Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just so different than most

There are times when I wonder if I was just not meant to live in this time, or if I am just so much different than others that I am forced to live on the fringe. 

I know that I would be a stalwart liberal if I didn't embrace so many conservative values.  But daily I am ashamed of some of the crap I hear coming from the conservative machine.  Then I hear the crap coming from the liberal machine and shake my head. But I don't think I am a libertarian because I do not believe it would be good for our country to dramatically downsize our military.  Again, I just don't fit anywhere.

Then there is the whole kid thing.  When most of my relatives and friends are bragging about what college their kid got into, I am encouraging my kids to work and save up for college so they won't be in debt.  They will also work harder in college if they are paying for it. 

While other people I know are bragging about the $300 boots they bought their daughter for Christmas I delight that my daughter shops at Target from the clearance rack and that she is in love with her 1980's Toyota truck.  My kids know how to cook, clean, are required to have a job before they can get their driver's licenses, and when they turn 18 must pay rent (not a lot, but something). 

I celebrate the fact that my kids are thinkers.  They are not drones, mainstream, vulnerable to peer pressure, or like anyone else.  Around here we celebrate true diversity: that you don't need to do life like everyone else does life. 

Then there is my penchant for discovery.  Any kind of discovery.  Must learn new things.  Must expand my knowledge base.  Must know what is going on in the world around me.  Must try to change the world.  Need more input (and I know someone will know what movie that quote is from).

Wow, that is just downright exhausting.  But that is who I am.  I don't think I could stand to be married to someone like me, and I'm pretty sure that is why my husband (soon to be ex) just disconnected.  I was too much for him.  I am too much for me sometimes. 

In a post-apocalyptic world I would do very well.  In this world I am an enigma, strange, a little off.

Oh well. I think I'll just go watch my Suyo Long cucumber grow for a bit. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Same yard, different photos

Brown-eyed Susan
I have been wanting to venture forth and get some amazing shots of Connecticut sights, but I got sick over the weekend and am still feeling a little wobbly today.  Soooo, I grabbed my camera, tripod and headed out the door.  Since it was only 6:30 am when I started the light was very low.  I found a lot of my pictures to be grainy -- high ISO to compensate for low light creates noise, or what we see as a grainy shot.

I almost deleted all of the photos but then decided to work with what I had.  A couple of hours post processing and I have a few shots that make me happy.

Brown-eyed Susan close-up
In the low light, the bright yellow really pops.  I love it!

The photo to the left looks totally different on my monitor with an hdmi cable vs. non-hdmi.  Hmmmm, think I need to break down and get a second cable.  Huge difference in color saturation.

New sugar pumpkin growing on the cattle panel fence

I have had a problem with female flowers and their potential fruit turning yellow and falling off.  Out of my four vines I have only three pumpkins that have survived.  Don't get me wrong.  I am certainly not complaining.  Sugar pumpkins were $.70 a pound last year and I ended up not getting any.  And that is non-organic pricing.  My pumpkins are heirlooms grown organically (property has been organic since 2003 -- three years after we purchased it).  Even my dairy goats were raised organic, organic feed, limited vaccinations, limited worming (used herbal wormer), and this garden area is located in the old goat yard.

Back to pumpkins not "taking".  I think it is related to the amount of rain they have been getting: a lot!  Each time a pumpkin has "taken" it has been during a dry spell.  So now I don't even water these babies.  They don't seem to like much water at all.

I will probably need to figure out a harness setup to ensure the pumpkins growing on the fence do not break off or damage the vine.

I wanted you to be able to see the spines on the Suyo Long cucumber.  They are quite prickly.

A young Suyo Long cucumber
Then as they near harvest time they fill out and become smoother.

I will be harvesting the largest cucumber today.  I can't wait to make a salad with my own cucumber, cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic, and feta cheese, all marinating in a balsalmic vinaigrette.

Amish Deer Tongue lettuce

And finally, here a another picture of the Amish Deer Tongue lettuce going to seed.  I look forward to photographing the flowers and seeds, and especially look forward to saving my own seeds, though they will have been cross-pollinated with a variety of other lettuces.

There is a lot more going on:
- Allowing my snow peas to grow full-size for seed harvesting
- Same with my purple pole beans (which I disliked tremendously but will give away -- I just don't like pole beans)
- More Moskovich tomatoes are growing in my driveway container garden
- Deck garden is thriving including tiny buds on my bell pepper plant already and several tomatoes about 1/2 inch in size plus lots and lots of tomato flowers

Saturday, July 28, 2012

When I really miss it

This morning did not go as expected. 

Last night one of my sons came into the living room really stressed out.  He had been offered an opportunity to train for a position that he wanted.  The catch was that he had two weeks to learn what usually took six months of training.  I said my usual mom words about how he is super smart, very capable and would learn it quickly because of his incredible memory (all true words).  But then I kind of zoned out.  I wasn't really tuned in.  I find myself doing that a lot the past few years.  Sadly, for a couple of years, I felt nearly disconnected from my family.  Not physically; I still got the kids to school, saw that they had clean clothes, money for school lunches (except the numerous times I forgot).  But on an emotional level, on the connectedness meter, I was rating pretty low.

So this morning I hear a knock on my door.  Oh crap! It was 4:45 and I was supposed to be up at 4:00 am.  Dressed in two minutes we were out the door.  My son was extremely irritable in the car.  There are many reason for this, and it isn't really unusual in the mornings, but today I was not very understanding and asked him to just stop. 

After dropping him off at work it hit me that he was extremely nervous about starting this new position.  He had no breakfast, no coffee, no lunch, and he was stressed out beyond belief. 

I had missed it.  I just completely missed it.

I have a lot of reasons for my lack of sensitivity, but no excuses.  When I pick him up he will receive a huge apology. 

Some days I just really miss "it."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't judge a book by its cover

It has been a long, hard road to the first tomato in this home.  Let me go back just a bit and explain.

Last winter I decided that I wanted to attempt to grow a vegetable garden again.  Since becoming horribly sick in 2006 with Lyme disease and co-infections I had to sell my organic dairy goats, cease any type of outdoor activity that put me at risk (at the direction of my doctor who told me I must stop getting re-infected), and wasn't even able to cook for myself or my children.  We are talking take-out and frozen foods.  Not only did it double our already insane food bill, this whole situation exposed my family and myself to horribly unhealthy foods, the source of nourishment for our bodies not being very life-giving.

Fast forward to 2011, several years of no treatment.  A year of long-term antibiotics.  I had recovered to about 50% maybe of my former, healthy self.  And you know what? I was thankful to have that much of my health back.  I considered myself high functioning.

Anyone who really knows me knows that I am a dreamer.  I tends towards idealism.  I wouldn't quite call myself a Pollyanna but I see the bright side of things.  When I see the dark side of things I fight to change them.  And then I focus on the bright side for awhile.  I create.  I capture beauty.  I attempt to make things better.  I don't give up.  I am a fighter.  I wanted some of my former life back.  I wanted to grow some of my own food again.

After much research I decided that I wanted to grow all heirloom vegetables and herbs in my garden.  I didn't want anything associated with Monsanto or its dangerous GE products.  I haven't used pesticides in over 30 years and knew that Round-up was just wrong.  I bend over and pull weeds.  Gasp.  Yes, they come out of the ground when you pull on them.  Sorry, I had to throw in a teensy bit of sarcasm because Round-up just seems so silly to me. 

Back to my garden.  I placed an order with a small seed company, Annie's Heirloom Seeds.  I excitedly received most of my order within 2 days and the rest was shipped with plenty of time to plant. 

I planted my seeds indoors in February.  We had already been experiencing spring-like weather so I dove right in.  I let my seeds live on the windowsill in the living room where we get lots of light and great full sun at least half of the day.  They did well except when the cats wanted to play with the tags.  I still don't know what varieties of tomatoes are planted where in my garden.  Cats make gardening so interesting.

One of my plants, Moskovich I discovered, ended up in a container in my driveway and the rest I planted in my backyard garden where they thrived.  My first tomato has been watched and documented for what feels like months.  Seriously, I think it took 3 months for this tomato to ripen.  Three days ago I went outside and checked my first and nearly ripe Moskovich tomato and it had split all along the top and down the sides.  Oh, I was heartbroken.

Moskovich tomato split after a rainstorm and cool night

I placed the focus of my tomato love on the counter in my kitchen out of direct sunlight and hoped and prayed.  It needed two or three more days to ripen.  I watched for mold.  I watched for bugs.  I picked my tomato up every day to gauge its ripeness. 

This morning I checked it and when I squeezed just a bit some juice came out on my hand.  I knew it had to be eaten today. 

Let me say that I am actually not a fresh tomato person because I grew up exposed to mealy grocery store tomatoes.  When I was older I discovered Roma tomatoes and stuck to those but I would never just cut a slice of tomato and eat it. 

My youngest is a tomato lover.  When he was very little he would go in my vegetable garden and eat tomatoes right off of the plants, like apples.  I had never done that and never thought I would enjoy a fresh tomato like that.

This morning changed that. 

I cut into my first tomato of the season, my first Moskovich ever.  I cut a small piece off of the bigger slice and popped that baby into my mouth. 

Oh my! I have never tasted a tomato like this. EVER!  This is what tomato lovers know tomatoes can taste like.  This is what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. 

It isn't pretty, but my first tomato of the season is a winner!  Blue Ribbon!!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What's in a Name?

I purchased two packets of heirloom lettuce seeds this winter: Romaine Lettuce Blend and Red Salad Bowl. The Romaine Lettuce Blend contained seeds for Forellenschluss, Paris Island Cos, Amish Deer Tongue, Marvel of Four Seasons, and Rouge d'Hiver. The Red Salad Bowl is a classic red leaf lettuce, delicate, abundant and easy to grow. Actually, all of the lettuce seeds except for Rouge D'Hiver came up fairly quickly and grew like weeds. I just sow all of my lettuce seeds together in the same bed; no rows, no sections. They all just get scattered, light covering of soil and watered. The bunching onions I sowed as well did not come up except for two or three seeds. I will start the onions in flats next year.

Marvel of Four Seasons

Marvel of Four Seasons
This curly French heirloom head lettuce is just now going to seed after growing in the garden for 2 months.  When they begin to reach this stage, I cut the plant back to approximately 2 inches and it grows again, tender and sweet.  Lovely texture and lovely taste.

Marvel of Four Seasons can range from this soft green with red edges to nearly completely dark red depending on the weather.



 This Romaine lettuce is so pretty, growing tall and slender.  Delicate flavor and texture (because I harvest all of my lettuce while young).

Amish Deer Tongue

Amish Deer Tongue

Another lovely heirloom Romaine, this one is my favorite.  I just love the name.  It has a little more body so is perfect for sandwiches or burgers. This would be a good variety to transport to a Farmer's Market, being not so delicate.

Paris Island Cos

Paris Island Cos

This is the traditional heirloom Romaine lettuce.  I like the flavor of Amish Deer Tongue better but this is wider and might be preferred for salads.  As with my other lettuces, I harvest this fairly young, just cutting the leaves off and leaving 2" of the plant so I can get second and third harvests.

Red Salad Bowl

Red Salad Bowl

This is a gorgeous loose leaf lettuce, curly, delicate and delicious.  As delicate as this variety is, it seemed to stand out as an easy germinator and survivor. It might just be its bold color and spreading growth. 

I think I'll grow the same lettuces again next year, maybe adding Little Gem Lettuce, a tiny, personal-sized head lettuce.  All of these lettuces have been slow to bolt, allow cutting and regrowing, and grew with only a few hours of sun each day.  The limited sunlight probably contributed to the slow bolting characteristics of these lettuces, so either a shaded garden (grow a trellis of peas or cucumbers above) or in a shady spot might be great if you live in the south.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

And then there were fences!

Waited until 4 pm to get the boys outside with me to put up a fence around the backyard garden and redo the fence around the front yard garden.  My timing was perfect.  It started raining. 

New trellis
Since it was warm we just dived in to the project by first rebuilding the trellises for my cucumbers and peas.  For each we pounded a 6' wooden stake inside the garden beds and nailed the stake to the 4x4" supports.  Pulled out the metal stakes and wrapped the existing chicken wire along with the plants growing on them around the wooden stakes and the new trellises are taller and more stable than the old ones.  They look better, too.

Backyard garden with a house-shaped fence
Next we laid out the cattle panels around the garden and realized that four panels would not be big enough.  Daniel then suggested a house shape (can't really call it pentagonal since the angles are not all equal).  I didn't quite get it at first but as we laid out the remaining panels it made perfect sense.

Front garden properly fenced
Finally, we moved and put in stakes for the front yard fence.  Tomorrow I will tie the panels together except one corner which will be my gate. 

I wish I could see that doe when she comes by for a late-night snack tonight.  Just hoping she doesn't decide to jump the fence. 

We all ended up soaked to the skin but the job is done and I feel a LOT better.  Thanks boys!

Ignorance is Bliss . . .

Sunday morning.  House is quiet.  After my first cup of coffee I decide to spend a little time chronicling my new deck garden and other garden areas.

New deck garden started July 14th
A few days ago I was running errands in Colchester and decided to check at Mackey's to see if they had any seeds for broccoli or chinese cabbage, or carried any fall veggies.  The answer was no but when I mentioned that I would only buy seeds from non-Monsanto-related companies and non-patented seeds the lovely woman who was helping me told me they had several heirloom tomato varieties and I was welcome to them for free.  She helped me choose two plants, Oxheart and a white tomato (the name of the variety itself was missing so it will be a surprise).

Yesterday I filled my new inexpensive pots with my magic organic goat-house compost and planted the two tomatos and a bell pepper plant I had purchased.  The fourth pot is currently empty.  Oh, I planted some jalapeno pepper seeds in the larger black pot for my kids who love them.  I am guessing there is not enough of the growing season left to actually get any peppers from those plants but I can always bring these pots into the house on cold nights.

Cattle panels now fence in front garden
Heading out the front door I was anxious to photograph my baby pumpkins.  But first I must thank my 19yo son Daniel for deciding to fence in my front garden with cattle panels I had from when I raised organic dairy goats.  He worked very hard to put this fence up with only one metal stake.  He used salvaged springs from an old crib to attach the panels to one another.  Genius if you ask me.  See dog on the far right sniffing around perimeter of the fence.  Maya has turned out to be quite destructive, so we have been working on fencing in all of the garden beds that she seems to favor.

Baby pumpkin
My first baby pumpkin.  I missed the blossom stage which was yesterday.  I think I am most excited about my sugar pumpkin patch. 

Now I take some pics of raspberries, my milkweed and horseweed patch (that is an entirely different blog post for the near future), blueberries. I even discovered a blueberry bush that I had completely missed that is covered in ripening blueberries that I must cover in netting today.
Damage by deer
And so with the thrill of anticipation I head toward my biggest cucumber and can't wait to take a few shots to share its amazing growth with all. I head around the trellis to set up the shot and my heart drops. It is gone. My precious cucumber is gone. Some creature came in the night and ate it, half of my cucumber vines and a good one-third off the tops of nearly all of my tomato plants.

I have lived here 12 years and never once have deer touched my garden.  So what does any photographer do? I take a lot of pictures.  I try to make myself feel better.  I comfort myself with the knowledge that I will be able to share my pain and be comforted by friends.  What else can I do? Oh, and I start plotting . . . no, not revenge.  I start thinking about using my last cattle panels to fence in this backyard garden.

Now this new fence project is at the top of my to-do list.  It must get done today.

Finished with capturing the devastation, I even forget to head around to the garage area to check on my container garden there.  I just want another cup of coffee, to cool down (because it is downright hot outside at 8:30 am).  Okay, I am emotionally conflicted and not happy.

I get into the house, connect my camera to my pc and start downloading (I don't have a card reader on my desktop pc).  Grabbing a fresh cup of coffee, I sit down while the downloading continues.  I like watching the photos pop up as each is downloaded, like a slideshow.

All done.  I look in the folder with today's downloads and there are five pictures I did not take.  Hmmm.  One of the boys took five pictures of something.

Yep, that is a doe sniffing around my backyard.  Yep, one of the boys took this picture and then forgot to tell me that there was a deer in my backyard.  I am just a little peeved about this lack of concern but understand.  We have never had deer in our yard before.  We have never had to worry about deer eating any of our landscape or vegetable plants.  We enter a new era.  Now like most other gardeners in Connecticut we face the daunting task of trying to grow veggies and having them survive the local wildlife long enough to be eaten by the gardener and her family.  Just another challenge! I can do this!!!

I will leave you on a happy note.  This is another baby cucumber that I will be watching and waiting, anticipating the delight when I finally get to enjoy my own homegrown Suyo cucumbers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mid-Summer Garden

Little MJ taken by Daniel Haynes
This is MJ, named after the screaming leading lady in Spiderman.  Not my favorite name or character, but the kids prevailed.  She is a tiny little thing, smaller even than her mother.  Once every two months she climbs up in my lap while I am watching a movie and gets all cuddly and sweet.  She has a fairly blah personality but she also doesn't have a mean bone in her body.  So our little MJ is the highlight of kitty photography this time. Her look-alike brother was adopted by one of my daughter's friends and ended up the size of a Pro Football linebacker.

Jungle-like tomato bed with cucumber trellis in
the back. Photo taken by Daniel Haynes

I have no way to express how insanely jungle-like and overgrown my tomato bed is at this point.  A week ago the plants were just venturing over the sides of the bed.  Today they are 18-24" on each side and growing.  I think they grew an inch while I was watering today.

And there are little probably hundreds of little cherry tomatoes, and I am pretty sure at least 3 bunches of San Marzanos, in that crazy mess of tomato plants.  Peaking their heads up in the back are my cucumbers that are finally taking off and growing baby cukes.

I actually took the photo to the right 5 days ago.  That little cuke is now 3 inches long.  Suyo's can grow 14-15 inches long.  I can't wait to taste these long, skinny cucumbers.  I LOVE cucumbers.  I love marinated cucumber salad, cold cucumbers in green salads, cucumbers in Greek salad with feta, cucumbers dipped in creamy dressing.  I have even sauteed thinly sliced cucumbers in butter and served as a side dish.  

But my favorite way to enjoy cucumbers is in a modified version of Ina Garten's Greek salad:

Cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced
Bell peppers, red, yellow, orange, cut into 1" chunks
Cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Red onion, sliced or chopped
Any other vegetable that marinades well such as broccoli
Feta cheese, cut into 1/2" squares
Balsalmic vinaigrette, toss and allow to sit 30 minutes before serving. 

I can eat bowl after bowl of this salad.  And my kids love it!  If only my peppers had made it.  I might just swing by the nursery and look for some plants.  I really want to grow my own peppers.

Succession Planting

Inspired by a couple of articles I read, I decided to plant the remaining tomato plants on hand.  These are the last few that I had started indoors in late February of this year.  I kept them outside in those little pellets where they turned purple and didn't grow.  I realized after planting three of them in tomato cans and seeing them double and now triple in size in 2 weeks that I will just consider the rest of my plants as mid-summer tomato plantings.  I am hoping this means I will be harvesting tomatoes later in the season after my current plants are all too tired to give me any more fruit.

Goat yard garden -- first year.  Mid-summer planting: catnip, oregano and tomatoes
Today I planted the catnip plants that I bought at a farmer's market 3 weeks ago along with the rest of my oregano seedlings in the center bed.  My remaining tomato plants went in the bottom bed where my one kale plant is finally growing. 

My 12yo son and I made bowls around all of the plants in this garden since it is on a slope and the soil was fairly hard and compacted.  Water was just running off.  Now those plants should be getting all of the water they need which is important since we haven't had any significant rainfall in a few weeks.

We were thrilled to find baby pumpkins on the vines in the farthest bed.  So thrilled.  The kids and I love, love, love fresh pumpkin in our pumpkin pies.  And with canned pumpkin getting a bad rap for possible BPA's, growing our own was a no-brainer.  

On the left are the zucchini plants.  Every morning when I walk out the door I can see the pumpkin and squash blossoms all the way from the front door.  They are so cheerful, as though they are laughing and dancing in the sun so happy to just BE.

To do: buy broccoli and bok choi seeds to plant in the lettuce bed that the dog destroyed.

Our bleeping dog decided to destroy the lettuce and garlic bed.
Bad! Bad dog!!!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Garden Update

The tomato plants have created a jungle.  I never got around to staking them which I will most likely regret.  Most of the tomato plants in this bed are cherry tomato varieties.  I won't know which are which until they ripen.  I am hoping for at least one plum tomato variety.
The lettuce bed was partially destroyed by our dog.  I found her laying in the middle of my lettuce plants after digging a little spot for herself.  I guess she thought that would be the coolest place to chill out, literally. The garlic is doing well.  I will definitely plant more garlic this fall for early spring garlic next year.

My snowpeas (which I thought were sugar snap peas) are a little large here but make a great shot.  I haven't been getting out to the garden every day since it got so hot so these little guys are not so little by the time I pick them.  My 12yo son loves eating the peas out of the pods and then eating the pods.  He doesn't care if they aren't as tender.  He just loves these veggies.

Oh, and I continue to pick blueberries from the many varieties and cultivars growing at the perimeter of my yard.  I have frozen three bags so far. I sent my 12yo son out the other day to pick. He seemed to enjoy the activity but enjoys popping frozen blueberries in his mouth the most (he just grabs a handful and enjoys).

Canned tomatos
I had a few tomato seedlings left over after planting my garden that were just poor, little, pitiful things.  I saved these cans from cooking over the winter (I make huge batches of black bean chili) and thought they would look really interesting with tomato plants growing in them.  I planted these 4 days ago and they have more than doubled in size and are finally green instead of that stressed purple.

Moskovich tomato -- about 3.5 inches across
My first slicing tomato is growing so quickly I hope it doesn't split.  I planted this tomato in the pot on my driveway along with oregano, Cosse Violette pole beans, parsley, chives and a pepper plant which didn't make it.

I harvest several beans a day and although I don't really like string beans, these purple beans are so pretty I just like looking at them.  I might eat some, too.

This is my favorite gardening project, this container garden.  It inspires me to once again buy some large pots and plant a deck garden.  I might do that even though it is so late in the season.  I just might.

My next big project is a solar dehydrator.  I have a dream . . .