So THAT Didn’t Work

Organic gardening, amiright?

So I’ve been battling squash bugs, which initially exclusively entailed hand squishing and crying. But then my brother Winston suggested diatomaceous earth. A bit of online reasearch confirmed it and also recommended neem oil. I excitedly dug in my garden shed and sprayed one evening and dusted the next.

While thoroughly drenching my plants in a maximum concentration of neem oil, the bugs showered without care. I believe one asked me to pass him the shampoo right before I squeezed his guts out.

The next evening I came armed with my bag of diatomaceous earth. Noticing that the neem oil seemed to have burned the leaves, but that there were no obvious legions of critters scurrying, I happily began heavily dusting everything I could. My adorable (yet idiotic) puppy rolled all around in the dusty squash beds and was subsequently bathed and banned from the garden. (The non-food grade DE is like 20% “other” ingredient(s)….and I’ll be damned if there’s a way to find out what it is.)

A few days later I realized that I had some withering, unpolinated squash and come to think of it, I hadn’t been seeing my normal crazy numbers of morning bees. Holy crap! Did I kill my bees? Or did they just break up with my garden because of my crazy DE cloud? I decided was time to rinse off the dust layer. Hopefully my weapon had been in place long enough to make the bugs go somewhere else (further than my poor ripening tomatoes they’re presently contaminating).

Rinse rinse rinse….huh. A few really yellow dead looking plants. And bugs. Lots of bugs. Scurrying around in the lovely shower. Scurry scurry scurry. They don’t give a fuuuck.

And check out these eggs that look like they got laid ON TOP of the diatomaceous earth.

Oh and lets not leave out the beauty of new life that hatched during my inactive battle.

I squished whatever I could easily see. Probably about 100 nymphs and adults. But I didn’t go hunting. I’m done. They won and I’m firing all the garden toads and spiders for incompetency.

But I may want to hire this guy. What he lacks in ability, he sure makes up for in tenacity.

This wasp was repeatedly trying to fly off with his dead grasshopper lunch.

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A Better Day

The morning was cool, a welcome break from the usual stifling July days. So the family came outside to accompany me on my rounds.

I crushed my latest squash bug findings, but noticed that even under constant attack the plants looked healthy and pollination was in full force.

And I found some blossom end rot on a couple of small watermelons, but it allowed the girls a treat.

And of course we were entertained by a couple of wild dogs.

A bit later I fried up some okra (and snuck in a green tomato), getting people to happily eat their vegetables. After which Gordon said, “You grow us veggies and cook us veggies. Thanks for taking care of us!” Which made me feel less like the Little Red Hen and more like myself.

And finally (speaking of hens), the larva trap was full of fun chicken treats.

The chooks weren’t too keen on eating out of the pie pan, but happily gobbled up the squirmers once I dumped them out.

And here’s the larva trap. Its a plastic flower pot with some bait (rotten apple) wedged into the (vermi-) compost pile and covered with a pie pan to keep light out.

However, it gets raided at night by my compost thief. I was happy when I noticed that the soldier fly larva was back (discovered them last year) because these guys really make nice fast compost, plus now I have chickens to enjoy them.

And some other good news is that neem oil and diatomaceous earth should help with the squash bugs. So off to work I go! I really feel too lazy, but that’s ok. It’s nice out and sitting indoors on my arse isn’t really good for my body or brain.

Xoxo

It’s Too Much!

I’ve known that my Black Krim tomatoes were getting out of control. They are way past due for tying to their stakes. As a matter of fact, I’ve only done it once. And so I had this:

That was the worst example. When I was finished staking and cutting, I ended up with these:

And now I know in my heart the origin of Fried Green Tomatoes:

Once upon a time there was a lady who had a homesteading dream and a full time job with a long commute. Though she had a family, they weren’t much into gardening and so she had to try and keep up with the maintenance on her own. She couldn’t — and so along with a garden full of weeds, pests, and southern blight, she also ended up with a lovely bundle of green heirlooms that wouldn’t likely ripen. So she fried them and had to eat them all because her family hated them. Too bad, they can eat canned ravioli. The end.

20170729_115157

The Selfish Gardener

….And while I’m in an angry gardening mood, let’s discuss something else: Sharing Homegrown Produce.

I dream all year of bounty. So many of everything that we’re bursting at the seams. I dream of days spent laboring over jars of tomato sauce and salsa, and of shelves full of pickles, pickles and more pickles! And of course this sort of processing madness comes only after we’ve eaten all the fresh food that we can, and passed out buckets to neighbors and co-workers.

But then reality gives me a lovely bounty that looks more like this:

It’s truly a blessing. It makes us eat better and we creatively prepare new recipes. The harvesting part is a ton of fun. But it’s not a ton of food (at least not like in my fantasy produce festival).

So comes my quandry: sharing. I simply don’t want to. And sometimes I do it anyway. And then I end up getting excited about it because I think other people will be excited about it. But most of the time I’m underwhelmed by the responses. Sometimes people say yum, but sometimes it seems almost like I’m forcing my produce on them.

For instance: my neighbor. She’s a vegan as far as I know and can easily see my garden getting bigger and bigger. I therefore feel compelled to share with her. And honestly I want to (but out of my fantasy garden). And granted, she’s like a city girl, indoorsy and wears makeup every day and all that. So she doesn’t get it. The labor, the love, the study, and sometimes the agony that I put into my garden. A small basket of various items along with a dozen eggs (for her non-vegan husband) is a gift. Or it would be if I didn’t give it so begrudgingly. I didn’t start out being so selfish I don’t think. She tells me thank you but never tells me if she ate it or liked it so I feel like my treasures are not appreciated. It makes me especially not want to share.

I think of this tonight because my neighbor previously mentioned that she’d like some squash because she loves it. So far we’ve gotten like 6 yellow squash which are to-die-for delicious and may be the best thing this year. I keep not being able to force myself to share those. I’ll expect to bring a couple over and they end up in my fridge. So tonight, with the discovery of a squash bug infestation of biblical proportions, I realized the two in my fridge may be the last.

I decided to tithe with the garden gods and give the two yellow squash to my neighbor, along with my largest ripe tomato, two peppers, a bunch of cherry tomatoes, and a few pretty small tomatoes. I texted her and asked if they were dressed enough for a two second veg drop off. She said “no lol 🙂 but tomorrow is fine”. Fine. Fine? Not great? Not awesome? Fine, you can bring them tomorrow if you insist.

Maybe I’m being petty. Splitting hairs because I’m upset about the bugs. So in order to elicit some passion or sympathy or something, I texted her that I’d been waging holy war on the squash bugs and that I may have lost. Her response: “Hahahahaha lol”.

The squash went back into the fridge.

Kale Yeah!

We ate some kale fresh, gave a lot to the chickens, but largely my spring crop was ignored.  The day I (finally) processed the chard, I already knew that the kale needed attention. And that was over a month ago.

My lovely abundant garden is a weedy mess. It’s time to start working on fall stuff (which will likely be minimal because I’m wearing down) and I really need to get in there and do some cleaning.  So I started with cleaning out the kale. 

The kale was tough and may not come out very good but we are going to eat it, damn it! 

Outside we washed it, pulled it apart, and deveined it. Then I brought the big washtub in and began processing it, batch by batch. I scooped up big bowls full, chopped it, sorted through it, washed it in a vinegar bath, transferred it to a plain water bath, then steamed it. After finding two cooked baby caterpillars, I freaked out and sorted through all the steamed stuff again, and washed it a fourth time before packing my jars. After two pressure canning batches (and about total 12 hours of kale fun) I was still quietly and secretly fretting over the amount of suprise protein that may be in the jars. 

But then I read this article and felt a hell of a lot better! My cans are probably worlds less buggy than the ones I buy. And they are poison free, to be sure! I tell my kids to eat earthworms if they ever get lost in the woods and so if they find a caterpillar, I’ll just tell them it’s their survival training. 

Cucumber Love

Many years ago I had a cucumber addiction and would visit a roadside vegetable stand almost daily, just to buy a few for eating whole. I mostly chalked it up as some cruel Freudian craving because I was very pregnant and Gordon was temporarily living a thousand miles away from me. However I apparently just truly love good cucumbers. 

I’ve never grown cucumbers before, but with all of the pickling experiments I’d been doing, I wanted to try and grow a pretty heavy yield. However, as was typical for this season’s start, I had germination problems. I planned for 30 plants and ended up with maybe 16-18 (I forget) of two varieties: Parade Pickles (heirloom seeds I picked up on Etsy) and Picklebush (Burpee).

I didn’t even realize that some cucumbers were climbers and some were bush variety until my dad told me that he always grows climbers for space reasons. Then I studied really hard to figure out what I had and how and where to plant them. Perhaps the name PickleBUSH would have sent a signal to a more confident gardener, but not me. I had to obsess for a few days, never sure that I had it right until the plants themselves showed me that all was ok.

Parade Pickles

I love the way my parades look. They are beautiful plants growing so prettily up their fencing trellis. The cukes themselves are dark green and almost perfect cylinders, becoming striped as they thicken.

Parade Pickle
Parade Pickle

The Parades have an almost floral flavor to them. Picked when small, the skin has very little bitterness. 

Picklebush

The Picklebush plants are wanderers, but not crazily. They are supposed to be compact for smaller garden spaces. 

Picklebush Pickle

Their color is bright green and I find that they are narrower at the blossom end, but that it seems to even out somewhat as they grow. The picklebush flavor is mild and delicious. They are a very refreshing summer snack and although I still prefer the smaller ones, the cukes that have been left on the vine for a couple of extra days are still great with almost no bitterness. 

Cucumbers, cucumbers, cucumbers! Oh how I will miss them when they are gone! Tuesday I picked enough to try a small batch of pickles. I found a recipe that I thought Gordon would enjoy — good old vinegar-based, shelf stable Bread and Butter.  (Food.com)

They turned out great! I was worried that I’d overcooked them, but I did not. They have a lovely crispness about them, even after cooking the pickles and the 10 minute water bath to seal ’em up good. Next time I will cut the sugar by maybe a third and make the pickle slices a bit thicker. Also maybe more onion would be good. I added a few cloves this time around. 

Today I assembled some tried and true lacto-fermented kosher dills (but tossed in a handful of green beans and a few jalapenos). Also found a cool idea online to pickle squash with basil instead of dill, so I’m trying that with garlic (and a few baby carrots for fun), also lacto-fermented. The dill I had stored in the freezer in a gallon bag because it was all ready when the pickle plants were newborns. The large leaf basil was freshly picked today.

I love the fermented kind of pickles for not only their healthy probiotic properties, but because they’re so easy to do! So far I’ve found that everything works well with a 3.5% salt water brine poured over whatever ingredients you like. Then they can sit (in a tray of some kind) on the kitchen counter for 2-3 weeks depending on what it is and how big the pieces are. (I did a chopped onion and it took forever!) The fermented pickles should get bubbly and then cloudy and usually they have some minor pressure explosions (hence the tray). And you can just keep tasting until they’re done. But tasting messes up the dynamics inside the jar, so it’s an adventure. 

I’m excited to try weird basil squash pickles. I’ll let you know what happens!

Gardeny Morning

Unusually crisp air and a bit of extra time made my morning trek around the yard especially nice.

Tomato Alley seems to be adapting well to being all tied up to stakes.  I haven’t grown Romas or Russian Queens before, but whichever these are, they are my tallest plants.

This guy is just adorable:

And in the old spring side of the world, wildness abounds.

The volunteer mystery squash is most decidedly a pumpkin.

This gardeny morning gave me a smile to take with me to work. 

Swiss Chard Harvest

It’s challenging to keep up with processing the succesful harvest extras from the spring garden while trying to get the summer garden going. But that’s what I wanted: Lots of food that can be stored and used later.  Like Homesteading Lite…. turning seeds into groceries all while having a full time job and a family. 

(Am I insane?)

My beautiful chard had been getting neglected. Mature stalks, speading out and lying on the ground until I’d rip them off and toss them to the ladies in the chicken coop. Until today. Today I planned to blanch and freeze my kale, make chard stem pickles, and use the chard leaves for dinner along with the few turnips that surprised me this morning. 

(Yeah, I’m insane. )

So the kale is still in the garden, getting blissfully soaked by a quick downpour. But I did manage to do up the chard. Made pickles and chopped, blanched, and came up with a single flat gallon bag to freeze. 

Dinner is Hamburger Helper and store bought corn on the cob that had been hanging out in the fridge for a week. Also Gordon is cooking while I sit blogging and watching the boys play a video game with hopelessly chard-stained fingernails and uncleaned toilets calling my name. 

I’m hoping the pickles turn out good. There was no water in the brine, only vinegar. And the vinegar seems a little overwhelming at this point. Maybe it’s just that I’m used to the fermented vinegar-less kind. This is the recipe I decided to try:

http://heartbeetkitchen.com/2013/canningpreserving/pickled-swiss-chard-stems/

Next day update: 

Pickles are already great! Not too much vinegar. Subtly sweet and sriracha-

2017’s Late Start Summer Garden

It took a lot of time and effort to expand from this:

2016 Summer Garden

To this:

And I had a few setbacks — mostly because I got overly excited and started things too early.  Also I had some sloppy technique in the seed starts and I had to do some replanting. 

I got discouraged a time or ten and worried that our labor efforts and money spent on fencing would be for naught. But as late as it is, compared to everyone else’s gardens in the area and compared to how big my few plants were this time last year, it’s coming along one little leaf at a time. I have lots of healthy babies and lots of room for them. The goal in expanding was to grow enough food to can and freeze some.

Tomato Town
Too Many Watermelons
Wendell and the Mystery Squash
Mystery Squash

I’m a Pollinator Killer!

After I poured fish fertilizer on the newly transplanted baby tomatoes and was giving the rest to the ancient brussel sprout plants, I noticed a few caterpillar guys on my carrot tops.  At that moment I also realized that the chickens were infiltrating the baby tomatoes to scratch in the (very undercooked) compost we just put down. I immediately plucked off the caterpillar guys and tossed them to the chickens, trying to distract the birds and eradicate the vegan predators at once.  So ingenious! 

Then I took the last caterpillar in to show my kids (and torture my eldest by putting it on his head) and then have a caterpillar photo shoot. I left the little wormy guy in some weeds with a “Bye, Falicia” and then went in the house. 

So after a little while I googled this guy and realized he’s a baby black swallowtail butterfly, an important pollinator. Damn it! What have I done? I ran out to rescue him from the weeds and put him back in the carrots. Then I looked for his siblings and found only one, half squished in a bootprint. (So I finished that one off.) 

Upon returning into the house I told Gordon what had happened.  I told him that I really need to take a moment to educate myself before I just get scared and then go around immediately killing things.  He chuckled and said, “Yeah, quit acting like a man.”

Ha.