Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nutty New Year

Since our Christmas Even tradition might be harvesting the nuts from now on, maybe our end of the year tradition will be shelling the nuts. I'm not sure why our winter holidays are so nut-centered now, but I'm going with it. Actually with Aidan home from school I'm doing whatever I can to keep him occupied and shelling nuts is very time-consuming, so it was a perfect afternoon job for him.

The nuts have been outside drying in the sun since Christmas Eve. They got nice and crispy and the leaves got very brown so they were very easy to pull off the shoots.

Aidan noticed that quite a few of the shells had holes in them and had no nuts inside. We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what had eaten the peanuts, but couldn't come up with anything that made sense. We toyed with the idea of some sort of miniature burrowing elephant because that's what you do when you ponder these decisions with a 4-year-old.

After we'd discarded the plants and put all of the nuts in the basket, we brought them inside to shell them.

On a side note, Aidan visited santa twice this December - once with school, and once at the mall with us. Both times he asked Santa for the same two things: Pokemon cards and a Nutcracker. When we asked him why he wanted a nutcracker, he said "to crack nuts." Of course. How silly of me to ask why my 4-year-old wanted a nutcracker. So santa brought him a nutcracker in the shape of a British policeman and Aidan was over the moon. He had no use for the thing because we don't exactly keep buckets of in-the-shell nuts around the house, but Aidan was happy regardless.

Well wouldn't you know that as soon as we brought the bucket of peanuts inside Aidan happily ran over to his nutcracker and brought him over to the table. "This nutcracker sure will come in handy!" he said. Well he had a good point.

Aidan opened all of the nuts in the nutcracker and I did my share in my hands. We sorted the nuts into a little bowl and discarded the shells into another basket. I haven't seen Aidan this captivated with a task in a long, long time. Note to moms: shelling nuts with preschoolers is a killer activity.

I've had these fantasies about making my own peanut butter for the boys. So as the last peanuts were shelled I looked at the measley little harvest we brought in - and measured it.

We got about 3/4 cup of peanuts. How pathetic is that? All that planting, the hilling, the watering, the hurricanes, the over-watering, the hilling again... the harvesting, the drying, the shelling... and we have 3/4 of a cup. Wow gardening is not for the sane. Not at all.

But we will move forward and try and make peanut butter out of this measley little harvest and dammit the boys will like it and we will make this whole thing worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Nuts

We finally had some mad garden action in our very quiet December garden so I finally have something to post about. Today we decided to harvest our peanuts. It's Christmas Eve and Farmer B and I have been talking about our lack of Christmas Eve traditions and the idea of starting something new for our family. We came up empty and decided to harvest the peanuts instead. Could a Christmas Eve nut harvest be our new family tradition? I like the way it sounds.

I think our nuts should have been harvested a long time ago, but being new at this I wanted to err on the side of over-done nuts rather than under-done nuts. I read that the leaves on the peanut plants turn yellow when the plants are ready to be pulled and they only recently started to wither and turn yellow, so now seemed like the right time. Here they are with some radishes we pulled today too.

Harvesting nuts is much like harvesting potatoes, or so I'm told since I haven't grown a potato yet. You get your pitchfork and pop it under the peanut plant and sort of wiggle it a bit to loosen the soil. You have to dig down pretty deep so that you don't speer any of the nuts.
When you loosen the nuts you grab ahold of the plant and just wiggle and pull.
When it comes all the way out you can see the little peanuts hanging on to the little shoots that grew off all the yellow peanut flowers that grew on the plants.
I have no idea how many peanuts we ended up with, but we got bunches and bunches of them.
I read that you have to let them dry out outside for a couple of weeks until the plant gets all dry and crumbly. The peanuts should then just pull off the shoots quite easily.
So there you have it. A Christmas Eve Nut Harvest - a first for us. It's a given that our Christmas will be a little nutty so perhaps this is the perfect new tradition for our family.

Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Red Radish Salad

As you may have read, the first edible food we harvested from the garden was a row of radishes. And the problem became what on earth we'd do with them besides bung them on top of a salad. I felt compelled to actually try and enjoy the only fruits of our long garden labor. My friend Courtney found a Red Radish Salad recipe from Rachel Ray's website. I was game because it didn't have a lot of ingredients and sounded good. I made it last night and it was honestly one of the best-tasting little salads I've ever eaten. This should be a go-to recipe for any new gardener that successfully grows radishes. They're easy to grow so they're a good first-vegetable for us newbies, but then you have to figure out how to enjoy them. This recipe is it!!

Here's what you'll need: Sugar, lemon, sour cream, red radishes, golden delicious apples, European seedless cucumber, fresh dill, salt and pepper. Do you like how I laid it all out for you like the ingredients are so exotic that you need your hand held to figure them out? Good. I will now continue to insult your intelligence by photographing the steps. Yes, I was just that excited about the damn radishes. Here we go:

First you quarter and core two apples and slice them into thin slices. (Now that I've done this, I'd say to do this last because the apples brown quickly).

Next you thinly slice your radishes - the real live radishes that you actually grew in your garden that you're so happy about - those radishes.

Then you thinly slice one-half of your Euro-cuke. I'm sure you could do this with an American cuke, but European cucumbers are just so much more refined.

Chop up some dill - about 2 tablespoons. You just can't have too much dill. Feel free to add about 3-4 tablespoons like I did because more dill is the only dill.

Then get a large bowl and mix up the juice of one lemon, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 cup of sour cream. We used reduced fat sour cream to make it a bit healthier. The bowl you see pictured is not a large bowl. I decided a small bowl would work. Then when I dumped all the chopped up food in it, it didn't fit. So definitely get a large bowl.

Finally add in your radishes, apples, cucumbers and dill and toss to coat thoroughly and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (This would be the large bowl).

I just couldn't believe how great it tasted! Farmer B got home from a long day of work and turned his nose up at the funky-looking salad in the fridge. Next thing I know he's inhaling it and raving about how great it is. He said it's one of the best salads he's had. Farmer B is a manly-man, so him happily snarfeling down a Red Radish Salad and raving about it is huge. It's sort of sweet like a fruit salad, but the dill and radishes add a very nice bite to it. Now I'm no chef, but this was so tasty and so easy to make. If you can chop things up and stir stuff together, you're golden.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Free Rice

Since I'm not planting or harvesting right now, I thought I'd focus on something sort of garden-related that's a great cause too. At www.FreeRice.com you can play a fun vocabulary game that tests your intelligence and donates 20 grains of rice to help end world hunger for each answer you get correct. Since its launch in October 2007, FreeRice has donated more than 53 billion grains of rice and fed more than 2 million hungry people.

If you're not a speller, but still like the idea of the site, click on the "subjects" button on the menu bar at the top of the screen. You can pick a different subject to be tested on from art to chemistry and algebra to geography. Each time you get an answer right, they donate 20 grams of rice. Just this morning before breakfast I donated about 300 grams of rice.

I know a lot of us say we're going to do something positive each year, especially around the holiday season, but life gets in the way and we forget. If you're reading this blog, it's proof that you have plenty of free time to play on the computer. Why not spend 5 minutes on FreeRice and make a small difference?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December Harvest

Instead of writing a length the details of my absence again, I think I'll just admit flat out that now that it's the holiday season and we keep having family in town and life is just so busy, I am finding it hard to keep up with everything. Since something has to suffer, it's bound to be the blog. Luckily not much is going on in the garden, so I haven't had much to report.

Until today.

Today I decided we'd harvest one row of radishes and half a row of carrots. I did a craptacular job of thinning the carrots so I knew we'd get some funky looking roots on those things. I know that next time I do carrots I'll do a raised bed so I can assure the soil won't be too hard packed and weird for them to grow down.

The boys were fascinated with picking the radishes. I think they were as shocked as I was that we actually grew something that looked like it was supposed to look. We have two rows of radishes and we pulled up one row. We didn't do both rows because I have no idea what on earth I'll do with these radishes since it's not really salad weather right now. Although my friend Courtney sent me a very yummy sounding radish recipe that I'll try out with this bunch and report back with the scoop.

We brought the carrots and radishes inside and cleaned them up to put in the fridge. I've heard that you can eat radish greens and carrot greens, but it didn’t sound too appealing to me. When I'd trimmed them up I went out front and tossed the leftovers into the front yard. I assume some deer or rabbits will enjoy them tonight. Our front yard is like a Motel 6 for deer. Often when Farmer B returns home in the wee hours of the morning he counts up to 20 sleeping deer curled up on our front yard fast asleep.

My carrots do look a bit weird and they all have sunburning. Living in Florida I expect to have to put sunscreen on everything to prevent sunburning, but who knew it related to carrots as well? I read that sunburning causes green tops on the carrots and an off flavor and dark green pieces in the cooked product. You're supposed to cut away the green portion and use the rest of the root. When the tops are healthy, sunburning can be avoided by pulling a small amount of loose soil up to the row when the roots are swelling (about 40 to 50 days after planting). I suppose that makes sense. The tops are exposed so it does make sense to pile loose soil on top. Lesson learned.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Oh bountiful harvest

It's Thanksgiving in a few days and it's a time of harvest for most of the western world. Here in the USA we celebrate Thanksgiving and when I was a kid in the UK we celebrated Harvest Festival. I thought it would be a great time to harvest some beautifully-grown fall vegetables from our garden in honor of this time.

Then I remembered that we haven't successfully grown crap. We planted our garden in August and it's November now and we still have nothing to show for it, yet we're still at it. This is surely a testament to two things: 1) My lack of gardening skills 2) My tenacity.

So I went to the garden determined to have something to show for this week of harvest and found the following jaw-dropping yumminess you see below. Allow yourself a moment to take it all in.

First we have my one red cracked tomato that does not have blossom end rot. It's a tiny thing, but it's red and doesn't appear to be bug-eaten, so it got plucked from the vine. It's smaller than a real tomato and larger than a cherry tomato and it's got more cracks than our driveway, but it's ours. Maybe we'll slice it up and get out a Ritz cracker and each take a tiny nibble. Mmmmmm.....

Next we have a peanut. I actually think our peanut plants might be doing okay. I'm not entirely sure when we pull them up. I've heard that you should pull up one peanut to check for doneness. I pulled one up out of the ground and now realized I have no idea how to tell the difference between an under-ripe and fully-ripe peanut. Will read up on that.
Finally we have some carrots. These weren't really supposed to come up, but everytime I hit the garden I find smallish carrots that are growing next to my larger carrots and crowding them out. I am not a good thinner apparently. So these ones below are being sacrificed for the greater good. Two of them are only slightly smaller than a sickly baby carrot, so maybe we'll actually take a nibble and see how they taste.
So there you have it. The most pathetic harvest you have ever seen. Almost 4 full months of tending to this garden almost daily and that's all we have to show for it. Yes, yes, we have had plenty of great experiences, but nothing to lay on the ole' Thanksgiving table.

Farmer B took one look at this harvest and said "Can you imagine being a Pilgrim and coming over here knowing you had to grow all of your own food just to survive?" I quickly reminded him that my people waited a bit longer and came over on British Airways, thank you very much.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Unexcused absence

Are you there blog? It's me, Kate. It has been 5 days since my last entry. I have been remiss in my writings and will try not to let real life get in the way again.

Actually we had out-of-town family visiting us and when we have company the first thing that gets the boot is the ole' computer. That, and I've had quite a few custom orders to get together for my real online business, so I put that first. And it's been cold here in Central Florida and I don't do cold. I go into full-out hibernation mode when the temperature dips below 75 degrees. I'm one of those annoying Floridians that complains that we don't have seasons and we have too much hot weather, but when nature responds with a helluva cold front, I curl up into the fetal position and rock in the corner.

The garden has had a hairy week. The first exciting bit of news is that I was cyberjinxed by my gardening friend from Our Engineered Garden and another blogger called Dani. Both told me they expected to see Blossom End Rot on my tomatoes after I discovered my crack problem. Well wouldn't you know that it happened? I plucked my first red tomato off the vine only to discover a blackened sunken end - blossom end rot. I stood in the garden cursing two people I've never met before for using their cyber-psychokinesis to rot my one red tomato. Actually the rest of the tomatoes seem to be clinging to life, so maybe this was a fluke. We'll see.

Then I noticed that my taller-than-the-cage yellow bell tomato plant was falling over and the tallest stem was starting to break in half. I grabbed a stake and jammed it into the ground and realized I needed to tie the stem to the stake…but with what? Hmm… I have no clue what you tie a plant to a stake with so I found some pretty red ribbon in my sewing box and tied it on with that. I figured it'd be soft and wide enough so it didn't cut into the stem and it was pretty and red - a plus. I'm sure there is some sort of gardening tie-up stuff I should purchase for this, but the ribbon seems to be doing the job for now.

Fast forward to last night. I watched the 11 o'clock news and our local weather idiot said that my county wouldn't have a frost or freeze, but some of our neighboring counties would. I felt good about that and started wondering what I'd do when our first frost or freeze finally happened, but I knew I had a long time to think about it since we never get frosts or freezes until about January or February. Then I woke up this morning, looked out front and saw this:

Do you see all that white? That would be frost. The car windows were icy and the grass was frosty and all I could think about was the garden. How would it react to this? It wasn't mega-frost, but it was definitely frost. I've never known a November frost (or a December one for that matter) so I wasn't sure what to think. I went out there after it warmed up a bit and snooped around and everything looked as it did before the frost. The half-dead stuff was still half-dead and the green stuff was still green. I'm not sure how to tell if the frost did any damage, but I'll keep checking for chattering teeth and goosebumps on my peppers.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Happy Bloom Day!

It's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for November and time for me to lay it all out there for the world to see. I've never had a bloom-worthy Bloom Day, but I'm determined to participate every month, so here's what's blooming in our garden.

We still have a couple of large sunflowers clinging to life. They're supposed to be 8 to 10 feet tall, but we didn't get many over around 5 feet tall. Aidan likes the tall sunflowers that are bigger than him, so I'm glad we chose to grow these. Do you see the dirty neck on that kid? He knows how to play hard when we come outside.

And here's what's in the planter boxes out front. A handful of different colored impatiens and a purple pansy. Snore. At least they're alive and it's a nice splash of color in an otherwise very boring area.

I also have plenty of blooms on my tomato plants and bell pepper plants and a few random flowers that pop up on my one barely-alive pumpkin plant, but that's about it. I'll take what I can get.

Night Launch

I know this is a gardening blog, but it's my gardening blog so I give myself the right to go completely off-topic should the mood strike me. Since I'm mood stricken right now, I thought I'd post some photos of last night's space shuttle launch…after all, we were standing next to our garden when we watched it, so I'm calling it garden related.

The Space Shuttle Endeavor lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 7:55 p.m. on November 14th. Our family is famous for forgetting to watch shuttle launches, but honestly, when you live in Florida it is easy to forget since it's a way of life for us. We were determined not to forget last night's launch because there is just something special about a night launch. No matter how many launches you see, it's always just an amazing moment when you first peer out of the backyard and see the glow of the burners and know that seven very gutsy astronauts are hurtling toward space at about 18,000 mph.

Ever since I was a kid and I stood outside of my school with my class watching the Challenger take off with teacher Christa McAullife on board and it blew up, I always get a bit nervous watching a shuttle take off. I always try to imagine how scary it must be for the astronauts inside and I think of how odd it is that most of the country is inside watching Wheel of Fortune while this amazing thing is happening right outside of my window.

We had the boys dressed in their PJs ready for bed and we all walked out into the backyard and looked East.
The moon was hidden behind the clouds at first and it was a very dark night We're very close to the coast so we always get a great view. It's much harder to find the shuttle in the daytime, especially if there are low clouds. But a night launch is totally different. You stand there in the darkness waiting for the glow and then it happens - a bright orange glow lights up the sky starting at the horizon and quickly filling the night. If you're inside you can see the orange glow light up your windows. Photos really do not do it justice. We were lucky enough to have a full moon, which made for a very beautiful night.
The bright orange glow sort of arcs up into the sky and the clouds get really bright and you focus on the bright yellow glow of the shuttle. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can hear the rumble of the rockets. Last night we heard someone blaring Elton John's "Rocket Man" from some speakers at a party up the street. No matter where you are you always hear people clapping. There is something so spectacular about it that you feel the need to clap or cheer when you first see it over the horizon. But soon after you hear a quiet silence as people old enough to remember the Challenger suck in a collective nervous breath in the hopes that nothing will go wrong. As you watch, the bright white plume of smoke off the shuttle's tail follows the ball of fire as it lifts up into the sky.
It's impossible to photograph from a home camera, but when the shuttle gets quite high in the sky you can watch the solid rocket boosters separate from the shuttle and fall back to the Earth. The shuttle eventually becomes a tiny white speck and you're left watching what's left of the smoke trail fading in the night sky. Eventually the sky darkens again and it's all over. Then we all raced back inside and hit rewind on the TV and watched it all over again.
I love that our boys can experience this. One day when they're old and grey they'll be able to tell their grandchildren about watching the space shuttle take off right from their own back yard. I'm sure space shuttles will be obsolete old-fashioned pictures in a history book by then - just like the rockets from the 1960s are to us now. But I'm glad they get to experience this part of history first-hand with Farmer B and I at their side.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I have a crack problem

I never thought the day would come when I could admit to having a crack problem. I always thought I'd be above such things, then one day the reality hits you and BAM! - you realize that yes, crack has wrapped it sticky fingers tightly around you and won't let go. Once you realize that you have a crack problem, you can't take it away. You just have to move forward, try to recover and learn from your mistakes. I suppose admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. I'll chalk this up to another important lesson learned.
We are, of course, talking about my tomatoes. I've pulled about three of my baby yellow bell tomatoes off the plant that are split right down the side from top to bottom. I thought it was a fluke since I don't really know what I'm doing and didn't think I'd find the same thing on any other plants.
Then yesterday Aidan was very excited to notice that we have some tomatoes turning orange and red on one of our tomato plants.
This is a huge step forward since everything else in the garden has remained a nice shade of green, turned brown and dropped off. This splash of color is new and exciting in our gardening world. We excitedly hopped into the garden to marvel at the brightly colored things...
...when we saw the cracks. Yup. We have tomato fruit cracking. I looked up the cause of cracking and wouldn't you know it? The finger of blame can be pointed firmly in my face, thank you very much. Here is one of the primary causes of cracking:

Rain and excess irrigation will often cause cracking and if the fruit lacks leaf cover then the effect is even more dramatic. Tomato crops that do not receive water at regular intervals but rather receive it periodically at large intervals are likely to have cracking.

Did you read that? "Excess Irrigation." Does THAT sound like anything I've done? Maybe watering the garden for 14 hour intervals when I accidentally left the sprinkler running overnight - not once, but twice? Yeah. Just great. I assume you can't eat a cracked tomato because I'd guess it's dry or weird or something. Oh well. Maybe one of them will be crack-resistant and we'll get to eat one damned thing from this garden one day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Guilt-Free Darwinism

I thinned out our radish seedlings this weekend and I was rife with guilt again. I've mentioned before how thinning out seedlings makes me sad and this time was no different. I feel like I'm killing something that's trying its best to grow and thrive in our garden, when we don't get a lot of growing and thriving going on. We seem to focus on wilting, shriveling and dying. I assumed I was the only nutjob who feels extremely sad pulling out baby plants to make room for others, but then I read an article I found online in The Washington Post by Barbara Damrosch called "Call It Guilt-Free Darwinism."

Apparently thinning guilt is not as uncommon as I thought. Gardeners enjoy nurturing their plants, but sometimes it becomes so excessive that the guilt of thinning is just heart-wrenching for some. The article says that some people don't even like to prune for the same reasons. I laughed at that until I remembered my reaction to my aunt's scalping of my tomato plants and then it wasn't so funny.

Her advice?

"...keep motherly love out of your mind and Darwin at your elbow."

I'm a fan of Darwin's theories and survival of the fittest makes sense in nature, but it's hard when you're the one looming over a line of cowering little green plants trying to decide whose time it is to go and whose time it is to live.

Damrosch talks about her friend who had major thinning guilt:

"Recently she had a breakthrough while thinning late-planted lettuces. By holding her finger at the base of the one she was saving while she yanked a few of its neighbors, she was able to focus on protecting the survivor instead of mourning the castoffs. The finger trick lessens that tug on the roots of the plant left standing, and it helped my friend to see thinning as a positive act. Just as with pruning (another tough-love garden skill), she was giving her plants a better chance to be productive by removing competition from their beds."

So that's it. Eliminating the competition to increase the survivor's chances of thriving. Well I eliminated a TON of radish competition this weekend. I left their limp little corpses to one side…and now they haunt me when I go to the garden.

It made me wish we had a compost bin set up so at least their deaths would be put to good use - you know, the whole Lion King "Circle of Life" thing? Maybe I'll keep looking into one of those rotating metal compost bins until I find one that's got the right price. And before anyone suggests an open wooden compost bin, please know these three things. 1) I have dogs, one of whom loves to dig and one of whom loves to eat crap 2) I have two boys who love going where they shouldn't 3) Farmer B doesn't build stuff and neither do I - see my pea trellis for proof. So I'll continue my search for one of those barrel bins so I can thin without a guilty conscience.
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