Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bad Biscuits and Fairy Houses

I have a problem making biscuits. As a Southern woman, this shames me. My potato salad is impeccable, I can whip up a cobbler in no time flat, I take pride in a perfectly seasoned pot of lima beans.

But...I cannot make biscuits.

My mother makes insanely good biscuits. Her recipe is simple: butter, flour, milk. And, like, magic fairy dust or something, because they are that good. But I can't make them. When I make them, they wind up sad little flat discs.

I have searched high and low for a good recipe. I've gone to the back of flour packages, baking powder tins, Allrecipes, craft forums, the list goes on and STILL I haven't found anything that comes close to Mama's biscuits. It drives me batty.

On Christmas day, I was in charge of the bread and I found this recipe. I followed it dutifully, although I was dubious about the insane wetness of the dough. I'm talking CRAZY wetness. The one diversion I made from the recipe was that I cut the biscuits a bit smaller than it called for. I wound up with these:I mean, seriously. Ar to the gh. They were peaked AND split in the middle. And while they tasted good, still...I don't think this is the recipe. Sigh.

The day after Christmas we went up to Cowtown and spent a lot of time out on the farm. I went out several times with my little digital camera and pretended to be a real photographer. (It's a pity that all of my favorite hobbies require pricey equipment.) I got a few shots that I really liked, including lots of fairy houses, as Will and I spent a great deal of time convincing Jeffrey that fairies were real. His pragmatism can be exhausting, but it inspires groovy pictures!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Cookie Bake

Last night, we had several friemily members over for a big Christmas cookie bake. We made Oatmeal/Apple/Cranberry, White Chocolate/Orange/Walnut, Chocolate Chip (which did that thing that chocolate chip cookies do half the time and for no discernable reason in which they spread out and taste fine but look like lumpy discs), and sugar cut-outs. I used a recipe I've been doing for cut-outs lately which is slightly cakier than the recipe from my childhood and which I think takes a frosting better as it is less sweet. However, we wound up not frosting them at all and using the sprinkles and sugars that my sil and I had accumulated over the last year or so. We let the kids do all of the cutting out and decorating, which meant that there were a looooot of cookies for Santa at the end (and also that I am going to be doing another batch of cut outs for myself and the grownups later.) Seriously. It's cold season, y'all.

A few things made this potentially life-threateningly messy situation less messy and stressful for the adults.

  1. I rolled the dough out between two sheets of wax paper to 1/4 inch thick before chilling. When I came up with this idea a few weeks ago, I thought it was BRILLIANT. Turns out that bakers have been doing it for years. Oh, well. In any case, doing this made it really easy to give each child half of a sheet and save the scraps for a quick roll and toss into the freezer.
  2. I lined half of our kitchen table with floured wax paper and set the cookie trays up on the other side. The kids cut out the cookies on one side and decorated them on the other. This worked pretty well, although I think that next time I'll do an assembly line from one end of the table to the other. Less walking around and therefore smoodging of dough all over my kitchen. I wish I'd thought to take a picture, but I was totally in the moment and forgot. My sil got some, I think.
  3. I let go of my anxiety about the whole thing. I tend to be crazy meticulous when I'm deep in the zone of a new obsession and cooking has become IT lately. But I realized that this was not about me and my fantasies of silver-iced perfect stars. It was about a bunch of friemily hanging out and the littles having a high old time making messes and memories. They were all flour-covered, sugar-wired, and HAPPY at the end of it all. And so were the adults.
Oh, while I'm at it, I'd like to share with you my new recipe collecting dealio. I'm sure this is another one of those "Uh, yeah, NotHannah. Pretty much EVERYBODY does that." things, but I'm a little slow coming into this cookery stuff.

While I love cookbooks and use recipes from them frequently, I find myself more and more using the internet (and friends) as a source--mainly because many of these recipes are rated and/or have been tested by folks whose opinions and tastes I trust. I had collected quite a wodge of printed out pages and scraps of crumpled paper and it was getting to be a mess. The solution was rewriting or reprinting anything stained and crinkled past recognition and slipping the pages into clear plastic page protectors tucked inside a three ring binder. The plastic keeps the pages from getting wet and icky and the binder stands up on its own on the counter.

I've started dating when I use each recipe and adding a little note about the event or the reaction folks had to the dish. I could probably even add pictures to some of the recipes. I think it'll be a cool thing for my kids to look back on--and a great way for me to record good times with friemily. And family illnesses. Whatever.

Oh, one last thing--this didn't work:

I was all excited about my cookie scoop with the press-the-dough-out back, but it wound up being a flop and a half. It couldn't cope with my very wet chocolate chip dough and while it was better with the oatmeal and turned out some nicely shaped cookies, it was a pain in the butt and took much longer than just eyeballing a table spoon and smooshing the dough out with my finger. Save your $3.99.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Brownies and Bookmarks

Jeffrey's best friend, D, requested I bring brownies to the class Christmas party and because he's such a good kiddie and I'm thrilled that Jeffrey HAS a best friend, I was happy to oblige. Upon asking, I found out that he didn't want frosting, nuts, or chips anywhere near those puppies (he's an Aspie, too, so I'm pretty sure it was a texture thing), so I went looking for a kick-ass recipe that didn't have any extras. After many stops and starts, I found this one at (which is an AWESOME site, btw), and decided to give it a whirl.

I pressured my mother several months ago into making homemade brownies and the results were pretty dismal--through no fault of her own, I'm sure, as she's quite the whiz at baking. So I was a tad nervous about the whole thing, particularly with the bit that called on me to heat the butter and sugar together. I'd never heard tale of such a thing in a baking recipe.

However, these guys wound up being lovely, lucious chunks o' chocolate heaven: rich and dense and gooey and yummy. My mind is reeling with all the possibilities of this recipe: adding chips of all kinds and nuts and marshmallows and caramel and peppermint bits and...Sigh.

The only difficulty I experienced was cutting them. I think they weren't cool enough yet, so I had some stickage on my knife. Wiping it off and giving it a spritz of Pam after every few strokes kept this to a minimum, but my brownies didn't have nice, clean edges. (Not that the six-year-olds cared.)

(As a side note, for some reason, getting a picture of these brownies was way harder than it should have been. I don't know if it was the weird light today or if they were just so dark with chocolate heavenliness, but I never could figure out how to capture their fudgy perfection. Not even when I crawled on the floor or stood outside in the middle of my yard. The picture below comes closest.)

Having finished the brownies, I moved on to the teachers' presents. Jeffrey's teachers have gone above and beyond the call of duty this year and I wanted to do something nice for them. The scented coffee rests didn't pan out because I ran out of time, so I whipped up some bookmarks based on something I've seen all over the internet, most recently here. (Anna Maria Horner is like a fairy godmother of groovy design stuff.)

I didn't do it exactly like AMH (and others) suggested, mainly because my Hell-Mart doesn't carry double-sided heavy fusible and also because I wanted to fiddle with the idea of a string of beads attached to each bookmark.

First, I gathered my fabrics. I chose the tropical rayon print (leftover from our shower curtain, which is starting to make me insane) for Jeffrey's parapro, since she said on Monday that she hated cold weather. The red fan print (sturdy, well-made cotton) was for his classroom teacher, since she's kinda funky and eclectic. The green calico was for the special ed teacher. I have tons and tons of this left over from my teaching days when it covered a bulletin board showcasing British Romantic poets. I'm thinking matching skirts for River and I in the spring for the rest of it (and possibly skirts for my sil and mother and all of the women in my neighborhood. There is a LOT of fabric left.) Anyway, it's a pretty print, and I don't know the spec ed teacher as well as the others, so I went with it.

I like a big bookmark, so I used a business sized envelope for my template:

Then, using a neutral cream thread, I sewed the suckers together. The rayon was, as rayon often is, a pain in the butt as it slipped and slid and wallowed all over the place. The cottons were lovely, although I did press all of them before adding the fusible just because I didn't like them looking crinkly after the turning right-side-out part.

Slipping the fusible in was easy with all of them except the fan print, which required lots of cursing and poking with various poky objects until it lay flat. *Quick aside here to say I did this whole project--and soothed River when she woke up with a bad dream at nap time--in about an hour, so I was flying trying to get them done. I would be much less curse-y and sweaty if I did this project again.*

Tucked the ends in, ironed each bookmark, sewed the ends shut while doing a topstitch all the way round, catching a coordinating hemp string just above the knot tied in the end. In retropect, I wish I'd used thread that matched the string to do the topstitching, but, again, I was in a curse-y, sweating hurry. Next time I do this project, I think I'll use a buttonhole or maybe even an eyelet hole to slip my string through. And I'll topstitch much closer to the outer edge.

Threaded matching beads onto the string, knotted the beads in place, and I was done. They aren't perfect, but I'm pleased with the way they turned out. I slipped them into envelopes with a gift certificate to a local new and used bookstore and a package of chai tea. The teachers seemed pleased with them, and it made me feel good to give them something personalized. Goodness knows they deserve it after being so patient and hard-working with the bug for four months.

I'll take a break from the crafting tomorrow (Santa shopping!), but will be back to it on Sunday when we have our huge cookie bake with Will's family. I've decided to spend the Christmas moolah from my grandparents on cookie cutters and decorating tips.

Ooh, and maybe some of that stuff that makes frosting shiny.

Is it normal to get this excited about baking?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


In the spring and summer, I'm pretty much all about the garden and outside. In the fall and winter, all of my other crafty multiple personalities come out and my brain explodes with the craftiness of it all.

To wit, in the past two weeks I have:

  1. Made marshmallows! Who knew you could MAKE marshmallows?? Thankfully, cool chick over at Artisan Sweets did and she hooked the world up with the recipe, which made me lose my mind and absolutely NEED a stand mixer. How in the world have I made it this far without a stand mixer? HOW? Anyway, these puppies are soft and lucious and wonderful. I doubt you save any money on them, but the art of it (ART!! With MARSHMALLOWS!!) is totally worth any time and/or cash you spend. (BTW, I came across a recipe for cardemom marshmallows and am now dreaming of some kind of chai/cocoa mixture with a thick blanket of sweet goodness floating on it. Heavens.)
  2. Converted a cute (but space-sucking) table runner into two cute (and space-saving) pillows. Apparently, as a Southern woman, I'm supposed to have a bunch of tables lying around to put doilies and runners on. Um. I don't. But my mil got this one on sale and I hated to keep NOT doing anything with it at Christmastime. Clearly, pillows were the answer. The runner was made of felt and at first I had lots of lofty ideas about keeping the trim intact. This wound up being nigh unto impossible due to all kinds of odd design flaws (both in the runner and in my expertise level) and so I wound up making smaller pillows with no trim. Still, very cute. (But I now have NO idea what to do with the leftover red felt. Suggestions?)
  3. Made four kinds of cookies (FOUR) for gifts for the front office of Jeffrey's school and Will's co-workers. I have made oatmeal with spiced dried apples and cranberries, white chocolate chip/orange/walnut, gingersnaps (with chunks of candied ginger), and chocolate chip. Tonight I'll do sugar cookie cut-outs and I'm trying some benne seed wafers. One thing I've realized as I do more baking is that following directions is key. Chilling and letting sit at room temperature and kneading or stirring or whatever is not just for show: it's all about texture and flavor. I mean, check out these cookies. Are they gorgeous or what? (And they tasted like little bits of perfect yumminess.
  4. Tomorrow while River naps, I'll sew up some scented coffee rests for Jeffrey's teachers and maybe mix up some spiced nuts to go in the gift bags. What else would go well with scented coffee rests?
  5. Then I'll make up a batch of batter of each of the cookie kinds for our family cookie bake on Sunday.
  6. Because I'm crazy.

Monday, December 1, 2008


So, when I last wrote, the garden was growing great guns and I was reveling in it. The garden is now damp and cold and withered and I'm reveling in my warm and cozy house, up to my neck in craft and holiday shmussing.

The garden was a success. In particular, my herbs and tomatoes did really well. Too well, in fact, in the case of the tomatoes. If you'll recall, I grew my Better Boys in wire cages and the Romas on a rope system. I'll reverse this next year. In the deep, soft soil of my beds, the BB's vined out like crazy while the Romas stayed put and produced like mad. So those will be swapped.

A few things must be done before next growing season:

  1. I'm transplanting some raspberry bushes to one of the shadier beds. They need less sunlight and more trellising than the plants I grew there last year and I can always grow lettuces and spinaches alongside it.
  2. I MUST treat early for aphids and fire ants. The two thrived off each other and decimated my peas. Bastards.
  3. The soil still needs to be amended with more organic material. I'm currently flinging kitchen scraps into the beds and will be applying some leaves when the wind stops blowing so frickin' much.
  4. The paths need to be weed free. Will saw a snake in an overgrown patch over the summer and nearly lost his mind. So I'll be laying newspapers and maybe pine straw, again when the wind chills out.
  5. I'm digging up the strawberry plants. They didn't do as well as I'd like, although I was fairly pleased with production. I might put them in the herb bed, but the bed they're in now is in prime sun location, so I feel like I need to put it to better use, maybe for lima or green beans.
There's more to do for next year, like culling through seeds and deciding if trying to start some would be worth it, but for now, I think I'll do some more reveling--I made bread today AND I've got a little pot of orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves simmering on the stove. My house smells like heaven.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It Was The Worms On My Green Beans That Did It...

Induced me to go out and get some insecticidal soap, that is. For a few days, I've been duking it out with the aphids on the peas. The little suckers are so thick and the fire ants farming them are so protective that I spend several minutes every morning with my bottle of Dr. Bronner's solution.

But yesterday, I discovered a worm's hind end poking out of one of my almost ready, beautifully succulent Blue Lake green beans. That is not going to work, my friends.

So I went out and bought some Safer Insecticidal Soap. It's certified organic, and won't kill any of my good guys--it gets only the leaf munchers. The package also says it leaves behind a pleasant scent. Ooookay. I'll let you know.

Monday, June 9, 2008


..of dinner came from the garden tonight! Woohoo!

We had pork chops and couscous PLUS:

  1. Fried eggplant--I'd never eaten Ichiban eggplant before. It tasted exactly like "regular" eggplant and was much easier to deal with, actually. To prepare it, I peeled it and sliced it into thin slices, maybe two quarters thick. After giving it a good soak in salt to get the excess water out, I tossed the slices very lightly with cornmeal. I think next time, I'll try for an oven-fried dealio, but tonight I went old school and deep fried them. Oh, the heavenly, lightly salty yumminess of deep-fried eggplant. It's my theory that if you get the oil hot enough, it acts like an oven instead of an artery clogging monster. I'm going to keep telling myself that.
  2. River had a piece of squash that I steamed in the microwave. She was not impressed. Sampling a bit of it, I have to say I agreed with her. The outside was sort of rubbery and the inside oddly mushy. The flavor was fine, but the texture was revolting. I hope it's just that I shouldn't have nuked it instead of the plant producing yucky squash.
  3. Refrigerator pickles--These are a favorite of my family. You mix up white vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Slice up a cucumber (two Boston Picklings...which were FANTASTIC) and an onion. I used a handful of red onions which clearly weren't going to "make." They weren't particularly hot, but they still had a good onion flavor. Dump the onions and cucumbers into the vinegar mixture and let the whole yummy concoction soak in the fridge for a while. This will keep pretty much indefinitely; we used to slice up a cuke every few days when I was growing up and add it to the jar. So good. (Jeffrey ate too many and said he was getting a "vomiting feeling." So...go easy on the refrigerator pickles.

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to get some green beans out of there!

I spent a good part of the morning laying the rest of the tubing for the irrigation system. I didn't melt, but it was close. Hopefully I will be able to get the system finished up tomorrow. I am so ready to have the bones of the garden done--it feels weird to have the muscles already up and flexing. (Bad metaphor? Probably.)

On the pest front: the aphids staged a comeback, so out came the lavender spray again. Mwahahahahaha. I also spotted some stink bugs on the green beans and cucumbers. Argh. I don't think the lavender spray will get rid of those jokers. Argh part deux.

Also, I haven't gotten the composter going yet.


Irrigation. Harvest green beans. Deal with bugs.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Whatever It Is That I'm Doing--Is Working

Here's a shot of the garden yesterday:

It's taken from a different angle because, quite frankly, I am overwhelmed by the success of the garden and all of the green stuff therein. I'm not trying to brag; I'm just kummerfloxed by the whole thing. I've had gardens my entire life: little patches of dirt which Will tilled for me and into which I plopped seeds and plants and occasionally watered or fertilized. These gardens have been, with the exception of the herbs I've been harvesting for years, collosal wastes of time and money. Turns out, my friends, that actually putting work and thought and preparation into a garden actually means that you get, um, a crop.

My father poked at me today, asking how much I've paid for my cucumbers. I think his point is that I've spent a good deal of money to get the results I'm getting. I've had to haul in dirt and build beds and trellises and install an irrigation system, never mind the actual plants. It's a good point, but will only go so far, particularly in light of the thirty years he's spent turning his soil into fluffy beds for plants. (Never mind the gazillions of dollars he's spent on tillers and wheel barrows.) My money is well spent, the dozens of cucumbers on the trellis tell me.

That said, in so many ways, I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never grown in raised beds, I've never used intensive methods, I've never installed an irrigation system more involved than dragging the soaker hose around. I'm doing things I've only read about or heard about...or completely invented.

Case in point:

This is what one of my corn patches looked like after a heavy thunderstorm the other day. Actually, all of my corn patches looked like this, although the others were languishing on pepper plants and tomatoes instead of eggplants. I remember Daddy's corn doing this before and that he always let it pull itself upright or just chalked it up to a loss. In my tiny garden, each plant is valuable, so when mine only managed to get up to a sixty-eight or so degree angle, I staked it. I don't think you're supposed to stake corn, but I didn't want it to just wallow there. I also staked my peppers and I'm going to stake my eggplants. I don't know if I'm supposed to stake them either, but they're bending with the weight of their fruits and I don't want them to die.

I've put the volunteer AND Lemon cucumbers on tomato cages, because I don't know what else to do with them and can't figure out how to adequately support them. I guess I could let them run on the ground, but with my "stuff it all in" approach, I don't think that would work. (And actually, I'm not sure that the volunteer cucumber is actually cucumber. The fruit looks more like cantelope to me, although I didn't plant cantelopes last year. I suppose it could have come from a cantelope we ate. What do you think?)

I know. It's not the best picture, doesn't look prickly enough for a cucumber to me.

I suppose I could use a "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" excuse for the tomato cage/cucumber trellis dealy, but I have no such excuse for my Pinkeye Purple Hulls (Purple-Hulled Pinkeyes?) I originally wanted to use bamboo poles, but couldn't find anybody selling real bamboo that was longer than four feet around here. Then I thought I'd use (wait for it) tomato cages turned upside down

*Hang on...while I'm on tomato cages, what are you supposed to do when the tomatoes outgrow the cages? My Better Boys are now a foot taller than their cages and LOADED down with babies. Ideas? Please?*

and attach string from the cages through a hole drilled in the trellis frame I'd built over them. This wound up not working so well. Instead, I tied string to one plant, looped the string around a cup holder screwed into the trellis (one day, I will write a book about the millions of uses for cup holders) and tied it to the plant next to it. I repeated this around each circle of peas, creating a sort of self-service teepee for them. I was afraid that the string might pull the plants out, but this seems not to be the case. I wrapped each growing pea vine aroung the strings and waited to see what happened. (In the interim, I mixed up a mild Dr. Bronner's lavendar castile soap/water solution and sprayed the heck out of the aphids and fire ants that were having a party in the peas. I didn't want to run the risk of killing any lady bugs with my organic insecticide. I also sprayed some horrible looking white bugs that I think might be mealy bugs, although I'm calling them Satan's Little Fuzzies. The spray took away the fuzz and killed them dead. Woohoo!) What happened, you might be asking? This:

They're thriving--in fact, I spotted the first blooms today.

In the same bed with the peas (and with a couple of basil plants that I need to snip because they're going to bloom soon if I don't) are my Roma tomatoes (except the volunteer who is in a cage next to the eggplants). I'm trellising them using a combo of techniques I read about in The Vegetable Gardener's Bible and in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I haven't written about this book yet, but I think that everybody who...eats needs to read it. Seriously. It's that wonderful and important. Anyway, the deal is that I tied sisal rope to the bottom of each plant and sort of wrapped them in order to stake them up. Holding the rope tight, I passed it through a hole in the trellis and wound the remainder around a stick. The rope can be wound tighter or let out as the plant needs. I have no idea if this is going to work. It seems to be: the plants are pretty well covered with fruit and seem sturdy. I worry what will happen in the storm, and getting the spool of sisal to not unwind is a pain in the butt,'s working, so far.

This is actually not the best photo of a trellised tomato, but whatever. Look how green it is.

My Boston Pickling cucumbers are growing insanely. I'm actually afraid they're going to tear the trellis down, they're so lush and crazy. The trellis itself is a bit taller than five feet two inches...and the plants are now a few inches taller than that. I guess I'll have to start whacking the tops of them off. I'm not sure what else to do with these lovely monsters.

Now, ask me if I've gone crazy with the watering of these guys. Nope. I spray them in the evenings if needed and have used the soaker hose a few times while the other system gets in place. Fertilizer? Not unless you count tossing the peels of our bananas on the beds. (I actually am going to start a load of compost tomorrow in the used composter Will bought off of the guy who sharpens our tools. Now THAT was an awesome Mother's Day present.) The only thing I've done is kept the soil fluffy and planted with the signs. (More or less.)

I'm actually a little SCARED to start composting. I'm afraid I'll wake up one morning to find that the cucumbers have grown over the house!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taming the Wild Cucumber

First, a shot of the whole garden:
As you can see, it is kicking butt and taking names. The black snake looking thing is the soaker hose I have been using to water it, although that will be coming out and going to take care of the (still neglected) roses in the backyard as soon as I can manage. I believe that will be tomorrow, or maybe this afternoon. I have all the stuff for a drip system and I REALLY need to get it going because the hot, dry summer is upon us. Up until now, things have been fairly cool and wet, but that trend is changing. It had to happen and I've been spoiled, but I need to get cracking. I'll write more about that tomorrow, but it seems to be a theme of the garden this year.

Anywho, today I tackled trellising the Boston Pickling cukes. I've had the material for the trellis for a while, but have been swamped or lazy or not here at varying intervals, so it's been put off. But the cukes are growing like mad and taking over the Blue Lake bush beans, so it had to be done.

I first assembled a (sorta wobbly) frame from some 1x4s that I had had cut to size. I fastened the trellis frame to the frame of the cucumber/bean bed (previously known as Bed Five) and pondered how to attach the bird netting I was going to use as the actual trellis to the frame. I have been a bit hesitant to use the bird netting, owing to a horrible incident a couple of years ago during which a king snake got itself enmeshed in a net I had haphazardly thrown over the long-suffering blueberry bush. (I'll tell you that story some day.) But it's cheap, it's durable, and it seemed like a good material upon which to trellis the cukes. Eventually, I looped the netting over woodscrews place every six or so inches around the frame and screwed in until only the head was visible. This seems to be holding the netting tightly, although it might need shoring up as the season progresses and the cukes get bigger. Here's a pic of the finished trellis:

Once the trellis was finished, I spent a goodly amount of time painstakingly untangling the cukes from the beans and then tying the cuke vines to the trellis with cobalt blue embroidery thread given to me by my Aunt Nunu when she cleaned out her craft room. I don't know why I chose cobalt blue; green would have been a more obvious (or rather, less obvious and therefore better) choice, but the blue called to me so I went with it. After the vines were tied up (and the teeninesy little baby cukes counted), I very gently twined as many of the runners as I could around the netting in the hopes that they would catch on and the vines would start training themselves.

The cukes seem a little angry with me right now: lots of downturned, droopy leaves, but the beans are thrilled. I discovered, unfortunately, that the beans also have attracted some sort of bug or pestamathingy which nibbles the edges of leaves and turns them over to form an envelope kind of dealy. Er. Not sure what is up with that, but plan on consulting my Ortho garden puzzle-solving book ASAP. ALSO discovered that the bean germination rate was lower than I thought. I'll fill in the empty spaces in the rows with more beans when the irrigation system is in.

I fiddled around a bit more, deciding to pull the plug on the sweet peas. They were lovely vines and probably would have lived a few more weeks before succumbing to the heat without producing a single blossom. But they were also aphid magnets (and therefore fireant magnets) and were taking nutrients from the little Hero of Lockinge melons which are hanging in there, although not growing as I thing they should. So out they came. I also did away with the broccoli after one last harvest of side shoots. Again, I could have left them. They were still producing, although the heat would get them soon, too. But they were drawing moths and shading the melons and I felt I could use their space to put in a few more bush beans. I have to say that I felt a little sad tugging them up. They were great little plants and produced really well for me. I'll chop them up and put them in the composter and hopefully they can give me some good fertilizer for everybody else in a couple of weeks.

Finally, I did a mini harvest. I got a couple of banana peppers and eggplants, the broccoli, and a couple of volunteer squashes. I also dug up two volunteer catnips. I sort of hated to do it, but I have catnip in the herb garden already and I'm trying to keep the volunteers to a minimum. (I just discovered that two of the volunteers in the Roma tomatoes are actually cucumbers. Where the heck are these guys coming from?)

Anyway, the harvest:

Note the slice I took out of the squash to see if it was edible still. Oddly, although it's almost orange and bizarrely bumpy, the seeds inside were nice and small and the flesh was firm and sweet. I wonder if it's a result of the volunteer part? Maybe this generation of plant has regressed?

In any case, it's always nice to bring stuff out of the garden. We'll eat the veggies for supper and I'm going to hang the catnip up to dry in the kitchen to make some playtoys for the kitties in our life. Once the irrigation system gets going. And the trellising for the tomatoes and purple hull pinkeyes. And...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And the Garden Goes Wild!!!

So, I go away for the weekend and I come back and the garden is nuts. Seriously, you would think that I was fertilizing with unicorn poo (thank yooouuu, Robin McKinley) or something. I went away from a blooming but non-fruited garden and came back to:

Ichiban eggplants that make me blush a little. (Also, Blogger, what the heck is up with your picture loading? It's driving me crazy!!!)

Almost overripe squash on the volunteer crookneck that sprang up next to the compost pile.
The plant is seen below because...Blogger? Seriously? This photo stuff is making me insane!!

The leaves are bigger than my head. Or my torso, which is saying more. A lot more.

Banana peppers of such yellowness that they really look a little like bananas. Gorgeous.

So many Roma tomatoes amid such lush foliage that I'm afraid I'm going to come up on a snake. Or, you know, a tiger.

Really, it's all very verdant and staggering, especially given that I haven't staked the Romas or the cukes and that my broccoli is still producing and I really probably need to do away with the snap peas which are growing but not blooming and then there's the irrigation system.

I am embarrassed by the success of the raised bed system. I'm not sure I'm a good enough (or prompt enough) gardener for the bounty that is coming.

Oh, and here's a shot of the Boston Pickling cukes. They need to be trellised before they take over the world. (Wonder if it's the banana peel seen in the behind the blossoms?)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

More Work on the Cottage Garden.

Non-germinating Lemon Cucumbers pushed firmly from my mind, I went to work on the Cottage Garden again today. I figured that I can't do anything to make them come up and if they haven't come up by the time the moon starts waxing, I'll replant. I have to put in the Cherokee Trail of Tears beans then anyway, and fill in a few gaps in my Blue Lakes.

I focused on clearing the evil death grass from the second half of the Cottage Garden today. It is insidious stuff, showing a certain amount of sentience in twining itself evilly amongst the roots of my (struggling) daisies and beloved stokesias. Ugh. I hate that stuff.

It also managed to creep under and against (and possibly melded with) the fence that forms the back border of the Cottage Garden. The Joseph's Coat rose bush is braced against the fence and the soaker hose runs alongside it, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find this:

That's right, y'all. A spider condo. Now, I know that as a gardener, I'm supposed to be all "Ooooh, I luuuurrrrvvv spiders." Theoretically, I do. However, in practice, they give me the creeps. I can't help it. I just imagine them crawling on my fingers as I weed close to the condo and it WIGS ME OUT. Needless to say, there might be a bit more evil death grass next to this part of the fence than in other places.

I was able to get as much of the evil death grass out of the CG this morning as possible. I have a big pile o' leaves and weeds and other mess left ver, but the bed itself is ready to be planted. I also staked up some gladioli that I planted a couple of years ago which seem to serve no other purpose than to be chow for thrips. They drive me nuts, but I told them firmly that I was NOT going to allow them to just lay their lives down for the thrips. They might not bloom, but they will not wallow.

I then spent about thirty minutes being mesmerized by a bloom on the Joseph's Coat. It just looks...exultant. I think I'm going to load it onto my digital keychain camera thingy so I can always carry it with me. Pretty fitting pictures for May Day, I think.

Then I wandered around the yard looking for stuff to take pictures of. I found this magnolia blossom--the only one from the tree I gave Will for his birthday. Magnolias are so special to us, and this little blossom is important.

Tomorrow, it'll be back to the veggie garden. (If I can talk myself into NOT going to the local library's used book sale. So....hard....) I've got to get in my potatoes, garlic, and green onions in the next few days. I want to have everything in the ground and ready for the watering system to be put in the first few days the moon waxes.
Then I'll be able to sit back and relax. Snort.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cottage Garden in the Morning

Today I took a break from obsessively dithering with working on the vegetable garden and went instead to the front flower bed. I'm going to be putting some medicinal and cosmetic herbs in that bed at some point in time, so I've decided to start calling it the cottage garden. It sounds pretentious, but I'm hoping it will grow on me.

In any case, it's been covered over with leaves and such all winter long and it is past time to get to work on it. The cool snap that is visiting us right now is actually welcome, as it will give me time to get the ground ready for the zinnia seeds. Zinnias like to have warm tootsies, so to speak, so I'll wait until the moon starts waxing to get them in the ground.

In the meantime, I need to clear off the leaves and root out the evil death grass that is taking over. The leaves can't be helped, but the evil death grass is my fault. The patch of ground on which the Cottage Garden sits was once a bizarre little half-oval of ground bordered on one side by the backyard's privacy fence. I thought, since there was a small gate and all, that it would be the perfect place for a flower garden/entrance into the backyard. The only issue was breaking up the dirt, because it was home to a thick growth of some kind of sod. It isn't Bermuda grass, but it's a close relative. In any case, I thought it would look really cool to leave a strip of the sod and set some round pavers in there. Quel Better Homes and Gardens, you know?

In theory, it will look really cool. In practice, there is much cursing and groaning as the evil death grass weaves its way underground and through your daisies and gaura. Argh. Curses.

I spent an hour tugging out the sharp-tipped strands of evil death grass, a chore made even more pleasant by the fear of coming up on the new spider in town, the Brown Widow. (Yeah. Um, thanks, Louisiana. But we got it. You have some fearsome pests. Now, do us a favor and try not to export any more of them, mkay? Mkay.) No brown widows were encountered, and I was able to clear out one half of the bed. I'll try to get back to it tomorrow or this afternoon, children willing.
In the meantime, how about some random flower shots? Good stuff.

First, a couple of the "Joseph's Coat" rose bush. You may remember that I spent a day pruning and tying it back and it has rewarded me by being stunningly beautiful this season. I actually stole this rose from my mother-in-law after giving it to her for Mother's Day one year. She never let it climb and it was killing me to watch her hack it down, so I took it from her. Ruthlessly. These babies start out with butter-yellow, red-tipped buds and open up into creamy yellow, blushing flowers. They grow into a pale pink as they fade. Amazing roses.

I have no idea what this next flower is as I have lost the tag for it. It's an evergreen, sprawling plant that looks almost like a succulent. The tag said (I think) that it would form mounds, but it actually is sort of leggy and sparse. I keep thinking I'll dig it up, but then it blooms out with this blue, and I stop myself. This is a truly bad-quality photo, but it shows the color well.

Gaura is a great plant in a flower garden because it blooms early, takes up a good bit of space, and is absolutely gorgeous along the way. You have to be careful of self-seeding, but I've found the seedlings to be easy to deal with (despite dire warnings of insanely strong taproots) and good to give to friends and neighbors. I think they look a little like orchids.

This shot of my amaryllis is not strictly, I know, good photography. The pale green/white fuzzy thing is actually several leaves from a horse mint and I suppose I should have scrapped it, but I love how the stamens show up, like a little group of worshippers. It's shots like these that make me long for a "real" camera with lenses and filters and things. Because I need another hobby to take up more time.

Another "not quite perfect shot," this time from a bunch of lavendar in the transplant bed. I got this picture with a good deal of cropping. What I wanted to do was get a nice, tight shot of a mature flower bract, but I didn't manage it. This is an immature bract. I think it's pretty, but again, it makes me long for a lens.

Despite my moaning and groaning, I'm really jazzed to see how well everything it coming along this year. I hope I can keep it going when the hot weather settles in.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rain, Rain...Woohoo!

It's been raining all day long...a nice, gentle, soaking rain. It looks like everything has cleared out now, and I'm looking forward to seeing what a little bit of sunshine will do to the garden. How about some gardening news?

Bed One: The peas are stretching up to the twine beautifully--a few are curling their tendrils around the strands and climbing toward the trellis. I feel so tender about my peas. I've planted them before from seed and from seedling, but never with any success. I am really hoping to get some good stuff out of this year. The melons are doing fine. They're growing very slowly, but I'm not too worried about them. The carrots are also good. I still haven't planted more, nor have I replaced the Swiss chard that didn't grow. Maybe this week, now that Earth Day and Jeffrey's birthday party are out of the way.

Bed Two (henceforth known as the herb bed): All is well here. I have a feeling that my red leaf lettuce is about played out. It came up as a volunteer and the two plants have contributed mightily to several salads, but they seem to have stalled as far as new growth is concerned. I'm oddly saddened by this, but am trying to console myself with the mesclun patch, which is a thing of beauty and light:
Bed Three: Trucking along. The strawberries are tee-ninecy, which stinks a bit, but the birds are getting the bulk of them, anyway. Bastard birds. I'm considering sticking some cheap little windcatchers in there in hopes of keeping them out. Onions are doing fine, although I worry that they don't seem to be bulbing very well and a few of them look like they have given up the ghost. (I'm a nervous gardener.) Below is one of the bulbing onions. Keep your fingers crossed.

Bed Four: The pink-eyed peas are up! They sprouted beautifully, with almost all of them coming up in the circles in which I planted them. I like to imagine little overall-clad fairies having a hoedown in them while I'm sleeping. (Do you like the sparkly circle? I'm learning to use Gimp.)

In the upper righthand corner, you can see one of the basils also in this bed. I've got four Roma tomatoes in here, too, which are doing quite well.

Bed Five: The Boston Pickling cucumbers have been up for a week in a tidy, orderly line, but I was worried about the Blue Lake bush beans. Imagine my utter delight when I came out to the garden on Saturday and found this:
Today's rain brought out a straggling line of these babies. Can't wait for some fresh green beans this summer!

Bed Six: The eldest of the Three Sisters is up! I have four little corn plants in this bed, two in Bed Seven, and four in Bed Eight. I'm still hoping to get a few more sprouts, but I'm pleased with what I have so far.
Isn't she lovely? Someday, I'll figure out how to focus on the flowers and plants I want to focus on instead of the individual grains of sand behind them. Sigh.

Also in Bed Six are some eggplants and peppers. I was worried about all of them, as they seemed to be going through quite a bit of transplant shock. But the rain seems to have rejuvenated them and I was happy to see a little cluster of blooms on the eggplant tomorrow. Tell me these gorgeous things wouldn't look beautiful in any flower garden. (Also allow me to be a huge photo nerd and tell you that this shot is actually upside down and that I contorted myself into an alarming shape to get it.)

Bed Seven is notable only in that it is the bed in which I have the least corn and in which the Lemon cucumber seeds have yet to sprout. I delicately scraped off a bit of soil from the row and discovered two that had yet to germinate in any way at all. Hmmm. Will give them a few more days. Odd.

Bed Eight is home to three Better Boys who are awesomely beautiful. Check it out:

I know. I'm blown away by how hard my garden is working for me right now. I hope that it will come to a glorious, steamy, juice-drenched conclusion in the fall!