Saturday, May 30, 2009

State of the Garden - 27 to 30 May 2009

Okay, so I'm late. I actually loaded all this up on the 27th but not posting until the 30th. I just get so busy!

But enough of that. Want a tour?

Me Holding a Lettuce...yes, Lettuce, before I stripped the good leaves and composted it.

My Nasturtiums are now over 6 feet long

So many tomatoes, I expect ripe ones by next weekend

Some tomatoes are huge

Purple cauliflower that is ready to harvest today, the 30th (see Mr. Dead Cabbage Worm there to the left?)

My Onions are way taller than last year. This is just below my chest level.

And this is what a patch of onions looks like from above. What a mess!

I'm harvesting peas daily. They are super sweet and yummy.

All my lettuce is huge. Not bolted though. Still tender and sweet. I'm pulling them all now though since it is only a matter of days at this point.

All my squash are blooming nicely. This is marrow.

And here is me while almost mended from Strep (so I look like doodoo) visiting the garden. Note I'm completely covered because of the antibiotics making me burn in the sun. What a dork!

More tomatoes...(this one has 17 tomatoes growing on this little branchlet)

And more tomatoes. This is my Super Fantastic from saved seeds. I think it will be ripe first.

Blueberries coming on (and birds getting more than me!)

My second year parsnips in bloom for seed saving.

Corn and beans.

And a view of the jungle. It doesn't look quite so pretty, just very large.
Things are moving along! When I look back at last year, this is far and away a totally different experience. Tomatoes are several weeks ahead and everything is much, MUCH, bigger than last year. I'm not sure what I did, but the plants are just huge and overly abundant. I actually pruned some of the larger green tomatoes off and had some fried green tomatoes. It just didn't seem right to have 30 tomatoes on one plant so early.

Things Are A Blooming...

Many Nasturtiums

More Nasturtiums



Don't you just love all the useful and pretty blooms in your garden? I know I do.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Best Gardening Journal Ever!

I've had my eye on this journal for over a year, but I just couldn't see spending over $40 with shipping for a garden journal, especially when I wasn't sure what was going to work for me. So, I bought one for half that for last year that is nice, but not quite the thing for me. So, I splurged and took the plunge. Wow, I gotta tell you all, it is the finest garden journal ever! I got it from Lee Valley.

It is pretty thick at almost 500 pages and very well bound in sealed fabric to make it more weather proof. Very nice paper that is going to stand up to the repeated shuffling through that a gardener will do over time.

Probably the best thing about it is the logic of it. Each page is dated, but has divisions for 10 years of that date per page. This makes it so much easier to compare the status of things from year to year. Each entry has the place for the year, the predominant weather, temps and plenty of room for almost any days entry.

But like they say; that ain't all folks! It has loads of stuff for garden layouts, harvests, planting dates, seeds, major purchases, projects and even references. Basically, it is good stuff!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

100th Post and One Year of Progress

Sorry all! I've been way busy for the last couple of weeks in the garden, working on the house, taking care of the pets' semi-annual and annual medical needs and even having strep throat (yippee..argh). I promise to get back to the blogs soon. I can't even imagine how much I've missed that you've all posted. The missed recipes alone are enough to make a girl weep!

I tried so hard to find some profound thing to post for my 100th, but all that got me was a 2 week dry period where I couldn't think of a single thing. This is better. :)

A Nice Spring Day at Home

Lavender is Blooming

Peas were blooming and are now being harvested

Garden a couple of weeks ago...just wait till you see the changes!

On May 12th, 17 blossoms on a single 17 tomatoes!

I can't wait to show you all the changes. I'm beginning to think my garden isn't quite normal at this point. I mean, since when do cauliflower get 3.5 feet tall? And lettuce leaves as long as my hand and forearm? And...::gulp:: 17 tomatoes on a single branchlet and all of them growing as big as any other? I'll show pictures. It's a little odd for me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

2012: Doomsday - The Worst Doomer Movie Ever

I've admitted previously how much I love doomer movies. Whether it's post-apocalyptic or dystopian or whatever it is...if it fall into that general line, I love it.

That said, 2012: Doomsday is one of the worst movies I've ever actually sat through. In fact, it was so bad, I sorted junk mail for shredding and composting while it was on. Argh..I feel like I was robbed of almost 2 hours of life.

It was so very bad, I can't actually write a review of plot details...

Just thought I'd share. :)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cleaning Challenge To Myself

Some of you may have read here about my first successful use of just plain vinegar and water to wash windows. It was clear that the window with windex was no better than the one with vinegar. So, one cleaning solution down. But what else is lurking around that I'd like to replace with those alternatives I can make myself from a simple mix of core ingredients.

First, evaluate what I have going on and well, you can see the challenge.

Under the sink (there's more behind the trash can on the other side)

Oh, but there are more sinks...

...and laundry areas...

...and more bathroom sinks...

...and closets in each bathroom...

...and even more sinks.

And lest you think that is all, I didn't show you all the sinks and closets because people had private things in there that might have wound up in the photos. In fact, because I am a prepper and a frugal shopper, I tend to have large amounts of stuff I use on hand. I stopped counting after a while and you can see why.

Just for comparison, I found 19 bottles of toilet bowl cleaner. Argh.

So now, I'm organizing those things back into a central location so I can use them up and test the alternatives in side by side comparisons before I switch. While I'm all for buying baking soda, vinegar and a few other normal things to make my own, I won't settle for a halfway clean house. So, testing is in order.

I'm ready! Anybody got any good recipes? I've found a good many out there, but am collecting as many as possible.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Review - "The Gate to Women's Country"

This is the first book I read by Sheri S. Tepper, who has a written a great many books since her late-in-life entry into the world of authorship. This isn't her first work, but it is probably one of her most talked about. That's actually putting it tamely. Many people really argue about this book, feel deep seated insecurities about what others think of the book or embrace it with a little too much fervor.


Gate is essentially a post apocalyptic tale, with the fall several hundred years in the past. The world is lovely and quiet, with a slow rediscovery and recovery of technology. The world, at least as far as these folks reach, is based on widely spread walled towns. Where it gets tricky for folks is that these towns are inhabited only by women, their children and a few men who have undergone a complete separation from "normal" male life.

And what is normal male life in this new world? They live in garrisons, each protecting "their" town and women. They do lots of drilling, lots of yelling and male bonding and lots of big talking regarding their prowess. They interact with women personally only during sheduled free for alls, but the women seem very obliging in the matter. Every so often the men get word of some major insult from one town, or women relay, leader to leader, that there is some threat somewhere and a few towns' men march off in great honor to fight and come back far fewer in number.

Hmm...wonder why this makes male readers a bit uncomfortable at this point?

The main character is Stavia, though there are many other characters who are just as strong and vivid, and she essentially goes through her young life and into adulthood in this story. She is all ways. She intuits and then discovers the world and what has happened within it as well as the secrets that only a very few know in Women's Country.

It is a difficult book in some respects. Mostly because it touches on some things, at various points, that all women feel deep down inside but go their entire lives never once speaking about to another soul. It touches also pretty deeply on how solutions aren't at all what they are sometimes cracked up to be.

Now, it isn't perfect. There are some resolutions that wouldn't be possible in our world and some mystical bits that always seem to wander in. All in all, it is very satisfying and one I'd want to keep to read again a few years later so I can refresh my enjoyment. It will certainly give you some pause to think.

And, for the guys; no, this isn't a man-hater book. It does put some issues on the table that are otherwise taboo though. I mean, we all know facts and numbers, but there is little alternative history to compare to. What can we point to as a truly woman dominated society to compare with our male dominated one to see, empirically, what is better? So, if you do read this, keep in mind this is a fiction writer with an interesting speculative slant on a story.

Enjoy and let me know if you read it and what you thought of it?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Independence Days Challenge Week 1

I've joined this years Independence Days Challege over at Casaubon's Book! I'm not sure if these are the same questions from last year in total, but I really liked the old questions so maybe I'll pop over to one of your blogs and get those to add. My first report and at least it isn't completely empty.

Plant Something: Yes! Another run of radishes, Chinese red noodle beans for the Three Sisters Garden, Sugar Baby pumpkins for the same, replanted some losses in the squash bed, transplanted many things including herbs and veggies.

Harvest Something: Just getting rolling on that! Radishes, leaf lettuces, beet greens, early carrots, green onions (just thinning my Juane bulb onions), various herbs for flavoring the salads.

Preserve Something: Trying to harvest and ready for storing my rosemary seeds, but nothing major this week. Mostly I'm working on getting all my stuff ready for harvest season.

Reduce Waste: Not much there either, just tossing veggie waste where it will recycle into dirt for me.

Preparation and Storage: Definitely! Mostly odds and ends to keep my stocks at the level I've determined I need. Store what you eat and eat what you store, ya know. But also increased some areas and bumped up rechargable batteries (with car adapter), water containers and other things for hurricane season, which is just around the corner!

Build Community Food Systems: Given very strong plant starts of heirloom veggies to two new gardeners and one returnee from last year that I converted!

Eat The Food: Oh yes, I'm enjoying a great many salads fresh from the garden and using up a good deal of my canned veggies from last year's harvest. I'm going to be sad to see the last of the corn and tomatoes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Blissful Moment

The following series was taken in about 30 seconds. It goes off center because I was laughing. My old man Beagle has these moments of bliss, usually when he goes into his "cave" after a good bit of sniffing outside.

And to finish off, he stayed just like this and was snoring in about 2 minutes. Oh, the joy of being a beloved dog.
And this crate, his cave, is a spot he has chosen as a nice vantage point to rest while others run about. The door is never closed.

Book Review Series Coming: Author Sheri S. Tepper

This is for all you readers out there like me, who occassionally find a new author that you just devour. The one you consider a newly unearthed goldmine who has a whole body of existing work you haven't touched on yet? Oh yes, I love those discoveries and recently I was accidentally introduced to my latest. Sheri S. Tepper.

I first heard about the book, The Gate to Women's Country, on a post-apocalyptic/doomer book list of good reads. Having never heard of it or the author, I looked up reviews and was delighted to find passionate disagreement, outright hatred and over the top adulation. Ahhh...perfect. So I ordered it with my next Amazon Order and delved right in.

Now, I'm not saying it was perfect, nor that any of her books are perfect. Instead I'm saying they are fascinating, completely novel, refreshingly new in their point of view and each has a moral like the old fashioned fairy tales set for our modern literary tastes.

Very quickly I ordered a further six novels and I've finished them in less than 2 weeks. Included are the SciFi masterwork, Grass, The Family Tree, Beauty, Singer From the Sea, The Margarets and The Companions.

Her body of work has a great many more in it and I'm preparing my next order with her works dominating it. As an aside, for anyone thinking of jumping in before I get the reviews, a lot of her books are out as regular paperbacks and Amazon some of them may still be in their 4 for 3 special, but those get rotated so no guarantees.

I'm going to review all her books in an upcoming series of entries, but if you've read any of them already and want to get your two cents in, I'll incorporate your comments as I write the reviews. You can leave them here and I will look. Even if you hate it I'll be sure to include your views!

About the Author:

Sheri Tepper isn't a spring chicken. In fact, had my Grandmother lived to now she would be the peer of Ms. Tepper. And she hasn't been writing all that long, I believe writing her first in 1984. Despite that, her novel Grass is number 48 in the Science Fiction Masterworks list and edition. Pretty amazing considering the scope and company in that group.

And yes, she writes Science Fiction, but not in the way you might think of it. It isn't the hard science of Benford or the smushy romantic pretend SciFi of authors I won't shame to name. It is instead a truly unique and unparalleled ability to build worlds and put our human selves in a new light and with a whole new extension on our history. The way we change, inside and out, and see ourselves.

But I'm about to spoil it so I won't go on. The reviews are being written in draft now and I'll schedule their posting far enough in advance to edit for anything you all write that needs incorporating.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Book Reviews: Gardening When It Counts and Square Foot Gardening

I'm reviewing both of these books together because they represent the two ends of the home gardening spectrum when it comes to philosophy. I have both, love both and have finally figured out how to combine the best elements of both philosophies to fit my particular climate, space and habit. I'll warn now, this is more of an article than a blog entry and is a bit long. Sorry!

I'm also including both because I think many people get really polarized in their gardening views. And yes, I've actually heard folks use heated words with each other over this very topic. Strange, but true.

Another important reason to really delve into these gardening philosophies is based on what the future is shaping up to be. Both writers fully understand that during hard financial times, home gardening increases and many folks jump in for the first time while being really financially tied to the outcome. Even for the experienced gardener who has been treating their veggies as a hobby and not paying attention to what it costs would benefit from really evaluating their garden.

Sometimes, it boils down to the interpretation with regards to environmentalism, sustainability, food safety or even meshing with the wilds. The truth is, a strict adherence to any gardening style when it may not be ideal for any one particular spot on the world is going to be the lesser one and that could wind up being either of these. If I had to summarize what I took from both books, I'd say it was that knowing both methods is essential and all but the most urban spot is probably going to wind up needing a bit of both.

Gardening When It Counts

Steve Solomon, the author, hasn't been an advocate of the wide space method forever. In fact, he wrote books on various intensive methods in the past. He's actually a relative newcomer to this but he is a logical person with long gardening experience and a wonderful point of view. His current garden can survive without much in the way of irrigation or inputs and leverages the habits of plants in nature as a way to ensure harvests under adverse conditions.

Square Foot Gardening

Mel Bartholomew, probably one of the best known and most personable of all the intensive method gardening writers, is the developer of Square Foot Gardening. While he has refined it some over time, the basic premise remains the same as it was when it had its debut on PBS to the American people. It's been spread throughout the world and is often used as a way to allow urban people and schools access to growing food they wouldn't otherwise have.

The Good, The Bad and the Comparison

Spacing: One of the most basic differences in these methods is the plant spacing.

  • GWIC, very wide plant spacing is used to leverage expanding root systems to reduce or eliminate irrigation or fertilization needs. Instead of putting a lot of inputs, the plants get to use more area to get what they need. The upside is that water, if expensive, and fertilizers which are increasingly expensive, aren't needed. The downside is that lots of open space between plants means lots of light for weeds to grow and even more importantly, lots of space that is dedicated to crops instead of the natural plant array for that area.
  • SFG promotes a very close spacing of plants in an ideal soil mix while tending the plants to keep them in check, such as pruning tomato vines to the main vine or 2 instead of sprawling. The upside is that even the most limited space, even a balcony, can produce veggies. There is very limited destruction of ground structure and containment is easier. It is also the only option for many in HOAs that don't permit in ground gardens due to aesthetics. The downside is that some produce will be smaller, in particular, big beefsteak tomatoes, larger peppers and eggplants, primarily because roots sense their spacial limitations.

Initial Outlay: Big difference in costs and labor between these methods.

  • GWIC uses a much larger area but takes the ground as it is. Initial amendments are limited to what is on hand, like compost and manure and added only rarely or during fallow times. So cost is low. Sweat equity, on the other hand, is quite high. Initial clearance, leveling and breaking sod can be back breaking, and if you're clearing a large area or many patches, it can be overwhelming. If you live in a verdant area that has a lot of vines, creepers or invasives, this may not be do-able at all. And if you're in suburbia, your lot may not be big enough for much in the long run.
  • SFG does use a very small area relative to output. In just pound for area comparison, there isn't much to outstrip SFG. Initial labor means building beds, filling them and that means a day of hard work. The cost, however, can be really prohibitive if you don't have a ready supply of compost and manure and soil. Good lumber, stone or blocks to build the beds can cost a pretty penny and importing good soil and compost cost even more.

Maintenance and Output: Tending the garden for what you get out of it

  • GWIC is reputed to give very large and very abundant results. With so much space to sprawl and drawn nutrients from, the plants give their all and this is the kind of garden you can get prize sized tomatoes from. Of course, the downside is the weeding since weeds are going to take advantage of all that space and sun and nutrients too. You'll lose the advantage that produces the size unless you're tenacious with weeding. Mulching with whatever is available reduces that need for weeding some, but relies on the availability of mulching material that is appropriate. Watering, which can be a pain, is much reduced as the resevoir of retained water is being used by a smaller number of plants per area.
  • SFG definitely gives smaller produce in space dependent plants, however the amount per square foot is higher overall. Weeding is so easy as to be a non-issue and once plants establish they shade the ground preventing more weed growth and keeping in moisture so the watering isn't too bad. Of course, you do have to water SF Gardens more overall. In the height of a truly blazing summer a bed of tomatoes is going to need a shot every other day no question. Nutrients are going to be depleted more rapidly with an intensive bed, no matter what. Side dressings of compost are going to be needed for full season plantings and a handful of compost added to each square during succession planting is a must.

Overall Impressions of both books:

Each one is a valuable addition to the core gardening reference section of every home gardener. If you're at all concerned with changes in economy or foreign food safety changing the way you garden or feed your family, then these are really a must. Both have sound principles and both have a valid point of view. Both of them aren't likely to be able to be used singly in any location, though there are exceptions to that, but together and used in combination, they cover almost any garden location you can think of. I don't think you'll regret making these purchases and will refer to them over and over as the years go by.

Knowing how to figure out what is right for you can be hard for some folks. It is just too confusing and people remain unsure about things for years, even when they really do know it deep down inside. I wasn't born with a green thumb...I developed one. It took only about a year of watching to figure out what was right for me. And believe me, if I can do that with little effort, so can anyone else.

Quick Garden Tip and Harvesting

Just a quick garden tip for anyone else who, like me, had trouble with certain impolite mammals nibbling off newly sprouted plants in the garden. I've found a pretty fool-proof method for my home. My squash bed, just a 10x10x10 foot triangle with 6 hills for 1 or two plants each, had all my sprouting plants nibbled off to the stem as soon as they sprouted.

I thought maybe those metal baskets that get lined with paper for eating fries or the like from would work. But metal ones just aren't made much anymore. So I found some plastic ones, very heavy duty ones too, for just a buck each. I placed one upside down over each of the newly planted seed clusters.

Yep, it worked. Once I got the bigger leaves starting to unfurl, making the plant wobble about with menace in the breeze, I take off the bowl. Wonderful! I now have 2 bowls off and 4 to go.

Ingenious upside down plastic basket seed protectors

My first full salad harvest was delicious

And I've graduated from mere bits and bites here and there finally. Full and large butter, green leaf and red leaf lettuce, early carrots, strawberries, radishes, early onions and decent beet greens make a fabulastic salad that still tastes like a sunny spring morning.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Just One Month

Have a look at what the beds looked like on April 1st and on May 2nd. Spring is amazing, isn't it?

Overview on May 2nd

Same beds on April 1st

Most of the Garden Overview - Corn still short!

Can You See the Difference?

Why in the world am I posting a picture of the glass in my living room window, you ask? In my ongoing quest to limit the amount of junk that I buy that isn't at all helpful to anyone really, I'm experimenting with cleaning using low tech and old fashioned cleaning methods. One of the most common and approved of is the use of vinegar and water instead of glass cleaner. And my, oh my, it works!

Left is vinegar and water; Right is Windex

If you click the photo it should open up huge for you. Please, please ignore the rampant meadow that is my lawn, it is now cut. I promise! At any rate, like many people with dogs, I have a constant streak of nose marks across my window at Beagle nose level. It is gross and cloudy and snotty and even has little run marks when they are particularly excited and fling snot. In other words, I have window challenges.

While there is some reflective cloudiness on the windows, it isn't them but my camera work and you can take it from me, there was not one jot of difference between the two windows. And while I did notice an immediate vinegar smell when I sprayed the windows, it was gone by the time I was done. I think it must evaporate quite quickly.

The recipe is simple: 1 Part White Vinegar to 3 Parts Water. That's it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Colonial Williamsburg with Mom

Mom in Governor's Palace

My mother, J, came down for a lovely visit a few weeks ago. She stayed with my sister but we got to do plenty together. A super fun day for Mom and me, but perhaps less so for my sister J the Younger, who wasn't feeling great, was our trip to Colonial Williamsburg. My sister was a trooper though and seemed to have a good time anyway and it was nice to spend time with her.

I've been there before, but never in the first flush of spring and it was wonderful! I think the highlight for my Mom was the tour of the Governor's Palace. For me, the kitchens and kitchen garden were by far the focus.

Kitchen Gardens at the Governor's Palace

The food made daily in the kitchen outbuilding is taken from foods grown there in the gardens and heritage breeds of stock, some now quite rare, raised and slaughtered there. Some of their animals are simply amazing and wonderful. Luckily, they have a book of their breeds for sale in their book shop. :) Next time I'll get it. This time I focused on garden books outlining the evolution of the garden design in America, Pleasure gardens and other wonderful garden-y things.

But back to the food for a second; the cooks in that outdoor kitchen use authentic implements and everything just as it was and cook real food, all day long, which they lay out on a table in between their cooking area and the visitors. Not to eat, of course, but anything you might want to ask or have explained, they do. It really is amazing.

The Hedge Maze at the Palace

The hedge maze was looking a bit worse for wear with so many people pushing through rather than find their way out. Since it is still early, they will thicken up, but it is a shame to see people destroying something so old and beautiful. This photo was taken from atop the ice house which is about 16 feet tall and still perfectly operable. The Palace runs along the canal, with truly spectacular terraced lawn and gardens, and the ice used to be cut right from that canal. It hasn't actually frozen in years, but the stone and earthen ice house provided cold storage and ice throughout our sweltering Virginia summer and fall for all the people that lived there.

We ended our evening there by enjoying a wonderful dinner at Shield's Tavern, where we were very lucky to get an early reservation. It is superb food and very stout fortified beverages are served :: grin::. I knew enough to get a Pimm's Cup, which is just fine to have early in the dinner and be able to drive a few hours later. My Mom, on the other hand, got a Rummer. Those are basically a glass full of delcious, but rather potent, alcohol. She was a trooper though. The portions were huge and we took home doggie bags. I highly recommend it.

Mumsy is coming back this month and we plan on going again to see the growth. We're going for King's Tavern reservations and carriage rides. I'm focused on trying that Colonial Game Pye, which I've heard a great deal of good about, before I try the recipe (which I have) with my limited supply of venison.