Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Odds and Ends

Summer weather overview: 1 warm week in the 90s, but the rest has been cool and rainy. Very weird. We had some crazy sky days as smoke from wild fires in Canada rode a polar vortex down to the Midwest US, blocking out some light of the sun and creating an eerie green haze for days. 
The cool and wet weather has resulted in lots of blight; fungal or bacterial- I'm not sure which, killing many gardener's tomato plants. No loss for me, thus far.

The tomatoes and beans are just coming in. First harvest: 
Black Plum, Sun Sugar and German Lunchbox with Burgundy Beans

Made this salad with an avocado vinaigrette or sauce that we ate on grilled tortillas with cheese. 
 
With the second day of tomato harvest I made this Turkish Shephard Salad and omg, is this good. I really liked the dill in it. Plus, the colors! Wow.
 I then mixed it with Freekah (roasted baby wheat)
and served it with arepas (Colombian corn cakes). Happy summer meal!

Projects:
Made this self-feeder for the outside cats. First night the raccoons ate 3/4 of it and that was the end of that. Three young ones have been coming into the house via the cat door recently. They've discovered the inside cat food bowl is JUST inside this door! 3am feedings. AHHH! 

Repainted the bathroom as one of my spontaneous summer projects.
Got some new planters and replanted some old.
 Had 2 of these glass ornaments that came with air plants
in them. One of the air plants died so I replaced them with these orchids
that I found on the orphan rack at Lowe's. 

Got this cool retro planter (below) on the clearance rack at Target.
Not shown- planted today with 3 houseplant starts.
 I also found these hanging egg-shaped planters (below) on the
clearance rack and stuck in some starts left by 
my botany students. Pothos.

Critters
I make these every year when I chop down the Cupplant. If the stems aren't hollow, I poke a chopstick in it. My hope is to attract Mason bees. See the stem at the bottom with the grass hanging out? A small wasp has been visiting and doing this. Needless to say I am tickled pink that someone appreciates my efforts. 

In bloom
Plants at back porch.
I don't think I appreciated impatiens enough
until this year. This may just be the right spot for them.
Of course, the weather has been ideal.

Gray-headed coneflower
reseeded in the driveway.
Raspberry Wine Monarda
Particularly loved by the Carpenter Bees.

Wild food
A mushroom-hunting friend of mine came across a gold-mine of chanterelle mushrooms this weekend. We don't typically have them this late, but we've been in a perpetual spring (70/80s) this summer. She gave me an entire grocery bag of them! Talk about love. Tonight I made some bisque as it is cool enough for soup. 
 Oh, so good. Made in the crock pot.
Didn't think I'd be busting that out this summer.

I won't lie. I've been wearing long underwear to bed and we
don't have the AC on. It's that ridiculously nice.
The mosquitoes don't seem to mind. I guess they've loved the rain.

Happy Summer, folks. 





Thursday, June 25, 2015

Life Lessons from Potatoes

I was just having this conversation with a student yesterday- we don't appreciate enough our mistakes. There is something to learn in making them. Perhaps often. Or recognizing them often. Or looking for them often. This life lesson came to fruition today as I dug potatoes. And here's the thing- I didn't even plant these potatoes. The truth is I did a crappy job last year harvesting potatoes and those potatoes were going to let me know about it with delayed gratification. But I got the message today as my trowel turned black earth and revealed the hidden pearls of more than just nourishment.

Last year I planted these pathetic, wrinkled, old, little potatoes. When I went to harvest, perhaps later than I should have, I was hugely disappointed. Ugh. I give up. I'm not planting anymore potatoes. I suck at this.
I was sure of myself, as I am, maybe too often. 

This spring I noticed a few potato plants rising from that same earth. Ok, maybe I missed a couple. Then there were more. They weren't fed, I didn't plant them at the right time or the right depth. I hadn't even planted them, for crying out loud! They had ignored all of the proper lessons of potato planting handed down to me for generations. They did not follow the human rules.
And this is what I got:
First dig. First 4 feet. Probably 3x more to dig. 
TENS POUNDS.
WTF, potatoes?

Philosophical Life Lesson: How often do we ask ourselves- what have I learned from this? How often do we have our minds and eyes open or asked ourselves- why do I believe this? Is there a better way? What makes me think this? Am I doing this because this is the way it has always been done? Should I question my authority? Does believing something because I want it to be true impede me from finding a different answer? 
Sometimes what we think we know gets in the way of finding out what we can. 

Potato gardening lesson: maybe there is a better time than the time I was told to plant them. Maybe the depth isn't all that important. Maybe I can even plant them the year before I harvest and not the year of. What will I do differently this time? First, I'm going to plant potatoes again. In fact, I am going to plant potatoes at EXACTLY the wrong time of year, because I believe the potato has knowledge that I am clearly lacking. 
Find knowledge where you would never have thought to look.

I feel like such a spud.






Saturday, June 13, 2015

Peaed Myself

Of course the peas are peaking the week we have temps in the mid-90s! Geesh. Don't give me no mid-90s until later June, please.  Good thing I could share them, because I'm eating peas in the garden, peas for snack, peas in meals, peas on the side. I think I've peaed myself to death. 

In food
And at the same time it is Black Raspberry season. My second planting that I did last year is really doing well, so we have lots this year.
 I rarely make desserts, but I can handle a scone as they
aren't too sweet. Plus, the blackberries were melded into the
dough so I didn't have to deal with my fear of dead fruit.
 Recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook.
These were yummy, but I only got 1, because I live 
with a piggy.

Due to the heat and AC loathing I cooked as little as possible this week. Among the dishes was this
this Yum Woon Sen. It was suppose to have pork in it. I subbed tofu and added shredded carrots and more herbs- cilantro, thai basil and mint. It was very good. 

I also made Black Bean and Slaw tacos and Bowties with snap peas, ricotta and lemon. Both were excellent. I think I need to make these pancakes with black raspberries instead of strawberries. Strawberry season is wrapping up. 

In flower
 Scarlet Runner beans
and Swamp Milkweed.
Many thanks to Holly for more swamp milkweed babies.

In projects
The newest chicken coop/run is still in progress. The girls are still not allowed free range or even unsupervised time in the run (too many holes, too small babies, too many lurking cats). Two features I added to this coop are- the ramp has sand embedded in the paint to help them grip. I got this idea on a forum. Below the ramp I put an old litter box, drilled some holes in the bottom and filled with play sand. This has 2 purposes- the sand is grit for digesting food and they seem to consume a lot of it and it will double as a dust bath area.

The Speckle Sussexs go toe to toe in establishing
the pecking order (below)
 Poppy with sand on her beak (below)
She likes me best.
In critters
This moth was spotted almost blending in with the lavender walls of my bathroom. Here it is on the ceiling. I think it's a Raspberry Pyrausta, but those typically have white lines as well. Maybe they were rubbed off? There are few moths this color. The larva of this moth eat Monarda, which I have a lot of. I may post to BugGuide for another opinion. 

Merry Pea Season to all.








Saturday, June 6, 2015

"Prepper"

I know it shouldn't bother me, but because I put up food for other seasons I come across A LOT of "prepper" blogs, videos and websites. I'm not that kind of prepper. Clearly we have something in common, though. I like to think of my interest as food independence, but not because of fear of war, global disaster or governmental conspiracy ideas. I just like good food and I equate that with fresh/ local and home grown.

There are several veg that I either don't grow, can't grow well or don't have the dedicated space for. Some of these veg include: asparagus, cabbage and broccoli. The nearest truck farm in town grows all of these well and inexpensively. So, yesterday I paid about $17 for all of this (sorry for the poor photo quality)
3 bundles of asparagus, 2 heads cabbage and 3 huge bunches of broc.

I wanted to process them quickly to preserve nutrients. So, here's what I did:

Broccoli: I quartered each large bunch and blanched in boiling water for 4 minutes, rinsed, dried and packed 3/4 in freezer bags. I love broc this way, because it is super easy to cook with from the freezer. The last 1/4 I chopped and put in the dehydrator. It didn't take long- one evening. I decided to dehydrate it because we are planning a camping trip at the end of the summer and I don't want to bring a cooler or lots of bulk and we will need some veg for our meals. I also chopped and dehydrated 1 box of button mushrooms. They took the same amount of time in the dehydrator. I bagged them and stuck them in the freezer. Now we can add these to rice, quinoa, noodles, pasta, etc
I know it shouldn't amaze me, but 1 huge head of broc and 1 box
of mushrooms really condenses upon dehydration as seen here.

Asparagus: Ok, I think this is where I may not be as satisfied with my preparation technique for this particular veg. I chopped, blanched for 2-3 min (maybe too long), rinsed, dried and froze. I have a feeling these will be kind of mushy, so I see this technique as being good for a dish where I might puree the veg- like soup, quiche (yes, I puree all my ingredients for quiche occasionally) or maybe a risotto- basically anywhere where the mush factor won't matter.

Cabbage: Probably my favorite way to preserve cabbage is by kraut. I had just read a blog where someone said something about glass not being ideal to use as it could break and I thought that was weird and then....I broke a quart jar smashing the kraut. I salvaged the kraut (we might die from cut throats-you read it here).
Thinly slice, added 1 Tbs of canning salt (because I didn't have my usual sea salt) to each head, shove some into a canning jar, smash with the end of of wooden spoon, add more, smash, etc until full and juices have risen to top. In one jar I added caraway seed, one has dried celery powder and the small one has whole coriander seed. This is 2 head's worth.


Scapes: Up until a couple of years ago I had no idea what scapes were or that anyone ate them. Last year I made pesto of them, put in ice cube trays, froze and tossed into a canning jar in the freezer. This was very good. You can use it in soups, sauces, pizza topping, quiche, etc. This year I decided to try the dilly bean pickling method. I read many people say they don't pickle the flowers, or curly tops, but never said why, so I chose to ignore them and include the flower buds. Perhaps I will learn why when the pickles are ready.
Chop scapes. Prepare a brine of 2 1/2 cups water, 2 1/2 cups white vinegar and 1/4 cup of canning salt. Into each pint jar- 1 tsp dill seed, 1 chili pepper, 1/4 tsp black pepper. Process in hot water bath for 10 min.
 This much pickles from this much scapes. 

Critters
Hubs and kiddo are off to a bee festival in Kentucky, so I'm enjoying the relative peace and solitude this weekend. My only added responsibility is babysitting the Queen Bee herself. Really. I'm babysitting bees.
Hubs ordered a Queen and they sent him 2. This is how they come packaged. I wonder if the mail people would freak if they knew what was in this envelope?
The queen and several workers come in this tiny wooden box, with 1 sugar cube. I've been instructed to give them 3 drops of water each day. This is just wild. I feel sorry for them in this tiny container. I know they will be free soon. 

Elvis may be the King of Rock and Roll, 
but I am the Queen.
-Little Richard

I like that.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Intersession

I am between semesters and seemingly between big gardening seasons. It has been cool, rainy or gray most of the week and as of late. I got the big garden in and now I wait for summer delights- eggplant, tomato, basil, squashes, peppers.

Kiddo and I took a quick hike at a local nature preserve.
Either I rarely hike when Poison Ivy is in bloom or I don't notice it, but this is what the flowers of PI look like in full glory.
 PI flowers

 Box Elder sapling
Poison Ivy is often confused with Box Elder saplings. PI is on the left and BE is on the right.
PI can take the form of a shrubby plant or a vine. Both have leaves in 3's. BE has more serrated leaves and green woody stems. 
Wild Quinine (below)
 Bradbury's Monarda with mating bugs on top (below)
 A forest Milkweed. I need to go back in a couple of days 
and check out the flowers for ID. Very cool. (below)

 White Wild Indigo (below)
 Penstemon digitalis (below)
 Yarrow (below)
 Green Dragon
 Moonvine- not to be confused with the non-native
annual with huge white flowers. This one has crescent-shaped
seeds, which I believe is where the name comes from.
 Viola palmata (maybe?) below
 Wild Yam vine
I really like these leaves. I think it's the palmate veins that
attract me.
 A putty-root orchid! Found along the trail.

Karst Topography
Stemler Cave Woods Nature Preserve sits atop an underground cave system and the area is full of sinkholes. This geological condition is called Karst topography. We are lucky to live so close to this unique landscape. Some of the sinkholes fill with water, some do so temporarily and others permanently. Because of their relative shallowness and impermanence they make great amphibian ponds. 


Fungus Amongus
 White Coral Fungus? I can't find my Mushroom
Field Guide!
 Red Jelly Fungus (above)
Wood Ear Fungus
One of the largest ones I've seen

Critters
Mama Wolf Spider with babies on her back
 Spittle bug on Narrow Mint
 Zabulon Skipper (male) on nasty honeysuckle

What Fire can do
I wish I had a before picture of this. 
Volunteers put in many hours each year pulling the
invasive Bush Honeysuckle and burning unit by unit thereafter. 
The reason you can see the forest AND the trees is due to these
efforts, otherwise there would be no view of the forest floor here. 
I love that this special place is so close to home. 
Wish there were more.

Back at home
First of the Snap Peas
I made a cold Peanut Noodle Salad with these 
next. 

 Indian Pink- Spigelia marilandica
(above-native) just started blooming
I started this Blue Angel Salvia
from seed. The blue is amazing and the blossoms
are huge!

Chicken feeders: Greens & Nasturtiums
covered with wire enough so the chickens can eat greens 
w/out killing the plants. The new coop in the background. 

The Dome in Summer
 The madness within. Everything going to seed.

Cleaned up and planting more in this area (below) in the Orchard,
Holly, arborvitae, Black Eyed Susans, 2 kinds of Monarda, 
P Coneflower, 2 kinds of daisies, asters, blueberries, lilies

Rosa showing the feeding station below the new coop. 
The older girls love it so much I haven't fully enclosed it yet, as
it is suppose to be for the young gal's new coop. 

Next Generation

The curious little ones. 

They like me.
They really, really like me.