Archive for » July, 2015 «

From garden to pantry…

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.”  – Proverbs 6:6-8, NIV



So much of life on a homestead is made up of seasonal plans and tasks, and many of those tasks affect other goings-on later in the year.  When snow is piled high in drifts and piercing winds whip through our peaceful valley, I pore over seed catalogs, my eyes and tastebuds hungry for vivid colors and sun-ripened flavors, dreaming of frostless soil and the luminous green of tender, new spring leaves.
When red-winged blackbirds arrive with their distinctive call, the earliest seedlings emerge from freshly-turned earth, and red-breasted robins bob and skip for worms that follow the spring rains, I am already anticipating the summer days ahead.  I dream of warmth-loving peppers, squash and cucumbers, lightning bugs, whippoorwill calls and sultry summer nights, good for catfishing, whispered dreams and stolen kisses on the riverbank with the love of my life.

Preserved goodness!

Preserved goodness!

Now summer has wrapped us in her long, lazy days, and dappled fawns frolic along the hems of verdant-skirted cornfields.  The season has graced us with chicory blossoms, fledgeling bluebirds, crimson-streaked sunsets, and small-batch ice cream from our favorite local creamery.   Our annual Old Settler’s celebration and jaunts to county and state fairs are soon approaching; the garden is in full flourish with treats on every vine, and it is time – even now – to consider autumn.  It is time to remember frost, to contemplate the change of seasons that draws a bit nearer with each humid night, as the stars that now shine close enough to touch move slightly further out of reach along their timeless celestial paths.

And so, as the rhythms of summer march steadily onward with trellises shrouded in cucumber-laden vines, pepper plants heavy with sun-warmed fruit, and raised beds offering the last of late cabbages, it is time to harvest and prepare, to preserve and tuck away our bounty for the cooler months ahead.

So far this season I have – in preservation parlance – “put up” several pints of chow chow, pickles and peppers, with much more to do.  Hopefully our tomatoes will continue their recovery from septoria leaf spot and yield some good salsas, pastes and sauces in due time.  In the mean time, here are some recipes I have followed this season, as well as some I intend to use in the very near future…

Crunchy Dill Pickles – adapted from Simply Canning

  • 8 lbs of 3-4 inch pickling cucumbers
  • 2 gals water
  • 1 1/4 cups canning or pickling salt
  • 1 1/2 qts vinegar (5 percent)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 T whole mixed pickling spice
  • whole mustard seed (2 tsp to 1 tsp per pint jar)
  • garlic cloves, 1-2 per pint jar
  • grape leaves, 1 per pint jar
  • fresh dill (1 1/2 heads per pint jar) or 4 1/2 T dill seed (1 1/2 tsp per pint jar)Wash your cucumbers and thinly slice off the blossom end. (the blossoms have an enzyme that will make your pickles soft)Add 3/4 cup salt dissolved in 2 gallons water. Soak cucumbers in water for 12 hours. Drain and get your canning supplies together.Gather your canning supplies
    • water bath canner
    • canning jars
    • canning seals and rings
    • jar lifter
    • canning funnel
    • large pot
    • bowls
    • large spoons
    • sharp knife
    • towels and dish cloths
    • Pot or kettle for the brine
    • ladle

    Get the water in your canner heating while you prepare your pickles.

    Combine vinegar, 1/2 cup salt, sugar, and 2 quarts of water. Place pickling spices in a cheesecloth and place in your vinegar brine. Heat to boiling.

    Fill jars with drained cucumbers. Add:

    • 1 tsp mustard seed and
    • 1 head fresh dill or 1 tsp dill seed per pint.
    • 1 grape leaf per pint.

    Fill jars with hot pickling brine. Leave a 1/2 inch head space.

    Altitude – processing time:

    0-1000 ft – 10 minutes

    1000-6000 ft – 15 minutes

    over 6000 ft – 20 minutes

    Cabbage Chow Chow (Relish)

  • Ingredients:2 quarts shredded cabbage (about one medium head).
    1 cup sweet onions chopped fine
    1/2 cup chopped green or red bell peppers (optional)
    2 Tablespoons saltCombine chopped vegetables and sprinkle with salt. Let stand 4 to 6 hours in the refrigerator. Drain well.Combine the following ingredients and simmer 10 minutes. Use a pot large enough to put the vegetable mix in later.2 cups vinegar
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    2 teaspoons dry mustard
    1 teaspoon turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    2 teaspoons celery seeds
    2 teaspoons mustard seedAdd vegetables to vinegar-sugar-spice mixture and simmer another 10 minutes. Bring to a boil. Then pack, boiling hot, into clean, heated canning jars, leaving  1/2 inch head space. Place canning lids and rings on jars and tighten.    Process 10 minutes (adjust according to altitude).
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July 10, 2015

Ditch lily

Ditch lily

Finally!  After 3 days of overcast, cool weather and occasional rain, it is SO nice to feel the heat and see some blue skies.   We have perfect growing weather today, and I spent part of the morning feeding and watering the garden, adjusting drip irrigation, and pulling weeds (as always).  It’s shaping up to be a beautiful day, and I love to see the chickens out frolicking in the sunshine while I work.

Everything that isn’t a tomato received Espoma Garden-Tone fertilizer this morning.  Garden Tone is a 3-4-4 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) fertilizer, good for just about any vegetable or herb.  This is my third year using it and I like the consistency, the reasonable price, and the fact that it is organic.  I apply it twice a month, mixing it well into soil, and then water deeply, and all of the veggies just take off.  The only thing I’m  not crazy about is that if it isn’t thoroughly mixed into the soil, it will mold, but with a little extra effort that is easy to avoid.

Purple tomatillo

Purple tomatillo

I feed tomatoes with Espoma Tomato-Tone, and have also had very good luck with this product.  The 7-gallon grow pouches receive a scant quarter cup of Tomato-Tone every couple of weeks, also mixing well into the soil and watering afterwards.  Tomato-Tone is a 3-4-6 formula, and the lower nitrogen ratio helps to keep the plants from putting all of their energy toward rapid growth instead of setting fruit.  In the past I have also had success with Neptune’s Harvest, a fish and seaweed-based fertilizer.  It is mixed with water and applied directly to the leaves, but care must be taken in hot weather not to overapply or accidentally scorch the leaves.  It’s something I may try again here in the near future, but between the rain and the septoria fungus, I’m trying not to overwhelm the tomatoes while they try to fight off disease and hopefully set some fruit.  That said,  I’m excited to see what a hefty meal and a good drink will do for the garden this time around, now that we’re well into some good weather for heat-loving plants.

Calima bean plants.

Calima bean plants.

It’s kind of hard to believe that not even a month ago, most of our plants were fresh transplants and tiny.  Now the pepper plants are loaded, carrots are showing their frilly tops, pearl onions are putting on size, and the tomatillos are practically a forest.  Cucumbers are rapidly taking over the trellises and overloaded with blossoms.  Calima beans are growing at an almost-exponential rate, and I can’t wait to steam up some haricots verts before too long.  It’s time to do a heavy harvest on the herb plants and dehydrate a bunch of them for winter storage and use.  Opal basil in the planter box is richly purple and fully-leafed, but we’re still waiting on the green Emily basil in beds to come up to size for salads, pesto and other sauces.   The watermelon vines have grown rapidly and several small melons are already visible.   Cantaloupes and tigger melons are climbing the garden fence and should begin to set fruit any day now, judging by the abundance of blossoms and steady hum of bees visiting the melon patch.



The only thing I’m still on the fence about at this time is the tomato plants, as it is too soon to tell whether they will rebound from the septoria leaf spot or succumb to it altogether.  I’m due to spray them again with copper soon, but it is unknown at this point just how resistant to treatment this fungus actually is, but I’m going to move forward with very cautious optimism that we may see something out of these plants  yet.  Many of our tomatoes are setting fruit and many more have blossoms, but not to the extent that I would expect this time of year.  I’ve already decided that a change in strategy is necessary for next year, and will most likely transplant tomato starts into 2-gallon grow pouches, and move them to a low tunnel in late April/early May.
Hopefully this will give them the head start they need as well as room to grow, and temperatures should be easier to control in the low tunnel so that they are well-established prior to hardening off and planting out.   It seems the third week in May is usually pretty consistent enough for a target date, and now that the garden is effectively finished, I can put my focus on planting next season, rather than building.

I will also pick the last of our cabbages this week & turn them into chow chow for canning, and maybe a little fresh slaw.  The broccoli plants are *finally* setting crowns and I’m hoping they hold out through the hot weather that is looming this weekend.  It’s almost time to start fall broccoli, kale and cabbages, so those seeds will be sown as soon as these plants come out & either head to the kitchen or the compost pile.

Chicory blossom

Chicory blossom

Summer is in full swing and this year is extremely lush and green from all the rain – a nice contrast to the droughts we’ve  had in recent years.  Corn is already waist-high in the fields, the ditch lilies and chicory flowers are in bloom, and clover blossoms send up their perfume in the warmth of the sun.  Bugs are plentiful, to the delight of our chickens and chagrin of local gardeners.   Squash vine borer moths visited us in June, although I removed every visible egg and, fingers crossed, haven’t seen any signs of damage yet.  Cucumber beetles and squash bugs haven’t arrived yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled and ready to do battle on both fronts.  In the mean time, it’s almost time to make pickles – another post on that soon!

Forecast – 7/10/15
High: 82° F
Low: 63° F
Skies: Partly cloudy
Dew point: 61° F
Humidity: 69
Precipitation: 0.03 in.
Sunrise: 5:49 AM
8:49 PM

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Squash Shenanigans

Squash plants.

Squash plants.

The squashes have really exploded with recent warm weather, which means there are some delicious meals right around the corner.  I was afraid we wouldn’t see much from them since everything was transplanted so late, but in typical squash fashion they have taken off and grown like (dare I say it?) weeds!  It never ceases to amaze me the difference a week’s worth of warm, humid weather and a good rainfall can make in a garden.


Bush and vining squashes.

All of the squash plants are in 7-gallon grow pouches for this season. I may bump them up to 10-gallon pouches next year, depending on how this year’s yields come along.  Squashes are heavy feeders with intensive root systems, and while I’ve had success growing them in the 7-gallon pouches in the past they may need a little more room to step up production a bit.

Squash "Gelber-Englischer Custard"

Squash “Gelber-Englischer Custard”

Most of our squashes this year are bush varieties.  Our family enjoys stuffed pattypan (scallop) squash, so we have quite a few of those going.  Pattypans are hard to beat, both for their unique shape and classic squash flavor.  It was tough to narrow down choices when ordering seeds, so four lovely varieties grace our garden this season.  I’ve added pictures of each kind, seed packets and plants, to the gallery at the end of this post.
Along with the pattypans are some lemon squash, in the place of our beloved yellow crook-necks, and the ubiquitous summer favorite, zucchini.  I started off with only two zucchini plants, as my neighbors are awesome and I want to keep it that way.  That rounds out our bevy of bush squash varieties for this season.

Squash trellis.

Squash trellis.

Spaghetti and butternut squashes are also grown in pouches and set under hog panel trellises, like those we use for our cucumbers and tomatoes.  Since both types grow on heavy, wildly sprawling vines, I try to utilize vertical space in our garden by encouraging these plants to grow upward.  This involves a series of gentle, ongoing negotiations – twisting a tendril here, coaxing a leaf there – until the plants have sufficiently anchored themselves to the panels.  From that point they are easily woven through the openings on each panel so that the vines have plenty of room to roam.

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July 7, 2015

Sprayed tomatoes this morning with Bonide Copper to treat septoria leaf spot.  Fingers crossed that it helps, along with removing infected foliage.

Oda peppers and Violet Sparkle peppers have some beauties on the vine that might make good entries for SCOS later this month.  Also considering entering some Dragon’s Egg cucumbers, as they are unique and beautiful.

We received right around 3/4″ of rain yesterday so I can hold off watering for a couple of days.  I’ve come to believe that gardening is the process of staying a few steps ahead of everything else that wants your plants!

Today’s Forecast
High: 72
Heat Index: 77
Humidity: 57%
Precipitation: None
Wind: N 13 mph gusts to 20 mph
Skies: Scattered clouds & sunshine
Sunrise: 5:48 AM

Digging in…

Just a simple, central location to gather my thoughts on gardening and country life.  Or as I call it, life.