Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homemade BBQ Sauce

Grilling the peppers.
The diced chiles.
A while back I made BBQ sauce for the first time. It seems that all the sauces you by at the grocery store have high fructose corn syrup in them. It was something I'd decided I'd never be able to make on my own because I just couldn't find a recipe. And for some reason, it seemed very complicated. But I'd successfully made ketchup and for some reason, never thought I could make BBQ sauce... maybe it seemed too complicated, or its recipes were long-kept secrets... But one day I  was skimming through the excellent cookbook "Put 'em up!" by Sherri Brooks Vinton, and stumbled upon a recipe for charred chili barbeque sauce. And that day I was looking for things to do with the excess of chiles and tomatoes I had. In fact, this recipe called for one pound of chiles and five pounds of tomatoes, and I had more than that. So I decided to make it. It wasn't quick, but it wasn't difficult either. I think I'm glad I have a year of canning under my belt so that I don't get bogged down with things beyond the basic recipe. And it was really fairly straightforward and had so few ingredients... chiles, tomatoes, onions, brown sugar, vinegar and spices... Within a three hours, I'd canned two quarts and two pints of barbeque sauce. We didn't try it for a few days, but then Rich made chicken wings with the sauce, and they were delicious... the sauce is just the right amount of spicy and sweet, but not too sweet to be cloying. Next year, I'm hoping to make more, and maybe even tweak the recipe a little bit to add a different flavor profile to some of the jars... We'll see. For now, though, we'll enjoy this sauce over the winter. And I hope you enjoy my periodic recipes, pictures, and musings...

Add fresh, peeled tomatoes.

Add onions, vinegar, spices...

Simmer for many hours.

Simmer until it's reduced & thick & fragrant.

Put into jars for processing.

A few hours' work = a few month's worth of BBQ sauce!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Now that the first frost is behind us...

Zinnias with Frosting

Basil, post-frost.

Cosmos in frost
After four days of rain last week, the skies started to clear around sunset on Thursday. I was out in the garden, in the quickly fading light trying to pick every last tomato and pepper, and trying to cover as many of the plants as I could with nearly every sheet from the house. I was surprised by a bolt of sunset, on orange beam on the garden. Later that evening, walking the dogs, the stars were out and our breath was visible. I rose early on Friday, and took a few pictures of the zinnias and cosmos. There was frost on every part of the garden, except what I'd managed to cover. Today, the day after the second frost of the season, was beautiful: cloudless skies, warm temperatures... in fact the weather seems to promise many days of warm weather... maybe the remaining tomatoes will get a chance to ripen. Or else there's going to be a whole lot of fried green tomatoes around here!

I can't believe the garden is basically done for the season. It's been six months since I put the first seeds in the ground. I have had some wild successes (cherry tomatoes, ronde de nice squash, all the herbs I grew...) and some spectacular failures (spinach, onions & garlic, melons). I worked hard, and am proud of the garden. This afternoon I spent some time walking around the garden, taking notes about what worked and what didn't (and if not, why) already making plans for next season. I'm planning on growing in more traditional rows next year, with the hope that it'll make weeding easier. I will spend the next few months planning which varieties I will grow and ordering seeds, and starting seeds, and before you know it, I'll be back out in the garden!

I'm not planning on abandoning this blog over the winter. I've got lots of pictures to share, and plan on posting recipes and more.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September already?

Asparagus Beans Growing Well.

Huckleberries Ripening!

A Jenny Lind Melon

Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers Almost Ripe.

What happens when a turtle has a snack.

Do you see the thing at the top with the white projectiles? That's a tomato hornworm that has had wasp larva laid on top of it. They'll eat the worm, and then go off and do wasp things. I was very happy to see this. 
Oh, boy. Another month has past me by! Here it is, the end of August, and I am just now getting around to posting my first post for the month. I've been thinking about you, my readers... (if you're still around!) You see, it goes like this: I get up in the morning, and sometimes I do a little reading, and sometimes I walk the dogs, and sometimes I do a little cleaning up from the night before, and then I make my way into the garden. And once I'm out there, I am overcome with one must-do-now project after another. I've worried that working in this huge garden all alone is going to affect my brain. I had thought it would sharpen my brain along with my back muscles, but some days I swear I just flit from idea to idea, from project to project. Breathlessly half-tackling the first thing I see that needs doing. Find the hornworm on this tomato plant. Figure out what's wrong with these pepper plants. Figure out where this cucumber patch is, and then weed it so I don't have to figure out where it is tomorrow. Harvest. Water. Kill more bugs. And in the meantime, it's hot, and humid, and I'm taking breaks every hour. Sometimes sooner than that, honestly. And I head inside, and drink water, and cool off, and then walk the dogs again, and then go back out into the garden and then come back inside and I realize I'm dizzy because it's now 1 o'clock, and I've barely eaten anything yet today. So I make something for lunch. And I play some Words with Friends or check Facebook, and then walk the dogs again. And then back out into the garden. And I realize the herb garden needs watering, and as the sun shifts in the sky, I realize that I need to stop tackling things for today and start making a list for tomorrow. And sometimes a neighbor stops by. And sometimes I sit on the porch and read and drink an iced coffee. And sometimes I go inside and start canning or pickling or making jam. And then it's time for Rich to get home, and it's nearly 6 o'clock, and it's time to make dinner. And I'm sore and tired and all I want to do is sit in the kitchen have a cocktail with Rich and maybe do a crossword, and then we sit down for dinner, and then suddenly it's time for bed. And I never made it upstairs to write up a quick blog, even if I took pictures to do just that. And here we are, the end of August. Whew!
Not to say that I haven't enjoyed this summer of gardening. But let me tell you, I definitely bit off more than I can chew alone. I've had glorious help. Folks helped me disc the garden (my neighbor, Alvin, twice), they helped me plant (Mike S, Rich, Sam, Kate, Eli, Tessa and Jesse), they helped me weed (Rich, Mike S, Mike B, Kate, Sam, Alyssa, Bob, Jesse & Eli), they attempted to mow (Bob), they helped me cage the wild tomatoes (Rich, Alyssa, & Bob), they helped me harvest (Alyssa, Kate, Sam, Rich, Andrea), and they bought produce from me (lots of folks!) (I hope I didn't forget anybody.)
My garden grew wild. The weeds grew well and with abandon. The grass is lovely blowing in the breeze, and I love seeing the swirled beds left from where the deer slept last night. I'm sad the deer ate all my corn. I'm glad they didn't leave any for the raccoons, I guess. There are times when I stand out in the garden and marvel at its beauty: the cosmos and zinnias with their surprising colors dancing among the field of yellowing grasses. The okra flowers I can't get enough of. The okra I can't pick enough of. The site of gently curving rows of tomato plants, their ripening fruit catching the sun and winking... There are many successes in this year's garden. Sure there were some failures (spinach & garlic being the two most notable), and some surprise successes (the tomatoes, when for so long they looked like they wouldn't make it) and some things the jury's still out on: the cabbages, planted in April, are just now forming heads. The beans, which looked like they'd given up three weeks ago, coming back with a vengeance last week with pounds of beans for me to pick.
And now the days have changed. It hasn't really rained in almost three weeks, and the garden, in fact the whole area is dry. Every week at the Farmers' Market, every farmer asks who got rain, and reacts jealously to those who did. The light is longer in the afternoons, the days cooler and dryer. They remind me, in fact, of Colorado's Indian Summers... cloudless blue and dry with a whisper of a breeze in the cottonwood leaves just starting to turn yellow from lack of moisture. There's a chance for rain tonight, and then a return of hot and humid weather: summer's last gasp before Labor Day, perhaps...
I'm hoping to publish a few anecdotes and stories that took place over the month, but for now, I'm glad you're still reading.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meeting another neighbor

For the past year, I've been seeing this blue-gray truck drive past the house, acknowledging the driver with a wave and a smile, but hadn't yet met him. That changed a few weeks ago when he drove down the driveway. He introduced himself as Frank, another retired EIU professor. He brought us a bag of corn, saying "It looks like you're not gonna be getting any of your corn, so I brought you some." True enough. The deer have been eating my corn, and the few ears of Inca Blue Corn I've been able to harvest haven't been complete enough to eat. I'm going to use them as fall decorations, though. Frank started talking, and it was a good thing I didn't have anything pressing going on, because he kept on talking! He's lived on our road for many years, well over 20, perhaps longer, and seems to have a historical knowledge of the area. I heard lots of stories about the past tenant of our house, and many other stories about other tenants. What was grown where, who had more success or failure, and much more. We talked about invasive species, about profitability versus the pleasure of growing. He told me he grows his corn behind an electric fence to keep the deer and coons out. He suggested I do the same, unless I just like the look of corn growing in the garden... (which, honestly, doesn't look too bad!) He commented that he's been impressed with the amount of produce I planted (at this point, I'm just going to assume all of our neighbors have checked out the garden by foot...) and when I offered to give him some produce, he declined, saying he's got enough of his own. 
Frank stopped by a few days later. He actually caught me just as I was about to get into the shower. He waited patiently on the stoop while I located clean shorts and stepped outside to chat. He came bearing even more corn, and the cutest baby eggplants this time. I told him that his corn was the best we'd ever tasted. And that's no lie nor is it hyperbole. It was perfectly sweet, with just the right amount of starch, and bite, and although I've been slicing the kernels off the cob for years because I hate corn getting between my teeth, the second time we cooked it, I couldn't wait to rip it right off the cob. And I savored every kernel stuck in my teeth! Truly some amazing corn. He's been saving the seeds for years, of course, as he's not a fan of anything GMO or purchased if he can help it. As we talked, he asked what my plans were for the garden, and I said that I'm hoping to mow it down and turn it over this fall, in preparation for next spring. Frank said that he does that to his garden, and our neighbor, Dick's, and he'd be glad to do mine. I asked what I can do for him. He told me that since he's 72, he might need me to help him attach the equipment to the tractor (here's where all my friends shudder!) and I told him I would. He said it's not a problem to work my garden since the hard part is getting going. What great luck. 
He gave us so much corn, I knew we couldn't get to it all, so I've blanched it & frozen it (about a quart's worth) and I'm looking forward to eating it this winter... 
And I think I've learned that one should always have a pair of shorts handy...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Three W's

Asparagus Yard-Long Beans 
It's about 5 p.m. on a Thursday as I sit here and write this. I've got an iced coffee, some water, and my arms and neck are caked in dirt. I haven't showered yet after a day in the garden; I figured I would try and get ya'll an update of how things are going. We've been hot and humid just about every day of July. There have been a few days that brought pop-up thunderstorms in the area, but none directly overhead. Only one day has yielded rain in the past two weeks, and we only got a quarter of an inch that day. But some spectacular lightning. The clouds have been spectacular, as well... those dramatic Midwest thunderheads towering over the green and rather flat landscape. Alas, little rain. There are chances for rain over the next two days, and I really hope we get a good soaking. Earlier this summer I worried about weeds getting the advantage in the rain. But really, this dry weather has been a boon for the crabgrass and the morning glories. Although I love a blue morning glory flower, I hate finding a pepper or tomato plant being strangled by their vines...

Borage, up close & personal
Most every day over the past few weeks has been spent immersed in the Three W's: Weeds, Water & Worms. Weeding in this garden could be a 24/7 job. Since I can't work 24 hours a day, especially when the heat index is 105 or higher, the weeds are definitely getting the upper hand. Today, for example, I weeded six beds rather thoroughly. Pulling up crabgrass by the roots, snipping tougher grasses at the ground level, untwining morning glories. Giving tomatoes and peppers and okra a bit of breathing room and more sunlight. Giving them more sunlight, though, means needing to give them more water. As I weed, I mulch the plants with the weeds I just pulled up (unless it's a morning glory. Those get tossed aside.) And then I water. You may recall that in preparation for the discing that enabled me to plant in the first place, I had to pull out all the old irrigation tubing. I haven't replaced it yet, since the design of the garden is not in long rows. I planted in smallish generally rectangular beds with mixed crops in each. This design has proven to be a nightmare in regards to weeding and watering. For a while, I had been watering with a watering can, figuring that this gets water only on the plants that need it, and not on their leaves to prevent scorching. Last week and the week before, I resorted to watering with a regular sprinkler, not caring about anything more than getting the plants some water. This was when the heat wave was particularly intense. It took five hours to water the entire garden this way. This week, I discovered buckets. I have two large buckets I've been filling with water and lugging to the far-flung reaches of the garden, and then watering heavily and directly, the plants. This is helping the plants by getting them more water than I had been delivering. And it's giving me an awesome upper-body workout! Although I am sore, both the plants and I are benefiting! I have been alternating between watering tomatoes, peppers & okra on one day and squashes, beans and cucumbers the other. Herbs get it every day. This seems to be working. I am hoping to get a good and solid rainfall so I can reset my watering schedule, and instead of watering by type, which leads me all over the garden, I can water one section of the garden daily, regardless of type. This will mean not having to carry water as far. As the buckets fill, I have been getting on my hands and knees and weeding and looking for worms. Over the past few weeks, I have been finding very few tomato hornworms. But the second brood of the season seems to have hatches: over the past two days alone, I have found and killed over two dozen of the fat, green critters. Many of them have been small, but today I killed a couple of particularly large ones. One entire tomato plant has been stripped to its stalks... I am hoping it recovers. But these tomato plants are laden with fruit. I am trying to keep the water even in the hopes of stopping the blossom end-rot I've been seeing on the tomatoes. We've eaten a few of these damaged and doomed tomatoes, and they've been so tasty.
Some curling peppers...
Zinnias adding some color to the garden.

When I haven't been taking care of the three W's, I have been doing a few other things out in the garden: I've been enjoying the quiet. Well, it's not quiet. There are birds and hummingbirds and bees and mosquitoes and cicadas and rabbits and the wind in the grass and the woods lining the garden. On many occasions over the past few weeks, I've been nearly overwhelmed by the absolute bucolic bliss of the garden. I've been harvesting. Blackberries, zucchinis, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, apples, pears, carrots, the last of the lettuce, turnips, potatoes, lemon squash, ronde de nice squash, lemon cucumbers, countless and endless beans, and zinnias. And I've been admiring all the beauty of the garden: the okra plants, especially, with their gorgeous almost-tropical flowers and their snaking fruit. And the huckleberries are ripening and are beautiful. And the zinnias, the marigolds, the petunias and the cosmos. The beautiful borage plants, with their sky-blue teardrop flowers. And I've been selling at the farmers' market. We found out this week that the market is full. Which means for the folks who come on a week-by-week basis, it's first-come-first-serve. Some folks have tomatoes already, but they've either grown them in a hoop house, which is basically covering the plants with a semi-permanent structure directly in the garden, or they've been grown in a greenhouse... everybody else is in the same position: being taunted by the slow ripening tomatoes every day. This past week, I basically sold out of produce by 9 a.m. At that point, Rich & I decided to pack it in and head home to some air-conditioning... Until I headed back out into the humid garden to tackle the Three W's...
Sunflowers against the barn.

Some of the first Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes.
If any of you are in the area and want a little workout, the garden's always open and the weeds seem to always be there for pulling. I'm just saying...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another long overdue update!

The blackberries are ripening.
July 6 - First Day at the Market!
Some of the produce...
 It's been a while since I've posted. Ten days, in fact. What have I been doing during that time? Well, mostly weeding. As of this morning, I feel that I am perhaps a half-a-step ahead of the weeds. But with the forecast the next week to be brutally hot and humid, the weeds may get the upper hand again. It's a tough job trying to keep the garden weeded. Mostly I'm dealing with crabgrass, which is at times almost impossibly to pull out. So we've resorted to the weed-whacker and garden clippers. Both work amazingly well. When I've not been killing unwanted plants, I've been killing unwanted bugs: mostly Japanese Beetles on the beans and Tomato Hornworms on the tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. And some kind of long, green worm on my four o'clocks. Four o'clocks are my favorite flower, and never in my life have I ever seen anything eat them. But I guess neither Denver nor Greece have the plethora of bug life that East Central Illinois does. Something's been defoliating my hollyhocks too. Sometimes organic gardening sucks! When I've not been killing weeds or squishing bugs, I've been watering. Tomatoes and peppers mostly, and yesterday the entire garden. That took seven hours. I did spend some of that time killing things. But mostly just watering. We really haven't had any rain in well over a week, and although the air is mighty humid, sometimes the plants need a little bit of water proper. And, when I haven't been pulling up weeds, smooshing bugs, or watering the plants, I've been harvesting the fruits of all that labor. The last of the lettuce, the last of the radishes, apples, blackberries, cucumbers, zucchini, ronde de nice squash, beans, and herbs. So much basil and cilantro, I'm having trouble keeping up. But it's amazing how much these plants are producing. And everyday, there are more and more flowers: on the beans, on the squash, the cucumbers, and on the tomatoes and peppers. The okra seem to grow six inches a day. And almost every flower I've planted out in the garden is blooming. It's really become quite a lovely place to spend a hot, humid and buggy evening!
The rest of the produce...

And I've been to the Charleston Farmers' Market twice now. It starts at 6 a.m., really gets busy around 7-8, and then again around 9-9:30. I've got  a permanent spot on the west side of the courthouse. I'm next to another Growers Association member who sells flowers and a farmer who's been selling greenhouse tomatoes. His name is Brian, and the word got out that his tomatoes are delicious. This past Wednesday he had a line most of the morning. On the first week, I had mixed greens, zucchini, ronde de nice squash, turnips, radishes, basil, along with a few handfuls of other fresh herbs. I sold out of the squash, half the zucchini, half the basil and most of the lettuce, as well as all of the turnips and radishes. For the second week, I had ronde de nice squash, zucchinis, cucumbers, basil and a few bundles of fresh herbs. I sold out of everything but the bundles of herbs and a few of the zucchini. One woman wanted to buy a bundle of fresh parsley, that I had priced at $1. Once she found out how much I was charging she told her husband to put his dollar away, that she'd buy it at County Market. He tried to protest, but she wasn't hearing any of it. Perhaps my parsley is a bit high, but overall, I think my prices are just about right. Working at the farmers' market is fun. It's nice to see all the people out shopping in our little town. It's interesting to watch people shop. How some will approach the stand and do all they can not to catch your eye. And walk away quickly once I say "Good Morning". Or those who stop, talk, and fondle the produce, and ask questions. Even if they don't purchase, I like those people. I feel that there are some folks who think shopping at the farmers market will bring them a bargain for produce, and others who shop there to seek out higher-quality produce, along with varieties they won't find at the local grocery store. And others are there to chat and gossip and visit with friends. I try not to take it personally when someone doesn't buy my zucchinis or lettuce, knowing they're weighing price, quality, size, along with whether they know the farmer or not. But for me, I know all the sweat and toil that went into each vegetable. I'm proud to offer such high-quality produce, yet want to offer people value for the quality. It's a tough line to walk. But it's definitely fun to be out there, offering produce and seeing my friends and the shoppers of Charleston!
Rich, weed-whacking the garden.

July 13, the second week at the market!
I've got friends arriving this afternoon for a quick visit, and we're planning a Bastille Day/Happy (the dog)'s Birthday Party for this evening. Grilling some food, playing some bags and croquet and enjoying a bonfire. This may be our first party without inclement weather since arriving here in Hutton, and we're pretty excited about it. This is also one of the last warm, not hot, and not humid days forecast for the area for the foreseeable future. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you on the Square!
Cabbage Patch Before Weeding.
Cabbage Patch After Weeding!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

 Happy Independence Day, everybody! Now I'm not a huge fan of fireworks, but Saturday night, we were treated to one of my favorite fireworks displays: a lightning storm. It was actually a rather severe storm that very slowly rolled through. These pictures I took around 8:15 or so, at sunset, just as the storm was building. That evening, Rich & I ate a delicious meal inside, and decided we wanted to head out to the front porch for a few more cocktails and a couple of rounds of Farkel (a very fun dice game we've become addicted to!) Once we stepped outside, the first thing we noticed was all the electricity around. In the yard and garden, countless fireflies. And reflect from the northern and western skies into the air all around the house: endless flashes of lightning. We played out on the porch for about an hour until we realized that the storm was approaching and the still-constant lightning was more and more accompanied by louder and louder thunder. We retreated indoors and continued playing at the dining room table. Within the hour, the storm was all around us: now more than lightning and thunder, but also wind and hail and what would be two inches of rainfall. The storm continued unabated and with near-steady lightning until after we went to sleep.  Judging by the time on the alarm clock in the morning, our power went off at about 2:30, which means that this storm lasted well over six hours! Now that's what I call a fireworks display!

Because of all the rain (it rained overnight again last night), I was late in getting into the garden today. But I did get to spend a few hours weeding and harvesting and killing tomato hornworms. I got about six of them today. I'm so glad Alvin showed me to look for their droppings on the newspaper mulch around my tomatoes. Once I see droppings, I know there's a worm on that plant. And, by the size of the droppings, I know whether I'm looking for a big or little worm. Brilliant! I harvested four more zucchini today, as well as the first two cucumbers (one Homemade Pickle and one Marketmore 76) as well as the first kohlrabi. To be honest, I wasn't sure what the kohlrabi was. I planted them intermixed with beets and mustard greens, but I've never seen a kohlrabi before, and thought it was either a turnip or a beet that didn't get as red as it should have. The kohlrabi is about the size of a beet, but a nice purple. I can't wait to eat it and see how it tastes!

I hope you all have a safe and fun Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The garden as of this morning.
Basil & Marigolds
I know it's been a while since my last post. I hope you haven't lost interest. The days in the garden have been long and hot and tiring and exhilarating and often by the time I'm done working in the garden, I'm done just about with everything. And Rich & I went on a vacation for nearly a week. Went to North Carolina to visit his folks and his friends. And I got to see Asheville and Nashville for the first time! I was nervous leaving the garden, as the week before we left, I'd spent a lot of time (much of it with friends helping) weeding the garden and mulching tomatoes and feeling like things were good. The weather while we were gone was perfect for plant growth: warm but not hot, with over 2" of rain. Both the weeds and my plants benefitted!

Some pole beans.
Ever since returning from vacation, I've been puzzled by seemingly random damage to some of my tomato plants. I surmised it must be deer, since the plants appeared to be eaten from the top down. But I saw no hoof prints, no deer scat, no other damage. Alvin came over this afternoon, and while reassuring me that this garden has always looked just about like this just about this time (which means it looks like the weeds are just about to take over), I asked him what he thought might be eating my tomatoes. He looked at the damage and quickly said, "well, Joe, those are those damn tomato worms." And sure enough, once he said it, I saw a big, four inch-long worm the exact same color as the tomato plant. I plucked it off, squeezed its green guts out and smashed it into the ground for good measure. No remorse; I want those tomatoes. Earlier today I saw the first Japanese beetles. And while they are beautiful and metallic and remind me a little of the scarabs in Greece, I smashed some of those too, since they were defoliating my turnips. Growing a garden means you've got to do a lot of killing: pulling up weeds and unwanted plants, thinning plants to let others grow, and killing bugs trying to eat your plants.

Blackberries ripening.
When I returned from vacation, the garden was nearly unrecognizable as it was nearly covered with weeds. A weed-eater and two lawn mowers did a lot to make it look much more like a proper garden. And now, after nearly a week of working at it, I am able to walk around, ignoring the weeds, and concentrate on how much things are growing. Since returning, I've been harvesting zucchini (over 25 now) and ronde de nice squash every day. The radishes and lettuces are winding down. The peas are somehow still producing despite the tropical heat. And herbs: basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, lemon balm, and mint need to be picked every day to manage their growth. While I was still planting, I kind of went crazy planting basil. I figured it will sell well. And I know it will, as long as I can keep it thinned and weeded and keep it from flowering... And with it spread all over the garden, that's quite a task! There are marigolds and nasturtiums and zinnias blooming all over the garden, as well as all the tiger lilies, mums and daisies around the yard. And I discovered that one of our apple trees produces some sort of early Macintosh variety that, while a little mealy raw, will cook down just fine... And those are already ready. So I am planning on making my first offering at the Farmers' Market this coming Wednesday... only five weeks after it began. Better late than never, right?

The corn is knee-high by the 4th of July!
Tomato Hornworm Damage.
A Tomato Hornworm about to die.
Every day I am out in the garden I learn something new. Today it was tomato hornworm. I've learned about how effective newspaper is as mulch, about early apple varieties, about the difference between raspberries and blackberries, what a snake looks like from a distance, and so many other things. While in North Carolina, on vacation visiting Rich's parents, Rich's dad took me on a tour of his garden and yard. They've got this great cellar they use for storing all their homemade canned goods, and a few small gardens spread throughout the yard. He built a table he uses for cleaning fish, and I am co-opting his idea to build an outdoor veggie washing station. From what I've read, washing produce I intend to sell at the market might be considered processed if it's washed in our kitchen, since the kitchen isn't licensed. But if I wash the vegetables that need washing outside, it would be just fine. And I'd feel better washing them on a nice, clean surface than over the grass and letting them dry there, possibly picking up new insects. That is a project for this week. As is building some new bean and tomato trellises with some of the materials Rich's dad had left over and gave to me. And blueberry picking. Unfortunately I don't have any blueberries, but I'm going with some friends to a nearby farm to pick a ton of blueberries. Perhaps there will be some blueberry preserves and blueberry and apple jelly by the end of next week.

A few Ronde de Nice Squash.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The garden's really growing!

The view of the house from the end of the garden.
 Despite the heat, and the tomatoes and huckleberries and peppers getting early blight, and the biting flies and the cicadas, the garden is growing. Thursday morning, my friends, Kate & Sam, came over and with their help, we expanded the garden to within 13' of the eastern edge of the woods. It was a little easy, though: we were putting in hills of pumpkin and watermelon every six feet. You can cover a lot of ground when you put in 30 hills six feet apart! Not everything is planted, as there are still a handful of tomato and pepper plants straggling behind. I think I'll get them in this week. And then there will be the late-season replacements to put in next month.

But, with all the help I've gotten from friends over the past two weeks, the garden has grown into something fantastic! Plots of okra, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, all growing well, along with the zucchini, cucumbers, beans, lettuces and corn. And so much more. Just yesterday, I noticed for the first time things blooming: beans, tomatoes, zucchini. I've shared a few pictures with you here. And although the little I've been able to harvest (a bowl of beans, a few salads' worth of lettuces and radishes) hasn't been enough to take to the farmers' market or even offer to my subscribers, I now feel that in a few short weeks, I'll have more than enough produce. I'm relieved to sense that impending harvest boon!

The first tomato flower!
In a bit of a surprise note, we've got a mulberry bush. I think it's supposed to be a tree, but it's been left to its own devices for a few years. It's over by a lilac bush and our propane tank, and we'd been waiting for it to flower to see what it was. Last week I noticed that it was covered in red blooms, but upon closer inspection, I saw that it was covered in berries! How exciting is that? So far, I've picked about four quarts of mulberries from the bush. It's getting more difficult, though, as nearly any large piece of flora in our yard is home to thousands of cicadas. As I type, they fill the air with their mechanical whirring, in waves that at times, seem to pierce my ears. Outside, the boy dogs feast on them. They must be delicious, as the two of them will go from cicada to cicada, catching them, chewing them up and spitting out the wings. Just like I did with the ticks, it took me very little time and a lot of exposure to them to get used to them. I'm only bothered now when one of them gets on my ears or underneath the brow of my hat.

Well, that about catches you up... Thank you for reading, and hope to see you soon at the farmers' market!
An Eastern Box Turtle hanging out by our door yesterday afternoon.

The first zucchini!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Toast & They're Here!

It's Tuesday afternoon, and this morning was the first day in a week that I've been able to dig out new beds and plant in the garden. The soil was perfect for working, and my only wish is that I would have gotten more than two plots planted. But those plots have 24 tomatoes between the two of them (9 Green Grape plants and 13 Blondköpfchen plants), as well as some garlic, marigolds, geraniums and basil. The Blondies are going to be a yellow cherry tomato, I'm very excited about them. All of the plants were a little leggy, and the day was very windy (& hot) so I hope they do alright. Some of the peas died overnight, and about half of the tomatoes I put in two weeks ago have died. I kind of expected those losses, though, since those tomatoes were so small... The ones that survived look like they're doing better... That said, there are still about 80 tomato plants in the garden now. With more waiting. You'll notice the picture to the left here. My friend, Carrie, brought a bottle of ouzo over this afternoon so I can celebrate the first day of the Farmers' Market. I'm going to the market tomorrow, unfortunately, I won't be selling anything. I just don't have anything that's ready yet. I'm hoping that I'll be ready to sell next week. Fingers crossed...

I did start up my Subscription service today. It's basically an email list that I will use to inform my subscribers when things are ready to buy from the farm. It's one in a growing list of experiments regarding this venture! Also something exciting, or nerve-racking: tomorrow I'll be getting inspected by the Charleston Farmers' Market Growers Association members. They'll come out to check out my farm, make sure that I'm following natural, organic-like, growing practices, and that I'm growing what I say I'll be selling. It's to retain their integrity, and I'm all for it. But I feel a bit like I'm taking a test or facing the authorities... and they might tell me I'm not ready for their group, or they might laugh at the way I'm doing things...all kinds of ways for me to worry about it! I did take a look at the garden with a critical eye this afternoon, and spent a frantic hour weeding. I'm learning how to weed with a hoe, and made great strides today. It really makes some quick work against those weeds. There are still too many weeds out there, but at least it looks a little better. Wish me luck!

One final note: they've arrived: the 13-year cicadas! Many of our trees are covered with their discarded shells, and the afternoon air is alive with their mechanical whirr. I'm pretty excited about the prospect of a 13-year swarm of cicadas, only because I don't recall ever having experienced it. We'll see how I feel next week when it's been going on for a while...

Thanks for reading! Hope to see you at the Farmers' Market (some time...)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stuck in the garden

The rainy garden.
We've been waiting since Saturday for really big storms, and yesterday they hit. We woke up in a tornado watch, and wave after wave of storms blew over us. We were in town having dinner for a friend's birthday when the air raid sirens went off. Outside, the sky was green and extremely ominous. Inside, most of the patrons at the restaurant were concerned, but the staff didn't seem bothered at all. They urged us all to stay put, saying the building had weathered over a 100 years of storms so far. That didn't really calm my nerves. The sirens went off twice, and we learned that the worst of the weather was just north of town. Roads were flooded in town, because a lot of rain was falling. And the lightning! It was frequent and bright! As it turns out, there were no touchdowns in our county, though there were funnel clouds overhead. We had no damage at home, which was a relief. The garden, though, is basically under water. In my rain gauge, I measured just over 2.5" of rain over the past few days. And as I uncovered the tomatoes and peppers this afternoon, I got stuck in the mud. I had to pull my feet out of the my shoes and then dig the shoes out of the mud. That's when I decided I could do no more out there for the plants. (I had been trying to divert water out of the furrows the plants are in.) So I'm hoping the water doesn't hurt the plants too much. While we were needing some rain, I don't think we needed quite this much. And this week, I had a friend visiting. He'd hoped to spend two days working in the garden. Unfortunately, we only got a few hours' work in: we planted one 28-foot bed of rattlesnake beans. It was a good visit, even if we couldn't get more work done. 

The lemon balm is doing great!