Friday, August 15, 2008

State of the Garden...15 August 2008

Not many pictures to post yet, but I'll get out amongst the swarms of mosquitoes to get more today or tomorrow. And that brings me to my first update! The mosquitoes are a nightmare right now. The combination of good soil, occasional really hard rains that leave just enough puddlling and my naturalized part of the yard mean it is an ideal breeding ground. And to top it off, I'm a magnet for the little blood suckers! At this point, unless it is the hottest part of the day when they are not active, I wear long sleeves and jeans even in 100+ degree weather while working out there. But it is so worth it!

Just look at one afternoon's worth of pick up. That doesn't include the beans and grape tomatoes either. Just the big ones. For lots of gardeners, this doesn't represent much, but to me this is heaven. All organically grown using a new gardening technique and with having made a few pretty dire mistakes in where I placed a few of the raised beds so I'm happy.

Below is a snap of my butternut squash. While fruit are setting and looking pretty fantastic, there are spots on the leaves that have me confused. What is that? Is that just the effects of having my stucco re-done around the bottom of my house, which created clouds of dust that had to be hosed off every day? Is that a disease? Is it the effect of having placed my squash bed in a place that wound up getting a little less light than they really need?

Right now my tomatoes are going strong on their second flush of fruit, most of them gaining good sizes quickly and leaving me breathlessly waiting for the ripening. I'm particularly excited because the ones fruiting now are my heirlooms, which I had begun to despair of ever setting fruit. My eggplants are loaded and gaining size daily. And the second flush of peppers are set and growing, but too slowly for me. I inspect them like the avid fan I am every single day. See my previous entry if you want to know the two types that have me over the moon this year.

Planting for fall crops is on the schedule for this weekend. Carrots, parsnips and the like are going in as seeds while I'm going to re-start the seeds for the things like cauliflower, cabbage and brussell sprouts. Something I can't identify has nipped off the tender young growth of my previous starts so I'm on the lookout for the brave thief who'll do that right on my own deck! Pole beans are coming as are the bush beans. I think from now on I might stick with pole beans. Not only because of the taste, but because I simply don't see the ripe beans in the bush beans until they get oversized. It is much easier with pole beans.

Squash is still so-so and it is directly related to their position, I'm sure. I'll be moving the squash bed this winter too so they can get more sun during the best of summer. My bad. Which is ironic, I think. Most people have luck with those crops if nothing else and have so much they feed it to chickens. But me, I need hundreds of pounds of the combined crops for making dog food over the winter and can get only enough for fresh eating.

And here I am. Just a snap for my mother...

And for all those breathless Boscoe fans, here is the big man! His leg looks fantastic doesn't it? The hair is growing back and while I do miss his little naked old man butt, I'm sure he is happier with his right cheek well covered. I don't think the scar will be evident at all once it is fully regrown. He is doing exceptionally well and he is chafing at the bit at the enforced rest now. Once he gets moving and warmed up, he has only the slightest of limps, something most wouldn't even recognize as a limp. That is far better than when he came home from my sister's in early June so the surgery looks like a success at this point. He has gone on a short walk to the water this past week because he was so stir crazy and enjoyed himself immensely, marking every tree on the route with glee. But, we do have to be careful. The surgeon made sure I understood that most surgery failures happen from 3 to 8 weeks post surgery because owner's give in to the dog's desire for more activity. So I'm holding steady and giving only minimal surrender to his pleas. Isn't he adorable with his head cocked to the side?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Peppers, Peach Jelly and Squash Dog Cookies

Yeah, I know, not exactly an exciting title but I'm pretty excited about the subjects right now.

My "hot" peppers, which aren't really hot at all but very low on that scale, are on a bit of a hiatus right now because I've harvested this round. Believe me, I'm watching each blossom like a hawk! This is my final bowl of Spanish Spice, Godfather and Poblano peppers, already cut and ready for the pan. They were absolutely fantastic. There aren't enough stars to give my true recommendation of both the Godfather and the Spanish Spice. Yes, they are hybrid seeds, but my goodness are they fantastic.

When I finally...finally...finished the peach jelly I was amazed at how beautiful it turned out. It is a lovely rose color and the smell is a true fresh peach smell. And the taste..well, let's just say there is no way this one is going to last long! I made 17 jars, note there is already one gone!

Of course, there are bound to be questions on it because it is Peach skin jelly that also includes all the sections and segments that were just a tad too ripe for canning or had a bruise or what not. In other words, the stuff we usually throw into the compost bin when canning up peaches.

The question that naturally comes up for those like me who like our food organic is the effect of using skins because peaches are one of the most affected by pesticides seeping into the fruit from the skin. Well, I can highly recommend the recipe but only on the condition that the peaches used are organic. Even if you aren't normally an organophile, (that looks a bit naughty), peaches are one of the few fruits that you really should consider it for. Soft skin fruits in general really soak up the pesticides sprayed on them.

Okay, sermon over! Well cleaned peach skins with anything sketchy cut out and all those segments that are just slurpy ripe (once you've eaten your fill, of course), work fantastically. Here is the link to the recipe. This recipe has been successfully used by many folks on various homesteading and canning boards I'm on for multiple years, so I feel very confident with it with one glaring exception. Peach pits are, in fact, toxic and while it is probably okay in this recipe, I've left them out and so has everyone else I've personally contacted who makes it.

Now for the wonderful and accidental dog cookie find. We call them cookies because they look and feel like cookies but all they are is dehydrated slices of yellow squash. Yep..that's it. While my dogs turn their Beagley noses at squash in any other form not already soaked in chicken broth, these they go bonkers over. I found out because I heard the tell-tale sound of dog paws sliding on the edge of the counter, a classic sign of a dog that is attempting to counter surf for anything remotely edible near the edge of the counter. This was immediately followed by the alarming sound of crunching. After running into the kitchen with visions of dealing with doggie diarrhea from chocolate ingestion playing in my mind, I find Boscoe eagerly snarfing down these. Now I use them as the ultimate bait and they work.

You don't need to do anything to them really. Just slice about 1/4 inch thick, steam blanch for a few minutes, layer in dehydrater and let it do it's thing. Remove and bag up as serious treatage. If you do this, let me know your results.

For all those of you out there who have pet beds in your house that outnumber your dogs 10 to 1, this snap and the gratification of it should be recognizable. The greatest beds we buy and lug home proudly often result in turned up noses and put upon looks as they settle on the floor rather than touch that bed. Finally, finally, I brought home a bed that meets the standard. This one I took with my cell phone so the quality isn't great. I took it the day before Boscoe's surgery. Isn't he cute and happy looking? And he still really loves this bed!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Couple of Clarifications...

I've had a few emails asking me details of the blog so I'm just going to make a short entry to let everyone know the answers.

First, the hit counter. I've had a couple of questions regarding why a person's hits aren't counting when they visit during the day. It's real easy. I have a counter that records an address as a hit only once per 24 hours. So if you are hitting from a family computer where more than one person is visiting from, only the first one per day counts. Sorry kids!

And as to who those hits are from other countries; nope, I have no idea who they are. So far, no one who has left comments has stated their country so I guess we'll never know! They are sort of cool though, yes?

Second, emails. Members of family and friends have my email and that is why I talk about emails. Posting a comment is the only option for those who don't have it...sorry! I've removed the comments that just keep asking for my email address because I wouldn't want your addresses compromised by being listed so openly. If there is someone out there that I do eventually get to know, I'm sure we'll work it out. Besides, I like is like instant gratification of the best sort.

Canning Weekend...Results are Awesome!

What a weekend! I suppose most people might consider this a sort of drudgery, but not me. To me, this is fun and productive. Most of all, I know how much I'm going to love opening this stuff up in the dead of winter and enjoying food that tastes like summer.

I took a day of vacation on Friday so I could go to the spa for a nice massage and facial. Ya, ya..I know..self indulgence. It was great, by the way. But I also wanted to do my canning starting on Thursday night in order to get it all done. Rough calculations showed I would need all that time in order to still be able to do my regular chores, garden work and get the laundry done.

I started with tomatoes, corn and peaches to can and dehydrate. I'm still dehydrating potatoes and onions and will be all week. This is what my corn supply looked like (I'd already removed some but it is close). I include that because it is amazing how few jars come from such large amounts. Most people sort of take for granted cans of corn. After all, you go to the grocery, it is one of the cheaper cans so you pick up a few and it is a relatively boring addition to most family meals.

After shucking, removing silks as much as possible, carefully cutting the kernels from the cobs and then processing, you wind up with about 3.5 ears per pint or 6 to 7 ears per quart of corn. Next time you're in the grocery, think about what an amazing bargain that can of corn is.

I also combined the tomatoes from my garden with a half bushel from a local farm I like and canned those up in quarters and made a couple of pints of sauce. I gave a few away and also enjoyed some lovely tomato sandwiches, of course. Don't they look pretty when they are cooking for canning up.

When working with the builder to make sure that this house was ultra energy efficient, I made the decision to use all electric. One of the huge downsides to this is that I have a smooth glass ceramic cooktop, which is fine for cooking but bad for canning. Weight limits on it mean that I have to use the smallest good pressure canner out there and can process only 9 pints or 5 quarts at a time to be sure I won't crack it.

Hot work, yes, but aren't the results just awesome. From left to right we have peach halves and quarters in a very light honey cinnamon syrup, honey spiced peaches, corn, tomato wedges and halves and off to the far right is the start of the dehydrated things. What you are missing from that picture are the quarts and pints of dehydrated stuff, like peaches, which I'll use for breads and such during the winter. And...

...also about 16 jars of peach jelly. Shown below are the pots of the skins and sections of peaches that were just a bit too ripe for canning. Those make a wonderful jelly, but it does require cooking and then sitting overnight, using up my pans and stove. That means it gets made last and my whole house smells of peaches and will for another day.

And there is no way I would leave you all without a Beagle to brighten your day. Here Gigi has just finished eating a treat, leaving a mess, and looking a tad mournful that it is gone. Just a good example of why I always keep the couch covered in a white sheet in the evenings!

Hope everyone else had a great weekend! I'm really enjoying reading your emails on how your gardens are doing, so keep them coming!