Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why Cucumbers Get Bitter

 Cucumbers.. they just scream summer time. Cool, sweet, refreshing.. perfect for that hot sticky day. You think of this as you select the strains and start the seeds.. transplanting them carefully.. names like Marketmore 76, Straight Eight, Champion, Boothby's Blonde, Sugar Crunch..  Waiting for the first flowers to appear, all bright yellow and full of promise.

 After the tease of the first flowers all being male.. finally... a female and it sets fruit! Staring at it everyday checking the progress, and the moment comes! Picking the prize you tended in your garden, you race off to taste your achievement...... and it's bitter. Really bitter.. some can be bitter enough to trigger a need to vomit. No joke.

 Some strains are more prone to being bitter than others, but all cucumbers... ALL cucumbers have the ability to produce cucurbitacin. That would be the culprit that fouls the flavor of this fine fruit. Cucumbers produce this commonly in the plant's roots, stems, leaves.. and every now and then in domesticated strains it wanders into the fruit. It spreads along starting from the stem end and progresses towards the blossom end. 

 Some can be saved to a degree by peeling them under running water starting at the blossom end and peeling towards the stem end, rinsing the peeler as you go, and making sure to get the green layer as well under the skin. The bitterness can vary from cuke to cuke from the same plant. Think of it this way.. when the plant is stressed it is producing Cucurbitacin to protect itself, minimizing stress and you try to halt this self defense response. 

 Cucurbitacin is a defense mechanism for the plant to try to repel herbivores. In high amounts it is actually toxic. To actually be able to eat enough to be toxic.. you'd have to have no tastebuds and a stomach of steel... or be a cucumber beetle. Cruel joke isn't it? Cucurbitacin attracts cucumber beetles.. it actually puts them in eating overdrive. Here's another tidbit.. in the larval stages those beetles are also known as corn rootworms.

 I have the joys of the Southern variety occasionally wandering in my yard... although they are usually somewhat lost... muahahaha. 

 Back to the bitters.. temperature plays a part in tendencies of bitterness to show up, but a bigger trigger is plant stress. Heat and drought... in many areas that would be commonly called.. summer. To minimize bitter issues in cucumbers, you have to work from the ground up. Amending the soil with compost will add nutrients and top dressing or using compost teas will also help. If you can swing getting your soil tested so you can refine what elements need to be added is always extremely helpful. Make sure to keep an eye on soil moisture (ESPECIALLY in container plants.) Mulch helps, but also make sure at the end of the season you hot compost the bejeezus out of it if you have cucumber beetle issues. Also.. inadequate pollination can effect the flavor.

 The ultimate way to make sure your cucumbers are never ever bitter? Don't plant cukes. Seriously.. try opting for  Armenian which is actually a melon. If you can't live without cucumber in your diet and yet can never seem to avoid growing intensely bitter cukes.. give it a try, you won't regret it. 

* I suppose next I will jump into cucumber beetles and post links for places to get soil tested. 

Strains to Fight Surrender- Pavlovsk Station Battle

 You might be asking what/ where is Pavlovsk Station... well.. it is north of St. Petersburg in Russia and is a living genetic wonderland of various plants. 

 You actually may have heard about it.. it is famous for the devotion displayed by some scientists during the 900 day siege of Leningrad in WWII. 12 scientists chose to starve to death instead of eating the plants, tubers and seeds they were protecting for humanity. Why yes.. they did make a movie and write a book about it.

 The collection was started in 1926 by Nikolai Vavilov, a botanist and geneticist.. his gift was being able to pinpoint the centers of origin of plants. His drive led him to gather and create one of the world's first and largest living seed banks.


 Yes... I am seething mad. So mad I can't fully explain the glorious nature of this site.. how much it means.. and the importance of what is there. Yet if I hear one more time on the news about the fluff they spout out between commercials meanwhile not a peep about this.. I get fired up. I mean really... I don't care who made it to the Dancing with the stars show. Very sad when that makes the news but not something of substance.

 Heads need to be yanked out of the sand at some point.. preferably while there is still a chance to save somethings before they get wiped out.

 Here's a link to an article about the Station and what is going on. 

Please pass on this information. 

There is a petition somewhere.. and I hope more can be moved to write in to save this genetic treasure trove before it is lost.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fry Bread Debauchery

 The first time I had fry bread I was not quite 20 years old. My friend Kat is Native American and it is one of her family's staples. She invited a bunch of friends over for lunch and this was one of the amazing things she made.
 Fry bread is a super super simple dough that is deep fried (usually in lard or shortening, but any cooking oil able to handle frying temperatures is just fine). Because it is such a simple dough, it can be morphed into something sweet or savory. Ingredients.. flour, baking powder, salt and water (or milk). 
 For a sweet version that is like a fry bread doughnut.. I add a few tablespoons of sugar to the dough.. sometimes cinnamon.. sometimes I sprinkle it with powdered sugar and cinnamon.. or dip in chocolate. 
 Like a dummy I made the milk chocolate ones and cinnamon sugar ones first, so they didn't survive long enough to make the picture. While I was finding batteries for the camera.. my husband, daughter and two of her friends dove head first into them.
 For a savory spin I add herbs and experiment with various spices. I have made assorted mini rolls to create little appetizer sized sandwiches. Huge hit. Sage in the sandwiches with pork... rosemary and lemon for the chicken... garlic and basil to go with roast beef.. I've even made ones with dill that had cream cheese, smoked salmon, super thin sliced onion and capers.
 It is a bread that is really easy to make, and if you make it on the stove top vs firing up the oven.

  This is the rough recipe... rough because I can't say I ever stick to it exactly. I suppose it is more like the general fry bread guidelines lol. When I lean more towards the pastry direction, I am careful to not overmix the dough and I let it rest a bit so it is more tender (I also use milk in the pastry ones). For sandwiches I like the bread a bit chewier, so I do knead it a bit more.. as well if it is bigger "rolls" I am making.. I will use a fork to puncture it a bit to control how much it fluffs up. (Kat would make large ones for burgers.. which were amazing and don't fall apart like regular store bought buns).

   Fry Bread:  
  2 cups flour
 1 Tablespoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon salt
 1 cup water (or milk) 

Roll dough out to 1/4th inch thick. Can cut into any desired shape. Drop into hot oil (test with toothpick or wooden spoon.. when put in oil it should bubble well). It cooks quickly, make sure to flip when golden brown. Put on paper towel to drain/ cool. 

(If you are going for a garlic bread type spin.. lightly sprinkle with salt and dust with garlic powder right when you pull them out.)Also if you add sugar to the dough, I only add maybe 2 tablespoons. Too much and the dough tends to get darker when it fries.. plus we tend to top it with something sweet or cut them open and put a dollop of jam inside.. so a little sweet is all that is needed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Radish Seeds

 Procrastination is a skill... a finely honed gift meant to be coddled and refined until you can con someone else into seeding the dried radish pods. Did I go overboard? Usually.. but even for me this is excessive. See for yourself...
 This shows about half of the pods I have to tackle. This is what I should be working on right now.. and I will... in just a few minutes I will start... really... no really.

 So I had cut the stems off when the pods had finished forming and had started drying out. I tied them and hung them from the rafters in the garage. It has been a month or so and they are more than ready to be shelled. 

 Many of the radish sent out new blooms just to taunt me.  It is not very common knowledge that radish are vindictive roots. The honeybees, sweat bees and bumblebees are still enjoying the plethora of radish flowers. 

 This last spring Chef Deb posted 2 radish recipes and next year.. I really really want to try them pickled. Sauteed was really good and I just couldn't seem to grow enough to eat as much of them as we wanted. Sliced and tossed in stir fry with the radish greens too.. shredded and added to coleslaw...  Then she posted pickled radishes. I must learn to pickle and can NOW!

 I love pickled vegetables. In Door County Wisconsin a friend brought back pickled asparagus and green beans. Insane good. Made by a family for their small country store.. every time she went to visit her parents vacation spot in Door County she would come back with cases and cases. Most of us would pop open a jar and eat the whole thing right then and there. She was the Pimp of Pickles.

 So I let a few radish go to seed as I vowed to be well prepared for next year. And then I let a few more flower for the bees... and then well.. they looked so cute, an airy cloud of white, purple, pink flowers. Now it is time to pay the piper. The bonus to so much bee activity is that the pods have a fair amount of seeds. 

 Next year... I will have pickled radishes.. and pickled garlic... and with any luck those spicy pickled green beans that are omg amazing in a Bloody Mary. 

Arbor Day Foundation

 Now if you have time to burn and a lack of funds, but want to add more trees to your patch on the planet, you might want to give the Arbor Day Foundation a quick look. Now these are seedlings, which is the nice way to say glorified sticks with potential. 

 Really though.. trees add to property value and if you have ever been house hunting, you will notice the ones with trees seem more attractive than the cute house on the barren lot. You can create a sense of privacy, create a wind screen, and help create a cool refuge in summer. 

 I want more trees. I neeeeeeeed more trees. I am in a rather unforgiving location, but dammit.. I will have my trees. Right now I am coddling a volunteer baby Douglas Fir. That sentence is three times bigger than the tree. Aspens are pretty... from a distance.. but they are a soft wood and not exactly the longest lived. 

 Although such small trees require TLC, there is a bonus. Better root system development first off. When it comes to trees that produce a crop of fruit or nuts... a well developed root system is a massive bonus. 

 Although oak trees instantly bring me back to being a kid ....and having to rake 2 acres of leaves until the whole inside of my hands were blistered and shredded.. and the sound of billions of acorns crunching under tires in the driveway that then needed to be swept up daily.. ok oak trees give me nightmares. Seriously... they are also one of those great creepy trees all gnarled and lumpy.. seeming to reach out at you at night. Only ones more spooky are the moss covered groves in the south lol. I like oak....as flooring or maybe a nice piece of furniture.

 Redbuds will always be a favorite. After a rain the bark is almost black and the vivid intense pink flowers had this ability to fight back the rainy gloom. When I see pictures of Redbuds it is almost always on a sunny day.. they fail to capture it's magic.

 Yes.. I love trees. I appreciate them immensely. They offer shelter, food, comfort and so much more. They also can teach you a lesson.. like the one my next older sister learned... the only thing worse than biting into an apple and finding a worm.. is biting in and finding only half a worm.

Saving Tomato Seeds

 I cringe when I see someone seeding tomatoes and then dumping the seeds. All part of my obsessive compulsion and need to grow them.. I have to fight the urge to scoop them up and run. Not every tomato makes it to the list.. just the ones after a quick taste that I find worthy. 

 Some of the grocery store tomatoes are specifically bred to handle being transported, uniform size, uniform ripening... in other words.. taste plays little role. Sad really.. as it is one of those fruit so common in our diets, but we are so trained to select the perfect looking specimen and miss the fact the weird and sometimes gross looking ones taste divine. 

 The resurgence of heirlooms and obscure strains are making a comeback. As more people declare themselves foodies..and chefs push the envelope.. they often lead the way in selecting food according to taste. For the tomato... this is a wonderful thing. 

 Tomato seeds are covered in a gel coat that naturally contains germination inhibitors.
Removing the gel coating is generally done by means of fermentation. Super simple.. it is basically adding the seeds (and some of the tomato juice, or a bit of water) in a container with a lid.. closing it up and allowing it to sit in a spot out of direct light. I use a glass jar and give it a shake maybe once a day. You are waiting for the fungus and bacteria to work their magic. With a glass jar.. I can keep an eye on the seeds and see when the gel coating has come off. It takes a few days, but when I see the coats have slipped off.. I shake the jar really well and and a bunch of water. The viable seed will sink and the tomato bits & fungus will float. I pour that off, add more water and repeat the process. Then I pour them out onto a coffee filter and move them around every few hours so they don't stick. You don't want to put them on paper towel to dry as they will cement themselves to it. Whatever surface you decide to dry them on.. make sure you move them as they are initially drying and try to keep them spaced out a bit with decent air flow.

It is a smelly process. If you know for sure that the tomatoes are from healthy plants.. you can skip some of the scent in this endeavor by putting just the tiniest bit of dish soap in the mix. I mean we are talking a scant drop to a full quart. 

If the plants are diseased.. it would take more drastic measures to try to save them. There are treatments like hot water, bleach dip, tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) to name a few. If it is a virus and it is in the embryo, not much really you can do. Tobacco Mosaic Virus is one of those pesky pathogens.

This is also why you want to make sure you clean all equipment between each use in a quick bleach dip or hydrogen peroxide. Better to be cautious than potentially infect further batches because you didn't take 2 minutes to clean the jar or strainer properly.

Paste tomatoes take more effort as they are by design selected to be meatier and have less seeds.If you like drying tomatoes to preserve them or even sauces.. when you save seeds keep in mind the traits you want and select accordingly.

In a dry location with good air flow and minimal light it takes roughly two weeks to dry the seeds. The way you test them is to bend a seed in half (easier said than done with some of those tiny ones!) and when it is dry enough.. it will snap in half. If it bends, it has too much moisture still.

Make sure you write in permanent ink on the coffee filter what type of seeds they are unless if your whole approach is to be surprised until they fruit.

If you can.. try to save seeds from several plants. Tomatoes are one of those lovely seeds that can store for a very long time. Keeping them in a paper envelope in an airtight jar which is stored out of light.. at 6 years you still should have 80% or better germination. Even at 12 years you should have over 50% germination. Like with peppers, tomato seeds brought down to 3% moisture can be stored in the freezer for decades. 

The key is keeping moisture low, controlling temperature and darkness. From just a few tomatoes, you can in fact get enough seeds to last you many years. (Usually they are self fertile.. wind moving the plant is often the main means of pollination... however... insects can cross pollinate them. This year I have particularly diligent bumblebees and I watch them almost daily hit up the tomato flowers.)

It is easy to do and economical. Currently a rough average is about $3 to $3.50 for 25 seeds.  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My sister's surprise visit... dinner.. stock

 So she just happened to be driving by on her way from Las Vegas to Chicago... with my Mom's massive mutts in tow. My Mom has these 2 rather huge black dogs that are rather neurotic quirky. They are moving back to New York and the great shuffle has begun. 

 It took the dogs less than 2 seconds after my sister kidnapped my daughter to go shopping for the dogs to discover and roll in the compost pile. My big fluffy moron dog joined in of course as he is just thrilled to pieces to have buddies over to play. So after securing the pile from re-entry..out came the hose, shampoo, and dog brushes and we set out to destink the critters. As tempted as I was to leave them crusty... much like my sister has done to my child.. I was nice. (My sisters found it hilarious to encourage my daughter, when she was a toddler, to rub applesauce all over herself as I walked in the door.) Our dog wasn't keen on it, but oddly my Mom's dogs thought bath time was the best thing ever. Our dog, not wanting to be left out, also got spiffed up. Our yard now looks like hundreds of black sheep spontaneously combusted into piles of fluff. 

 They ran themselves ragged while drying off and then passed out inside in the air conditioning while I then went to work on the gardens. I *thought* they were napping.. until this morning. The oldest and largest dog, Toby, is actually a wolf hybrid. Found at an animal rescue, Mom my had no idea other than it was a "shepard mix" until the vet pointed out some key features and expressed his concern. Toby is nuttier than a walnut grove a big chicken and a total momma's boy. So when he gets worried.. he hides food. And that would explain the milk bones in my shoes, in the couch, behind the toilet, under the baker's rack, in the closet, in my daughter's room, in my purse, in my husband's backpack... you get the idea. We may be finding these dang dog treats for months yet.

 Meanwhile I weeded, watered and picked a bunch of things for dinner. Aside from the chicken, olive oil, and a few seasonings, the rest was all from the garden. As my sister also has a keen fondness for vegetables, I went overboard. 

Salad of baby beet thinnings, cherry and grape tomatoes, shredded carrot, baby romaine lettuce, basil leaves, roasted red peppers, parsley, zucchini, chive flowers in a mild garlic vinegrette

Roasted chicken with summer savory, garlic, olive oil, sea salt and pepper

Roasted vegetables (beets, turnips, kohlrabi, potatoes, carrots) little olive oil and sea salt.

Spicy ginger garlic green beans with beet stems. (heat olive oil and toss in 2 thai chili peppers.. remove peppers once they are cooked.. then add diced onion, let get translucent, then add green beans and garlic... at the end add a nub of grated ginger, dash of salt and pepper.)

Mixed greens- kale, beet greens, kohlrabi greens, turnip greens. (heat olive oil.. sautee diced onion. Add in greens cut in big ribbons/ really rough chop -stems removed-  once wilted add in minced garlic, salt & pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Taste.. may need a pinch of sugar.)

Yeah... a lot of green going on. It was a very very big meal, and we will be eating leftovers for days, but it is one that you feel full without going into a coma. Well... unless you are my husband and eat 3 massive plates full. After the second plate he fell into food coma... then woke up to get a 3rd plate. I think he liked it. 

 Today my husband and daughter zeroed in on the salad for lunch, tossing in some cut up chicken and grabbed a few pieces of garlic bread with parmesan and mozzarella. My husband's version of a salad bowl is what most retailers would describe as a mixing bowl or potentially a small vat able to submerse a vehicle. 

While you can cook the kohlrabi leaves.. the stems tend to be really bitter and fibrous. Beets, when not too old.. the stems are like swiss chard (swiss chard is a beet family member). The carrot greens are also edible, but I tend to use them when I make stock. 

In actuality.. the drippings from the chicken I reserved. I will put the drippings in a massive stock pot today.. onion, celery will be sauteed.. bones saved in my freezer will be added.. and a lot of water. Then the carrot tops and garlic.. and it will stew for about 2 hours. The stock will be cooled.. and the fat skimmed off. 

 You can't beat homemade stock. Come winter I use it all the time when I make soups, stews, chicken and dumplings, chicken pot pies, etc. The ones from the stores all taste.. well.. like not much of anything and they are usually so full of salt and ingredients I don't want.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Famine Foods, Diversity, Haunting Past

I found this site and I had to share it. Mainly because foraging is fun and it intrigued me, but also because these are non-typical potential garden additions as well. 

The initial site is called Famine Foods and it is something I most likely will be lost in for several days lol.

While we grow the same assortment of crops all of the time, in the past this notion was a luxury. The end result is a serious loss of variety in diet, and a massive loss in cultivars. Although now we are spoiled with only eating what we like/know best... I am curious so find out if these off the beaten path plants may be a welcome addition.

Like wood sorrel.. a plant that's unique taste instantly makes me remember being a little kid and hanging out with my friends. We used to munch on it all the time, and I love it. Really wish we had that around here, as I think my daughter would appreciate it too.

There was another plant, chickweed, that we would pick for our pet birds (budgies and cockatiels) and they loved it. It grew around the house and we would give them a big handful that they would devour. My Mom showed us as kids the plant and where it liked to grow. (During WW2 she was a very little kid in Germany. Their apartment building got bombed so to survive, they went to live with family in the countryside. One of her jobs was to pick chickweed to feed the chickens and the pig... until the pig was stolen.)

That time of her life left an impression.. a big massive one that her twin sisters did not obtain as they were infants at the time. It would be why she has 2 farms. Yep.. 2.. because one that is 75 acres is more remote, has the old orchard, the forested area with black walnuts, black raspberries, a cistern, a spring, tons of edible wild mushrooms, the huge asparagus patch, root cellar, wild grapes, the deer and turkey galore, etc.. it is the security of knowing "just in case", it's covered. The second farm is 20 acres and is... well.. not the typical farmhouse. It is modern (first one is well over 100 years old).. big kitchen, big house.. so on went solar panels and she's still debating the wind turbine. Her kitchen garden is 5 acres. Irony is she can grow houseplants, but veggies are not her strong suit.. so she just counters that with massive plantings. 

Anyways... she passed on the appreciation for foraging. Where she did it as a kid to help the family get by, it is enjoyable and fun.  My Grandmother was always one to walk the whole farm (even well into her late 70's) when she came to visit.. picking whatever was ready. Jams, preserves, pickles... and she thought the elderly widower farmer next door was hot .. which lead to the summer of sauerkraut. My Mom drew the line at the juniper berries... Oma was trying to gear up to make gin. They dried the 5 bushels Oma picked, sold some at the farmer's market and kept 2 pounds for seasoning in recipes.

From a practical point of view.. variety means there is always something to harvest. Every season there is some issue or another.. the rarity is the ideal. Too cold, too hot, too wet, too dry... what may be detrimental for one crop, may be ideal for another.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Everyone has to start somewhere..

 I've helped a few people this year with either starting a garden, plants for their garden, sharing vermicompost, explaining how to brew teas, identifying the source of troubles... and identifying bugs. Lovely my husband has wandered home a few times with a plastic container with various pests...  for heaven's sake... email me a dang picture already! Seriously... you don't need to send me your squash bugs, cucumber beetles, aphids, earwigs, assorted caterpillars! 

 I do find it hilarious that some of them are so intrigued by the balance of bugs and are quite interested in beneficial bugs.. that THEY LOCK UP THE PRAYING MANTIS! No joke.. at my husband's work they discovered a mantis on the potted cherry tomato plant.. and in the efforts to protect this bug, they move the whole big pot into a sheltered caged area next to the building every night after work. Who knows why they zeroed in on this particular one.. maybe it speaks to their secret inner ninja. 

 Some.. I just try to stay away as they drive me nuts. Just a few doors down is one of those nitwits. That would be the least offensive way to describe her.. she may be the ultimate walking contradiction, and yet is completely oblivious about it. Example.. .. her husband built rather elaborate decks for multi-million dollar homes.. yet she won't let him build the raised bed as she doesn't think he can do it.. so she paid someone else who does landscaping $500 to build 2 raised beds that are 3' x 6' and only 1 board high. High may be the operative word here.

 I try to stay clear of her as much as possible. It is hard though as she wanders over often to borrow the shovel.. the pitchfork.. the clippers.. frequently forgetting to close the gate and letting my dog out. She has these tools, I don't know why she uses mine.

 I get the excited phone calls when something new can be picked from their gardens. I never get tired of the updates. Always learning something new... like eating cosmos hasn't killed anyone yet, but they made horrible pickles. 

Yeah... I need to be better about making sure things are labeled (using a sharpie.. as many other writing implements may wash away..) before offering transplants to brand spanking new gardeners. I tend to forget that not everyone knows what a tomato plant looks like.. or some herbs. It's times like when someone makes a big pot of mint tea that they realize their friends on facebook can't tell mint apart from hops. (Yep.. same one that made pickles with cosmos).

 They bring me endless laughter. It is only a matter of time until the next mishap. Irony is they are total peace, love, hippy, healthnuts that pride themselves on being so outdoorsy. Stick to the trails my friends.. as after 6 run-ins with poison ivy you still can not identify it. They did learn a lot from these experiences.. like don't listen to Charlie when he offers you water to rinse it off and says to rub it vigorously to get it off. Still the skinny dipping story makes me cry with laughter. Short version.. while trying to avoid detection as a group of hikers went by.. and clothes were out of range... he apparently was hiding behind a tree in a patch of poison ivy. They are an endless treasure trove of the hilarious.

 So when Tom calls and asks what type of round zucchini he has.. because it grew out of his compost.. and he prefers the "stick shaped" kind.. I just giggle and remind him of the birdhouse gourds from Halloween.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bees and Buddies

First clue you have leaf cutters.. when it looks like cookie monster visited your roses..
 They like leaves with serrated edges it seems. I don't mind a few bites missing and the rose bush can handle some missing bits as it is overgrown anyways.
   One day I will identify this particular type of dragonfly. Yes, I am finicky like that.. just saying I have "blue and green" ones and "gold colored" ones is too vague and bothers me. I like knowing what they are, what they like, etc.
 Yellow jacket cleaning their face. Gourds have foiled my eradication attempts and the arrow shaped leaves just out of focus would be the ever evil bindweed. *Sigh* weeding is never ending. 
   Honeybee sticking her tongue out and getting some breakfast. Because the honeybees and tons of assorted pollinators are so wild about squash and gourd blooms I try to have at least one decent sized patch every year. Several dozen blooms each morning keeps a good sized cloud of them busy. Last year I had so many gourds that the bees would land and leave pollen prints everywhere. 
 Squash bees, Mason bees, Carpenter bees, Sweat bees, Leaf cutter bees, Honey bees, Wasp of several types... my yard has quite the assortment. Yeah, my garden would be more productive if I would focus more on growing things we need vs obsessing about the pollinators. However when we moved here in 2002 there were not so many pollinators and I saw very very few honeybees... mostly we had yellow jackets if anything. 
 My buzzing mass of bug buddies leave no flower untouched. It makes saving seeds a challenge but always good fruit set and more viable seed. If you have ever had poor fruit set or misshapen fruit on plants you nurture and tend to intensely... you don't take pollinators for granted. 
 The honeybees are after something in the vermicompost or the organic kelp fertilizer. Just something I noticed. They changed their favorite drinking spot after I used those on the container plants and now only the yellow jackets drink from the trays. It must offer some sort of nutrient they crave. If it keeps them coming to my yard... I will keep putting it out! I'm mesmerized by these honey bees as they are so docile.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Random Garden Pictures

This is the year of the bad bad bugs. The tomatoes are doing their best and there are tons in varying stages of ripening. Yet... something is wrong with some of them. I suspect a virus transferred by thrips, but it seems to only effect every other plant. The leaves are rolled up on a few, not quite as big as they should be.. but other than that the plants are showing no other signs of disease. No spots, no discoloration, still flowering like mad and setting fruit like mad. The source.. I suspect the neighbors and their contaminated garden store plants. Until this year I have never ever had issues with tomato diseases (and it nailed the potatoes too).. and the transplants I gave to friends all are thriving. The only thing that was new is the hanging pots with tomatoes the neighbors got (their patio is right next to ours and only separated by a fence).. and I had hanging pots with some extra tomatoes too that were maybe a foot away. Live and learn. Their tomatoes all died, but mine are still going. Seeds will only be saved from one of my raised beds which is not effected at all. Should be interesting lol.. Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Red Cherry, Yellow Pear, Queen Anne, and some Grape tomatoes... I watched a bumblebee visit each flower of 1 plant and then move to the next systematically and in turn got every single tomato flower. No clue what the heck that wild crossing will offer, but I can't wait to find out!
 The onions are flowering. They just started opening today. These should offer a brown skinned rather sweet but not bland onion. Onion seeds have a very short storage life, so these will be started in January to be transplanted in early spring. The sweetness of onion varieties also depends on how much sulphur is NOT in your soil as well as watering.
 The purple flowers in the background are yet more radishes... lol I will take pictures of what I have curing... seriously I need more radishes like we need more taxes.
Romain lettuce bolting. These took forever to bolt. They also took a long time to grow, but are my family's favorite lettuce. I don't know if I could ever grow enough of it to fill my family's needs. While I love an assortment of greens in general, this is as close as they get. They can cruise through 3 heads a day without trying. Lastly.. for the moment anyways... the Kohlrabi are finally ready to be picked! YAY!

Mystery Bug- friend or foe?

I am not sure what this is. I have been trying to look it up for awhile now. It is on the perennial sunflowers, so i am not overly concerned, but still really would like to know what it is.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rough Day

 Just one of those rough days today where my health directly prohibits me from trying to tackle my to do list. It's really hard to be focused or even positive.

 Oh Acme Anvil... where are you when I need you? 

 I gathered a few more seeds, tried doing some weeding, made an attempt to turn the compost. 

Today I just can't quite ignore the pain or the internal chaos long enough to get much done. It is a fight just to keep myself together enough to not cry and be able take care of my daughter. I hurt and feel so ill that it is hard to think of anything else.

  Really hard not to be bitter. I don't think I can avoid it right now.. especially when it seems so unfair that the "prime" years most of my 20's and all of my 30's have been lost to unhealth... especially when it could have been avoided if only I had help. 

 Anyways... life goes on.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Soil Prep and Solar Oven on wishlist

 So while the heat is on and the sun is out... I am preparing a few things for winter. It is hard to think of winter right now when it is in the high 80's to 90's but getting a few things accomplished now will make things easier later.

 I have the big tub on the covered patio filled with water. I am soaking the pots and trays to help loosen the dirt still stuck to them. They will get a thorough brushing and rinse and the dirt laden water will be poured into the flowers. 

 The rubbermaid tote will get a quick spritz with dilute bleach solution (1 part bleach to 8 parts water), the pots and trays will get a quick dunk in the same solution and then allowed to completely dry. I am not a fan of using bleach unless I need to, but these items will all be used for starting transplants. Damping off and any other plant pathogens will be destroyed through this process. The propagation unit as well will be wiped down with the bleach solution. Later, when I am done for the season, all tools that will be used for starting the transplants as well will be sterilized.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  Benjamin Franklin

 On to soil prep, which I will be doing the next few days. This is where I wish I had a solar oven. I should look into making one. Anyways.. creating your own sterilized seed starting mix is as easy as combining spent potting soil, sand and compost, then heating the mix to 180 degrees for a few minutes. As some mixes can get a tad.... aromatic... when heated, this is something you want to do outside if possible. I use a thermometer and an old enamel pot that I acquired somehow over the years. No doubt you can probably find them at thrift stores.

 I don't add fertilizers when creating a seed starting mix. You do want good drainage, but not excessive nutrients. The reason... damping off and various other fungus that can ravage new seedlings also feed off of these nutrients.

 Vermicompost I don't sterilize. I seem to not do as good of a job screening it either as it is not uncommon for me to find worms in the pots of plants I am setting in the garden. I do mix it with sand to keep drainage and break it up a bit. Straight vermicompost isn't the best medium to start seeds as it can dry on top and create a very hard surface.

 Ok... enough stalling. I better get outside and get to work.

Dried Peas

 I have ripped out most of the peas that finished, although I have more than a few odd stragglers which refuse to die and are not showing signs of disease... so I let them be. I plant them for the crop they offer and just as importantly, for their nitrogen fixing properties. Gotta love multiple purpose crops, especially ones that leave the soil in better condition than when they were planted.

Peas are one of those plants that you need to pick frequently to get the most production out of them. They are one of the earlier crops to harvest. Usually the first few rounds of picking for us go right into whatever I am making for dinner. Really sweet ones get quickly blanched and also tossed into salads or ones like sugar snap peas get devoured for snacks.

 At a certain point... the family begins to rebel.. and I start blanching and freezing the shelling peas. Snow peas and sugar snap peas get shared with friends and neighbors as I have yet to find a way to put them up that my family will eat later.

 Some peas I dry for use in the winter in soups and stews. I pick them when they are wrinkling, but not totally dry and let them finish up indoors. This way they can focus their energy on the immature pods. The ones I leave for seed I do let dry out as much as possible like in the picture above. If I need the space sooner rather than later or the weather does not comply, the whole vine can be cut and hung so the peas can finish drying.

These peas are from the variety Alaska and are fully dried. The smooth dried peas are varieties with a higher starch content than the wrinkled dry peas. Smooth coated seeds are generally the type dried and then used for things like split pea soup.

 I try to save at least 2 years worth of plantings in seeds at the minimum, usually I try to aim for enough for 5 years.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A must see.. Monsanto

I realize this is a long video. It is however extremely important. My only regret is that it isn't common knowledge. This is disturbing on so many levels.. from a worldwide perspective down to the effects of your backyard, and even more so... what you and your children consume.

So when you reach for that bottle of herbicide... you may want to know more about the ethics of the company you are supporting.... and their intentions that already impact your health whether you realize it or not.