Photo: Great grandparents at their farm in Blandinsville, IL, with five of their six children .. my grandpa was yet a twinkle in grandma's eye. Stable boy and governess also pictured. Hodges farm, circa 1903-4

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Today I watched a rerun of a TV episode of The Victory Garden. It had a segment on composting and a veggie garden. The salad made by the host included just about everything from the garden and made my mouth water. My mind is already churning and thinking about what to plant when the snows melt in late spring. I can dream, and plan, and buy some seeds. That just might tide me over until I can once again work in the dirt.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Waiting for the first snow to fly.

This Saturday, we're supposed to be in for the first big snow storm of the season followed by frigid temps at or below zero degrees by early next week. We have taken advantage of the extended mild temps and hopefully have winterized the homestead. Gutters have been once again cleaned (third time this autumn) and outside Christmas decorations are in place. My new snow blower is gassed up and the four wheel snow plow is ready for business. There are snow shovels lined up in the garage for many hands to make the load lighter. Shoe "chains" are standing by and snow shoes purchased. There is nothing like being prepared ahead of time. I'm so glad Mr. Mac will be home to share the workload :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My compost pile is still creating rich black soil even with much lower temps. I add to it about two gallons of green waste twice a week. Once the ground freezes, I plan on putting a large outdoor plastic trash can with a tight fitting lid near my kitchen door for winter use. This will be the first time I'll experiment with collecting green waste to hold over until spring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This week in the garden I'm adding a top layer of leaves to cover the bare soil. This will help prevent soil erosion and redeposit nutrients back into the soil as they decompose. It should also help cut down on the amount of weeds that might take over in early spring.

All of our foundations vents have been closed, protective covers have been placed over the outside hose bibs, and all of our sprinkler lines have been drained to prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting this winter. My geraniums have been trimmed, re-potted and stored away. We have decorated the yard and front entrance with groupings of corn stalks, mums, pumpkins and a few scary spiders. The front windows have construction paper cutouts of bats and pumpkins that were made years ago from the wee hands of my children.

My only chores left before winter: put up electric heating elements in the gutters to melt ice, do some more raking and burning of yard debris, and spray the fruit trees with a home made oil soap.

With all of the grandiose of spring and summer, autumn puts to rest the labor of my hands; in the coming months, there should be time to plan and map out the garden for next spring.

Happy autumn!

Photo art: Summer is but a faded memory ... by Mrs. Mac 6/08

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My friend, Pat, in Michigan said to wrap my ever so green tomatoes in newspaper to store away in the basement for a little while. Well, that method has worked beautifully for ripening them. I was able to use about six pounds of the ruby jewels to make a fresh-frozen salsa. Six pints of the delicious sauce awaits our enjoyment during the long winter months. To make it I followed Mrs. Darlings recipe below, omitting the cumin and using a jalepeno minus the seeds instead of the chili pepper. It's not too hot nor too mild. As Goldilocks would say, 'It's just right." I hope you will try it. We still have at least seven or eight pounds of tomatoes left in various stages of ripeness. Perhaps I'll make more freezer salsa next week.

I have to run to the store to purchase some tortilla chips. You can just imaging how hard it is to have this wonderful salsa and no chips :) Enjoy your day.

For salsa recipe, visit Dishpan Dribble's canning page here and scroll down to September 30, 2008 (I couldn't get a direct link to this one recipe ;)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Can, can: No not the dance ;) Being a person of frugal ways, I'm always on the lookout at the local thrift stores for canning equipment. My latest quest has been to find a large pot with a lift out basket that I can cook a huge amount of fresh green beans in all at once. This past summer when putting up the beans, I really could have used such an extra pot. It's necessary to have everything in order before you begin the process. Having to cook two batches of beans in a not big enough pot is a waste of time and heating fuel. When I shop at the second hand stores, I usually can zero in on exactly what I'm looking for and be in and out of the shops in a flash. Tuesday was a good find day. Here is the pot I purchased, including the basket, for $2.00. This could be some type of a fry basket/pan that has barely been used. It should work fine. Next quest, a kitchen scale for weighing produce.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just because winter is approaching, you can still be an 'active' gardener. Well, perhaps not in the great outdoors, but how about in your minds eye as you envision what next year will hold in store for your garden plans. I placed a link in the sidebar to the Original Farmer's Almanac. This is a great on-line website that is free to use. You can easily become a registered user and customize some of the weather data for your specific zip code. Go ahead and check it out. Gardening that starts out small and grows a bit each year is a sure bet for success. I've already begun to fine tune what I'd like to plant for next year. Things such as winter squash, and some of the root vegetables that can take a bit of frost: parsnips, turnips ... even rutabagas. I'm even planning on perhaps a cold frame to extend the growing season for lettuce. The thought of buying a grow light has even crossed my mind. Lettuce is one of the prides of the garden and to go all winter relying on store bought ... well, let's just say I think I'll pass on salads for a while. Being spoiled with a bumper crop this year has ruined imported greens for sure! How easy would it be to have a small batch growing under a grow light ... or in a cold frame. This is something worth looking into. But, I'll take it slow. I don't like to buy equipment that might just sit idle after the novelty wears off.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It's not for lack of trying ... but my crop of tomatoes just didn't have the right mix of sunny days, summer heat, and a long enough growing season this year. Just last week our temps were in the 80's (F) and my hopes were high that the tomatoes would all ripen at once. As you can see, just a few took the time to ripen. Not sure if the majority of green ones will do much ... any ideas on aiding the ripening process once picked?

Weekend outlook: We could have a little snow ... but I'm not counting on it.

It's the end of the season this year for our veggie garden. Yesterday I made one last sweep of the produce, took down the deer fencing and heaped loads of clippings onto the compost pile. There were five gallon Ziploc bags full of different lettuce varieties, baby carrots, baby yellow neck squash, cucumbers, and loads of zucchini and basil. Today I'll make a few transplants of thyme into pots to bring in for the winter and snip the rest to dry. With all of the basil, I was able to make a few half-pints of pesto to freeze; summertime flavor to savor when the snow falls.

Being my first year to plant a veggie garden, next year I'll know not to plant as much zucchini ... it is prolific and takes up way too much space. Sow the seeds in early June, leaving a few empty rows to accommodate some later plantings. Use some type of either black plastic mulch around the base of the tomato plants ... or some type of water bag sleeves that radiate heat that my neighbor used. Soon I'll post a picture of my green tomatoes.

The best part of having a garden: Fresh food, fresh air, sunshine, working with my hands, getting dirty, tired sore muscles, eating food without pesticides grown about as local as you can get.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm embarrassed to say, I found these twin giants hidden under the zucchini leaves yesterday. Just what am I going to make? If they taste all right, some will go in the freezer for soups this winter ... some in bread ... some into fried zucchini appetizers ... some given to my daughter. Please send me your recipes ;)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Taking Stock: The basement's storage pantry is filling up with my home canning goods. While I must admit, canning foods seemed a mystery to me, it's really not that hard to do ... just a bit time consuming. but come winter and early spring, we will have a feast from this summer's treats.

My kitchen 'laboratory' has produced:

  • green beans
  • pickled dilly beans
  • sweet zucchini relish
  • bread and butter zucchini pickles
  • spicy red salsa

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The compost heaps are 'cooking' right along. Because I have the room, there are three different piles in various stages of decomposition in the back forty. They are just above the garden area, that way if there should be any water run off from rain, the nutrients will go directly into the garden. For a smaller yard, a person could find a small unused area out of sight, or invest in a compost bin. Because we have quite a bit of material that goes into the mix and we have the room, I've opted to take the cheap road and just have piles. If you have a dog that likes 'free treats' of watermelon rind, I'd opt for the bins. For a while, we had a barrel shaped ring of chicken wire that we'd pile all the fresh clippings and veggie scraps into ... but alas the dog learned how to get into it ... so now I've just laid the wire out flat on top of the fresh pile and placed a few bricks on top to keep her from raiding it. Last week I added the seeds and ends of oodles of hot chili peppers ... with the hope of teaching Miss Holly to stay out ... Let's hope the heavy bricks do the trick. One day last week I noticed two beautiful tomato plants growing around my apple trees ... this is an area I had put some home made compost around the trunks ... the seeds are from some trimmings. Stuff like this does not bother me ... it's an added bonus ... but the plants will not have time to fully develop with autumn approaching. Had I found them earlier this year, I would have transplanted them to a better location.


Top ... newest pile of compost
Middle ... 'half baked' compost
Bottom ... finished compost pile

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The final part of our front yard to be landscaped, that being the fire pit, is coming right along. Last month it was hydro-seeded with lawn. The past week Mr. Mac has been putting down landscape rock in the culvert area. Hopefully this fall, when plants go on sale at the end of the season, I hope to buy some slow growing, low to the ground bushes and perennial lilies to add to the rock area. I have to keep this area rather unobstructed and flat so we have an area to pile up snow from our driveway during the winter.

I've been so neglectful over here. You'd think I was up to nothing garden related. This is my first summer planting a veggie garden ... so I have no expertise to draw from ;) ... Just a blank mind, a blank plot of ground, and too much information from reading too many gardening books. I'm a hands on learner and have to experience the mistake of planting too many seeds too close together, or picking a spot that doesn't get enough sunshine. Not the brightest turnip in the patch you might say ... but, oh, once I get the hang of gardening through trial and error, I'll be shipping ya'all fresh produce by the bushel full. My goal is to keep a almanac of all things weather and garden related. My pop has just such a method that goes back years and years. Some skill he inherited from his parents. So far, I'm not too diligent about taking notes and I fear that next year, it may be back to the drawing board with a few new mistakes.

In April I planted a few different varieties of seeds indoors including: sweet peas, herbs, melon and tomatoes. Nothing but the sweet peas, basil and tomatoes survived. We had such an extended winter that the other plants got too leggy before the temps warmed sufficiently. I have found that it is much better to just wait and plant directly in the warm soil than waste too much time, money and energy on starting seeds indoors unless you have a green house, or perhaps expensive growing lights set up in the basement. I don't have the time or money for either, so will take my chances just planting outdoors next year.

The sweet peas take a very long time to mature and bloom. The package stated 120 days. I have no doubt that they took that long as the ones planted indoors in April just started blooming two weeks ago. I planted a bush variety instead of the type that grow on a net or fence. In May I planted nasturtium and have quite a few of the plants. The package stated they do best in poor soil ... that they got. Some did not receive enough sun ... others not enough nutrients ... the soil was VERY poor. Some have bloomed ... but not the large showy bushes with loads of blooms all at once. These plants have only a few blossoms at a time showing. The seeds are supposed to make good pickled capers. With such few flowers, I'd be better off just buying a jar at the market.

The veggie plot has six zucchini and three crooked neck yellow squash plants. I know, I know ... zucchini will be coming out my ears soon. I have tons of recipes and plan on freezing and pickling some of it. There are numerous tomato plants at various stages of growth. I hope to have loads of tomatoes to make salsa, tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and other sauces. Last year I chopped and froze fresh tomatoes for the deep freeze and canned salsa ... but not enough. I hope to have enough so as not to run out this coming year. To go with the tomatoes is fresh basil, thyme and Italian parsley. There are carrots, chives, cucumbers, lettuce, and some volunteer cantaloupe plants ... a gift from my compost pile ;).

To keep the deer and rabbits out of the veggie plot I have staked six foot gardening poles every four or five feet and surrounded the whole area with deer netting. The netting has yarn tied about midway up to help the deer steer away from the net. Most gardening books recommend a fence 8 feet high. Since this is not a very large garden, this height has worked so far. The plot started off about 8 feet by 12 feet ... and of the 'no dig' variety. this meant just that: NO DIGGING! You simply lay down a quarter inch of newspaper top it with good compost material. The squash was planted on mounds of compost. The tomatoes are staked with posts ... cages would have worked ... but I didn't have any. I surrounded the entire edge with some logs that were just cluttering up the back yard. It looks much like a raised garden bed. After this was planted I got ambitious and DUG up an adjacent area that had some thimble berries growing. The soil was very good and easy to dig. This area has the lettuce, carrots, herbs, and additional tomatoes (which I hope will mature before we get frost. The tomatoes I planted are Early Girl so they should be OK). My strawberries are now just ripening ... they are planted in strawberry pots. It will be several years before my blueberry, sour cherry, and apple trees produce more than a handful of fruit. But, oh, it will be worth the wait.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

We're switching gears here. Since our new home is completed, I'm going to start chronicling my gardening adventures. Here you might spy photos of bountiful harvests, or puny crops that failed. Life is an experiment and I like to play in the dirt. If I'm not at home, check the back yard I may be working in the garden.

Photo: two rosemary plants purchased in 4 inch pots, basil started from seeds

Saturday, May 31, 2008

View From My Porch: The flowers have been planted and are in full bloom. A cricket serenade can be heard from the front porch rockers and the hammock in the back. Arnold Palmer's flow freely (lemonade and ice tea mixed) all the day long. Soaking in the sunshine is food for the soul.

Photos: Hanging basket attached to front porch; Mountain views, Miss Holly (my dawg), Jake (my grandson).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

That hubby of mine is a go getter. Since he retired and arrived safely to our new home, we have been busy puttering and organizing our garage. Mostly he is doing the organizing, while I just empty a few boxes of my stuff that have been sitting for over a year waiting for him to tell me to get to it ;) ... if it were not necessary to make the bed each day and do inside chores, I think my entire day would be spent outside weeding, planting, and sowing seeds here and there. We have four seed type and two humming bird feeders attached to some of the forest trees and binoculars all over the house to bird watch. Today was sunny in the morning and light showers in the afternoon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tutti Fruity One side our our front yard consists of a long dirt berm. This was mainly formed when the good topsoil was pushed aside at the time our lot was leveled prior to building. Area is quite fertile with rich humus and receives sunshine all day long. Said berm is approximately 100+ feet in length and probably 25 feet wide. In the hopes of growing more food at home, I have planted two apple trees and one sour cherry tree. The apples are dependent on each other for pollination ... and the cherry is self pollinating. This area also is planted with different types of berries: raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc. Hence, I've dubbed it "Fruit Cocktail Hill." I have two table grape vines to also plant but first need to make a trellis for support. My back patio has two strawberry pots each holding about 11 plants. Last year I transplanted some wild strawberries amongst the rock retaining wall and now have large wild berry plants ... wild strawberries are very strong in flavor but are rather small ... delicious none the less.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Our master bathroom is finished. I made the valance above the tub and refinished the stool by recovering the seat and spraying the iron legs to match the metal fixtures.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nearly completed master bedroom. Just needs the drapes hung ... and a few of the brass colored metals refinished with oil rubbed bronze finish.