Thursday, July 29, 2010


Well, Lughnasadh is Saturday, the celebration of the harvest, specifically grain, and we are definitely harvesting here in zone 4 Iowa. The sweet corn crop is in, and it's divine. My mother was coming for a 2 day stay to help with a child care need and she brought a whole bushel (65 ears) of the sweet gold. The two of us spent most of the day yesterday shucking, shelling and canning pint jars of corn. Rowen helped too of course, but he was much more interested in playing with the silks. Mom prefers to freeze her stash, which she did last week, so most of the canned stuff will go to my stores but some will be given as return gifts to our southern relatives who happily send us jars of their excess beans. The best part is they think we're spoiling them by sending down corn. :-) We ate corn on the cob for dinner last night and probably will again tonight. Mmmmmm... :-)

As much as I enjoy living on my own, I do love having my mother around. It reminds me of the living arrangements in India (and other countries), where elders live with the younger generation and help with food and child care. It reminds me of my childhood and having breakfast with Mom before starting my day. It eases the loneliness of living in a new town that's both smaller and more rural than I'm used to. For her part I'm hoping she's enjoying the grandbaby time and vacation from her day-to-day routine. The visit is all that and more and, as with the best things, greater than the sum of it's parts.

The best thing about canning, in my opinion, is that it almost forces you to do a lot of something. It is possible to can a half dozen ears really quick in one batch, but if you're going to be at the corn stand, shucking, shelling and messing around with the jar stash, it's definitely worth your time to do more than one canner load. Which equates to a large deposit into the pantry. Going to the store to buy 40 cans of corn might get you looked at funny, and depending on the quality might set you back 30-40 bucks. The whole bushel of corn from the farm truck was 22$. Lids are maybe another 2$. Less than 25$ all said (plus some time and sweat) and I have 21 pint jars of top quality sweet corn.
It's almost time to do the same with green beans. :-D I didn't have space this year to plant a large enough patch of green beans to can, so I'll have to get them from the farmers market this Saturday. No hardship there, even the small market we have in our new town has some excellent choices for staples like green beans.

I also love how canning connects me closer to the wheel of the year. Even in high summer I've got an eye on winter's cold, and in deepest winter the jars of summer goodness help me remember that spring will come again.

So this weekend I hope to light a bonfire and reflect for a moment on the bounty around me. For I am blessed in family, blessed in health and blessed with lots to can. So, perhaps only a small moment of reflection, as there's much to do!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Garden Buddies: Harvest the bounty!

Ok garden buddies, we're approaching a full moon, end of July and the veggie flood gate should be open. The list of things that you should be harvesting now in zone 4 or zone 5 is long. It includes Basil, Mint, Sage, Kale, Turnip, Garlic, Cherry Tomatoes, Tomatoes (maybe), Chard, Green Beans, Cucumber, Squash (maybe), Onions, Early Potatoes, Bell Peppers and carrots (maybe). If you have something on this list that isn't producing right now, don't worry, every garden is different. :-) My particular garden has everything except those I've marked maybe, those need a couple more weeks. Other things needing another month or so are Cabbages, Eggplant, Parsnips and Kholrabi.

Here's some great recipes I've been cooking lately, enjoy!

Grandma DeeDee's Green Beans and New Potatoes ala Jennie:
A pot sized to the number you're serving. Grandma always cooked this in a large stew pot for 8-10 people, but if you are closer in size to my family of 3, we find a 4 quart pot enough. Dig a few new potatoes, one or two for each person. Snap a couple handfuls of green beans for each person. Dice an onion. Dice a turnip. Peel 2 garlic cloves per person. Toss everything in your pot, cover with water and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme.
When the potatoes are soft, scoop everything with a slotted spoon into bowls, top with butter and salt/pepper to taste.

Cucumber Greek Salad
Chop cucumber into bite sized pieces. Toss in a bowl. Chop a roma tomato, toss in the bowl. Chop a third of a bell pepper, toss in the bowl. Crumble some feta cheese, like an ounce into the bowl. In a small separate bowl combine 3 parts olive oil with 1 part red wine vinegar, sprinkle salt and oregano and whisk briskly. Pour over cucumber/tomato/feta combination. This keeps well in the fridge for a day or so.

Summer Veggie Pasta
Saute an onion, half a yellow squash, a few cloves of garlic and some basil for 8-10 minutes. Add some chopped roma tomatoes. Season with some salt and oregano and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Scoop onto cooked pasta, top with mozzarella.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Independence Days: 7-18-2010

Plant the food: Nothing really, trying to clear out some of the spring crops to make room for those fall crops I need to get in.

Harvest the food: Turnips! Maybe I'll plant less of these next year... :-P Leaving some of the bigger ones to try for seed production in the spring. Clearing out the row to make room for the fall crops.
Garlic! The softneck garlic I planted did as well as I expected, which is to say not very. Tasty enough and we'll eat them, but they're all very small and not well formed into cloves. I need them out of the way so I can plant fall crops.
More Garlic! A trip to Des Moines has yielded 46 heads of hardneck garlic. I'm so glad I got to recover all these beauties. They are happily curing on my front porch. Big thanks out to Donna again for looking out for my garlic bulbs this spring.
Green Beans (purple), harvested the first wave of green (purple) beans from my bush plants. They are covered in blossoms and small beans so I'm looking forward to a good harvest.
Onions! Harvested 2 onions just to see how they're doing. Tasted great, still a bit small though.
Herbs - Basil and sage are harvest-ready and tasty.

Eat the food: A tasty soup with turnips and kale last week. Ate the first beans and onions stir fried with a bit of garlic yesterday. Made Kale chips a couple of days ago. I thought they tasted ok, very light and crispy, but Dave didn't care for them. Ate the first fresh basil of the year on our pasta last night.
Ate the first little cherry tomato straight off the vine. Mmmm.. :-)

Preserve the food: Did I mention my raspberry syrup a few weeks ago? I now have Strawberry syrup too. It was supposed to be Strawberry jam, but it didn't set up AT ALL. Made 7 jars of varying sizes full of tasty sweet strawberry goodness. We'll eat it somehow. Dehydrated Raspberries and more kale. Froze some bananas that we got for super cheap.
Seed saving kinda fits in with preservation, I have most of the pea seeds in and cleaned. I have a couple of green beans already marked for seed saving. Potato fruits are about ready to harvest for seed. (not potato tubers, potato fruit, which I've been doing some research on. ) Expect a post soon on potato breeding.

Building Commumity: Still working with the 3rd grader's garden. :-)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Oil Spill Forecast

I hesitate to put this up, but I think these predictions are important to keep in mind if the latest attempts to kill the well fail. The video below shows how the oil is likely to spread if the well spews for 150 days, which if I'm counting on my fingers right is around Sept. 20th.
The prediction then tracks the oil for a whole year. There are what looks like a few different predictions, depending on how currents flow this year, so be sure to watch all of them. (it's only 2 minutes.)
If they get it capped earlier than Sept maybe the devastation will be less than shown. If they don't ever get it fully capped, well, watch the video and then multiply that by however much longer that well spews.

The other thing that's starting to worry me is the effect all this oil will have on precipitation for the Southern and Eastern parts of our country. We've experienced acid rain from CO2, what do you think is going to fall from the sky after a storm sucks up oil slick water? It probably won't be good, it might be poisonous. I guess we'll just have to wait and see, but it's a bit scary.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Garden Buddies: Fall planting time!

I know, I just finished planting all the summer veggies. But July is half over and that means it's time to start seeds for the fall harvest.
Fall plantings can really make a gardening season worth the time and effort. Seeds are less likely to wash away, seedlings are less likely to rot, and there's lots of light to get plants off to a good start.
It's important to pick veggies and greens that can handle the cold up here in zone 4 and zone 5 Iowa. Get them started and growing by August, and they'll be at a good mature growth when the first frosts come and the light starts to fade. So, I'm thinking a little bit of beets, and some carrots and spinach and lettuce. The greens don't need to be started yet, they can wait till August, but the beets and carrots need to be started ASAP. Other options for fall plantings include kale, cabbages, parsnips and radishes.

Thanks to Donna my garlic grower for the season, babysitting my babies back in Des Moines. She sent me some pictures of the bulbs, and I'm so excited to harvest them, it'll be soon! The picture above is one of my hardnecks that was planted last fall.

Seed saving reminder, if you left peas on the vine to dry and save, now is the time to start gathering those dried pods and separating out the dried peas to store for next year. Don't be afraid to leave some of the pods on, especially the higher up pods, as peas will mature from the ground up and the top once might not be totally done and ready to save yet. Wait till they are dry and crunchy. Lettuce and spinach from spring should be finishing their flowering and starting to set some seed, but they're definitely not done yet.

Go ahead and try some fall gardening, you might find you really like it. I'm making a couple of cold frames next month, so expect posts and pictures on that, maybe I'll get some greens to survive until Yule. :-)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kindergardens Week 13 - I believe

Inadvertent Farmer asks, "So what do you believe this week?"

I believe that homemade soup with carrots and turnip and spices out of my garden is way better than anything Campbells could make. Now if I could just convince hubby that we need chickens.... :-D

I believe that we'll recover from the landlady's herbicide. Thankfully she was aware of my garden and didn't spray near it. I haven't seen any indication that any of the veggies got accidental drift or anything. I should be able to let Rowen loose in the yard next week without any fear of him ingesting poison.

I believe that I can grow lots of food in Zone 4. I've got some exciting cold frame plans for this fall. Thanks Daddy for the old windows! Maybe I can let Rowen help with the painting. ;-) I'm thinking I'll try to include some of my new neighbors in the coldframe building excitement. A couple of them garden, maybe they'd be interested in following along, maybe building their own as I build mine. It could be a nice way to bond with some of my local gardeners.

I believe gardening with Rowen now is going to build a life long love of growing things for him, and that excites me.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gardening in odd spaces.

I showed y'all the vertical window garden for persons with no yard.

Now, for your gardening pleasure, the truck farm. Anyone familiar with the film King Corn knows these guys are pure genius. this is a stunt to make a movie and explore the concepts involved. There was much work done to properly drain the truck bed, and keep weight under the limits of the truck. They take the truck on tours around the East coast visiting schools and botanical centers. There's also a CSA you can get in on if you have 20$ to spare and are interested in small weekly deliveries.

Other ways to garden in odd spaces abound! Whether you live in a big city, suburb or rural township, there are always new and exciting ways to garden differently.
Craigslist can be a wealth of free/cheap containers.
Vertical Gardening with reclaimed gutters, potato plantings in stacks of tires, buckets with holes given new life with some soil and veggie seeds.
Got any ideas? Feel free to share them!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ups and Downs with the New Neighbors

It's been awhile since my last post. Holidays, rain and a project at work all conspired to keep me out of the garden and off my blog.
Plus, we had an unfortunate incident and I needed to give myself time to cool off before blogging about it.
Last week, Weds, Rowen and I went for a walk to the park to hear the municipal band play. (it was great by the way) We were walking back when hubby texted the phone and said that our landlady was out in our yard spraying poison on the weeds. I tried to text him back to stop her, but the message didn't get through. We speed walked home, and sure enough, there she was, with a cloud of noxious fumes drifting across our yard as she wielded a large plastic sprayer around our trees and fence line.
Now, our young son is barely 2 feet tall and he crawls/walks all over the yard, putting things in his mouth, rubbing his hands in his eyes and generally covering himself with whatever filth is out there during his play time. The thought of him rolling around in weed poison made me sick to my stomach.
To the landlady's credit, Gwen is her name, she immediately stopped when I protested. I explained to her that I was working on the weeds, and that just a couple of days ago I had borrowed a tool from a neighbor to cut down all the saplings that the foreclosed property had accumulated. She explained that she had driven by a few times and not thought the property in disarray, but a neighbor had complained to her so she felt like she 'had' to do something. I asked which neighbor, we live on a corner lot, so we have LOTS of neighbors and she pointed out the house. Of course, it's one of the few that we've not met or seen out and about or even waved at. So this old guy, in his perfectly manicured lawn I might add, felt that his first interaction with us should be to complain to our landlady about the weeds around our house. Nevermind the fact that we're dealing with a property that was in foreclosure and trashed when the landlady bought it to make it a rental property. Nevermind the fact that those weeds are repairing the backyard that was a literal mud hole when we moved in. Nevermind that Dave and I are out in that yard every other day at least working on the mess and the yard and the house. Nevermind that we do all of this with a 1 year old in tow and are thus confined by his stamina and attention span. And of course, all the progress that's been made in the 3 months that we've lived there doesn't mean anything to this guy. Maybe he's mad because my veggie garden faces his house, maybe he thinks the potatoes are weedy looking. Probably he doesn't care about pollinator habitat or repairing damaged soil with natural methods. He probably uses all sorts of poisons to keep his worthless scrap of lawn looking like perfection. Probably doesn't give two shits about being a good neighbor and supporting a nice young family that just moved in across the street.

*deep breath*

So, now my ongoing relationship with the lawn has taken a horrible turn. Weeds that we were happily eating and making medicine from are now brown and dead; native plants that are valuable habitat to pollinators that I desperately need in my veggie garden are now poisoned and dying. The compacted dirt patches in the back yard that I was slowly trying to repair are now full of herbicide. Not only is grass not growing there, but now it might be another season before anything grows there, adding to the nutrient loss and soil degradation in those areas. She even sprayed poison on patches of grass that were reseeding! Bright green healthy grass, now has has swathes in it that are just dead. I don't know if I want to put the dead bits in my compost pile, because I'm not sure my compost heap gets hot enough to break down the herbicide, and I can't risk putting that gunk on my veggies. So now I have dead/dying poisoned plants that I have to bag up and dispose of somehow instead of recycling them back into the property. Now I have large sections of the yard that I have to keep Rowen out of for a few weeks at least.

*sigh* It just makes me so sad really. It was a very un-neighborly thing to do. I don't understand why he wouldn't just come over and talk to us if he had a problem with the pace of the yard clean up. Introduce himself, and get to know us instead of spewing poison to our landlady which manifested as actual poison in our yard. I'm sure it never occurred to him that 20 minutes of visiting with us might highlight our need for child care assistance, visiting with us might highlight our willingness to talk through things and find mutually agreeable solutions to disagreements. I'm sure 20 minutes of visiting is waay too much trouble for this guy, it might interfere with his tee-time. I don't cuss often on this blog, I don't feel I need to, but Fuck this guy. I have 5 other neighbors that I have a great relationship with and I don't need his approval or interference.

For the first day afterward I wanted to make a big sign in the yard and hammer it in where he could see it, I was torn whether it should have a big picture of my middle finger or a more polite explanation of organic principles and the time line of repair I have for the yard.

*another deep breath*

Anyway, life goes on, the blog title promises an Up side to all this, so let's move on to that. My 5 other neighbors that I have much better relationships with. Our elderly lady to the West of us approached us yesterday to be contacts for her Lifeline service. We now have the code to get into her house and security clearance should we have to deal with Lifeline support staff. She brings us baked goodies every once in awhile from her weekly social gathering and I see her out walking a couple times a week, she loves saying hi to Rowen. Always tells me about her grandbabies that are about his age.
Then there's the older lady to the South of us, her and her hubby have the corner house across from us, but he is always away for work, I'm guessing truck driver, but I don't know for sure. So, she's home alone most of the week and she's the one that feeds all the stray cats. Her stray cat love keeps my yard bunny free and allows me to get away with no fence around my garden. She's a gardener too, we've struck up a great friendship comparing veggies and herbs and swapping stuff, her beds are more established than mine, so most of the swapping is one way right now, but that will change. :-) She seems really happy to have someone to share the glut with, our first conversation was over some rhubarb that she was literally throwing away because she had too much. I fed her cats one weekend while she was away, and I'm sure the favor will be returned.
Then there's a family to our North-East. They were the first ones we met, as they were out in their yard the day we were moving in. 3 high school aged kids, all really nice, polite and active. I'm thinking babysitters. :-) I've borrowed a few tools from the Dad and sat on their front porch and visited with Rowen a few times. All around Good People.
There's a couple more neighbors that we've waved at, swapped names and all that jazz, we just haven't found common ground yet to spark actual conversations. But the beginnings are positive.

So, the adventure in a new town continues. Small bumps, we'll get past them.
Still thinking about the rude sign though... >:-D