All posts by CocktailFarmers

Summer begins

So once again, I cannot take a lot of credit for moving the garden from concept to reality – J has done the lion’s share of the seedling care & planting. I did go on a massive weeding spree this past weekend, so the gardens are attractive enough to be posted on the internet:

Main garden
Main garden
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets
Herbs & lettuce
Herbs & lettuce

It has been such a cold spring that growth has been sluggish.  Everything went into the ground the weekend of May 17th but it’s barely done anything.  I know the heat of July will kick everything into high gear.

One crop that is doing well are the hops – J bought three different types a few years ago.  The first year we put them in pots outside our sun porch, and ran them up a trellis.  Last year they were transplanted out into a sunny spot in the area where the orchard is going to go, and this year he split them.  Several of them are already higher than five feet:

Hop vines - without flowers (yet)
Hop vines – without flowers (yet)

Two years ago J grew barley, with the intent of trying to brew his own beer.  The birds ate most of it, and Max napped in what the birds didn’t get.  It was less than optimal, so we’ve abandoned barley.  And beer brewing, truth be told.  Turns out Sam Adams makes perfectly acceptable beer, and it is ten times easier to get it at the store.  Go figure.

Finally, the back garden went in this weekend – this year, everything is being started from seed (watermelons, corn, beans, peas, pumpkins, etc.) so there’s nothing to look at here except exceptionally fluffy soil and beautiful rows achieved with the assistance of some John Deere tractor attachment that’s been cluttering up our basement.  Meaning that it gets to live another year at our house, because there is no way I want to rake a 25′ x 90′ garden into parallel rows.

Back 40, after planting
Back 40, after planting

And now we wait.

The winter of our discontent

We are continuing to be buried in snow, and it’s much too early to start planting seedlings, but I do have something entertaining for you to chase away these dreary winter days.

You may remember almost two years ago, when we had that problem with the crows, and we accused Max of trying to rip his way through the screen into the house?  J put up a sign, which apparently works – our neighbor captured the following one day last summer, but just sent us the video:

Proof the Sign Works!

Granted, that crow is sauntering away, but he does take in the sign and leave.  It makes me laugh every time I see it.

 

The end…..for now

Today I ate the last dozen or so Sungold tomatoes.  I would like to note that it is November, and this is amazing.  I would have documented the occasion, but I was at work and forgot my camera.  The garden kept going all the way through the second-to-last week of October, finally succumbing to a hard frost somewhere over the nights of October 23rd and 24th.  It was a fantastic run.  I can only tally what we canned or froze, but here’s where we stand in our first large-scale effort to preserve our harvest for later use:

  • 22 jars dill pickles
  • 5 jars bread and butter pickles
  • 12 jars sweet banana peppers
  • 4 jars green tomato chutney (hurrah!  A use for unripe green tomatoes at the end of the season!)
  • 56 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 8 bags of beans
  • 1 bag of peas
  • 3 bags of corn
  • 3 bags of peppers (jalapeno & Fooled You)

It was not a stellar year for either the peas or the corn – although we did eat some fresh – but it was an amazing year for tomatoes.  We boiled, peeled, seeded & diced those suckers in 2-cup increments and froze them for use in cooking.  We’ve already used about 9 bags so far, and the taste is so much better than even the canned organic tomatoes I normally buy.  However, all these frozen vegetables take up a bit of room, as you can see:

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There’s no way to really calculate what we harvested and ate fresh – over the long weekend of Columbus Day, J harvested about 15 of our Bride eggplants, fire roasted them, and turned them into eggplant dip.  We ate one container, and froze the other two for future consumption as the recipe calls exclusively for Asian eggplants and we can’t get them around here unless we grow them.  So we’ll defrost that container, maybe for New Year’s, and think longingly of fresh summer vegetables. It’s just about enough time to have forgotten how hot and backbreaking it is to weed in the middle of summer.

Until next year……

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You say tomato, I say enough already

The tomatoes keep coming – every week we are filling a large bowl full of Roma, Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine & Kellogg tomatoes:

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This particular bowl full is just Roma, Brandywine & Mortgage Lifter.  I have done some extensive reading on the internet about canning tomatoes, but I have a high degree of fear about botulism (who wouldn’t?) for anything that does not involve vinegar, so I have been opting to freeze the tomatoes.  But first I have to prepare them.  Step one, plunge into boiling water for about a minute to loosen the skins:

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Step two, drop into ice water:

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Step three, drain and place into a separate bowl:

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Steps four, five & six – peel, seed and dice the tomatoes.  (Infinitely too messy to do and use my camera, so no photos.)

Step seven – measure out into two cup increments, put in Ziplock bags, and prepare for freezer:

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Step eight – repeat weekly, sometimes twice in a single week.

I know this winter when I am pulling them out for soups or chili or some other recipe that calls for diced tomatoes I am going to be so happy I put all this effort in, week after week, preparing and freezing these tomatoes.  But right now I’m on step nine – pray for an early killing frost.

The bounty continues

Today’s haul:

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This is on top of an additional 25 Roma tomatoes, 2 Kellogg, 2 Brandywine & half pint of Sungolds that are up on the counter.  And I’m not seeing Stella Caroline this week.  I wonder how much it would cost me to FedEx….?

The green beans in the photo are Kentucky Wonder pole beans.  I have been calling them Kentucky runner beans, which is only half true (they are running away from us, so that part is true.)  Kentucky Wonder is a very old heirloom that has been known by many other names over the years, including  American Sickle Pole, Eastern Wonder, Egg Harbor, Georgia Monstrous Pole, Improved Southern Prolific, Missouri Prolific, Old Homestead Pole and Texas Pole.  An online catalog describes them as, “…..very reliable, early maturing, and productive.”  They should really use the word “prolific” in the bean name, because that might give me pause when calculating how many to plant.  I would also rewrite the description to say, “Very reliable, early maturing, and will bury you and everyone you know in beans.”  But this is mostly my fault – I put in 6 hills of the beans, with 8 bean plants per hill.  And I’m pretty sure every one of those suckers came up.  So, 48 plants.  Next year, for the love of Pete, someone please remind me that this is too many when I’m all excited in the middle of May to plant the beans.  I need someone to come stand in the field and shout at me when I start trying to rationalize and say things like, “But they might not all come up!” or “What if some of the plants don’t produce?”  They will all produce, apparently.

Underneath our Kentucky beans are our usual purple bush beans, and to the right are Roma tomatoes (totally out of control this year, the plants are tipping over from the weight of the tomatoes) and the left is a bowl of Sungolds with a Brandywine for a little change of color.  There are too many Sungolds to fit in the ceramic pint container I usually keep them in.

So this batch of beans will be the first batch that I freeze.  The best way to preserve beans through freezing is to blanch them first, to kill off any bacteria or enzymes that might cause them to become discolored during the freezing process.  I usually submerge them for 3 – 4 minutes, then plunge them into ice water and dump them into a strainer before laying them out on towels to fully dry before freezing them in freezer bags.  My online research tells me that they are best used within a 10-month period, but I have found that they are fine up to and past a year later.  Why yes, we do have beans frozen from last year in our freezer, however did you guess?

Still growing…….

This year we decided to grow Kellogg tomatoes.  Mostly because the name brought breakfast cereal to mind:

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They are a bright yellow-orange, like the one in the photo above, when they are fully ripe.  These tomatoes are not quite as flavorful as Brandywines, but they add a nice pop of color to a tomato salad.  Online searches told us that they can get large enough that they hang over the edges of sandwich bread when split horizontally. I believe it.

We were starting to (foolishly) believe we had worked out the proper balance of vegetables in our many different garden beds.  So far this year we’ve not given away much in the way of produce – a few tomatoes, some Fooled You jalepeno peppers, a few zucchini – because we’ve done a lot of canning – 9 jars of dill pickles, 5 jars of banana peppers, 4 jars of bread and butter pickles, and 4 jars of dill beans.  We decided, almost as an afterthought, to go out to the garden tonight to pick “…a few things….” and ended up with all this:

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We have been officially schooled, onced again, by the calendar.  It is all fun & games until August rolls around, and then we’re buried.

And the next batch of peas and lettuce have started to come up.  If only we could figure out a way to have vegetables 4 months of the year, instead of 2…..

A banner year

So while we’ve had a few problems this year (see also: rabbit in fenced garden, bugs) it’s turning out to be an amazing year:

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We’ve lost a couple of squash plants – due to powdery mold, bugs or both, it’s not clear, but we’ve successfully harvested zucchini pretty consistently since the middle of July.  Of our 6 plants, 3 are producing – all zucchini – and we’re keeping up with consuming what we’re picking.  We’ll stick with the 6 plant plan for next year, because if everything does well we’ll have to give stuff away even at that low number.  We’ve come quite a way from the days of 6 of both types of plants.  Those were some dark times – for us, and the neighbors.

The tomatoes this year are amazing.  Our sungold plants are over 6 feet tall, and so heavy we’ve taken to leaning the cages against the fence and lashing them in place:

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Our peas this year have been somewhat anemic – Mr. Big Pea produced enough peas for a sandwich bag, and the sugar snap lagged further behind that.  Which is interesting, given that we rotated them to a different part of the garden and we used a soil inoculant to help the plants live longer.  Currently they start to die off just as the pods begin to form, so instead of being indeterminant, we get one harvest.  J yanked out all the Mr. Big Pea plants earlier this week and planted a second crop, something we’ve never done before.  We estimate about 7 to 8 weeks before we’re at a huge risk for frost, although the last 2 years we’ve had snow near Halloween, which is about twelve weeks away.  We had the seeds for planting, so we figured we’d give it a shot.  Also planted this weekend – the third crop of lettuce, and more parsley, cilantro and basil. I’ve picked pretty much what we have, so if I want stuff for the fall, I had to replant.  I’m also hoping for enough basil to do a little pesto this year, and freeze it.

We’ve had a lot of rain this summer, punctuated but spells of hot, sunny weather, which has been enormously helpful to the garden, and to our non-farmed yard.  It has never looked this nice this late in the summer since we moved in.  And as I write this, it’s raining again, after a week of sunny 80-something days:

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I’m sure in years to come we will look back on this season fondly.  Except for the peas.  And that rabbit.

Mid-July report

I am pleased to report we might actually be winning the war with bugs and weeds.  I know this was a pressing concern for all of you.

Turnips and radishes
Turnips and radishes

 

Beets and carrots
Beets and carrots

 

Onions
Onions

 

Potatoes
Potatoes
Strawberries & herbs
Strawberries & herbs
Brandywine tomatoes
Brandywine tomatoes
Cucumbers
Cucumbers

 

The back-40
The back-40

 

Beans & peas
Beans & peas

 

This past weekend I harvested an entire mixing bowl of banana peppers and cucumbers.  And promptly canned all of it, with the help of Old McDonald.  We have three jars of sweet banana peppers and three jars of bread & butter pickles.  There will be plenty more coming, as we are about to be buried in tomatoes. Our Roma plants are producing like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I see a lot of sauce in our future.  And everyone else’s.

The thin line between cute and varmint

Let’s review the definitions of cute vs. varmint, shall we?

Cute – adj. – 1. Delightfully pretty or dainty.  2. Obviously contrived to charm; precious.

Aww, look, a bunny!
Aww, look, a bunny!

Var mint – n. – 1.  an undesirable, usually predatory or verminous animal2. an obnoxious or annoying person.

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That’s right, that’s a photo of a rabbit inside the garden, suddenly turning both of us into Mr. McGregor – right after we got over our astonishment that the cute little bunny rabbit can fit through the fenceThis was a scenario we had not planned for.  The photo was the second time Peter had deigned to enter the garden; late last week when he did it J went in after him, startling him badly as he ran toward the end of the garden, looking for a way out.  J was able to shoo him out the gate, and then thought he fixed the problem by tightening the gate closure at the bottom to keep him from squeezing under it – which was how we thought he was getting in.

Sunday morning I was drinking coffee on the porch, and the rabbit was nonchalantly nibbling clover on the lawn.  “How cute,” I thought.  The rabbit hopped closer to the fence.  “Hey J, come watch how sad this rabbit is going to be when it discovers it can’t get under the gate anymo……….”  Bam!  One minute we’re looking at the bunny on the stepping stone, acting all casual, and the next, Houdini is in the garden.  We did not realize the rabbit could get through the fence until I watched him shove his furry brown hindquarters through an opening 2″ x 3″ in an attempt to evade my amature paparazzi efforts.  For a few moments, we thought he was still going under the gate.  Apparently not.  Also, we might have a boneless rabbit living in our yard.  Go measure that 2″ x 3″ out.  I’ll wait.  Right?  It is most definitely a rabbit, not a chipmunk or something that would logically fit through the fence.

We’re at a bit of a loss about what to do about this, and also what, exactly, Peter is eating in the main garden.  We think the raised bed with the good stuff – carrots and parsnips – is secure enough, but who can be sure anymore?  It’s possible the rabbit is after the straw that we put around the tomatoes, but I would think the fresh clover outside the fence would be more appealing.  Eventually the rabbit will get too big to get through the fence.  Hopefully before it eats anything in the garden.

 

There was a definition of cute I didn’t include up above:

Cute – adj. – 3. clever, shrewd.

Exactly.

Still waiting……

We have now entered the difficult time of year where everything’s growing merrily (particularly the weeds) and yet nothing is ready to harvest (except the lettuce, that’s still coming.)  Maddening.

The back 40 garden looks good:

Back 40
Back 40
Beans, corn , pumpkins & watermelons
Beans, corn , pumpkins & watermelons

While we were away at Barbecue University, all the peas and beans came up, much to our delight, because it apparently rained really hard for that week.  We need to focus on putting up trellises this weekend, and we’ll see if we’re still so pleased when we’re out there picking bushels of legumes in either the broiling sun, or the mosquito-infested twilight of August.  Either way, likely to be uncomfortable while harvesting:

Beans and peas
Beans and peas

In other news, almost all of the seeds I sowed for herbs have come up.  The dill has been a little difficult, but that happened last year so I’m not worried, plus I don’t use a ton of fresh dill in my cooking so what’s coming up will probably be enough.  And another challenge is that I absolutely cannot tell the difference between the tarragon seedlings and the weeds.  This should sort itself out in a few weeks, because the weeds will grow much bigger much faster.  I think.  I didn’t photograph it, because who wants visual evidence of their weeding incompetency?

I am currently reading The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden, edited by Thomas C. Cooper.  It’s a series of essays by famous gardeners (not that I’ve heard of any of them, though) trying to articulate why they garden.  Most of them can’t – they can trace the roots of their interest to a family member, or family tradition, or just an interest – but all of them are universal in their love for working with dirt and plants.  It’s a mix of both vegetable and ornamental gardeners (and sometimes folks who are both) and an interesting read.  Something to occupy my time while I avoid weeding the tarragon right out of existence.