Sunday, May 31, 2009

As the Garden Grows

Well, it looks like I survived this season's version of the flu. I have to admit that for a short time I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but all the warm thoughts and shared stories from my faithful readers kept me going. That, and the fact that I was getting really tired of being tired. I slept all day Monday with a bad case of the chills and by Tuesday I was feeling better. Wednesday my appetite was back to full swing and I ate a salad, two ears of corn, and a slice of barley pudding.

The garden is coming along slowly. Its been cooler than normal for this time of year with a couple of surprise frosts well past the normal last frost date. We covered everything that was growing and all plants have survived well, though the warmer weather plants are only just now, grudgingly, sticking their heads above the soil. The squash finally sprouted, though it looks like I may have lost all but two seeds to the birds and weather. The beans have been a little hit and miss in sprouting and the lettuce is little more than decorative dressing for the cucumbers.

The potatoes are doing really well, showing a good four or fives inches of upper growth. I'm very pleased with the straw and potatoes experiment. We'll have to see later this year if the tubers themselves grow as well as the foliage. If they do then this is going to be my preferred method of growing potatoes from this point forward.

The spinach is doing the best of all the cooler weather plants. We've been eating it for a week now and the plants don't seem to be any worse the wear for the cool nights and wet days we've been having. At this rate we'll be able to eat spinach every night for supper and have enough to freeze for casseroles later this year. The carrots also seem to be doing well. Another week or two and I'll have to thin them down to one plant every couple of inches.

We started our outdoor building projects this weekend. We decided to build a raised, floating deck in place of the back steps. This gives us the beginnings of a fancy two level deck and lets me hang out the laundry without pulling out the step ladder to reach the clothes line. We still have to build and populate the herb bed and reinforce the foundation of the garage but we are about a month ahead of schedule so far. With any luck that means we'll have everything done before PeterC gets his summer vacation and we'll actually have a few days to play as we see fit.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time Lapse Flu

Well, it seems PeterC brought the flu home from work. One thing led to another and the next thing I know it is two weeks later and I am still on and off again feverish, with a killer headache. This is not a typical flu for sure. With the common flu I get feverish for a couple of days and sleep for 48 hours. When I wake up I am hungry, weak, and cured. Within a few hours of eating I am back to my normally frumpy self.

This flu is something else indeed. Or maybe it wasn't the flu and just some very strange virus, but it has been a real joy kill. I woke up with a headache and a fever May 21st. Even wrapping up in sweaters and blankets wasn't enough to keep me from shivering. I took aspirin, drank plenty of water, and slept as much as possible.

Fast forward to Tuesday, this week, and I'm feeling less cold but my head and teeth are killing me. I assumed at first that it was a sinus headache, but it didn't go away when the weather cleared up. I'm also as weak as a kitten. I tried two or three times to clean the house or even wash dishes and I felt like I'd been run over by a herd of horses. Not so much sore but having a hard time catching my breath and just plain tired.

I spent a good part of Thursday afternoon laying in my hammock and trying to catch my breath after weeding the garden. Friday I went outside and put the hose on and weeded some more garden before I had to rest again. Yesterday, was the first day I was able to spend more than 20 minutes working without getting tired. I managed to spend three hours outside burning off the winter accumulation of branches and twigs. Of course I suffered the consequences afterwards as my fever came back full blown and my head hurt so bad I wanted to cry.

This morning my head is only slightly painful and I don't feel feverish at all. I guess time will tell if I am finally over this thing. I figure I either cured myself by getting hot by the fire, or I've set myself back a few more days by pushing myself to hard.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beef Jerky

Since we had all that lovely organic beef sitting in the freezer, I decided it was time to make a big batch of beef jerky. We love beef jerky but the cost at the grocers is beyond unreasonable. Making it takes longer than buying it but it costs a lot less and is relatively easy if you you take the time to make it.

Home Made Beef Jerky
1) Slice lean beef into thin slices. Do the slicing while the steak is still partially frozen and you can control the thickness of the slices much better.

2) Marinate the meat for 3-6 days. Beef jerky is very versatile and you can use just about any flavourings to make a tasty snack. You can use any marinade you want depending on whether you want sweet, spicy, or salty jerky. I decided on a sweet jerky this year. Here is a list of my ingredients. I made enough marinade to cover the amount of beef I had.

soy sauce
maple syrup
brown sugar
cayenne pepper

3) Dehydrate / cook the jerky on low for 18 hours. There are a lot of ways to do this too. You can smoke the meat in a smoker, following the smokers guidelines. Smoked jerky is best but you can dry/cook it in the oven set on the lowest heat setting. Depending on the temperature it can take as little as 8 hours and as long as 18 hours. Or, you can do it like I did this year.

You can use a commercially available dehydrator to make your jerky. I have this cheap little model I bought from Walmart years ago. I use it mostly to dry extra veggies for soups and fruits for snacks. This year I used it to make jerky, and it worked well.

You simply load the trays with your marinated meat and turn on the machine. This model uses a very low heat setting so we had to let it run for the full 18 hours. When it was done we had four large batches of the sweetest beef jerky in the world. To sweet for me, as it turned out, but still tasty.

I still have a little bit of meat in the marinade, which I hope to smoke this weekend. I've added more salt and pepper top the marinade to make it a little more spicy than sweet. If I really wanted to spice it up I could add chili pepper sauce, available at most grocers in the Chinese food sections. But this time I'm just using salt and pepper to spice things up a bit.

There you have it. The easiest recipe in the world for making beef jerky. If you decided to give it a try, let your imagination run wild. Mix and match flavours to create something yummy and unique. The best thing about home made jerky is it is good for you and your family with its lean meat and natural flavourings. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Garden Pictures - As Promised

I finally got around to getting PeterC, the photography of the family, to take some good pictures of the garden. He didn't take pictures of the rhubarb, strawberries, herb boxes, or flower gardens which also contain some herbs. I'll try to get them in another post.

Here you see the lettuce, in the blue bins, and the 3rd bed in behind that. I've planted cucumber in with the lettuce which haven't sprouted yet. The third bed includes my pole beans, summer squash, winter squash, and a half row of hot peppers all of which are taking their own sweet time about sprouting.

Here we have a shot of the whole garden, including the columnar apples we planted last year. The apples are only just starting to leaf out. To the right of the garden, just out of frame, is where the strawberries and rhubarb are planted.

The 2nd bed, home of my potato experiment my broccoli and my beets. I'm really hoping the potatoes do really well since the price of potatoes have skyrocketed over the last few months. We prefer Yukon Golds over any other variety and on top of the high prices the Yukon Gold potatoes are hard to find in the stores anymore. The beets and broccoli have started to sprout. If you look closely you can see a cluster of green in the last row before the straw. That is broccoli. At this stage the beets look like the weeds and it is all I can do to not pluck them when I see them growing along the strings.

And, finally, we have the first bed. You can see how well the spinach is doing. We'll be eating fresh spinach in another week or so. The carrots, at the bottom of the picture have started sprouting but they are still to small to really show up well in the pictures.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

May Showers!

What's that nursery rhyme? April Showers bring May Flowers. Around here it should be May Showers bring May Flowers.

It has been mercifully wet this week. Just last week we were having to water the garden every couple of days. This week, we haven't had to water once. The garden, and flower beds, really like the rain and have been putting in loads of extra growth to make up for the dry April. The flower beds are awash with the yellows, blues, and whites of the spring bulbs - daffodils, lily-of-the-valley, and a little blue star that I don't know the name of. Even the wild violets are growing and blooming nicely.

The broccoli, carrots, beets, and spinach have all sprouted. In fact the spinach has already started putting on their second leaves, the ones we get to eat. The lettuce has put out the edible leaves but the plants are still a little small for picking yet. The rhubarb finally sprouted. It is a small cutting from a former co-workers plant and I wasn't sure if it had survived the winter. Well it did and is happily growing. The beans, squash, cucumbers, and hot peppers I planted haven't started peeking through yet but I am confident that they will.

In other news the baby robins have fledged and flown the coop. We only saw one leave the nest, but he managed to fly/glide/fall all the way across the yard and onto the wood pile. Mom was coaching him the whole way and was standing by to defend him from a rather shocked squirrel, who just happened to provide a soft landing for the young robin.

To quote a rather old movie "Life always finds a way", and I think it is just wonderful.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Another Round of Planting

Yesterday was another good day here. PeterC spent most of the day relocating wood frames, in preparation for next years firewood supply, and relocating planting boxes to their new homes. I've talked him into building a new herb bed next to the west wall of the house. It is going to be two tiers and the boxes he moved yesterday are the upper tier. Later this month I hope to add the lower tier made from 2 x 12's or possibly decorative stones.

I spent the day doing more planting, with the occasional interruption to help PeterC move the heavier and more awkward items. The sweet potato slips finally arrived so they were the first to get planted. We order the slips from Dominion House again this year, since they did so well for us last year. Dominion House lets you choose the time of year you want live plants to be delivered. This year I chose the end of April and they arrived on April 30th. Hows that for timeliness?

Instead of planting the sweet potatoes in the garden, like I did last year, I decided to plant them in large planters. I figure this will do two things for me. One, to harvest the sweet potatoes I just dump the planters and pick out the tubers. Two, the flowers of the sweet potato are a lovely purple and white striped shallow trumpet, similar to a morning glory bloom. By planting the sweet potatoes in planters I can have some really unique patio flowers, while getting vegetables out of the deal.

I also planted the dry beans, Cranberry and Tongue of Fire, in the third bed. I had originally thought to plant side to side, along the 4 foot dimension of the bed, but in the end I decided to plant long wise. This only gives me four rows, but each row is 12 ft long. I ended up with two and a half rows of beans. The rest of the bed will be planted in summer and winter squash, which I hope to get planted this afternoon.

We still haven't built the trellises for the climbing beans but we have at least two weeks before they sprout. In the interim I am using the metal trellises that used to be in the boxes mentioned earlier. They will actually work quite well, I just didn't have enough to line the whole length of one row, much less two rows. We are still trying to decided what kind of trellis would best fit our garden. I want a permanent structure, but since we rotate plants each year it also needs to be portable. Perhaps an A-frame would be the best choice.

When we were shopping yesterday morning I bought two more Rosemary plants, since the ones from last year didn't come back this year, and a Provence Lavender plant. It was all I could do to keep myself from buying several other kinds of herbs but we are just no ready for them yet. I love the fact that I am getting an herb garden but, as with everything, money dictates when it will be built and buying the herbs now would be premature.