Sunday, July 29, 2018

What's Growing In The Field Garden

It's the time of year when the garden seems to be busting out all over.  The harvest is starting, and it seems something is ready to pick and process nearly every day.  Yesterday I made my first picking of shell peas, have them shelled, blanched and in the freezer.  Good feeling!  While I was sitting at the table shelling the peas, Papa Pea commented that he thinks fresh frozen peas are our favorite vegetable during the winter months.  I agree. 

These are the three sixteen foot long pea trellises in the field garden.  I plant on either side of each trellis.

Here are half of the green cabbages.  The others are farther on down the row.  I went easy on the green cabbages this year as we seem to prefer the red ones.

This is the row of the red cabbages.  The red never seem to grow quite as big as the green ones, but that's just fine.  Also, they're a little slower than the green ones to develop heads.

I planted on either side of only one sixteen foot trellis of pickling cucumbers this year as I still have an ample supply of bread and butter pickles, so I'll make only dill pickles this year.  They've been slow to germinate and get growing big and tall, but I think they'll make it with no trouble.

The Brussels sprouts are coming along nicely, and we should have a good crop.  There are eighteen plants in this row.

I squeezed four "leftover" Brussels sprout plants and two red cabbages  that I couldn't fit anywhere else in this space.

Lots of blossoms showing on both the green and yellow bush beans, but I still haven't found any beans yet.

On the right is a twenty foot row of potatoes I planted from "old" potatoes left over from last year's crop.  (There's a big cosmos plant in the forefront of the row that was a volunteer from last year.  It was healthier looking than the ones I started inside and transplanted so I couldn't bear to pull it out.)  I haven't seen one single blossom on this row of potatoes.  I've never had potato plants that didn't blossom, but I understand they will still produce potatoes.  We hope.

I usually plant a row of cosmos flowers because they make such nice bouquets.  These on the left of the picture are just starting to blossom.  They look a little denuded in the pic 'cause I'd just picked some to have in the house.

These are two rows of sunflowers.  The taller ones in the back are starting to show their pretty heads and add so much to the field garden.  The shorter, bushier ones in the front haven't opened up yet.  They're more of a bronze color, smaller and well-suited for cut bouquets.

That's most of what I've got planted and growing in the field garden.  At this point, everything is looking purdy good!

Friday, July 27, 2018

How Fast The Summer Is Going

Just everyday things going on around here.  Regardless, time continues to fly by, and I can hardly believe we're coming up fast on the month of August.

We've had more hot, humid weather this summer than I can remember.  Also, few mosquitoes and very, very few black flies.  The no-see-um's, on the other hand, have been simply vicious.

They've kept me mostly indoors for the past two days.  Although we need (again) a good dousing of steady rain, all we've been getting are intermittent, very light, short showers that make everything wet in the garden and seem to encourage the biting bug population once the dripping stops.

I realize playing among the wet leaves of the garden won't make me melt, and I've tried to do what needs to be done out there, but the bugs are so bad I've given up each time I've tried to venture forth.

One job that I need to get done is to get the clumps of Johnny-Jump-Ups out of my mint bed.  Since early this spring, they started showing themselves right among the mint plants.  These little volunteers are so pretty and cheerful that I hated to pull them out.  I've now realized they're crowding out the mint!  And here I thought mint was so invasive you had to be careful it didn't take over your acreage.  Maybe it's the Johnny-Jump-Ups that might take over the acreage.  I've got them mostly "weeded" out of the bed and am hoping the mint can recover.

The dehydrator has been full of parsley.  This last batch took a couple of hours longer than usual to dry.  Although I thought the parsley felt dry when I picked it, perhaps it had more moisture within the leaves than usual?  Or it may be suffering from the humidity as we humans are.  At any rate, it's done now and as soon as the plants grow back sufficiently from the buzz cut I gave them, I'll do some more. 

I needed to make a run yesterday to the farm to restock our dairy products.  Dear daughter had the rental cabin she care-takes to clean and since the dairy is only a couple of miles from where she'd be working, she offered to go to the farm for me.  Such a good girl!  That saved me an hour's round trip.

We had a good friend over for dinner Wednesday night which was easy-peasy as I served some of the last Stuffed Green Peppers from last year.  I served them with corn and also experimented making breaded and fried zucchini slices.  J and I really liked them, Papa Pea ate one and said, "Okay, I tried them."  He said they tasted just like the breaded eggplant I make.  (He does not like eggplant.)

As we were sitting down to eat, daughter stopped by to drop off a quart of wild blueberries (yum!) a friend had given her.  Silly girl doesn't much care for blueberries and knew we would enjoy them more.  I asked if there was anything I could make with them that she would eat and she said she would like a slice of Freshy's Blueberry Pie if I made that.  Which I did yesterday while hiding from the humidity and bugs.

But back to the dinner table, daughter is also a lover of breaded eggplant so she grabbed a plate and ate her dad's share of the breaded zucchini with gusto.  Gosh, I'm getting hungry just thinking of it.  I'll be keeping the recipe for future use.  At which time I'll serve another vegetable for Papa Pea.

Our day here is starting out very gray, but none of the weather sites are calling for rain.  (Darn.)  We'll have to play it by ear to see what the day brings . . . and how hungry those nasty no-see-um's are.  The harvests in the garden are coming in and time is flitting so I'd sure appreciate some balmy, sunny (but not too hot, please) days soon.  After a day of lovely, drenching rain.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

In The Garden (Where Else This Time Of Year?)

Growing California Poppies is something I do most gardening seasons, but the orange/gold coloration of the blossoms was the only one I was familiar with.  (Yes, I am a bit uneducated when it comes to flowers.)

So I was really excited when I stumbled upon this packet of seeds showing multi-colored California Poppies.  Pinks, reds, bi-colored!  Wow, I had to try them.

Uh, where are the pinks, reds, and bi-colored blossoms?  Oh well, at least I got some white ones.

The scarlet runner beans saved by Chicken Mama for me from her plants last year have grown, reached the tippy-top of the tepee trellis and are starting to bloom!  I'm hoping mine will bloom now until frost as hers did last year.  (Carrots showing in the foreground of this bed.)

Can you see (behind all that jungle) the hoop trellis with the sugar snap peas growing on it?  (I did not do a good job of placement of the bed with the hoop trellis in it.  The tall dill and cherry tomatoes in front of it obscure most of the view.)  Anyway, the sugar snap peas only want to grow straight up, reaching their little arms skyward.  I've had to ratchet them down (using soft twine) every step of the way trying to encourage them to grab on to the trellis and climb up it themselves.  If this last foot or so of their vines were on the trellis, I think they would have nearly covered the whole thing.  Now they're so tall, I'd have to take a ladder out to tie down this last growth.  Maybe I'll do that.  Or not.

My bush beans are getting scary.  I've never had such lush bushes.  (The blossoms look good, and the little beanies are just starting.)  This row is made up of green and yellow beans.  The ones closest (I can't remember whether they are the green or yellow ones, and I've convinced myself I marked them incorrectly in my garden book) have spread a good four feet across while the ones farther down the row are more upright.

I wanted some small colored gourds for decorating this fall so planted this eight foot trellis of them down the middle of one of my raised beds.  They took so very long to show through the soil I was sure they weren't going to germinate.  But after the longest time, they started popping up.  Better late than never?  Don't know if they have a chance of maturing now but the leaves certainly look huge, don't they?

My Siberian garlic is starting to show yellow/brown leaves so it won't be long before I harvest it.  That's nicotiana in the foreground which is blooming its little head off this year.

The shell peas (no picture) are going to be ready to start harvesting at the end of this week, I think.  Some of the pods are filling out nicely and the vines still have scads of blossoms.  Yay!!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Dehydrating Days

The dehydrator has been humming away.  We even tried to dry some haskap berries.  (Why do we keep trying different things with these %#$*! berries?!)  I tried to convince Papa Pea that if a berry is sour right off the bush, drying it is not going to improve the flavor.  Yep, you guessed right in that I won that little dispute.  He got by with saying, "It was just an experiment."  I'm a reasonable person (okay, who just snorted?), and I do agree, there's nothing wrong with trying new things.  (And remember the haskap berry pie I made a week or so ago that was soooo good!)

However, a surefire, easy success with the dehydrator is trays full of mint.  I didn't know if the mint I dried last year would be enough for the whole year for Papa Pea's morning cup of mint tea, but it did last with a whole two cups to spare.  Success!  I can actually grow and preserve enough mint for a year!  Now I'm starting on this coming year's supply and have five cups already stashed away in the pantry.

Speaking of the pantry, good thing I started cleaning and sorting it yesterday.  I didn't get as far as I would have liked, but I did discover in sorting one cabinet that we didn't have as much parsley left from last year as I thought.  (Should have known as I used a LOT of dried parsley in my cooking.)  Fortunately, I've got two luxurious parsley plants out in the garden that will more than fill the eight trays of the dehydrator so I plan on doing at least one filling of it tomorrow.  Two if time allows.

  Not dehydrated but I did blanch and freeze five more servings of broccoli (from side shoots) tonight that are quick freezing as we speak.  (Kinda dark in the freezer, isn't it?)

When the garden harvest starts coming in, it somehow makes all the work worthwhile, doesn't it?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Will We or Won't We?

In the forty-some years we've lived here in northern Minnesota, we've heated our home almost exclusively with wood.  We have the capabilities to heat with wood, and we know how to do it.  

But this year, we're contemplating heating with L.P. gas utilizing the gas furnace in our basement.

Why are we thinking of doing this?  Contrary to what one might think, heating with wood is not free in a financial or energy expended sense.  We either purchase eight foot lengths of cord wood from a local logger and/or use trees harvested from our own property.  Our own trees may be "free" but one has to figure in the cost of time and energy (both human and fuel-wise) to fell the trees, bring them to our wood working area, work them up into usable sized pieces and then stack them in one of our wood sheds.

Obviously, L.P. gas would also require a financial outlay.  What wouldn't be required would be the time and energy Papa Pea and I put into the wood fuel.  We really have no idea how much we would spend on heating gas for a season or if we would even be happy with the "different" heat the furnace in the basement would put out.

In the meantime, we're still working towards having a two year supply of wood cut, dried and stored right here on the property.  To give you a simplistic idea of what this entails, here's an overview.

We start our wood fires with a few sticks of dry kindling on top of some crumpled paper.

As soon as the kindling catches fire, we add three or four pieces of what we call "small" wood.  The picture above was taken yesterday as we were working at splitting larger pieces of softwood (balsam and popple this time from our woods) into proper sized pieces.  The small pieces of softwood catch fire quickly but also burn quickly and don't give off as much heat as hardwood does.

Our hardwood (which we split into bigger pieces than the small wood) is a mixture of maple and birch we ordered and worked up into the right sized length for our stoves.  The hardwood (in the bigger pieces) burn for a long time.

We also save whole, bigger log pieces of hardwood to put into the stoves at night when winter temperatures are at the coldest.  Papa Pea places one of these logs on a bed of hot coals before we go to bed, and it burns slowly and keeps us toasty until the next morning.

How much would we spend over the coming heating season for L.P. gas?  Would it be comparable to what we know we spend for wood for fuel?  And how do we figure in the effort we both expend working up the wood for heating?  Would we miss the unique heat that a wood burning stove radiates?

If we do make the decision to heat with gas this winter, we'll still have the option of knowing we can go back to using wood at any time because of the ready and available wood we'll have as a back-up.  (Good thing we both honestly enjoy wood working!)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Happened to the Strawberries?

I've never had trouble growing strawberries and getting a BOUN-tiful harvest from them.  Well, this year this Queen of the Strawberries really got knocked off her peg.

The season started with blossoms appearing much earlier than normal.  Then the first berries were ripe a good two weeks before the usually expected first week of July.  Hmmm, something doesn't seem right here considering the very cool spring and early summer we had.  Why would the strawberries be early in a year like this that lacked both warmth and sunshine?

The current plants are only three years old, and I've been consistently able to keep a strawberry patch producing well for 6-7 years before needing to replant them.  This year's whole harvest was like that from elderly plants that needed to be replaced. 

Looking at the total poundage of berries for the past three years:

2016 - 124 lbs. 12 oz.
2017 - 117 lbs. *
2018 - 47 lbs. 12 oz.

*The total for 2017 should be a few (several?) pounds higher because the patch suffered a couple of invasions of little people who came and picked while eating their fill.  (But what else are red, ripe, juicy strawberries for?)

So, looking at the comparison of the last three years . . . drat and blast, was this year's harvest downright dismal!

But you know what?  It happens.  And sometimes the reason for a "down" year of a particular crop cannot be discerned with any certainty.

It does make me wonder what a pick-your-own outfit or someone raising them to sell for needed income does in a year like this.  It's certainly not the blow to our little homestead as it would be to folks depending on the year's income (or part thereof) from strawberries.  

Bottom line, although we're disappointed in our strawberry harvest this season, there's always next year!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Even A Hot Day Can Be A Good Day

You understand, I can say that because all of my brain cells have melted. 

We hit a high today of 92 degrees and it was brutal out in the garden.  Fortunately, I didn't spend a lot of time there.  Only long enough to make the second harvest of all but one remaining head of broccoli and all seven cauliflower plants in a raised bed.

This means the broccoli is just about done (and in the freezer) except for the one still smallish head and any side shoots I might get.

The cauliflower is beautiful this year.  My seed packet said to expect heads up to 8" across.  Didn't quite make that but since cauliflower is a cool weather crop, and we've been having anything but cool weather, I thought I'd better harvest it before something baaad happened to it.

My biggest head was 7-1/2" across; the smallest 5".  I spent most of the day in the cool (ha!) kitchen blanching the broccoli and cauliflower and prepping it for the freezer.

So far I've put by 13 servings of broccoli and 18 of cauliflower.  I still have 6 cauliflower plants I put in the field garden about 2-3 weeks later than the first batch set out in the raised bed.   I seriously doubt they will do much of anything because of the undesirable growing conditions for them now.

Actually, it wasn't too bad working in the kitchen most of the day.  Much, much better than it would have been outside.  The feeling of satisfaction that comes from squirreling away home grown vegetables for nutrition and pleasurable eating during the cold winter months did make this hot day a good day.

The fruits of one's labor.  Ya can't beat it!

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Continuing Haskap Berry Saga

Papa Pea and I finished harvesting the haskap berries from the last of our three bushes this morning.  They're different than blueberries in that the haskaps ripen all at one time so there's only the one picking of them.

All told, we got a total of 7-3/4 quarts from the three bushes.  Actually, the berries looked so thick and plentiful on the bushes that I thought it might be more than that.  The bulk of them are in the freezer waiting to (possibly) be turned into wine this winter.

While picking the berries, we both kept sampling berries right off the bush.  Golldang, the darn things were sour!  Not nice at all.  (Explain again just why we're growing these??)

As we finished the harvesting, Papa Pea said he would really, really like to have a quart of them made into a pie.  Just to see how they would be that way.

So after lunch today I put together a haskap berry pie using my blueberry pie recipe.  The haskaps are much "juicier" than blueberries so instead of the usual scant 1/3 cup of flour I use for thickener with blueberries, I increased it to a slightly rounded 1/3 cup.  Otherwise, I used the same ingredients, not increasing the sugar at all.  I knew that was chancy considering the sourness of the berries, but wanted to see if the pie would be edible without having to ingest any more sugar than absolutely necessary.

I should have baked the pie on a cookie sheet or put some foil under it because, drat and blast, it burbled over (big time) and made a real mess on the floor of my oven.  It even set off our smoke alarm.

When I took the pie out of the oven, the ingredients were still very "liquid-y" and I envisioned us having to eat it out of the pie plate with a spoon.

However, it did set up as it cooled, and I was able to get two slices for our dessert tonight out easily.  The slurpiness you see in the pie plate is what ran out from the main part of the pie after I served our two pieces.

How did it taste?  Very, very good!  (Well, I'll be darned.)  It has a tartness to it (neither of us would call it sour), but we both rated it quite flavorful.  (I'll be double-darned.)  Much better than I had expected.

Now all I have to remember to do is clean the oven before lighting it again.

If I forget, the smoke alarm will be going off again for sure. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Backwards Progress

Or does it sound more positive to say progressing backwards?  Either way, the small task I did this morning didn't make me feel especially good, but it was one that had to be done.

I started this sock a while back.  Used a new-to-me yarn and my same old trusty sock pattern and my usual Size 1 needles.  Initially, I loved the way the yarn knit up and the even stitches coming off my needles.

Then I began noticing, as I progressed, that the sock looked smaller than usual.  I tried extreme denial for a while, but finally stopped knitting on it and tucked it away in a knitting bag.  Maybe a good rest period would enable the stitches to relax.  And the sock would, oh I don't know, somehow get bigger.

I came across the partial sock the other day and (difficult although it was) came to the conclusion that the only sensible thing to do was to rip the sock out and start over using #2 needles which I do believe will give me the right size gauge with this particular yarn.

Oh, it was so hard to do this.  All those stitches, all that time.  (All that stupidity in knitting the sock as far as I had knowing full well, deep down that it was too small.)

So.  This is progress.  Of a sort.  Even though it was definitely backwards progress.  I don't suppose any of you have ever done anything similar to this, huh?


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

What To Do First - Oh My!

It's been hot, it's been humid, it's been buggy.  Gee, sounds like summer time, doesn't it?

So far this summer, we've had more truly hot days than we usually get all season.  Global warming?  Sure didn't feel like it when our spring and first weeks of June were so darn cool.

The high temps are doing a number on my cool weather crops . . . the  broccoli, some of the cauliflower and the peas.

The broccoli heads that are supposed to grow to 8-10" across look to me to be about to put forth their little yellow flowers which means they are close to past prime harvesting time.  Not good.  The heads are about 6" across and aren't "tight" as they should be.  Some are even sending out side shoots already.  I've never had that happen before cutting off the main head.  I'm thinking the hot weather is not to their liking.  I'm also thinking I'd better get busy and harvest them.

Here are a couple of sad cauliflower plants.  I had seven "extras" I started from seeds and planned on putting them in the field garden as soon as I knew where I might have room for them.  They went out a few weeks later than the first batch I put in a raised bed.

I'm not sure why the one in the middle has given up the ghost (they've all received adequate water), and the one on the right is looking as though it's going to follow suit.  The other five are (so far) doing okay, but they probably don't like the heat either.

Neither the sugar snap peas nor the shell peas are coming along as they should.  They tell me they aren't happy with our temperatures.  Plain and simple.

I must admit this heat and humidity is sure getting me down.  I just don't function well in it.  Logy and pep-less is my current state of being.  I'm finding it hard to summon up the energy to do what needs to be done.

Tonight there are fourteen pounds of cleaned (thank heavens) strawberries in the refridge.  Tomorrow I'll make some into fruit leather and use some for a double batch of jam.  The rest will go into the freezer in quart containers for future smoothies.

When I was putting a fresh supply of peat moss in the blueberry patch today, I noticed there were haskap berries on the ground under those bushes.  Ooops, a sure sign they are ready to be harvested.  My dear husband helped me pick all of the berries from one of the smaller bushes . . . at which time we were both about to collapse from heat prostration so we left the other two bushes for tomorrow morning.  (Is that procrastination or being wise?)

We went into the relatively cool house (so glad our house does stay comfortable), sat at the kitchen table and cleaned the haskap berries.  Three quarts (exactly) from the one bush went into the freezer as the beginning of the stash for wine making this winter.

Rain forecast for tomorrow afternoon (and into the evening) should take the temperature down a bit.  Probably won't do much for the humidity though.

I'm putting in a request that The Sandman brings me a fresh infusion of get-up-and-go during the night tonight.  I'm gonna need it tomorrow.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

I had every intention of writing and posting this post last night, but after coming in before dinner, taking a shower and eating . . . I bonked.  Although it may seem comfortable to some of you who have been having to survive in 90-100 degree temps, working outside all day in our temps in the 80s was enough to drain all the oompf out of me.

But, boy howdy, did I get a lot done.  (Papa Pea, too, in his own area of expertise expended as much energy . . . and sweat just as much!)  We did kind of push it because today was forecast to be a day of thunderstorms and much precipitation.  As of about an hour ago, that's exactly what's happening.  'Tis dark as can be out there and the thunder is rolling and the rain is falling.

We have a good day to be inside and rest.  We may need it as Papa Pea had a lot of trouble winding down and falling asleep last night and after nature called me at 3 a.m., I wasn't able to fall back asleep so went out onto the couch and read.  And read and read before falling back into a rather restless sleep.

Yesterday late afternoon I did stagger outside right after my shower (and clean, cool clothes) to snap some garden pictures.

Our asparagus is starting to fern out.  We're still getting a few thick stalks for fresh eating, but the end is near.  We ate A LOT of it fresh this season, and I managed to get 17 servings stashed in the freezer for winter meals.

This is a bed of immature dill in the middle, Swiss chard on one side and spinach on the other.  The Swiss chard will last until frost (and even a little longer) while I cut the outer leaves to use when I wish.  Although I've harvested many baby spinach leaves, it's starting to bolt in a serious way in this hot weather.

The sugar snap peas have climbed about four feet up each side of the hoop trellis.  They've been slow in blooming (I've found only one lonely blossom so far) for some reason.  Maybe they're using all their energy to scale this bigger trellis!

The scarlet runner beans planted around the tepee trellis are lush and starting to grab hold and climb.  I'm looking forward to the display they'll put on once they blossom with their gorgeous red flowers.  Those are carrots on either side of the bed.

Yippee!  The broccoli is starting to head out.  The heads are 3-4" across but not as tight as I would like to see them.  This particular variety is Goliath, an old, well-proven variety that I'm trying for the first time this year.  The heads supposedly reach 10-12" across (yikes!), and I've never grown broccoli with such (supposedly) big heads before. 

The haskap bushes are LOADED this year.  Fruity, deep dark purple wine, here we come!

The slicing cucumbers are just starting to crawl over their bed.

The row of cosmos planted on the north end of the field garden is looking good.

Yesterday I spotted the first blossom.  I adore bouquets of these multi-colored, long-lasting flowers.

The taller plants here are dinner plate sized sunflowers Chicken Mama grew last year and saved the seeds for her birds . . . and some for me to plant in my garden this year.  The shorter row are Ring of Fire sunflowers.  Smaller head sizes and perfect for cut flowers.  (Sweet Sue in Michigan, you were the one who turned me on to this variety a few years ago, weren't you?)

Lastly, although kinda funny looking right now, this bed of cauliflower plants are shrouded in their own leaves while their heads grow into big, beautiful, white mounds.  (I hope!)

Yay for summer time and gardens and good growing weather! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

First (or Fourth!) of the Month Raised Bed Photo

'Twas a challenge getting this picture.  We seem to be in the midst of on again-off again patches or rain, fog and general heavy grayness.  No complaints here though because we were lacking moisture for quite a while.  Also, our temperatures have been very tolerable compared to many of you who have been wilting in the digits up near 100 degrees.  That's not pleasant for man nor beast nor garden!

Let's start our comparison with the photo taken way back in March of this year.

The raised beds first of March.

On to the beds first of April.

Then came May.

And last month of June.

Here we are as of the first days of July.

Finally something that looks more like a profitable gardening effort!  The two cold frames at the back are wide open today to catch all the nourishing rainfall on the sweet peppers and slicing cucumbers.  These two beds also need to be weeded, but to do so I have to hurdle myself up over the frame set on top of the raised bed, and get right in there to reach everything.

The bed right behind the tepee trellis in the middle row is cauliflower plants that are forming sweet little snow white heads so this morning I enlisted Papa Pea to help me tie the leaves up and over them keeping sunlight from hitting the developing heads.

Our weather tomorrow is supposed to be sunny so it will be a full day in the garden for me.  Lots to do and catch up on after the almost daily rain showers we've been getting.

Looking to the left of the raised beds, this is a 40' row of potatoes.  I have another 20' of them in the field garden.

And to the right of the raised beds, here's a portion of the field garden that is finally starting to show some growth.  I'll take some more photos of what I have growing in there within the coming week.