Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December Diggings

It was Saturday.  Another chilly, grey day was coming to a close, and on a whim I decided to dig up a few carrots when I got home from the Christmas Bird Count.  I was down to one carrot from the grocery store, and about four tiny ones from the garden - time for a few more.

Boy was I pleasantly surprised at the size of the carrots that came up with the third and fourth spading of the fork!

Every year I seem to get a handful of giant carrots, but this year I had the King of Carrots:

This root was so impressive that I had to weigh the silly thing - I simply couldn't get over its size.  And how much did it weigh?  Over a pound!!!

I know it's hard to see, but the scale says one pound and 3/4 of an ounce.  That is one huge carrot.

And it's been tasty.  Toby enjoyed part of it for two nights, and the rest went into the roasted veg. mix I cooked up on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nearly Fall in the Garden

Things are winding down in the garden.  

I'm always amused when movies or TV shows indicate that garden harvest(s) take place all at once and must be done in a day or two.  Perhaps some fruits have such a narrow window, but MY garden has harvesting being done all the time.  

I finally stopped picking the pole beans - I'm letting them dry.  The dry beans will soon be ready to shell...I can't wait to try my own home-grown kidney beans in chili!  I need to find a better way of trellising beans for next year.

The onion harvest was very disappointing:

But, as though to make up for it, the butternut squash harvest is going to be phenomenal!

I've picked three watermelons to date - one nearly grocery-store-size!  Found three more in the garden last night without really looking hard. 

 Three more roma tomatoes were plucked from the vine last night...nearly ripe.  Plenty of unripe ones remain...maybe they'll ripen before frost?  I'm not going to hold my breath, but it'll be too bad if the don't, for these are WONDERFUL 'maters.  They might be Grandma Mary's paste tomatoes, or they might be Amish Paste...I just don't remember which of the vines was the one that survived!

The scarlet runner beans are still blooming in quiet profusion.  I never eat these...the pods are a bit to fuzzy for my taste.  They might be less fuzzy as very young beans, but this year I might try some of the dried beans...along with the other dry beans I'm intentionally growing. 

So...if I don't eat them, then why do I plant them, especially in the quantity that I do?  Because they are great for attracting pollinators, and the hummingbirds like them, too.

Soon it will be time to dig the spuds...see if any actually survived the CPB onslaught.  And the garlic needs to be planted for 2013.

Bee Deaths linked to GMOs

  Stop the Mass Death of Bees!
Tell EPA and USDA to ban Bayer's insecticides & Monsanto's GMOs!

Take Action Now!

Poland GMO Protest

Monsanto's Mon810 corn, genetically engineered to produce a synthetic version of the insecticide Bt, has been banned in Poland following protests by beekeepers who showed the corn was killing honeybees. Meanwhile, commercial beekeepers in the U.S. have filed an emergency legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend use of a pesticide that is linked to massive honey bee deaths. The legal petition, which specifies Bayer's neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin, is backed by over one million citizen petition signatures.

Poland is the first country to formally acknowledge the link between Monsanto's genetically engineered corn and the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that's been devastating bees around the world, but it's likely that Monsanto has known the danger their GMOs posed to bees all along. The biotech giant recently purchased a CCD research firm, Beeologics, that government agencies, including the US Department of Agriculture, have been relying on for help unraveling the mystery behind the disappearance of the bees.

Now that it's owned by Monsanto, it's very unlikely that Beeologics will investigate the links, but genetically engineered crops have been implicated in CCD for years now.

In one German study, when bees were released in a genetically engineered canola field, then fed the canola pollen to younger bees, scientists discovered the bacteria in the guts of the young bees took on the traits of the canola's modified genes. That proves that GMO DNA in pollen can be transferred to bees though their digestive system.

Many bee-keepers have turned to high-fructose corn syrup to feed their bees. High-fructose corn syrup is made from Monsanto's genetically engineered corn and that corn is treated with Bayer's neonicotinoid insecticides.

Bee colonies began disappearing in the U.S. one year after the EPA allowed these new insecticides on the market in 2004-2005. Even the EPA itself admits that "pesticide poisoning" is contributing to bee colony collapse.

One of the observed effects of these insecticides is weakening of the bee's immune system. Forager bees bring pesticide-laden pollen back to the hive, where it's consumed by all of the bees. Six months later, their immune systems fail, and they fall prey to natural bee infections, such as parasites, mites, viruses, fungi and bacteria. Indeed, pathogens such as Varroa mites, Nosema, fungal and bacterial infections, and IAPV are found in large amounts in honey bee hives on the verge of collapse.

Three recent studies implicate neonicotinoid insecticides, or "neonics" for short, which coat 142 million acres of corn, wheat, soy and cotton seeds in the U.S. alone. They are also a common ingredient in a wide variety of home gardening products. As detailed in an article published by Reuters, neonics are absorbed by the plants' vascular system and contaminate the pollen and nectar that bees encounter on their rounds. Neonics are a nerve poison that disorient their insect victims and appear to damage the homing ability of bees, which may help to account for their mysterious failure to make it back to the hive.

This was the conclusion of research which came out in the prestigious Journal Science. In another study, conducted by entomologists at Purdue University, the scientists found that neonic-containing dust released into the air at planting time had "lethal effects compatible with colony losses phenomena observed by beekeepers." A third study by the Harvard School of Public Health actually re-created colony collapse disorder in several honeybee hives simply by administering small doses of a popular neonic, imidacloprid.

Learn How to Protect Your Neighborhood Bees:
[This article is from www.organicconsumers.org] 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Bit o' Rain

At last!  Thursday last week we woke to rain...and it rained for three whole days!  I got about an inch and a half out at the house, although just a few miles north of me they had over three inches!  Still, I'll take it.  It started off as a heavy rain - so heavy, in fact, that when I drove thru Napoleon on the way to work Thursday morning, there was a lake in front of the gas station and a whirlpool circling the drain in the road (in truth, some of this might have simply been the result of ground too hard from drought to soak up the rain as it fell).  By late morning, however, it had let up, and for the next two days it was mostly misting - light rain that could soak in.

I picked more corn - and more beans.  That's what's producing right now.  

I was very excited to find one blue kernel on one of the ears of Painted Hills.  

Watermelons are growing on the vines - how does one know when they are ready to pick, though?  And if the squash beetles leave 'em alone, I should have lots of butternut squash this fall. 

The spuds have tried to rally - they are sending out some new leaves, but with them are coming a new batch of CPBs.   Grrr.  I may have to give up potatoes.  :(

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Better than Peas

The silks were brown, so I figured it was time to harvest some of the corn.  Oh, my goodness - just look at 'em!  That's Painted Hills on the left, Ambrosia in the middle and the two on the right are Fleet.

First, there was some disappointment.  Below is what the Painted Hills, an heirloom variety, is supposed to look like.  Its claim to fame is its beautifully multi-colored kernels.  Mine were all just white.  Hm.  Did they send me the wrong seed?  Nope - what I planted was multi-colored.  Could it be the poor soil here affected the coloration?  I have no idea, but I was disappointed.  (Reading thru the description on the FEDCO website, they say the ears have mostly white kernels, with other colors interspersed.  Maybe some of the other ears will be more colorful.)

 Painted Hills Sweet Corn | Photo credit: we'moon in the woods, Flickr, Creative Commons, 
via Frugal-Cafe Blog Zone

Still, I cooked 'em all up and while watching the final episode of the first season of Torchwood, I enjoyed the best corn I've ever grown.  Yum. 

The (few) leftovers went into the freezer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Drought and the Garden

The peas have given up the ghost - and who can blame them in the heat and drought we've had this summer!  I'd almost give up on the beans as well, which seemed to be producing a few flowers, but no actual beans...until this week.  Huzzah - the rattlesnake pole beans have finally started to produce!

 But the plants are not thriving.  A) The twine I've been using for trellising keeps breaking - I never had this kind of problem back in NY, and b) something is eating the plants.  The bush beans (dry beans) have struggled and I don't think I've seen a single blossom there.  The culprit?  You tell me:

Yes...that's a hole dug under the fence.  I found that last night.  I've seen rabbits in the garden, and certainly have seen the damage they've done to the beans.  I never had rabbit problems in NY.  The worst I had was the CPBs and the year the voles (?) ate the carrots.

Now, this hole is suspect belongs to the 13-lined ground squirrel.  I've seen one in the yard, and recently found two dead in the road, but otherwise they've been pretty secretive.  I don't know if they damage crops or not, but they are definitely living in my raised beds...almost as bad as the moles.

The corn, while crowded, is actually looking pretty good.

In fact, there are quite a number of ears this year, and many of decent size!  I'm really looking forward to harvesting these...if I can get them before the raccoons.  Based on the crop at the moment, this is the best luck I've ever had with corn!

The butternut squash is going great guns!  It got off to a late start, but it seems to be making up for lost time now.

I've also got some watermelons planted in there - and look!  A melon is in the works!  I'm not the biggest melon fan, but I like the idea of growing them.

 So, the garden tools along...hopefully the beans will produce enough to freeze for the winter, and I'll beat the varmints to the corn.  I've squashed a few batches of squash bug eggs, so maybe I'll dodge that bullet, too.  The spuds are starting to releaf - maybe there's still some hope for them.  The onions, however, I fear are not going to be robust - not like the ones I had in NY.  The tops look good, but the bulbs remain small.  We'll see what happens come harvest time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Progress Report

Here it is, the near end of June.  While some rain has fallen, most has fallen around my address, not at my address.  Things are still quite dry.  Still, with carefully applied water from the hose, it looks like we will have some veg to harvest yet.

I think the corn will definitely pass "knee high by the 4th of July" - it sure looks promising.  This is actually the best-looking corn I've ever grown!

The assorted pole beans are starting to climb - a good sign.

The carrots...well...I have yet to master carrot-planting.  They always come up in clumps.  I've had some success transplanting, but it's a tedious chore.  Right now I'm working on battling the weeds that are also growing with the carrots.

Peas have been blooming for two or three weeks now, although most of the plants are under two-feet tall!  Runty - lack of rain.

Never the less, there are lots of pods filling up!  Should be able to start harvesting in a week, I should think.

The paltry few onions are doing well, too - maybe next year I'll try planting seeds again.

The spuds are looking great for the most part...and the CPB apparently think so, too.  I must've squished well over a hundred of the beggars the other night, and last night it looked like I hadn't touched a one of them!  Must go on a rampage tonight...or I won't have any plants left at all!

Tomatoes?  Only two plants remain, and they are struggling. 

But the squash and cukes are coming up - so that's a plus.

I have yet to get the sweet potatoes planted...perhaps tonight.  And it's time to make another batch of mozzarella!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's Cheese!

For a few years now I've wanted to play around with cheese-making.  I'd read that mozzarella is one of the easiest cheeses to make, but was never brave enough to try it.  It didn't help that I went to a cheese-making workshop and their mozz failed.

But several times I've been in stores over the last couple of years and saw cheese-making kits - everything you need but the pan and the milk.  I finally bought one, and a gallon of milk, and yesterday I attempted to make some mozz.

First, you need a steel or enamel kettle, a gallon of milk (pasteurized or raw, but NOT ultra-pasteurized), a couple measuring cups, some measuring spoons, a spoon to stir with, and a knife.  (Ignore the butter and oranges - I have very limited counter space in this kitchen, so things are cluttered and crowded.)

From the kit you dissolve one -quarter table of rennet in one-quarter cup cool water and set aside.  You dissolve 1.5 tsp citric acid in one cup cool water and put this in your kettle with the one gallon of milk.

You turn on the stove and start warming it up - 90 degrees F is your target, while you stir "vigorously."  When you hit 90, you remove the kettle from the heat and pour in the rennet, stirring in an "up and down" motion (careful you don't end up wearing your mixture).  You then cover the kettle and wait for the curds to form and the whey to separate out.  This should take five minutes - I ended up waiting closer to half an hour, and it still didn't look like the photo. 

Then you are supposed to use a long knife and cut the curds (mine looked more like ricotta cheese floating in yellowish water, so it didn't cut well).   You put the kettle back on the stove and reheat to 105 degrees, stirring in an "up and down" fashion.

When you reach 105, you remove it from the stove and drain the whey.  It was only after I had completed my cheese and was cleaning up that I remembered the cheesecloth, which was out drying on the clothesline - had to be washed first.  Without this for draining the liquid from the "solids," I resorted to using a spoon and trying to pour off the whey - a lot of curds went down the drain.  Lesson learned.  (In my defense, the directions didn't say to use the cheesecloth for the draining.)  

Here are the curds sitting separated in a bowl.

Next, you stick the bowl in the microwave for a minute, then drain off more whey.  Return to microwave for 30 seconds, and start to fold the curds into a single unit of soon-to-be cheese.  This is also when you add the teaspoon of salt, if you so desire.  My cheese still wasn't looking very good.  

I ended up doing the 30-second microwaving three times, because the recipe said it had to be 135 degrees in order to stretch properly.  At this point, you are supposed to pull it like taffy.  At 135 degrees, this wasn't going to happen - not without asbestos gloves!  So, I just used my spoon to fold and fold the cheese, which at last was starting to look like mozz!

You then form your cheese into whatever final shape you want.  I made three round balls.  You plop these into a cold water bath for about five minutes.

And then you transfer them to an ice bath for about 15 minutes.   This is to cool the cheese down.  

My cheese was still warm when I wrapped it.  One ball went into the fridge, and I had some of it this morning in my omelet, and the other two balls went into the freezer (it's supposed to freeze well).

Despite a dubious start, I'd say my first foray into cheese-making turned out well!  A gallon of milk doesn't yield a gallon of cheese, but it's still cheaper than buying it in the store!  And, if all goes well, it only takes about half an hour to do.  I'm looking forward to my second try.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Up and Growing

The garden is starting to actually look like a garden now.  Last weekend was spent trellising.  Actually, I did some two evenings, and the rest on Monday - my only day off in the last two weeks.  There's something about the trellises that just make a garden seem complete.

The beans sprouted so quickly:  one week and they were up!  If they all survive (and there are a LOT of vole and mouse and mole tunnels in the garden), I should be all set for beans (snap and dry) this year.

Also within a week the corn was up!  Amazing.  Three varieties this year:  some colorful sweet corn, as well as Ambrosia and Fleet.  I never have a whole lot of luck with corn, but hope springs eternal.

The peas have been going great guns.  Again, if they all survive and produce, I should have plenty of peas to get me through the winter.  Last year was a bust for peas - the groundhog got the plants.  So far this year things look pretty good.  I've got my fingers crossed.

I transplanted the tomatoes and peppers on Monday - I think all the peppers perished, though, and of the remaining 15 or 20 tomato plants (out of over 100 that sprouted), I think only three are still hanging on.  I've never had such trouble with tomatoes before!  

The onions are hanging in there.  I miss the onion harvests I used to have in Newcomb - they were great!  I bought seeds this year, but never got them planted.  I had also ordered some starts, but not too many came.  Even if they all survive, it's only going to be a handful of bulbs.  I wonder if it's too late to start some seeds.

I also got the spuds in a week and a half ago.  I had cut them up so spread the wealth (1-2 eyes on each piece), but they started to mold before I could get them in the ground!  Ack!  Even so, this morning when I was out watering before coming in to work I could see most of them are sprouting.  Hooray!  Now if only I can keep the potato beetles off them (I've already crushed many eggs).

Even the carrots have sprouted in record time - a week!  Usually it's 3+ weeks before I see any sign of life from carrot seeds.  We've been lucky with a long stretch of simply beautiful weather - cool nights, warm days, but not hot or humid.  The downside is that things are incredibly dry!!!  As in parched!  We haven't had any rain worth mentioning in weeks.  Temps supposed to be near 90 today and well into the 90s this weekend.  Ugh.  I worry about the well - how much water is down there?  No snow to speak of this winter, and a dry spring - this does not bode well.

I still have things not planted:  squash, sweet potatoes, cukes...and I'm out of space!  I was going to take advantage of a plot at the Community Gardens at work, but the offered plot needed a lot of work before it could be planted, and I can do that at home just as easily.  Maybe that's what I'll do this weekend, before the heat rises too much.

Harvested my first lettuce and spinach yesterday!  Must plant more.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The 2013 Season is Underway!

It's mid-May already, and time has gotten away from me.  Like much of the northern part of this country, back in March we had an incredible warm spell that got gardeners and plants all excited to start growing NOW! Wild plants went ahead and started blooming, some nearly a month early, much to their ultimate chagrin, because after about two weeks the weather returned to "normal" and many blooms froze.  Just ask the cherry growers up in the northern Lower Peninsula!

I was sorely tempted to start my indoor seeds at that time, and to plant peas and greens, but fortunately I didn't.  April, however, found me getting the tomatoes and peppers started indoors.  The tomatoes were doing great...right up until I transplanted them (it was a little too soon, but it was a nice day and I was eager to move them into soil rather than starter mix).  Over 100 tomato seedlings were transplanted.  Here are all that remain - note the large number of empty cells.  I lost over half of them - mostly because when I moved them from the table to the floor, I forgot to water them one week and they dried out under the grow lights.

But the good news is that I didn't really need 100 plants, I don't have room for 100 plants, and those that remain seem to be doing very well.


The peppers, however, are another story.  They were planted at the same time and here they are, still just     two leaves!  Maybe they need to be moved to real soil...get a few nutrients and that might make them grow.

A couple weekends ago I got my act together and planted the peas.  It's really almost too late in the season, for peas are cold-hardy, but between work and weather, I just had no opportunity to do it sooner.  I was concerned that critters would eat the seeds or pull up the shoots, but they've started sprouting and so far (!) they look pretty good.  I also planted the first wave of greens.  The plan is to plant greens every two weeks, which should assure a regular supply of lettuces and spinach well into the season.  The greens are planted on the north side of the peas, so the peas should shade them from the mid-day sun come summer.  It should help prevent early bolting.

Yesterday was onion day!  I have never had luck growing onions from seed.  I've planted hundreds of onion seeds, and they sprouted and grew, but then they fizzled and the ones that made it into the garden just withered and died.  So, I order starts - a cheat, but it seems to work for me.  This year I have just one type:  copra.  These are a pretty good storage onion and I've had good luck with them in the past (in the Adirondacks).  We'll see how they do here.  Last year I had Stutgarters, and they did not do terribly well.  I have high hopes for the copra.  Maybe this weekend I'll get the spuds in the ground, too.

The soil and mulch piles have hearty growth.  I tackle the weeds every time I walk by the piles, but I think the weeds are winning.

All gardens need a little encouragement.

Earlier this spring the local Conservation District had its annual tree sale - lots of little tree seedlings for cheap prices.  I was there with a colleague who wanted to pick up stuff for his home, and that's a dangerous place to go (shopping for plants) because I can never leave without getting something.  I walked out with three witch hazels, two ninebarks, five white oaks, five white pines, two sargent crabapples (I thought these would have good wildlife value, but after reading up on them, I think they were a mistake to buy), two black elders, and two white flowering dogwoods (which were of dubious quality when I picked them out and I don't think they are still alive).  I got the elders, witch hazels and crabapples planted, and promptly mowed over the witch hazels.  They don't look like a recovery is in the works.  The rest of the plants I heeled into the ground, but now that several weeks have passed and I'm no where closer to getting them planted in their permanent spots, I decided I'd better pot them up, so I did this week.  I also inherited eight more white pines left over from an award ceremony.  So, here is LN's Tree Farm:

Last weekend was the first Open House at our favorite wild plant nursery:  WildTypes. Bill, who's business this is, collects seeds from local wild native plants and grows them for resale...it's a labor of love.  What's great about his business is that the plants he grows are mostly local genotypes, meaning they are from here.  Why is that important?  Because these plants are adapted for the climate and soils of this part of Michigan...the ultimate native plants!  As a result, they have the best survival rate (provided you plant them in the right location).

So, about 100 people and I drove up to Mason for the opening day of the open house season (he has three weekends in May and then one in August - the rest of the time you have to call, place an order, and arrange to pick it up - no browsing).  A major rain storm came pouring down on us.  Most of the folks huddled under the one covered portion of the nursery, but I was on a mission and so I sallied forth, getting thoroughly soaked (and chilled).  I wheeled my 5' long cart up and down the aisles, loading it with plants like monkeyflower, three-lobed coneflower, maidenhair fern, and yellow giant hyssop.  It was a rude awakening at the checkout, but I figure it's a good cause:  returning native plants to the landscape helps not only the visual appeal to my property, but benefits local birds and insects - a mark on my side for good karma.

But what was I going to do with all these plants?  I had great plans for turning the spot of grass next to the back deck into a native plant garden, but I did not want to spend my time digging up the grass and all that - I did that back in Newcomb for three years - it got old really fast.  So, this time I took the cheater's way out:  I sprayed the grass (and weeds) with RoundUp.  I used to swear I'd never use the stuff, but conservationists use it all the time to get rid of invasives, so I bit the bullet and bought some.  The latest version of RoundUp is rain-proof in 10 minutes, and you can plant the area the next day (or so the label says)!  I waited nearly a week before planting the precious natives I'd spent all my money on.  And here they are, all nestled in the ground with their blanket of mulch:

If all goes well, in a year or two this should be a beautiful garden full of native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Hooray!

The remaining natives I bought were planted out front under the maple, where I have the other woodland plants growing.  What was added this year?  Jack-in-the-pulpit, maidenhair fern, and wild ginger.

What made this all possible was the serendipitous delivery of woodchips from a local tree service that has been chopping up branches and stuff a couple miles down the road.  They brought me two truckloads (I can use much more with all the plans I have).  Ten wheelbarrow loads went onto the new native plant garden.  MANY loads will go on the paths around the veg garden, and the rest (if any is left) will be used to make walking paths around the property.  I actually started making the paths the evening the first load of mulch arrived (photos to come).

So things are finally underway to a) get the veg going for another year of fresh produce, and b) begin transforming the property from a YARD to a "restored" habitat.  Next on the agenda:  mulch the garden paths, mulch the property paths, hire a burn outfit to come out and burn the back field so I can start the restoration work there, get a chicken coop and then (at last) raise chickens (meat and layers), and (finally) put in a small pond.  Lots of plans.  Might a pig be on the horizon, too?  Who knows...but I sure like the idea of raising my own fresh pork!