Garden 2011

I should probably be required to write:

I am a bad blogger. I am a bad blogger. I am a bad blogger. I am a bad blogger….

(you get the idea)

At least 100 times on the blackboard.

Sigh.

Funny how completely working and just accomplishing those basic activities of daily living still leave me completely incapacitated at the end of the day.

I makes me REALLY look forward to the day when it won’t be that way. Please, dear Lord, let there be that day one day soon!

Tonight – after dinner, John and I walked out to the garden to see how things are progressing. The remainder of those post is going to pretty much be photos with a few comments.

Enjoy our garden.

We sure are!

…..

The hydrangea is finally in bloom! In August, for heaven’s sake! I love that it blooms right outside the kitchen window.

Here’s a peek at the “new” garden – this is the plot we put in a few years ago and is adjacent to the “old” garden.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that my Romanesco Zucchini is finally putting out fruit! HOORAY! These plants were grown from seed saved from last year’s planting. I love it when a plan comes together!

TONS of grey zucchini blooms coming on the plant.

And with John’s brilliant new fencing job around both garden plots – it looks like we’ll actually get to eat the green beans this year – instead of the chickens and the deer! I can’t tell you how much that thrill my heart. J

John found a volunteer trio of sunflower plants in the pathway between the two garden plots, dug ’em up and planted them next to one of the cucumber trellises – it’s about to bloom – I can’t wait!

Look! Pickling cucumbers actually usable size! Hooray!

…and the first burpless cuke – just about ready for picking.

The lemon cucumber has lots and lots of blossoms – just no cukes yet. (They make the best Cucumber and Green Onion Salad. I can’t wait!)

Tomato plants…. Lots and lots of tomato plants…

Cherry tomatoes! Now all we need is enough sun to get them ripened up!

Look! It’s blushing!

Jessica – just in case you read this – there will be fresh green beans when you’re home – AND – squash. J

Can you believe this? I’ve still got lettuce in August!

The peppers are ripening up.

And the potato plants in the potato condo are at least 6 feet tall!

Yes, it’s true – there are actually still a few pea pods to be had.

And…

:sigh:

They’re back…

Did I mention that I’ve got 50 tomato plants planted in my gardens? And – oh – probably that same number of basil plants, too?

Squash and zucchini. Be still my heart.

Holding out hope for lots more sunny days – even if they’re on the cool-ish side, I’m okay with that.

Here’s to another 60 days of summer! J

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Garden?!

[Weed infested excuse for a garden!]

What garden?

Ohhhh… yeah. We did plant a garden this year, didn’t we?

A garden we had high hopes for, in fact.

[One of our most prolific items in the garden this year – thistles! They abound!]

Yeah… sad, sad story.

We’re still kinda pondering the turn of events – the outcomes, as they are at present. Trying to figure out, “What went wrong?!”

There have been factors to consider…

…weather – truly horrible garden weather.

…deer – we’ve fenced in a fairly complex manner – I’m amazed they can still get in!

…soil quality – we’ve begun to feel that this may be our biggest issue at hand.

[Can you believe this is all the corn that’s survived?! So much for knee high by the 4th of July!]

In years past we’ve begun dealing with the soil as soon as the summer’s harvest has been completed. We layer fallen leaves, grass clippings, compost, and organic matter all on the garden plot(s). The past several years the girls have done an amazing job of tilling in all of those things – leaving us with a beautiful soil consistency and composition.

The past two years – at the conclusion of a full year of deep litter coop management – we’ve transferred the deep litter to the garden plots. Last year we did so in January. This year, in April. (It was a crazy year – what can we say?!) Both years the girls did a lovely job of tilling the litter into the soil.

[We will likely refer to this as the year of the green bean – those, we can grow! This is green bean plot number 3.]

We usually till the soil anywhere between 3 and 6 times before we get our garden planted each year. After we’ve got either seedlings in the ground, or items that have been direct seeded have sprouted and grown sufficiently, we go to the next step.

That step involves putting down a layer of DE (Diatomaceous Earth); a layer of newspaper or brown craft paper (i.e., brown grocery bags) – making sure to tear the paper so that the base of the plant is not too smothered; then we put down soaker hoses; and finally, we typically purchase a load of organic compost from the local lumber company, and spread several inches worth over the garden plots. These steps do a number of things: help with pest control, build up the soil quality, reduce the amount we need to water, and help with weed control.

[Two types of green beans here – the ones on the left are Blue Lake Pole beans. On the right, the asparagus beans I was SO excited to try. Yeah… not so impressive, are they?]

[Asparagus green beans.]

[Blue Lake Pole green beans. Planted the same day. Draw your own conclusions!]

It’s a great system – and has worked beautifully.

This year we had some twists in the plot, though. With my illness and prolonged recovery, and the resultant financial strains that accompanied it – we couldn’t afford to bring in the compost; the time I’ve been able to devote actually in the garden has been curtailed due to greatly compromised stamina (not to mention having to work away from the home, as well); and our soaker hoses are pretty much toasted, and we just can’t afford to replace them at this point in time.

[Apparently, I am still able to grow a decent plot of basil, at least! Phew! I was starting to feel a little paranoid!]

The weather has also played a part – and not just in regard to the fact that things got in the ground a solid month later than is typical for us. One of the things that we’ve heard from some old timers is that the very heavy rains we experienced in the Spring could well have washed vital nutrients from the soil.

[Pretty much NONE of the 20 cucumber plants made it. This is a store bought that we broke down and put in the ground when it became apparent that the others weren’t gonna make it. And yes, that’s a straggler at the bottom of the picture…. 6 weeks later!]

Compound that with the fact that our deep litter method in the coop uses wood shavings (but no cedar – which has a known growth inhibitor in it) – well, we’ve begun to suspect that our soil may well just be really, really wacked out.

Cases in point:

  1. We couldn’t even get marigolds to grow!
  2. Zucchini wouldn’t sprout.
  3. Cucumbers wouldn’t move past seedling stage.
  4. Tomatoes – which normally go crazy wild here – have struggled merely to survive. The majority of them have died off. By now, most of them are as tall as I am. They most vigorous ones are merely knee high.
  5. Virtually all of the flower seed that I planted simply did NOTHING. We’ve always had wild success with flower seed!

Needless to say, it’s been pretty discouraging.

[Okay, we may amend it to be called the year of the green bean AND the potato condo! The potatoes are doing nicely.]

For a number of reasons, of course. First – the financial loss. About the last thing we need right now with all of the medical bills and the fact that I’m still in the recovery mode! Second – so much hard work – down the drain. Ugh! Third – we’re scrapping our plans for a fall garden now – if the soil is bad, why even go there?

[Volunteer lobelia… Which is pretty wild, ’cause I haven’t put any in this garden plot, and the one I did put it in, it’s been 3 years since there was any there!]

The plan right now is to see if we can’t get the soil tested. There used to be an extension office in our little community, we’re going to investigate and see if they’re still there and ask how much it will cost.

[Stinking deer grazed right through my lettuce patch!]

We’ve been working hard at getting the battle with the horrible, invasive weed problem won. We’re about 65% of the way there. Once it’s all weeded, we’ll fertilize with fish emulsion, water well, put down the paper, and then mulch with straw. We gave up the newspaper in our cost-cutting measures, so I’ll put a “want” out on Freecycle to see if we can’t get our hands on some. We have the straw on hand, and it’s what we can afford right now.

[Yes, an actual tomato blossom. There may still be some hope for a few tomatoes from this garden. Certainly won’t be the bounty of years past!]

And a dear friend and neighbor has a connection to a farm that will not only will give away manure (as in FREE), but they will also load it for you. Said dear friend and neighbor has also volunteered the use of his truck for said venture – a huge blessing! We will plan to take advantage of this wonderful offer in the fall – giving the manure plenty of time to age and compost down.

[Only one out of 30 of my hard-fought for Romanesco Zucchini seeds germinated and made it past seedling stage. I could weep!]

And – depending on the results of a soil test (I’m really hoping this is an affordable thing!), we’ll plan on growing an appropriate winter cover crop(s) in answer to whatever our soil might need.

Accordingly – the plans we’d made for the yields from our planned for garden have been amended.

The few tomatoes we are lucky enough to harvest will likely go for immediate consumption. If we’re fortunate enough to have some excess, I will can tomato sauce or diced tomatoes.

[The dill has actually done fairly well – at least in comparison to lots of other stuff!]

The dreams I had of pickling all sorts of bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, and dill pickle relish – not going to happen unless we find a good deal at a u-pick somewhere nearby. At least there will be a few slicing cucumbers available for munching on!

[A few struggling squash plants…]

But that’s life, right?

When things don’t necessarily go as well as you’d experienced in the past, or hoped for for the future – you analyze, you prayerfully consider, you seek wise counsel, and you go forward with a new plan.

I will say – one thing that we have oodles of is…. (drum roll please…)

…luscious blackberries!

I ate the first truly ripe and perfect one today.

I’m thinking I may get to harvest the first batch tomorrow, and I’ll probably make syrup with it. Or… if there are enough, maybe a batch of jam!

Such is life.

We’ll move forward.

And count the blessings for exactly what they are – gifts from the hand of our Mighty and Faithful God!

Getting Ready for Winter

This is a very pretty flower I picked up at Home Depot in late Spring. I wanted it in the vegetable garden because I felt it would attract pollinators. It did. It’s lovely. And, it’s pretty darn hardy. Today I transplanted it out of the garden – which hopefully will get tilled tomorrow – and into planters on the front porch. Here’s the info about this flower – Sunny Day Tickseed – a type of coreopsis. But you wanna know what bugs me about this plant? This little blurb on the plant identifier tag: “Protected by US Patent Laws and/or Canadian Plant Breeder’s Rights. Illegal propagation is prohibited.” Okay – how stupid is that?! I’m sure someone somewhere thinks it’s a good thing to have intellectual property rights to the propagation of this plant – but one has to wonder… what if it accidentally is propagated naturally? Will I be prosecuted? Ugh!

I hope this pictures comes out okay… In the background – see that truly BIG pile of leaves? The boys worked hard today to amass it. They’re planning on building a fort from the raked up leaves. Ummm… today was one of those rare REALLY blustery days here in Oregon. Supposed to be tomorrow, too… This Mom can’t help but wonder if this plan may somehow be, well, difficult to execute fully. 🙂

ALL of the animals are loving the leaves. Pepper likes to roll in them. Jake and Caleb like to curl up in them. The chickens like to scratch through them… And soon, I hope, they will be moved to my compost heap – helping to make wonderful compost for my garden one of these days!


Today John worked hard to finish up pulling up all of the remnants of the garden. The chickens LOVED following behind and scratching through everything.


Wow – it’s that time of year ago – time to start strategizing what next year’s garden will be.

It’s wild how strange it is that we’ve come full circle. No more green beans… This will be my garlic patch – and soon! Thanks to Danni‘s and Melinda‘s examples and excellent information – I will FINALLY – after years of feeling completely inadequate and definitely not smart enough to attempt it – plant my first garlic patch. Woo Hoo! I’ll be sure to report later!

And here is my piled-high compost heap. The girls are investingating – trying to determine if there’s anything worth finding in there.

And here is my new composter. Kinda wild, huh? It’s called Earthmaker – it’s an Aerobic Composter. It involves a three step process – it has three different compartments – see?

Interesting, huh? I like it thus far, and will be sure to give updates as to how effective it is – or is not!

It occurred to me today – Hey! I should harvest the seed from my basil! Why have I never thought of that before? So, I went out with my scissors and a saran wrapped basket (so anything that escapes a seed pod will not be lost between the slats of the basket), and went to work. Here’s a peek. I’ll probably get around to coaxing the seed out of the pods tomorrow – I’ll be sure to report back! But here’s a great resource I found online about harvesting basil seed.

So – it’s true… it’s full force fall with winter on the way. I find it nearly impossible to believe it’s only a week until November. But I think I’m ready for it now. I think the fact that it hasn’t been horribly soggy has helped. I may even be ready for the rain. We’ll see!

I was wrong!

Remember the mondo egg? The 2 and 7/8ths ounce one? Here’s a picture:

And remember how we thought it was BB who had laid it?

Well – I was wrong! It wasn’t BB at all – it was Millie! Here she is below – she’s the darkest of our Rhode Island Reds – and has the sweetest temperment. Not only has she laid that one mondo egg – she has followed it up a couple of times now with others of exact same size! She’s kind of coming into her stride egg-laying wise. She’s laying pretty much daily now and the majority of the time her eggs are right between the 2 oz and 2.25 oz range.

Remember my late planting of the Scarlet Runner Beans? Well, they worked hard and finally filled out – and produced the most beautiful peachy color blossoms… See?

Here’s a picture of the other planting on the other side of the trellis:

These ones (which I can never remember what they’re called) have a pretty little yellow flower.

And this is what they look like now – after the deer came to visit my garden:

I’m not feeling very warm or fuzzy toward the deer right now. Grrrr!

On Saturday late afternoon – with the skies and the weather forecast predicting rain, we realized we ought to pull the ripe tomatoes in. When all was said and done – we picked about 120 pounds of tomatoes of various varieties…

We love the stripey yellow/orange/red tomatoes that you can see below. They are so sweet and robust tasting.

We decided to try a yellow Roma this year. Wow – they’re gorgeous! And tasty!

We always plant cherry tomatoes, and grape tomatoes, and pear tomatoes, and… you get the idea. This year we planted a variety called sugar lump – here’s a good picture:

Here’s a couple of baskets full of the mini tomatoes. They’re amazing!

Thus far we’ve made pomodoro, diced tomatoes, tomato basil sauce, garlic tomato basil soup, and I’ve got about a gallon of peeleed and seeded tomatoes waiting to be processed.

This is the pomodoro, above; and the tomato basil tomato sauce below.

John’s Hungarian Wax peppers are nearly ready to harvest! Aren’t they pretty?

And just a few of his bell peppers… They’re nearly ready!

Henrietta – always willing to reassert her role as leader of the pack – loves to sit up on the lawn furniture. Here she is – on her throne – observing her minions!

And lest you think we’ve gotten all of the tomatoes that our garden will offer – THINK AGAIN!

These are from Wednesday evening.

That’s a BIG tomato, huh?

Guess I’ve got my work cut out for me! Our tomato plants are still pretty loaded and it’s supposed to be 90 on Monday – in the mid to high 80’s on days on either side of Monday. I’m thinking there’s gonna be lots more tomato processing!

Pesto!

It’s really been time to make pesto for at least a week – but time, you know – it just evaporates and then I find myself looking down a row of basil that just simply needs attention NOW! That’s where I found myself this afternoon – with a spare hour to my credit – so pesto had to happen!

Believe it or not, pesto is one of the easiest things to make. It doesn’t really take much – a couple of cups of basil leaves, some pine nuts, some garlic, some parmesan cheese, and some olive oil. Being the lazy girl that I am, I really feel strongly that a food processor is high up on the list of necessary ingredients of making pesto! 🙂

See – only takes up a little corner on my counter:


But of course, we start with the garden – where the basil is yelling, “Dina! Get out here! We need attention! NOW!”

Ideally, you want to wait until your basil plants are at least 10 inches tall before you start harvesting the leaves. And if you hadn’t heard it before, it’s time for you to know that plants that go to flower tend to be bitter – so you want to harvest when they start to flower. Important note: if you deadhead (i.e., pinch off the flowering part of the plant) it doesn’t actually halt the flowering of basil, it just spurs the plant to produce more flowers. Rather than deadhead, cut at least six leaf pairs down the stem. The plant will then begin leaf production again – giving you more to harvest soon! (See Organic Gardening magazine for some excellent resources on growing basil.)

So – as you can see, this plant is definitely at least 10 inches tall – in fact, it’s 18 inches tall – so time to harvest! A good rule of thumb is to cut the stems just above the second set of leaves (counting from the ground up). This will cause new stems to form at this juncture. (Cool, huh?) If you trim your basil often – every 10 days or even less – the better flavor your basil will have.


Here’s the same plant after it’s little – ahem – hair cut.


Not a bad harvest, huh? And just to make sure we’ve got some truth in advertising going on here, this is harvest from TWO plants, not just one.


I typically put the collander in the sink, pull the leaves from the stems, and put the just pulled leaf into the collander. The work goes pretty quickly. I pull all of the leaves I can possibly get from a stem – avoiding any flower or seed “spikes” that are at the apex of the stem.


Once all of the leaves have been pulled from the stems, I wash them thoroughly – seriously, can take up to five full minutes to make sure they’re thoroughly clean!


That was a lot of leaves, huh? Would you have guessed it was only 4 cups of leaves? Make sure to pack those leaves down pretty firmly – and don’t forget to drain out any excess water that might settle to the measuring cup. (By the way, I’m making a double batch here.)


The step I forgot to take a picture of is the one where you throw those leaves into the food processor and pulse until they’re pretty finely chopped.

Next, you add the pine nuts. I used about 7 tablespoons of them. Also, some people prefer walnuts – it’s fine to use either, but I love the pine nuts myself. Pulse some more, until they are chopped and incorporated.


Now you add the garlic. Some people keep minced garlic on hand. See – true confessions come out there… I’ve got a bad attitude about the minced garlic you get in the jar – I just really don’t think it tastes as good or fresh (well, cause it isn’t!). I, of course, recognize that for some folks it really is the best choice for them – but for me, not. Soooo… if you add minced garlic, you don’t need to pulse much here – if at all. If you add cloves of garlic, make sure you pulse until they are minced and incorporated. The recipe calls for 3 garlic cloves – being the garlic-loving girl that I am, I usually double that.


Now the parmesan cheese. Again – going back to the lazy girl thing – while I could pull out the microplane and hunk of parmesan and grate like crazy to get the 1/2 of a cup of parmy, but instead, I hit the freezer for my handy bag of frozen shredded parmesan from Costco. Hey, it works! Go ahead and pulse to incorporate the cheese.


Now, while the food processor is running, gradually add in the 1 cup of olive oil. I use extra virgin olive oil – use whatever you prefer.

Then, I do something that really isn’t called for in any of the recipes that I’ve seen yet, but I do just ’cause I like it this way: I transfer the ingredients from the food processor into a mixing bowl and throw in about another 1/4th a cup of shredded parmesan and use a spatula to mix it in.

Now it’s time to package the pesto. I pretty much make it to put in the freezer – where it will store nicely for up to a year. Woo Hoo! I use 1-cup freezer containers and fill leaving just a little head space. I’ve found over the years that adding a little layer of olive oil on top of the pesto works wonders at keeping it fresh tasting once it’s thawed.

And – voila – I now have my first three 1-cup containers of pesto in the freezer for the coming year.

I think the best part about having basil plants in the garden is that it really only takes a few minutes to throw together a batch of pesto – whether it’s a small batch to be used immediately, or a larger batch to prepare for the freezer.

And just in case you don’t have a way to use your wonderful batch of pesto, here’s one of my favorite ways to do so:

Dina’s Favorite Pasta Salad

1 pound of orzo
3/4ths pound Italian roast beef (1/2 inch thick slice)
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
1 small zucchini (peeled, sliced thinly)
1 jar pickled baby corn
1/2 cup pickled carrots
1/4 cup pickled asparagus
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
5 green onions, sliced
1/3 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsalmic vinegar
3/4 cup pesto
1 large avocado, diced
6 small tomatoes, wedged

  1. Dice up pickled vegetables according to your personal preference. Combine all prepared vegetables (omitting avocado and tomatoes) into a large mixing bowl. Add diced italian roast beef. Toss together.
  2. Cook orzo according to directions. When done, drain – but DO NOT rinse. Toss the hot pasta with the vegetables and beef. (This will steam the vegetables a bit.
  3. Quickly add in and toss with the pesto, vinegars, and olive oil. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Shortly before serving add in grated parmesan cheese and avocado.
  6. Once completely mixed through, garnish with tomato wedges and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, as well as a few shavings of parmesan cheese. Serve.

Ta da!

Our Garden continues to grow…

You get busy with stuff and you turn around and bam! they go and grow up on you! Green beans of course! Can you believe how much they’ve poofed? And there are flowers forming all over the place! Woo Hoo!

Yay! An actual zucchini!

There will be squash for dinner tomorrow night! It is a little unfair, I’m afraid. Jess, my daughter, is away for the week – she’s my squash co-dependent, but in her absence I promise to do my very best to savor every succulent bite! 🙂

I hope this picture shows up okay… It’s a picture of a bumble bee – mid-flight – approaching a German Giant tomato blossom. He was so beautiful – I hoped to get maybe a snatch of a little glimpse of him in a photo – but wow – full-sized it’s quite the photo!

We’ve got a tomato explosion going on! There are green tomatoes everywhere! And they’re beautiful. I’ve got lots of plans for these babies!

Aren’t these the prettiest little pear tomatoes you ever did see?

This is a German Giant heirloom tomato – it’s the most unusual looking little start of a tomato – almost flat. With a name like German Giant you gotta wonder what kinda size this little fella is gonna develop into!You should smell the basil. It’s heavenly. I’m hoping to start making pesto in the next week. I make it up, put it in little freezer-friendly 1-cup containers, and then throw it in the freezer for use throughout the year. Even if I do say so myself, it’s wonderful. What a wonderful thing to thaw it out and be returned to the amazing smell of fresh basil in summer!
The cucumbers are getting bigger!

And John got the next bunch of green beans in. This side is a runner bean called Scarlet – I think they’ll be a great addition to our garden. I honestly can’t remember the name of the beans he planted on the other side, but I promise to try and investigate and report soon!

Here’s a better view of the trellis system that John built a couple of years ago. We’ve used them for cucumbers and peas in the past. It will be interesting to see how it works out for green beans!

They say it’ll rain tomorrow. Today is 22 days without rain. I’m ready for a little rain. It only makes sense, of course, I thorughly watered the garden today! 🙂

I hate weeds.

Yet, here you can see how very prolifically I grow them.


Late last August (2007) I had a total right hip replacement. Yes, I’m young – 44 years of age. But it was shot, and the old one had to go and the new one had to be “installed” – so to speak. In my hip class my classmates were blown away that I was “one of them.” Can I just say here and how that I have a WORLD of respect for older people who have a total hip replacement. That surgery can really kick your butt. And it’s not just a little recovery – it’s HUGE. Here I am 11 months since that surgery and I’m still adjusting, figuring out how to deal with the hip and my limitations, and finding myself truly shocked when I have a little season of time when my new hip feels “normal” or “natural.”

That all being said – let me just repeat: I hate weeds. A lot. I hated them before my hip replacement. I hate them now. Maybe a little more. Why? Because my knees both need to be replaced, my ankle is being studied for a possibility of being replaced, and I can cause myself a LOT of pain if I use the wrong body mechanics because of my new hip. And guess what – weeding is one of those “wrong” body mechanics. Yes, folks, if you drive past my yard you’ll see me bent over at the waist with my butt in the air pulling weeds. I wish there were some other way to do it – but there isn’t.

So, since it hurts I let them go much more than I ought to. I’m still trying to find a way to have a much less “weedy” garden. I think more mulch is part of it. Sadly, my supply for this year is dwindling and I’m not going to get another load full if it. We really are committed to organic gardening – so we continue to research and do lots of trial and error. I won’t be giving up gardening any time soon – that is for certain. So I’ve got to find some better weeding methodologies!

Isn’t Jake funny?

Cucumber flowers – woo hoo! This photo above are the Straight 8’s. The photo below is a bush cucumber plant. I think the flower on the bush is prettier, don’t you?

I’m so pleased to see how heartily my basil plants have taken off. It’s time to start using it! Pesto here we come!
The green beans are doing it again – nearly exploding with growth in phenomenally short periods of time. Wow! It won’t be long until we have beans!

LOOK! It’s an actual teensy, tiny yellow crookneck squash. It is actually conceivable that I’ll have squash to eat in DAYS – not some indeterminate vague number of days in the future. I find that so exciting!
Here, my friends, is the definition of pathetic:
Poor Pepper – she’s gotta wear a cone right now. She’s in heat and she’s been tearing her hair out – and not gently – her skin is in distress. So we’ve put this contraption on her – much to her chagrin – and we’re hoping she heals up quickly. She will be a very happy camper when the cone comes off!