Monthly Archives: August 2013

Garden notes to myself (read at peril of boredom, these are to help me remember for next year)


Three sisters garden (corn, squash, beans):  The corn has done well, with most ears being nice and full.  Planted heirloom “Golden Bantam,” which to me has a very full, corn flavor and texture.  It’s not a modern hybrid, so always have the water boiling and ready to go before picking.  Planting the corn in blocks works best for pollination.  I used rabbit manure in the planting holes, and side dressed the corn with the same whenever I had a half bucket or so.  That’s the only fertilizer I used on it this year, and I think it did great.  **No corn earworms this year!  Amazing.  I noticed a toad tucked away in one of the corn leaves a few weeks back, so maybe he dispatched all the culprits.  I also had one lone sunflower near the corn patch, which is now in beautiful bloom, and I think I found a couple of earworms on it.  Maybe sunflowers work as a catch crop . . . The pole beans I planted to vine up the corn stalks are just how starting to bear.  The squash underneath it all has blooms, so hopefully I will have time before frost to harvest a few.

It’s a bit tricky to know when to pick the corn, but now that I’ve done it a few times, wait til the silks turn dry and brown and the ear feels full.  You can always peel down the husk a bit at the top to check, and I’ve done this a few times with no ill effects, but it seems logical that if I do that and then leave that ear to ripen more, it is more open to invasion.  This year that hasn’t seemed to be a problem.  One ear I picked this morning to blanch and freeze had one portion covered in that black “smut.”  The ear itself looked good, so I salvaged the bottom half and washed it well.  That’s the only ear with that affliction, so far.  Yesterday I picked 11 ears for freezing; 8 more this morning, and they were large and full.  I have a total of 4 sandwich sized baggies almost full, and one of those should provide a side dish for the two of us, two nights in a row.  That’s about 8 meals over the winter with summer-tasting corn on the side!  I had a total of 37 corn plants this year; I would like to double that next year.  I can’t save the seeds because the field next to us was planted in corn this year (probably GMO stuff, and definitely hybrid), so I will order plenty from Seed Savers next spring.  There are a few ears still maturing, so maybe I can get another batch for fresh eating and a bit more for freezing.  It’s nice that the heirloom varieties tend to ripen at different times, to space out the harvest and the labor.  **Next year, remember to “hill up” the corn once it’s a couple feet tall, to support the stalks.  Also lay down hay/straw mulch.

Charentais melons (true cantaloupe):  I have about 11 out there on the vine.  These grew on one of the hugelkultur beds Lowell made for me, and the soil he put on top was fairly sandy.  Even though we are mostly clay soil here, down in the woods there area areas of sand.  That might be connected to the mining that was done here years ago.  Anyway, the melons seem to like that soil.  I’m happy with the pollination rate, as everything I’ve read indicates that the small flowers of these plants are only pollinated by bees, and often you might only get one or two melons per plant.  Since we use no pesticides, we certainly have a lot of bee activity in the garden!  I credit the bright red “gift zinnias” out there with attracting pollinators; butterflies absolutely love those blooms!  Anyway, these melons are grapefruit-sized true cantaloupes, supposedly delicious, but I’m waiting for the tell-tale change from blue-green to tan, and the aroma that supposedly wafts from them when ripe.  I jumped the gun and cut one open a few days ago, and it was not yet ready; some orange on the inside, but not yet sweet.  The chickens didn’t seem to mind!  Some melons “slip” from the vine when ripe, which helps the person picking them know when it’s time, but true cantaloupes do not.  So I wait!  At least I’ve had my one huge delicious SEEDED watermelon this summer from Joe Bush, and it’s lasted me over a week, so I can be patient for cantaloupe.  I don’t think you can even buy a seeded watermelon in the stores anymore, and most of the seedless ones I’ve bought are not worth the money.  Thankfully they aren’t totally wasted, because the chickens don’t care if they’re sweet or not. 

Digression about flowers:  I’ve seen hummingbirds at the big tub of nasturtiums near the back door, and they also love those Rose of Sharon bushes along the west side of the house.  I would think they would like the seashell cosmos, which I planted near the rhubarb and are just now blooming in some number.  The French marigolds I put here and there to deter pests took a long time to come into bloom, but maybe that’s because of the cold wet spring we had and the cooler-than-normal temps through June and July.  The absolute best bee attractor is anise hyssop.  I bought 3 plants at Rural King last fall, and they have these wonderful spiky purple blooms that are absolutely covered with bees and other insects throughout the day.  They also smell like licorice, when you brush them with your fingers . . . just watch out for those bees!  At any rate, the more flowers, and the bigger variety, the better.  The herbs I have here and there also attract beneficial insects.  I didn’t cook with them as much as I should have this summer, but they benefited the garden, anyway. 

Tomatoes:  I started four heirlooms from seed:  Brandywine (Sudduth’s strain), Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Italian Heirloom, and Hungarian Heart.  I’m not sure any of the Italian Heirlooms made it, but the other three kinds have yielded plenty for fresh eating and sharing with Patrick and Kyle and Wendy (Kelly is not a fan).  The Hillbillys are a bicolor, a pretty orangish-red; Brandywine has a pink cast; and Hungarian Heart are a truer red with a bit of an oval shape (pointed more at the bottom of the fruit).  I love them cut up with fresh cukes and raspberry vinaigrette.  Of course they’re great on burgers, BLTs, lunchmeat sandwiches . . . I have not tried fancy recipes with them but they are disappearing all the same!  I hope to get enough of the smaller, later maturing fruits to can a few before the season is over.  I really didn’t tend to the plants as I should have, in fact some of them sprawled over the top of the hugelkultur bed among those melons; others were in a raised bed and I did stake those; five more were planted between two hugulkultur mounds and left to fend as they may.  I was afraid I would get rampant diseases since these are not modern hybrids, but they have done very well.  Minimal cracking on just one or two fruits so far, no blossom end rot . . . but before I get too proud I need to remember that the gardening season has been optimal in terms of rainfall this year.  We are a little dry right now, but everything had what it needed to get off to a great start, and then we had enough rain here and there to keep it all going strong. 

Sunflowers:  Another digression.  I ended up with one, and it’s beautiful!  Next year I will cover the planted row with row cover, so the birds don’t dig out the seeds before they sprout. 

Cucumbers:  I’m sticking with the  Japanese climbing variety.  An heirloom that exceeded my expectations for fresh taste and pickling ease.  And they don’t even have to climb . . . they can sprawl and do just fine.  I made two batches of my mom’s bread and butter pickles, one batch of her lime pickle recipe, and one batch of dills for Lowell.  He assures me they are NOT bad like Aunt Bee’s kerosene pickles from the Andy Griffith show.  I can’t judge a dill pickle because I don’t like them and wouldn’t know a good one from a bad one (they are all yucky to me).  It is really a sensory trip down memory lane to make my mom’s recipes, as I can recall the kitchen in the old farmhouse and how it smelled when she made them.  It might sound corny, but I really do feel connected to her and to generations of good cooks who preserved what they grew and took pride in those shelves of canned goods.  I definitely am “pickle proud.”  Thanks, Mom, (and Mernie, and Regina, and Grandmother Mac whom I never met) for instilling an appreciation of gardening, cooking, and preserving.  I’ve been away from it for a long time, but it feels right to be back into it now. 



The end of a few things


It already sounds like fall outside, although for the first time this summer we are actually having Indiana-type temperatures!  With the end of the summer weeks for students and teachers comes the end of other things, some welcomed, some mourned.  I’m happy that the cucumber harvest has come to an almost-screeching halt; with three kinds of pickles safely tucked away in cans on shelves in the basement, it feels great to know I didn’t waste any of those delicious cukes.  The last few latecomers are staying on the vine, slowly turning bloated and yellow in this August heat so that their seeds will be ready for drying and saving for next year’s planting.  Goodbye, Japanese climbing cucumbers, you are a wonderful addition to my list of garden faves, but I’m ready for you to be on your way . . . now that the Golden Bantam corn is coming on strong.  This morning I picked the full ears with the dry brown silks, choosing morning time because the sugars are at their peak then. . . 12 ears in three batches went into boiling water for 5 minutes to blanch, then into ice water for 5 more . .  . then those golden kernels were cut off the cobs and put into freezer bags for winter eating.  I have to admit I licked my fingers so none was wasted!  If I get 2 or 3 more batches, it will be just enough for the two of us to enjoy when the snow flies.  Note to self:  Plant twice as much next year!

The end of some things is a cause for mourning, and we lost our friendliest little goat, Puppy, last weekend.  He had listeriosis, which we know now could not have been overcome, despite our weekend-long battle to give him fluids, antibiotics, and B vitamins.  We didn’t realize how attached we had become to that funny little Boer goat, who followed us around like a puppy, nibbled on our clothes, and amused us with that comical “toupee” on top of his head.  The barnyard is so much different without him in it; still good, but now with a slight overshadowing of knowing that the four goats who remain will also have an end at some point, as will the two baby chicks who were hatched the day Puppy died, as will the dogs who leave their toys strewn about the yard and house . . . as will we.  As sad as that realization can be, it also makes me promise myself that I will sit outside for just two more minutes; I will scratch that goat’s itchy head before rushing beyond her to the woodpile; and I will open my home to family and friends, even when the floor isn’t lately mopped or the cookie jar brimming with the homemade goodies I often don’t have time to prepare.  And today, I will sit here for five more minutes, watching countless butterflies flutter through the motley assortment of flowers in my yard and garden . . . and be thankful, and be at peace.

Rabbits in the rhubarb


Wild mother rabbits choose some strange places to make their nests!  We are pretty sure there are lots of rabbits living under our yard and garden, but one mother bunny chose the rhubarb patch (near our back door) to make a very shallow nest and house three baby bunnies.  When the dog found them, I managed to get one, but it only lasted about three days in my care.  I gave it my best shot, and I thought it was doing well,  but then it took a bad turn.  I just hope that mother rabbit chooses her nest site more carefully next time, or at least makes the nest deeper under ground. 

It sounds like fall outside, although the weather is certainly still summer time.  What a great summer we’ve had, weather-wise, and after last year’s unrelenting heat and drought, I sure appreciate the milder temps and timely rainfall we’ve had this year.  The corn is ripening, as are some Cherantais melons that I can’t wait to try!  We’re having delicious heirloom tomatoes — some huge specimens, as Wendy would say, of Hungarian Heart, Brandywine, and Hillbilly Potato Leaf.  The pole beans are securely wound around the cornstalks, and I’m finally seeing blooms, so beans should soon follow.  I think I planted speckled cranberry beans there, which are good for fresh eating and drying for soup beans. 

Today I have my second batch of Bettie Mac’s bread and butter pickles soaking, Lowell is stacking part of our winter wood supply, and the goats and chickens are happily roaming near the barnyard.  It’s always a sight to see the hens fan out like a determined chicken search party when they are released into the pasture each day.  Little Bareback (missing feathers) always hops down by my feet to see if I have any treats to hand-feed her; she’s near the bottom of the pecking order, and gets chased away from goodies.  I think the only chick below her in the order is the one remaining baby from the mama hen’s last brood.  She gets desperate enough to risk her neck in the goat’s grain trough, in hopes of some sweet feed leftovers.  The broody hen has one week to go on her clutch of 10 eggs.  I gave up and put her in a private room when she decided to brood again.  I’m hoping for at least five or six chicks this time!

Back to pickles — I’ve made dills for Lowell, limes for my niece Cara, and bread-and-butters for me!  I had to ask my sister-in-law Frances for the b-and-b recipe, as I couldn’t find it anywhere . . . shortly after she e-mailed it to me, she gave me an old Farm Journal cookbook of my mom’s, and right there on the inside front cover is the recipe, in Mom’s handwriting!  She compiled it from several different recipes, and I’ve always loved it — sweet, cold, spicy with mustard and celery seed — and the onions in it are the best part!  I think Mom would be happy that I’m continuing some of the canning traditions she followed. 

Hopefully next post I will be able to add pictures of the new baby chicks!