Friday, September 10, 2010

September Harvest has started

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Crab Apples Galore!

By August our crab apple tree boughs were bending under the weight of the fruit, bunches of bright red little gems waiting to picked. They were also coming off the tree in torrents every time the wind blew. It was time to start picking. I found a few recipes for crap apple jelly but none for jam. Undaunted, I decided to alter the recipe and cook the mixture longer to include some of the fruit so I could make jam. Why waste all that delicious fruit? We picked 5 lbs and learned the hard way why crab apples don't make good jam. The next day, we picked another 5 lbs and resigned ourselves to jelly.
It was my first time canning, and the boys helped in every step. It was a mess but a lot of fun too. Unfortunately, the mixture did not set into jelly, so now we have very delicious crab apple syrup. The boys are happy to just have a jar to hold up to the sun. We tried it over pancakes this Saturday and it was wonderful; ruby red, sweet with a hint of tart, just how I like it. The recipe however called for double the amount of sugar than I used. Apparently crap apples have ample pectin and should set quite well if you use the recommended amount of sugar, but I think it would have been way too sweet with that much sugar. Guess what we'll be giving out for gifts this Christmas?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tomato Time

It's August and the tomatoes are finally ripening! Now I remember why I spend so much time in dirt. This year I tried a few new varieties like Purple Cherokee and Black Crim. We sliced thick slabs of the first Brandywine and ate it with fresh eggs and mayonase on Rudi's white bread. Is there anything better?
I have been reading up on how to preserve tomatoes. It sounds like the best method is to roast the tomatoes for 3-4 hours with a some salt and olive oil and then skin them, puree, and then freeze for use in the dead of winter when a green garden is just a memory.
I also freeze my basil, thanks to Martha. I puree it and add butter and olive oil and then freeze it into small cubes to use in soups or sauces.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bean teepee

Our bean (and gourd) teepee is gorgeous with lots of greenery, but so far not much in the way of beans. The gourds seem to be doing fine but I think they may have shaded out the beans. The scarlett runner beans really took off and had lively bright red flowers but not a single bean to be had. I get a little crazy when planting seeds into the bare earth, more is better. Then I have a problem thinning out those precious little seedlings and I keep putting it off until finally they are a tangle of plants way too close to tell what's what. Next year I will plant with restraint.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Surprise Garden

In my quest for the the perfect organic garden, I started raising heirloom vegetables which in previous years I purchased from City Floral. But this year I decided to take things a step further. In March, while snow still covered the ground, I started my precious little seeds indoors, lightly covered them in beautiful organic seed starting mix, and began putting them outside in cold frame. I had saved many of these seeds from last year's crop of Brandywine, Beefstake and San Marzanos, and then to increase my chance of a good yield I bought a few packets packets of Beefstake and Brandywine seeds to plant. Though, in my usual style, I didn't really bother identifying which seeds were which.
I had done a little research into seed saving, getting books from the library and going to on-line sites. I knew heirlooms plants or "open pollinators" are able to produce a "true" seed or a seed with the same traits as the parent seed, rather than F1 hybrids like Early Girl or Celebrity which are crosses of 2 different parent plants, and produce seed will not produce the same plant if replanted.
I figured that I would grow heirlooms and save my seeds, reducing costs and also producing a plant that over the years adapts to its specific garden conditions. What could be better? Unfortunately I didn't ready further, to the part that says heirlooms or open pollinators do produce a true seed IF they are isolated from other open pollinated tomato plants. If they cross you can end up with a very strange tomato. Since my garden is slightly bigger than a postage stamp, my tomato plants are planted one on top of the other, with the branches intertwined like Medusa's hair. I am certain that the seeds I saved last year are not true seeds, and I have no idea whether the plants growing are from my "saved"seeds or from the true store-bought packets.
This years garden should be interesting. Surprise!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tart Cherry Pie!

We planted our dwarf Tart Cherry tree a few years ago, and last year I was excited to see how may cherries it produced, but the birds stripped the tiny of all fruit before I could even say "pie".
This year I decided to get serious. I read all about how difficult it was to keep the birds at bay, but if it meant camping out under the tree, I was going to get a pie. I waited patiently and as the first cherries darkened, I started to notice some had been partially pecked, left to rot and others had been pecked completely, leaving just the bare pit hanging. It was time to pick cherries. I enlisted the help of some neighbor kids (mine were not the least interested) who were eager to pick until they tasted them. YUCK! Too tart!!
In my excitement to beat the birds, the first batch I picked was under ripe. Although not a fruit known to ripen off the tree, I did read that cherries might ripen slightly if left out for a day. I awoke the next morning prepared to make a pie, and found a bowl of rotten cherries. Disheartened, I gave them to our hens who ate them with gusto. One man's garbage is a backyard chicken's feast.
Two days later I noted bunches of red-ripe cherries that had not been pecked or damaged by the birds in any way. I got my bowl out and picked away, but didn't come up with 3 full cups, so I cheated and added a handful of store bought sweet cherries. Of course after tucking the pie safely in the oven I read that sweet cherries make horrible pies. Thankfully there were just a few. And the final verdict on the pie? Perhaps not the best looking, but one of the best tasting pies I have ever had! The rest of the cherries are for the birds.

Monday, June 21, 2010

How does your garden grow?

This year I am trying to learn from past mistakes. I have been diligently pinching back my tomato plants every week to avoid too-bushy, over crowded plants which can decrease the circulation around the base. Since I religiously follow "Square Foot Gardening" my plants are placed frighteningly close together, and they already seem to be rubbing elbows. I know pinching them back allows them to invest all their energy into producing great big beautiful tomatoes, but it kills me to pick off any part of their lovely forms. The kids, on the other hand are only too happy to help.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Asher and the suagrsnap peas

Once upon a time there was a boy named Asher who was a very finicky eater and would never even touch a vegetable. After a while his mother gave up trying to get him to eat anything green. That was until she planted sugarsnap peas. Then she couldn't keep him away from the peas. Every morning he would sneak out into the garden in his jammies and eat up all the peas before anyone else got a chance to try any.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Edible landscape

potatoes, broccoli and kolrobi

Two years ago when I dug out my front lawn to create a Xeric garden, I didn't think I would be able to incorporate veggies, but now after reading every book Rosalind Creasy has written about edible landscaping, my front yard is mixed with potatoes and brocolli and beans hidden behind catmint and poppies. The tree in the center is a tart cherry and there are pumkins and zucchini along the back. I have strategically placed a soaker hose to water the veggies, while I can let the xeric plants go dry. It is still a work in progress.

Here is the newly planted patio garden with a few hardy plants that survived the hens. David insisted we add his charming "screaming man" statue for a little variety. I am still kicking myself for not accidentally placing him in the alley where he would have most certainly been picked up for scrap metal. (Someone took our old pipes from the alley before I could even close the backyard gate)

I put in as many herbs and edibles as possible. Lemon thyme, bee balm, lemon balm (it is in the mint family, so know I will be sorry, but I have some kind of garden amnesia) and woodland strawberries. Along the wall I planted beans and squash where last year I ripped out some roses to make way for vining vegetables before I realized how short a period of time it would look nice. Now all winter the wall is barren, so I planted another vining rose. I am doing my part to keep local nurseries in business.

Hanging with the Peeps.

Fin and Asher love the chickens, and at least one of the hens, Hazel is content to sit on Fin's lap for awhile. They are happy it's summer again as they get lots of greens. I give them all the weeds and grassed that sprout from the vegetable garden (which is a surprising large bulk) as well as extra lettuces that have gone to seed When they hear me puttering around in the garden they start up their pretty 'baawwk, bawk bawk" sound until I throw them some treats.

Little Red Barn

When we made the

desicions to get chickens last year, we started looking into coops. You would be surprised what a "Sonoma County Coop" runs. They are the high rent coops made in California wine country for the rich and famous. . The ones we looked at in town were made of ply wood and very unsightly. David, however, agreed to make a little "Red Barn" coop for me, complete with Pela windows! It took a long time to make and he almost broke his back, and that of our friend Todd's moving it, but it was worth the work. He was able to salvage a lot of wood from a house "scrape" a few doors down, and my sister-in-law donated the windows, so we didn't have to buy much. The coop is so bright and cheerful and the hens didn't need any prompting to get into it. They seem to know instinctively that's where to go at night. The other side has a small door that opens to allow you access to the eggs right from their nesting box.

I planted this peach tree last year, in the foreground and it is surviving (I had to put the green chicken wire around the base to keep the girls from scratching the roots, but it had over 50 tine fury peaches on it last month. I followed gardening advice and removed all but 12 (Ugghhh it was so hard to do, but I dropped them to the hens who loved them even in that stage.)

"Ode" to Hazel

Hazel and Odie love to hang out