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Jul 31, 2010

kinderGARDENS Week 16 & prepping for fall!

Welcome to Week 16!

This week the kids got to do one of their favorite things: seed starting!

Seeds arrived for the fall garden this week. I ordered from a new company this time, and couldn't be more pleased with the results so far. Shipping was uber-fast, great prices on heirloom seeds and fantastic seed packet art along with a handwritten thanks on the invoice! Seems like a small company and their vision is something I would like to support. They also have some fantastic deals in their "clearance" section that are worth checking out - I stocked up on my favorite "Golden Wax" bush bean at $1 a packet! I also purchased my first packet of cover crop and will begin doing the beds this fall. Check out the Sustainable Seed Co. website if you want to know more about the company. Next we'll see how the germination goes and I will report back on that for a full review, I'm a big believer in spreading the word when I have a good experience with a small business!

Back in the spring, I stocked up on these bricks of seed starting mix, the small size is easy to store and keep on hand and at $1 a brick on clearance, quite a bargain! The kids were excited to try it out, we added water to the brick and watched it expand to 8 quarts of seed mix!

oh yeah, back to the kids!

The kids were in charge of filling the seed trays (what a mess!), and planting the seeds, I had to watch to make sure they didn't get mixed up!

Started for Fall:
Waltham Broccoli (free Hometown Seeds)
Piracicaba Broccoli (FEDCO)
Snowball Improved Cauliflower (Sustainable Seed Co.)
American Flag Leek (Sustainable Seed Co.)
Bleu De Solaize Leek (FEDCO)
Evergreen Long White Bunching Onion (old seed)
Bright Lights Swiss Chard (old seed)
Tango Lettuce (free Sustainable Seed Co.)
Val d'Orges Lettuce (Baker Creek)
Oregano (old seed)
Giant Italian Parsley (Baker Creek)

Those that are listed as old are from 2008, not sure if I will have any luck with them. I also ordered my fall peas, carrots, spinach, and Crimson Clover cover crop from Sustainable Seed, but those will be direct seeded.

Other kid events this week:

Kids built a scarecrow while I was mowing the lawn the other night!

Below is what happens when mom allows them to raid the kitchen cabinets:

Loch is my budding chemist!

One of the things the kids wanted to do for kinderGARDENS was to build their own "farm stand" for their play area. The 100º temps have completely put that project on hold, but this past week they have been on me about it and the temps have come down a bit, so our project this week will be for mommy to be able to find the tools we need for that - not an easy task and you will see why soon, I will have to devote an entire post on that adventure!

In case you ever wondered what goes into the standard care package that gets sent to the ship, here's a look! The kids always add their own artwork, and in this case Finn added his favorite cow to the box. I warned him that mail pallets get dropped into the ocean all the time and daddy might not have room for the cow and he may never see it again... didn't care, he said daddy NEEDED the cow! The food is stunningly horrible on the ship, all one color, all the same every day, and many times he doesn't get time to eat during the galley's scheduled hours, so extra munchies are always needed. We put in some homemade beef jerky and Finn was willing to part with some of his precious dehydrated strawberries.

The next week hopefully will bring construction of the Kids Farm Stand...

For updates on other participants' happenings, check out The Inadvertent Farmer blog and link party!

Jul 29, 2010

Erin's Refrigerator Pickle Recipe

This cucumber is perfect for pickling, minus the mating squash bugs!
dark green, spiny, not too big

I have had a couple of requests for my refrigerator pickle recipe, so rather than put it in the comments section, I will post it! I'm kind of a crunchy pickle snob, pickles always sounded so gross to me growing up, but I tried my first pickle in New York City, need I say more? I still can't bring myself to even try store bought jarred pickles, I don't want to taint that beautiful 1st pickle I ate over 10 years ago! I am always on a mission for crunch in my homemade pickles!

Garlicky Hot Dill Cucumber Pickles
*small recipe makes 2 pints*

1.5 cups Plain White Vinegar
1.5 cups Sugar
1/2 tsp Pickling or Kosher Salt
1/2 cup approx Dill
1-2 per jar Garlic Cloves
1-2 per jar Hot Pepper (any fresh hot pepper you are growing)
Cucumbers, enough to fill 2 jars

Let's Make 'em!:
1. Slice ends off cucumbers (unless they are baby dills) and slice to fit in the jar
2. Place washed dill leaves/flower heads in each jar around the edge to show them off!
3. Place 1 or 2 whole peeled garlic cloves around the outer edge in each jar
4. Place whole pepper in jar (I use fish peppers, cayenne or similar would work!)
5. Bring vinegar, sugar & salt to a simmer (not boil)
6. Pour liquid over the vegetables and leave headspace in the jar (more for spillage protection since you aren't canning them)
7. Cap and refrigerate! In about a week they will be ready and flavorful. Will keep about 2 months this way in the fridge.

Personal Experience/Notes:
*Use cucumbers that are still small and dark green with lots of spines for the crunchiest pickles. I use a Japanese Climbing cucumber that is picked when about 4 inches long and 1 inch or less in diameter (usually!) (most mushy pickles are due to cukes being too big/overripe, if it's yellow or whitish, use it for something else!)

*Note that refrigerator pickles do not need copious amounts of salt, so they are great if you are watching your salt intake like me!

*I use both dill leaves if I have them and the whole flower heads, as much as I can cram in there!

* I use whole, peeled garlic cloves, but you could crush them slightly if you want faster garlic infusion

* I place one whole hot pepper per jar, you could try more depending on the heat of your pepper

* You could experiment with other herbs and additions like onions, but if clarity of the liquid is a feature you are going for, the above recipe will produce crystal clear jars that really show off the vegetable!

* I pickle carrots and beans the same way - a mixture of yellow and green beans is gorgeous to look at and eat!

* I don't worry about placing fresh grape leaves in the bottoms of my refrigerator pickles, they only seem to make a difference in keeping the crunch of long-term canned pickles.

Dilly Beans made with the same recipe, use leftover cut herbs to make a salad vinegar, too!

For those that don't/can't have a garden, or who receive CSA shares as their primary produce provider, these are a great small-batch easy way to preserve food. You can pickle vegetables you find at the farmer's market while they are in season to enjoy later without all the hassle of canning, this recipe only takes 25 minutes start to finish, and that included me walking the garden to harvest the ingredients!

Dove update...

can you believe it? That's all I've got for now...

Jul 28, 2010

Watermelons and Waging War

I couldn't stand it any longer, I went out and took it! It's a bouncing 12.5 lb Baby Bush Watermelon! So here's the funny thing: as I was poking at the vines, the little one fell off. Had a brown tendril like it's supposed to and fell off the vine. The BIG one is the first melon that developed and still had no brown tendrils and was still firmly attached, I had to cut it off. What gives? I cut the small one open and it appears to be ripe, although it doesn't have much in it since it's so small! We'll cut the larger open tomorrow and I will report back on the taste.

Finn begged me to make pickles, so I had just enough for 2 jars of refrigerator dills. He was pretty upset when I told him it would be about a week before they would taste "pickly", so I offered him a slice of fresh cucumber but he wouldn't try it.

It's warm today, about 93º (notice how that's not "hot" anymore LOL?), so I spent most of the day reorganizing the canning closet and taking stock of what I need. I definitely need to replace my old canning rack before a disaster happens! Also got my seedling trays and seed starting mix out, seeds should be here Friday.

bad dog

On a down note, Sprocket the Outback Jack killed one of the juvenile doves a few minutes ago. Mama Dove is pacing with her wings out on the deck railing and just breaking my heart. I will never get used to the Jack Russell in her, give me Border Collie neuroticism any day over this. To her credit, Marley was barking and trying to alert me to the chaos in the yard but I ignored her. At least Sprocket didn't tear it up, she carried it up to me completely intact, damn dog. She's still my lovebug, but I am again reminded of the nature of dogs!

In a few minutes I am headed out to wage war against Squash Bugs and Leaf Footed Bugs who are drilling holes in my tomatoes, someone's going to get hurt, and it won't be me.... I have scissors & soap and Neem if necessary. I plan to cut them in half, they're easy to get when they are mating and being all gross and squash-buggly - what a way to go, huh?

Then I plan to be civilized and enjoy a glass of wine and knit, maybe read a book... us gardeners are a deranged bunch, aren't we?

daily dose of gross

Squash Bugs...want to know more? Click here!

Jul 27, 2010

very busy and loving it!

The heat seems to have broken for awhile! Yesterday and today temps in the mid-upper 80's and very low humidity, so I was finally able to venture outside to survey the damage. Kind of feels like when you finally go out to assess the yard after a hurricane, although at least hurricanes are in and out of here in a matter of hours, not weeks!

Heirloom Tomato Alley was a big casualty. I picked a very bad year to try out tomatoes in containers! They were all cooked to death except the one in the pot above, and go figure, it's another UFO tomato plant! I sure wish I knew what it was, it's the healthiest tomato I have ever grown! Ripped out and trashed yesterday were the Vorlon, Black Krim, True Black Brandywine, Brandywine and Paul Robeson.

The kids' rooftop garden box is officially dead! It was way too hot up there to be in a container, too bad since there was a couple of mini pumpkins just starting too. I will rip that out tomorrow and wait a few weeks then start some Scarlet Runner Beans and see if those will work out.

The Orange Wellington hybrid tomatoes came through like a champ! There are 2 plants crammed in this hot container and they are starting to really produce like mad. I definitely understand now the reasoning for having a few hybrids around, they seem to be hardier than the heirlooms.

I built something a little crazy yesterday...

It's my UFO Tomato Super-Structure! I'm getting pretty good at this "use what you have" thing! I had tons of PVC from the huge hoophouse we tried in the winter over the whole garden. These tomatoes are massively tall, taller than any Brandywine I've ever grown, which are famous for being huge plants. I should have put a kid next to them in the picture, but they are easily 8-9 ft tall. I had to stand on a chair with a box on it to tie the top, it wasn't pretty. I called out to the kids to go tell the neighbor if I break a leg. Imagine the chair slowly sinking into the raised bed dirt as I am tying knots LOL. I'm thinking the bendy-floppy structure may be of benefit during hurricane season. Last year, I used the Florida Weave with strong line and metal fenceposts, it ended up being so rigid that the plants themselves tore at each section of line and shredded in the wind. Flexible might be better, then if the cage can completely fly off, maybe only some of the vines/stems will go but some might remain. We'll find out in Sept/Oct!

Cosmos loved the heat, I had to tear a bunch out to find my apple trees!

There's another apple tree I haven't found yet... see it? Got a machete?!

Believe it or not, in May I landscaped this back of the yard compost area. Pulled weeds, added mulch, flowers, stepping stones and coleus all along the right side. Hopefully I will get to this in the next couple of days.... it's all completely obscured now by stupid Sassafras! Trees pop up everywhere and jump to about 5 feet in a month! I also see a volunteer squash of some sort along the pavers... but I don't see my coleus, or my stack of straw, or the woodpile LOL!

Hacked back ALL the grape vines and bagged them for trash, now I can actually see my garden. They loved the heat too apparently, they had jumped out into my beds and had tendrils wrapped around tomato cages, cucumbers, even grabbed ahold of a jalapeno! I wonder how many Japanese Beetles are being cooked to death in those plastic bags (grin)!

Here's the current state of the fenced garden: the grapes are planted on left and right and far back center of the split rail fence, so removing them really opened up my garden visually. the empty space is where I have been repeatedly trying to grow lettuce, it sprouts and wilts in the heat the same day! The front left bed is cucumbers and Roma tomatoes with some random cilantro and zinnia, the back left bed is all the peppers, back right is the UFO's , chives, cilantro and dill, and front right now is only a few herbs and a teepee of Malabar Spinach

While cleaning up the brambles, I noticed these branches heavy with new blackberries! I thought they were done but I guess there's more to come.

Help me out with this watermelon! It has looked ripe for weeks now, it's getting very heavy, but there is no yellow spot underneath and is still very firmly attached to the vine - yet the overall plant is starting to die from the heat I guess... what is it like if it gets picked too early?

I started these marigolds from seed and they are fantastically HUGE! Cool foliage, too... they loved the heat apparently, since they are stuck in a small wooden box!

Mama Dove, her young'uns are foraging in the perennial beds below the deck. She always sits here and watches for the dogs. When I go towards the back door and call the dogs, she rounds up the babies under a bush. Funny thing, she doesn't move when I walk out by myself, do you think she knows the dogs names? Or maybe the sound of my voice when the dogs are called?

That's all for now, time to mow the lawn! It feels sooooo good to be outside! I kind of want to sleep outside in my kids' fort it was so nice last night LOL!

Jul 26, 2010

Harvest Monday & a Vegetable Profile

Wait for me! I'm always late for Harvest Monday!

don't say it! I know, I know...

Japanese Climbing Cucumber, Mini Yellow Stuffer Bell Pepper, Quadrato d'asti Rosso Bell Pepper, Grapes, Canteloupe (ick), Fish Hot Pepper, Jalapenos, Orange Wellington Tomato

Vegetable Profile: Heirloom Fish Hot Pepper

Currently on the "Watchlist" for endangered varieties, this pepper has a neat history and has been fun to grow this year. It is absolutely beautiful, with it's wide range of colors and variegated foliage, but has a unique taste I have never seen in any other pepper. It's very hot, but a different hot taste completely than a chile pepper, hard to explain!

It is an African-American historic heirloom traditionally grown for use in Baltimore fish houses, where it was used to make sauces, and part of what made our traditional "Chesapeake Crabcakes" famous. It is now considered almost extinct. Seed can be found, however the true fish pepper is hard to save seed from since it can cross pollinate with your other peppers.

I came across a blog that had a nice post about Fish Peppers and a project to reintroduce them to Chesapeake cuisine. These are tiny & prolific and could easily be grown in a container, and with the green foliage splashed with white they are gorgeous! I call them "Koi" since when viewed from above they look like Koi swimming in a pond!

Fish Pepper Foliage

While I was weighing and scribbling, the kids took some neat shots of the veggies:

Weather was great today, 87º that felt cool as a cuke and I got a lot of work done outside, that's another post!

Jul 25, 2010

What does a gardener do when it's 108º all weekend?

1. Well I don't garden, that's for sure! I will never again complain about 1 day of hot temps... this has been going on for over a month! I've been setting my alarm for zero-dark-thirty to go outside and water. It's very eerie seeing the birds out and about in the dark and strangely absent during the day. I guess they have it figured out too. Last night it was still 92º at 11 p.m.!

2. I had the kids shuck the corn we got at the farm stand, that took all of 10 minutes... what's next? After finishing up their stellar work, I froze the corn from 2 doz ears.

While we are on that subject, it came to my attention at a BBQ last week that there are some that don't know the "bundt cake pan" corn cutting trick! After you have blanched your ears, jam the pointy end in the center hole of the bundt cake pan, then cut. The corn stands firm and your corn slides right into the cake pan. No mess, holds about a doz ears worth before you have to bag it! If you already knew this one, pass it on to someone else, I hate seeing someone struggle with sliding ears LOL!

Check out the kids' work below: anyone want corn with built-in floss? :)

3. Go grocery shopping and contemplate the waste in consumer packaging. I store stuff in those clear bins in the background so all this waste hits the floor immediately upon unpacking. This was a small trip, you should see my floor after my "every 6 weeks" trip! Hey, I didn't promise any of this stuff would be interesting!

4. Decide to do "Fall Cleaning" early this year to enable me to have it all done so I can be outside enjoying the cooler weather come fall. Result: house is messier than when I started due to all the closets being dumped out to "organize".

5. Listen to kids practice piano and vioin (eeek!). Repeatedly.

6. Clean my desk. Set up sewing machine in a permanent place so that I will be motivated to learn to sew. Uh-huh.

7. Scowl at sewing machine hourly, this will never happen.

8. Let kids watch way too much TV

9. Vow to let the kids go to the outdoor pool at the Y, but when we get there they close it due to "heat lightning", this happened both nights - kids were not happy!

10. Let myself watch cheesy horror movies and knit. That's one thing you may not know about me, I am a die hard fan of the campiest horror flicks you can find!

11. We froze the grapes from the garden, yep - that was interesting too.

These sure made a yummy snack on a hot day

12. Brought recycled cleaned empty beer bottles to a wonderful family I just met that is just learning to homebrew. We have so many extras it was nice to reclaim some space, and nice for their new owners too since they have already been de-labeled and sanitized! What's the matter, doesn't every mom's car look like this? You should hear it when we turn, clinking bottles in the back... very redneck-awesome LOL!

13. Made a batch of vanilla ice cream with easy box brownies to get the kids to eat their beans. Hint: don't actually tell them the name of bean variety you are serving or you get whines of "I don't wanna eat dragon's tongues, I want beans WITHOUT tongues in them"...

14. Contemplate ripping out the whole garden so I don't have to worry about the work anymore but a.) that would require hard work in itself and 2.)lol, it's too hot to garden and do hard work!

15. Surf the internet and see that eHow has an article on how to make a redneck flower garden. Find myself entertaining the idea for awhile...

16. Fantasize about the future where the kids are grown and hubby and I have a little cabin on a lake far north of here, where all we need is a pot of cherry tomatoes on the deck, and maybe some lettuce. (yeah right... and spinach, and potatoes, and berries, and broccoli, and a greenhouse to grow peppers and melons, and...)!

17. Make a batch of Blackberry Lemonade with our frozen berry juice!

18. I did get my fall stuff ordered, all except my garlic and onions. I have plenty of shallots to replant again , but I never seem to have the garlic left over. That is a big accomplishment, since usually I am battling the garden with a set of canning tongs and too busy to plan a proper fall garden. Instead, it looks like the fall garden will be better than summer this year.

19. Put the kids to bed, and have my own glass of Blackberry Lemonade with a little something extra, and dream of all I will accomplish tomorrow (hopefully)! We are supposed to get a huge cooldown to 89º so I am hoping it will feel Arctic to me!

Not much in the way of harvests, just a couple of tomatoes and some random overgrown cucumbers that I threw over the fence. I don't think my plants are too pleased with the weather situation either. Not very interesting, but it is what it is! I feel like I'm doing a January blog post!

So hubby, did you feel like you were right here with us? Don't worry, you aren't missing much right now except a cranky wife!