Monday, July 29, 2019

Quilting Projects, Old and New

In the heat of the day and a bit after dark, I've been spending some time in my quilt room.

A new quilted runner with a summer time motif was needed for the top of our coffee table in the living room.  I had some sunflower fabric that I thought might work.

I chose to use the block called "Salt Lake City" with a couple of borders around the blocks.  I hoped the sunflower fabric accented with a green, gold and black would be summer-ish.  This picture above and the one down below sadly doesn't show the true colors.  The gold looks orange and it makes the whole thing look more Halloween-like, I think.  You'll have to trust me when I say it looks better in person.

Still and all, this runner is more appropriate to the season than the one I've previously used there.

I think I mentioned some time back that I "found" three or four quilt tops I had made of baby quilt size and was bound and determined to get them finished.

This is the first one I've finished.  The block I used on this one is "Crocket Cabin" and the quilt measures about 41" square.

This shows the fabric I used as the backing.  All of the fabrics except for the large yellow squares were 30's fabrics from my stash. 

I machine quilted it with straight line stitching.  It was pretty easy except for trying to keep the lines . . . well, straight.

Feels good to be getting some of these old projects finished and to take the time to work on some new ones.  The bonus is that I get so much enjoyment out of quilting! 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

First Zucchini

I don't know why it's always exciting to find the first zucchini.  In a couple of weeks, I'll be wondering what the heck to do with all of them that are quickly turning into the size of a baseball bat.

It seems like over night my nasturtiums have burst forth with a myriad of blossoms.  Supposedly nasturtiums don't like a soil that is too rich because that produces more foliage than flowers.  And I think that may be very true.  But where in the world do you plant the seeds if you've been doing all you can for umpteen years to enrich the quality of all your soil?

I've always much preferred the curly variety of parsley to the flat leaf.  This mound of the curly type is flourishing this year.  Beets are in the foreground and kohlrabi behind.  Dill off to the back right.

I was given a flat leaf parsley plant so, of course, stuck it in the garden.  Right now it's starting to scare me as it's nearly three feet tall and almost as wide.  Yep, it must be a good year for parsley.

Our humidity has lessened a bit which makes the days (and nights) much more tolerable.  Once again, though, we're needing rain.  Thunderstorms are forecast for late today and over night, but the clear, cloudless sky right now near noon time is showing no signs of wet weather.  I'm waiting to edge around all the flat garden plots and pull some weeds until the soil gets some moisture in it as, right now, it's like ceee-ment!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Summer Has Come, Summer Is Going

It's that time of our (short) summer months when I start to see the downhill slide of the season.  By the middle of August, we will start to feel a change in the weather temperatures with a definite coolness to our nights.

The garden is giving us the various harvests we've hoped for.  No, not quite the usual variety I normally grow because I've purposely cut back this year.  Still enough though that there is something to harvest and process nearly every day now.

The millet seed sown in the field garden is growing and will be tilled under as green manure before it goes to seed.

My main freezer (the honkin', big, six-foot long one) is in need of defrosting, organizing and being made ready for the onslaught of vegetables and fruit soon to fill it to bursting.  I've been guilty of just helter-skelter throwing in (for the most part) those goodies I've already harvested and processed.

I have an empty raised bed in the garden that I plan on planting out today with salad greens that hopefully will grow and provide good salads for us well into the fall.

I actually feel quite organized at the start of this almost-last-week of July.  Yesterday the house got a good cleaning and I cleared my desk of the clutter while making lists which always gives me a false sense of being halfway on top of it.

My quilt room is cleaned and organized.  I've got only three projects "in the works", and one recently received order of fabric for a special project that will have to wait until the aforementioned three other projects are completed.  Of course, there is always a pair of socks on my knitting needles should I need something to keep my hands busy while sitting and visiting if the occasion arises.

The Patron Saint of Biting Insects has smiled down upon us and called in the majority of his soldiers.  There are still cetain times of the day when one has to take measures to avoid being harassed by the little blood suckers, like dawn and dusk and at times during very humid, windless days, but they are no longer a threat to my sanity 24/7.

I've yet to even get out the brushes and other supplies for the outside doors and trim I want to paint this year.  Frankly, once the weather warmed up enough to think about painting, it quickly got too hot and uncomfortable (and buggy) to actually start that task.  Shortly now, I'll have to get serious about that job or I'll find myself wondering of a day if the temp will be high enough for paint to dry properly! 

As the months of summer keep rolling by, what "good weather" tasks do you have left on your list to accomplish yet this season?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Okay, We Give Up

Even though I have really, really wanted to grow our own apricots (I have wonderful memories of the luscious, abundant amount of apricots from a backyard tree of my childhood -- in Illinois), we've finally given up.

We've sought out varieties of apricot trees that will (supposedly) grow and flourish in our area, but this is the third one that has died on us.

The root system of this one Papa Pea dug out yesterday was extensive, some of the roots traveling several feet in all directions, but apparently our winters simply don't make growing apricots possible.

As they say, there are no failures in gardening (ha!), only experiments.  End of this experiment.

The apples growing on our trees this year are plentiful.  Matter of fact, Papa Pea did quite a bit of thinning yesterday.  However, the apples are still small.  And green.  Very small and green.  But there's time yet for them to size up, turn color and maybe even mature before Jack Frost comes along to end the season.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

(An Old Dog?) Learning A New Trick

Each year when I look at the luscious spinach and Swiss chard I'm able to grow in the garden, I think about freezing some of it for use during the winter.  Then I quickly nix the idea because of the stories I've read of gardeners harvesting a garbage can full of the greens, painstakingly washing them, blanching them, cooling them, squeezing out the water and packaging them to end up with four cups of spinach or Swiss chard for the freezer . . . after standing in the kitchen for half a day accomplishing this little task.

I may be fanatical about growing and preserving the best possible, nutritious food for our table, but enough is enough sometimes too much.

But then, eureka!  I stumbled upon an article that said you can freeze greens WITHOUT blanching.  Wahoo, this is something I had to try.

The only caveat is that you should use the unblanched product within six months of stashing in the freezer.  I can do that, I said to myself.  If I freeze greens now in mid-July, that would mean they would hold their optimum nutritional value until near the end of January.

A week or so ago, armed with my biggest stainless steel bowl, out to the garden I went to cut leaves of spinach. 

Brought them in and submerged them in cool water, mixed them around with gentle agitation, poured out the water and did it once again.

This is my trusty, old, well-used salad spinner.

Then I ran each individual leaf under running water and put batches through my salad spinner.  Spread two bath towels out on the table and laid the leaves in a single layer to further dry.  In a bit, I patted the leaves with another towel to remove all the moisture drops I could.

(This picture is of Swiss chard as I
didn't think to take pictures
when I was doing the spinach.)

Stuffing the quart freezer bags as full as possible, squeezing out as much air as I could, and sealing the bags were the final steps.

Still too much unnecessary time and trouble?  Yep.  Hey, I'm a lazy busy lady.

When I next harvested more spinach, which is planted intensively with grass mulch under the plants to prevent dirt splashing up onto the plants when it rains or when I water with the garden hose, I inspected each leaf as I cut it.  Hmmm.  No dirt and only a crawly bug (or two) was spotted.

Why was it necessary to wash and dry this spinach before packing it?  I knew the soil it was grown in, I knew the plants had not been sprayed with chemical poisons, I knew the leaves were not dirty, and I had flicked off the couple of bugs I came across. 

Just to be sure I didn't pack any unwanted "protein" in with the spinach, I inspected each leaf, both top and bottom, after bringing them into the kitchen.  Then I stuffed them into the freezer bags which would be their home for the next six months.  Or, in most cases, less.

A day later I repeated the same process with baby-to-small leaves of Swiss chard.

After the spinach and Swiss chard had been in the freezer for several days, we cooked and taste tested both greens.  They were delicious.

How did I cook the frozen product?  (You could also use the frozen greens in a smoothie or other health drink without cooking.)  

I brought a small amount of water to a rolling boil in a saucepan.  Then I took the still frozen contents out of the quart freezer bag, broke it apart so it would fit into the saucepan, and brought the water back to a boil.

I then cooked the greens over a medium flame for, I'm sure, less than five minutes.  Poured off the water and used a wooden spoon to press out as much more of the water as I could.  

Back on the stove over a low flame, I added garlic salt and pepper, a little butter and in one case, some sliced mozzarella cheese on top.  (Yum!)  Put the cover on the pan and let the contents simmer until the butter or cheese melted.  (To reduce the amount of nutrients lost, you could also consider steaming the frozen greens.)

Even with the shade cloth cover, my spinach is beginning to bolt so I don't know how much more of it I will get.  Of course, the Swiss chard will remain vibrant and healthy until a really hard frost knocks it out, but until then we'll use it fresh, and I'll keep harvesting some of it to freeze for this coming winter.

I'd be curious to know if any of you try this method of preserving greens and if you find it simple enough and are as satisfied with the outcome as I've been. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tiptoe Through the Tulips . . . Ooops, I Mean Garden

Here's an overview of the raised beds (for you, Michelle) taken from a second floor window this morning.  Empty bed front middle row was all radishes.  All gone now.

Down on the ground and out tritzing through the heavy dew, here is one of the bean rows.  Since the field garden is fallow this year (where I usually plant all the beans), I used one of the raised beds for an 8' row of green beans and another bed for 8' of yellow beans.  No sense raising more than we can use or give away, so these are adequate.

Don't know if the Morning Glories planted at the base of this tepee trellis will ever grow big.  They are as s-l-o-w as molasses in January this year.

I planted pie pumpkins in the middle of this raised bed hoping I could convince them to climb up and over the hoop trellis.  There are finally some vines starting to run, but they look like they're trying to escape the bed all together.  I'm going to have to have a talk with them about using this fine trellis I've provided for them.

The shell peas are planted on either side of 40' of cattle panels for their trellis.  Not as much growth on them as I'd hoped to see by now.

A couple of years ago Papa Pea made a few shade cloth covers like the one on this bed over the spinach and Swiss chard.  I'm hoping to keep them going longer into the season by blocking some of the too bright sunlight.  The Swiss chard would probably be okay without the shade cloth cover but the spinach would not.

The scarlet runner beans are planted at the base of this garden trellis and they've finally taken off climbing.

There are colored gourds planted on either side of the trellis down the center of this raised bed.  I didn't think they were ever going to germinate.  (Too cold, I think.)  If our fall weather holds out (and doesn't frost early), I may yet get some decorative gourds from them.

My onions are kinda scary this year.  Most of them are now 3' tall!  I can only cross my fingers that all their energy hasn't gone to the tops and left none for the bulbs.

The green and colored pepper plants are starting to size up and even have blossoms on them.  One plant never got any bigger than when I transplanted it and eventually died.  The rest are looking good though.

That's a partial tour through the raised beds.  We got an inch of rain yesterday and it really gave the plants a shot in the arm.  Real rain does them so much more good than all the watering I can do.  With our now very summer time like weather, things were really drying out so we were glad to get the rain.  Now if this humidity (gasp, gasp) would just go away . . . 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Love/Hate Relationship with the Haskap Berries

Our three haskap berry bushes have produced abundantly this year.  And a few days ago, our resident robins were the first to alert us that the berries were ripe.

We checked the bushes out and sure enough, although there were still a few green berries to be found, several ripe ones had already dropped from the bushes to the ground.
Time to harvest.

The bushes are growing by leaps and bounds and we're wondering just how tall they will get.  Especially the Berry Smart Blue variety in the center.

The foliage looks very healthy and thick.

The berries a bit harder to pick than blueberries because the fruit grows on the underside of the heavily leaf-laden branches.

Over a two day period (last Thursday and yesterday -- thanks to Chicken Mama for her help in finishing up the task), we picked 98% of the ripe berries from the three bushes and left any that might still ripen for the birds.

Yesterday I processed them by first cleaning them . . . 

. . . and then measuring out the amount I needed for making our haskap berry syrup.

The above bowlful (a 6-quart bowl) is about a third of the total we harvested.

You may remember that in the past my attempts to make haskap berry jam following my blueberry jam recipe have failed and we've ended up with haskap berry syrup.  This has actually worked out just fine because we've used a small dribble of the syrup in our daily small dish of probiotics (yogurt/kefir mixture) and as syrup on pancakes, French toast and waffles.  We've been out of the last I made for a couple of months so I was eager to have more.

I made two and two-thirds batches yesterday (can you say hot and steamy kitchen?) and ended up with 10 pints and 2 half-pint jars.

There was a partial jar leftover that I put into the refrigerator for us to sample.

This morning I made French toast for breakfast looking forward to having and tasting the haskap berry syrup from that partial jar.

Can you guess what I'm going to say next?

We now have 10 pints and 2 half-pint jars of lovely, haskap berry JAM.

Why?  Why did I get jam this time when always before using the same recipe the consistency has been syrup?  I don't use any pectin in my jams so perhaps did the berries this year have more natural pectin in them?  Are the berries changing somehow as the bushes mature?  Are our haskap growing adventures going to drive me crazy?

Scratching my head I may be, but the jam is yummy.  It's full of antioxidants and who knows what other things that are good for us.  (I know it doesn't have too much sugar in it.  If only I had been able to make a video of our daughter's facial expressions when I asked her to sample it yesterday before it was refrigerated and set up!  I asked if it tasted too sweet to her.  I'll just say it did not, and let it go at that.)

So what will happen next season when I attempt making jam with those persnickety blue/black, nutrition-filled, prolific berries.  Darned if I know.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

(Jeopardy) Question: It's Been A Full Summer's Day

(Jeopardy) Answer:  Why am I tired?

First thing this morning, I harvested enough peppermint to
fill eight trays of the dehydrator and dried them.

This is about halfway through the drying process.  
Sure do shrink up, don't they, considering the
tray was solid wall to wall edge to edge
 leaves to start?

Harvested asparagus and processed it
for the freezer.  The wonderful
asparagus just keeps comin'.

Did four loads of weekly laundry and two loads
of rugs.  Hung out on lines to dry.

Made a batch of yogurt.

Split and stacked six wheelbarrows full
of wood (with Papa Pea's help.)

Watered the asparagus with the hose.

Watered the fruit trees with the hose.

Watered the window boxes with the watering can.

Fixed and served two meals.

Weeded the strawberry rows and then
put additional wood shavings
around the spreading
plants so the berries would stay clean.

Harvested the first real picking of strawberries.
(Found five ripe ones a couple of days ago.)
Only 1.65 lbs. today but enough for a big
family-sized strawberry shortcake.

(Old picture.)

Can I make it tonight?  
Don't believe I have the energy.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fourth of July Decorations

Here are some of my 4th of July decorations I've put up around the house for the holiday.  I think I promised to show these about two weeks ago, but I was a bad girl and have neglected to so until now.  Given that the holiday is tomorrow, it's now or never!

Apologies beforehand for the poor quality of most of these pictures.  Most were taken when the sun was shining too brightly in through the windows.

This banner of little flags hangs from a book shelf over our kitchen table.  (Looks as though somebody had better climb up to straighten those books.  Fast.  And dust while you're at it, too, please.)

A red, white and blue wall hanging is between our two big kitchen windows.

I made this runner several years ago and always meant to make two more for the kitchen.

It goes on this storage unit which is a shelf below my little kitchen TV.

One of the new runners I made this year turned out a little . . .  well, garish if you ask me.  I think I got carried away with the design and find I'm not particularly fond of it.  I guess that happens sometimes when you just let the creative juices flow unchecked.

I put it on top of the storage unit that holds the telephone.  (Yep, we still have a land line.)  Looks as though the runner could use some heavy pressing with the steam iron.

This second one came out much plainer because I was still suffering from the visual overload of the other one.

It's on a shelf unit next to the back door.  The basket holds library books to be returned.

Mr. Bear wishes all of you a very festive, enjoyable 4th of July spent in your favorite way!