Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Trip to the Farmer's Market

Today, while we were in town on errands we ran across a small farmer's market. There were only six booths so I wasn't expecting a lot of luck finding any vegetables we ourselves weren't already growing this year. As luck would have it I was wrong, and very glad we stopped.

We were able to buy 5 lbs. of beets to supplement our small experimental crop; 15 lbs. of blemished tomatoes to supplement our own small crop; and amazingly enough, we were able to buy 5 lbs. of small pickling cucumbers which we didn't plant this year. We were lucky enough to find an Organic Market booth selling cloves of garlic, which we use in every meal, that was nice and fresh.

We only planted four tomato plants this year but PeterC loves salsa so I had planned on making some today using the few tomatoes we had left from my last harvest. So far this year, I have managed to make 9 pints of Salsa Verde, 6 pints Corn Salsa, and today with the addition of the tomatoes from the farmer's market, I was able to make a double batch - 12 pints - of Black Bean and Corn Salsa and still have enough tomatoes left to can a batch of stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce.

The whole pickles have been turned into seven quarts of Super Whole Dill Pickles.. The garlic came in handy here since the recipe I used called for three cloves of garlic in each quart jar. The jars have only just come out of the boiling bath and have yet to make the "POP" sound that means they are sealed against bacteria and vermin. These pickles will end up in our root cellar for at least six months while the flavors of the dill and garlic mingle with that of the salt, vinegar, and sugar in the brine.

The beets have been boiled, skinned, and sliced. The jars are in the canner sterilizing and the brine has been cooked and is waiting on the stove as I write this. This is the first time I have ever pickled beets. In fact an hour ago was the first time I had ever eaten a freshly picked and cooked beet. I must say I am quite taken with the texture and flavor and am looking forward to pickled beets later in the year. I'm also looking forward to the next bunch of beets I pick from our garden as those will be boiled, skinned, and served on that evenings supper plate with butter, salt, and pepper.

So today has been a very productive day. Earlier this morning I put away 6 pints of our home grown green beans. Even though I had already been planning on salsa I was able to double my recipe. I was able to make whole dill pickles. And I am just finishing up making pickled beets for the first time. Tomorrow is another day and the list of things to do tomorrow is as long as today's list but I know that I am creating wholesome and nutritious foods for my family and I to enjoy when the dark winter comes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Year of the Monarch

Here at Sparrow Haven each year is named for something special or unusual that happened. Last year it was the Year of the Apple because our old 75 year old apple tree bloomed like crazy. This year, it is the Year of the Monarch. Monarch Butterfly that is.

The first sighting was a single butterfly floating gracefully over the freshly cut grass of the back yard. The second sighting was one afternoon when the highest temperature was barely 22 degrees C and the humidity was quite low. We watched in fascination as several Monarchs flitted and fluttered around the outer edges of the trees in our yard. The would alight only to float away a few seconds later.

We tried to get pictures of the butterflies as the flitted gently around the back yard but they seem to have a second sense concerning photographs. No sooner had I turned the camera on and pointed it vaguely in their direction, off they would go to land gently on the next leaf. After several hours of trying to take photos all I can offer is a link to another page with information on the unusual visitors.

The temperatures have gone back up to more normal highs of 30C with humidity up into the 70% and higher range. The Monarchs have been absent from the yard these last few days so we can only assume that the heat and humidity has driven them back to their more normal haunts, wherever that may be.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Calling Dr. Greenthumb

Anytime you plant a garden you will find yourself responding to emergency situations. Sometimes it will be insects eating your leaves, furry raiders eating the vegetables, or even plants gone out of control. There is a solution for everything and asking for help from a knowledgeable soul is the best way to find that solution. We had several emergencies in our garden this year and through research, patience, and the advice of fellow gardeners we were able to avert most problems, or at lessen their destructive possibilities.

One of my favorite places for advice on gardening is Homesteading Today: Gardening and Plant Propagation Forum. There are so many people here who know so much about gardening that it is a great resource. They are all so very helpful and patient in answering even the most basic new gardener questions. The gardens vary in size from small backyard hobby gardens to gardens that take up an acre or more of space.

Early this summer we found our squash plants over run with little yellow and black striped beetles. Turned out they were Striped Cucumber Beetles. Several pesticides are recommended for controlling them but we are growing our vegetables as organically as possible so we had to find another solution. In comes the good folks at Homesteading Today. They recommended a solution of 500ml water, 60 ml vinegar, and a couple of drops of dish soap. Mix and spray the beetles. Sure enough two applications later and our population of beetles is low enough that we are getting plenty of squash for our own uses. After the third application I haven't seen any more beetles.

We have a volunteer pumpkin who was taking over the whole garden. It was suggested we train the vine to climb the fence, and voila!, now we have plenty of room for our other vegetables and the pumpkin. Along with this problem was the need to keep the pumpkin fruit from hitting the ground and either rotting from the excessive rain or breaking off the vine.
The suggestion was to cut strips from an old t-shirt and use it as a sling to hold the pumpkin off the ground while supporting its weight as it grows. As you can see it worked like a charm.

Once you have decided to plant a garden, never overlook the internet as a source of information and knowledge. You can find a huge amount of information on pests, gardening techniques, and storing just by doing a search on Google or Yahoo. But the best advice in the world comes directly from those people who have and do grow gardens every year. You can ask a question and get a direct reply instead of having to wade through thousands of pages of information and they can give you ideas and suggestions that would be hard to find otherwise.