Monday, July 30, 2012

Best and Worst of my Garden - July 2012

I was up late watching the Olympic games and Breaking Bad (well , fell asleep halfway through that show) and my brain isn't totally focused yet, but I need to recap the Best/Worst of my little garden this month.

The "Worst" this month goes to the squirrels making off with my produce. It's actually just one squirrel, the mangy brown one that's torturing me. I was about to call a truce and then I found this on my deck. {Serenity now......}

habanero 7-20
The "Best" of my garden this month is that other parts of my garden are doing OK. The peppers are growing nicely. (These habaneros are growing upside down!)
marglobes 7-20

My tomatoes (the ones that the squirrels have left alone) are blushing. (This picture is of the Marglobes, supposedly very good for making sauces. Can't wait to actually try them!)

ground cherry 7-24
And the ground cherry plants are coming along beautifully. After several false starts, the two seedlings that survived are growing strong and there is fruit on the branches.

Deb over at Deb's Garden wrote this lovely post about experiencing the garden, the elements, the weather, the soil, and being aware of it rather than just going through the motions of gardening. I often find myself falling into the trap of just getting my garden chores done so I can move on to something else involving air conditioning, but the garden is much more rewarding when I slow down and pay attention to what's going on. Gardening has taught me to be patient and trust nature (like with the ground cherries pulling through), to be flexible when things don't go as planned (like with the death of my potatoes and starting over), and I'm always amazed that a beautiful flower or vegetable or fruit can grow from a tiny seed. Despite the "Worsts", the "Bests" make gardening so rewarding!

Please link up below if you'd like to share your Best and Worst gardening experiences this month. I'm only going to visit garden sites for the next couple of weeks to avoid accidentally seeing the Olympic spoilers on the news sites.;)

Friday, July 27, 2012

SSFC Fruit Week--Blueberry Peach Crisp

blueberry peach crumble before
I'm so excited to write this post because this is the first time I've ever baked a dessert with fresh fruit. Our Local Food Challenge was to make a dish with fruit, and I followed this recipe to make a blueberry peach crisp, with a few modifications.

- 4 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced (farmers' market)
- 1 pint blueberries (farmers' market)
- 1/2 lemon zest and juice*
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 1/4 cup agave nectar*
- 1/2 cup wheat flour (King Arthur's [their website has lots of excellent recipes])
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (half stick) unsalted butter, melted

Heat oven to 375°F. Combine all filling ingredients into a bowl, mix to make sure all ingredients are coated with corn starch. Pour filling into non-greased pie pan. Mix remaining ingredients and sprinkle over fruit mixture. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden brown.

*The peaches were so ripe and sweet that I think I didn't need the agave nectar. It almost made it too sweet. And I think the lemon was just a bit much too. Maybe I'll do just a squeeze next time? It's just that the fruit was so fresh that these ingredients took a little away from them.

blueberry peach crumble after

The topping shrunk in the oven. I should have added about a 1/2 cup of oats or more flour to make enough topping to truly cover the top. I'll have to remember that for next time. My husband liked the crisp, and since he grew up with grandmothers who made apple and cherry pies with fresh fruit from the trees in their backyards, I'm going to take that as a high compliment! Check out what other SSFC Challenge participants are eating, including this yummy strawberry-lime sorbet.

p.s. I'm so excited for the Olympics to begin! I should probably eat something healthy while watching the games, but I'll probably drink wine or champagne and have popcorn with extra butter. Will you be watching the opening ceremony?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Life of Pi: Book Recommendation

I just heard that the book Life of Pi is being turned into a movie. I first read this book almost 10 years ago and it instantly made it to my Top 10 list of favorite books ever read. On the surface, it's the story of a boy who is stuck on a boat with a tiger, but I think it's really a book about faith and self-reliance.

Whenever I hear of books being made into movies, I usually want to read the book first and get the story and characters in my head before I see someone else's interpretation. So if you haven't read it, and want an interesting but easy read for the summer, I highly recommend this book.

Have you read Life of Pi? What did you think of it?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Backyard Caprese Salad

backyard caprese salad
{A Caprese salad made with local mozzarella and tomatoes and basil from my garden}

Ever since I discovered a local source of mozzarella cheese --via the Blue Ridge Dairy of Sterling, VA-- I've been looking forward to having a Caprese salad with tomatoes and basil from my own garden. I was able to do this just a few days ago for my Southern SOLE Food Local Meal Challenge of the week.

ace55 7-15
The first few tomatoes in my garden ripened last week. I harvested these two Ace55 hybrids...

chocolate cherries 7-15
...and just a handful of Chocolate Cherries. I know it's such a cliche to be a gardener who loves tomatoes, but this is why I started a garden in the first place, to grow my own tomatoes. I get so excited when I see the first tomatoes of the season!

basil with the mortgage lifters
The basil plants are growing in the same huge container with my Mortgage Lifter. To say that this Caprese salad was delicious and fresh just doesn't do it justice.  It was so perfect that I ate half the plate without adding salt, pepper, or olive oil, and I didn't miss or need those ingredients. I did add them to another serving, and I must admit, I wish I hadn't. That's the beauty of using fresh and local ingredients--often you don't need to season food as much or at all.

I think this was supposed to be Fruit Week with my SSFC participants, but I just had to showcase my Caprese salad first. I'll post about my local fruit dish next week. I'm looking forward to more tomatoes and Caprese salads for the rest of summer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bush Bean Comparison

two bean plants
We're growing two different kinds of bush beans this year: Burpee Bush Lake and Ferry Morse Bush Contender. We've grown both varieties before but couldn't remember if one produced more than the other, so we decided to do a test this year. Which variety will produce more beans?

Both types of beans were planted on the same day in the same type/size/shape of container with the same type of soil and amendments. They are side by side on the deck and get the same amount of sun. (Ferry Morse is pictured closest to the front).

bean flowers ferry morse 6-30
So far the plants are the same size, but Ferry Morse has these beautiful lavender flowers, while Burpee has white ones. I like the purple blossoms better.

Ferry Morse has already produced a handful of beans. A couple of weeks ago I harvested about 1/2  ounce of beans. It's not much, but Burpee doesn't have any beans yet. It's still early in the season, though. Which one will produce more? Will they be the same size? Which will taste better? I'll be keeping track to see which one finishes strong.

Do you grow beans? Which varieties do you recommend?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why I Have No Blueberries or Sunflowers

 {Giant mammoth sunflowers growing in containers, 2011}

First -- a big Thank You to the lovely Tammy of Casa Mariposa for the kind words of solidarity in my on-going Battle Against the Squirrels. Thanks for the support and encouragement, Garden Sister! If you'll indulge me, I have one more sad story to tell....

{The giant containers I usually use for sunflowers. This year they hold my Mortgage Lifter tomatoes.}

This is the first year that I will not have sunflowers in my garden.  We have successfully grown sunflowers in containers in years past, but this year I'm using those giant containers for my Mortgage Lifter tomatoes. However, I do still have some Teddy Bear sunflower seeds, and I saved one pot for those flowers. I wanted to have their sunny yellow blooms near my front door. But here we are in mid-July, and I still don't have sunflowers. Squirrels dug the seeds out of the pots every time I planted them. I'd find piles of dirt and holes in the pot, the bastards. They even climbed up on the deck and dug them out of the starter flats. I finally moved everything to a protected location, and when the seeds sprouted and were transplanted, I waited until the plants were big enough to move the pot to the front yard.

 {Here's a picture of the flowers I don't have in my garden.}

One morning I left the house and noticed that each Teddy Bear leaf had been perfectly snipped. I don't think that was the work of a squirrel, though. I think that was the little rabbit I've seen hopping around and destroying my neighbors' gardens. I'm having a hard time getting angry at this rabbit, though. I volunteer at an animal shelter and that means I sometimes care for and play with rabbits, and feed them treats. To me he's just a poor little homeless bunny trying to survive in the wild, scary DC suburbs. What's a couple of leaves here and there? Besides, the flowers are coming back, sort of...

blueberry patch 2
So here's the double standard: I have no such sympathy for those little rodent squirrels. When I was younger I used to laugh when my friends told me stories about their parents and grandparents flipping out over squirrels in their garden and trapping them and dropping them off across county lines.  Old people are so weird!, I used to think. Well now I'm an old person, and I TOTALLY get it! The rabbit may have only caused damage to my Teddy Bear leaves, but (as I mentioned in a previous post) the squirrels climb up on the deck and getting into my raised beds and are tearing up everything!!  Take my blueberry plants, for example. My husband built this mesh net around the blueberries to protect them from the birds and squirrels.  One day I saw that some of the berries were starting to turn bluish-purple, and they were almost ready for harvesting. I went back the next day to harvest them, and they were gone! Plucked right off the vine. Something had chewed a hole through the net. We fixed it and waited for a few other berries to ripen. A couple of days later I  went to harvest the berries, and I caught a squirrel red-handed!!! Or blue-handed, as it were. I swear that little jerk had blue juice on his face and he gave me the finger as he slipped through the gaps in the fence.

My husband then put a wire fence and some boards in the back against the wooden fence (you can see the wide board on the left). That took care of the gaps by the ground, but the squirrels were still climbing up through the top gaps to get the berries. Last weekend, we just pulled the net and boards down. All the berries have been eaten, so what's the point in keeping them up?

As I write this post and reflect on everything, I can't help but feel a teeny tiny bit of admiration at their persistence. I wonder if their moms gave them "If at first you don't succeed, try again" speeches. I wonder if I would be so persistent in going after something I really want if someone kept putting up obstacles (and hoped I would die). Also, there's a McDonald's not too far from my neighborhood. Sometimes I smell that wonderful fried potato smell when I'm working in the garden. I've even seen birds flying by with fries in their beaks, and I've seen squirrels carrying brown things in their paws, probably buns or nuggets or hash browns. I am impressed that these critters would want to balance their diets with some healthy foods.

 So now that this is all out of my system, I'm just going to let it go....(until next year).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

July Bloom Day

There's quite a bit blooming in my garden this July. Some flowers are on my vegetable plants and some are on flowery plants. The Pink Diamond hydrangea tree started to bloom a couple of weeks ago, right on schedule. These flowers turn pink in the Fall, although, with the crazy weather last summer, they didn't turn pink last year. They sort of just went from white to dead. I hope to show you some pink blooms this year.

marigolds 7-8
My orange and yellow marigolds are in the raised box with squash, corn, and watermelon. The squash leaves are so huge that they're covering the flowers. They're still thriving though, and I feel like the squash leaves cover the marigolds so those stupid squirrels can't get to them and snip off the flower heads.

bean flowers ferry morse 6-30

I've shown these bush bean flowers before, but I wanted to show them again because they're so pretty and light purple. I've only harvested a handful of beans but I see more coming!

cucumber flowers 7-8
The cucumber plants are blossoming like crazy and a lot of these tiny yellow flowers have popped up.

bee on cucumber blossom

Before the rain came today, I saw a lot of pollinators in the garden, mostly bees. These little bees were getting drunk off the pollen (hence the bumble lush name!)

bee on squash blossom

And here's one in a squash blossom. This guy wasn't moving and for a second there I thought I was going to have to pull his dead body out of the flower. But then I saw the little legs stretch and he drunkenly crawled out and slowly flew away.  Get some rest and come back little guy! There's much more work to do.

I'm linking up with Carol's fun Garden Bloggers Bloom Day meme. Stop by to see what's blooming in other's gardens this month.

p.s. Is anyone else excited for the new season of Breaking Bad tonight? I can't wait!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Starting Over

veggie box view from above
{On the left you can see the corn stalks. In the middle are the huge squash plant leaves, and the watermelon vine is in front. We left the back part open for some flowers or other companion plants, but the ^%$& squirrels keep ripping them out.}

Last month I posted about the end of my potato dream. To re-open the wound refresh your memory, the potato seeds we planted in a raised bed were ravaged by beetles.  We had to yank all the plants out, and this raised bed sat empty for a few days while we decided what to plant instead. Since almost all of my vegetables have to grow in containers, this nice deep bed would be perfect for trying corn and watermelon -- two foods I've always wanted to try to grow and that need more than just a 3-gallon pot to thrive.

watermelon vines
The icebox watermelon has really taken off! Since I took this picture, several flowers have sprouted and I've seen one itsy bitsy little watermelon fruit forming. Watermelon is my favorite summer food (besides tomatoes) and I really hope we get at least one nice melon from this plant. My husband bought 8 corn transplants to include. Unfortunately, we only have 2 corn plants left. The asshole squirrels in my neighborhood ripped out the rest when they were smaller. But the two corns that are left have started tasseling in the last few days.Can't wait to harvest my own corn!!

We also planted marigolds and squash in the bed. It's amazing how much bigger these squash leaves are compared to the ones in containers. I can't wait to do a comparison of how much bigger the actual squash will be. Despite some issues with cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, and squash bugs, the crops in the raised bed are doing all right, and hope to be able to show off my harvests by the end of summer, especially the watermelon.

If you grow vegetables, have you ever grown corn or watermelon? I'd love any tips!

Update: I posted too soon. Last Friday we found one of the corn stalks on the ground, it had been chewed at the base. I think I know exactly who did it. Grrrr......

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eating Locally on the Grill (again)

local ribeye plate
{Yes, I like my steak well done. Don't judge me!}

It's Day 10 of this record heat wave. The news reports say that next week temperatures should cool down to the mid-80s, which will be good for the plants. Some of my tomato plants haven't flowered, and I think (hope) it's because of these 100-degree temperatures. Maybe when it gets cooler the plants won't be as stressed. Actually, since I started typing this, the sky became quite overcast--maybe we'll get some rain tonight!

Despite the high heat and humidity, we've cooked our meals outside a couple of times this week. Once was during a 4th of July party we went too, and on another day we grilled up some steaks. We loved the Smith Family ground beef so much that we went back to the market and bought a couple of their ribeyes. They were excellent too--very juicy and full of flavor. We also bought green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes at the farmers' market to round out the meal.  I always have to have tomatoes when I eat meat, whether it's beef, chicken, turkey, whatever. My grandmother always served tomatoes when she cooked meat; a meal just isn't complete without some tomatoes, especially when they're farm or garden fresh.

local ribeyes on the grill

We grilled potatoes (wrapped in foil above) again, but this time I used Celtic sea salt instead of regular salt, and it made such a difference in the taste. We also put the potatoes on the grill earlier, and they were much crispier, which I liked better.

The only thing on our plate from our garden was the peppers. Our banana pepper plant has been a great producer so far. We've harvested quite a few peppers, and we skewered a couple to add to the grill. They're deliciously sweet.

You can see what other Southern SOLE Food Challenge participants are eating here.  I just heard thunder (free water!!) I better get out and snip some basil for my dinner before the rain starts. Enjoy the week!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans!

Do you know that I've never been to a 4th of July party where someone serves an American flag cake or pie? I feel like I'm missing out on an important tradition. Maybe I should try to make one myself.  We've been invited to a cookout/fireworks party and I was asked to bring dessert; however, they want us there at 2:00, and on a day that's supposed to get up to 95 degrees, I don't know if I want to spend that many hours under the broiling sun. Maybe if there are plenty of cocktails...

I associate the 4th of July-- and all of summer, really--with cookouts/grilling/BBQ-ing, etc. I found this interesting organization called the Southern Foodways Alliance. It's all about the food traditions of the Southern U.S., and of course, barbecue is an important focus. There's a section on the history and oral traditions of BBQ in the South, and it includes this interactive map of different restaurants where the owners talk about their association with BBQ, how their restaurants started, and how food fits into the local culture. It's a pretty cool site. I'd love to go on a BBQ restaurant road trip and visit as many of these places as possible.

If you're going to a 4th of July party, I hope there's lots of good food. And to all my friends in the northern hemisphere--stay cool today!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Local Meal Week #5

I'm having trouble focusing on writing this post because the mosquito bites on my legs are driving me nuts. Scratching isn't enough. I want to take a melon baller and scoop them out, arghhhhh!

That's probably not the best mental image to have as I'm about to describe food. For my SSFC local meal this week, I'm posting a Meatless Monday meal from a couple of weeks ago. We had a nice full plate of veggies that came from the farmers' market and our own backyard.

The cooked the new potatoes up with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary from the garden. I used up the last of the asparagus for the season, steamed up with onion and squash from my own garden. We added the red and yellow hothouse tomatoes in at the end. It's nice and colorful, no?

I'm starting to see a lot more fruit at the farmers' markets and am anxious for watermelon. You can read about the Local Meal challenge here, and this link will take you to a summary of the others' meals.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

June Harvests

It was too hot this weekend to do anything but stay inside and watch the Olympic trials. The streets were more crowded than usual, traffic seemed as heavy as it does during weekday rush hour. I wonder if these were all people who had lost power and were going somewhere cool? So lucky we didn't lose power from the Friday night storm.

We've harvested a fair amount of vegetables so far. The jalapeno and green bell peppers above came from the plants we overwintered. The bell peppers were small and total weight was about 10 ounces. The handful of jalapenos were about 2 ounces (they're small but mighty!)

banana peppers

In other pepper news, our new banana pepper plant has cranked out about 4 ounces worth of peppers. We put some on the grill last week when cooking burgers, and they had a nice mild flavor, not spicy at all.

first squash harvest
That tiny zucchini looks like a jalapeno pepper. Sneaky!
squash harvest 6-25

We're in a lull right now with the squash plants. We've harvested about 2 1/2 pounds of zucchini and yellow squash so far, but the plants seem to be on break now. I've seen a lot of male flowers, and only two or three females amongst all the plants. We usually help the fruit along with some hand pollination, though I have seen quite a few bees in the garden.

onion and garlic harvest

Finally, we have garlic and onions. We stuck the sprouting garlic cloves in the ground last fall just to see if they'd grow into something, having never grown garlic before. The tops were brown and on the ground, and this is what popped up when I pulled them. Nothing big here, but it's nice to have some garden fresh garlic in the pantry, especially when participating in my local meal challenges. Same for the onions--these two onions weight about half a pound and smell so good! There are still a few more in the ground which look ready to harvest, so I'll be pulling them this week.

Thanks to everyone who left encouraging comments on my last post about my potatoes' death. I guess these things just happen sometimes. Hope you're staying cool, wherever you are.

Update: Forgot to mention that I'm linking up with Daphne's Dandelions to show off my harvests. Check out her site to see what other gardeners have harvested.

I'm also linking up with Two Gardens' Garden Bloggers Harvest Day. Visit their site to see their own beautiful photos and what gardeners around the world are harvesting.