Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas gift ideas for the gardener

If you want to buy gardening-related gifts this year, buy some useful tools or garden ornaments at your local garden center or at online retailers like Gardener’s Supply Company, at

I love my Fiskars® loppers and clippers.  Although they are more expensive than cheaper brands, they work better than any I have ever used and they have replaceable parts.  Fiskars® bypass loppers cut branches up to two inches in diameter and can remove branches or small trees that might otherwise require a chainsaw.

After using a friend’s electric chainsaw this past summer, I would like an electric chainsaw.  Of course, they won’t cut thick trees, but they will cut trees and branches that even the best lopper can’t slice. 

With an electric chainsaw, I can cut the branches when I want to, without having to wait for someone to do the work for me.  Electric chainsaws weigh less than their gasoline counterparts do, making them manageable for me, and they start when you push the button so there’s no need to struggle to crank them.  They tether you to an electrical outlet, but an extension cord reaches most areas near my home.
Gardeners might also appreciate portable greenhouses and cold frames for season-extension, available from Gardner’s Supply Company, or a permanent greenhouse or cold frame if your budget allows the cost.  The armchair gardener, or any gardener who enjoys reading, will devour books or magazines on farming or gardening. 

I always need gloves because I lose them or wear them out.  My husband bought me a pack of gloves that have a nylon shell with nitrile coating.  The nitrile is thin enough to allow my fingers to grasp small seedlings, but it’s tough enough to protect my hands. 

Maybe the gardener on your gift list needs a new rake, or the wheelbarrow he or she uses is either rusting or is too small.  Growers of vegetables also need buckets and baskets in which to harvest produce; just make sure they are functional and not so pretty or expensive the gardener will be afraid to get them dirty.  Some discarded 5-gallon plastic buckets are useful for carrying produce, leaves, soil, water, and other gardening supplies. Seed-starting season comes soon after Christmas, and maybe the gardener needs seeds, seed starting mixes, pots, a set of grow lights, or plant labels.

Gardeners may appreciate some sturdy, water-resistant shoes to wear in the garden, or they may want kneeling pads, raised beds, or other devices designed to help elderly or disabled gardeners continue gardening.  Perhaps your elderly grandmother had to give up gardening because she can no longer bend and kneel; a bed raised to waist level might allow her to resume her hobby.

Flower and vegetable beds can always use another application of compost and mulch; buy a truckload and help the gardener spread it.  Sharpen and oil tools; they become dull and ineffective with repeated use and the gardener will appreciate a tool with a like-new edge.  Perhaps the gardener on your list would appreciate your going through their storage area, with their permission, and removing trash like empty bags and broken pots, organizing the tools, and sweeping up spilled soil.    

Folks who love to garden can always find a spot in the garden for a beautiful garden ornament, bench, or trellis.  Beautiful urns, pots, and window boxes can bring color and structure to an arrangement of flowers.  Remind the garden-lover on your list that the dreary, cold weather of winter will not last all year with some inspiring gifts for Christmas.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cows...chickens...rabbits...what's for dinner?

Over the past few years, my father has stopped the traditional method of growing beef cattle, where the farmer has cows and a bull, nature takes its course, and the cows have calves, which the farmer sells when they are old enough, and the next year the cycle repeats.  Now, he buys calves each fall, fattens them over the winter and spring, and sells them in the late spring or early summer, so that he has some time with no responsibilities for cattle. 

On our drive to visit my parents this past weekend, early in the morning, we passed by farms, and my girls and I noticed that the cows all faced the same direction.  In one lovely field, the frost sparkled on the grass in the morning sun and the forty black cattle all faced the same direction like soldiers on parade.
Cattle are herd animals, and in a group of mixed ages, one cow asserts herself as the “lead cow.”  She decides which way they will stand in a field, when they should go to the creek to drink water, and when they should move to a new pasture.  In my father’s fields, he has several areas of smaller pastures, and the cows rotate among them based on their daily schedule.  The bull is not really in charge, although he might discipline the cows if necessary.  Calves follow their mothers. 

My father now has a group of calves with no adult supervision, and they must figure out how to be calves with no adult direction.  They are disorganized, face all directions in the pasture when grazing, and generally behave in the way a classroom of students does when the teacher leaves.  They identify my father as the source of food, and run to him when he enters the yard.  As they mature, they’ll figure out who is in charge, but my mother says they never seem as organized as the cows in a traditional system.    

Cattle require extensive work; my father is always busy mending fences, baling hay, feeding them supplements, or working on machinery.  He mentioned that chickens give you more output for your input than nearly any other animal.  His parents had chickens that free-ranged and destroyed my grandmother’s flowerbeds until sometime in the 1960s when industrial chicken farming made it cheaper for them to buy “them old embalmed chickens,” as my grandfather called them, at the grocery store than to keep their own.  I do wonder why they preferred to eat something they referred to as “embalmed,” than a fresh chicken, but my grandmother was glad the chickens no longer dug in her flowerbeds, and I am sure they were pleased to have some relief from their farm chores.

I told my father I’d heard that rabbits produce more meat for the amount of work and feed you give them than any other animal.  I have never eaten rabbit, and I am afraid they’d become too cute to eat.  He said he missed having a good fresh wild rabbit, something he ate as a youth, and that the taste of rabbits grown in captivity didn’t compare to wild rabbit.  He seemed wistful about the taste of wild rabbit.

I asked him why he didn’t shoot a rabbit to eat now, and he said that when he got married my mother informed him that she was not going to cook any “cute little bunnies,” and, apparently, didn’t want him to either.  I can imagine my sister’s and my trauma if he’d brought home a bunny for dinner.  I guess it’s all in what you grow up with, though, because Laura Ingalls Wilder, of the “Little House” books, and many other rural children grew up hoping father would bring home a rabbit for dinner.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Look Forward to Spring by Planting Bulbs

Over the years I have lived at my home, I have tucked hundreds of bulbs into the clay soil.  Some I dug from overcrowded beds at the homes of my mother and grandmother.  I dug some out of the cow pasture where my grandmother tossed them after she removed them from her overcrowded beds.  I purchased many bulbs. 

Digging into the hard clay underneath tree roots is free aerobic exercise and weight training for me: I use a large mattock to dig the holes in the forest floor.  In the spring, swaths of white and yellow flowers reward me for my work.  My gravel driveway meanders across a creek and through some woods before it terminates at my house, and I enjoy seeing the bulbs bloom with the dogwoods in the early spring.  
Baby holding a daffodil

Originally, I planned for the bulbs to multiply and to produce wide swaths of yellow and white through the woods so that eventually yellow and white flowers would carpet the forest floor in the spring.
The bulbs have not obeyed my orders to multiply, but I enjoy the survivors.  Living among tree roots is difficult; the large trees gobble spare nutrients and water.  In my flowerbeds, however, where the bulbs are able to grow without competition from overwhelming opponents, yellow and white flowers signal the arrival of spring, and the bulbs are so happy that I need to divide them.

When I plant bulbs, I dig a hole about twice the length of the bulb, and I space the bulbs three to six inches apart.  In new beds, I put in some bone meal, an organic source of the potassium bulbs need.   I put the bulb in the soil with the pointed side up, and I cover it with soil and mulch.  After the blooms fade, I allow the foliage to die naturally; bulbs obtain nutrients through their leaves to support the next year’s flowers.
Baby trying to eat a daffodil

Although it’s a little late to plant bulbs this year, there’s still time, and garden centers have bulbs for sale.  I finished planting my garlic this past weekend; it’s also late to plant garlic, but I followed the same method of planting I did for the flower bulbs and I expect a harvest in the summer.  Many gardening recommendations to plant bulbs in September are written for gardeners who live where the ground freezes and prohibits gardening during the winter.

No babies actually ate any daffodils, although they wanted to taste them, of course. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Planting garlic with a little help from my girls

I’m a little late planting garlic this fall, but, because our ground does not freeze, it will be okay.  As you can see from the photos, November is still bare feet weather in SC.  Later on the day of garlic planting we all switched to shorts because we became too warm in sweatshirts, even though snow had fallen a few days before.  Only in SC can we have such crazy weather!

I dug trenches about 4 inches deep and about 6 inches apart, and the girls put the garlic cloves in pointed side up, about 6 inches apart.  I put in a sample row and had the girls put in their cloves in line with mine. 
I covered the garlic with soil, and then put a thick layer of hay on top to reduce weeding chores.  Besides pulling the weeds that will penetrate the straw, my garlic chores will be over until early next summer.  When the plants send up stalks to bloom, I’ll break them off and use the tender garlic scapes in stir-fries.  After the leaves turn brown, on a hot morning I’ll pull the plants from the ground, let them dry in the sun, and I’ll bring them into the shed to finish curing.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Harvesting Saffron

 Saffron is an expensive spice when purchased at the store (I think I paid $14 for a normally-sized spice jar of it when I last purchased it), but it's easy and inexpensive to grow in the garden.  Saffron crocus is not the same as the ordinary crocus grown in flower beds.  The ornamental crocus blooms in the late winter, and saffron blooms in October, and the flower of the saffron crocus is prettier, I think (picture below).

Beautiful saffron flower
Pick the flower on the morning of a dry day while it's still fresh, and remove the red-orange filaments from the flowers.  I laid them on a plate to dry indoors, and I'll store them in the freezer to use in cooking.
Harvested saffron ready to dry
For more information, visit this website and to purchase corms, here's an option.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Our locally grown fall supper

My potatoes that I harvested back in the early summer are sprouting eyes, even though I have kept them in the coolest area of the house, and in darkness.  I'll plant the smallest ones out tomorrow, I hope, and I'll see how they do over the winter.  It's not potato-planting time in SC, but the ground doesn't usually freeze here, and I hope that I can preserve these under a layer of mulch until February.  We won't eat the small ones, regardless, so it's not a waste of potatoes.


The potatoes that are large enough to eat I peeled and I am cooking for supper.  Yes, I grow purple potatoes.


Along with my garlic and cabbage, we are eating Wil-Moore Farms' pork bratwurst.  Their farm is about 10 miles from my house, and, although I have some tomatoes from Mexico and some bananas from South America, I rejoice in feeding my family locally-grown meals as much as I am able.  


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jack Frost visited my garden

Sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning, the temperature dipped below freezing, ending up at thirty degrees or lower by morning.  Heavy frost coated the garden until the sun hit it, and I found this damage later.
I missed some of the green tomatoes.  These were from plants I set out in mid-August; note to self: get the late tomatoes out in July next year!

These dalhia plants have bloomed since June or July.  The tubers are still alive under the ground and the plants will come back next year.
Inside my cold frame, the spinach and lettuce are happy.

Broccoli and cabbage, unprotected in the garden, don’t mind the frost, either.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tonight, I'm saving my peppers before the frost

I picked these beautiful peppers this afternoon before the temperatures that will dip towards freezing arrive

I am preserving some of them by making breakfast casseroles to freeze...

And I'm using plenty of the summer's last excess of eggs in the casseroles.

How are you preserving the last of the summer's harvest from your garden?
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Guineas are useful...sometimes!

Although Mr. Cuteypants doesn't roam the yard eating ticks and other critters, he does love crabgrass seeds, as do my chickens.  He's the one making the little happy chirps as he pulverizes thousands of crabgrass seeds, making, I hope, weed control easier next year.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It's Been a Difficult Summer for the Garden

I usually write about what should be going on in the garden and how to manage the garden properly.  All garden writers talk about ideal situations most of the time, and blogs usually show photos of gorgeous gardens.   I have never claimed to be an expert gardener, but I try to talk about how the garden should operate.  This time, I thought I would tell you about the successes and failures (mostly failures) from this summer in the garden. 

I started seeds for fall tomatoes back in early July.  Those languished in pots until late August, when I finally set the tall, spindly things in the garden by laying them in long trenches so that the stems could sprout roots along their length.  That was easier than digging a hole 10 inches deep, and the tomatoes figured out which way was up by the next day.  In defense of my laziness, rain certainly prevented gardening, and I didn’t want to trouble my husband with watering them while I was gone to Missouri in case the rain stopped.   Some of them are beginning to bloom now, and perhaps I’ll get some late tomatoes before frost.  I doubt I will get any though; as of today there are a few tiny green tomatoes on the beautiful plants, and we usually get our first frost by the end of October.

I haven’t managed to freeze any lima beans this summer, and the bunnies have eaten my peas.  It is the first summer since I began this garden that I haven’t frozen any beans or peas, and we will miss them in the winter.  We have had some nice meals of lima beans though.

Although it was still producing some pods, I removed my okra plants last weekend.  I do detest cutting okra because the leaves make me itch, but in past years, I have managed to keep up with the okra cutting.

I haven’t even made any pesto because my first several sowings of basil seeds didn’t germinate, probably because I sowed them in the garden soil and they washed away.  I finally sowed some seeds in pots and transplanted them into the garden when I put in the late tomatoes.  They are growing slowly, and I don't think they'll grow large enough to make much pesto before frost blackens them.
My perennial border is bedraggled because I allowed the dead flowers to remain on the plants.  After the deer attack of early summer, many of the plants look as if a two-year-old gave them a haircut.  I have weeded, though, and I am enjoying the benefits of the heavy layer of mulch I put down last winter. The fall flowers are beautiful.  I’m looking forward to cool days after frost to neaten the plants.

As for weeding, although I avoid using it, I have put out chemical herbicide to gain control over the weeds. My y usual weeding strategy of hoeing out weeds in the morning with the assurance that they’d be dead and crunchy by the afternoon after a day in the sun failed this summer, because of the rain.  To kill the weeds, I had to individually remove every weed from the garden.  Herbicide, and the past month’s dry weather, has enabled me to manage the weeds and put out mulch, and I am finished using herbicide.  

Many of the plants in my formal garden behind the patio are dead.  Deer attack, bunny nibbles, wet weather, and perhaps disease have decimated many of them.  We believe there is an underground spring of some sort under that area of the yard, and during wet weather, the area turns into nearly constant mud.  I pulled back the mulch to examine the plants and saw wet clay instead of soil, and this was several days after the last rain at the time.   The perennials I planted in the area were not necessarily able to tolerate “wet feet,” a gardening term for an area that is wet constantly.  I am not sure what I will do with the site in the future.

How has your garden grown this summer?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cover your dirt with cover crops

On my trip to Missouri, I visited Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a provider of heirloom vegetable and flower seeds.  After detours because of flooded highways and after several miles of travel down dirt roads, we arrived at the village in Mansfield, Missouri.  It’s set up to resemble an Ozark village, and the company holds bluegrass festivals and other events on the property.  I was mainly interested in the gardens, which were beautiful even though the rains during the summer made some of them inaccessible to visitors. 

In the seed store, I bought some books and seeds, of course.  I have planted some of the fall vegetable seeds already, and I’ll plant some of the cover crop seeds within the next few weeks.    
Seeds for Austrian Winter Peas and Buckwheat.  I'll plant the peas soon and save the Buckwheat for spring

I have begun to take my garden back from the weeds that have invaded this summer.  I put down mulch and sheets of cardboard to hold the cleared soil free of weeds, and I plan to sow cover crops in the bare areas.  Every year I have crops interspersed with bare areas I try to cover with mulch, and these areas usually become patches of weeds.  This year, I’m going to try to put all the crops together in one space and to leave a quadrant of the garden entirely free of cultivated crops and sow it with a cover crop.  This will, I hope, concentrate my weeding efforts and make the process easier.  It may also make putting the chickens in the garden to eat easier because I’ll be able to keep the tasty lettuce away from the plants I want them to eat. 

Iron and Clay cowpeas have gone a bit crazy in the garden

A cover crop is any crop planted in an otherwise bare section of the garden to enrich the soil or to prevent weeds.  If the gardener tills in the cover crop, soil microbes and worms decompose the crop and enrich the soil.  If the cover crop remains on top of the soil and dies, worms and microbes will come up to consume the crop.  Turning a flock of chickens into the cover crop nourishes the chickens as they eat the crop, helps till in the cover crop, and enriches the soil.  I grow millet in the garden as a cover crop and for chicken feed, and five of my chickens are currently vacationing in the garden and eating the millet as it ripens. 
Using cardboard to hold back the weeds.  Millet in upper right corner
Last winter, I planted mustard greens in the hard area outside the garden; mustard grows thickly enough to choke out most weeds.  I planted Asiatic clover in the orchard, and it provides food for bees, fixes nitrogen in the soil, and is certainly more attractive than the crabgrass that would grow there without the competition from the clover.  This clover is perennial so don’t plant it unless you are sure you want it.

I have grown wheat and oats in the garden, and I’ll plant some this fall.  I allowed the grains to make seed last spring and fed it to the chickens I cut the grain stalks to the ground, used the straw as mulch, and planted my sweet potatoes among the stubble.  The grain will not grow back during the summer’s heat.

I tilled some of my rye grass into the soil, and some I mowed.  The summer’s heat kills rye grass, and if you mow it before it makes seed, it won’t return. Even if it makes seed, I haven’t had trouble with it becoming a weed.  Rye is one of the easiest cover crops because the inexpensive seed is available in many stores and it germinates quickly. Heat also kills crimson clover, an annual clover.  One cover crop I do not use is vetch.  Many gardening books recommend using it as a cover crop, and the writers of those books must not have the problems we do with vetch invading the garden as a weed.  I purchased some Austrian winter peas at Baker Creek they are similar to English peas in habit and won’t become a weed. 
Clover in the apple orchard as a cover crop

If you plow the garden every spring, using cover crops is easy because you can plow them in and allow them to decompose for a few weeks before you plant.  I do not usually till the soil, so I must plan carefully to avoid having a thick patch of something difficult to remove growing in the place I want to plant my spring vegetables.  However, with some planning, I can mow the cover crop, smother it with mulch, or plant my summer plants along with the cover crop and wait for summer’s heat to kill it. 

Buy seeds for cover crops at local feed stores and garden centers.  Feed stores carry varieties that are successful locally.  Baker Creek Heirloom SeedsPeaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds  also carry many cover crop seeds.  Read the seed descriptions carefully so you do not end up with vetch or some other weedy crop; buy locally to help you grow crops that do not become weeds.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Mansfield, MO

On my trip to Missouri, we also visited Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri.  For a tiny town, Mansfield has two interesting places to visit--Baker Creek and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home.  I would have liked to stay at both places longer than I was able to, but I am thankful I visited.  Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of my favorite authors; I love her books so much that I recently read "The Long Winter" for my own entertainment and found it as fascinating as I did as a child.  If your only experience with "Laura" is from the TV show, I invite you to read her books

Baker Creek is a quirky reproduction Ozark pioneer village.  The storekeeper said the gardens have been deluged by rain this summer, and that they weren't as nice as usual, but I enjoyed them.  These pictures are courtesy of my father, Keith Haynes, who provided them for me after I lost my iPhone/camera (yikes!) when it fell off the roof of the car near the Ohio River in Indiana when we stopped, and I didn't realize it until we were in Kentucky.

 I took some lovely pictures of the gardens at the Laura Ingalls Wilder home which were planted with seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, but they are lost.  

Interesting building at Baker Creek
Entrance to Bakersville
Walking among the gardens

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Missouri Botanical Garden

In early August, my family and I visited my sister in St. Louis, Missouri.  As I always do when I travel, in addition to the tourist spots, I visited gardens.  St. Louis has many parks, and the residents seem to enjoy planting gardens.  I wasn’t as envious of beautiful flowers not damaged by burning sun and drought this year as I have been in previous trips to the Midwest, though; mine aren’t scorched this year either. 

We visited the Missouri Botanical Garden, founded in 1859, a 79-acre refuge inside the St. Louis city limits.  On the day we visited, the little legs that walked with us had already visited the Gateway Arch, and they were tired, so I saw about a third of the garden.  That third was larger than the garden that adjoins Riverbanks Zoo, in Columbia, but perhaps after the Riverbanks garden has operated for over 150 years, it will be as large and as elaborate.

I especially enjoyed the Ottoman garden, with its Asian influences and formal design.  The Sensory Garden, with plants with scents and textures, was an adventure for my children. 
Rose Garden

My sister visited the gardens in the spring, and said the bulb gardens, with thousands of bulbs, were stunning.  When we visited, the perennials that rested beneath the tulip blossoms when she saw the garden were showing their appreciation for the pampering the gardening staff provides.  No deer enter the gardens to munch on the flowers, and I saw no signs of Japanese beetles—perhaps they do not live that far north. 
Beautiful ponds, decorated with oversized water lilies that made perfect beds for frogs and fairies, punctuated the garden. 

I enjoyed the contrasting colors, especially along the Spink Pavilion with the beds lined with ornamental peppers, plants with bright colors, and even colored okra.  The okra was beautiful and edible, and I am going to grow some next year. 
Beautiful, and edible, okra!

Friday, August 30, 2013

I am thankful for all the rain we have had this year, but my garden is a mess!

Since I have begun gardening, at least, I don't think I have ever complained about the rain.  I grew up in a farm family, and I have always been aware of the need for regular rainfall for crops in ways that is not possible for folks who live in the city.  

I have, however, had about enough rain for awhile.  My garden is a mess because of the excess rain, and although I am thankful that the rain is replenishing my well after the years of drought, and that my creek flows with water, I would enjoy a break.  

Standing water beside my driveway

There's a compost pile and some tomatoes under the weeds

My garden is messier this year than it was in the years I had infants and toddlers.  Many times this year I have awoken with plans to work in the garden to hear crashes of thunder and pounding rain.  
Asparagus plants with watermelon vines, and lots of weeds!

According to online weather data, we have already had more rain than we normally get in an entire year, and 8 inches more rain than we had for the entire year last year.

More weeds!

Pea vines have taken over, but at least weeds have a hard time penetrating them.

This week the forecast is for pleasant weather, so I plan to tackle these weeds with the help of my chickens.  A goat would be more helpful, I imagine, but I'll have to use what I have available.  I need to make room for my fall garden.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

It's time to plant the fall garden

Fall weather is on the way.  At this time of year, I usually write about how it’s too hot to imagine cooler days in which fall crops may flourish, but this summer has been unusually cool and fall weather seems to have a better chance to conquer the heat this autumn than in most years.  It is time to start some seeds to grow into transplants to put out later in the fall, and it's a great rainy-day activity if it's pouring rain at your house the way it is at mine.  
Site of fall garden

I won’t try to set out any plants soon, but I plan to sow some seeds in the garden within the next couple of weeks.  I will start the seeds while it’s still hot instead of waiting for cooler temperatures because the plants need to establish themselves before cold weather comes.  If I wait until late September when the weather cools, which I have done, frost will damage the baby plants and they won’t grow well during cold weather.  Older plants enjoy the cold weather, and I am able to harvest from them throughout most of the winter.  In the spring, they will resume growing ahead of new plants.
Baby plants
If the soil is dry, before I plant seeds, I soak the soil.  After I plant the seeds, I water them very gently, and continue to water them gently once or twice a day, depending on rainfall.  Mature plants, with deep roots, need infrequent, long soakings.  Seeds, which inhabit the top layer of soil, need only enough water to keep the top inch or so of soil moist.  They need gentle mists of water, because vigorous water applications will wash the seeds away.  Make sure you tell the afternoon thunderstorms to treat them gently, or you might have to plant the seeds again. 

After I sow the seeds, I put metal hoops across a garden row and I lay shade cloth across them, pinning it down with clothespins.  Shade cloth is available at garden centers or at  Old sheets will work also; use something that blocks the hottest rays of the sun while allowing some light.  Provided strong storms don’t make these coverings collapse, they will protect the seedlings from battering rain. 
When they seeds sprout, I continue to keep the soil moist, but I gradually wean them off such frequent watering so they will develop deep roots.   I leave the shade cloth up until the weather becomes cooler, and I gradually expose the seedlings to brighter sunlight.  If the seedlings look too tall and spindly, they are not getting enough sunlight. 

Indoors, I sow seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, and spinach.  Keep the baby seedlings inside and away from scorching temperatures until the weather cools. 
Outdoors, sow seeds of carrots, beets, chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and turnips.   Keep the soil moist by frequently misting the soil with water, provide shade as needed, and you should have a garden ready for harvest throughout the fall and winter.   

Google “what to plant now,” to find a yearly planting list at I am well organized in the garden, I can harvest something from the garden every day of the year.  This year, thanks to the excessive rain and my activities, I’ll have to battle the weeds for a spot in the garden before I can begin work.    

Monday, July 29, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Traveling Tomatoes!

My tomatoes have traveled this summer.  Just before I went on vacation the week of July 4, my tomatoes began ripening.  I intend to can tomatoes every summer, and I planted about 20 plants.  Unfortunately for my plans, they ripen at various times, and their ripening speed also depends on the weather, which, this summer, has been rainy.  Because the weather has been consistently moist, my tomatoes have not suffered blossom end-rot or cracking.  The dry weather punctuated with occasional rain causes those problems.  I trellised my tomatoes, and most of them were off the ground.
Beautiful tomatoes with no cracks or blossom end-rot!  

Before I left for vacation to Charleston, I picked all the tomatoes that had begun to turn ripe, and I had the people that were watching our animals look out for ripe tomatoes.  I was afraid all the green ones would turn red while I was gone.  I carried the tomatoes I picked to Charleston with me, and we ate some of them and some I cooked every day, adding the ripening ones to the pot.  It's certainly not the best way to preserve tomatoes, but I didn't have enough to can in one batch and I had too many to eat.

I came home, canned tomatoes, and did things normally for a week or two until the painters came.  For some reason, we thought it would be a great idea to have the entire downstairs of our house painted at one time.  When the painters arrived, I was canning tomatoes in the kitchen and finished the job before they got to that area.  I picked all the tomatoes that were ripe or nearly ripe, about two bushels of tomatoes, and went to visit my mother in the Upstate of SC.  I left some of the greenest tomatoes in her spare bedroom to ripen while I went on to visit my aunt.
Canning tomatoes at my aunt's house

Always ready to help with gardening and food preservation, my aunt helped me can tomatoes, and she also helped me freeze some corn from her garden.  Although I try every year to grow corn, I can never manage to grow enough for us to eat, much less to freeze.  Critters eat my corn.
Shucked corn ready to be washed

After we shucked, silked, and washed the corn, we cut it off the cob and cooked it.
Corn cut off the cob, ready to cook

We cooked it until it turned a darker yellow, cooled it, and put it in freezer bags.

This was our view while we worked.

I left the tomatoes at my aunt's house because transporting recently canned tomatoes might break the seal, and went back to my mother's house to can more tomatoes.

Canning tomatoes at my mother's house

My mother's pressure cooker.  I remember standing in front of it as a child, carefully watching the pressure gauge, certain it would explode

My mother helped me finish canning 14 quarts of tomatoes.  I left them there to rest and came home to the disaster that was my house: covered with plastic and dust.  Every table in the house, except the toddler table upstairs, was covered with plastic, and so the upstairs guest room became our dining room, bedroom, and dog bedroom.  My dogs did not like the interruptions. 

The painters are gone, the house looks somewhat normal, and my stove is covered with more pots of tomatoes as I continue canning.  I'll have to traverse the state to pick up my tomatoes, visiting family along the way.  This experience provides a new definition for "local food."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

If your garden hasn't washed away in the rain, it's tomato canning time!

My tomatoes are ripening on the vines, and in the next week or so, provided some disease doesn’t strike the plants, some critter doesn’t destroy them, or the recent monsoon rains don't wash them away, I’ll begin canning tomatoes.  I know I’m a strange tomato-grower:  I don’t eat many raw tomatoes but I do enjoy sauces made of cooked tomatoes.  My girls love raw tomatoes and visit the garden with excitement each day to pick and to eat some of the “baby” tomatoes I grow for them. 

Here's a salad my girls made from tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese and blackberries, with a little thyme and creeping Jenny (which we didn't eat) for a garnish.  My oldest daughter was excited that I let her use a sharp knife for the first time to halve the tomatoes.

For the past couple of years I have not purchased canned tomatoes from the grocery store because I have managed to can enough tomatoes to last all winter.  Home-canned tomatoes taste better than store-bought, and  I read that the lining of the containers of commercially canned tomatoes are made of BPA, or bisphenol A, a chemical that leaches into foods and may contribute to many serious diseases.  According to Green, some food companies, including ConAgra and H.J. Heinz, have begun removing BPA from their packaging, and so canned goods may be safer than they were a few years ago.

Try to can tomatoes, beans, jelly, or other foods this summer from your garden and enjoy some self-sufficiency and safe food during the rest of the year.  If you have never canned anything, the easiest thing to try is jelly or jam.  To make jam or jelly, you don’t need a pressure canner because the sugar in the jam preserves it, but to can beans or other vegetables, you need a pressure canner.  The pressure applied by the canner causes the food to boil at a higher temperature than it can boil on an open stove, and the higher temperature kills bacteria that might otherwise survive cooking.  Many people can tomatoes using a hot water bath, because the acidity in the tomatoes prevents bacterial growth in the food, but I can them with a pressure canner.

Finished tomatoes ready for winter
Using a pressure canner scares people.  Ask around and you’ll find stories of ceilings decorated with turnip greens and exploding food.  Provided your pressure canner operates correctly, and you follow directions with vigilance, canning food is safe.  I don’t usually follow directions precisely when I cook, but I check the instructions multiple times while I am canning food. 

My mother’s pressure canner has a gauge on it that measures the pressure, and when we were children, she asked my sister and me to watch the gauge for her while she did some other work so we could tell her if the pressure got too high.  I remember being afraid it would explode, but it never did.  

Mine rattles louder as the pressure increases, and it’s nice to be able to step away from it while knowing that it’s working correctly. It’s important to maintain a steady temperature under the pressure canner so that the pressure remains relatively stable; fluctuations in pressure will disrupt the canning process.  This is easy on gas or electric ranges, but both of my grandmothers canned food on wood stoves.  The next time you complain about a hot kitchen, or hot weather in general, first imagine being able to build a fire that burns steadily enough to cook food, or to operate a canner, and then think about cooking food, in an unairconditioned house, on the wood stove during July.  You, or someone in the family, cut the wood to build the fire, grew the food, and cooked it.  No wonder grandmas want you to eat all the food on your plate: they know the amount of work needed to get it to your plate.

In this post I gave more detailed instructions on canning, and this website gives many recipes and directions for canning.  Enjoy!