Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scary Little Visitor

      The other morning I was over at the park garden by 6:00 AM.  Did some watering and puttering, and even managed to take a zucchini home.  My wife was up by that time, and in the kitchen.  We first started to talk about the zucchini, when I noticed something unusual, a blob high up on the recessed stereo speaker.  My wife was facing in the opposite direction, so I said to her, "Don't scream, but we have a bat in the kitchen."  She was slow to respond, as she thought I was kidding about the zucchini.  "No dear, the bat up there on the wall."

Not a nice start to breakfast
      First order of business was to shut all of the doors to the kitchen, to prevent our little visitor the free reign of the house.  Now how to get him down?  I suggested we open the door to the deck, then turn the stereo on full blast to blow him off.  Good plan.  I went outside to watch, Cindy went out to the living room to turn on the stereo to max.  Nothing.  Loud music, still nothing.  I went over to the window to look, and there he was, still clinging to the stereo screen.  Guess he likes country music.
      Plan B.  I was to catch him in one of my tropical fish nets.  I was not real high on this plan because I figured he would get tangled in the net.  So for Plan C, I got one of my two gallon plastic tanks with a lid.  Moved a chair over.  But first shined a STRONG flashlight in his eyes hoping to wake him.  But he must have been still dreaming about the country music concert.  The good vibes from the speaker.  So I slowly mounted the chair, put the tank over him, then slid the top along the wall to dislodge him.  I expected squeaks and fury, but he dropped into the tank without much of a fuss.  Took him out to the deck for a little photo shoot:

      We went out to the compost pile, where I placed the tank, then removed the lid.  Still napping.  A couple of hours later, he was gone.  A couple of hours later I was somewhat calmed down.  Hope he eats a lot of nasty bugs.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Zucchini is In Season

      What happens when it is so stinking hot and humid that you don't even want to spend time in the garden?   You get hurried, and don't go bed to bed to check on everything.  You miss the two zucchini hiding in the shade.  They love the heat, growing as you are wilting.  Maybe they are a little bigger than the perfect size, but they are still beauties.

Fresh Veggies, June 22,  2012
       We are going to have a family get together tomorrow, with my sister from Nashville visiting for an overnight stay.  We will spend lots of time talking garden speak.  On the menu are cole slaw, potato salad and a fava bean salad.  That nice big red onion will look great in the potato salad, and maybe a little in the cole slaw as well.  I am off now to shuck the favas, then steam them to get out the little green beans.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Turning up the Heat

      Today starts a stretch of four days of scorching heat.  Supposed to be 97 degrees today, 100 tomorrow, and three more in the nineties after that.  I was out to the park early today, where my volunteer sunflowers are just starting to bloom:

Pollen on leaf just under sunflower
Jack and the sunflower stalk
      It is only June 20th, and this volunteer sunflower is already taller than the seven foot stake right next to it.  Is that seven foot stake too much to hope for the little tomato plant at its base?

      The Gloriosa Daisies are just starting to bloom at home.  They are very sparing in their self seeding efforts, so I really appreciate them when they do pop up in the garden.

First of the Gloriosa Daisies,  6/20/2012
Day Lily from plant give away
Orange Tetraploid Lily from plant give away
Tomato beds,  6/20/2012
      I dragged the hose out to the garden to water this morning before it got too hot for me to stand the heat.  It is not even 9:30 AM, and I suspect that I am mostly done for the day.  Here is a bed of 16 tomato plants, with peppers planted in front.  Behind is a second tomato bed with onions planted in front.  I have a bunch of basil plants that will probably get tucked into the second bed.
      There is activity again in the wren house.  I had intended to clean out the first nest, but now we have the case of a remodel rather than a new construction.  The birds have been doing a fine job keeping down the insect pests.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Creating New Tomato Plants

      Often in a gardening season you could use more tomato plants.  Rabbits may snip them off, or ground hogs, or new space may open up from the harvest of a different crop.  You could buy some plants, put in some seed, or create new plants from your existing plants.

Marglobe Tomato,  6/7/2012
      Most tomato plants will benefit from having suckers trimmed off.  More light will get to the remaining foliage, and air circulation will be much better.  The bottom five or six branches can usually be cut off, and most plants put out new suckers at leaf junctions.  Those stems you really want to cut out, or you can get a huge bush with little tomato production.  Early in the season, the flowers are carried along the main stem, the one that you want to encourage to grow tall for light and air.  This next picture is the plant above after having been trimmed.

Much more breathing room

      I got six nice stems from my trimming work.  These were put into dirt in a six cell pack, soaked in a water bath, and put in a shady area.  For the next few days, the stems may be quite droopy, and you will think this is a stupid idea.  Make sure to keep the soil quite damp, and in a few days you will be amazed that the stems are perking up.

June 16th, and all is well

      In this picture you can see the new roots.  No chemicals, no rooting hormones, plain old garden compost.  Just helping Mother Nature to do her thing.  I planted these starts in the ground yesterday, and will make sure to water them well for a few days.  Miracle of miracles, new plants in ten days!
      I started a tomato this year called Glacier.  It is supposed to be very early, and the plants are now loaded with decent sized green tomatoes.  I am thinking that if Glacier does well at the beginning of the season, it might also do well at the end of the season.  So I am planning to start some stem cuttings now and a little later in the season.  Maybe that will extend these faster growing plants to the end of the season.  The plants don't get as big either, so maybe they could stay stuffed in a taller cold frame.  Anybody have thoughts on extending the tomato season?  I have been promised some plants of Burpee's Long Keeper and also the Red October, both varieties that are supposed to ripen after being picked off the vine.  Pick them green in October, and they are supposed to ripen into November and December,  And still taste better than store bought tomatoes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bountiful Bee Balm

      Many plants can be invasive, but some are pretty enough that you don't care.  The bee balm, also known as minarda or bergamot, by the side of the house fits that description, yet right now it is glorious in its red fire crackers.

Bee Balm, June 15th, 2012

Bee Balm, June 16th, 2012

      The red color of the bee balm is a strong lure for hummingbirds.  We have it growing right next to our porch so I often see the hummingbirds from my side of the kitchen table.  One young male in particular will actually perch in the wild cherry near the porch, to use that vantage point to attack and scare away any other hummers that come into his territory.  So although bee balm is a member of the mint family and spreads like wild fire, I know two other spots that will have transplants next year.

Cherry Tree perch for little male hummingbird

Monday, June 11, 2012

Two Recipes

    Below are two recipes from my daughter, Emily, a Registered Dietitian.

Asparagus and Strawberry Spring Salad
Emily's Asparagus and Strawberry Spring Salad,  May 27, 2012
Makes 5-8 servings
    Fresh produce packs its most powerful punch when in season. This recipe combines delicious salad greens, asparagus, and strawberries, which all have overlapping periods of peak abundance and nutritional value. Nutrients in salad greens differ among varieties, but dark, colorful greens are typically rich in vitamins A and C. Both vitamins A and C support immune health and vitamin A is also known for its role in eye health. Strawberries bring sweetness to this salad as well as vitamin C and anti-inflammatory compounds. Asparagus is rich in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and K, folate, and iron. Asparagus also provides fiber and inulin, which both promote the health of the digestive tract. Feta cheese and pine nuts or sunflower seeds offer a bit of protein, allowing the salad to serve as a light meal. The fat provided by the oil in the dressing increases absorption of the abundant supply of nutrients in this salad. Choosing flax seed oil for the dressing adds a plant source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

6-8 cups of mixed spring greens (torn)
1 pound (about 2 cups) asparagus, roasted and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup fresh strawberries (sliced)
1 small onion (sliced)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds or pine nuts
1/2 cup feta cheese (crumbled)
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/3 cup flax seed oil or light olive oil
1/3 cup water
1 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar (more if preferred and depending upon strength of vinegar)
2 Tablespoons strawberry jelly, jam, or preserves
2 teaspoons fresh basil or mint, minced
Break woody ends off of asparagus. Place spears in medium sized skillet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté approximately 5 minutes (cooking time varies according to size of spears) until spears are bright green and surface is lightly browned. Remove from heat and cut into 1 inch pieces. Allow to cool.

Place salad greens in large bowl. Top with cooled asparagus, strawberries, onions, sunflower seeds or pine nuts, and feta cheese.

Whisk together oil, water, balsamic vinegar and strawberry jelly, jam, or preserves.  Add fresh basil or mint. Shake well.

Serve salad in large bowl or on individual plates and top with dressing (or other dressing of choice).

Chunky Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Emily's Chunky Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Makes 8 servings
This chunky vegetable salad is based on the plentiful homegrown tomatoes of late summer, rich in lycopene and vitamins A and C. All of these nutrients are known to be antioxidants and, therefore, valuable components in cancer prevention. The salad is most delicious with fresh tomatoes from the garden or is easily prepared by slicing grape or cherry tomatoes in half. Cucumbers provide a familiar combination, but substituting bell peppers or lightly sautéed green beans, roasted asparagus, or summer squash allows for seasonal variations of this antioxidant-rich salad.

Tomato Salad
4 cups tomatoes
2 cups cucumber or other seasonal vegetable(s)
1 large onion
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh basil (chopped)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
Cut tomatoes into bite sized pieces. Slice cucumbers and onions and add to tomatoes. Add fresh basil and parsley. Sprinkle vegetables with garlic powder, salt, and coarsely ground black pepper.

Combine oil and vinegar. Pour over vegetables and herbs. Serve at room temperature.

      The above recipes are from Emily Davis Moore, RD, LDN

Garlic Harvest Continues

      There is a storm system traveling up the coast that could give us a lot of rain tomorrow.  With many of the garlic leaves turning yellow, I harvested more garlic this morning to avoid it getting waterlogged.  This patch had a lot of plants that had fallen over:

And the rest of the bed:

Cleaning out the whole bed resulted in a nice harvest:

      I must have missed this clump from my harvest last year.  A single clove grew to be a small bulb with six cloves.  Once the leaves die back in late July, the garlic is completely hidden underground.  It overwintered, then sent up six plants.  Two of the bulbs are big enough to make it to the harvest tray.  The rest will be divided into cloves to be replanted in October.

Garlic Scapes,  June 11, 2012
      These scapes are an added bonus.  Hopefully we will try to use these before they go soft.

      The above shot is the total harvest so far this season.  In the left tray are bulbs that will get divided into cloves for replanting.  The middle tray could be for seed cloves or for consumption.  The right hand tray contains nice bulbs, and the tray at the top contains the largest bulbs I have ever grown.  There are a few more of the big bulbs still in the ground, as well as some plants that will probably have decent sized bulbs.  The first year garlic started from bulbils last year is still to be harvested, but they definitely will need to be separated and replanted for another growing season.
      So we are ready to start eating the new crop.  I still have about eight bulbs from last summer's harvest, but they just shriveled quite quickly from the heat on the porch.  Those bulbs have been put into the replant tray to see if any of the cloves have a little bit of life left in them.  So let it rain tomorrow, I have a bumper crop set aside already.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friendly Little House Wrens

      Sometimes when in the garden, I hear a bird singing up in the pin oak tree.  A booming song, fit for a big bird like a blue jay or robin.  I glance up, hoping to see the gifted singer.  Seeing nothing.  Yet there is a movement, there is a tiny bird.  A house wren, singing in all its glory.  Singing for my benefit.
      I have hung bird houses in the garden hoping to attract the wrens to build a nest.  And it has worked.  The birds are constantly flitting about the garden, singing and talking to me as they go about their business.  Singing to me.  They perch just feet away, and will move about as I do.  Not to scold me, but to sing their delightful big songs.  And now they are even more feverishly busy, as they have little mouths to feed.

Baby house wrens,  June 7, 2012
      In this picture you can see two little beaks.  Some days ago I could hear a faint chirping from the nest, almost as if from a distance.  But the babies must have learned that more noise equals more food, as now there is a constant racket emanating from the house.

Maybe the alpha chick surveying his new back yard

      Here one of the parent birds sits impatiently upon a tomato stake, waiting for me to leave the area.  The flash of the camera early this morning seems to bother the birds, because they usually don't seem to mind if I am nearby.  It took awhile for them to land on the house, then they would land, drop off the food tidbit, and quickly dash away.

Feeding time
      A friend of mine built most of the bird houses that I have around the yard.  This one is made from scrap Trex lumber from a deck project.  Has a little locking panel in the bottom to clean out the house.  One heavy duty little bird house.  Unfortunately, he cut the entry hole big enough for sparrows to fit in, and being the bullies that they are, they will take over a wren house by force.  So looking for a way to reduce the hole size, I thought of the neck of the 1.5 liter liquor bottles.  You can see the plastic ring in the photo above.  Cut off maybe the top three inches of the bottle, remove the little pouring insert in the top opening, and hopefully your new restrictor will jam tightly into the bird house opening.  Reducing the opening to a size that only house wrens or chickadees can squeeze through.  The fun little birds.
      Maybe a month ago as I was planting a row of onions under the bird house, I heard quite a ruckus above me.  A sparrow was trying to get into the house!  A distraught wren was perched nearby on a tomato stake.  The little wren was raising its wings and dropping its beak, trying to look menacing.  Bouncing up and down.  Cutest little menacing thing I have ever seen. The sparrow ignored the wren, pushed and shoved at the opening, then pecked angrily at the plastic collar, then flew away.  And that is why that early this morning, I still have a bird house full of noisy little baby house wrens.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Early June Flowers, Early in the Day

Back Yard Garden,   June 7, 2012

Rose Campion and Forget-Me-Not, in both above
Waiting and waiting on Mandevilla
Forget-Me-Not and Perennial Geranium
Penstemon, also known as Beard's Tongue
Penstemon in front of day lily
Bee magnet, tiny little Winterberry flowers

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Leek Scapes

Leek Scapes,  June 6, 2012
      A couple of days ago I read on the net that leeks would be inedible when they sent up their flower shoots.  Bummer, wish I had known that two leeks ago.  Ah, I mean two weeks ago.  This morning the flower shoots looked beautiful in the sun so I took some pictures.  Then looked up on the net as to whether the flower stalks would be called scapes, as in garlic scapes.  Yes indeed.  I was going to make a pun about a picture of the leeks could be a "leek scape" rather than a landscape, but I found something even better!  The scapes themselves are edible, just like garlic scapes.  There are some interesting recipes out there, using the scapes like asparagus, making a pesto, or in a bean hummus.  All sound yummy.  So while I may have lost some leeks, I have gained some scapes.

      And if you leave these seed heads to dry for a bit on the stalk, followed by a couple of weeks in a dry paper bag, you will have hundreds of seeds for next year.
      Here are a couple of interesting links:

The flowers are pretty to look at, and attract beneficial insects.  So next year I will let some leeks go to seed, but be better about a late spring harvest for leek and potato soup for the freezer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Early Garlic Crop

      Everything is early this year after the mild non winter we had.  Now we are getting some heavy rains on a weekly basis, and I am afraid to let the garlic stay in the ground for another couple of weeks.  So I have started to harvest the garlic, especially those knocked over or ones starting to brown.  These are some that were picked yesterday:

Garlic picked 6/4/2012
      These yielded a full range of sizes, from nice keepers, to small ones that will go back in the ground this year in the fall.

    This is what happens when you forget to harvest small first year bulbils at the end of the summer growing season.  As the tops dry back and die, you lose track of the garlic.  This one had grown from one very small clove to a head of six.  So this spring, all six came up in a clump, and had to compete with one another, so they are fairly small.  I will dry them, separate the cloves, and replant them this fall.  Should make for a nice harvest next year.

      The garlic above was harvested last week and has been drying on the porch.  Most of these had fallen over in an experiment gone bad.  I had transplanted garlic sets from clumps divided in the spring, and put them into pure mushroom soil.  Turns out the mushroom soil does not have enough bulk to support the growing garlic plants, so they fall over.  I am sure they will still be delicious.  At the bottom center of this picture is a head with the cloves evident.  The "wrappers" are weak due to the wet soil, and shred very easily.  I have read that these heads will not store as well.  Better to eat them first.

      This is what happens when all goes well.  You get the best garlic harvest you have ever had.  Big bulbs. I do mean big.  These are regular hard neck garlic, not elephant garlic.  Now how big?

Dis Big.  Fist size big.

      This is what is left of the heads that got planted properly, the big ones.  While the color of the stalks suggests they can be left in the ground a little longer, I am tempted to dig them now, to prevent any chance of them rotting in the ground.
      What is your vote?