Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Strawberry Fields Forever

 That bed of Tristars? I had hoped to gently clip off runners to populate another bed (who doesn't want double the strawberries?) and I kept waiting for runners.



Nope, no runners. And yet, that bed. . . it was looking kind of, kind of. . . dense. (Sorry about the crappy picture -- using a phone).

What is going on underground? A lift with a digging fork revealed --- aiiieeee! It's the Great Lumping Mass. These plants have multiplied. When I began, each berry plant was a teensy slip of a thing.

If I shake enough dirt off of the mass of clumpiness, it's easier to divide the soon-to-be separate strawberry plants. Notice those berries? This variety is still pumping out flowers and berries, some of them quite large. Unfortunately, they taste like watered-down strawberry jell-o, so no joy there. I still give them points for trying.

It didn't take long to fill up another bed, on a three/two pattern. Then I looked back at the original bed, and between a third and a half of it was still very thick with berry plants.

So I eyed another bed in the garden. Dig, lift, shake, separate, and it, too, will hopefully produce luscious berries in the spring. Alas, however, there were many, many, many more berries left to go. I got into a rhythm, flinging separated berries into a cardboard box until the bed was nearly all thinned and I was tired.

And then I turned to the local gardening lists and found homes for all of them. Go forth and grow, little berries! I even had enough left in the bed to provide a friend with berry plants days later.

Someone is going to get a strawberry cream cake for her birthday next year!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Remembering to be grateful

My days seem to race by, filled with a mix of minutia and must-dos, with little time taken for reflection and prioritizing. Anyone who saw my garden could attest to that!

I try to be really generous in my thoughts and approach -- seeking to keep focus on the long-term things and realize that, yes, the house needs sweeping but if it doesn't get done perfectly or now, it will still be sweepable tomorrow, but the family member wanting attention probably does need it now.

Friends and family far away in the path of the hurricane, or close by in the sights of devastating disease help me keep my mind on bigger things. Our weather is not at all exciting, except in the memory of how a weekend spent bodysurfing under pure California sun has morphed into seasonally-appropriate gray fog, with rain on the way.

A quick run out to the chickens (who aren't Big Picture important, but can't check their own water) and I noticed this beautiful pepper hiding in the pepper bed. Holding its cool, blocky heft, I remembered to be grateful for all the sunshine that concentrated in its sweetness.

When we eat it on salad tonight I will be grateful, indeed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Harvest Monday, Late October version

Yesterday all of the tomatoes got pulled from the long bed, and today I'll sort the green from the red and haul all the vines away. As always, I have more ideas for next year's tomatoes. Who knows if I'll implement them? They need better and taller staking -- like jumbo cages -- from the very beginning. Maybe I'll hit Denise and Kevin up for more bamboo and use that.

It's Monday again, though, and Daphne hosts Harvest Monday at her blog. Here's my contribution, and as always, it's partial. For example, I did not photograph the green-and-red-filled trug.

The peppers keep pumping out beautiful fruit. Here's the yellow and orange ones from yesterday. They must be roasted and sort of pickled -- on goat cheese over crusty bread, it's just divine. More peppers next year!

The chickens are routinely laying 6-7 eggs a day, and oddly enough, it's not too much. Half the family has eggs for breakfast, and then there's the weekly French toast breakfast. . .

Speaking of eating a lot of food, we are really feeling the price increases in things like milk and chicken. Our food bills are growing right along with the kids! Here's what I got out of a 5 pound bag of whole wheat flour, though:

Fortunately, the freezer means I can bake once a week, or maybe twice, and generally get close enough to the amount needed for toast with those daily eggs! I am going to have to get back to making baguettes, foccacia and ciabatta, though. Buying those is pricey.

What's coming out of your garden or kitchen this week?

Friday, October 5, 2012


 I have very little urge to post gardening content today, so -- dogs! Dogs and kid! Yay, dogs!

Taz doing some Unauthorized Reading. That dog doesn't need any Dangerous Ideas.

Doesn't she look both innocent and worried? "Oh, no, I'm not reading anything. . . what is that creeping up behind me?"

Oh, it's that girl! Hugs hugs huggity hug hug. . .

Unfortunately, Sarafina forgot the "Never only one dog" rule. Taz isn't going to take this hug-stealing lying down, though.

She can be appeased, though. Here she is channeling her inner Pooh with a peanut butter jar left over from a Frisbee tournament. . . . Hunny

Okay, I did pick some hot peppers and one cucumber yesterday. From the left: Persian Baby, Hot Banana, Jalapeno, and Chili Red.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Oct. 1, 2012 Harvest Monday

Daphne hosts Harvest Monday on her blog -- this is mine for today.

A big panful of Sungolds, ready for roasting (and I left lots buried in the foliage), a bit of Padrons for dinner tonight, a handful of late strawberries, four hot Chili Red peppers for the fermenting sauce, a bowl of Roma and San Marzano paste tomatoes -- hello, crockpot!, a single Early Girl, and two Fuji apples, of which there is only one left. Yum. Not pictured was the Kubota red I pulled off the dry vine today.

The garden is slowing down some, but the summer-planted kale looks good, the peas need staking, and the kale and carrot seedlings are doing well. We will eat again!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sott' olio

Farmer's market red peppers, plus homegrown orange ones, roasted and peeled. . .

Folded into jars with their researved juices, vinegar and salt, then topped with a slick of greeny extra-virgin olive oil.

I can hardly wait for the winter afternoon when I open a jar, smear some goat cheese on fresh ciabatta, drop a couple of slices of pepper on top, and bite into summer.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Now What?

I'm anxiously waiting for the asparagus to die back so I can cut it. . .

And I'm seeing new sprouts. Something like this happened with artichokes in Arizona. Dratted things never, ever died back.

But I don't think I can deal with huge 6' tall asparagus bushes.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Starting steps

As I've mentioned before, starting things is easy; keeping going is more difficult. Presumably, this is a general human-condition thing. Since I missed the window to start fall-planted plants, in July, my impulse is to flop around and decide not to do anything.

But large open areas in the garden make me feel guilty, so I bought some lettuces and put them in.

And also, buying plants makes me feel guilty, so I managed to sow some peas.

I also should sift my compost and turn it to raise the heat, if I don't want to be dealing with constant volunteers.

Maybe digging potatoes thoroughly would be a good idea, too. Sigh. I planted, and that's all I'm going to focus on here. Also, supports should probably be made soon. Very soon. Maybe I'll have Eric lash me together some bamboo!

Turns out that if you hack off or break off an old, nasty, aphid-covered kale plant?

You can have a second flush of yummy baby kale, at least enough to hold you through until the combination of the few kale plants you did plant in July plus the nursery pack you bought starts to make winter amounts of new kale. Plus there are a couple of pounds in the freezer yet. We actually ate some the other night. Yay for memory!

And this may look like a redneck yard mess, but I assure you it's deliberate. Carrots can be tricky to germinate, especially somewhere like here, where it looks as though it's going to rain any minute, but really it's just fog that will blow off, leaving only warm afternoons to dry the top bits of soil. Carrots are picky. If they're not kept just wet enough, they turn up their little orange noses and refuse to germinate. Babies.The idea is that the tarp keeps the top layer nice and moist. Or at least moister than if I had no old tarp thrown over the bed. The bed which is covered with acacia leaves.

But I like carrots, a lot. Not enough, apparently, to glue them to toilet paper as seeds for perfect spacing, like Granny does, but certainly enough to sow them like an Amish teen on Rumspringa, and then enough to pull baby carrots for salads until they're spaced correctly. If they sprout, that is.

Also, I pull the tarp back when I pump a morning bath out onto the bed, which also has snow peas and sweet peas in the uncovered bits.

Guess what used to grow in this bed?

That's right!

Kale! Kale I didn't have to plant, kale from neglected, gone-to-seed plants.

The only question I have is should I just let them grown, and shovel some nice chicken manury stuff around them, because kale is a depleting kind of crop, or should I attempt to transplant them to the few areas I have listed as "kale" in the plan? I'm not sure it really matters, but I did do some thinking about my soil the other day, and figured a way to track how the heavy-medium-light feeders rotation was going.

Beds vertically, time horizontally, and color coded red-yellow-green.

Looks like, with a few exceptions, I'm actually doing something like proper attention to the feeding needs. Doesn't mean a run to the stable wouldn't come in really handy, especially as the beds sink as the organic material is used up, nor that making liquid manure fertilizer wouldn't be really smart. But I'm not completely out of line.

And that's good to know.

I don't have a complete answer to my question of yesterday, but here's a video of a worker being unceremoniously dragged out of the hive. She didn't seem to be moving much, so maybe she was stung first? Maybe she died of natural causes? For the drones, maybe the workers don't feed them and they're weak? You see if you can decide:

It's still nature red in tooth and claw in the bee yard.

This lovely wasp looks just like a wolf with her head buried in a caribou, no?

And in this video, you can see why they remind me of wolves. Especially when one comes in and two of them tussle, and then you can see a drone leg getting cut off and flung aside. It doesn't take much to make me feel like it's high drama in the yard:

I hope interesting things are happening in your gardens.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bad Time for Boys

This could be a post about society and whether schools are set up so that boys have a more difficult time, or it could be about bees!

All three hives are active now, even with only a bit of honey on top. I see workers coming in loaded with pollen -- they look like ladies wearing jodphurs of bright colors. And they fly like lumbering cargo planes, fully loaded. Pollen is usually a sign that there are babies to feed -- and there are, but not many. Despite the mild weather, the hives are shutting down for the winter. Workers will live longer than summer foragers -- even though there is year-round forage here. Fewer babies will be born, and stored honey and pollen will be eaten to keep warm and fed while the days are short.

Any hive which tried swarming now would face overwhelmingly bad odds. Spring is the time for expansion and mating, with lengthening days, abundant forage, and increasingly warm weather. That's when new queens go on mating flights and start new colonies. That's when hives rear drones to make sure their queens and other queens have plenty of choice in mates.

In fall? Drones are just a drag on the colony. Bees have a pretty direct way of dealing with it. I watched one of my hives hauling out a drone as in this video (which isn't mine). I wish I knew how the bees got rid of the drones. Do they sting them? Their wings are intact, but they don't seem able (or willing) to fly. And yet there weren't piles of unneeded drones all over. What could be happening? I knew ants cleaned up in front of the hives, but I also had seen some other predators around.

The yellow jackets are feasting:

I think the second bee body is a headless drone, and they're surrounding another, probably fresher, one.

They tugged at it like hyenas.

Some wasps moved in and out, perhaps with bits of bees cut off, or perhaps doing some other activity. I know I watched a wasp carefully cut up and carry off a butterfly, so pieces make sense.

As long as they're staying out of the hive, I suppose I can't begrudge them a meal, although it would be easier if drones weren't so benign and yellow jackets so feisty.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Finishing Things

Some of us are better than others at seeing projects through. I find myself doing a fair amount of puttering -- a bit of this, a bit of that, and not a lot gets done. But if you make things for growing kids, they have to get done or they get left behind.

Although it took a ridiculous amount of time to finish these fairly easy sweaters, they did finally get done, and I assume will actually be worn. Thank goodness for superwash wool and cotton!

Someone didn't really want her picture taken, although she did give me permission this morning to post pictures.

Tor actually sort of got into the photo shoot. Had I thought, I would have channeled my inner fashion photographer and asked him to "gimme love."

He wasn't the only one in a silly position. Ahem. She seems to be announcing that she's ready for her breakfast.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Subtraction, Sauce, Strawberries and Spiciness

 Busy day yesterday. The Lone Remaining Homeschooler (all remaining children having gone or been sent to school or college) spent a lot of quality time with Khan Academy, wrestling with multiple-digit borrowing. She giggles iher way through the explanatory videos, and then works out the problems, squealing when she gets them right. It's a very cheery way to do math, and I do a lot of over-shoulder looking and helping, too. A nice balance.

While she was busy, I gathered everything I needed to do some canning. A recipe for fermented hot sauce sounded appealing, or at least appealing to make, if not to consume. I had a fancy pickling jar cookie jar from Target ready and available, plus lots of too-hot-for-me peppers. And, weeks late, I managed to harvest from the abundant apple tree down the street. Two shopping bags were all I could reach standing on the ground, and I fear I missed the peak of the harvest, judging by the amount of apples on the ground. Alas. Anyhow, I was set up for a fun morning of putting things in jars.

To make the sauce, first the immersion blender to chop things up. The thought of my plastic food processor being coated with high-octane pepper juice sort of distressed me, but this was a difficult substitution. It got easier when I pre-chopped the peppers. (Duh.)

A towel was supposed to prevent flying bits and clouds of gas. It worked, sort of. I still ended up coughing a lot.

Pretty soon it became obvious that there was not enough of the good red peppers to make a generous sauce. Sacrificing aesthetics, I grabbed every hot or semi-hot pepper I could find, and chopped them into the slurry.

Less attractive, huh? My trusty silicone spatula scraped everything down into a flattish disc.

Because there is no plate in the house which fits snugly in the crock/jar, I used a bag of brine to weigh down the mush.

That done and set aside, I turned my attention to the apples. I think these are some sort of Golden Delicious, and they are, in fact, delicious. I managed to get nearly all perfect ones and washed off the dust. Since this tree is completely neglected, I feel confident that they harbor no pesticides, and only a few pesty things besides dirt.

I didn't peel or cor them, just cut out bad spots like this and quartered them until my pot was full.

It took them over an hour to cook down at low heat -- and I did keep adding some water as scorching kept threatening. Stir, stir, cook, cook, over and over.

That was fun, and at the end I used the Foley Food Mill Denise had gifted me with to make the peels and seeds and any non-nice bits go away and leave me with lovely apple sauce. I asked the kids to taste it and they said it was fine, just the right amount of sugar. Funny, that, it was just apples! Win for me! I did add a touch of lemon juice and then canned it up. The one potful gave me four pints and a quart. Which I did not photograph. You've all seen canned goods.

By that time, Denise and Oona were here! Hooray! However, my house is no longer toddler-proof, and after 30 minutes of her opening the freezer and saying, "Ice? Ice?" I decided that the adorable 20 month old's talents could be better focused outside. Things to pick! Tomatoes, which will lead to another round of Things In Jars tonight.

Helpful toddlers are the very best kind.

One run through the pepper patch and the tomatoes were disappearing under Pizza my Heart in front, and Padron in back.

I complained about the hot bird-type pepper and Denise sagely said, "Tear it out, if you don't like it." Well. Hadn't thought too much of that one, so out it went. It was a big plant, shading the peppers around it and falling on one other plant. That poor wire cage was no match for it.

Between all three of us, though, we picked the plant clean. I'm going to try to give some away to the homeschoolers today, and drop the rest off at the food bank. Surely someone likes really hot peppers?

As a reward for all her hard work, Oona got a basket of just-picked strawberries.

Probably the best way to hook future labor inculcate a love of gardening, right?

Probably the best end to a productive afternoon I could have thought of.