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Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

March of the Seasons and Halloween Fun

October 30th, 2010

The days come and go…  I seem to remember one of my grandmothers, while visiting her in a nursing home more than a decade ago.   She kept repeating, “Time and tide waits for no man…”   

And she would smile when I asked how she was.   “About as fine as could be I suppose…  Time and tide waits for no man…” and she would laugh a little.  She was 99 years old, and passed away a few months later.  She had a remarkable memory for verse, poem and song.  One of these days I’ll share some of them.

 We decorated around the house the other night… it was fun.  Putting up spider webs and lights.  I don’t remember such festivities for Halloween while growing up, but that’s okay. 

It was also the first “freeze” of the fall season the other night.  I went around getting the house and a few other things ready this week, and then picking green tomatoes and bell peppers… sad to see the garden fade away, and there’s even some lettuce and beans still growing.   The chickens are having a great time pecking through the litter- they’ll be great to keep the garden area mulched.   A few of the plants were hit pretty hard by the frost. 

Everything changes…   but it looks like the week ahead will be nice still, so we’ve had a gentle transition to colder weather this year.

It’s fun to wander around to see how different the landscape looks.  The leaf colors have given way to browns and yellows.   A lot of leaves on the ground, but the majority are hanging on.  The boy loves to play and the dog is more than willing to accomodate his spirit…

I’m still working on a few things at home that have focused my attention elsewhere this year.   I just haven’t had time to get around and visit, or even get outside as much as I would like.   That will change too eventually!  I hope you are all doing well.   Enjoy the season and have a Happy Halloween…

And late entry,  isn’t this great!?  I strung one of the webs where he wanted it in front of his room. The spider theme was his own idea…  makes for an interesting hallway at night! :)




Welcome September!

September 1st, 2010

Rain!  A nice day or two drizzle to give us some much needed moisture.  Hopefully it won’t really storm… and I hope too that all you folks on the Eastern seaboard are well prepared before Earl makes an appearance.   That’s going to be a lot of rain… I can’t remember the last time a hurricane came up the east coast?  Hopefully it stays far enough offshore to lessen the winds.

Hard to believe it’s already September, but I’ve been watering the garden to keep everything from totally wilting…  it’s a pretty sad affair.  This was about a week ago, and it just became drier.

Today’s rain should help a little, but the weeds have taken over and there’s very little growing at this point.   What should I be planting now?  Peas? Beans?    I may skip the fall season for planting and go right into spring planning :)

What I do know is that bell peppers grow really well in big containers!   And quite a few other plants I’m sure.  This is a grouping of three pepper plants I picked up for .99 cents each back in late June.

They have grown so well and given back about a dozen green peppers with more coming!  It doesn’t get any easier- and the peppers in the garden didn’t do nearly as well.   Containers do so much better, but I really love the garden rows.  Maybe I should make some really long “row containers” with landscape block or something?

Last week we ran down the road a good bit for some trout fishing.  Just a nice cool morning and a good mess of pan-sized rainbow trout.   This one is actually a pound and a half!   Fun times and so delicious…

We also have critter news!   Meet the new addition… a Calico mouser that looks like she stuck her nose in a coal bin.   Isn’t she a cutie?

She’s 7 weeks old with a great disposition.  Let’s hope it stays that way… and she becomes an expert rodent hunter.  With the chickens around this year I suspect we’ll have a few more mice.    Watch out little rodents, this kitty will grow up quickly.

And the other big news… the chickens gave us 8 eggs today!  One from each of the 8 hens which is very cool.  Usually it has been around 4-5 a day but now they’re all laying.   Now just when I’m getting excited they’ll probably slow down as fall continues.   I don’t think I’ll keep lights on in the coop for winter however, so we’ll just see how the chickens do on their own.

Otherwise you can really see the fall season approaching.  The barn swallows have disappeared I think… perhaps starting their migration south.  I did see a larger flock of nighthawks meandering around the sky and they will continue heading south.  The cicadas are growing quieter, and the fall flowers are in bloom.  I’m glad the rain will promote a little more flowering for the bees as well.    Have a good day!



Zesty Black Bean Garden Soup or Salsa

August 7th, 2010

I think I’m a foodie…  not only do I enjoy eating food from around the world, but it’s really fun creating new experiences, especially from the garden!

There are few things as rewarding as creating food for the table from vegetables you’ve grown.  With this recipe you can include many garden favorites, and make enough to have year ’round.

After a particularly bountiful summer in 2009 full of ripe garden tomatoes,  I came up with a new recipe for a soup or salsa dipping relish that includes black beans, corn and jalapeno and green peppers.   I’m not sure how I stumbled my way  there, but it’s really good!

Better yet it was pretty simple to make- just dice and blend up a bunch of veggies and can them. Not difficult really-the most cumbersome aspect is making room for some large pots, and boiling the sealed jars for a while.  If you’re not into canning for the pantry shelf, you can still use this recipe by letting it cool and putting in the fridge, or freezing for storage.

Personally, I love looking at jars of canned veggies and other treats from the garden- especially during those long winter months!  Nothing like thinking about the garden to perk you up on a snowy day.

Here’s the garden vegetable ingredients I used for this recipe:   20-25 ripe medium tomatoes, or the equivalent, blended up, 5 half-ripe red, green and orange tomatoes- diced, 3 jalapeno peppers and 4 green bell peppers- all diced, one cucumber diced up (without the seeds), one or two diced medium onions, two ears of cut corn (or 2 cans of corn), and two cans of black beans (rinse and pour the water off).

Ingredients for the sauce: 1 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of vinegar, a half cup of sugar, up to 1/4 cup of garlic powder depending on your taste, and then healthy dashes of salt, white  and black pepper, cayenne pepper, parsley flakes, sage, oregano, cumin, ancho chili powder,  paprika, tumeric, two tablespoons of yellow mustard, a half cup of molasses, two tablespoons of BBQ sauce(!) of your flavor, a quarter cup of soy sauce, and a little dash of extra seasoning or spices of whatever you like to taste.

And what’s a dash anyway?!  Maybe a teaspoon to a tablespoon?

Here’s how I put it together: I chopped the 25 tomatoes and blended with half the jalapeno, green peppers and onions as a thick foundation.   I don’t peel the tomatoes- some folks might want to.  I find that when chopped and blended, there isn’t much skin- and it doesn’t bother me if it’s there.   Same with the other veggies.

Bring the foundation base slowly to a low boil, mixing the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, barbecue sauce and mustard, molasses and soy, and then reduce and simmer for 20-30 minutes while adding the remaining spices and seasonings. Let that simmer for a while to really mix the flavors, and use the time to prepare any other veggies you haven’t got to yet.

Then add the rest of the diced tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans and corn.   Let it simmer for another 30-40 minutes, cooking down the veggies. Then right before pouring into the jars and canning, add 2-3 more diced tomatoes and 2-3 more diced green, orange or red peppers for color. These will remain a little less cooked and give the garden salsa/soup a firmer texture.

Remove from the heat and and ladle into jars… carefully, it’s hot!

Process for 40 minutes in a water bath or pressure canner for safe long-term storage (or not if you’re going to put in the fridge and eat sooner).

It made 11 pints and came out as a zesty garden soup or salsa… delicious warm or cold and not too spicy.   I call it zesty to keep the “taste temperature” down a bit so more folks can enjoy it.

For a delicious meal, throw some tortilla chips in bowl and pour your Zesty Garden Soup over the top, cover with a favorite cheese… yum!   The 9-year old boy loved it so much he had two bowls… it’s already a family favorite with his grandma, aunts and uncles, and they remember it at all the holidays with chips for dipping!

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The tomato plants are on the decline now, but I hope we still have another round of tomatoes for sauce and more cooking adventures. Just what you need to do in the August heat, right?! :)

Speaking of cooking, another blackberry pie made the rounds… I really love pie, and surprisingly I really enjoy making them!

This time I used a “pie bird” for the first time.  Saw it at a local farm store and thought I’d give it a try.   Pretty cool… you just stick it inside the pie when you fill it, and pull the top crust gently down the top. The ceramic bird helps vent the steam and keeps the pie filling from bubbling over.

Have a great week!

Thankful for Goodness Around the Garden

July 29th, 2010

Where has July gone already!?    I’m thankful our garden and other activities are coming along nicely, and I hope our harvest keeps on coming.  Or at least progressing… like my weekly battle with squash bugs and tomato wilt (I’m losing!).  

I will say our tomatoes have produced their largest harvest this summer as compared to others ( The boy loves tomatoes!), but the plants look so ragged and are really struggling. Such is life in an organic garden in the midwest.  So much still to learn… but we’ve had enough tomatoes to make a good bit of salsa and more coming for sauce.

Each year I want to plant more and more… you can never have enough tomatoes! 

And what is the deal with pickles anyway?  Why do we like canning them?   You can buy a huge jar of pickles at the store for a few bucks.  Or you can take time to plant cucumbers, weed the garden, grow and pick them,  buy the jars and ingredients, and then take time to can your own…   Granted their is some raw satisfaction in doing it yourself. And it’s fun to share with kids… somehow pickles have a universal appeal.

These are the home-canned variety with dill mix and garden grown dill and other ingredients inside… like garlic and jalapeno peppers. Then processed for 20-30 minutes in boiling water to keep for long-term storage. 

They are very different from the fermented pickles I made last year… those were pretty tasty and I still have a few in the fridge that are still really good.  But it was hard to achieve consistent, firm pickles when I fermented them naturally.  

And do you have a good cucumber and tomato salad recipe in summer? They go so well together, but there’s so many cucumbers!… so maybe pickles just come from trying to figure out what to do with all the extra ones.  I guess it’s fun trying different recipes too… what’s yours?!

I did come up with a natural concoction to help combat tomato wilt/fungus and for discouraging squash bugs and other critters. Here’s my recipe: In a plastic bottle sprayer, combine 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup hot/spicy sesame oil, 1 tablespoon tea tree oil soap or shampoo, 1/2 teaspoon dishwashing soap, and the rest with water… shake well and spray away!

It seems to work pretty well, although I found if you put the milk and oil in a blender first with a few drops of dishwasing soap it mixes a lot better. When I spray it the bugs skedaddle away quickly. It may or may not kill them, and is probably just a temporary protectant.  But hey, it doesn’t cost much!  Do you have a special mix or recipe that works?

The carrots are doing pretty well this year, but we came out a few days ago to find a dozen or more caterpillars happily munching away on the leaf tops.   These look like the caterpillar larva of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. The boy loves them, and we kept a few to grow into butterflies- it worked out well, and we released them back outside after they emerged!

There’s no free lunch in this garden, so out the rest went!    Well okay, there are lots of free lunches…  I’m just trying to get the crowd to leave!   But I threw the extra caterpillars up into the grass and weeds at the fenceline, so maybe they’ll still become butterflies too.  

I did find a really neat plant this month.   Kind of funny too because I was the one who planted it.   A fellow beekeeper gave me a small mint plant a couple of years go, supposedly as an aid to natural beekeeping.   I’m all for that, even though I didn’t know what it was, and planted it at the base of an oak tree near my hives…  this year it finally flowered.   This is a Pycnanthemum species of some kind… try saying that five times really fast!  I love the white bracts that look like leaves at the top of the plant, with a little crown of flowers.

How did I find out what it was?   Well, I was enjoying the beautiful sights at Edifice Rex a couple of weeks ago, and Annie shared some photos including a plant called Mountain Mint…   I had never heard of it and thought it was neat.   Lo and behold when this one bloomed I realized it was the same plant!  Pretty neat way to find out something new- thanks Annie!   I’m not sure which species of Pycnanthemum it is, but it looks like albescens

I’ve also found that a particluar species of wasp really loves these little flowers.   The Double-Banded Scoliid wasp (Scolia bicincta) has covered this plant over the past week, with as many as 18 wasps on the tiny flower heads.   I’ve also seen some tiny flies and other insects, but no other bees, moths or butterflies.   It’s fascinating to see how the wasps really love the nectar from these tiny flowers.   These are commonly known as digger wasps.  They burrow into the ground and parasitize grubs and other insects.  I’ve never seen this species except on this plant.

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The bees are doing well and still building up their hive populations. About a month ago I took five frames from a really strong hive, and placed them in a small “nuc” hive.  Here’s a picture of that little nuc hive sitting on top of an empty full-size hive at right in this picture.

The little old boat with flowers is our “Burt Dow Boat”… do you remember the story? I wrote about it here a few years ago.   I love to fill it with petunias each year, and planted a wispy river birch behind it…

Anyway, I checked on that small nuc hive yesterday and it was doing so well that I put those bees right into that full-size hive that it was sitting on!  I was excited because the nuc was a “walk-away split” and the bees raised their own queen.   When I opened it up they had two full frames of brood and newly capped larvae… cool beans!    It looks like they’re in the shade, but the hive gets full sun from the middle of the day until sunset.

I wondered a little about moving their entrance lower from that little nuc to the bigger hive… if you move a bee hive any appreciable distance, the bees don’t know where to find it.   Supposedly if you need to, you either move them 6 inches a day, or two miles away!   Moving a good distance away is  fine, as long as you wait until all the bees get home in the evening, and then close them up.   But I only moved my bees down a couple of feet, and they quickly figured out how to get into their new home.

Now that I placed them into a new hive, they have five empty frames to draw out with wax, so I mixed up 10 pounds of cane sugar as a syrup, and put that in a hive-top feeder for them.  They won’t draw wax unless their is a good bloom and nectar-flow going on, or if you feed them to stimulate production of wax and additional bees.

With luck that hive population will increase over the next few months and be strong enough to carry right through winter.  I’m thankful they’re doing well and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll have four hives next spring.

Our other visitors lately include a couple of Great Blue Herons who visit the pond a few times each week.   I don’t begrudge them a meal or two, but they never tire of an easy catch at the expense of our little fish.    When I see them I usually clap my hands or try to sneak up on them…   then they “Croawwwk!” loudly and fly away.

 

July is coming to an end.  It has been a really warm and humid month, but we also enjoyed a good bit of rain.    Hard to believe how fast summer is going by, but we’re not quite to midsummer’s eve yet!  

The evenings are so beautiful however, and the other night was a pretty one…  the boy just marvels at sunsets and the light on the clouds.

 

I hope your summer is going well too. What are you thankful for today?  See you next time!   :)




July Ramblings

July 20th, 2010

A few days ago the chickens were hanging out in the shade with temperatures in the coop over 100 degrees.   And then rain, sweet rain.   And then more rain.    Two days ago I began to write, “a passing storm and raging winds, and then a gentle breeze, drizzle and clouds.  Just what the garden needs, and a respite from the heat…”

I saw this early before dawn… it was quiet and a beautiful orange light was all around.   I just had to walk further.

Then I saw this, slowly building to the southwest…

The clouds billowed upward and outward, forming a classic thunderstorm, with the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Soon it became this…

The barn swallows have another nest full of three more fledglings, and a dry perch to watch the rain pour over the gutters.  Methinks there’s a clog somewhere down the line… I cleaned the gutters out not long ago, yet heavy rain pours over.

So yesterday it was another huge storm of wind, rain and hail, and then today more heavy rain!  The clouds are nice in terms of cooling things off, but we’ve had quite enough water for the time being thank you very much.

I remember years ago being surprised to realize that a lot of folks have not experienced heavy thunderstorms before.   Of course that’s what I’ve always remembered about Missouri summers.    Brief storms  with thunder, lightning, showers and blessedly cooling weather.   Then back to the humid and hot.

With a little cooler daytime temperatures we  seized the opportunity to catch up on weeding and pruning.

This was a shrub rose gone wild that I’ve been meaning to cut out for weeks.  It had several more branches just like this one,  spreading out more than twenty feet in all directions!   It’ll come back unless I put something on the stump to kill it.  And the flowers?  Inconspicuous little white things.  I’m not sure where this rose came from, but it doesn’t have a place here anymore.

The young boy is really a great help around the place.   Now I understand why farmers of old had such big families…

Later the boy enjoyed a break with his Shiba.  Although that little dog likes to think he owns everything around here…  he’s a funny little guy, and a good watch dog.  He lets us know when anything out of the ordinary happens or someone comes down the gravel drive.  They are cute together…

Here’s a picture of the shiba when he was a puppy…    A few years ago I described how he adopted us from a little Japanese pet store in 2002.   We call him Kuma, which is short for Kuma no nuigurumi  or Teddy Bear in Japanese.

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This week it was also time to check on the bees.  I’ve got just three hives and a small nuc (nucleus hive) going. Earlier in the spring I had a hive with a drone-laying queen, and she eventually disappeared. Before the hive was queenless too long I solved that problem with the help of another local beekeeper.

We combined that hive with a nuc and a new queen, using a screened divider between them for a week. That gave the failing hive time to become acquainted with the new queen and other bees, and then after removing the screened divider, the hive became one, joining forces to work together.   Since that time they’ve steadily increased their population and look great now.

Alas I have another hive with a failing queen. This hive started out strong, but then simply languished. I have found no disease or other external problems, but the queen is simply not laying enough eggs to keep the population strong.   I will probably order a new queen to replace her soon, and allow the bees to strengthen the hive before winter.

With all the beekeeping challenges this is not a year for gathering much honey.  That’s okay because I’m really trying to build them up going into winter.  But that middle hive is very strong and may yield a small super of honey, so we’ll see.   Here’s a picture of bees fanning at the top opening on the inner cover.

One reason they fan their wings is as a signal for other bees, blowing scent pheromones from a hive entrance or other location so their hive mates know where to go.  But they also fan to cool and circulate the air through the hive on hot days .  Most importantly, the bees will fan to increase the evaporative cooling effects within the hive to remove moisture from the nectar/honey stored within.

After the bees gather nectar from flowers, it is carried in their honey stomach back to the hive, then often passed to another worker bee to process and store within the hive.  During this process the nectar is converted to various sugars by enzymatic action and deposited into the waxy cells within the hive.  But it is very runny and full of moisture at this point… not even close to being honey yet.   Beekeepers call honey which is too runny green.   It doesn’t really become honey until the moisture level is lowered to about 17%-18%.   Then the bees put a waxy cap on the cell and the honey is stored until needed as food.

Because the bees have lowered the water content of the honey, it is very hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb water moisture from the air.   Good quality honey has a very low water content which is one of the reasons it can be stored almost indefinitely without spoiling.    If you’ve ever had honey ferment at home, it’s either because the container wasn’t sealed tightly over time and it absorbed a lot of moisture, or it was too green or allowed to sit open before it was purchased and fermented later.  Of course you could always make mead or use it for baking!  Runny honey just needs to be used a little more quickly.

Everything else is coming along too.  I harvested around 15 pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers out of the garden this morning.  I think pickles are in our future… and tomato sauce!     Seems like the tomatoes are ripening all at once, and I need them to keep going.

Last week I found this lucky titmouse enjoying a feast on a ripened sunflower.

I also planted more squash, and some beets in the garden- hoping they mature in time for a good harvest.  It was the perfect time too with all the rain.    I also planted collard greens which supposedly improve in taste after the first frost.   I don’t know about that, but I enjoy them when cooked and mixed with seasoning.  Does anybody have good ideas for how to use collard greens in the kitchen?  Well I love greens, but I never made them very often.  Maybe in soup?

The sun is back out this afternoon… 96 degrees and hot! Hard to motivate anyone to do anything, even myself it seems. One small step…

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