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.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reminders for next spring

 Unless I write things down, I won't remember. There is only a slim chance that writing it down will help, but it's at least done.

Needless to say, this isn't one of my agonize-over-every-phrase, reach for Deep Meaning posts. It's more me, nagging my way through the garden:

Plant more butternut squash. In fact, plant only butternut squash. I don't like any other one much. Even pumpkins are only okay. I'd rather buy them, or at least grow them out front as neighbor-entertainment, but not for eating.

Make a stronger, more permanent staking arrangement for the asparagus. It's been listing since May, and I'm only waiting for its total die back to make a much, much stronger support.

Four Padron pepper plants is, in fact, the perfect amount. Enough to eat,without getting sick of it, and enough to give a bag a week away. They are such nice peppers!

Two jalapeno plants are actually two too many. I'm going to do one or two more pickling runs, and then it's going to be friends and food bank, I think.

In other pepper news, eleven (11!) bell pepper plants is Not Nearly Enough. I don't eat the green ones, since my discovery of the Pizza My Heart variety from Territorial or Renee's or Shepherd's, which are a tasty bell taste, although pointy in shape. Instead, I wait impatiently for them to ripen. But with only a few plants, miserliness rules the day. I eat some, stir-fry some, and roast and freeze the rest. If I doubled my planting, I could gobble and roast and make roasted pepper soup and and and... you get the picture.

No more hot peppers. I know why this plant is here. I was filling holes for the garden tour. [Should have put in another bell.] The variety is called "Mura" but I can't find any information on it.Supposed to be very hot. Not at all my style, bu tit would make a cute pepper wreath. Food bank?


In fact, no more hot peppers at all. See this innocent hot banana?

They travel in herds:

Time to pickle, I guess.

Late blight, or underwatering, has killed or is killing a lot of back garden tomatoes. I have almost enough put up, but more care would have helped. Actually, not going away on vacation and then having trouble getting back to the garden would help, too.

Stay on top of the weeds. Digging established Bermudagrass out of beds is no fun.

Plant more, many many more, winter veggies in July, rather than.. . oh, three kale plants. They're doing well, though.

More flowers! More flowers make everything lovely. A dedicated, cared-for cutting bed would be nice, too. Cosmos, bachelor's buttons, snapdragons, they all would be welcome. It's difficult to go back to buying cut flowers, but I do love flowers in the house.

Grow more of those Italian pole beans. Take better care of them. Don't grow the bush ones again. Eat those.

Sad, though, in order to grow a lot I'm going to have to forego eating as many as I'd like this year. These big beans are tasty.

In the category Cucumbers, winners, the Persian Baby variety is a clear leader. They would have been enhanced with a constant pairing of hummus, but I didn't always keep it made.

Fortunately, I get a second (third, fourth, fifth?) chance. They're the only variety still standing and producing.
Lemon cucumbers, not again. Even one was too many this year. Two Marketmore were about perfect. They would need to be coaxed into tomato season for Greek salads, though. Or succession planted.

The jury is out on the pickling cucumbers. I definitely like making cornichons better than full-size pickles, although some year I'm going to have to try naturally-fermented full sours. But the cornichons were overwhelming, so I'd probably need to plant many more and harvest in big bunches, then pull the plants when I'm really done. That would also do away with the piddly jars of refrigerator pickles situation.

One pickle was an unqualified success, which alas makes me think I'm going to have to plant a lot more (a LOT more) yellow wax beans. The beans with Meyer lemon and garlic were out of this world. This jar shows only Rattlesnake beans, because we ate the other jars. Sigh.

Another must-do task for next year AND this year is to get on top of the fruit trees. The back yard Blenheim apricot is constantly under attack from aphids, then whiteflies, and even though the ladybugs are trying, they aren't enough. Also, molds and fungus are bothering them. I guess some autumn fungicide is a first step. The apples and plums need something -- starting with consistent composting and watering. Bad gardener, bad gardener!

Things I don't have pictures of but need to do something about? Plant more popcorn. That was great. Consider making a plastic dome for basil. I'm sick of not having success with it. One Early Girl tomato is perfect -- we only use them and Cherokee Purple for salads. No cherry tomatoes in the back yard, and trellis the front one much better. Make a bigger "help yourself" sign for the neighbors. Succession-plant summer squash to avoid them dying of powdery mildew. Water the raspberries more. Prune harder over the summer.

I could get metaphysical and say swim more, take the dogs to the beach more, camp more...but I won't. That's enough for one think.