Thursday, May 29, 2008

Home-made Bread, more Mulberries and a Salad

Lots and lots of stuff going on at the homefront this past week. Too much to detail but suffice it to say my next "State of the Garden" post will have some shockingly wonderful plant pictures. Grow, grow, grow....

Last weekend was a long one and I do love a long weekend. Most people think of sleeping later, having their coffee in a leisurely way and reading the paper. I think of getting up early, tinkering outside before the heat gets too bad, enjoying my coffee with a little garden dirt on it and shredding up the paper to go into the compost pile. Sort of the same...just a little different!

I had the wonderful pleasure of Vanna's company this weekend and a natural gardener and forager she is. It just warms the cockles of my chilly heart to see her just seem to know what to do and how much she really likes the plants and what they give her to eat.

Part of my list of things I want to do on my own is pretty basic, making all my own baked goods from scratch. While there is probably nothing wrong with the bread I buy, per se, I do like to get the more tasty breads and they run from $2 to $4.50 a piece. Occassionally more.

When I completely break down costs to include not just ingredients like yeast and flour, but also energy and time, making my own bread doesn't actually give me any gain economically. But if I learn to make the starters and yeasts at some point, make big batches at a time and continue to grow and harvest my own additions like rosemary, then it begins to make sense and will save more in gas since that is the most perishable of all grocery items for me.

Here is a nice picture of 2 of the loaves. They were a bit dense, but that was by design since I wanted them for tomato sandwiches and didn't want too much disintegration.

The mulberries are slowing dying down in production. While my tree is easy for me to reach and to bend the whippy branches down for collection, there is a really big tree on the lots behind my house where they'll be building several houses called Rivers Edge. I'll post another time about that but this tree has been completely uncollected from and the fruit simply going to waste. The machinery and activity has driven the geese, ducks and birds away as of late. With Vanna there, I was able to hold the branches while she collected and we got a bonanza from the lower branches of that tree.

Speaking of Mulberries, I was carefully exploring through the poison ivy around the back edge of my property and those two "Halloween Trees" that look mostly dead are, in fact, a couple of really, really old mulberry trees. Half of each of them is dead, most probably from Hurricane Isabel several years ago to look at them. Half of each of them is quite alive and productive. Both are under attack by greenbrier, english ivy and surrounded by the remaining honeysuckle I haven't culled, but they are now a priority for this fall. They should be revered and shown to their full glory.

And on to a major milestone in my quest to live more sustainably. I have grown dinner. Yes, a full dinner. Only the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pasta was bought. (Now the pasta could have been made by me but I don't have the correct gadget yet.) While that may not sound like a whole dinner since I have 3 ingredients purchased there, the sum total was about 60 cents, I'm figuring. For that we had a wonderful fresh Pesto Pasta (one of Vanna's favorites), a big delicious salad with a home-made Mulberry vinegarette dressing. Yummmm.

To make the dressing, just press some mulberries through a wire mesh strainer into a bowl and add a dash of good balsamic and olive oil. Mix and serve. Delicious. Very zesty and at the same time sweet and fresh. Hard to describe but I think many would like it.

Here is the Boss Man, stalking the wind blown straw this weekend behind the house. He is shedding like crazy and isn't a big fan of the heat so it was nice to see him happy and carefree

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Canning Success...and a Failure.

I know I haven't posted in a few days but this time I have a very good reason! I've been canning. Yes, canning!

Last weekend my best friend and I went to the strawberry fields to a U-Pick place and I got 18.94 lbs of absolutely gorgeous strawberries with the express idea to can them into jams and to freeze some for use when they aren't in season.

It took forever to get them all washed and hulled. I used the cookie sheet method to quick freeze about 4 quarts of them and the rest went for jams.

The regular recipe in the Ball Book called for so much sugar that I wasn't really thrilled. I did it though and got 8 pints...of syrup. It just didn't set and it is far too sweet for me. I'm not at all looking forward to re-making that jam but I do plan on it in a week or so.

Next I scoured and asked and googled until I reached a consensus on how to make jam with less sugar. Honestly, if jam just tasted like flavored sugar, what is the point?

I settled on 2 batches with Pectin and one back of "slow jam" from a recipe I got from someone online. The 2 batches with Pectin are gorgeous. Tart-sweet, full of the fresh strawberry flavor and firm in texture. Perfect!

The slow jam isn't done yet but I'll report on that progress.

My goal is to not use sugar or sugar substitutes and no purchased products. I know you're shaking your head out there but it must be possible since jam was made before commercial pectin or wide distribution of sugar. I intend to figure that out!

All told, I've gotten 18 jars of jam (or jammy syrup) with a few more to go in this new recipe. Pretty good for 18.94 pounds of berries!

And to close out with my Beagle picture for the day, here is my man Boscoe in back of our house after he was brought up short by the shoreline while chasing after ducks. While that sounds bad, he is actually trying to play with them. Silly Boscoe!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mulberries are coming fast!

Now that it has been conclusively determined that I do have a Mulberry tree, I have been collecting them so I can make stuff. What that "stuff" will turn out to be I don't yet know. It could be jam or it could be....something else I don't know of yet. Anyone got any good recipes?

As for right now, I can collect from 1 to 2 cups per day of fully ripe ones. I admit to eating them all the first couple of times but since then, I've been good and am washing gently, de-stemming them and then freezing them quick laid flat on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, into a freezer bag those tiny nuggets of deliciousness go.
Now is there anything better than a perfectly wrinkled Beagle leg...I think not! Just look at that little non-ankle!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ode to my Sister and her Compost Pile...

A few months ago I visited my sister in sunny Florida and she had started a compost pile. I'm always amazed by her thrifty and industrious nature, but this was something I was even shocked at. Mostly because I have Beagles and having an open compost pile would be an invitation to prolonged and disgusting doggie diarrhea!

Nonetheless, all that she said about it made perfect sense and in trying to live more sustainably, it is a natural fit as long as a person has the room to do it.

But, that said, I didn't want a pile of detritus growing for a couple of years in my yard while it slowly decomposed in a "cold" pile. Something neat, not visually offensive and not a huge racoon draw was what I needed. So I searched for over a month and finally found an inexpensive compost box. This is what it looks like. Thanks Holly. Now, if I could only get it to actually heat up.....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Delicious Parsnips...Yes, Parsnips

I read recently on the history of the Parsnips. Nothing deep, just a few web entries and it is a fascinating veggie!

Why the sudden interest in a veggie that I've never eaten before? Well, because I decided to grown some and I thought I should perhaps know something about it. Growing parsnips wasn't so much an impulse addition to the garden but wanting to encourage all of us in the family, (read teenaged nieces and nephew), to expand our veggie choices. I thought if they planted them and watched them grow, they would like them more.

Anyway, even afer watching them grow, I still didn't know what they tasted like so I went and searched them out in stores until I found some very nice fresh parsnips. Here is my recipe:

  • Equal number of carrots and parsnips, I used 1 pound each
  • Olive Oil
  • Honey
  • Vinegar
  • Balsamic Vinegar (get a good one)
Just scrub down or lightly peel the carrots and parsnips; layer on cookie sheets lined with foil, toss until coated with olive oil and roast until tender in a 400 degree oven. It can take the parsnips a bit longer as they tend to be fatter at the top. It takes about 20-25 minutes and they'll get a bit brown, which is good, on the edges. Check the parsnips for tenderness!

On the stove, heat up about 2 tablespoons vinegar and honey with 1 teaspoon of a very good balsamic vinegar. Simmer a minute or so then pour it over the finished vegetables. Serve.

I found that the parsnips have a really tremendous flavor! A bit like a carrot, but smooth and a bit nutty with a hint of starch (like potato) but with a very smooth texture. Lovely! They even look lovely, don't they?

Why grow parsnips? Parsnips were basically one of the staples, like potatoes now, in old Europe. They can be stored in the earth they are grown in and while they will stop growing when the frost hits, they just get sweeter for it. They last in storage for incredible lengths and are quite disease resistant and easy to grow as carrots. They are also as filling, perhaps moreso, than other standard staples like potato. In fact, I found that you can easily feel overful as they seem to be digested a bit slower.

Why isn't everyone eating and growin parsnips, considering all their positives? All that can be conclusively stated is that the use of parsnips as a staple simply didn't take here in the U.S., despite the fact that it was such where settlers from Europe originated. I think it is psychological myself.

If you consider that this was a staple and in early spring, starvation food that was eaten day in and day out, you might see how coming to America might make a person never want to eat them again.

Hopefully, the wonderful nature of these lovely veggies will win over our hearts again. I'm certainly convinced! Even Boscoe thought they smelled very good roasting.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What are these Tree-ish Things?

If anyone knows what these tree like things are and if they are weeds, I'd really appreciate knowing since I've been looking for over 3 years. Here is the info:
This first one is currently covered in these tiny blossoms that smell very sweet. I've never seen anything develop on it after the flowers, but I was on deployment for summers. This one isn't reproducing like a weed that I have noticed yet.
The second one is a bit more weed like. It has these berries on it now.

The third one is much more weed like. It suckers like crazy and looks a lot like the first one in some ways, but no blooms.

This fourth one reproduces like crazy. It suckers and new ones are sprouting all over the place. It has a very crisp smell when cut.

Okay...if you can help, thanks!

Raised Square Foot Garden - What I've Got In There masses of pictures this time, just information. I've been asked a few times what I can actually fit into such a small space so I'll answer with a caveat. These are the amounts that are planted based strictly on the guidelines in the Square Foot Gardening book, but I won't know until harvest if it gives the same as a regular garden. Assuming I can find someone to compare with!

In 2- 4'x4' and 1-3'x3' beds:

(Numbers like this - 16(13) - mean that is how many that were planted and how many came up and are present.

  • 16 Yellow Onions
  • 16 Red Onions
  • 16 (10) Parsnips
  • 32 (28) Carrots
  • 4 Cauliflower
  • 3 Red Bell Peppers
  • 1 Godfather Pepper
  • 1 Poblano Pepper
  • 2 Purple Bell Peppers
  • 1 Yellow Bell Pepper
  • 36 (29) Bush Beans (variety)
  • 4 Parsley
  • 3 Lettuce (marigold in 4th spot)
  • 8 (7) Pole Beans
  • 16 (14) Early Peas
  • 4 Brandywine Tomatoes
  • 1 Big Boy Tomato
  • 1 Early Girl Tomato (doing poorly)
  • 1 Grape Tomato
  • 1 Park's Whopper Tomato
  • 2 Eggplants
  • 32 (26) Beets
  • 9(3) Edamame Soybeans
In Containers (including some still in gallons for transplanting after the early crops come out, others in 14, 18 or 24 inch containers for permanent growing) I have:
  • 7 Roma Tomatoes
  • 5 Big Boy Tomatoes
  • 1 Mr. Stripey Tomato
  • 2 Brandywine Tomatoes
  • 6 Supersteak Tomatoes
  • 1 Grape Tomato
  • 10 Lettuce
  • 2 Cauliflower
  • 2 Spanish Peppers
  • 1 Godfather Pepper
  • 2 Blueberry Bushes
  • 5 Red Bell Peppers
  • 2 Poblano Peppers
  • 2 Purple Bell Peppers
  • 1 Yellow Bell Pepper
  • 2 Brussell Sprouts
  • 4 Eggplant
  • 7 Stevia Plants
  • Many many assorted herbs. that is the list. When it is like that it sure looks like a lot. Let's see if it grows!

Friday, May 9, 2008

State of the Garden...9 May 2008

There has been so much activity in the garden this least with the plants. Not to say that I don't do what needs to be done, it's just that the plants have been growing so much that they dwarf my efforts.

On to the progress!

I went ahead and re-potted all the starts that didn't have places in the beds. I know, it is getting ridiculous that I've kept them so long, but I am doing succession planting so I'm justifying doing it for that reason. Who knows...some of them might actually get kept. It is a bit embarrassing, but here is my work table for now; the old trampoline.

In the herb arena, the Stevia seems to be doing well. There are no more indications of the gray mold or powdery mildew or whatever it was that killed one and part of another. My biggest worry with the Stevia now is the size it may get to and the containers they are presently in. If it is true that they can get 4 and 1/2 feet tall and very wide, then clearly the window box containers they are in aren't going to be sufficient. Their roots are probably well entwined by now so that is going to be hazardous. Anyone got any ideas? They do look good though, don't they?

As for most of the other herbs, I'm at something of a loss as to how to keep them from getting unruly. My Basil looks pretty droopy in the picture because it had been raining pretty hard and it is quite heavy. How do I keep it growing out rather than up? The Thyme is lovely and it smells so delicate!

The Tarragon has major issues. The one on the left has swooped down and is growing over one of the Oregano such that you can't even really see it in the photo. It is growing well, it is just swooped down and then back up again. I'm thinking I might need to move it to one of the tomato tubs and bring the other Oregano and Thyme in those up to the boxes. How do I get it bushier? The Lemon Balm and Oregano are doing well and I'm enjoying using them quite a bit.

My Rosemary, all 10 of them, are doing exceptionally well and smelling great. My favorite hands down. I planted the Mint with one of them because that is my combination of choice for almost all scents.

The real stars of the show are the veggies right now and I can hardly believe how much they are growing! Here are two sets of pictures, 48 hours apart. While they are slightly different zooms, you can see by the height compared with the various frames. Its almost eerie. But I like it. This is Bed One, the one with the best sunlight.

And these are of Bed Two, which gives me much concern as it is in partial shade. I really don't think I'm going to get tomato production from it unless the light changes soon. Grave miscalculation on my part.

Some of the real stand-outs are the Super Fantastic Tomato plant; yes, that is the name of it. It is a hybrid so probably not as tasty as my beloved Brandywine, but I thought I would give it a shot. It has not one, not two, but 4 little tomato-lets swelling the base where the flower bud was. Now, that isn't a guarantee that they will grow. It is still early for the plant to start with production, but I'm getting hopeful. The Beets are doing fantabulastic and some of them have significant bumps on the ground.

The Peas, oh...the Peas. I don't just have good growth here, I have blooms! All I need to say about that is said by the picture below.

The first batch of Carrots, from 23 March, have gone crazy with green growth also. Just look at the bushy beauty of that foliage. I like to just run my hands across it because it feels like feathers.

The Bush Bean experiment seems to be a draw. The ones that were soaked may have sprouted a day earlier than the non-soaked ones, but in terms of growth, they are pretty much the same. This photo taken a couple of days ago shows the problem of the nibbled leaves. In the lower left you can see that there is one leaf quite nibbled. It turns out, it was ants so only leaves touching the wood they used as a pathway got nibbled. They still look beautiful, don't they?

The Unknown Plant, (Brussell Sprout?), is growing very well. After this picture was taken, I heaped up a bit more garden mix around the base so that the stem was more covered.

The Nasturtiums are doing fantastically. They look like little round plates. I understand they are good to eat, but I've never eaten them so I'll just hold off on that until they grow quite a bit more. I had to cheat on the Marigolds some. My seeds were growing so slow and I had a fear of aphids so I went and bought some nice nursery ones. You can see the difference!

The Pole Beans haven't quite started pole-ing yet, but soon they will. Yes, that is bird poop on the leaf.

All the Lettuce starts from the third starting cycle finally did well. I planted them everywhere there was room. Here I planted some around a Roma tomato in a very big, 24 inch planter because they will be done hopefully before the Tomato shades it out.

And joy of joys! I finally saw a sprout in the Squash area. One each of the Yellow, Butternut and Fordhook Zucchini are showing up. Still nothing from the Saucer or Gourds. I went over to examine it and it turns out that the heaps of garden mix became a bit concrete-ish and I think that may have been too much for the seeds. We'll see.

But, as always, not everything is herbs and veggies. We are branching out into the realm of gorgeousness too! The Dogwood bloom is coming to an end. You can see the marks of age on the flowers but the slight dots of pink show up too and that is just breathtaking to me.

Our bulbs, which are still primarily big green spears, have some stand-outs too. The first Iris has bloomed and bloomed like there is no tomorrow. It looks like another 2 will be joining this one in the next couple of days.

The crazy Hosta bed is still going crazy. Just look at that! I really, really, am going to have to figure out how to divide those this fall and spread the wealth.

And just to liven things I am going to do my favorite thing: Mess with the Garden. See, even the side yard Bed 3, planted so much later than the other two, are coming along.

No, I'm not forgetting the gratitutous dog shots for the day! Here is my darling Gigi, looking like she is hypnotizing you for a treat.

Boscoe is taking lessons from her...pretty good, huh?