Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Popcorn!


This summer I grew some bantam popcorn, just for fun. The ears are tiny, about 3" or 4" long. Many of mine were even shorter due to incomplete pollination or maybe lack of water. But I still got lots and they're beautiful! They're colored like "Indian Corn" and some of them have purple husks.


The kernels are teensy tiny.


And when they're popped they're still teensy tiny! This popcorn has a great flavor. I put some salt on it and no butter. It's delicious. One nice surprise is that the kernels, being so small, have very thin hulls so even the old maids are easy to chomp on and eat. They don't hurt my teeth at all.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Salad

I had a major craving for a salad the other day. I wandered through the garden and came up with:

turnip greens
a little lettuce
nasturtium leaves (yum!)
borage flowers
cherry tomatoes
cabbage leaves
radishes
onion tops
italian pepper

It was YUM. I'm going to miss fresh salads. Cold weather is just around the corner.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

'tater Turtle

I planted the potatoes in a new spot this year. The ground is clay-ey and VERY hard. My potatoes were very small as a result. Still, I went out to dig some. They would make good canned potatoes that I can toss into a pot roast later on. And look what I dug up, along with my baby 'taters. A baby box turtle :)

Look at that beautiful mug. Shy, to be sure - but also beautiful, in a turtley way.

And a profile, just for good measure. Click and view the large image if you want a better glimpse of the lovely textures on his (her?) shell.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Walking Onions

I really like the idea of walking onions. I like the idea of anything perennial, or that's easy to save seeds from - like berries, asparagus, garlic, or beans. Thus, I was moved to order some Egyptian Walking Onion sets. I planted the little sets in the ground around October/November, when I planted garlic. They came up looking a lot like any old onion. The above photo is of walking onions that I planted last fall; the photo was taken May 5th.

I'm not sure when to divide and replant the onions. These are onions that were new last year, and are big and thick and in a group this year. I do know that walking onions don't form bulbs. You eat them early in the Spring before they form topsets, or you can eat the topsets like pearl onions. You only need a little. They are supposed to be very potent. I haven't eaten any of mine yet because I wanted to save my topsets to increase my stock. I'll probably eat some next spring.

Here's an onion just forming a topset. The first thing that happens is a swelling at the end of an onion... stalk? leaf? with a thin white membrane covering it.

The membrane splits open to reveal baby onions inside. Pretty cool!

Another shot of topsets just opening up. All of these photos were taken May 5th so the onions are a good six weeks further along than this now. I'll see if I can't get a few more pics soon and post about their progress.

If anyone knows about when I should divide and replant my older onions, I'd like to hear from you. I figured I'd wait until the tops died down... but by the time they did it was COLD and the ground was frozen. They're hardy! Mine overwintered without any extra mulching, though I did lose a few. The lowest temps last winter were probably about -8F.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Starting Seeds

It's seed-starting season. Well, it has been for a while! I took these photos in late March.

This is the third season I've started my own plants indoors. Before this, I used to buy seedlings at the hardware store or a landscape/garden center. I don't know why I was ever intimidated by the idea of starting my own seeds, now that I've done it a couple of times.

I start by putting little seed cup things in a tray. Then I fill the cups with seed starter mix (not potting soil). I've learned I have to press the mix down in there, not leave it loose and fluffy. I used to take a spoon and fill each little cup. Now I just dump a bunch of mix on the middle of the tray and cups, and spread it out with my hands. I poke it down firmly with my fingers, dump some more, spread, poke... until all the little seed cups are full.

Some seeds (especially teeny tiny herb seeds) need to lie barely beneath the surface, or even on top of the surface. Other seeds, such as broccoli or peppers, need to be buried about 1/4". I use a high quality ball point pen to make my holes. The high quality ball point pen (this one from a hotel) is a key part of my seed starting equipment.

After I make all my holes, I drop two seeds in each hole. I get my seeds from Seed Savers Exchange and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and they have an unbelievably good germination rate. If my seeds are older, or from the hardware store, I plant three or even four per hole.

After the seeds are in, I press the starting mix over them, or press them into the surface if they're tiny seeds that need to lie on the surface. Then I take out one little six- or nine-pack of the cups and put water into the tray. I don't ever water on top of the cups; I always water from beneath.

I'll let the starting mix dry out quite a bit before watering again, but I try not to let it get so dry the seedlings wilt. The first year I tended to over-water and almost loved my seedlings to a soggy death; now I'm better at ignoring them and they like it that way.

Because I keep my sprouting seeds under clear domes, I can't put little markers in to remind me what I planted where - the markers are too tall. And there's NO WAY I can trust my memory! So I make myself a little map on a spare sheet of paper. I write down what I planted and the date. For this task I use my high-quality ball point pen. Writing down the date helps me to not panic when I think something isn't sprouting quickly enough. I can look at the date and realize it's only been three days since I planted those seeds :)

Now we just wait...

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Field Corn and Rabbits

This summer I tried a Three Sisters garden and while it didn't do well due to the drought and my neglect, I did stash a few ears of field corn in a box.


Field corn is also called "dent corn" and it's grown primarily for animal feed and sometimes it's ground into cornmeal. I planted Hickory King which can also be eaten on the cob in its early stages.


On cold mornings I sometimes take an ear out of the box and carry it to the rabbit colony when I give them food and fresh water. They snuffle around the corn but don't go crazy over it. Yet, when I go back later, all that's left is the cob (if that).

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Finally Planted Garlic

The weather was so nice yesterday that I found myself gardening. I had to change into a tee shirt it was so warm. I planted garlic. Garlic should be planted in October or November, but I'm not really one to rush things. I'd been meaning to get it done but it was either raining or the ground was frozen or I had to work, or something else was interfering. So I planted mine on a 70*F day in January.


This is my lovely garden before I planted the garlic. I haven't yet gotten around to my fall cleanup. I need to, because the weeds that lie there now will germinate in the spring. Many of them have already dropped their seeds so my procrastination will bite me in the butt. Still, we do what we can as we find the time to do it, and I haven't found time to clean up the garden.

I use wide deep beds in my garden; I don't plant in rows. I began extending the beds on this end of the garden just a bit last year. I got the dirt dug deeply but didn't shovel dirt out of my paths and into my beds. That's why this first photo just shows a weedy flat spot and not anything remotely garden looking. So yesterday I shoveled the dirt out of the path and into the bed.


Much better! The weeds have been cleared away and the bed is now more clearly defined. I grow four types of garlic. This is not because I'm a garlic connoisseur but rather because I am clueless and didn't have the slightest notion about what kind of garlic to plant last fall. I found a sample pack of four types of garlic on sale and figured if one type died another would thrive. They all did pretty well.

I saved my three best bulbs from each of the four types. You always save your best for planting the next year, so your crop stays strong. Over the years as you save seeds and bulbs you select for the plants which do the best in your garden with your gardening methods and your stock improves.


When you open up the bulb of garlic you can see the individual cloves. You keep the bulb intact until you're ready to plant, then you separate the bulb into cloves. You plant each clove individually with the flat bit (where the roots are) down and the pointy bit up. Each clove will be a bulb next year. If it doesn't die. And you'll save your best three and eat the rest.


Here are my little cloves of garlic spaced out ready for planting. I like to lay them all on top of the ground before I plant them. That way I don't end up with some all bunched up at one end of the bed.

I also lay out the biggest cloves first and then kind of fill in the gaps with the small puny cloves. I don't know why I do that, other than it makes spacing easier and it seems to make sense not to have all your best cloves in one corner, in case you step on it or have a ground hog or other pest munch on one bit of the bed.


After putting the cloves into the ground so that the top pointy bit is an inch or two below the surface of the soil (no photos, it was pretty boring looking) I got some mulch from the ginormous pile of grass and leaf clippings beside the garden.


I mulched the bed thickly and not too carefully. The purpose of the mulch is NOT to keep the garlic from freezing, but rather to maintain a more consistent ground temperature in the Spring when the ground "heaves" due to repeated thawing and freezing. New garlic roots are fine and fragile; ground heave can cause the garlic to be torn from its delicate roots; killing the garlic or setting it back so that it produces an inferior bulb.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Three Sisters in Review


We're well into autumn and I thought I'd recap how the three sisters experiment went. The main garden took up all my free time so I just planted the three sisters garden and left it to struggle against the weeds and drought all by itself.

The corn on the left is Hickory King, a field corn, and the others are Country Gentleman (shoepeg) and Stowell's Evergreen, both sweet corn. The sweet corn varieties are very tall for sweet corn so I thought I'd see if they could support pole beans. I think in a good year they could, though the field corn is obviously taller and more sturdy.



My sweet corn didn't produce much due to the drought. The field corn did surprisingly well but got eaten by pack rats and chipmunks. I saw the rats in the corn stalks twice (yes, UP in the stalks, munching away!) and there are chipmunk holes all in the garden. They didn't mess with the sweet corn, I suppose because I harvested it while it was still green. They ate the heck out of the field corn though. I think if I grow field corn again I should pick it earlier and let it dry somewhere protected. Or get a Jack Russell Terrier and let him work his magic in the garden.

I didn't get a lot of beans but I got more than enough to save seed from. I did eat one mess of Ruth Bible beans and oh, my gosh! Those were the most flavorful beans I've ever had!! The Genuine Cornfield beans were easily the most productive.

Next year I will do the three sisters again but instead of mounds I'm going to do raised beds like I do in my main garden. Really just wide rows with the dirt moved out of the paths and into the plant rows. I'll plant the corn four plants wide. I'll grow bean vines on the corn stalks and grow the squash down the rows between the corn stalks. I did this in one bed in my main garden last year and it's very easy to redirect the squash into the row or bed. With the mounds, the squash were going crazy everywhere and it was impossible to walk in there during the summer.

I selected the varieties of corn and beans specifically so they would do well in this configuration. I selected corn that is tall and sturdy, and pole beans that are known to do well in a corn field, with poor lighting.

I think this would be a fantastic way to grow field corn, winter squash, and dry beans. You could wait until autumn and harvest everything right after the first frost (if you could keep the little mammal critters out of the corn that long).

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Monday, October 29, 2007

First Frost

We had our first frost last night. This morning, the zinnias in my garden looked like a marzipan delicacy.

The marigolds were awfully pretty, but difficult to photograph because the greens were so dark and the frost on the blossoms was so pale.

Because I knew a frost was predicted, I picked the squash from my three sisters garden. A light frost won't hurt winter squash but I didn't know how accurate the forecast was. What if we got a hard freeze?

I grew butternut, acorn, and hubbard squash. This isn't a great harvest but considering all I did was plant them and ignore them (no watering, no weeding) in a drought year it's a fair return.

One more zinnia pic because they are just so pretty.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Abundance of Peppers


We're having such an extended warm fall that my pepper plants are going gangbusters. Last year we had frost after I picked a couple of peppers off of each bush, it seems.

From the bottom right corner of the photo, you can see red sheepnose pimiento (sweet), green bell peppers (sweet), dark green ancho (very mild heat), red and green italian peppers (sweet), and purple bell (sweet).

I also grew jalapenos and habaneros which are hot and very hot, but on the day I took this photo I was dealing with sweet peppers.

I froze the red ones for use in stir fry this winter. I love red peppers in stir fry, it adds such a great splash of color. The green and purple peppers were diced and dehydrated for use in chili, spaghetti sauce, etc. I just hate paying $3 for a pepper in the middle of winter... IF I can find one that's in good shape.


I have chopped up red peppers before, and yellow peppers. On the inside they are red or yellow, just like on the outside. I grew purple peppers just for something fun and different. Imagine my surprise when I cut one open and learned that they are green inside!

Red and Yellow peppers start off green, then turn color when they ripen. These purple peppers were purple from the time they formed.


I thought this was pretty, the purple peppers all diced up and ready to spread out on the dehydrating tray. Once dried they looked pretty much like the green ones, but they were pretty like this. No telling what they'll look like in chili. Probably like dark mushrooms or something else equally inaccurate.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Bean There, Done That


This is what I did yesterday afternoon. I picked a bunch of bush beans, washed them, snapped them, and canned them. While one batch was in the canner I'd be washing and snapping the next batch. While the last batch was in the canner, I did Sudoku. I was tired.

I prefer pole beans but the deer ate my pole beans this year and when I replanted there wasn't enough time for pole beans to produce before the average first frost. So I planted bush beans. These are Blue Lake and I am pleased with them. They are prolific, taste good, and are stringless.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Peppers


I made salsa the other day with a batch of tomatoes I picked from the garden. The recipe calls for lots of sweet bell peppers, and some hot peppers. My bell peppers are producing very slowly, so my salsa has a mix of peppers. I picked a little bit of everything in order to get enough for the salsa.

Clockwise, from left: Tolli's Italian Pepper. As sweet as a bell pepper and quite prolific. The peppers get larger than this, but I'd picked recently for something else so had to settle for smaller ones.

Ancho Gigantea. This dark green pepper has a mild heat. I really like it! It's pretty prolific, too. Needs a support frame like a tomato cage.

Bell Pepper.

Habanero. An extremely hot pepper; our variety turns yellowish orange when ripe. I used 3/4 of a pepper (well seeded and white membranes removed) in my 7 pint batch of salsa. They are HOT HOT HOT.

Jalapeno. Used a lot in Tex-Mex foods. We love the flavor of these. I grew four or five plants this year and it's not going to be nearly enough.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Melon!


I've never grown melons before. This year I planted some watermelon, some green muskmelon, and some orange muskmelon.

This one is Edisto 47 and it is YUM good.

Fresh picked melons are lots juicier than store bought. You have to get ready and slice near the sink. Have a dish cloth handy.

We ate half of this one and cut the other half into bite sized chunks and froze them on a cookie sheet, then put them in a ZipLock freezer bag for later. They are okay frozen if you eat them while they're still icy cold and not completely thawed.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pet Squash


This is my pet squash.

At first I named it LeeAnn because she is SO into odd veggies. However, LeeAnn is a decidedly female name and the squash has decidedly scrotal qualities. That made me uneasy.

Now I just call it "LeeAnn's Squash" and whenever I see it sitting on my counter top I think of LeeAnn and smile. Life is good.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Sink of Tomatoes


Last year, the tomatoes succumbed to late blight before we got much of a harvest. This year has been very dry, so we've had other challenges, but the harvest has been quite satisfactory as far as I'm concerned.

We grew paste tomatoes this year. When I get ready to process tomatoes, I place them into one sink, and wash them and put the clean tomatoes into the other sink. From there I blanch, skin, core, and process.

My sink has happily had a lot of tomatoes go through it this summer.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Canning Squash


I haven't blogged in ages. It's canning season and my days are FILLED with washing, peeling, trimming, slicing, cooking, stirring, and canning.

Most people don't can summer squash. It's not recommended because the squash turns so soft and mushy. I can it, though, because I use it in my Grandmama's Delicious Squash Casserole (TM). I'm going to mash it for the casserole, so it doesn't matter that it's soft and mushy. In fact, that makes casserole making easier! The recipe calls for 2 cups mashed, but I just drain and mash what's in the quart jar and call it good.

To can summer squash, pick it young and trim the ends. Slice it into 1/2" slices (I sliced mine a lot thicker, but did a hot pack so it was well heated before canning).

Raw pack (1" head space) or hot pack (1/2" head space).
Add 1/2 tsp. salt (pints) or 1 tsp. salt (quarts) if desired.
Process pints for 30 minutes, or quarts for 40 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure.

Squash Casserole
2 cups cooked, drained, and mashed squash
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp. minced dried onion or 1/4 cup chopped fresh
1/4 cup (1 stick) melted margarine

Mix and put in greased 2 quart casserole.
Bake at 350F about 40 minutes until lightly browned.

***

This recipe freezes well, too. I've made a few double and triple recipes this summer and frozen them in quart ziplock freezer bags. If you do this, measure four cups of casserole "mix" per bag.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Many Legged Carrot


What can I say?
Nature has a way of always being able to surprise and amaze.

I've been crazy busy. I tried to cut my thumb off when butchering a rabbit but that's mostly better now.

I've put up marinara, pickles, some other stuff... working on barbecue sauce now.

The garden is buried under weeds. At least it used to be.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Three Sisters


Well it's high time I gave an update on my three sisters experiment. I'm embarrassed to share these photos because the plot is in such sad shape. I haven't pulled one single weed, I haven't mulched, and the soil there is pitiful. The deer got in and ate my squash and beans almost down to stems at one point before we hooked up the fence charger. So the results are abysmal, yet I'm encouraged and will definitely do this again next year unless something goes horribly wrong in the near future.


The soil in this area is clay and rock with an amazing hardpan. We dug it up with a roto-tiller on the tractor and the tiller had a hard time breaking the soil. At a certain depth it was like asphalt and the tiller just rode on top of it. I think I'll try to plant alfalfa, buckwheat, or ryegrass here in the fall as a green manure and to break through that hardpan. All three of those have deep roots to help break up compacted soil but I don't know what would be a good choice for fall planting.

I'll also amend the soil more next year. When this garden is spent, I'll clean up the chicken house and spread the manure around. I'll probably till it in, let it sit for a week or two, till it in again, and then plant my cover crop. I may end up burning up the cover crop but I'm going to give it a try anyway.

Next year I may do mounds again or I may modify it and do long raised beds/rows. Whichever I choose, I'll definitely mulch well, especially in the walkways.

I'm encouraged because I can see how this could work really well. The corn is finally starting to grow (what didn't wither and die) and the beans are beginning to reach out and some of them are twining around the corn plants. The squash are blooming and spreading out like crazy things.

Some things I did right: I selected tall growing corn varieties with strong root structures. I am trying Hickory King (a dent corn that can be eaten as roasted ears when young), Country Gentleman (shoepeg), and Stowell's Evergreen. Shorter stalks and weaker root structures can't handle the weight of beans growing on them very well.

I also selected beans that grow well in cornfields and can thrive in the partial shade of that environment. I'm trying Genuine Cornfield, Ruth Bible, and Turkey Craw. Other bean types need full sun and won't produce well in a cornfield.

I planted six corn seeds per mound and then later on when the corn was about 4-6" tall I planted a bean for each corn plant. Some of my corn hills only had one or two plants to germinate and make it to 6" tall :( I planted one squash per hill. I think with amended soil and mulch, these numbers will be about right for my mounds which are four feet apart.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Making a Garlic Braid

I grew garlic for the first time this year. I grew four different types and now I can't find the markers saying what I planted where. From what I read, hardneck garlics form scapes but softnecks do not. One of my garlic types did not produce scapes and the neck is indeed pliable. I decided to braid this garlic after curing the plants and setting aside the three best heads for planting in the fall.


Braiding garlic is pretty much like braiding anything else, except you add in garlic plants as you go. I begin by placing a garlic plant in the center, bulb away from me. Then I place a plant to the right and cross its stem over the first plant. Then I take a third plant and put it on the left. I'll cross its stem into the center of the other two, and my braid is begun.


Just like braiding anything else, the right hand bit (the rightmost stem) now crosses to the center.


I add in a garlic plant by placing the new plant's stem alongside a stem that is already a part of the braid, and that is being crossed over into the center.


I continue adding in plants as I go, first on one side and then on the other. I add a plant from each side, then do a couple of "cross over to the center"s without adding in a new garlic plant. This results in a loose braid that is not as pretty as a tight braid, but will allow for better air circulation. I'm concerned about the garlic going bad if it isn't well ventilated, because I live in a very humid area.


After all the garlic has been braided in, I continue braiding the stems. I tie these off with a bit of bailing twine but you can also just tie the stems in a simple knot.

To use the garlic, just get some scissors and snip off the bulb that you want. Easy peasy.

This is the first time I've done garlic like this, but I experimented with some onions last year and they kept all winter long. I hung them in a terrible location, too - the south facing window above the sink in my kitchen. I hung this garlic braid on a nail in my pantry. I think it should keep pretty well in there with no sunlight and fairly regular temperatures.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Potato Patch Tour, Continued


This is a squash bug. Why he's hanging out in the potatoes I have no idea. I planted my squash late and they are just starting to sprout. I'll have to keep a vigilant eye on them.


The icky slug. I had these real bad at one point. I mustered up my courage and actually picked them off and dumped them into my soapy water bucket. It was hard getting the nerve but once I actually touched them it wasn't any worse than cracking an egg. Slimy, but so what? I'm not rushing to repeat the experience though.


A good guy! I avoid spraying if at all possible because I'm hoping some good guys will get established in the garden like this ladybug. Last year the only good guy I had was a garden spider. This year I have ladybugs and I saw one mantid.


I never really thought about it, but until I grew potatoes for the first time last year I didn't know they flowered. This is a sad example of a potato blossom but it's what I had. Potatoes aren't grown from seed, though. Although the potato plant flowers, to my knowledge the seeds are not used. Potatoes are grown from other potatoes (called seed potatoes, but they're really just plain old small potatoes). The potatoes or potato pieces are buried about 4 inches deep. The eyes sprout and become the green plants you see in the potato patch. After the plants turn yellow and fall over, you dig the potatoes out of the dirt with a pitchfork or garden fork.

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