I ended my last season a but abruptly due to a few health concerns, but am back in the garden saddle for another year. My venture into the yard this afternoon was to clean up after my English springer spaniel (she joined me just before Thanksgiving and is now just eight months old) and do a bit more raking of the tree debris in the back yard. The city has picked up curbside in my neighborhood twice now, and will likely have to make a third trip around, and indeed, I see that is scheduled for Monday May 13th in my part of town. There are still piles and piles of limbs in the boulevard. Thought I had my own cleaned up and bagged, but the city trimmed my boulevard trees and so the (slightly smaller) mess is back again. Still I am grateful for the assistance. I am 62 years old this season, and still a little asthmatic, so looking forward to the end of that routine.
This spring season will go on record as being the most destructive in most of our memories. I remember the blizzard of 1967 (I was still at home as a teenager in northwest Indiana that year) and it was bad. Although winter wasn’t all that difficult for us locally this year, the ice storm was the worst I’ve ever experienced. I actually turned on an electric fan to drown out the sound of breaking tree limbs early on. It was like something out of The Lord of the Rings, terrible, sad destruction of our natural world. Yet nature rebounds. I was one of the lucky ones. Near twenty-year-old trees planted by my late husband were damaged, but not lost.
So this afternoon my raised garden beds were just manageable, and I put in a measly two tomato plants and two Anaheim peppers, and the chives my Minneapolis girl gave me last season came back again. This year, I will have to protect them not only from the foraging critters (squirrels and those rascally rabbits) but also from my puppy Molly, who has a penchant for chewing sticks, rocks, and probably garden plants. She has thwarted the local mallard duck pair from re-nesting in my yard however, and that is a good thing. As you may recall, I never did get to see those little ducklings last year. They hatched and left in one big hurry.
So the garden centers are full of plants. I would urge all to check out the Market offerings first. They are locally grown and will do well in our area. My four plants were started from seeds I managed to save from the plants I bought from Seedtime and Harvest last year. Two of each is all that I could muster, but it’s a small start. I will purchase more from them next week. They are certified organic and were they ever good.
Here’s a success story! Last fall I picked up some tulip and daffodil bulbs at the end of the season, and never got them into the ground. Well, the tulip bulbs rotted, but the daffodils still looked firm from their spot on my garage shelf in February. I potted them in a big planter on my deck in that month, hoping they would survive. They did! I have daffodils peeking through the potting soil. I believe our moderate late winter temps helped in this, but am not sure they would survive one of our complete harsh winters in a pot. I’ll post some directions I found in a magazine on the MontereyPeninsula in California of all places, during my Easter week visit to my son and his family this year. Hoping to experiment with those directions later on, fall and winter into next spring and I will keep an update going.
This year, just turned nine on May 4th granddaughter Piper says she wants to have her own garden, so I am giving her 2/3 of one of my raised beds (the other 1/3 has a second year asparagus bed in it). We will purchase seeds this weekend for her favorite carrots, lettuce and green beans. Photos and progress reports will be posted throughout the season. It’s a great way to get children involved in growing things and learning where their food comes from.
In the meantime, enjoy the temperate weather and let’s get planting. Just keep an eye on the nighttime lows for the next few weeks and be ready to cover as needed. Looks like we may have a cold dip overnight Saturday, but Sunday looks good.
By fallspark, August 19th, 2012,in Blog » | No Comments »
What a gorgeous rain yesterday! By my estimation, it started around 5:15 AM (in my part of town) and remained steady until almost 10AM. At 10:15, I could still hear the water working its way down my gutters. JuJust a lovely, quiet soaking and I swear everything growing from the parkway to the greenway behind the house seems to be standing at jubilant attention. The smell of it from the opened window before dawn was wonderful. Oh, a fun note here: KELO’s website had a sweet article on why rain smells as it does last week. Once should still be able to locate it on their site: Why Does Rain Have a Smell? Ben Cathey, published August 13th, 6:25 PM
Well, just an update on the growing things in pots experiment. Although I am certain the extreme heat of July took its toll, overall, one can certainly do this. I do feel that tomatoes fare better when planted in a traditional plot, be it in a low-level garden or raised beds in yards with poor soil, but over all, I am seeing some success. If one wants to can from the harvest of a patio, one would certainly have to have it full of tomato pots, but for the table and a bit to share with immediate neighbors, I think this is a good alternative. My son in Sacramento CA posted a photo of a “gynormous!” tomato grown in this fashion, about the size a small cantaloupe, so I guess that’s more proof to the positive.
I do have to state that my own yield has been spotty, first the problem with blossom end rot, and just in the general yield. I have been purchasing supplemental tomatoes from the market to aid in canning sufficient amounts of my pepper, tomato, onion and garlic “mixture” pretty much every week, as my peppers are far out-producing the tomatoes. Next year, I will put the tomato plants in the existing raised beds and mulch, mulch, mulch. I would love to have enough to cook and can sauces.
As for my second crop mentioned earlier; well, I did put in a few more beans and peas, and they are sprouting! The first crop is canned, as are the small amount of beets (so labor intensive!—anyone know how long to steam them, or an easier way to remove the outer layer?). One forecast calls for continues above average temps and general dryness into October, so we will see if this second planting comes to fruition. My “Charlie Brown” great pumpkin vine has one pumpkin the size of a child’s toy basket ball and just a few more baby-sized fruits, so we’ll see. I always consider pumpkins just for fun, anyway, unless you have enough to consider them a cash crop, of course, and I know many do, but anything we get we’ll be just for fun on this end.
As will many homeowners, I have to admit that my yard is a mess. I’ve managed to keep up the front to respectability, but my back yard has weeds going to seed on its perimeters, and I will cut if for the first time in six-weeks?), tomorrow after work I know my mower still works, as I cut the front a good, long week ago.
Finally, the fall magazines are out and I think we are all already considering the lovely warm days and cool nights of autumn. Last evening in the dusk of early evening, one of my neighbors had a fire going in one of those portable fire pits in the driveway; the smell was lovely.
By fallspark, August 5th, 2012,in Blog » | No Comments »
Had I known we would have one of the hottest, driest Julys in decades I would have thought twice about planting tomatoes in containers; keeping them evenly watered has taken some effort, but it appears to have been successful. The fruit is finally free of the blossom end rot damage found in the first tomatoes, and I am picking anywhere from six to ten good tomatoes most days. Yesterday I supplemented those with several pounds from the Market and was able to can six pints of my pepper tomato mixture. Although the fruit is good, I do think planting them in the ground with a good layer of mulch is the preferred way to grow them. Six to ten tomatoes a day is not that much from the eight plants that I have going. Although container growing is still a good alternative for those who have no choice but to use a patio, for those who like to can and want a lot of tomatoes, the garden plot appears to be the better option.
Now that the plants are at their mature height, I must say that supporting them in pots has also been a minor challenge. I’ve had to tie the cages to my chain link fence to prevent them from toppling over, and I have one large pepper plant that tips over in the wind, although most of the potted peppers are fine, and none of them have required supports. The peppers did not suffer like the tomatoes did from the early uneven water situation, and so are less problematic for containers. I am actually getting tons of peppers right now and growing them in pots is a good way to save room in the garden area.
Early morning today almost had the feel of autumn, and I do hope we don’t plunge from the heat of summer right into a frost. With the temperate break we’re enjoying right now one feels an urgency to get out and catch up those tasks that most of us put aside in the heat. We had just enough rain to soften the soil so that pulling weeds is actually fun.
Not much going on other than catching up and maintaining the garden and to begin pulling out those vegetables that have slowed. My own patch of green and yellow wax beans is slated to give way to what I hope will be an autumn crop of beets, both yellow and reds, kale and spinach I hope! I may even plant a second season row of beans, just to see if it works.
Here area a few recipes to use the current glut of peppers. One is my own, the other is one based on a sample I tried at Hy-Vee on Marion road on Friday and re-created at home.
Stuffed Peppers-serves 4+ adults
4 large green, red or yellow bell peppers, cored and cut in half
1 lb lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 medium sweet onion, Vidalia or Spanish yellow, chopped
1-2 cans cream of mushroom soup
Small amount of milk or broth (chicken or vegetable) to thin the soup a little
Salt and pepper to taste
1 TBS Worcestershire
1 beaten egg
1 cup of shredded Parmesan or other cheese
Combine the beef or turkey with the onion and add the cooked brown rice, egg and the Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Spoon this into each pepper half in an oblong baking pan. Thin the condensed soup with either milk or broth to a fairly thick gravy-like consistency and pour over all. Cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes until the peppers are tender and meat is cooked through, then uncover and sprinkle a little of the Parmesan on top of each pepper. Set under a low broiler for a minute or two just to brown and set the tops. Great with homemade applesauce!
*Minute Rice can also be used, if preferred, and this can be added uncooked with the raw meat. I just like the firmer texture of the brown rice.
Pepper and Portobello Mushroom Scramble-serves 2-3 adults
1 each, sliced red and yellow bell peppers
1 or 2 (depending on the size) portabella mushrooms caps, sliced with gills removed
Small amount of oil for sautéing
Half a small sweet onion, sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 to 6 fresh beaten eggs or two or three containers of Hy-Vee cholesterol-free brand 99% egg product
This is so easy! Just sauté the veggies until crisp tender, then add the egg and cook, stirring until the eggs are set.
Served with a green salad, it’s a quick and low-fat/calorie dinner. To make it more substantial, one can also add cooked, diced potato to the veggie mix (or sauté diced potato until tender then add the veggies) and a bit of mild cheese at the end.
Finally, see you at the Farm to Feast this Tuesday!
By fallspark, July 16th, 2012,in Blog » | No Comments »
Last week I pressure canned six pints of mixed yellow wax and Blue Lake green beans with the pressure canner I purchased last August. It was my first experience with a pressure canner, and I admit to being intimidated, approaching the process as one might poke an old wasp nest on the ground with a long stick to ensure it has been abandoned. Fearing an explosion, I toyed with the idea of keeping a strong garbage can lid at the ready to act as a defensive shield. But there I was with a good gallon or so of fresh garden beans and more coming on, not to mention an investment in the equipment. So I re-read the directions several times, bolstered my resolve and just got started.
I am pleased to say that it was an easier process than my usual method of hot-water bath canning! The jars only had to be washed well and filled with hot water, then emptied, packed with the clean vegetables, salt and boiling water to finish and only 3 quarts of hot water in the canner. I honestly feel it is a safer process than having a huge vat of boiling water on the stovetop. One simply has to follow the directions carefully for the initial venting process (v-e-r-y safe and simple) and keep an eye on the pressure gage to ensure it stays at the right pressure. The process is exacting, but the new canners are equipped with good safety features, even letting you know when the steam has dissipated enough to safely open the lid. The process is actually very simple once you begin to work into it. An additional bonus is that once the desired pressure is attained, one can turn the heat way down to maintain it, so less heat escapes into the kitchen. It even worked well with my electric stove. The entire thing went like clock-work.
Of course, not everything can be canned with this method. Some sugary fruits will bubble up and create problems, and plain tomato recipes, most fruits, jellies and such should still be water-bath canned. But for any low-acid vegetable, potatoes, beans, carrots, beets, even my tomato/pepper/onion and garlic mixture, it is a safe and relatively hassle-free way of preserving food. Just get a recent copy of a good canning book (I mentioned the Ball Bluebook last season, and it’s still my favorite resource for either method. I also noticed that the Minnehaha county extension offered it as a door prize at their canning seminar several years back) and of course, carefully read and re-read the instruction book that comes with the pressure canner. Follow the directions exactly, and be happy with the results. I would also like to thank my neighbor and veteran canner, Carol Kelpin, who walked down the block on a very hot evening to hang out with me after learning I’d taken the plunge. Your moral support was so appreciated!
And just an update of my experiment of growing tomatoes in pots. Since my last posting, I’ve kept them evenly bottom-watered, and have picked off every small fruit I see with the beginning of blossom end rot. It is my hope that the newly developing fruit will be free of this affliction. So far, all looks good and the pots are soaked daily without exception.
I’m already getting a good amount of peppers, both Anaheim and bananas, but the bells are yet to come in. I’ll have enough beets to can just a few pints, and the new asparagus patch is thick with ferns. All in all, the raised beds are working out well. It’s been easier to keep them weeded, and harvesting is definitely less back-breaking! For fun, I planted some pumpkin seeds purchased last February at the Charles Schultz museum in Santa Rosa, California. Appropriately labeled Great Pumpkin Seeds, they are sending vines all around the rear bed, keeping the weeds down as they go.
Gardening magazines all agree that now is the time to consider planting a second cool-weather crop for fall, providing we don’t get an early freeze as some are predicting. The KELO website mentioned last week that the lack of moisture in the air due to the drought situation may prompt this, and of course, there is that whole cicada song prediction, but I think I’ll run the risk. I’m planting a Blue Lake variety of pole bean where the massacred pea vines used to be (not exactly a cool-weather crop, but hey, if it doesn’t freeze, I may just get a second season of beans to pressure can) and think I’ll throw some radish and spinach seed around the bottom of the vines so they are protected from the hot southern sun. I may even start a second season of beets in between the existing ones. Although I’ve never attempted this second planting before, gardening is an experiment, and I’ve already got the seeds.
Don’t forget to get your tickets for the Farm to Table event coming up in a few short weeks on August 7th. It should be a fun evening of great tasting from local chef creations and live entertainment, of course. Tickets are available at the market.
By fallspark, July 1st, 2012,in Blog » | No Comments »
As we round the corner into mid-summer, I thought it might be a good time to offer a few observations about this year’s plunge into container-grown tomatoes and peppers. I have roughly fifteen pots divided between the two, and so far things look pretty good with only a few concerns.
The tomatoes are full of blossoms and have green fruit, so that looks good. I am finding that a strict watering schedule is required, as the pots dry out much faster than a standard garden plot. As usual, I learned this the hard way. I skipped an evening and had several stressed plants on my hands, resulting in a few tomatoes with blossom end rot. I discarded the affected fruit of course, and am hoping the rest will be all right. I used a moisture control potting medium (mostly because I needed so much, and it was on clearance and light to lift), and although that allows a little more wiggle room, on these hot, hot days, a daily soaking is essential. The tomatoes seem to be more susceptible to stress than the peppers, which are also setting up well. I have to say that the plants I bought on opening day from Seed Time and Harvest are now just huge, and are loaded with my favorite Anaheim peppers! In fact, the heat is making everything jump.
The observation here is the bigger the pot, the better, not so much for the root ball of the plant, as most don’t go that deep, but to keep the soil moisture more constant. Another observation may be that the tomato cages don’t have enough soil depth to properly support the mature plants; we’ll see as the season progresses. I have marigolds planted in the pots along with the vegetables, and there is plenty of room. They help to keep the soil from splashing up on the plants and cut down on the mulch. Although the flowers require regular dead-heading, it’s a pleasant addition. The orange and yellow blooms are a nice contrast to the dark green of the plants. My granddaughter thinks the old marigold blooms smell like skunk! That may be why the rabbits won’t eat them. One big benefit is the portability of the potted vegetables. They are mostly all in foam pots, and with the lighter soil mix are easy to move around for weeding or what have you. If hail threatens, one can push them to safer ground with ease.
My greenway neighbor had a water feature installed, and I have to say that aside from its visual appeal, the sound of the falling water is a welcome addition to our quiet area, as I begin to work my way through the miasma of weeds in my back beds. Although the problem is not as extreme as last year, without sufficient ground cover and rock or bark in the open areas, the weeds have crept in again, and in a different array. No more towering stands of black nightshade, but certainly a good amount of those low-growing vines with the heart-shaped leaves. I also think I’ve discovered just how large and colorful dandelions can become if ignored for six to eight weeks; either that or I’ve got an entire new weed I’ve never seen, and I suspect this is in fact the case. Either way (note to neighbors) I have a serious plan, a vision! Please bear with me. By September, my back yard should look as if it actually belongs to the neighborhood. I’ve mentioned to several acquaintances that it feels to me like uncovering the secret garden back there, a square foot at a time.
I also realize that the hackberry tree did indeed impart some early to mid-morning shade in those same areas, and now that it is gone, it is in full sun all day. In this hot and muggy weather I’ve no choice but to return to my former solution. I open my patio umbrella right out there in its stand, and get my big garage fan going. All one needs is a good long extension cord. Unfortunately, I can’t do much about the humidity, but working in the shade with a bit of a breeze sure helps. One can control one’s environment to some extent, at least. Of course, this only works on days when the weather is still, otherwise the umbrella becomes airborne. I’ve chased it down the greenway more than once.
And lastly, I’ve been hearing cicadas for a week! If the old wives tale holds true, that would put our first frost at mid-August! As unlikely as that seems, it could indicate an early cold spell in September. Nature offers its own predictions (think I’ll check the almanac).
By fallspark, June 17th, 2012,in Blog » | No Comments »
Something massacred my trellised peas this week, just bit them off about mid-way up and took a bite out of every pod. The oddity is that they only went after the regular shelling variety–never touched the sugar snaps. My only thought is that it had to have been a squirrel running along the chain link, then down the trellis inside and at the top line of the protective poultry wire. The scene was pretty ugly, gnawed pods strewn here and there, and the vines thrown in all directions. Rabbits wouldn’t be so untidy. I’ve observed their eating habits, and they appear to just sit and chew, moving from plant to plant, keeping a low profile.
In fact, it looks like a bad year for my pea crop in general. Just harvested about a quart-sized bag full of the sugar snap peas, but they were all at the very top. Additional harvesting seems unlikely from the look of the vines, so I’ll pull them up and plant some Heavenly Blue morning glories. At least I’ll have something nice to look at. It appears that as with last year the Market will be my backup plan.
Squirrels have become more of a nuisance than I remember. I’ve noticed bites out of things that rabbits just can’t get to, like the pot of basil on the patio table, and holes dug in pots of annuals around the yard. I have used rocks to discourage their digging with some success, and recently saw an idea that recommended using larger pieces of broken pots for this same purpose. I’ve actually had a hard time getting petunias to take off the past few seasons, and now wonder if it isn’t squirrels there also, digging them loose in the planters. They don’t actually uproot them, but they dry up and die all the same. I’m going to try the broken pottery trick and hope for better results.
The clover I seeded in last year seems to be working at keeping rabbits away. I now have three large patches, and am happy to say that I’ve seen bees there, as well. Although I’ve been going after weeds with every tool at my disposal, the clover patches aren’t unsightly at all. To me, they just look like large areas of ground cover. Of course, I still protect my beans and peppers with poultry wire (why throw caution to the wind?), but I’ve observed rabbits gravitating to the clover and not hanging around the garden.
For a week or more I’ve also noticed yellowing daylily foliage in my own yard and in others around town. I’m going to access the county website to see if I can learn what may be causing this. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, mine really need dividing, but I don’t think that’s the issue. I hope to have the answer to share next week.
As for the ducks, they’ve left me. Last Saturday was their “due” date. I checked on momma duck around noon, and then went indoors to escape last Saturday’s heat and humidity. When I returned several hours later, they were gone. At first I feared the crows had heard them and run the mother off the nest, but after contacting the Outdoor Campus staff again, I learned that ducks will leave with their new brood right away. There was nothing left but a pile of downy feathers and ten perfectly opened shells. It’s pretty amazing that a newly hatched creature could just get up and walk off like that, and so far! But apparently in the world of ducks, it’s the norm. I’m fairly certain they made it to their destination as Marion road was under construction all last week, and so the traffic was slow-moving, making it safer to cross, I hope. No duck disasters were reported in the media, so it appears that all went well.
The Falls Park Farmers Market is now a member of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. As the leading Sioux Falls area business advocate, the Sioux Falls Chamber represents its members by advancing and promoting
the economic health and quality of life of the region. For more information, visit http://www.siouxfallschamber.com/
6AM today felt like rising in the tropics as I readied myself for work. I had awakened earlier around 2AM, opened the window to see if the humidity had abated, then very quickly closed it. We have moist, unstable air pushing up from Nebraska it seems, one of those days when no amount of extra-hold hairspray will help; in fact, I’m already looking pretty wild and fuzzy. Keeping an eye on the weather for later on; let’s hope we don’t get hail!
The rain has been great for the garden, of course. Beans are well up and ready to be thinned and the asparagus starts I thought might be duds finally sent up some ferny shoots. The potted peppers and tomatoes are at least looking sturdy, if not quite taking off yet, much in part to the cool nights we’ve had, no doubt. I also appear to have a good supply of rhubarb to freeze for jam and baking.
The market is jumping and has lots of seasonal produce to offer and plants for sale, as well, not to mention some really excellent locally grown perennials, which of course can be planted any time before the fall weather becomes prohibitive. With the night time temps just settling in to where they should be, there is still plenty of time to get those warm weather crops in the ground. The soil in my pots was never cold and so planting them early was a gamble I took this year. In fact, I’m just getting my cucumbers planted by one of the trellises, and will get the ochre seeded in this week.
Since my last entry here, I have lost a large friend; the hackberry tree mentioned in my last entry had to be taken out of my yard. It had grown so tall and top heavy that I was fearful it would split in the wind. It was brought home by my youngest as a sapling in a Dixie cup in 1985, so of course I had an emotional attachment. In our ignorance of trees at that time we just planted it too close to the house, and the arborist I hired assured me that if it did come down or split, my home would be heavily damaged and that of my neighbor’s as well. Although I have other large trees on my property, this one had begun to sway substantially in our frequent gusting winds, unlike the other maples, ashes and aspen that seem to have sturdier trunks. I would find myself checking it from the back window with a flashlight when the wind would wake me–nervous.
Although I was at work when the arborists came, several neighbors reported they heard the crash when it came down, falling angled across the length of my back yard. By the time I arrived, all that remained was the soft area where the trunk had been removed. The play set I kept beneath it had been returned to its place and not one hosta or daylily was damaged. I asked the tree people to leave me some of the mulch after they had run it through the chipper, and this will go around the new river birch I planted farther back in the yard.
I am surprised at how emotional this event still feels for me, even causing me to tear up a bit at this writing. Most of us have serious losses in life, and some of these smaller constants have a way of becoming a balm. Upsetting that continuance is never welcome. The sentimental edge is there, naturally, but there is more to losing a tree. As a friend reminded me over coffee a few days back, it’s a shame to lose a mature hackberry, as they are one of the trees that do well in our poor soil and will still be around after the emerald ash-borer has depleted our boulevard shade. Additionally, that tree was outside my office window all those years, and although it was really too tall to give any real shade, I spent many mornings watching nuthatches and downy woodpeckers work up and down its sides. One year, the robins got drunk on its fermenting berries and put on quite a comic show, and on a very frigid New Years Day in 1998, a red-tailed hawk went eye to eye with me from one of its lower branches. Last summer, when my neighbor’s adjacent tree split, that hackberry prevented it from falling onto my roof.
In a way, I liken this event to putting down a pet that has gone past the point of having any quality of life. One always questions if it was the right thing to do, if another solution might have postponed the inevitable, a very emotional time. Well, like the photos we all have of those family pets, past and present, I have some photos of that tree from over the years, and will simply add one to the area I call my Good Dog Wall of Fame (and now a tree) that I keep in my office.
Finally, here’s a quick update on Mama Duck, still happily ensconced in the somewhat wild outback of my yard. She flies off about dusk each evening to forage I assume, leaving the ten eggs well camouflaged with her pile of downy feathers, and by my near estimation, has a good two weeks to go. She has proven to be very tolerant of my movement in the yard, and I am mindful of her presence and just work around her quietly, giving her wide girth. I keep the fence gates latched against stray dogs, but not much more to add, just a nesting duck for now. We are trying not to get attached; after all, she’s a wild creature, and the perils of the wild exist, even in one’s back yard. Although I am treating her as simply a point of interest, I can’t help but care for her a little. My son commented that it seemed a sweet mother’s day gift, as I discovered her that weekend. With luck, she’ll hatch her ducklings and leave me for a better area with due haste. I just hope to get a look before she heads out with her fuzzy brood.
And here is a happy development. If you have Midcontinent cable service and a digital television, you can see re-runs of Garden Line at 6PM on Saturdays on PBS channel 2.3, called the Create channel. Although the shows won’t be weather or growing condition current, they are still a rich source of garden information, and the familiar faces make the loss of that additional constant a bit easier to bear. I have to add here that I had a bitter-sweet moment when the first question on the first re-broadcast was one I had emailed them in 2010 about my leaning mulberry tree, now straightened up and thriving. Life just circles around us.