Brooding On

After the Frost

Remember my post about how I'd been too lazy to get my cold frame up before the first frost hit?  Well, I still don't have it up. Here's my two-fold explanation/excuse:

1.  I'm sick.  It's about all I can do to get out of bed and shuffle around a few loads of laundry during the course of the day.  Seriously.  This thing is awful.  So, the thought of getting outside to construct my cold frame is simply laughable right now.

2.  We've now had two hard frosts, but most things in the garden are still going strong, despite being unprotected.

Sugar snap peas are blooming and about to fruit.

Purple turnip tops are peeking through the soil.

Kale is growing like crazy.

And, there's more arugula and parsley than I could ever even think of using.

The basil did succumb to the frost, though.

I should really make us a big salad for dinner . . . and go harvest some of that parsley to put on the dehydrator . . . and make the last batch of pepper jelly with the peppers in the fridge . . . and feed the chickens the lettuce that has gone to seed . . . and make Girl 2 some of her favorite kale chips . . . and get that cold frame up . . . and so on . . . 

But, I imagine I'll do the same thing I did yesterday which is pour myself another cup of coffee, shuffle to the living room, flop down on the sofa, and, if things get really bad, maybe moan a little.

Tomorrow.  Yes, tomorrow.  That's when I'll get it all done.

Frost-Bitten Garden

This morning, I woke up with a sinus headache that made me feel like my left eye was going to pop out of my head.  You know the kind I'm talking about?  I don't get these very often, but I'm particularly upset about this one because I have a big race tomorrow.
Anyway, I go about my early morning routine with my eyes closed as much as possible (it just seems to hurt less that way).
I don my headlamp, grab my milking pail, and head out into the still-dark, very cold morning. Wait a minute!  What is that glimmer on the grass?  My headlamp is illuminating little diamonds on each blade.  How beautiful!

I finally get past my sinus-headache-induced euphoria enough to realize that these beautiful diamonds are in fact frost . . . heavy frost.


And, I've been so busy with other things, that I've failed to check the weather forecast and erect the cold frame that could've saved my poor garden plants.

I know they say not to cry over spilled milk, but surely it's acceptable to shed a tear over frosted kale.  Yesterday, it was so healthy and beautiful.  Now, it may not be salvageable.  

Looks like my procrastination has come back to frost-bite me in the bum!

Owls, Beautyberry, and Scat -- Oh, My!

Yesterday, I accompanied Girl 2 and 2 school buses full of 2nd graders to Crowley's Ridge Nature Center in Jonesboro.  Our favorite part was learning all about owls and even getting to pet one.

Did you know that owls' eyes are fixed in their skulls, so they can't move them around in their heads?  That's why they need such extraordinary range of motion in their necks.

Did you know that their eyes make up about 5% of their body weight?  That would be comparable to us walking around with eyes the size of softballs!

Did you know that they can hear a mouse scurrying from 75 yards away?

Anyway,  as I was walking into the building, I saw the most beautiful plant.  I snapped this pic and then, a little self-consciously, went inside to ask the ranger at the desk whether she knew what type of plant it was.  She smiled knowingly and directed me to the stack of flyers they'd printed out to offer the MANY visitors who inquire.  Wow!

It's an American Beautyberry but is also known as a French mulberry.  Here's some basic info I gleaned from the flyer . . . 

This 6 ft. tall shrub is a member of the verbena family and flowers in the midsummer.  In the fall, it develops bb-sized purple berries that drape in gorgeous clusters.  
It's berries are a favorite of songbirds and deer, and it's crushed leaves deter mosquitoes and ticks.  
It's a perennial shrub that fruits only on new growth, so it is best cut it back to the ground each winter.
It will flower and fruit in medium to heavy shade but will produce much more if it receives at least some direct sunlight each day.  

The ranger said that most of the Beautyberry shrubs she's seen other places pale in comparison to the ones located at the nature center.   She theorizes that this is because gardeners fail to cut them back each year and because the nature center is home to LOTS of pollinators.  

I'm hoping to be able to find a source for the Beautyberry so that I can put some in at our new place.  Anyone know where they are sold?

While Girl 2's favorite thing was petting the owl, a close second was the scat and print exhibit.  She's been hunting tracks out at the new farm, so John and I picked her up a field guide while we were in Minneapolis last week.  Since then, she's been using it and going around the backyard replicating the tracks from the guide by drawing in the dirt.  Then, she and Little Boy go exploring, field guide in tow, and she tries to get him to identify the various species we've got roaming around our backyard.  Elk?  Who knew?  ;)

Fall Gardening

I know that everyone gets all excited about gardening in the spring.  And, while I too love to put in a spring garden after a long, cold winter, I've about decided that I prefer gardening in the fall.

We love lettuce and other greens, which are easily grown during this season.  And, I keep checking the leaves, but it appears the worms and other pests have decided to pack it up for the year.  Those beautiful greens are growing undisturbed.

Fall gardens are also lower maintenance because cooler temps mean that plants require less frequent watering.

I do need to get out my cold frame and be sure it's ready to go for when those overnight temps dip.  Other than that, though, the most fall gardening effort I've expended has been tossing out a few seeds and harvesting delicious greens.

I know that this is the season when most gardens sit unkempt with the last of the season's tomatoes rotting on the vine.  And, yes, many gardeners are just ready for a break from the intensity of summer gardening.  But, if you're not entirely burnt out, don't miss out on the opportunity to extend your growing season by fall gardening.  It's worth the (minimal) effort.  :)

White River Community Garden

This past week, I found myself needing to kill a little bit of time in Batesville between doctor's appointments (long story -- another time).  As it was lunchtime, I picked up a to-go lunch and headed to a spot with a nice view.  Some folks may head to the river or the park.  I drove right over to the White River Community Garden.  I was able to enjoy my lunch while checking out what everyone is growing and how they're trellising and mulching and more.

I don't actually need a garden bed at the community garden, but I was interested to know more about how it works, so I decided to call the number listed on the sign and check it out.

What I found out was so great, that I thought I'd pass it along to you guys in case anyone would like to take advantage of this great opportunity!

The large beds are 10'x10' and cost $35 to rent for the year.   
The smaller beds, at 10'x4', are $20.  
Each bed has its own water hydrant (as pictured above), and water is included in the rental fee.  

I mean, seriously!  Do you know how much food you can grow in a hundred square feet?!?  
If you live in town but don't have the space to grow your own garden, this is a great option. I would also think this would be great for the beginning gardener.  You wouldn't have to put any money into the start-up infrastructure of garden bed and basic soil, and you'd have the added benefit of having your garden surrounded by other gardens that you can watch and learn from throughout the growing season.  If you're out there harvesting or tending while other gardeners are present,  you can even exchange gardening tips along with pleasantries.

The rental is for a calendar year, so call Sharon Clark, an Independence County Master Gardener in January to secure your plot for 2014.  She can be reached at (870) 251-2148.

If you aren't a local reader, look into community gardening in your area.  It's becoming very popular.  I'll bet if you do some digging, you can find something similar available in your hometown.  And, if not . . . maybe you could get one started.  ;)

Intrinsic Benefits of Gardening

According to the Horticultural Society of New York, which has practiced "horticultural therapy" with Rikers Island inmates since 1989, the list of benefits is a long one:  "stress reduction, mood improvement, alleviation of depression, social growth, physical and mental rehabilitation and general wellness."

Wow!  Well, there you go.  No wonder I'm in such good mental shape!  ;)

Could you use a little stress reduction and mood improvement?

If you've ever thought about gardening but don't know where to begin, check back in tomorrow.  I've got just the solution for you.  :)

Good Mother Stallard Pole Beans

What a gorgeous day to gather with the family 'round a bowl and shell some beans on the back porch!

This was our first year to grow this type of bean, but I've been very pleased with them so far.  During the growing season, they were pretty much zero maintenance.  All I had to do was provide a trellis system and wait for them to grow . . . and then die. Once the pods were dry on the vine, they were ready to harvest.  

I guess part of what I like about them is that their needs aren't pressing.  The day a zucchini is ripe for harvest, it must be picked.  Otherwise,  it'll be too big tomorrow and will have lost its peak flavor.  Cantaloupe?  Let it sit one day too long on the vine, and it'll come loose on its own and begin to rot in the sun.  But, these good 'ole beans aren't ready for harvest until they're dead.  And once they are, they'll just wait patiently for you until you're ready to pick them.  Even then, you could leave them in a bucket still in the pods for even longer.  I guess they're pretty laid back in that way.  Whenever you're ready to get to them, they'll be there waiting.

This particular variety from Baker Creek is called Good Mother Stallard Pole Bean.  I chose them for their description:  "Gorgeous, plump maroon-and-white beans are great in soups, where their creamy texture and hearty, nutty flavor really shine."

And, aren't they pretty?  I'm thinking the jar-full of these guys may not be relegated to the pantry.  They ought to be on display . . .  at least until they make their way to our chili pot.

Go Glean!

When your tomato plants look as sad as mine do right now, and your father-in-law calls and offers you the rest of the ripe tomatoes he's got on his plants, you high-tail it up there and glean away, baby.  It doesn't matter that you're leaving town the next day and really need to pack, or that you've got a bazillion things still left on the all-important list-of-things-to-do-today, or that it's pretty much the hottest afternoon we've had all year. You drop it all, and you go.

Blinded by your own sweat, you pick about 60 pounds of ripe tomatoes. And, then, all hot and sweaty, you stop by the store for some more canning jars, mushrooms, and a bottle of wine.  And, once the kids are in bed, you bring that pot to a boil and have a spaghetti-sauce-making party with your sweetie -- skinning and coring and chopping and boiling and filling and sealing -- as you enjoy one another's company.   . . .   Or, that's what I did anyway!

Thanks, Sam!

Growing Lettuce in Extreme Heat

Despite countless gardening defeats this season (i.e. the wilted cucumber vine in the photo), there have been some exciting successes.  

For example,  notice the lettuce growing at left in the photo.  This particular variety, like most lettuce varieties shouldn't really be able to grow right now in this extreme heat.  But, it's going strong!  What's the secret?

The leaning vine-covered trellis on its south side provides the tender lettuce good shade during the hottest parts of the day.  

Since this pic was taken, the cucumber vine has shriveled up entirely.  I don't plan to uproot it, though, until the temperatures cool enough for the lettuce to survive without the shade that wilted vine is offering.  Talk about multi-purposing -- that cucumber vine is still working for me, long after it's produced its last fruit.

Dust Buster Victory

See this sad little squash plant?
I've fought a valiant fight against those mighty squash bugs, but, alas, they will defeat me.

I mean, just look at this.  I ought to just wave the white flag of surrender and cut my losses.  But, I couldn't resist the urge to get in one more good fight.  So, last night, I charged up my weapon as I slept, plotting a morning sneak attack.

Then, before they knew what was going on, I dusted-busted up TONS of those suckers!  The soil was just damp enough that the suction pulled in the bugs but not the soil.  And, when the dust settled on the battlefield, I'd collected well over a hundred bugs.  I emptied the canister into some soapy water and watched them all drown. 

The squash bugs will definitely win this war.  I'm gracious enough to admit that.  But, in today's battle, my friends, I was the victor!

The Sweetest Cantaloupe I've Ever Tasted!

Please don't tell Girl 1.  Her cantaloupe are great, really.  But they don't even compare to this.  In fact, no cantaloupe I've ever tasted can compare to this.

I hadn't planned on planting any cantaloupe in my portion of the garden this year, but then Baker Creek sent me this free gift.  How could I not try them?  Their description:  "This wonderful variety has become very rare.  The fruit have netted skin and light green flesh that is firm, sweet and highly perfumed. Productive plants can be trained up a trellis."

I'd never even tasted a green-fleshed cantaloupe.  Apparently, Thomas Jefferson grew this very heirloom variety in his 1794 garden!

It's French name means "green fleshed pineapple."  If you order from Baker Creek (and you should), make a note of this variety for next year.  You won't be sorry!

To purchase, check this out!

Girl 2's Got Melons

All that thumping has finally paid off!  

Several weeks ago, we asked one our favorite melon growers for some tips for first-timers on knowing when our melons would be ready.  Girl 2 listened carefully as he explained about how the curly-cue near the melon would shrivel up and how we should listen to the sound of the melon when we thump it.  

Once home, she immediately ran into the backyard to inspect curly-cues and commence thumping.  And that thumping has continued pretty much everyday.  Finally, yesterday, we declared one "ready" and cut it from the vine!

She really was more excited about it than she looks in this photo.  

It was pretty good -- definitely better than a store-bought melon.  But, since we live in the home of the world's sweetest watermelons, I can't say it was the sweetest one we've ever tasted.  What was super sweet about it, though, was that Girl 2 grew it herself, right in our own backyard!

Girl 1's Got Cantaloupe!

At the outset of the growing season, each girl got to choose two types of seeds to plant in her individual garden patch (Little Boy was my general helper this year).  Girl 1 chose carrots (which we've been enjoying for quite some time) and cantaloupe.  The pic at left is actually of one we picked a little too early (what can I say, we were excited!  It turned out to be green inside and smelled and tasted a lot like cucumber).  The pic at right, though, is of a happy little girl, taking a bite of her very own, super-sweet, backyard-grown cantaloupe!

Girl 2 chose to grow green beans (which are now canned and stacked in the pantry) and watermelon.  We're pretty close to harvest on a few of her melons, so stay tuned.  ;)

Squirreling Away Squash for Winter

Our Acorn Squash vine began to die back, so I went ahead and harvested the fruits.  These tough-skinned squash are actually a winter squash, meaning that if kept in relatively cool, dry conditions they should last well into the fall and even winter -- much like a potato.  
While there are certainly lots of ways to prepare winter squash, here's one of our favorite recipes:

Parmesan-roasted Acorn Squash

1   2 lb. acorn squash -- halved, seeded, and sliced 3/4" thick
2 Tbs. olive oil
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. grated Parmesan

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with the oil, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Roast the squash until golden brown and tender, 25-30 minutes.

Laughing My Evil Laugh

As you may know, squash bugs bring out my most destructive and violent tendencies.  I take great pleasure in squashing them between my fingers before they have a chance to do further damage to my plants.  The other day, I let out my most evil MU-ah-ah-ah laugh as I squashed two bugs as they were mating!
But, even I paused just a moment before squishing the life out of these newborns. ;)
Isn't this cool?  At top, you can see the cluster of Squash Bug eggs.  I'm guessing I caught them mid-hatch because the little black-legged fellas appeared to be just stretching their legs for the first time.  

Growing Melons on a Trellis

We've got some adorable little cantaloupe growing on our leaning trellis system.  I like the idea of growing small-ish melons on a trellis for a couple of reasons:

1.  in a square-foot garden like ours, space is at a premium.  Getting those vines to grow vertical keeps them from taking up too much valuable garden real estate.

2.  Keeping them off the wet ground should keep them better protected from rot and pesky critters.

Just left hanging, though, the melons would soon grow so big that they'd just fall off the vine.  To solve this problem, each little melon gets its very own hammock in the shade!

I used old, pitted-out t-shirts to create the hammocks.  I can get 4 hammocks form each shirts:  2 long strips from the front and 2 long strips from the back, discarding the sleeves.

Once a melon is about the weight of a cucumber, it's ready for its hammock, I tie each end of the hammock to the trellis, gently cradling the melon so that it still has plenty of room to grow.  

Obviously, if this were a huge garden, this method would be impractical.  I can't even imagine manufacturing individual melon hammocks by the hundreds!  For us, though, it's very do-able.  Girl 1 and I each have different varieties planted.  So far, she's "winning" because she's had more melons in need of hammocks than I have.  :)  Oh, well. We all mature at different rates. My girls will need their own support in due time!

First Tomatoes!

I just love a colorful harvest basket!

Since lots of things are in season right now, my garden haul been colorful for awhile now, but it hasn't held any tomatoes  . . . .UNTIL NOW!!!

We are growing all heirloom tomatoes this year, so I wanted to experiment with some of the more exotic varieties.  These varieties are purple, yellow, and "chocolate striped."

What better way to enjoy our first sampling of garden fresh tomatoes than atop a crostini smeared with herbed goat cheese?

Absolutely delicious!!!

What about you?  Have you enjoyed a garden-fresh tomato yet this year?

Squash Vine Borers and my Attempted Nighttime Attack

My squash plants are having issues.  I've already uprooted large portions of the plants and fed them to the very-appreciative goats.  Today, as I turned this plant over, I discovered the latest issue.
See how the vine looks as if it's been sliced open?  It also has a lot of almost foamy looking frass (or caterpillar poop) around the site of the hole.

All I had to do to find a borer was continue the slice about another inch and a half up the vine.  See him?

Nasty little booger!

My books suggest that the plant may have a chance of survival if I've extracted or killed all the borers and can mound dirt up over any major holes in the vine.  I tried it, but I suspect this little plant is too far gone.  

I also tried another method of vine-borer attack that I found less effective but which may work for you, so I'll pass it along.  One book suggested taking a flashlight and straight pin to the garden at night and using the flashlight to backlight the hollow vines.  Supposedly, you should be able to see the shadows of the borers inside the vines and can kill them by puncturing both vine and unsuspecting borer with the straight pin.  The damage to the vine is so minimal that the plant should recover fully.  
Either my flashlight was not strongly powered enough or my vines were not as translucent as some other varieties might be, but I couldn't make out much light through my vines and so didn't get the pleasure of taking out any borers in the night.  Oh, well.

I've gone ahead and replanted squash in another section of the garden, so maybe our squash won't be entirely finished for the season yet.

Little Bit 'O Lagniappe

In gardening, there are the tangible rewards that you look forward to, and work toward, and finally, at long last, bring to the table.

And then, sometimes, there are some things in gardening that are just lagniappe.  Lagniappe, meaning a little bit of something extra or a bonus, is a word I picked up during our time when New Orleans was home.

Our cool week last week provided us with some unexpected berries -- lagniappe!
Since I've long considered the berries to be finished for the season, I hadn't even noticed them on the vine until Razz made a break for it in the yard the other day and had some for a snack.  It seems the goat's been eyeing those berries from the back field!

And, then there are the gourds.  Ahh, the gourds.  My best guess is that these giants vines that now cover the compost pile are the result of my throwing out some past-their-prime fall decorations last year -- lagniappe! 

I should really be turning the compost pile over to keep it decomposing well, but I can't bring myself to disturb the big, beautiful vine, heavily laden with gourds.

The hard-earned fruits of long, hot hours spent in the garden are rewarding, but there's something refreshing about a little big of surprise backyard lagniappe!  

Got Taters?

This year's potato planting was not exactly planned out.  I don't actually love Russets, so I probably would've chosen to plant a different variety.  But, alas, Russets are what I found neglected and sprouting in the pantry, so hating to waste an opportunity, into the ground they went.
Potatoes are generally ready for harvest when, despite being well-tended, the plants begin to fall over and die back.  

The large taters will be good as bakers.  The smaller ones will probably go into some potato salad or become . . . 

Bacon-wrapped Potatoes with Creamy Dill Sauce

1 1/2 lbs. new potatoes, halved
15 slices of bacon, halved crosswise
3/4 c. mayo
1/4 c. buttermilk
2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Steam the potatoes until tender, 15-18 minutes.  Let cool.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Wrap each potato with a piece of bacon and place, seam-side down, on the baking sheet.  Bake until the bacon is crisp, 18-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the mayo, buttermilk, dill, caraway seeds, salt, and pepper.  Serve with the potatoes.

**I actually think the sauce is better if made up the day ahead, giving the flavors more time to meld.  You could go ahead and steam and wrap the potatoes, too, but don't bake until just before serving so that bacon will be crisp.