The Backyard

The Backyard

Friday, July 31, 2009

Pep Pep Pep Peppers!

We love them... in all shapes, sizes, and colors. There's even a pepper poster hanging in my rec room of hot peppers. There are other Chileheads around the world too -- some make a living out of it like those at Darn Hot Peppers. Peppers are like tomatoes and there are hundreds of varieties to grow. Of course the most beautiful is the Caribbean red -- not really edible (it's hotter than a habanero - 445,000 on the Scoville scale of hotness - a habanero is about 225,000. Compare both to a jalapeno at 5,000!), but oh-so-gorgeous red. One year I grew habaneros. I had 3 plants. Yes, you hot pepper eaters are going ARGH - what did you do with all those habaneros? You can usually only eat one or two a season -- the heat goes a very, very long way. I drug a grocery bag of habaneros to work for a computer intern who said he loves them. He, and a couple of his friends, make hot sauce. And of course college kids being college kids, one of them drank the whole bottle of hot sauce and ended up in the ER. I felt awful! But it certainly wasn't my fault. So there's been no habaneros since then. Instead, we grow mostly bell peppers the past few years and I always grow cayenne to dry and Rick likes a jalapeno every now and then. the cayennes are super easy to grow, dry easily just by pulling the plant and hanging upside down somewhere. Pull the dried peppers off the plant sometime in November, and start grinding. Hubby helps me grind and we have beautiful, hot peppers for on just about everything. Rick's favorite is to put it on pierogies. Not only does it taste good, it's looks pretty against the light-colored dough. I have a new pepper growing this year that has heat in between a yellow banana pepper and a jalapeno. I cut this one up and put in it a salad and it was just right -- hot, but not too hot to eat. But I can't find the variety name anywhere! Its making me crazy. According to my pepper poster, it's a Chawa. It's a little bigger than a cayenne, almost as big as a chile pepper. And yellowish. Yummy. The bell peppers get frozen, and of course we dry the cayennes. This year I may try pressure canning some of the jalapenos and the Chawas. I'm fairly certain they are the choice produce for my canning class on Aug 22. So be sure to grow bunches of peppers next year - you don't know what you're missing!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learning to Pressure Can

Thanks to PASA (PA Association of Sustained Agriculture) and their newsletters of upcoming events, I learned about a canning class in Carlisle, PA -- about an hour from home. The Kitchen Shoppe is hosting the event and it appears they have numerous "cooking classes" of all types, both hands on and demonstration. Cool stuff. I know how to water bath can (all I've ever known) and dehydrate, but they are going to also address pressure canning of which I'm sorta interested in... but haven't decided for sure I want to drop the $$ for a pressure canner. Maybe this class will help me decide. Two of my friends wanted to learn to can, so Donna is going along (of course we are riding bike too! Yeh!), and I'm not sure about the other yet. It's a hands-on class and we'll take home 4 pints of a canned food. I'm taking tomatoes 'cause they will be in full production mode by August 22. I thought about hot peppers too 'cause I have a new variety of hot pepper growing that is delightful -- not quite as hot as a jalapeno -- but just enough bite to pep dishes up a bit. I forget the variety, I have to look it up. But these guys would be good to can rather than freeze -- I'm tired of freezing things.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trying to Keep Up

It's the time of year when gardening and food preservation starts to feel like work and not a therapeutic hobby. I think I'm turning into a green bean. So much so, I'm pulling the plants this weekend simply to be rid of the little monsters. They've been eaten, dried, froze, shared with many friends, neighbors, and family that they are starting to say no more, please! It's like the annual visit of the overwhelming zucchini, but only in the form of green beans. And picking them takes WAY too long -- you can't see them, my back hurts, and there's these nasty giant Japanese beetle looking creatures flying all over the place. Yes, the plants are definitely coming out this weekend after the last picking which I'll keep for the final season green-bean enjoyment. I don't even like green beans! (Well, I sort of do.. but they clearly are not one of my favorites.)

So what else?
Potatoes are ready and someone suggested drying them - so I gotta start that process.
Onions. They are getting ready too. Each year I lose about 1/2 to rotting, so this year I have to attempt to do things differently so about 1/2 will be dried. My dehydrator is going to get it's workout.
Celery. It too needs to get in the drier. It will be easy to dry since it's only the leaves.
Corn. In about a week or two I'm going to have about 200 ears of corn to do something with. I really wanted to can it... but everything I'm reading says corn needs to go in a pressure cooker and I really don't want to invest $300 in a pressure canner just for the corn. I probably would use it for other things down the road, but for now its just the corn. Maybe some other time. My dear mother offered up some freezer space so I'll take advantage of that for the corn.
Tomatoes. Holy Toledo there are tomatoes. I have early girls (eating and canning) and Amish Paste (canning). In about a month I'll be smothered in tomatoes. They will definitely be canned since a hot water bath is sufficient for them. I think I'll be canning every week for about a month. My mom will get her share too and probably make spaghetti sauce.
Butternut Squash. They are forming! And of course the vines are consuming everything in their path.
Cantaloupe. I didn't plant a single seed or buy a single plant and I have melons coming out the wazoo! I throw the seeds and rinds in the compost pile each year and the pile doesn't get hot enough late in the season to kill the seeds. So when I spread the compost back on the garden the following year, melons start sprouting. Love it.
Carrots. The final couple are coming out 'cause the melons need their space.
Fall/Winter Seeds. I planted more! Like I need more planted? Chinese cabbage, mustard and collard greens, Thai lettuce, more spinach and beets (something is eating the beets as they sprout). I planted more 'cause I actually had to buy spinach this past weekend and hated every second of having to buy it.

Phew! And I really wanted to take pictures but Rick always has the camera. I need to get my own camera to share with you the beautiful broccoli babies and quinoa seed heads forming. What visions of grandeur.

Oh, and I found a new "diet" that I really, really like 'cause it fits EXACTLY what I grow in the backyard. More on that coming shortly. I'm sure many of you know about -- Eat To Live by Dr. Fuhrman? It's totally vegan and the part I like most -- SIMPLE. No weird food concoctions or ingredients -- just the basics. Fruit, Vegetables, beans/legumes, and nuts/seeds. He encourages raw vegetables, salads two times a day and very, very easy recipes. No dairy, No meat, No eggs, No grains, No cereals, No breads. I can handle it all except the eggs... I'm having a bunch of difficulty giving up the eggs. More of Eat to Live in another post.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Safir Cutting Celery - What to Do With It Once it Grows

This year is my first try at cutting celery, a.k.a leaf celery. I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into, but I read that cutting celery can be dried and used in soups and stews in the winter. I could find very little on what to do with it once I got it to grow. So today I went on an all out search on cutting celery and found it to be an easy task for drying. Cutting Celery is similar to the herb Lovage, and in the carrot and parsley family. It actually resembles parsley when fully developed. At first, I thought you dried the stalks, but they are spindly and tasteless. I've since found out you dry the leaves, just like parsley. And its used just like parsely in soups/stews. Rather than traditional celery stalks, you throw in the dried leaves for the flavoring. Did I mention the flavor is incredible? Even more so that stalk celery. I'm hooked, and will be drying jars of it. It was a worthwhile seed start, indeed. The variety I grew was "Safir" from Fedco Seeds.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Honeybee Nectar

There's been articles and interviews on the blight of the honeybee -- why are the populations declining? I'm sure many of you have seen it your own backyards. This year, I kept saying to Rick, "Where are the honeybees? If you see any, let me know." There was concern at first about pollination of fruits and vegetables, but I seem to have a healthy population of small bumblebees that seem to be doing an excellent job. But it didn't take long for the honeybees to show up once the milkweed started blooming. All the blossoms are literally covered with honeybees and I welcomed them with open arms. But that seems to be the only plant they are feeding on. It's odd. So you want honeybees next year? Plant milkweed!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Remembering MoMo

Well, she's gone - we're certain at this point. It's exactly one week at 4:00 am tomorrow (Friday) morning since we saw our dear one-year old kitten. She was a fun-loving, unique, one-of-a-kind kitty that you come by maybe once or twice in lifetime. I'm writing about her because it was suggested it may help me get over her. Of course I'm crying as I type this. She sat on my shoulder and slept while I sat on my bike trainer; she got up on the roof of the house and was just having a blast running around near the peak of the house and wouldn't dare come down and stop the fun; she ate green beans; she would come running like a dog when I yelled, "here MoMo pussy... come on! clap..clap...clap;" she sat on top of the compost pile playing as I turned the piles nearby; she's lay on my lap and sleep; she'd lay between my legs in bed; she'd jump like a dog when she saw me coming with her food; she jumped on the sink (don't tell hubby, but I'd let her sit there too). I miss her terribly. I have 3 other cats, but none come close to MoMo's personality. There's no closure to what happened to her. She never left the property, so we ruled out her visiting neighbors or getting hit by a car (although I DID check the neighboring fields and roads). The only possibility is mother nature was doing her thing. She was a small, skinny kitty. A hawk or owl could have got her, or a coyote -- all of which we have around here - and she spent a good bit of time exploring. Whatever it was, I'll truly miss you MoMo. Oh, and if you're wondering if I'll get another? No way. I can't bear the pain of losing pets.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Quick Run-down of EVERYTHING Garden Related This Week

There is SO much going on I'm having some trouble doing posts everyday... so here's a bullet list of the happenings in the Backyard:
  • Green Beans and Yellow Wax Beans are taking over -- I'm picking, eating, drying, giving away, and cooking them everyday.
  • Planting Fall crops - Lots of fall/winter seeds went in: Radicchio, spinach, carrot, swiss chard, chicory and endive. Radishes and dandelion will go in Aug 1. The idea is to start the seeds now, get them to maturity when the first frost hits, cover them with cold frames, and harvest all winter. This is my first experience at this... I'll keep you posted.
  • Watering the seeds I planted above. They need extra nurturing and TLC as the summer heats up. Starting cold weather seeds in the heat of the summer is challenging.
  • Babying my Arcadia broccoli seeds I started outside. They are adorable! Tiny little baby broccoli sprouts are in a protected area. In about 5-6 weeks I'll transplant them to the garden where the beans are now.
  • General, constant weeding.
  • Compost turning - all 5 piles. I found two more snake eggs and these guys were alive. They aren't anymore.
  • Feeding plants -- hauling finished compost to the plants that are hungry.
  • Prepping beds where plants are pulled -- I layered compost in the area where the broccoli was. Not sure what I'll put in there yet -- may let it go for the winter.
  • QUINOA! I'm so excited... you'll get pics of my quinoa growing. It's starting to get seed heads. I gave it a good feeding yesterday.
  • Fennel! I dug up fennel bulbs and they are awaiting Fennel/Leek butternut squash soup.
  • Carrots! Digging up, cleaning, slicing up the final batch before they start rotting in the ground.
  • Potatoes! I discovered this weekend I'm going to be smothered in red potatoes. They are ready and I dug up a couple for in the Clam Chowder. Delicious. Rick really likes them too (he doesn't always like the weird stuff I grow... I guess he's just a meat and potato kinda guy.)
  • Watercress - my mom has some and I need to get down to pick a bunch.
  • Drying Celery and Kale.
  • Constantly yelling and looking for MoMo. She never came home and I'm still calling for her 4 days later. Maybe, just maybe....

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Celery Update

Earlier this year, I talked about starting cutting celery from seed and how hard it was and how long it took. And when I planted it, it took weeks to come around and start growing. This past week, I finally cut some bunches for drying. That was the main reason I grew it -- to cut, dry, and store for winter soups and stews so I didn't have to buy that crap celery in plastic bags at grocery stores. The plants are doing quite well and I'm very pleased with the turn out. The celery can be dried leaves and all and it's extremely tasty -- much more celery-like than store-bought celery.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Missing MoMo

Do you see that cutie-pie, bean-eating cat in theprevious post? She's missing and I can't stop crying. She never came home Friday night. I combed the fields next to our house calling her to no avail. I'm just another animal-loving, devastated sap that's torn apart. Even the other three cats can't take her fun-loving place. She was like a dog... came running when I called her, sat on my shoulder and slept while I rode the indoor bike (on a trainer), slept between my legs, jumped for food. Like losing a child or parent.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Buy Nothing Challenge - August 2009

For those of you so inclined, there's a "new" (actually, folks have done this many times) challenge for August called the Buy Nothing Challenge. It's a green thang, and the idea is to break you of your frivolous spending, be more resourceful, and "reuse" or use what you already have. I know I'm guilty of buying things I really don't need, and challenges like these help the bad habits to be broken -- it only takes 20 days to break a habit! So the details are below from the originator, the Crunchy Chicken.

Buy Nothing Challenge 2009
It's been a whole year since the last Buy Nothing Challenge, and hoo boy!, have I fallen off the wagon. With my hubs back to work full-time as of the end of June, I don't feel as financially strapped and so, well, forgive me people, but I have been spending like mad.So, it's time to strap down that wallet and do another round of the Buy Nothing Challenge - the 2009 Edition. Last year I hosted two of these challenges and there were hundreds of people that participated. This year around, people are having more economic challenges of their own, so having a gang of readers pledging together to save money by not spending will hopefully help out your finances.Like last year, here are the guidelines. For the month of August, you can buy:* No new clothes* No new gadgets* No new furniture or housewares* No salon services* No makeup* No tools* No whatever the hell else people buy. This year I'm giving you a couple weeks to prepare, but that doesn't mean that you should go out and spend and hoard in preparation. In fact, I bet that once you sign up for this challenge, most likely you'll start watching what you are spending now. At least, that's what happened for most of the people who participated last year. If you must absolutely acquire something non-edible or not essential to growing your own food or for your survival, then you must borrow, barter, or buy it used. If you end up buying something new that is non-essential, I'll be hosting a weekly Sunday Confessional for you to justify your purchase. So, just think about having to confess to the world what you couldn't hold off on buying. Things that are okay: Necessary items like schools supplies and the like are okay, so don't panic about back-to-school items. Also, items used for canning and food storage are okay so don't worry if you are running low on pectin, mason jars and whatnot. If you have a vacation planned in August, just confess ahead of time accordingly. But that doesn't give you free reign to totally undo your efforts the rest of the month.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Beany Weekend On Tap

Boy oh boy do I have beans! My dad's horse manure turned the bean rows into bean jungles. Yesterday my mom came up to pick some beans and saw something moving in the jungle and got scared and left without picking anything. Tonight, I saw a burrow of some sort -- can't be sure what it was, but there was something in there. Couldn't be a rabbit -- there's nothing chewed. Snake??? Maybe a toad. I've had toads as big as softballs. So here's the latest harvest -- lots of beans. I'll be drying many of them; and hubby requested ham, potatoes, and green beans. Do you think I can find local, naturally raised ham? Hope so.

And I have 3 currant bushes I planted years ago, and never really did anything with them. The dark currants (the typically grown currants) are bitter so I never eat them. The white are ok, but the red are fabulous. Currants remind me a little of rhubarb -- nasty by itself, but add sugar and spices and they are luscious. They aren't quite as sour as rhubarb, but getting there. I've been eating the red currants straight off the bush -- they are slightly sweeter than the others.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beet It

Red beets aren't a vegetable the majority of folks set out to buy at the farmers market or store - especially not fresh. Maybe in a can, already cooked with no clean-up; but for the most part, you look at a bunch of beets and think what a mess -- what do you even do with them? It's true -- beets are probably one of the messiest dishes to cook, cut up, and even eating has ruby red juice spritzed all over. But the end result is not even near those canned things. The flavor, like all other homegrown produce, is sweet and luscious - not tasteless like in the can. They are super-easy to grow in the spring and fall but skip the summer, they hate the heat. Don't pass up that bunch of beauties the next time you see them. You can even toss the tops in your salad. Here's a Beet 101 lesson, courtesy the best cookbook on earth, Simply in Season, on cooking up a batch of beets along with a lovely recipe for picked beets that keeps in the frig for 6 weeks. What better way to enjoy with those free range eggs.

Cooking beets: Scrub 4 quarts beets. Leave on tails and 2-3 inches of tops. Place beets in tall pot. Add water to halfway up beets. Boil until fork tender - 1-2 hours. Drain and set aside beet juice. Run cold water over beets while sliding off skins with hand - the skins slide very easily, but guaranteed, your hands will be stained. Slice or dice beets as preferred.

3 cups white vinegar
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups beet juice
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine in a pot, add sliced or diced beets and bring to a boil. Boil 3-5 minutes. Cool. Beets may be kept covered and refrigerated for 4-6 weeks. Or place hot beets and liquid into hot canning jars and seal with sterilized lids and rings. Process either pints or quarts in boiling water bath for 30 minutes. Add hard boiled eggs to mixture as desired, but do not store eggs with beets -- the eggs will not keep as long as the beets. ENJOY!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Offline for a couple Days

Our computer died at home... so I'll be off-line until Monday. And it may be a little longer until I get pictures up and running again too. I'll keep everyone posted.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Keeping It Reel

A couple weeks ago, I got a cheap reel mower – just to see what it would be like. I used it maybe twice around the house to do a little trimming – definitely nothing major. Last night, the grass was ready to be mowed and when I flicked the switch to turn on the powered riding tractor, nothing. Total deadness. I asked hubby if he knew anything about it and he didn’t. He was baffled too. “Now what?” ” I thought. We aren’t going to be home Wednesday eve and the grass could wait until Thursday, but will the mower be fixed? Probably not. Crap! I spied the reel mower in the corner of the garage with this big shitty grin on its face. “Ok….. it’s time to really test you out.” 1.5 hours later, I was SOOO tired, shaky, dehydrated, and generally totally whooped that I could barely drag the mower back into the garage. Now THAT is a workout! I only did the sections where the grass grows thick and I can see I’ll have to get back to the other sections fairly quickly ‘cause the reel pushes extra hard in longer grass. All in all, I enjoyed it – if I had more time to walk back and forth for a couple hours. This may be my mowing of choice once I retire, but it really eats up precious time when you work, garden, kayak, and ride bike the majority of your waking hours. Excellent workout – and no gas used!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Can You Guess the Flower?

This is a beaut...but you can guess what it is?? Hubby loves to take close-ups and I never thought this plant would produce such a lovely flower.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Getting Ready for Fall and Winter Planting

My fall garden class starts on Tuesday and I have to admit I'm pretty darned excited about it. Imagine...fresh greens all winter?! It sounds too good to be true, but we'll certainly see in the next couple months. Part of the fall garden prep is picking the location, and readying the soil. I have two spots picked out and I'm not sure which will be better so I'm adding compost to both. One of the spots is in the garden where the peas were located -- nice and sunny, but unprotected from winter's harshness (although I'll have cold frames). The other is on a south-facing brick wall in the front of the house which will block all wind and cold air all winter. I think I'll put a cold frame in both pots, and put the more tender plants that need a little more warmth in the front of the house, and the hardier plants in the garden. I'll definitely need both with what I plan to grow over the winter -- carrots, greens (many), radishes, leeks, radicchio, spinach and Asian greens. It'll be a full house, for sure.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Living Proof of the Importance of Fertile Soil

It's been said in every gardening book and how-to article written that the foundation of growing vegetables is building the soil to give your plants nutrients to thrive. Conventional farmers/gardeners believe building the soil is pouring on liquid fertilizer. Organic farmers and gardeners do it with natural fertilizers -- in most cases some sort of animal manure and/or compost, and a good gardening practice of plant rotation. This picture shows the proof is in the pudding. I've been building the soil in the garden for 15 years with compost using horse manure. The row of corn on the right has nothing in the soil. It was a strip of yard that had grass growing on it for 15 years and we rototilled it this spring to make it part of the garden. You can clearly see the difference between well-built soil, and the not-so fertilized soil. This is the first season for this non-fertilized section. But don't fret! By adding compost/animal manure to your garden this year and into fall, giving it a good cover for the winter, by next spring your garden soil will be well enriched and the plants will suck up the nutrients. It only takes a year to build good soil, with a little help of natural, organic materials, (unless you have have hard-packed clay or some other type of not-quite-dirt soil - that may take a little more work). The links are all highlighted on how to do it. For some, this can be a technical, scientific process looking at all the elements needed and assuring your soil has it all - even beyond the big three -- nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. There's even a program to have your compost tested to assure you are creating the correct proportions of nutrients. I've also read that certified organic growers are required to have their manure tested that they use in the compost to assure no chemicals were fed to the animals and passed through to the manure. That's actually quite interesting and I often wondered what's in the feed my dad gives his horses -- he says it's all organic (oats/molasses), and typically, oats are not a GMO crop so hopefully he's right. I'm not a techy weenie. Yes, every good master gardener knows you need to test your soil, but this inactive MG doesn't practice what she's supposed to preach 'cause she doesn't take the time to do it. She takes the time to build compost, layer it on, and watch the plants grow and be happy. A soil test IS advised.