Thursday, July 31, 2008

July Harvest Totals

I harvested a whopping 49 lbs of food from the garden in July! (Ok, whopping for me.)

The breakdown:

garlic - 0.2 lb
lettuce - 0.5 lb
onion - 1.2 lb
peas (green) - 8.8 lb
peas (soup) - 1.9 lbs
potatoes - 25.3 lb
radish - 0.4 lb
strawberries - 10.8 lb

Officially, I've pulled all the garlic, and it's drying in the garage, so that number isn't in the total, nor are the herbs that were harvested and are hanging to dry in the kitchen. I tally those numbers when they're cleaned and stored, so they'll be added to August's tally.

But, I have harvested 21 lbs more than last July (a 75% increase)! And last July included all of the garlic, and most of the potatoes. Looking forward to August!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rainy Days

When the boys were small, my mom gave them a book called "Little Puppy Cleans his Room".

" 'Rainy days are good for cleaning,' said Little Puppy's mother."

And that's what I did today. With cool, showery weather, I cleaned the downstairs until it was presentable.

Yesterday and today, Thing 2 and I cleaned out his room. My little packrat has a really hard time letting go of things, and had a meltdown about the whole business yesterday. So we did a room purge and thorough dusting (my eyes are itching like crazy), and after it was all over, he spent quite a bit of time playing in his room with his Legos, using all the clean spaces as if they had never existed before.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cool as well, and another morning of cleaning should put the house in good shape. In the afternoon, I'm planning on getting rid of last year's blueberries in the form of blueberry muffins, and I promised Thing 2 some chocolate chip cookies.

I've been on a baking binge lately. On Slow Sunday I made the baps, a loaf of wheat bread, and a dozen hot dog buns. I've never made hot dog buns before, and they turned out delicious, although too big. The recipe said to make 12, but I think 16 or 18 would be better. Definitely worth another go. I'd love to make hamburger buns now as well. If I can make buns, then the only bread I'd buy is sourdough for Thing 1 and the occasional pugliese or french bread. How's that for removal from industrial bread?!

Tonight's dinner was "breakfast for dinner", with scrambled eggs, sausage, and homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Slow Sunday

Lately it seems there have been a lot of groups asking you to set aside this day or that day to think about the Earth. We have Arbor Day and Earth Day. There's been Earth Hour, World Wetlands Day, International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, and a host of others.

The latest is from the British Magazine Resurgence, called Slow Sunday. The idea behind Slow Sunday is to, in their own words,

"invite our readers to take part in simple actions that symbolise a rejection of commercialism, a passion for the planet and a desire for change."

For the first Slow Sunday, they're asking readers to bake their own bread. Most of our bread is made in factories, chock full of such wholesome ingredients as fungicides, dough conditioners, etc. Gone are the days, at least in the US, of the local bakery. When I travel to Europe, especially Germany, it's a real treat to have brotchen, hot from the oven, raced from the village bakery for breakfast. Crust so crispy, you can't help making a mess!

Resurgence's article Let's Have Some Decent Bread spells out the how and why of homemade bread. Truly slow, the recipe for "baps", a kind of roll, starts the night before. So Slow Sunday, will actually start on Saturday. Now that is slow!

My plan is to try "baps", and also make some sandwich bread as we're on our last loaf. Maybe some hamburger buns, too. I think Slow Sunday is going to keep me hopping!

In other news, the varmints are into the potatoes. I've found chewed through plant stems (I thought they were poisonous?) and many half-chewed potatoes. War has been declared. I'm starting the ground offensive, but where, oh where is the air force (owls, eagles, hawks)?

I dug up all of the Yukon Gold potatoes, 18 lbs in all, but the Yellow Finn aren't quite ready yet. They'll have to take their chances.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Onion Fairy

Today I did my final onion thinning, and had a large handful of delicious baby onions. I have quite a few in the fridge, so what to do with the bunch? I went door-to-door in my neighborhood handing out bunches of onions! One neighbor commented that she doesn't buy them anymore since they're so expensive. I never buy them either, and would rather do without. Much easier, cheaper, and fresher to grow my own.

Today's cool weather enabled me to get out in the garden, and plant eight square feet of spinach, six square feet of turnips, and about 12 square feet of carrots. I'm really behind in my fall veggie planting! I also got a bit of weeding and watering accomplished. Yet to do (hopefully tomorrow): transplant the leeks, plant about 12 square feet of cabbages, another eight square feet of spinach, more carrots, and a bunch of scallions. This will help keep us in fresh veggies during the fall and winter.

It feels odd to be planting the fall veggies already. The timing always catches me unawares. I feel like "I haven't even seen my first tomato yet, and I'm planting for fall?" But I promised myself to be on top of things (relatively) this year, and the cool day today (65 degrees and cloudy) reminded me that fall isn't that far away. I'm only, erm, two weeks late planting the spinach....

Monday, July 21, 2008

Using Less Water - Dish Tub for Vegetables

I had a "Duh, why didn't I think of that earlier?" moment a week ago. When bringing in veggies from the garden, they're of course all covered with dirt. Sometimes I would wash them off with a hose somewhere on the lawn which a.) doesn't need it, and b.) would result in a very soggy, even muddy, area which the boys would immediately jump in resulting in 1.) damage to the soil and lawn, and 2.) very muddy children.

Or, I would bring the veggies into the kitchen to wash, the consequence of which is a dirty sink and a possibly clogged drain, not to mention it's not that great for the septic system.

So I bought a small dish tub at the local hardware store, and a vegetable brush, and I can leave it by the hose at the back door, squirt in a little water, scrub away, and then use the water to irrigate the pots on the patio. Voila!

Here are the first potatoes of the year in my new veggie scrubbing tub. The potatoes are Yukon Gold, and the larger ones are over eight ounces each.

Here are the pots that are the recipients of the wash water. It was very sunny today! A little overexposed, sorry. In the back is my "mojito pot". I have spearmint and peppermint in there. If I planted them in the ground, I would have mint everywhere. The pot keeps them contained, and they seem to be happy. And I have fresh mint for my mojitos!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The End of the Peas

This morning I pulled out all the pea vines, and robbed them of the pods. I yanked up the metal fence that was holding them up, and am composting all the vines.

Then Thing 1 and I worked our tails off, me trimming shrubs away from the house, him hauling all the branches away. For several hours. No complaints from him. Not a one. Who are you and what have you done with my son???

Not only that, he came to help me shell peas afterwards.

For an hour.

Without my asking.

Mr. E took him for a well-deserved milkshake, while I blanched and froze all those peas, and more in the fridge. Four pounds of peas went into the freezer. Yea!

No milkshake for me, though. Sob.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Running in Circles

Today I saw a large bee running in circles on the mat at the back door. Round and round she went, for what reason I know not. I tried looking up the kind of bee and what the circles might mean, but I couldn't find anything. There were no other bees around that I could see. It was just this solitary, frenzied running about in circles.

Which is how things have seemed around here. Running kids to this camp and that camp, friends' houses, out to the garden to move the hose to the next bed, watering the neighbors' plants, out to hang the laundry on the line, out and back again, almost circular, like the bee.

Our next big project is painting the house. It has to be done, as the paint is coming off to bare wood. A major job, the whole place will need to be primered first, as the previous owners didn't do it to parts of the siding or any of the trellis, and that's where the paint is really coming off. Of course all the shrubs will need to be cut back away from the house first, and pressure-washing. All of that will happen this weekend.

Which means any veggie garden work needs to happen today, and I've been feeling massively sleep-deprived, even though I think I slept nine hours last night. The peas have just about had it, so I need to pull the vines and get all the peas in the freezer.

LTR - My father-in-law came over with the pressure washer, and got a sizable portion of the house cleaned. I cut back the rhodies on one side of the garage, which was a major undertaking. Getting Thing 1 to haul away all the branches was another! So in other words, I didn't get the peas dealt with at all.

The soup peas are coming along nicely. I'm suprised that they're drying down already. I figure about one more week, and they'll be ready for threshing. The peas are yellow and plump, almost the size of garbanzo beans. I've read that yellow peas make the best soup, but we'll see!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Whoo? Me?

This last week, I've been hearing the screeching of barn owls in the woods out back. They make quite the racket, and its a wonder that all the rodents don't go underground and stay there all night.

More and more holes are popping up all over the yard. I'm still not sure if it's rat or vole, but the population seems to be growing. I've tried mouse traps, but found them all sprung, with only a dead slug to show for it. Our cat stays in at night, so he's no help, and I haven't heard a coyote in a while, so the rodents are living large on peas and strawberries, and, I'm afraid, my potatoes.

I found a hole today under one of my pear trees, which is frightening. They could do a lot of damage to trees - I lost a young cherry tree that way. They use the mole runs for the most part, and munch on the plant roots. Even though I've been watering the peas, they still look thirsty.

So I'm ready for the owls, coyotes, and any other natural predators to come to my yard! Come over for a feast, owls!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rest in Peas

Picked, shelled, blanched and froze three pounds of peas today. Thing 2 is the best picker. Although he complains, he misses very few. Thing 1 is almost as fast at shelling as I am, so he helped me mow through the pile. He made up a silly song to pass the time: "Here we are, shelling peas. If we finish, when we die, on our headstone it will read: 'Rest in peas'."

Busy running Thing 1 to the camp-of-the-week, which takes most of the morning up. Preparing Thing 2 for his camp next week.

And trying to keep up with all the produce from the garden. Almost five pounds today, and that doesn't include the garlic which I pulled out, and need to string up in the garage to dry. The list of stuff to plant is growing.

Part of the problem is that I'm reading a page-turner of a book The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. I love her writing. I'm almost to the end. Finishing will free up some time, I hope.

Made a new dinner, Chicken Mole. Great way to get a chocolate fix. Mine wasn't quite chocolatey enough, but tasty. Need to tweak the recipe.

Tomorrow is shopping day, library day, etc.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Meatless Monday - Ricotta Gnocchi

Here I was thinking I was so clever with "Meatless Monday", and the folks at Meatless Monday beat me to it, erm, five years ago. It's a great site with recipes for healthy meals. Check it out!

My Meatless Monday this week was Ricotta Gnocchi adapted from an old Sunset Pasta cookbook.

2 packages frozen chopped spinach
2 eggs
1 lb ricotta cheese
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 cup grated parmesan
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
Dash pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp dry basil

Cook spinach according to package directions, drain, squeezing the water out. In large bowl beat eggs. Add ricotta and mix well. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Roll mixture into 1-1/2" balls, dust in flour, and set on a cookie sheet.

Pop half the balls into boiling, salted water. Return to a gentle boil, and cook 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain well. Keep warm while cooking the rest.

I made a tomato sauce from the same book that I seriously doctored in the end. It actually turned out ok, and I spooned it over the gnocchi, sprinkled it with parmesan, and baked it at 350 for 10 minutes.

The star of the show was the gnocchi, though. We had leftover strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Off to search for more strawberry ideas....

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Preserving the Harvest

Peas and strawberries are coming in by the pound. Yesterday I used 5 lbs of strawberries to make eight half-pints of strawberry jam. Mmmmmm. I use the old-fashioned nothing but strawberries and sugar recipe. Thing 1 loves it so much, I need to make at least one more batch to make it through the year. I'm having a bumper crop of peas this year. Last year I planted 50% more peas and I've almost surpassed last year's harvest already, with less than half the peas harvested.

Today I used more strawberries to make some strawberry shortcake. I also baked three loaves of bread, made a batch of potato salad, made a trip to the grocery store, did two loads of laundry, and picked and shelled over a pound of peas (half of which we had braised in butter for dinner).

I really do need to get the boys more involved in the garden. They did pick the strawberries today, and Thing 1 joins me in weeding, but I think they would enjoy/be better off with some gardening knowledge. I haven't pushed it yet, but the time is coming.

We're all pretty tired around here. We did the Lake Union fireworks for the Fourth, and then went to Fremont for the outdoor cinema last night. Both times we didn't get home until after midnight. A general feeling of run-downedness hit today. It'll be good to get back to a calmer schedule. I'll have more time to garden and preserve what comes out of it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Preserving the Harvest

With all the rain, the peas decided to go bonkers. Thing 1 and I picked, and Thing 2 and I shelled almost two pounds of peas. They all were blanched, packed, and frozen within an hour and a half of picking. How's that for Independence? Just say "no" to the Jolly Green Giant.

Finally planted the parsnips, picked another ton of strawberries, set the rat trap, and pulled weeds (the never-ending struggle). The garlic is just about ready to pull.

I must be doing a fairly good job with the veggie garden, because Mr. E has offered to expand it. By 50%! Either that or he's just tired of mowing the strip of grass between the veggie beds.... Oooh. Two hundred square feet....

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mother Nature's Fireworks

Mother Nature celebrated the Fourth a little early with a thunder and lightning display last night and on into the day today. Very rare around here, I relish the storms.

However, they started up against the mountains around 10:30 last night, stopped shortly after I went to bed at 11, and then started up again, this time with a torrential downpour that lasted the rest of the night and halfway through the day today. Some 3,000 strikes were said to have happened in 24 hours in Western Washington alone. I had the windows open, as it was warm and muggy, and I sleep best with it quite cool. So with all the thunder and the pouring rain, I didn't get the best of sleep. The yard loved the drenching though! You could almost hear the plants sucking up the rain.

Now the weather forecasters are saying that it's going to be showery for a while. Although I was planning to transplant the leeks in about two weeks, I'm thinking now is the time. They should adapt better to their new home with it cool and wet for a bit.

Tomorrow will be a busy one! Mr. E wants to go downtown for the fireworks, there is a lot of planting and harvesting to do, I am desperate to make bread before it gets too warm again, and I'd like to get some strawberry jam canned as well. I think the jam will have to wait for Monday or Tuesday....

Today we went to Seattle. On the first Thursday of the month, the Science Fiction Museum is open from 5-8 for free. The EMP was open for free as well, but it wouldn't hold much interest for the boys. So we spent the afternoon at the Science Center, and then met Mr. E at the SFM. Free is a great deal! I think it saved us about $54 in entrance fees.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Harvest Goal

It's July and the Fruit and Veg Harvest tally is ticking along! I'm not sure if I ever formally announced my harvest goal for the year. Last year I did 180lbs of food. So my goal this year will be (drum roll, please) 350lbs of food!

More strawberries today, but still not enough for jam. I collapsed the holes where the varmint comes up to steal berries so I can figure out which one(s) to place traps by. By the size of the holes and teeth marks on the strawberries, I'm thinking the rat trap is in order.

The apples are a little larger than golf ball size now. The Alkemene tree is so loaded, even with thinning the apples out to 6" or more, I'm going to have to prop up a branch or two. The tree was weakened a bit from all the wet snow we had late in the year. I did go out and brush it off the tree at the time. It was bending terribly, so I'm glad I thought of it. One neighbor lost a huge branch off their 15+ year old flowering cherry.

Unfortunately, the cherries were a wash this year. The cold, damp spring inhibited pollination, and many cherries succumbed to fungus. I'll just have to get them from the farmers' market, or mooch off a neighbor. His always do really well.

I missed the boat on the broccoli. I have a really hard time deciding when the head is big enough, and I wait too long. Tomorrow I'll chop off the flowering heads and harvest any side shoots.

Lots of thunder today, but little in the way of rain. Too bad. I love a good thunderstorm, and the yard could use some water.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Summer Means Strawberries

Thing 2 and I picked over two pounds of strawberries today. The June berries are finally ripening! With all the hot weather over the weekend, we had quite a few. I'm hoping to save up to make jam on Thursday, but I'm not sure I'm going to get the 5 lbs needed, especially with Thing 1 hovering around the bed, plucking berries and popping them in his mouth as soon as he can. Unfortunately, I also found quite a few holes in the ground. Someone else is helping themselves to the ripe fruit.

I also picked the first peas today. Last year I had already picked two pounds of peas by July 1. I only managed a little under a quarter pound today (and so far this year). Have I mentioned everything is late?

I still don't have the parsnips in the ground, but I did get the area they go in to all weeded out and watered today. The onions really liked the hot weather, and I'm getting ready to thin them for the second time. Mmmm. Thinnings....

I dug under a potato plant, and found one the size of an egg. Now starts the debate - to pull a plant, or not to pull a plant? That is the question. Whether tis nobler to the stomach to let the plant grow, and have many more, larger potatoes later, or to have young, steamed potatoes now? My apologies to Shakespeare.

I'm pulling the tomatoes out of the Kozy-Koates, and getting the area ready for some basil. Last year, I planted one basil plant in between each tomato plant, and it worked pretty well. This year I'm going to plant more basil. I also planted many more determinate tomatoes this year, and have hoops in place, ready to cloche the tomatoes and basil, as we have a rough time with cold night temps, and summer rains will bring late blight.

And another first for the year: I almost stepped barefoot on a snake. Ick.