Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ginger Beer Results...Delicious!

Delicious, Ice-Cold Ginger Beer

My first batch of Ginger beer didn't really trip my trigger much. It was just a tad too blah for me. So, I spiced things up a bit and added more lemon this time and used a lot more fresh ginger.

Whoooyaaaa...can I even begin to describe the delicousness? I think not.

The taste is sweet, spicy, a bit citrus-y, a bit bubbly like champagne and utterly refreshing.

I used plastic water bottles, which I rarely have but did after my Mom came to visit. You can use bigger bottles however the bubbliness of it will go away if not used within a day or so. Smaller bottles mean you get fizz the whole way.

As for alcohol content, I do think I might have a little in mine. I'm a notorious lightweight and my lips get numb after the first sip of wine or spirits. When drinking this, I don't necessarily feel anything but my lips get numb after a glass for a little while. So...maybe a little.

Mine got very fizzy. Perhaps that had something to do with the alcohol content.

A word of caution though. Please don't be tempted (like I was) to use all glass bottles. If you can't stomach plastic, which I normally detest also, be sure to have at least one bottle of your batch in plastic to act as a tell-tale bottle! Mine seemed to not be making pressure at all, so I relaxed about it. I came down the next morning to all my bottles bulging and unable to stand up from the pressure in them. While I hurredly put them in the frig and stopped the process safely, glass would have been a huge mess all over the counter

If anyone else does this, let me know how it goes for you, please.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Watching the Flash Flood Happen

I was only able to get one decent photo of the deluge last week and I thought you might be interested in seeing how exactly, I managed to have a flash flood event localized to my very own yard. Well..... it is! The lot behind me where a new house is going up has an increasingly tall mound of dirt. The plastic barrier meant to keep an 8 foot tall pile from blowing around via a 3 foot tall bit of plastic had, unfortunately, gotten it's lower edge buried by the ever growing pile. Which means over a foot of water built up like a little dam in 25 minutes and then, whoosh, it all came down the incline where I was standing.
Yours truly, after taking this picture, decided to be really intelligent and go see for herself how high that water was going to get. LOL...oh, yes, I was trudging across the mud when it came rolling down.
No worries. I'm fine, of course and my garden is clearly recovered since I posted the pics just yesterday. It was a moment of pure rush though. And I've reaffirmed my undying love of rubber boots :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Squirrels and Cabbage Worms...Oh My!

I really don't know why I keep trying to grow brassicas of any kind in the spring here. For this area, it really is a fall crop, but hope springs eternal with me. And lets face it, I'm craving some tender Brussels sprouts, crunchy broccoli and rich purple cauliflower. Okay, I'll stop drooling and get to business.

Purple Cauliflower looks healthy but...

The holes are from a hailstorm last week but the chewed leaves are just that, chewed! The brazen and hungry cabbage moth caterpillars have been having a heyday over here. When very early spring starts here, I always here people oohing and aahing over the dainty white moths that go flitting here and yon. I groan. I flicked the ones I could find off but I'll be honest, they creep me out.

Sacrificial Brussel sprout plant with cabbage worms.

If you look at the second to the top leaf, you can see a nice big worm but believe me when I say there are several. This is a sacrificial plant, sort of like a scapegoat. I noticed last year that the moths laid their eggs mostly on the larger and more healthy plants, leaving those that lag in growth alone. So this year I tried an experiment by starting a sprout plant last fall outside, mulching in a protected area to winter over, and then planting it in a bed far away from where the other brassicas would go. It actually worked a bit. Almost all the worms were found here, in this plant. The purple cauliflower had some, but they grew very quickly, and only a few were found in any other plants. Its something to think on for sure.

Ravaged sweet corn bed.

My experimental bed that should hold sweet corn for the three sisters method looks like a minefield. Squirrels keep digging up the corn, even after it is well sprouted, eating the nub and then leaving the poor plant just lying there. I've started more inside to transplant once big enough to be nubless.

Close up of the damage.

Here you can see the holes from the squirrels' digging and a baby corn plant, now rootless, lying there just to taunt with all it's lost potential.

I did try netting, but they just squeeze through somehow. I've got to get psychological on those critters, but how can I consistently psych out a squirrel?

State of the Garden - 27 April 2009

It's been 3 weeks since my last garden update and what a difference a bit of spring makes! So, let's get started with the show and tell. I also have a couple of questions in here that maybe some of you savvy and more experienced gardeners can answer.

Those little sticks that were supposed to be apple trees, remember those? Well! They are covered in leaves and look very happy!

The comfrey plants are well up and the leaves are just huge! Far bigger than my hand. I really love the soft feathery feel of the fuzz on them.

One of my olive trees, arbequina olives, is actually blooming! I wasn't really expecting that until next year. There won't be a harvest, per se, because the first few years they bloom and set fruit they are mostly pit. Arbequina olives are the most flavorful little bursts of deliciousness you can imagine and the finest oil also comes from them. They are great for large containers too and can be shaped very nicely too.

Sorry about the thumb in the picture (when is the last time you actually saw that happen?) but I didn't have another shot quite so good from yesterday. This is one of the new beds and wow, can you believe how much it has grown in the last 3 weeks? I sure can't. In fact, I'll post a time show sometime soon because Spring is just amazing in how fast it works on our gardens, isn't it?

You can see the onions are growing super fast, as are the purple cauliflower, radishes (of course) and beets, but the real surprise is the recovery and fast growth of the tomatoes! I put them out way too early because I had run out of space under the lights, thinking I had so many extra that if they died I could swap them out. For a while it looked bad and then a week ago, we had big hail ripping holes in things but then, suddenly, bonanza!

Here in Bed 2, the peas are twining, lettuce is still producing some beautiful (and yummy) leaves, and other brassicas are growing apace even while being attacked by my greatest spring enemy (I've got another post and close up for you). Tomatoes here are doing fab also. As of this morning one of the early peas also had a few blooms. Hurray!

And for the first official tomato bloom of the year, the prize goes to a surprising contestant. The Black Krim tomato. I'm pot growing many of the extra tomatoes as well as giving some away.

Not too far behind the Black Krim is another surprising one, Cherokee Purple, who is probably going to unfurl its lovely and large bloom today.

The blueberries, which are just on their second year, are loaded with lovely growing berries. I just have 2 bushes right now as I'm experimenting with variety and soil and they are contained in a giant pot...I do mean giant...that is 3 feet high. New branches have come out of the base of it and they are quite tall, but I'm still trying to figure out how to prune for max production so I think I have far less than I probably should.

And one of the biggest surprises in the new "orchard" of experimental fruiting is the cherry tree. It is a dwarf, self pollinating one and was just a stick and hasn't even fully unfurled all the new leaf growth, but yet, it has one small blossom that appears to have taken!

My strawberry bed is producing, but the results are a bit varied. The plants near the base of the brick porch have grown by leaps and bounds more than those out front and center. I'm thinking it is because the porch retained heat while it was so cold while those up front had more chilling wind effects.

Nonetheless, I've harvested a half dozen or so small and perfectly tasty very early strawberries!

Here is on of my most pressing questions. The bush below is one of two planted when my house was built in 2005. Since I wasn't very familiar with what my neighbors would or wouldn't accept in my front yard and not at all sure of the right types for this area's weather, I asked they choose something fairly easy care, evergreen and not likely to create problems with my foundation. This is what they put in. To this day, I still have no idea what they are.

To describe them, they are evergreen, they spread about twice as much as they grow in height and right now each is about 8 feet wide and 4 feet high. And for a close up...

You can see in this close up what the blooms and leaves look like. They have a very heady scent that is quite enticing. I associate the smell with gardenia but I'm not good with very precise smells. The leaves are waxy and firm. I'd really like to know what they are. Any idea?

My alien hostas are coming up fast and I'm very happy to see they weren't all destroyed when my foundation was re-stuccoed last fall. It looks like some close to the wall may have had some damage as they aren't coming up fast or as thick, but there is survival! I desperately need to separate these out this year and spread the wealth to the other beds around the house I'm building. I actually included this picture to show the effect of 30 minutes of rain that produced over 2 inches of rain! It overflowed the gutters and came down in sheets, pushing the soil right over the bed edging and into the yard. I estimate I lost about a cubic yard of newly laid compost/topsoil mix in that half hour.

My dogwood is blooming so prettily.

And the bulbs are starting to bloom and be all showy for me.

And not to forget a little puppy love, here is Boscoe smiling up at me because he knows he's about to get his belly rubbed. It is totally his favorite.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Backyard Predatory Frenzy

Tonight is a weird night around our place. I think of spring as a time of new life, that particular shade of green from new growth, working in the ground and fresh radishes as a garden welcome. What I forget is that everything else is waking up and thinking the same thing and their diets aren't always so benign.

Just a bit ago I went outside for a few minutes and stood on the deck. Within five seconds a rather large and fat cat I've seen for a couple of years darted guiltily off to stare at me from under my bayberry tree. A second later the turning shine of its eyes alerted me to the rabbit standing nearby very still. He seemed to be considering whether I was more of a threat or the cat. I eventually got between them and shoo'ed them both in opposite directions.

Hearing a rustling, I looked up and who did I see but my very own household sociopathic owl. He looked down at me with those shiny eyes and I skeedaddled back up onto the deck. He is truly a disturbed owl. He can eat all the squirrels or rabbits he wants, we can share our space just fine, but must he bring them into the branch of the tree right outside my bedroom window and let them scream for up to an hour while he just stands there with his claws in it? Demented. Truly.

So there I am back on the deck having a serious conversation about the need for sleep tonight with a most uninterested owl when I hear a mad splashing and very pathetic keening from the shore of my wetlands. It is followed by another mad splashing, silence, a weaker cry and then a crack. Silence. There goes one of the baby geese or ducks.


Spring is a time of new life, but darkness brings out those who feed on it. I suppose this is one of the downsides of having such a wildlife friendly urban homestead. It offers a chance oasis in our man-made city for them but the cycle of life goes on.

Just thought I'd share. But now I have to go get that owl to leave Mr. Bunny alone. I rather like him hanging about nibbling on things I prune from the garden. He's just so polite!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Review - "One Second After"

Since my last book review, I've probably read more than 3 dozen books. They aren't reviewed up here, though one or two are worth the work, but this one has absolutely galvanized me to ensure I tell everyone about it. Written by William Forstchen, it is my first reading of his work, though I have heard he's a good writer.

I heard about it on Nealz Nuze and even though Neal's unimitigated disdain for women drives me insane, I did like the book review so I immediately ordered it from Amazon.

When it came I pulled it from the box of books first and devoured it in one day and night of little sleep. I just couldn't stop.

Right on the cover it says the Foreward is by Newt Gingrich, and I'll admit that is quite off-putting for many, including myself, but trust me when I say that it isn't at all what you might expect from him.

So, what is it about? Wow, I can barely describe what it is about because it is about so many things tied beautifully together. If you go by the bookflap, it is about the after-effects of an EMP burst by unknown enemies, perhaps even terrorists, over the United States. EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse), for those who may not know, is often associated with an airburst of a nuclear weapon where radiation is the real problem.

As noted in the book, however, EMP is a powerful weapon in itself and the definitive report on it was unfortunately submitted for our leaders' consideration on the same day the 9/11/01 report was, thus ensuring it was never considered. EMP remains our most vulnerable and easily exploited gap in our freedom and way of life.

Without creating a bunch of spoilers for the book, a single EMP is launched and explodes about 100 miles above the United States, creating an instantaneous overload in any electrical circuit and immediately overheating and destroying any chip not shielded within it's line of sight, which is almost the entire North American Continent at that height. It doesn't create radiation that hurts, doesn't damage buildings or the environment. Everything simply stops and won't start again.

A retired Colonel and now history professor who lives with his 2 daughters in a small western North Carolina town are the main characters and it is about the first year after the EMP.

It is a profoundly moving book and I will say that if you don't cry at least twice in this book, you may not actually have a heart. It is utterly realistic, widely scoped while keeping true to the family at the center, amazingly beautiful and profoundly sad. It will become, I have no doubt whatsoever, a classic like Earth Abides, The Time Machine and Brave New World.

Now, this isn't a Doomer book in any way, shape or form. Not at all. It isn't a military book with loads of hard to imagine movements or people. It isn't a survivalist book where the protagonist seems to know everything and never gets tired. It isn't filled with bad science or incorrect mechanics. What it is: A story of a very realistic family, in a very realistic small town in a very realistic but unfortunate situation.

I really can't recommend this book highly enough. If I could afford it, I would buy hundreds of them and hand them out to people. Take stock of the person you are before you start this book and then again after finishing. If you are at all like me (and many others who have now read it) you'll find that you are no longer the person that started the book. You'll hug your family a bit more, pet your dog with more love, look at our day to day life with more wonder and have a new lease on a brand new life.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rooms We Wished We Had

Since I'm still (and will be for the foreseeable future) trying to figure out the details of my future home in the country, I read a lot about the subject. Recently, I read an article that only indirectly related to my quest, but was very interesting so I thought I'd share.

Apparently, someone has finally figured out that the people that bought all those McMansions don't actually use all that room. (Insert laugh here.)

Honestly, how long should it take to figure out that 2 people who work away from home all day aren't really using a house that has 5 bathrooms, 6 bedrooms and more than half a dozen other rooms with labels like media, conversation, grand dining or library? I'm equally sure that this only comes up as the economy contracts and these same homeowners are no longer capable of keeping their maids or cleaning services. Houses can certainly seem bigger when one is suddenly required to be the one taking care of it.

But it brought up a thought. Some of the quotes in there reflect where purchasers were coming from when they bought it really well. One commented that she had always wanted a butler's pantry like in the old house she grew up in, and it was only in this large house that she had found it. Personally, I wouldn't buy a 5,000 square foot house in order to get a pantry, but that is just me.

It further wrote that studies show that people will buy a home based on a single room, even if they don't know they are doing it. Sort of backs up that above example a bit.

So, what room would you most like to have in your house? Assume you have the right number of regular rooms for your uses, such as bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, etc. All the normal stuff is there we'll say. What would you add if you could?

I did a bit of a real world poll by asking everyone around me for the last couple of days and these are the answers I got:
Harvest Kitchen
Butler's Pantry (or walk-through/walk-in pantry) - lots of this answer
Media Room
Game Room - lots of guys answered this one :)
Arboretum/Attached Greenhouse - Loved that one

My choice, if I could only have one, would be a ginormous butler's pantry now that I've been able to think about it. Second choice attached greenhouse. What about you?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Do you thin potatoes?

Here are my All Blue potatoes just a couple of weeks or so after they got above ground.

This pot is a 24 inch pot with 2 very small seed potatoes in it. Clearly one of them has sprouted 3 new plants. The rest of my potatoes are in deep 18 inch pots, with 1 big or 2 small potatoes in them.

They are only filled a bit, leaving about a foot of space for me to fill in dirt for the potatoes. My plan is to fill them in as they grow and then use rigid plastic to fill in higher than the top of the pot for max potatoes per pot.

So my question is: Do you thin them when you get more sprouts like this? I can't imagine there is a lot of room for growing nice big juicy potatoes with 4 vines in this pot, 2 yes but more?

What do you think?

Squash Hills - Are These Correct?

For those who followed last year, you may remember that I had some issues with squash hills. I followed the directions for doing such, but every time I watered it seemed a bit more dirt came down. Eventually, roots were getting exposed and I simply couldn't keep those thirsty plants watered enough.

Well, I've looked for pictures, gone back through my books and tried again. Did I do it right?

Each hill is about 18 inches in diameter and a little more than 3 feet apart peak to peak. There are 6 hills and they each have 4 seeds planted around the perimeter of the top. The patch is a rough triangle about 10 feet to a side.

If you see how nice and loamy my soil is, I'm wondering if that very loamy-ness is what is letting the dirt fall down when I water.

So, if this is right, how do I water without undercutting the structure of the hill? Also, how much should I thin. Just to two per hill?

Should I surround the plants with straw and cover the hill with it once they sprout, or maybe right now, and simply water the straw? I didn't do that last year because I read it promotes powdery mildew by keeping things too damp.

I would so much appreciate any good wisdom out there! I need as much squash and zucchini as I can get for drying over the winter.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

State of the Garden - 2 April 2009

And now it is officially garden season for me! Yippee. (Insert jumping and clicking heels together here.) So here is a quick and very incomplete tour of what is going on and growing up so far.

Blueberries are blooming.

The first small green buds that will be branches and leaves are showing on the new apple trees.

Potatoes are showing above the soil. Here are All Blue.

Here the 2 new beds are slowly getting planted as the season changes. Purple cauliflower and onions in the front, with radishes, carrots, peas, brocolli, brussel sprouts and other colder weather crops starting the more rapid growth phase. Some unfortunate tomato transplants I decided to risk a bit early struggle valiantly, remaining far more stunted than their brethren under grow lights in the house.

And, of course, Boscoe the Big Man, as he fruitlessly examines the beds for any carrots he might dig up when I look away.