02 October 2008

basil harvest

This is the only plant that was prolific enough in our garden for me to actually store some, and not just eat as it got ripe. I wasn't expecting to do any food-preservation at all, but the herbs were so healthy I couldn't just let them all go to waste.

First I saved some plants in pots. I don't know how long they'll last thru the winter once daylight gets shorter, but there's nothing better than fresh basil on pizza!

Here is the pile of cut basil plants. Isa helped pick off the leaves, and collected all the bugs we found in a jar (inchworms, tiny spiders, beetles, stink bugs). She went off to play after about twenty minutes- it took me two hours to get all the good leaves picked.

Four containers piled with fresh leaves, and a white box with all the discarded parts on the other side. I spent six hours processing the basil- next year I won't plant so much!

Final product- after a big mess with the blender. We ate some the same night in a chicken and pasta dish. A had some on a turkey sandwich today. I'm surprised how well it turned out! Very tasty. A batch makes about 2 pints and I got 8 1/2 batches. Gave 2 pints to our neighbor, stuck 2 in the fridge and froze the rest. (The ice-cube tray is for when you need a small bit for flavoring, just drop one in the soup or sauce. I haven't tried about it yet but it sounded like a good idea. And I ran out of empty jars to fill anyway.)

01 October 2008

butterfly!

Several weeks ago I noticed something was eating my carrot tops down to the ground. It was a bunch of caterpillars. I brought them inside and Isa wanted to keep them, so every time we ate carrots from the garden, gave them the tops. They ate fast. In a few days made cocoons on some sticks we had in "the bug house". Ended up with seven cocoons. I wasn't sure anything would happen. But this morning Isa came running to me: "Mommy, Mommy, A BUTTERFLY HATCHED!" She was so excited. We took some pictures, and then she put her hand down in the jar, let the butterfly crawl onto her hand, and lifted it out. It drifted over to our fence for a moment before flying away. It was so beautiful. I think it's a swallowtail.






Do you remember the praying mantids we had in her bug house? Months ago I released them back into the garden. I've seen one again recently- it's now longer than my hand, bright green. It hangs out in the jumble of zucchini stems- one of the few things left in our garden. It left an egg-case in a tomato plant, but I think that might have got destroyed in our tropical rainstorm when Hannah passed by us. Once I tried to pick it up to show Isa and it pinched my thumb hard! I want to find it again and take a photo, but this time I'll see if I can get it to crawl onto a stick for its portrait.

06 September 2008

Well, we survived the passage of Tropical Storm Hannah. It was really way off to the east of me, but still dumped TONS of rain and lots of wind. There were flash flood warnings but we're not near the river so I wasn't worried. Didn't even have any tree branches come down, but my backyard is totally waterlogged. It's like mud soup out there, and all my tomato plants fell over flat (in spite of being staked up and inside cages). Tomorrow it's supposed to be sunny- eighty degrees- so things will start to dry out again.

31 August 2008

growing

I have been so pleased at how well my little garden turned out, considering that I did nothing to improve the soil (other than mulching with lawn clippings)- but I do have a big compost heap that hopefully will be ready to add into the soil in spring. Half the plants are by now scraggly and almost done, but some that still look nice or are just coming into their prime.

The bell peppers are almost ready, and I can't wait! I really didn't think they were going to produce fruit, but there's two sturdy plants like this. I sat next to them the other day picking the last of the snap beans, and the scent of the peppers was quite strong and tatalizing.

30 August 2008

lush basil

We still have tons of basil, the plant that's grown best for me. Very prolific and healthy. I'm going to try and put some into small pots and keep inside through part of the winter.

28 August 2008

melons

I've got two baby watermelons! Ice-box sized, they're not supposed to grow bigger than a canteloupe. This one is about the size of a large grapefruit now. I'm hoping in a few more weeks we can eat it!

tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are still coming! Though never enough at once for more than a small salad or fresh snack.


All my larger tomatoes are still green. I don't know if they'll ripen in time before fall really hits.

19 August 2008

rescue

There is a squirrel that frequents our yard. The cats have been watching it. This afternoon I saw the squirrel cross the yard in a straight line from the tree where the leafy nest is high up, headed for the neighbor's yard. Carrying something rather large. Isa chased it. I asked her what it was and she said "a squirrel! he's carrying a nut!" That's no nut, I thought. Maybe something for bedding? The squirrel came back later to its tree, narrowly avoiding our stalking cat. I thought he's never fast enough to catch a squirrel, and we went back to our activities- me watering the garden, Isa playing. Minutes later Isa came running towards me, yelling "Mommy, Asher caught the squirrel! It's a mommy squirrel carrying her baby and Asher caught it! I got the baby!"



She sure did. It shows how much better her relationship is with the cats nowadays, that she got ahold of that baby squirrel without getting scratched or bitten! I sent her right inside to wash her hands good, and held the baby squirrel. It had a small wound in its side, and was so limp I thought badly injured, neck broken. Now I realize it was probably just in shock. After shutting the cats in the house I looked for signs of the mother squirrel, wondering what to do with the baby. I'm not terribly fond of squirrels, but I didn't want it to die. Suddenly its claws went from limp to gripping my finger, its eye snapped open bright, it started perking up. By the time I crossed the lawn the little thing was clinging to the front of my shirt climbing up to my shoulder. I put it in the low, wide crotch of the nest tree and stepped back.

Isa and I went back to what we'd been doing, keeping our distance and an eye on the tree. I had to go inside at intervals, to fill my watering can. Coming back from one, saw the mother squirrel was in the tree crotch with her baby. I worried she might reject it for smelling like people, but after the next trip for water, the tree crotch was empty. It got dark soon. I wondered why the squirrel would be so stupid to bring her baby down the tree right in front of the cat- either he hid well, or she was trying to finish moving the babies to a new nest before dark? Anyhow, I feel glad at having saved the baby squirrel. It was a wonder to hold the little warm creature in my hands for a few minutes.

08 August 2008

caterpillar

Lately in the garden we've been catching every cabbage moth possible, and keeping them in "the bug jar." It gets them out of my plants and Isa likes observing them. A few days ago I discovered why my parsley plant was failing- a big fat caterpillar that looks just like this was eating it up! I picked him off the plant and put him in the bug jar. Thinking he would die, but at least quit eating my parsley and Isa could look at him for a while. After crawling around for a day, he scrunched up on a twig. I thought it was dying. Then it turned brown. I thought for sure it was dead. Went to remove it and saw some little threads attaching it to the twig. Went and looked more up online and discovered it's the caterpillar of a swallowtail butterfly, and is probably making a cocoon. So we're waiting to see if a butterfly emerges in two weeks!

22 July 2008

thoughts

I always knew I wanted to have a garden of my own someday. I have strong memories of the green beans and tomatoes in mom's garden, of making strawberry jam, doing our own canning, picking cherries and plums. But I never knew how much I would enjoy having my own garden. I feel such a peace sitting on the garden wall in the cool of evening, listening to the birds, snapping green beans and watching the bees bumble in the cucumber blossoms, the smell of basil and mint growing. I usually feel pretty indifferent about cooking (and it shows) but now that I'm trying to put something from the garden into a meal every day (even if it's just one fresh herb), I feel so much more involved, interested, and creative about cooking.

I love involving Isa in the whole process, so that she understands where food comes from. She is always eager to put scraps on the compost heap for me, and knows it "makes food for the plants". She helps dig the soil, drop in the seeds, water the plants, pull the weeds, pick the produce, wash it off and eat it! Funny thing, she never used to like pizza much at all. But yesterday we picked handfuls of fresh basil, layered it on a plain cheese pizza with chopped tomatoes and a bit of swiss (all from the grocery except the herb) and she helped with every part of the picking, cleaning, and pizza assembly, and ate two whole slices. I was so pleased.

And it makes me feel so satisfied and rich in a way, to hold the garden products in my hands. Today we picked cucumbers, another zucchini (bound for cookies again!), peas (great steamed w/their pods and lightly salted) and Isa found some flowers in the weeds along the back fence. It all looked so pretty I took a picture to share with you. And now I'll stop yammering about the garden. Alfonso is sick of hearing it! (He likes to eat what I produce, but it bores him silly to hear the details of how it's grown.)

21 July 2008

Does anyone know what these plants are? They're trying to take over my yard, all through the grass. The first one is a groundcover, grows on a creeping stem. The other one grows in rosettes everywhere, now is shooting up these seed stalks so I'm anxious to pull it all out before it's even more widespread. I think it might be plantain, but I'm not sure.



16 July 2008

map

of my backyard. I'm getting ambitious. Everything blue is what I planted this year (but in different locations)- black are the ones that didn't grow well yet. All the red is what I want to add next year. Ha ha! do you think I can do it? I wouldn't think to try corn except I saw some at a petting-zoo farm just down the road we took Isa to and it looked fabulous.



Isa added a drawing of her and me working in the yard. I'm not sure who is who!

I just realized you can't read it well off this photo. So here's the list.

Have planted: ...........Want to add:

zucchini ......................squash
cucumber ..................cantaloupe
green beans...............pumpkin
bell pepper................cilantro
peas .......................... sweet peas
broccoli .....................corn
mint ..........................rhubarb
oregano ....................asparagus
nasturtiums ................leeks
beets .........................green onions
carrots ......................yellow onions
radishes ....................garlic
spinach ......................kale
lettuce .......................swiss chard
basil ...........................potatoes
parsley ......................more tomatoes
rosemary..................wildflowers
tomatoes
chives
oregano
sage
lavender
thyme

14 July 2008

I can't sleep

because my head is full of the garden. It's really pathetic, since I didn't plant until june, but some things are growing, and my head is spinning with plans for next year. We just picked handfuls of green beans, and the first fat zucchini. Today was our first dinner where every dish featured something from the garden. We had: pork chops simmered in "homemade" maple syrup and chicken broth with fresh thyme, a salad of baby lettuce greens, thinned beets, raisins and shredded carrot, a pasta dish cooked with thinly sliced radishes, radish greens and parmesan, side dish of sauteed beet thinnings and onions with bacon bits thrown in and fresh green beans cooked lightly with onions and almonds. It was scrumptious! And for the first time A didn't complain that I was cooking lots of vegetables, but ate it all up. We even argued over who got the last bit of salad (and I'm not a big salad eater). Isa loved helping to pick the beans and pull the beets, discover the dark zucchini hidden under the leaves, and wash them all. I am glad I found that pasta recipe; I didn't know you could cook radishes or eat their greens until today (I like them better cooked). Did you know radishes are related to chard? Next week we'll have peas to shell and add to our menu.

I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle right now, which is real inspiring for gardening to feed your family. I don't think I'll ever try making my own pickles, yogurt or cheese like she does, but I want to start baking my own bread, and maybe someday try my hand at canning...

08 July 2008

We're actually eating out of our garden, now. Just lettuces, spinach and herbs so far, but it makes every meal taste better. Fresh oregano is great with sauteed mushrooms. And we love pizza with just basil and tomatoes heaped on it. The cucumbers, zucchini and beans are all in flower, and I spotted the first green infant tomato today. My second-planted garden plot is sprouting now, too: small watermelons, more lettuces, lots more herbs and flowers. And the carrots are finally coming up. Maybe we'll get some after all.

But, more exciting: we have a froggie friend. (Or toad?) Twice we've caught him while weeding - he hangs out under the thick plants where the ground is damp. I put him in a jar so Isa can look at him for a while, and then we let him go. He's brown and pretty small, almost the length of my thumb. Here's some pictures:









Oh, and our mantis is thriving. He's shed his skin and doubled in size. He now eats houseflies, and moths, but not spiders. I stuck a firefly in there once and he tried to catch it, bit it, then immediately let go and bit a leaf! They must taste terrible. We don't give him fireflies anymore. I did catch a small brilliant blue dragonfly (or damselfly? I don't remember the difference) once and he caught and ate that. It was nearly as long as the mantis himself.

Irwin has been catching (and leaving on the patio) voles every now and then. And today Asher our supercat caught a bird- I saw him nab it on the lawn. He chewed on and played with it for a while, then I buried it in the garden before Isa could see. That cat was pretty pleased with himself!

28 June 2008

preparing

This long patch of ground against one side of my lawn and the fence is all just full of weeds. I'm working hard at clearing it out so I can plant more vegetables there!
The other side, is growing well!

27 June 2008

bugs

Our little garden is flourishing (except for the carrots) so A has been encouraged that we will actually be able to eat from it one day, and prompted me to plant more. I'm almost done clearing the plot on the other side of the yard. In the process of uprooting weeds (some monstrously high) and overturning the soil, we've discovered many interesting bugs. Here is a curious one (actually bright green). Isa thinks it's a stink bug, because he looks like the bug Stinky in a cartoon she watches.



We also found a beautiful beetle, black with irridescent gold legs, antenna and head, but it scurried about so fast I couldn't get a photo.

And, we found a Praying Mantis!




This is really really cool. I'd never seen one up close before. He's in Isa's plastic bug-house, and every night I've been catching small moths that come to the porch light. In the morning, they're always gone with little wings littering his floor. (He won't eat houseflies, too bad)

Isa is fascinated:

25 June 2008

critter

Tonight, Irwin brought home a small rodent which I think is a vole. It had extremely soft fur, and was still breathing when I picked it up. Died, so I buried it in the garden (And yes, I washed my hands several times) but it was very cool to see the little thing up close. I wonder if he's gotten many more rodents before this, or brought home his first one?

24 June 2008

bunnies

There are two rabbits that habitually come through our front yard in the early morning. I'm pretty sure these are domestic rabbits, gotten loose. I wonder if there the ones nibbling my seedlings in the garden just when they've sprouted. I don't mind Irwin being out at night because I hope he keeps these guys away from the garden! I'm considering getting a live-trap and then finding someone on Craigslist to adopt the guys. They are cute, and as big as Irwin himself! I've seen wild rabbits about, too, but these ones are much bigger, and let me get quite close to them- as near as several feet.

14 June 2008

new growth

.
I am happy that my work in the garden is showing some results! A is anxious that Isa learns food doesn't just come from the grocery store, so she has been helping water, weed, and get excited about the sprouting plants. We now have:
Radishes

Beets

Carrots

Lettuce

Broccoli


Green Beans

Peas

Cucumbers

Zucchini


The only ones that haven't come up yet are the spinach, bell peppers and cantaloupe. The birds ate all the cantaloupe seeds after watching me plant them- A thinks I was crazy to try and grow cantaloupes anyways! I was doubtful for carrots too, but they're popping up now. I still need to buy tomato plants. Although the green beans have grown fastest, I think radishes will be ready to eat first, I can already see red blushing root crowning. Salad time! Yum.

Oh, and our cats made their first foray up a tree today:

10 April 2008

new place

We've just bought a house. I'm exhausted, but impatient to get the moving and settling in done so I can dirty my hands in the garden, rearrange flower beds and clean out the backyard shed. It's full of tools and junk; I'm sure half of it's useful but I want to go through it all and get some space useful (and see what yard tools I won't have to buy- maybe there's a rake or garden trowel buried in all that stuff). I have plans for growing vegetables. The trees in front yard are in gorgeous white blossom right now. They look really familiar but I don't know what kind they are. White. Not dogwood. Cherry?