Monday, December 16, 2013

Lessons Learned in the Garden 2013

I don't post many posts any more.

Something happened this summer that just turned me off from posting.

Anyway, for some reason I had a very difficult time this spring getting my seeds to germinate. I started and re-started many of my seeds, lost a huge number of seeds, and seedlings.  I now think I had something wrong with the seed starting soil I was using. I don't know how to pick better seed starting soil. Any suggestions?

I was able to add horse manure and lots of crushed eggshells to the 20 Foot Garden bed. It really seemed to strengthen my tomato plants. This was a great year for tomato harvest for my family. I didn't have enough for canning, but we had plenty for every day eating. I also had so many cherry tomatoes that I had to try pickled green cherry tomatoes. It turns out that the whole family loves them, so it was a good thing.

I grew Swiss Chard this year for the first time and have been very happy with it. I had 2 spots for it. One was in mostly shade (maybe 3 hours sunlight a day), and it did very well there during the summer. The other is in full sun, and it suffered all summer, but looks great now.

I tried three types of okra this year, since my family likes it. I tried Stelley, Stewart's Zeebest and Eagle Pass. My middle daughter loved the Eagle Pass. The Stelley really didn't survive all the rain we had this summer. And Stewart's Zeebest was the star. It just produced and produced. We loved it and the pods could be picked larger.  Unfortunately, Baker Creek Seeds is not selling it this year.
l to r: Eagle Pass, Stewart's Zeebest and Stelley
I had a terrible year with my eggplants. I find this really disappointing, since I really love eggplants. I probably only harvested 3 Japanese eggplants all year.

The cucumbers produced enough to eat out of hand, but not enough for pickling. Luckily, I was able to find a good farmer's market this year, and bought a bushel of cucumbers. I pickled 20 quarts from the farmer's market bushel.

I harvested 8 fresh organic peaches off our young peach tree.

I harvested substantially less from my beans this year than last. Was it because of the rain? Something else? I don't know.

I didn't plant a winter garden this year.

I plan to expand the garden next year. Here's hoping for larger harvests for all of us!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Biscotti Marathon for Christmas Presents

Cranberry Biscotti (the recipe calls it Holiday Biscotti)
Another view of the Cranberry Biscotti

I don't make biscotti every year, but the years I do make it, I make enough to give to all our list of people for whom we are thankful.

This year, I woke up the day after Thanksgiving with a desire to make the biscotti for the people who serve our children, those Junior Master Gardener teachers, Sunday School teachers, RA leaders and others who add so much to the lives of our children. I am so grateful for all these people contribute to our children's lives, and I just want to let them know this year.

So began the Biscotti Marathon. It actually consisted of 3 marathon biscotti making sessions.

Lemon Biscotti, Chocolate Ribbon Biscotti, Butterscotch Biscotti, and Chocolate Crinkles (not biscotti,
but still good cookies.) These are ready for sharing. 
The first session consisted of the above 4 recipes.

Almond Biscotti, Chocolate Ribbon Biscotti, and Cinnamon
Apple Biscotti ready for sharing. 
 The second session consisted of the above almond and cinnamon apple biscotti, and I used the chocolate ribbon biscotti from the first session to complete those bags. Almond is my very favorite recipe, and I have used it for many years. The cinnamon apple was a new (and not worth repeating)

The final session consisted of a second round of Lemon and Butterscotch Biscotties.  I am still not sure I have enough for the entire list, but I am losing sight of the fun of it, so I am taking a break.
My Butterscotch Biscotti. I made up this recipe. I always get
requests for it from those to whom I have previously
given it, and I love it, too.
Yum. I enjoy this. It's lots of fun, and I don't know anyone else in real life who makes biscotti, so it makes an unusual gift. 

If you know me in real life, you can just pretend you didn't see what you are getting for Christmas from our family. :)

Merry Christmas to all. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Harvest Monday November 18, 2013

I am thankful for Daphne and Harvest Monday's. It is so great to read what is going on in other people's gardens. And it is great to get to share with others what is going on here.

We had our first killing frost this week. This seems early to me, but it may be because I have only gardened for three years. The last three years there have been no frosts before December. (I checked the Frost Date Map for Alabama and it says that our average first frost date is November 21 to 30, so I guess I was right.)

I didn't have much in the garden, since I am not doing a fall garden this year, but there was one volunteer tomato plant. I was hoping that it would have time to ripen, but the frost came. So I made green tomato pickles (from the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning). This is one of my family's new favorite recipes. I made it many times during the summer, when we had a glut of cherry tomatoes. It was easier to just pick them green and make this fantastic recipe than to try to figure out what to do with them after they ripened.

This time, I had enough to make three quarts, using jars I got when I just happened to be a the right place at the right time.      I am so excited about these pickles. We had almost used up the ones I had previously put up.

See what others are harvesting at Daphne's Dandelions.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

Last night, I was taking my kids' friends home after dark, and happened to see a garage sale still going on. What?

I went ahead and took the kids home. When I went past the place again, they were still there. And they had canning jars. It seemed to me that they had a LOT of them in my glances as I drove. So my kids and I stopped.

I asked about the canning jars. They were waiting for someone to come back after them. They had been waiting on this person all day and were weary of waiting. "How much did they pay?"  I asked.  Oh, nothing. These people had just been going to give it to the person, but she just wouldn't come back.

I said, "I'll pay $20."  That was all the cash I had in my purse. They looked at each other and said, "Sold." They started helping me put the canning jars in my car. My kids helped. I helped. We stacked. And we stacked. And we stacked. I had no idea that there could have been THAT many when we started.

I ended up getting 126 canning jars and a brand new, unopened box of wide mouth jars and lids--for only $20.

Some of the many canning jars I got last night

It was totally AWESOME!!! I was so excited that I could hardly stand myself. And the people were glad, because it got rid of something they thought of as worthless clutter. And I paid them for it when some other person was trying to scam them into giving them for free. But wasn't willing to come back to pick them up.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Compost Nerd

I know it makes me nerdy, but I love my compost. It is really interesting to me that I can throw yucky, stinky "trash" into it and in just a few weeks have beautiful, rich, black soil.

I have to compost in black trash cans, because of my neighborhood. It keeps all the compost neat and the neighbors don't complain. When I first started composting, I went to the local fishing supply center and bought fishing worms. I only had to do that one time, since the worms have multiplied and multiplied.

I started composting before I started gardening. Actually, I started composting in order to "decrease the amount of trash I was sending to the landfill." I got the idea from No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. I enjoyed it so much that when it transformed into soil, I wanted to use it.

So then I ordered All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More In Less Space from the library. I felt that gardening for food was "doable" for the first time after reading that book.

That began my quest to garden for food.

Okay. That is just the background. My tip is this: I discovered that if I threw the ice that falls to the floor, and the leftover cups of water we were planning to pour down the drain anyway, into the compost bucket instead of into the sink, it really helped keep the compost wet. I haven't had to use the hose to wet my compost in months. Since I started giving the compost the little bits of water leftover, the compost stays nice and damp and the stuff turns to soil much quicker. And I don't have to lug the hose over, dig through and water it by hand. Win. Win.

ice that fell to the floor

stuff for the compost bin, with leftover water things and ice in
the bucket
***Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to I have never actually earned enough in this account to be paid for it, but people want to know that I could be paid for it. I received no compensation for any of the books listed. They were just books I used in my journey to food gardening.***

Monday, September 16, 2013

Feasting Visually

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had LOTS of rain this summer. This made my garden produce less than in previous years. I haven't posted many times to the Harvest Mondays. There just wasn't much to report.

I have thought a lot about this post and whether I should write it. But this is the way I decided it. I do have a butterfly garden. We planted it last fall, when my children and I were studying insects for science. And it has been extremely productive for our family this year.

It has produced a feast for the eyes, and full of amazing transformations. We have been simply enraptured watching these interesting creatures.

We saw the mama Gulf Fritillary lay the eggs on the passion fruit vines. Soon afterwards, we saw the first instars of the caterpillars.
Do you see the orange caterpillars among the vines?

Then larger and larger caterpillars. Finally, we started to see this.

Chrysalids from Gulf Fritillary butterflies. Suffice it to say that
they are about an inch apart all along the roofline for 20 or 30 feet. 
Finally, we started seeing some of them emerging. One day, we watched 15 emerge in a single morning!

Chrysalids of Gulf Fritillary butterflies with a couple emerging
We still have many chrysalids, and now our front yard is alive with the movement, the fluttering of butterflies.

Gulf Fritillary on Porter Weeds
It has been wildly successful for us. And some of the plants I planted for the butterflies have also attracted hummingbirds. The porter weed (above) draws hummingbirds even in the pouring down rain.

So, you see, even though I haven't harvested much food from our garden, we have all benefited from the harvests in the butterfly garden.

Hop on over to Daphne's Dandelions and see what others are harvesting.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Harvest Monday Labor Day Edition

This has been an excessively rainy this summer. From July 1st to August 18 (when my rain gauge broke) I recorded 23.5 inches of rain in my own backyard. This has not been positive for the garden. Almost everything rotted and/or molded.

I had planted okra and Mississippi Cream peas for summer crops. Both of these plantings hung in there through the excessive rainfall. But neither one produced much.
I tried 3 types of okra this year. From left to right: Eagle Pass,
Stewart's Zeebest and Stelley.
Now that the rain has returned to a more reasonable level, I am getting some okra and a little Mississippi Cream peas.

I wanted to taste several different types of okra. My family really likes okra. Last year I grew Clemson Spineless, but I wanted an okra that would taste good at a larger size than finger length. I was also looking for something that would bear more prolifically than the Clemson Spineless did. (And, let's be honest, everybody grows Clemson Spineless. I wanted something a little different.)

All three have a good flavor. My middle daughter just loves the shape and size of Eagle Pass. When they are cut crosswise, they look like little stars. The Stelley (at the right) has not been very productive in the deluge of rain. In fact several of the Stelley plants died. 

The Stewart's Zeebest plants all lived through the summer. They produced a little and kept going. None of the plants were as happy as they would have been with less rain, but the Stewart's Zeebest was the star performer in my garden. The pods in the middle were the size I always picked the Stewart's Zeebest, and without fail they were tender and tasty. They were also much more productive than either of the other plants, and much more able to withstand the testings the weather gave us.

I will definitely grow Stewart's Zeebest again. I want to thank Dave from Our Happy Acres. He grew them last year and reported it to Harvest Monday's.  I am very grateful that he reported his experiences with this plant. It is just what I wanted for my own garden, and I would never have thought to plant it if he had not had such glowing things to say about it.

I am linking with Harvest Mondays, hosted by Daphne from Daphne's Dandelions. Hop on over and see what others are harvesting. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Learning to Cook and Eat Dried Beans

Yellow Eye Beans purchased from North Bay Trading
Let's suppose that for reasons of health or economy or some other reason you have decided that you need to include more dried beans in your diet.

Here are some things for you to consider.

There is a learning curve to getting dried beans done. They are not done if they still taste "crunchy." If at first you don't succeed, try try again.

There are several ways to cook dried beans. You can cook them in a pressure cooker. You can cook them in a crock pot. You can boil them on a stove top. If it is your goal to incorporate dried beans into your diet, don't give up until you have tried all the methods, and found the one that works best for you.  (Do Google searches to find instructions for each method of cooking.)

Don't think that all dried beans taste alike. They don't. If you don't like the taste of black beans (for instance) that doesn't mean that you won't like red beans or pinto beans or black eye peas. If this bean doesn't suite your fancy, try a different bean.

Constantly be on the lookout for good bean recipes. I have an entire section of my homemade cookbook devoted to beans.
my homemade cookbook
what it looks like when you open the cover

the bean section
these are all bean recipes

Another suggestion is to make notes on your recipes the day you try them. That way, you can modify things you don't like, or serve that dish again, if it was wildly successful with your family.

Don't give up if your kids don't like the beans the first time. Keep trying. My kids all eat their beans now, but it was a process. I gave incentives (we call them "sticker meals") for a long time to get to that point. The idea was that for every time the kids would eat a meal I wanted to have rather than some sort of kid-friendly meal, they would get a sticker. When they got 10 stickers, I would buy them something worth $5.

You can branch out from regular beans even more if you purchase heirloom beans online. They have wildly varied tastes and unusual broths (my Grandma called it "the bean likker" --said in an extremely southern voice).

Some of my favorite flavors of heirloom dried beans are Good Mother Stallard beans, and Tiger Eye beans. I just recently purchased cranberry beans, Yellow Eye beansDapple Grey beans, and Pink beans from North Bay Trading. I haven't tasted any of them except for the Yellow Eye beans.

I have found North Bay Trading to be the cheapest option I have been able to find. (If you know of a cheaper one, please leave a comment for me.)

Another suggestion is to read The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower's Guide: Steve Sando's 50 Favorite Varieties. I found it really loaded with helpful information and it made me want to try a bunch of new types of beans.

My favorite bean cookbook is Growing and Cooking Beans By John Withee.

My family has been eating and enjoying dried beans for 10 years now, but it was definitely a process. I hope this makes your process toward eating these wonderful beans easier.

****The views expressed here are entirely my own. I have not received any compensation from any of the links for this information. However, if you click through the Rancho Gordo link, I will receive a small (really small) compensation from Amazon.***

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Garden Right Now

I don't post as much as I used to.

I thought it would be nice to post a few pictures of the garden right now, though.

This is my front yard garden by the garage. This is also my favorite
garden. Currently, it has some red flowered fava beans, milkweed,
cardinal's cap, celosia, and nasturtiums in it. Along the trellis are
green beans, vining nasturtiums and passion vines. 

This is the Twenty Foot Garden. In front of the box, is Swiss Chard.
In the garden box itself, I have Ruth Bible beans and Lousiana
Purple Podded Pole beans, regular and cherry tomatoes, a
Tromboncino zucchini, 6 cucumbers, 24 okra in 3 varieties and
Mississippi Cream peas. 

This is the bed by the front door. I have Easter lilies coming up
everywhere, but they haven't bloomed yet this year. There is lemon
balm and thyme in the bed and the purple things are ornamental
cabbages. The bird bath on the ground is for butterflies. They use
wet sand to get their drinks and salt intake. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Much Delayed List of Garden Books I Read in 2012

Beth asked me to post a list of the gardening books I read in 2012.

 Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons

The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year  (This is a funny book about one woman’s attempt to eat solely off her ¼ acre piece of property for a year. And how she drags her children and husband along, kicking and screaming.)
I liked this one, too. It is also the story of one woman and her garden.
Notes from an Italian Garden

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World (Not all of this book is gardening, but he tackles it in an attempt to live a more simple life.)

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (More of a nature book than a gardening book, it is very deep. It took me a long time to get through it. I know that what he has to say is valuable.)

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History Great quote from the book: “Heirlooms seeds, saved from year to year, worked into our gardens and eaten at our tables make a much stronger statement for their survival. The foods produced from heirloom seeds must also be part of our daily lives if we are to actually preserve them for the future.” Page35

The Beginner's Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables: The 100 Easiest-to-Grow, Tastiest-to-Eat Vegetables for Your Garden Gardening with Heirloom Seeds: Tried-and-True Flowers, Fruits, and Vegetables for a New Generation

Gardening with Heirloom Seeds: Tried-and-True Flowers, Fruits, and Vegetables for a New Generation

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone (Actually short stories of different people’s food obsessions, which for the most part, they only really practiced when alone.)

Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet--All on $5 a Day or Less

 My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm (Another tale of one man’s attempt to live off the land. He didn’t want to live this way. It was an assignment. And he really does not provide a good view of the simple life.)

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower's Guide: Steve Sando's 50 Favorite Varieties

(Very funny back to the land book.)

In the French Kitchen Garden: The Joys of Cultivating a Potager

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (This was a great and challenging book in the line of No Impact Man. I am not sure I could follow in her steps, because it was too radical. I like what she had to say, though.)

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets

Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals

The City Homesteader: Self-Sufficiency on Any Square Footage

  (This is the book that gave me the idea to plant a sunflower garden for the kids. We have started it. It is their project, so when they get finished digging they can plant the seeds.)

Nature-Friendly Garden, The: Creating a Backyard Haven for Animals, Plants, and People

The Naturescaping Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Bringing Nature to Your Backyard

Proven Plants Southern Gardens

(This was a good book, in which the author speaks to different long-time members of Seed Savers’ Exchange and explores their reasons for seed saving and seed sharing.)