Tuesday, July 31, 2007

You Say Toe-mah-to

I say Tomato! Tomato! Tomato! I finally picked my first three tomatoes. Well, first full sized tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes have been ripening for a couple weeks. Wanna see them? Okay great!

Azoychka Tomato, bottom and top.

This ripe tomato snuck up on me. I thought that Super Bush would be the first, but it was a tie. Picked at day 69 from setting the plants out in the garden. This tomato is right on schedule with the estimated days to maturity (DTM) of their seed packet. See that cracking? No biggy, just cut it away. The tomato is still just fine to eat. Tomatoes often have scarring on the top or shoulders. For that reason, I store tomatoes upside down, shoulders down, so that if any bruising occurs, it's on the part that most likely will be cut away.

Azoychka sliced

Bright yellow inside, this is one happy tomato. I forgot to weigh it. I was a little bit excited about eating my first tomato and stopping to get a picture was about as much thought as I put into it. But based on experience, I'd say it was about 7 ounces. It was just the right amount for piling on a sandwich.

Azoychka sandwich with bacon. Only half left because I had already eaten the first half
when I thought to take this picture.

I said I was going to have a BLT, but I left off the L. I like it better this way anyway. It has been said in descriptions, that Azoychka has a hint of citrus. I would agree with that. It is just a hint. A nice contrast to the saltiness of the other ingredients of the sandwich. And the color... you just can't get a prettier yellow than that. Try this heirloom from Russia.

Super Bush tomato. These are the ones we've been watching. They weigh 13 oz and 6 oz.

Here is the 6 oz tomato sliced, one small slice missing, due to being tasted.

Well, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor in this tomato. Somehow, I got a prejudice in my head about container or "patio" tomatoes. But the description did say this would be a good tomato and it is indeed! Meaty, juicy, a little sweet. Good tomato. Definitely worth growing. A great find for anyone growing in containers. This plant is compact and very sturdy. A minimal amount of staking is required to keep the top heavy plant from flopping over. I did not prune it at all. Lots more tomatoes to come on this plant as well.

Cherry tomato line-up. Left to right, Tumbling Tom (red), Tumbling Tom Yellow,
Black Cherry, Sungold, Ildi, and Grape

Okay, cherry tomatoes, don't feel left out. We love you too. Hubby and I snack on these all the time. He really gets a kick out of picking and eating them right in the garden, while I point out everything I'm growing. I like to pick a bowl full and set them on the table for passersby to pluck as needed (wanted).

My absolute favorite is the sungold. These are little orange nuggets of goodness. They are very sweet, very fruity, very abundant and early with the first ripe fruits coming in at 45 days from planting out. My second favorite, I got to try for the first time last night, and that is black cherry. Very good, sweet little tomato. I've only eaten one so far, so I'll have to eat more before I can give a thorough review.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sunshine Makes Me Happy

Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do when I get out of bed is look out the window. Seeing the sun splash across my lawn starts the day off well. Then, I think of just one line of a John Denver song, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” because it does! It probably makes me corny, but that's okay.

John Denver was at the height of his career when I was a kid. His songs are part of the sound track of my childhood. They are ingrained in my brain. He appeared on favorite shows like "The Muppets" and the movie “Oh God!” opposite George Burns. He was a gentle soul too, and had a love of nature. I think that may be part of the reason he was appealing to the little kid Jen.

Little Me with Sunshine On My Shoulders.
My hair was puffy, even then.

Later, the grown up Jen, met and fell in love with, and married a gentle soul named John, and he was born in Denver (Colorado that is). This is what he looked like in 1974. Yup, he had a John Denver album to boot. Maybe that influenced the haircut, or maybe it was that just about every boy his age had that look. My John, didn’t have that haircut anymore, all those years later when I met him.

Hubby in 1974.
A future photographer, that intent gaze means he's watching the school photographer.

Since I've got that song in my head now, I can't get it out. Maybe the song can get stuck in someone else's head and it can leave mine. Here's the lyrics, you can sing along next time you're driving in the car on a sunny day.

Sunshine On My Shoulders by John Denver

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry

Sunshine on the water looks so lovely

Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a day that I could give you

I'd give to you the day just like today

If I had a song that I could sing for you

I'd sing a song to make you feel this way

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine for all the while

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

John Denver, Conservationist and Musician

Sneak Peeks

Henry is curious as cats are known to be, but he is especially interested in any work requiring tools. He's a man's cat. Not fond of the noise, he watches from outside, on the patio step.

We've been working on a renovation of my home studio space. We raised the ceiling to a vaulted ceiling, giving me much more room for lights and other equipment. While I'm not quite ready for the big reveal, a few sneak peeks couldn't hurt. We still have a bit to do... trim work, finish tiling around the fireplace, install some lights, etc. But the last really big project for the room, the wood floor, was our job for the weekend. We used pre-finished, solid hardwood, Birdseye Maple 2 1/4" strip flooring. It was a family endeavor. Molly and I laid out the wood planks in a random arrangement, and placed each piece in place. John, the muscles of the team, operated the floor nailer.

Clarence gave his approval this morning, while soaking up some rays. This is a much nicer place to lounge while mom works, than the old floor.

Travertine tile for the fireplace surround. Local code dictates, 20" of non-combustible material on the floor and 12" on the wall.

Wall color, "Wheat Bread", a soft gray with a hint of warmth.

"Did you sneak a peek?"
"Yeah, I snuck a peek, didn't you?"
-From Seinfeld

Friday, July 27, 2007

Garden Buddies

I keep getting emailed this article that's been in the news the last few days. It's about a cat that can predict when residents of the hospice where he lives are about to expire. My neighbor pointed out that "people must think you're a cat person!" Yes, I am. I do love my furry little guys. Why should I be the only one to witness their cuteness?

As I mentioned before, they do keep me company when I'm out in the garden or yard. They are my garden buddies. Sounds like some kind of gadget or something. I do love my gadgets, like my weed hound for pulling out those pesky dandelions in the spring. I thought they were flowers when I was a kid and am probably responsible for the proliferation of millions of those fluffy seeds I used to make wishes on. But my garden buddies are not tools. They're soft, cuddly, happy little cats.

"Hi mama, I'm checking that the soaker hoses are working properly in the artichoke bed."

"You look better this way mom. I can see up your nose too."

Sometimes, they have a cute competition. That is where one cat does something cute first and then the other then copies.

"Follow the leader!"

But it's not all fun and games. They have their serious sides too.

"Strike a pose! Vogue, vogue..."

"I know there are rodents in this wall and I'm not going to stand for it!"

Thursday, July 26, 2007

ANTICIPATION [an-tis-uh-pay-shuhn]

Whatever happened to Miss Lemon Tree, you ask? Well, those blossoms did get pollinated and a cluster of 8 lemons is forming. They sort of look like limes now, but I'm pretty sure this is a lemon tree, and lemons turn yellow when they ripen. I counted up all the baby lemons on her and there are 24. At this point, can't say if they will all stay put until ripening, but I have a good feeling at least a few will. I'll be ecstatic if even one grows to maturity and I get to eat it. I want to make a Shaker Lemon Pie. Having to be purchased and not grown, lemons were somewhat of a luxury for early Shakers. Not wanting to waste even the skin, the entire lemon is used to make this pie. Something about that thrifty sentiment appeals to me as a grower of a highly anticipated fruit.

Left to Right: Lemon Blossoms June 8th, 5/8" fruit forming July 11th, 1 1/4" fruit July 26th.

Speaking of highly anticipated. Guess what I discovered yesterday? The Super Bush Tomato plant finally has blushing fruit! Yup, it's from that cluster I've been watching from the start. I think I should be able to pick it within a week's time. I've already planned what I want to do with it... a BLT sandwich. I've been eating cherry tomatoes regularly now, but it's not quite the same, is it? Actually, I like the big meaty beefsteaks for my BLT's, but these will do just fine.

There was a third fruit blushing further up the plant. It had blossom end rot, also known as BER. BER is a physiological problem and can occur for a variety of reasons, due to environmental conditions that affect the uptake of water and calcium. It cannot be controlled by fungicides or insecticides. Keeping the plant adequately and consistently watered, and having the soil at the proper pH is the best you can do for it. Some tomato varieties are predisposed to it and there's really not much you can do to prevent it, other than growing something else next year. I removed the fruit with BER because it will be inedible and I don't want the plant putting anymore energy into it. I threw it in the woods without thinking. After it left my hand, I realized I could have photographed it to show what BER looks like, but oh well. If it happens again, and I really don't want it to, I will take a photo. But lets just say, it looks like a black mushy spot on the bottom of the tomato. Bacteria and fungus quickly get into the compromised skin and rot the fruit. You'll know it when you see it. Don't fret about it though, it usually only presents itself in the first, and unfortunately most anticipated, fruits. It should clear up on it's own. It cannot spread to other fruits or plants. Just remove those affected fruits and think about it no more.

Super Bush Tomatoes finally turning red. The bottom fruit is that first tomato we looked at back in June.

Remember I showed you that bright purple Aurora pepper? Well, the plants are covered with peppers now. There are a few orange peppers showing. Nothing quite red yet, but soon. I'm going to let this one ripen to red before I try it. The first purple pepper I tried wasn't very hot at all, sort of like a radish. The second one I tried, was much hotter. Hot peppers are supposed to get more flavorful as they ripen, so I'm interested to see how this pepper develops.

Aurora Pepper plant. A prolific producer of small pretty peppers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Crudités For Two

This weekend, was sort of a busy one. We made good progress on the studio renovation project. Painted the walls and now it's looking more like a room and less like a construction zone. Next up is the floor installation, this coming weekend. So needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, I was busy. What to do with all those veggies I picked? I quickly threw together this crudité platter for the two of us and we munched on it with some ranch dressing for dip.

Pretty, and tasty too.

In between things, I always have time to check on my garden. I discovered that this artichoke plant is growing it's first bud! That makes three out of six artichoke plants that have buds. I think my experiment might be a success! But I won't really know for sure until I taste the results. Still waiting for that first artichoke to get a little bigger before I pick it. I was surprised that this one was the next to flower as there is another plant that is bigger than it. I guess you never know about these things.

This tiny bud first appeared on Saturday, but the photo was taken today.

This has been one wet July. Another 1.75 inches of rain registered in my rain gauge yesterday. The corn is still standing! Still looks good too. I have to wonder if the wet weather is helping the artichokes. I've noticed that they really don't like to be dry. Some plants will tolerate a little drying out, but not these. I learned early on, when the 'chokes were still seedlings in 20 ounce cups, that they did not appreciate being dry whatsoever, as they would shrivel at the drop of a hat. So I paid extra attention to keep them watered ever since, but not as much as this rain has been giving them, mind you.

Most US artichokes are grown in Monterey County California. The central California climate is an ideal growing condition for artichokes. The summers are cool, moist and foggy. A quick check of weather.com indicates that the next ten days will be 69-70 degrees and partly cloudy in the artichoke capital. Hmm... That may be why we're seeing some artichoke growth here during these wet days. Okay, I confess, I had this hunch and that's why I thought to try artichokes this year. I read about where most of them are grown and recalled how wet and cool our summer was here last year. Thought I'd give it a shot.

Another surprise this weekend, my peas are flowering again. Peas usually flower once and then that's it. The heat of the summer usually kills them and it's best to just pull them out and plant something else. This time last year, my pea plants were long gone having yellowed and dried out on their own. Well, I have been wanting to cut off a few tendrils and do some photos. Hoping I'd have my studio space ready soon to set up some lights and do it right, I never pulled the plants. I think, maybe this rainy, not so hot weather has spurred them on to produce another small crop. Lucky me!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Take the Bad with the Good

Rain is a good thing. It makes things grow, the garden gets a good watering without my intervention, and the wild animals get a fresh water supply. The bad part, for me anyway, is that when it comes down as hard and as fast as it did yesterday, plants get flattened. Two and half inches registered in my rain gauge from yesterday alone. Some lettuce got knocked down, but not all. My hardy hibiscus got droopy and made a U turn once the sun came out, so it looks a little funky, but still quite healthy.

Now, I'll admit, the majority of my garden got through it unscathed, so it's not all that bad. That's what I told myself when I looked at my beautiful little stand of corn, absolutely horizontal last evening. A bee buzzed around, trying to figure out how he was going to get at these tassels. The bees love the corn pollen. Flat corn wasn't exactly a new experience for me. Last year, my corn got droopy from a hard rain, although not completely flattened to the ground as it was this time. Those stalks from last year managed to perk back up when the sunshine came back. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this time. The sun came out today, things started to dry out, but that corn stayed flat.

Flat corn, will it bounce back?

Once I had free time, I went out to see what I could do to help the corn. It kind of had a domino effect, each row flopped over on the one next to it. I gingerly picked up a stalk, it made a terrible ripping crunchy sound and rain water spilled out of all it's crevasses all over my arm. I tried several methods to hold the corn up, but these stalks were heavy. The only option was to stake each stalk individually. One by one, I placed a stake by each stalk and tied it up. Sometimes I used one stake for two stalks if they were smaller ones. Henry and Clarence stopped by to say hi and give me a nuzzle. They know how to cheer me up. After a while, I went inside and got my iPod shuffle so I wouldn't have to listen to the crunchy sound of standing the stalks back up. The music lifted my spirits and I whistled while I finished my staking. The corn is finally back to a vertical state, although looking a bit rag tag now. I don't know if it will be okay and continue to grow. I'm sure if I were a farmer, I'd have to just let it go. But for my little patch of garden, I don't mind at least making an effort to save the corn.

Resurrected corn stalks.

One good thing about all that rain, the artichokes seem to love it. They're happy to get a good deep watering. I have six artichoke plants that I started from seed in my basement in February. Artichokes are a perennial and usually flower in their second year. I attempted to trick the plant into thinking it had gone through a winter in California, by exposing it to cold, but not freezing weather outdoors in early spring. Today, I discovered that one of my artichoke plants has three flower buds on it. Another has one bud. The flower bud, is the part we eat. If you leave it alone and let it mature, it will open to a big magenta flower, though I doubt we'll ever see one in my garden. We love artichokes.

Can you spot the third and smallest bud on the lower right?

An artichoke plant that has not flowered yet. Will it flower this year?

I picked some other veggies for tonight's dinner, as the artichokes still have some growing to do. Harvesting always makes me happy. So do these cute little guys. Whenever I'm in the garden, they come in and see what I'm doing. Clarence likes to stick his head into whatever garden bed I'm working on and see things up close. Sometimes, friskiness ensues when his brother shows up too. I have a strict no wrestling policy in the garden beds, but a little lax about it in the aisles.

Henry and Clarence always take time for a bit of wrestling, despite my no wrestling policy in the garden.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Speckled Spectacle

The evening before last, we had a spectacular visit from the bluebird family. I was able to get photos of all five baby bluebirds. Mr. Blue was not around, which is highly unusual. I've never seen the babies without Mr. Blue close behind. So I hope he is okay. He was my first bluebird and I've grown very fond of him.

The bluebirds are not coming on a daily basis anymore. I think Mrs. Blue is keeping them busy learning the rounds of the neighborhood, teaching them how and where to get food on their own. This would be one of their stops.

The first baby lands on the feeding station and helps himself to a worm. He is joined by Mrs. Blue (left) and another baby. Pretty soon, a third baby joins the fun. (image can be clicked for a larger view)

Three babies on the feeding station now, a fourth joins. The fifth baby was a bit timid and stayed on the ash tree trunk. Mrs. Blue flies over and talks to him a bit, but he never did join the others at the feeding station.
(image can be clicked for a larger view)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harvest a Rainbow

Hard work pays off. 2 lbs of beans (4 kinds), 6 Sungold Cherry tomatoes, 4 Tumbling Tom Red Cherry Tomatoes,
3 Mini Red Bell Peppers, 1 Sweeter Yet Cucumber, & some Blueberries.

If it hasn't been made clear yet, I like color. I like to plant veggies in many colors and enjoy looking at them, as much as eating them. Variety is the spice of life, so whenever possible, I grow more than one type of each vegetable I grow. Who says a tomato has to be red? Certainly not me!

I like to see the veggies as they grow on the plant. As consumers, we are removed from our food and how it grows. All we see is the finished product neatly displayed in masses on supermarket shelves. We forget the work it takes for the farmer to produce it, and the wonder of the workings of nature.

Tumbling Tom Red Cherry Tomato, can be grown by anyone with a hanging basket and a spot of full sun.

Thanks to the advances of modern civilization, we can get any type of produce, any time of year, flown in from around the globe. We lose touch with the natural rhythm of the seasons. The anticipation of a ripe tomato, warmed by the sun, is replaced by the instant gratification of the perfectly red round tomatoes available in the winter, but how do they taste?

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes ripe for picking.

Above you see a picture of Sungold Cherry Tomato. This hybrid tomato is grown by a lot of folks, including people who consider themselves to be heirloom growers (who otherwise don't grow hybrids). It is a well loved tomato. Now I could have cropped this picture differently, showing more of the right and leaving out the not so pretty vinyl garden tape wrapped around the stem. But I wanted to illustrate something really cool about tomatoes. They are very, very resilient. Early in the season, I accidentally broke this branch, about half way through. It was still attached, but hanging by a thread. I wrapped the tape around the wound and the tomato healed itself. I've even known gardeners to use bandaids. I just use the stretchy vinyl tape that I usually have with me to tie things up around the garden and it works for me. This tomato went on to grow beyond that break and seems no worse for wear.

Miniature Red Bell Peppers are ripening before the normal size peppers in my garden.

Miniature Red Bell Peppers are so cute! They don't have as much growing to do as the full sized bell peppers, and have started to ripen earlier. They're my appetizer peppers. My seed source says these are good for stuffing, and using as an hors d'vour. I'll just take their word for it. The largest one in the photo is only about the size of a ping pong ball.

Purple Beauty Pepper turning from green to purple.

Sorry to say, this guy is not ripening. Not even close, but I thought I'd add him to this post because he is changing color. The purple beauty pepper starts out green, then changes to a deep purple, before ripening to red. You can pick it at any time, but for a sweet flavor, wait for the red color to appear. Patience pays off.

Finally, I am issuing a challenge today to anyone who's reading this and not growing anything edible. My challenge is for you to grow something, and eat it. That is all. It's not too late in the season, you can still grow many crops. Just look on the seed packet info for "days to maturity". The fewer days to maturity, the more time you'll have to enjoy it before the frost. We are approximately 90 days away from the anticipated first frost for my area. Don't have enough room? Even lettuce or some herbs can be grown in a pot on a window ledge or patio. What about seeds? They sell them in many grocery stores, garden centers, or discount stores. You get the most for your money growing from seed. For a really easy start, buy seedlings and stick them in a pot with some potting mix. Grow something. I know you want to.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Ha! I finally got some good (if I do say so myself) baby bluebird photos! Came home tonight and Mr. Blue and a baby were sitting on the feeding station. I had to do a double take, because I thought I saw Mr. Blue tapping his foot impatiently waiting, as if to say, "Where have you been? The babies are starving and they're driving me crazy."

Hubby, quick went and got the worms and headed outside, while I got the window open and my camera set. The birds all flew up into the oak tree. The whole family was there, mama, daddy, and the bunch of babies. After the mealworms were deposited in the dish, the parents and one baby flew back down. The funny part is, that every time the mama or daddy scooped up some worms, he would open up his mouth for them. He got the first few servings, but then mama and daddy flew up into the trees to feed the other babies. That didn't stop him from begging for more.

"Feed me mama!" (baby is on left, Mrs. Blue on right) Image can be clicked for a larger view.

"I'm hungry daddy!" (baby is on left, Mr. Blue on right) Image can be clicked for a larger view.

Doesn't every family have an attention hound?

Early Bird Special

A fleeting moment of opportunity. I barely had time to aim, focus and shoot.
A baby bluebird with his daddy, and almost as big.

One shot and they were gone. A blur of blue feathers.

I’ve been really wanting to get a good look at the baby bluebirds and also get a picture. The parents have been secretive as to their whereabouts, keeping them in trees with dense leaves. Last night was cool and not humid, and so we slept with the window open for fresh air. I awoke this morning at 6 a.m. to the sound of baby bluebirds chirping. I quietly crept out of bed so as not to wake up Henry cat at my feet and Hubby at my side. I was rewarded with a view of the bluebirds feeding the babies. Two babies were perched on a bare branch of the mostly dead ash tree in our side yard. With no leaves to cover them, I had a good view at eye level. I was excited to see them, so I woke up Hubby to tell him. He was happy too.

We went downstairs for coffee and I went to my usual morning spot by the dining room window to watch for bluebirds. We didn’t need to feed them today since a good amount of worms accidentally fell on the ground yesterday and were unrecoverable. Although we were unable to get them untangled from the grass, the bluebirds have no problem plucking them out. They discovered the worms this morning, and the babies decided to take this opportunity to start plucking worms themselves.

While Mrs. Blue was fetching a worm from the ground, a baby landed on the rock wall. Mrs. Blue went to him and fed him a worm. Then it was his turn. Mama sat on the rock wall watching, standing guard is more like it, while the baby flew down to the ground to find a worm. A blue jay got nosy and a bit too close. The parents sprung into action and chased it away. Eventually, the baby flew up into the dogwood tree on the corner of the house. I was able to get a good up close look at him from the living room window, so cute, with his speckles.

Next another baby wanted to join the one in the dogwood tree. She flew over, but not an expert flier yet, she had trouble with the landing and grasping a branch at the same time part of it. Her parents flew over, as if to help, maybe just as protection from an attack, maybe for moral support. She flew back to the ash tree trunk for a rest, and then made an attempt to land on the copper pipe that holds the feeding station up. That didn’t work. She landed on the ground. “Hmm, there are worms down here. Think I’ll have some.” All this time on the ground, makes me nervous. I think wistfully back to the days when they were safe in their nest box.

Back up on the second floor a bit later, I looked out the window and heard first, then saw three babies in the dogwood tree. They’re a bit spastic and hopping around, chirping. Daddy brings a worm to them and is practically attacked for the food. They are very eager to have those worms. In the flash of blue feathers, I assume one of them got the worm, and Mr. Blue flies away to the oak tree. The three babies (I think boys) fly after him hot on his tail feathers, asking for food. I think it may be time, soon at least, for them to start getting their own. Mama and Daddy must be exhausted.

While waiting for Bluebirds to come back, I get another photo op. My friend the chipmunk comes by for a visit.
He says hi to me each day and helps himself to Alpine Strawberries in my garden.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Snappy Beans

Check out my beans. These are the first of the season, picked just 47 days from sowing the seeds. That's pretty fast! Someone once said of my purple beans, Royalty Purple Pod (which I grew last year as well), "oh those must be hybrid". On the contrary, they are heirlooms, as are the other two types pictured above. When cooked they turn green and you can't tell that they were ever that deep dark purple.

The ones all the way on the left are called Red Swan and I think they are gorgeous. I love the look of them. They're kind of a green base with a dusty rose shimmer. Sounds like lip gloss, dusty rose shimmer. If I googled "dusty rose shimmer lip gloss", I wonder what would come up. These also turn green when cooked. A really great bright green.

The yellow ones are wax beans. A pretty yellow that reminds me of bananas, especially since they curve the way they do. They taste pretty much the same as the other beans. They stay yellow when cooked.

Speaking of heirlooms, what exactly does that mean in terms of vegetables? I mean I planted it 47 days ago, how can it be an heirloom? Recently, the term heirloom has become a buzz word, and heirlooms have gained popularity. I think that is a good thing, the popularity that is, especially with the whole genetically modified food controversy. If you're growing something that is the same seed that your grandma's grandma handed down, you know it's safe. So in gardening, an heirloom is defined as an open pollinated (that means non-hybrid) variety, introduced 50 years ago or more, that has been passed down from generation to generation, by people who have kept the seeds pure. Many, not all, but most of what I am growing this year in the veggie garden are heirloom varieties and all from reputable sources. Some less ethical seed sources have been known to "create" an heirloom, calling something an heirloom that isn't, and that just aint right.

Beans, beans, beans... I've started calling them just beans since I started growing them. Growing up, I always called these things string beans. In the grocery store, they were marked green beans. Then when I started growing them and looked at seeds and reading stuff, it turns out they are now called snap beans. They used to be string beans, but that was when there was a fibrous string that ran the length of the bean. Now through selective breeding, you don't have to have the string in the bean anymore. In my mind, they had been string beans because they are long and stringy, but that's not the real reason. I still think of them as string beans. Don't really want to call them green beans because they aren't exactly green to start (although I am growing some plain old green ones too). So, I'll have to gradually convert to calling them snap beans. I think I like snappy beans better.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dig It

Root veggies are delicious and good for you too.

I really get a kick out of root crops, or veggies grown underground, I should say. There's just something about digging down and coming up with something that you can actually eat. You never know exactly what you're going to get either. Okay, so when I pull on a carrot top, I know it will be a carrot on the other end, but how big will it be? Sometimes I pull on a bushy looking top thinking it will be a biggun' and end up with a skinny little root.

Now, you'll notice in the picture that there's more than one type of carrot shown. The somewhat regular orange one is a Sugarsnax. A nice enough carrot. But the one that really gets me, is the purple one. I've shown a few of these before. No, you don't need your monitor calibrated, it really is purple, at least on the outside. Some of them are a deep, deep purple and some more of a reddish color. I've noticed that the smaller more immature ones tend to be less purple, although not evident in this bunch. Most of the earlier ones I picked were of the lighter color and Hubby was calling them, "striped carrots". If you were to slice the carrot, you'd see a few millimeters of purple and then an orange core. I suppose if I peeled it with one of my more aggressive peelers, I'd be back to orange carrots again. I like to leave that purple part on and give it a good scrub under the water and a light scraping with a knife. After cooking, they remain purple.

A closer look at Purple Haze Carrots freshly pulled from the garden.

Potatoes are a total mystery. The plant can be big or small and that's no indication of what's growing below. I have to dig down deep to find my potatoes and I never know how many or how big they will be. These few pictured at the top of the page would be considered "new" potatoes. They aren't fully grown. The red is "French Fingerling" sometimes called Roseval or Nosebag. An heirloom variety, the story goes that these potatoes made it here in a horse's feed bag. To harvest new potatoes, I try to leave the plant undisturbed and gently dig down below into the soil and sneak a few potatoes out. This leaves the plant intact and able to bring the rest of the crop to maturity.

Beets seem to be a less favored veggie it seems (by others, not me!) and I can't figure out why. They taste good, a sweet veggie, and good for you too. They're high in folic acid, potassium, calcium, and antioxidants. The tops are edible too, full of vitamins, and can be used like any other green. Although, I must admit, I haven't tried them...yet. I also recently came across a recipe for a raw beet salad. Beets are pretty hard when raw, so I bet it would be crisp. I may give it a try some time soon. As for my beets, I've grown golden beets, which are orange on the outside and strikingly yellow on the inside. Also the more well known dark red beets, which are a deep fuschia that I think is beautiful. The juice of which can be used as a dye.

Hello Again!

I spoke/wrote too soon. The bluebird family must read my blog. They came back this morning. I’m guessing that they had to relocate because of a predator, such as a hawk. I know we have at least one around here, as I used to see it flying through the trees during the winter. A family of crows was sounding the alarm, I mean really going crazy, all day Saturday. It amazed me that they could keep up that racket for so long. So I hope their move was only temporary. I understand that they must do, whatever they must do, to keep their babies safe. They are smart birds.

This morning, awake but still in bed, with the window shade up, I could see out the window. I must admit, I was looking for birds, the blue kind. In the hickory tree beyond the rock wall a cardinal landed and then swooped down and out of sight, probably to the seed feeder beside that tree. Then in the maple tree, right outside my bedroom window, I saw a bluebird, Mrs. Blue actually. She stayed there just a minute, as we looked at each other. I called to Hubby, "There's a bluebird outside our window!" Then she flew off in the direction of the feeding station in the side yard. I threw on some outside clothes (going outside in pajamas is reserved for cat emergencies) and ran downstairs. Grabbing the tub ‘o worms, I shoved on my boots and was out the door. As I rounded the corner, Mrs. Blue flew off of the feeding station and went towards the maple tree. I heard the urgent chirping of the hungry babies. I scooped a generous serving of worms, poured them into the dish, and whistled for the bluebirds. Mrs. Blue came to the oak tree beside me. Happy now, I slogged off in my boots, to watch from inside.

Mr. and Mrs. Blue did their usual routine, alternating turns. Fly to the oak tree, fly down to the feeder, scoop worms in beak, fly to babies. Repeat. On one of the trips, Mrs. Blue on the feeder, a third bird followed Mr. Blue into the oak tree. A baby! One extra hungry, brave, little guy decided he could probably get more worms if he followed daddy. I got my binoculars in time to see Mrs. Blue shove a worm or two into his gaping mouth. He swallows it quickly and opens up again, "More please." His mouth is still yellow, as it was when he was one day old. She gives him more worms and then back to the feeder. The baby, almost as big as his parents, is much bigger than those days of being a nestling. He has a few blue feathers, but not nearly as ornate as his father. His chest is brown with white speckles. I hope to get a picture soon, as I’ve been planning to do for weeks. It was good to see the bluebird family again. I hope they are here to stay.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bye Bye Bluebirdie?

One of my favorite pictures of Mr. Blue taken shortly after he started visiting us.
I was able to get very close to him.

I don't know if this is goodbye forever or just a while. But I haven't seen or heard the bluebirds in a day and a half. No phone call, no note, not even an email! I look for them and listen for them whenever I'm outside. Nope, no bluebirds. I had visions of mama and daddy bringing the babies over for dinner, some evening this summer. Maybe we'd toss some worms on the BBQ, have some lemonade, and laugh about old times.

Hubby and I played golf at the town golf course, Richter Park, this weekend and on the 16th and 17th greens, we heard bluebirds. Then on the 18th green, I was on the tee box preparing to swing and saw a family of bluebirds getting bugs to eat. They fly down to the ground, scoop up their prize, and fly back up, all very quickly. It made me a little lonesome for my blue friends. Hopefully, they're just on a summer vacation, and will return again sometime soon.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Say Peas!

It certainly has been a weird weather year, hasn't it? I mean, we had a relatively warm winter, and then spring was touch and go and took forever to warm up, and now July 4th was cool and rainy. Weird weather. But, that's the thing about Mother Nature, she's unpredictable. I'm sure there have been years past like this as well, but we just choose to remember Christmas as snowy, spring as rainy, and summer as hot and sunny. Funny thing is, in the garden, it all seems to even out.

99 Pea Pods Yielded 1 Cup of Peas

Spring of 2006 I planted peas on April 12 & 13. The peas matured and reached peak on the week of July 4th. We were away that week and so missed it. We missed the whole pea harvest. One look when we got back home and I knew, they were too big, starchy, and well, flatulent. We tried to eat them, but they tasted bitter and starchy. Not good eatin' and a big disappointment. This year, I was delayed in planting my peas, and with the cool weather, I doubt they would have germinated any earlier anyway. I planted them April 22 & 24, and guess what? They reached peak the week of July 4th again! This time we were home. We got to eat them. Not all are ready on the exact same day. I pick a few that look ready each day or two and add them to whatever we're eating. Last night, was my biggest harvest yet.

Last night's dinner fixin's.
Green Arrow Peas, three kinds of baby carrots, and mixed lettuce.

Peas add a touch of sweetness and contrast to savory foods. I like adding raw fresh garden peas to a salad. I also added them to angel hair pasta with fresh from the garden sautéed garlic, Parmesan cheese, and my homemade tomato sauce earlier this week. I think that was our favorite. Since I got a good amount yesterday, I decided to cook them and eat them with cut up baby carrots, cooked for only a minute and tossed with one pat of butter. Yum.

While photographing my harvest last night, with my head bent down over the camera and tripod, I heard a hum overhead. Looked up and a hummingbird zipped away. Too fast for me. Bent down again and heard that buzzing again, too loud to be an insect. Looked up, again, the hummer zips away. I shouldn't be surprised since I was on the back patio beside his feeder. Earlier in the evening, from inside the house, I spotted three at the feeder in succession. But I am always delighted when they come right up to me. Curious creatures and a bit playful, maybe he was just teasing me. "There you are photographer person, with your camera at the ready, but you won't capture me!" Maybe not tonight, but I don't give up easily.

Here is a hummingbird taking a drink from my 'Humzinger' feeder.
They are tiny birds only a few inches tall, resembling an insect more than a bird, when in flight

Oh, and the bluebird family is now living in my front yard trees. The parents eagerly come to the feeding station and gather food for the babies still hiding in the tall trees. I know they are close by, because the trips are many and quickly accomplished.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Empty Nest

Well, it's finally happened. The nest is empty. I had a suspicion yesterday. Hubby fed the birds before I got up and I missed watching them feed. I've been observing their behavior each day, watching for a change. Haven't looked in the box since the last update. Close to fledgling time, opening the box could cause premature fledging, so we stopped at day 13. Yesterday was day 19 and it appears that they have left the nest. I noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Blue where not around much, even saw Mr. Blue in my vegetable garden, and that is very different behavior. The days leading up to that, they were attacking every stray squirrel that got close to the nest. I went to CVS and bought a dentist mirror on a stick tool. This one was extra nifty since it has a built-in light. I stuck the mirror in the front door hole and looked inside expecting to see a little face looking back, but all I saw was straw. Opened the side of the box, a little nervous, but I had to confirm, and they were gone. I suddenly felt very sad. No more baby birds to marvel at as they grow.

All this time, we were watching the bluebirds choose the nesting box, lay eggs, feed their babies, I knew that some day the babies would grow up and fly away. That was the goal, right? To have healthy, birds grow up and then that means the whole thing was a success. But somehow, I couldn't help but feel sad.

We decided to feed the bluebirds and watch where they take the worms. They loaded up their beaks with the wiggling things and then flew up, up, up into the tall maple tree that the nestbox faces. I went up to the second story of the house and watched from the spare bedroom window. No screen on that one, so I could lean out. Mrs. Blue got some food and then flew up and landed on a branch eye level with the window, just for a quick break. Then she went up to the tip top of the tree, within the dense leaves, and I could no longer see her. Mr. and Mrs. Blue alternated flying up and down from the feeding station to the top of the maple tree. Watching them plunge down from that tall height was unnerving, yet awesome. Like watching riders on a roller coaster as you wait in line. The babies are safe way up in the big tall maple tree, with mama and daddy to feed them. Suddenly, I felt a little less sad. I can't see them, but I know they are there. Some day, perhaps in a few weeks, we'll see them again following their parents around as they learn where to go to get food and learn the ropes. Of course since I'm their sugar mama, or should I say, their wormy godmother, I know they'll be back.

Nest box after being disinfected and cleaned out. Ready for the next brood.
Will Mrs. Blue lay more eggs?