then) by tying up their tendrils for encouragement.

I think the new leaves of growth our little apricot tree is putting forth are quite lovely.  When they first appeared as little nubs, I thought they were going to be blossoms (and was practically beside myself with joy), but it was just new growth.  The tree was planted just last year so I was probably over-enthusiastic dreaming about succulent apricots so soon.

The shell pea vines are loaded with pods that haven't started to plump up yet.  To show how slow our season is this year, last year on yesterday's date, July 24th, I pulled the pea vines as the crop was all in and the vines had dried up.  Gulp.  Makes me wonder how our "later" maturing veggies will do this year.  Will they have time to do their thing before a killing frost?  Fingers crossed!  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

We Were Invaded Yesterday . . .

. . . by a pack of cute-as-could-be strawberry pickers!

Chicken Mama has a date every Saturday with three munchkins that she wouldn't give up for the world.

A dear friend of hers was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after she gave birth to twins, siblings to their then four year old big sister.  It was an awful time and our whole community rallied to provide as much help and support to the family as possible.

For the first two years of the twins' lives, they were cared for by their loving aunt (who had a large family of her own) and Chicken Mama.

So you can imagine Chicken Mama has a special place in her heart for the now three year old twins and their seven year old sister.

The gang came to pick strawberries yesterday.  More berries went into their bellies (s'magine that) than baskets and a good time was had by all.

Big sister brought her own basket . . . and FILLED IT!

Hey, why are there no berries IN the baskets??

"Look at this big one!"

Little Brother was a serious picker!

She exclaimed to Chicken Mama, "Look how big this is!" and, smoosh, it went into her wee mouth.

I told Chicken Mama this picture looks as if I had hired a group of itinerant workers to pick my berries.

Red lips, red fingers, red drips down shirt fronts, full bellies . . . even a few intact strawberries went out the driveway with them.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cauliflower (Head) Confinement

I've been talking about tying the leaves up over a growing cauliflower head to keep the sun from hitting it and causing an off-color rather than the snowy white heads that we're used to seeing.

If you want your garden to produce snowy white heads of cauliflower, you have to somehow keep sunlight from hitting the growing heads.   There are varieties of cauliflower that are touted to be "self-blanching" which means the leaves grow in a manner that they naturally curl over the top of the head to form a protective covering.

I've tried that . . . without success.  The heads were not totally covered and developed the undesirable purple-ish/brown off-color so I went back to the method used most often by home gardeners.  And that is to physically tie the leaves over the heads of cauliflower.

In correspondence, Rain over at Rain's Garden commented that she would like to see a picture of the tied up heads to better understand this method.

Here's my remaining bed of cauliflower plants.  I didn't have enough started plants to fill the whole bed so put some marigolds and geraniums at each end.  Looks pretty much a mad jumble, doesn't it. 

Looking closer, here's a shot of a single head.

A cauliflower plant will put out many leaves radiating out from the base of the plant.  The head will start to form in the center of these leaves.  When the head is about 2" across, it's time to cover it to protect direct sunlight from hitting the developing head.  In the picture, I've pulled all but the very bottom layer of leaves up over the head and tied them with string.

You may notice (dang and drat) that the leaves have holes in them.  Yep, I've been invaded by what I'm pretty sure are flea beetles who love to feast on vegetable plant leaves.  They're doing the worst damage on my brassicas with some other veggies being spared.  Papa Pea sprayed with an organic solution which left a white-ish residue on the leaves, but does no harm . . . except to the flea beetles, if all goes well.

Hoping this gives you a clearer picture, Rain, of how cauliflower leaves are tied up over the developing heads. 

As an ending note:  Death to flea beetles!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stayin' Cool, Man, Cool - Or At Least Trying

It was very hot and humid here yesterday hitting 90 degrees in the sun.  The humidity, as always, made it more uncomfortable than the temperature.  We made the decision early in the day to save ourselves from melting into sweaty puddles (great visual, huh?) by staying inside as much as we could.

Papa Pea did all the normal morning chores while I harvested six more heads of cauliflower which were not as badly tinged with off-color as the first six.  Then I tied (securely and adequately, I hope) the leaves up around the newly forming heads in my second bed of that vegetable hoping these would remain snowy white.  I'm not even sure these will mature properly as cauliflower likes cool weather in which to grow, and we seem to finally be into real summer time around here.

When I got the processing done from the harvest and a few other daily tasks that refuse to go away unless tended to, it was 3 p.m. and I headed into my quilt room for some fabric therapy which was good.  Except I ended up with a headache that continues this morning.  (Coffee!  More coffee!)  I have a suspicion the heavy, humid air that is still with us may have something to do with that.  (And I don't think I drank enough water yesterday.)

It's a disappointment to wake to heavy, gray, overcast, uncomfortably warm weather this morning, because the forecast was for full sunshine, cooler than yesterday.  I had a big garden day planned.  Lots of weeds popping up out there, plants getting so big they need some support, old plants needing to be pulled and something else planted in the space, etc.  This weather encourages the biting insects (a pox on them!) to be bad early and late in the day so that doesn't encourage me to get out there and work in the garden before the heat of the day arrives full force.  But, hey, it's summer time!

I need to get some pictures of the menagerie in the poultry yard.  The Muscovy ducks have been quite successful in hatching out broods of ducklings, and we have wind-up toys of all sizes scooting around.  The mature birds (ducks, geese and chickens) seem to fluctuate between ignoring the wee ones or wondering what all these little creatures bumping into them and zipping through their legs are.  Happily, it's a peaceable kingdom and everyone has free range (within the fenced in poultry pasture) and their own secure, locked-down "house" to go into each night. 

I'll try to get pictures for the next update.  Hope you all have a great Friday and weekend which is coming up fast!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Do You Use Scallions?

A scallion or green onion is a regular storage onion that is harvested when the white or underground part is still long and narrow, before the bulb starts to form.

I love them and each year make sure I have enough onion sets to plant some to use specifically as scallions throughout the summer months.

To me, they have a fresher, sweeter and milder flavor than a regular onion, although they can be pungent.  I suspect this might happen because of slightly unfavorable growing conditions such as too little water being available while they're developing.

The green stalks can be chopped and used, as well as the white part, lending a lot of color to many dishes.  Chop them and add to tossed salads, they add flavor and color to cold pasta salads or a potato salad, use them as a garnish, put then in with cooked greens or on a raw veggie tray with dip.  We like them chopped over a small dish of homemade cottage cheese with some salt and pepper.  Mmmm, good.  The possibilities are endless.  Matter of fact, at this time of year, my storage onions from last season have usually disappeared (been used up) so I use scallions for all my onion cooking needs until the fall harvest of the new storage onions.

My parents didn't garden when I was growing up, but my grandpa had a huge garden and kept us supplied with various vegetables all summer long.  He brought us scallions, or green onions as he called them, and my mom would serve them whole almost as a second vegetable at meal time.  My dad loved them, would add salt and munch happily away on several of them.

Of course, ones straight out of your garden are tastier than ones purchased in the store.  They take up little space to grow and you can make succession plantings of them so they're available all summer long.

Do you use scallions?  If not, why not try 'em?  I'm betting you'll like 'em!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bringin' in the Mint

I'm keeping the dehydrator cranked up these days.  After the fruit leather came out, another batch of mint leaves went in.  They dry really fast, only about three hours at 110 degrees.

I'd been crushing the dried leaves with my hands, but thought of using the rolling pin yesterday morning.  Works much faster (duh!), but I have to be careful not to pulverize the devil out of the leaves using this handy tool.  Otherwise, I quickly end up with mint powder.

Collecting and laying out the mint leaves on the dehydrator trays is kind of time consuming, but I'm not married to a stupid man.  He keeps exclaiming how much better "my mint" makes his daily cup of tea compared to "store bought."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

More Garden Produce, Some Wins/Some Losses

Sunday I harvested three more heads of broccoli which were quickly cut up, blanched and put in the freezer.  Best thing about them?  No worms caused by the nasty cabbage moth!   (Score one for our side.)

 I also harvested the first six heads of cauliflower.

And it wasn't a pretty sight.  One head was a lovely snowy white (front row on the right) but the others were tinged with the purple-ish/brown color caused by sunlight sneaking in through the leaves that I thought were protecting the heads.  The good news is that when I blanched the cauliflower prior to freezing, most of the off-color disappeared.  What a great improvement and made me a lot happier to know it would look so much better on the plate. 

I ended up with fourteen servings (a serving being enough for both of us) put by and ready for this winter's enjoyment.  I also saved out enough for us to have cauliflower as our vegetable with dinner that night and am glad to report it was delicious.

That same day the dehydrator got filled with seven trays of strawberry fruit leather and one tray of experimental haskap berry fruit leather.  As expected, the strawberry leather was a success and is stashed away for a treat when out and about hiking, or snowshoeing or skiing this winter.  The flavor is very much like fresh strawberries, and I predict it's gonna be gobbled up.

The tray of haskap berry leather we could. not. get. to. dry.  Finally it dawned on us (yes, we're sometimes a little slow getting the ol' brain cells in working order) that it would never dehydrate or dry properly because we put in more honey (to make the sour berries palatable) than a "normal" fruit leather recipe would call for.  Apparently, the amount of honey to fruit can't exceed a certain ratio and still make fruit leather of the proper texture.  Papa Pea salvaged it by peeling it off (with great difficulty) the parchment paper which covered the stainless steel dehydrator tray, rolling it up into small cylindrical balls and storing it in the refridge in a glass container.  

By the by, the flavor with the added honey made the haskaps taste not bad at all.  That's not to say I've been converted to a haskap berry fan yet.  I'm thinking a lot more experimenting with them needs to be done before I reach that point.  Or the bushes get yanked out.  One or the other.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A True Summer's Day

Mother Nature must have gotten tired of hearing all my whining about needing warmth and sunshine for the garden.  This may be the only day of it we'll get this summer (!), but warm it was!  I think we must have hit 90 degrees in the garden because the thermometer on the north side of the house in the shade read 79.8 degrees.  It felt like an oven out there, but it may have been just what the garden needed.

I took a couple of pictures from Papa Pea's upstairs office window to give you an overview of some of our growing areas.  Above are the 26 raised beds, although a couple are hidden by the cold frames.

Over to the right a smidge is the field garden.  That bare looking spot with the bit of greenery in the middle is my pumpkin patch.  We've been talking for a couple of years of plowing up more area for the field garden as I don't have as much room as I'd like for rotation of crops each year.  

The strawberries are coming on so hot (really hot today!) and heavy, hubby has suggested we take out about half of them.  This is just the third year for the three varieties I've planted (only the second year we could harvest them) so I want to keep track of quantities and flavor for at least another year before eliminating any of them.

Our three haskap bushes have really sized up.  That's the three of them with three rows of blueberries (hiding) and the raspberries behind them.  I think they're lovely and would even be attractive for landscaping.

And the quantity of berries is heavy this year.  But most importantly, how do they taste?  Awful, just awful.  I've been talking with someone who's had experience with them for several years and he tells me I have to find the right variety for our location in order to get berries that aren't so sour they make my eyes cross and ears wiggle.  Papa Pea seems to think the berries might make good wine.  But who the heck around here has time to learn how to make wine?  Not me.  Nope, I'm not taking on one more new project until I have so much time to spend in my quilt room that I'm bored.  (Tee-hee, won't ever happen.)

Dear husband helped me pick the strawberries today in that blazing heat.  Some of them are currently in the dehydrator in the form of (experimental) fruit leather.  Some made it into a Strawberry Cream Pie.  I sliced up some for fresh eating.  Depending on how the fruit leather turns out, I may make more tomorrow or I'm thinking of trying strawberry juice for the first time.

Tomorrow I have three more heads of broccoli ready and I'm not sure how many heads of cauliflower to harvest and prep for the freezer.  The haskap berries may get picked, too.  (Raise your hand if I can send you the whole batch of them.)

We actually took the day off yesterday.  Yep, we did.  We did only the necessary chores, spent a leisurely morning sipping liquids and reading in the living room.  It was so nice to do that at a time of day when we both weren't yawning and falling asleep.

In the afternoon, we took a ride to a lake neither of us knew much about and learned the lay of the land there.  We checked out the public landing (and a very nice one it was) where it would be easy to launch either our sport boat with motor or canoe to spend a day puttering around the lake.  Actually being as big as the lake is, it might take us more than one day to adequately explore it.

While we were standing on the nice dock that went out into the lake, down the shore we spotted a buck deer come out of the woods and wade out into the lake.  He meandered along the shore line for a while sometimes going into the water so far it was up to his belly.  We'd never seen a deer in the water like that.  A moose, yes, but never a deer.

Busy day again today, and with the heat we're not used to, I'm drained.  I don't even have the oompf to go into my quilt room tonight.  It's a shower first and then I'm hitting the couch.  Y-a-a-w-w-w-n!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

More Garden Talk

Remember how I said I thought planting the cauliflower so close together would enable it to be "self-blanching?"  Well, yes and no.

As I found out this morning, those little heads are quickly becoming big heads . . . and literally pushing the leaves out of the way.  This has caused the sun to be able to hit some of the heads which in turn causes a purple-ish tinge to the desired snow white appearance of the heads.  From what I've read, this bit of coloration does the cauliflower no harm.  It's not a disease, fungus or pest, but rather is caused by a natural occurring substance called anthocyanin which is exacerbated by exposure to the sun.  So I spent a bit of time using clothes pins to secure the leaves up and over the growing heads hoping that will at least prevent any more purple coloring to take place.  (Gee golly, you really have to keep on your toes, don't cha?)

Now for some pictures.

Gotta say our potatoes are looking better this year than I can remember.  Very lush plants that are just starting to blossom.

The asparagus has been left now to develop into ferns which are already over 7' tall.  Papa Pea is cursing the spot we chose for the asparagus because the ferns block the view from the house of vehicles coming up our driveway before they enter the yard area.  Oops.

Oh, how I love Sweet Pea flowers.  Oh, how slowly they always grow.  Each year at this point when the vines aren't more than a foot of the way up their trellis, I despair of ever having the fragrant blooms to bring into the house.  (I know, patience, patience.  I must exercise patience.)

The sugar snap peas are just starting to blossom as are the shell peas.  Usually the snap peas are a couple of weeks ahead of the shell peas, but not this year.  Hunh.

The beets are looking good compared to last year when the greens never grew much more than four or five inches tall and the beets themselves were only fair to middlin'.  I have had trouble getting my beet seeds to germinate this year as you can see by the bare spot (which actually has tiny sprouts coming up after replanting twice) on the end of the row closest to the camera.

Not sure it's very clear in this picture, but I planted a row of purple carrots (the ones that are dark purple all the way through) on each outside end of this raised bed.  Almost from the get-go, they were about a third taller than my regular Scarlet Nantes variety which makes up the rest of the planted carrots.  Curious.

Onions, as always, do really well for me.  This is one of three beds I planted this year.

Sweet peppers are finally putting on some size and have many blossom buds.  And, yes, I still shut them up in their cold frame "nursery" each night and keep the cold frame closed on cooler days.

I've taken two cuttings from my mint bed which has yielded a total of approximately 4-3/4 cups of dried mint.  The plants are still not filling out the bed as I'm hoping they will.  Eventually.  I hope.

Papa Pea has finished thinning the apples on all our apple trees.  These shown are on our new dwarf trees and are nearly the size of a ping pong ball.

Those apples (strangely enough) are about twice as big as the ones on our older semi-dwarf trees.  I'm campaigning to cut down the older trees and replant more dwarf apple trees and some cherry, apricot and peach trees.  Perhaps even try some nut trees that will grow in our area.

Made another nice harvest of strawberries this morning.  Total haul was 16 pounds and 3 ounces.  I'm still keeping the three varieties we have separate to see how they compare at the end of the season.

Also brought in three more heads of broccoli for a total so far this year of four heads.  We ate the first one but these current three went to Freezer Camp.  Yay!