Purple Daze with August Grapes

August 23rd, 2008

I thought it was Thursday yesterday, so I’m already a day behind this week.  We’ve had a good bit of rain and the landscape is lush and green.  So different from years past, but a nice change.  The grape arbor is the story of the month however.  Two main vines have produced tons of Concord grapes that ripened so quickly they are falling to the ground.  We managed to pick and freeze 8 pounds of them the other day, and there are still many more grapes on the vines.

Concord Grapes

It takes some time to pick and then pull the grapes off the stems.  But it may be worth it; grape jelly anyone?  Have to find a recipe for it somewhere.  They taste and smell great, but do have chunky seeds inside.  My goal is to make a Concord Grape pie from them.  I’ve found a few recipes that make it sound very tedious to pull the skins off and then cook and strain the grapes to remove the seeds.  But I’ve also found one that uses a food mill after cooking down the grapes, removing the seeds during the milling process.  We’ll have to see how it works out. 

You know what would be really neat?  To try making wine from the grapes.  Anyone ever tried that before?  That may be next year’s project, and I’ll learn more about it this winter.   For now it’s time to get out there and pick more grapes!

A Cool Morning in August

August 12th, 2008

There are few things like coming home.  The familiar, the comfortable, all the sights and sounds and… the work to do!    We’ve been blessed with cool weather this summer, and for being almost mid-August it’s amazing to see the grass and landscape so green.   In years past the grass would be brown and not require cutting by now.   But it’s beautiful in the early morning, especially with the air so cool and refreshing.

I walked down to the pond and enjoyed watching the wisps of fog move gently across the warmer water.   What is it about mornings that I love so much?  The quiet awakening of the day?  The promise of things to come?  I really don’t know, but its always been my favorite time of day.

The pond on a summer morning

Our little apple orchard seems to be doing well, meaning that the trees have received enough water and the deer haven’t chewed them to pieces this summer.  That may change quickly in the fall, but for now I’m spraying deer repellant around the leaves and base of the trees to discourage the deer from browsing.  The next plan is to wrap the trunks and install some fencing to protect the little trees.   We even have a few apples developing still, the first for a small apple tree planted two years ago.  I’m not sure who will get to eat this apple first, us or the deer… but it looks pretty good!

Home grown apple

For now it’s time to catch up on chores (and writing and reading too).  It was interesting to be without internet access for much of our trip the past two weeks.  Sure I missed the convenience and instant information available, yet it brought back awareness of simpler times and was kind of nice to just “be” if that makes any sense.  More to ponder, but while I do the garden is still producing a bunch of tomatoes and cucumbers, and even a few beans.  It’s about time to put up some pickles again too!

Sunflowers, Tangles and Tomatoes

July 21st, 2008

It seems that if you plant sunflowers, there will be a few volunteers over the years.  This one is growing toward the front of the house, brought there by friendly birds after last year’s plants in the garden. 

Sunflower volunteer planted by birds

It’s kind of neat that one of the ways seeds are propagated in nature is due to birds.  The birds eat the fruit and as the seeds pass through their digestive tract, they are deposited in many different places.  Which is kind of amazing really.   Except for cedar trees.  Eastern Red Cedar that is.  It’s a pretty, evergreen tree that produces very strong (and nice smelling) wood.  But they are ubiquitous!  Too big of a word to simply say we have too many around, and they get their start with the help of birds usually while perched along a fence. 

Brushy fenceline

At least around here that’s why you see so many cedar trees along the fence lines.  Down the road a bit I saw someone who cleared out their fence line of all the brush and barb wire, removing all but some nicely spaced and trimmed cedars.  That looks very nice I will admit.  One day perhaps we’ll do the same.  For now the barb wire, old fence posts and tangly growth is just going to stay for a while.

Speaking of growing things, our tomatoes are finally turning red.  The little cherry tomatoes have been producing for a while, but the larger ones are now ripening.  We planted several different varieties as an informal experiment to see which ones do well here.  With the cooler, wet season early on, it seemed like they were going to stay green, but now they are coming on much better.   

Tomatoes growing in July

If they produce much more we’re going to make sauce, stewed tomatoes, frozen tomatoes… whatever works. Met someone last week though who is growing 104 tomato plants… in their yard.  They are taking the ripe tomatoes to farmer’s markets in the back of a truck.  That must be a lot of picking!

Caterpillars Too

July 18th, 2008

This must really be “bug week” because I find myself taking pictures of all sorts of insect critters.  Maybe they’re too easy and I’m not being creative enough. But the Japanese beetles are still filling up plastic bags and we’re trying to keep the pests out of the garden.  And the moles!  I haven’t found a good deterent for them, although the cat sometimes ends up with one.  

I actually watched some lettuce plants wobbling back and forth as a mole tunneled underneath the other day.  They love to eat worms and grubs, but maybe tender roots as well?  All I know is their tunnels leave the roots without soil and water, and the plant will die if you don’t reseat them in the soil.  Some wiser folks have said that castor bean oil is a good deterrent so we may try that.  The metal mole traps are simply too cumbersome and unreliable for me to work very well.

I haven’t seen any Monarch caterpillars on our milkweed plants, but maybe that’s because these Tussock Moth Caterpillars keep devouring the milkweed.  I saw one of the plants chewed to the ground and then found these guys working on the next one.  Looks like a hungry football team lined up at the buffet!

Tussock Moth Caterpillars eating milkweed leaf

And the little guy below was too cute to pass up.  My unscientific name is “Brown Fuzzy Caterpillar.”  What it really is I have  no idea, but isn’t it funny how the “cute” ones seem acceptable, but the “ugly” ones we get rid of?  I’ve pulled some big green hornworms off the tomato plants and the yellow lab likes to play with them.  I think he actually eats them… uh, yuck?! (there’s a close up of the Tussock Moth Caterpillar from last year at that link too).

But this “BFC” wasn’t eating leaves or doing anything it seemed.  Maybe he was looking for a place to make a chrysalis?

Brown fuzzy caterpillar

After today I’ve got to find some new material that doesn’t involve bugs.  Unless they’re really neat looking or something.  Or involve bees.  Or, well… let’s just see what happens. 

Double Cukes and Corn Dogs

July 12th, 2008

Busy doings outside these days, with so much just growing and growing.  We’ve been lucky to have rain almost every week, especially for the garden and the bees.  I’ve heard this is one of the best years many beekeepers can remember in our area and that the “honeyflow” is nice and long from the rain and cooler weather. 
Double cucumberWe found a funny “double cucumber” in the garden the other day. Now how do you suppose it grew like this? It’s still in the fridge while I wonder what I can do with it. Maybe I could put it on ebay :)

And the blackberries have really started ripening, so we picked a couple quarts already.  I’m just amazed- we haven’t had any berries the past couple of years, but with the bees this year there’s a bunch of wild berries in places I’d never seen before.  Maybe it’s also the rain this year.  But we need to pick some more soon! And anybody have a good blackberry pie recipe?

Wild blackberries in July


The green beans have done so well this year we’ve been putting up a bunch in the freezer. Time to pick more cucumbers now too, and maybe pickles soon? The garden is great but next year it needs to be bigger!  I say that now, and we hardly keep up with it.  I’m always amazed at how much room the plants can use though. 

 We dug up some potatoes for the first time and they were delicious.  Never grew potatoes before, but it was pretty easy, and they didn’t take up too much room.  I was surprised how fast the little guys grew. 

Corn growing Basset Hound

Also had our first ear of home-grown corn yesterday. It wasn’t too big, but some critters had started munching the top so it was time to pick. It sure was tasty though!

Here’s our corn-growing Basset Hound. Oh wait! I’m told this is our CORN DOG! He’s really our garden dog, and likes to follow us around and hang out wherever we are. He’s the good ‘ole man of the place, going on 11 years now.
Of course it’s kind of hard to grow corn on top of the dog. But he likes the attention, especially getting watered on hot days.

We may have to find somewhere else to grow it next year though. There’s just not enough space!

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