Growin’ and Pickin’ the Garden

The garden season is well under way here. I picked a bucket full of squash a couple of days ago. Soon we will be into the canning season again. We have canned up one batch of beets, which I will be sharing with you before long. The cucumbers are beginning to bear, the green beans are blooming, and it won’t be long until the potatoes are ready to dig. We have been getting, and will probably get rain just about everyday for a while. I just hope there aren’t anymore high winds or hail to damage the garden. Here is a tour of what is happening so far.

The green beans are blooming.

I planted two small rows of sunflowers by the green beans.

 

The potatoes are doing well this year, at least on the surface. Some of them are starting to die off, so it won’t be long before we are able to start digging them up.

We have canned a batch of beets, and the ones that we left growing are still increasing in size. They will need to be harvested before long.

I think I have figured out why my onions never make bulbs. I plant them too deep. I really hope next year I can grow some real live onions. I wonder if I can grow a fall crop? I have never heard of anyone doing that. It’s pretty hot here until about the end of September. I may just have to try that.

 The cucumbers are blooming and have some tiny little cucumbers to show.

The sunflowers are doing great. They are strong, healthy plants.

A storm semi blew over about half of the corn yesterday. I got most of it standing kind of upright again. Around here folks say it needs to be knee high by the 4th of July. Well, it’s way past my knees, almost to my shoulder.

The purple hull peas have plenty of competition from the grass and weeds, but they are growing well. They should be blooming before long. I hope to get them some relief sometime soon.

The squash is growing very well. We are having to battle a few squash vine borers, so I put some wood ashes around the base of each plant. Surprisingly, we have seen very few squash bugs this year. Last year I was picking leaves with bug eggs on them everyday and feeding them to the chickens, along with squishing many bugs. This year I have squished about five or six bugs and haven’t found any eggs at all. Weird. We have seen quite a few assassin bug nymphs around, and that is good.

The okra didn’t germinate or grow well this spring. We had some late frosts and some cool weather, plus a lot of grass and weeds, but the okra is just now starting to grow. It hasn’t filled in all of the rows and I’m not sure if I will replant the bare spots or not.

The peas are just about finished. It has gotten to hot for them, so we are waiting to pick the last few peas. I haven’t figured out how to get enough peas to freeze a few quarts or can a few jars. Each year so far, we have only had enough peas for about five or six meals. I may not grow any next year and spend the time and effort on something else. It is nice to have something to eat out of the garden early in the spring, though. The tomatoes are doing very well. They are nice strong plants and have started to bloom as they take over the pea trellis.

The carrots are growing, but don’t seem to like this end of the garden as well as the other end, where they grew last summer. The peppers seemed to have grown about six inches overnight. They are very happy with the hot weather we have been having. They are starting to bloom.

Overall, the garden is doing well, despite of all of the weed competition. Lately, we have had other priorities. You see, Frank is getting ready to have back surgery, so we have been somewhat otherwise occupied for some time. For instance, this evening we actually drove 30 miles to town to get some Kentucky Fried Chicken. We haven’t done that for over five years. And, you know what? It wasn’t any good. We talked about it for a while then realized that the chicken probably tastes just like it always has. It’s our tastes that have changed.

It reminds me of when we first moved to Alaska. Before our move we were consuming our own meat, milk and eggs, just like now. After we had been gone for about six months we came back to our family doctor for a regular checkup and blood work. A few days later at our appointment, the doctor asked us what we were doing different because our protein levels were low, which had never happened before. The only answer we could come up with was that we had changed to all store bought meat, milk and eggs. It’s something to ponder, huh?

2013

The time may come, sooner than we would like, when there are no more rides to town so someone else can cook for us and feed us. There may come a time that what we can grow or raise is all there is. There may come a time that the only medical attention we can get is what we can provide for ourselves. I can only say that I am glad that day is not yet upon us. But I feel it coming a little closer everyday. Don’t wait until it is upon us. Get what you need while the gettin’ is still good.

Until next time – Fern

Squash Patties

While I was rummaging around for something to cook for supper, I decided it would be nice to have a meal of some of the things we grew last summer. This was one of those days when nothing in particular sounded good, so it took a little imagination to come up with something.

We canned a bunch of yellow squash last summer just to have another alternative food and a different set of nutrients on the shelf. I have used it in a casserole or two and in a pot of soup. This time I remembered a recipe my mom gave me about 20 years ago, when she gave me a few jars of squash she had canned.

I picked out a jar of purple hull peas and a jar of squash. This should make a good meal. It doesn’t look like much, though, does it?

Well, the peas I just dumped in a pan to heat up. Easy enough.

Then I dug through my recipes hoping I still had the one for squash patties. Here it is.

 

Drain the squash…….. 

……..then mash it up until smooth. Well, kinda smooth.

Add:
1 egg
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
A dash to 1/4 tsp. pepper (to taste)
2 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. onion (I used dried)
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Stir well. Cook in a skillet like pancakes with a little oil.

This was very easy and tasted good. One of the patties could have cooked a little longer, so make sure yours are done. I also think this would be good with half cornmeal and half flour. It would change the flavor a little. Out of one pint of squash, I got six patties. Just right for us.

I wonder if I will ever ceased to be amazed at the meals I can make from a few little seeds, some time and some work. I hope not. 

It’s a wonderful little miracle that just tickles me to death. Frank has become used to me sitting down at the table to eat and saying, “Neat-o! This food came from our dirt, right out there. Isn’t that great?” We are blessed.

Until next time – Fern

September Garden Update

By this time of year the garden usually looks rather sad. Most of the hot weather plants are starting to wind down and none of them are getting the attention they got in the spring when the excitement of planting and growing is at it’s peak for me. I find it easy in August and September to let some things go in the garden because it is so hot. This is the first year we have actually gotten a few fall crops planted even though we have talked about it for years. 

Shortly after we started the seedlings, the temperatures inched up into triple digits and made it difficult to keep them going. The winter squashes are happy with all of the heat, but the carrots, broccoli, cabbage, beets and snap peas aren’t at all happy. 

 

 


Only the pumpkins,                                                winter squash, 

                                                    beets 

Snap peas

and snap peas made it into the garden. It was cooler when I planted the snap peas and they were happy, started growing and even started blooming. Then we made it up to 105 degrees and they put the brakes on and started drooping. Maybe the fall temperatures will bring them back around. 

Mangel beets

The beets started growing as well, but the grasshoppers really liked the small seedlings, then along came the dog and dug up a few, then the kittens thought it would be fun to dig up a few more.

Pretty Girl

Our small row of sugar beets dwindled to only a few plants. If they continue to grow we can at least see how they do and see if we can grow a much larger patch next year.

Potatoes among the weeds

The potatoes we experimented with are few and far between, and the weeds are prolific, but maybe we will get enough to use as seed potatoes for spring. 

 

Melons

The melons won’t be big enough to produce before fall. I should have started them much, much earlier. I just thought I would give a few a try while I was planting the winter squash. 

Cushaw
Buttercup
Acorn

Winter squashes
Besides a few squash vine borers which I think the assassin bugs took care of, the cushaw, acorn and buttercup winter squashes are going great guns. I am hopeful that we will get a good harvest to store and experiment with canning. 

Pumpkins

I’m not too sure about the pumpkins. They are much slower than the winter squashes to produce even though we put them in a much more fertile area than the others. Maybe that is the problem, I don’t know.

We are still picking some okra,  

green beans, (even though the grasshoppers have really taken a liking to the vines)

peppers 

 

and tomatoes.

The yellow summer squashes have pretty much died down. 

 
The lima beans, once again, have beautiful vines but only 
a few flat pods with no beans. This is the third year I have planted lima beans – all in different locations with varying amounts of nitrogen, and three different varieties. So I have come to the conclusion that lima beans just don’t produce here and will go on to other vegetables that I know produce well. 

 

We are still getting some purple hull peas, but they have been rather neglected too. 

It will be interesting to see how the sweet potatoes have done when we  dig them up. I think I will try digging up a few plants in a couple of weeks. The books say 100-140 days, and I figure the end of September will be about 120 days. Besides that, I am curious to see what’s under all those vines.

The first average frost date here is October 31st, so we still have about 6 more weeks of growing season left. I think when the first frost comes I will experiment with my frost cloth again and see if I can keep some of the garden going, especially the winter squashes. We like them and the chickens and goats do too. We are ready for cooler weather. It was still 98 degrees today. 

It will be interesting to see how much more we can harvest this year. We have learned so much and gotten to eat some really good food. And one of the best parts is yet to come – winter. When we can go look on the shelf at all of the things we have put up, and eat some more really good food.

Until next time – Fern

August Gardening Update

First, a bug update. I learned something very interesting about ants and aphids. We have an over abundance of fire ants here. A few years ago there were a few, then more and more. This year they seem to be everywhere and in everything.

I was talking to a neighbor about gardens a few days ago and told her I had some aphids on my purple hull peas. She told me that anywhere there are ants and available plants there will be aphids. There is a mutually beneficial relationship between the two insects. The aphids secret a ‘honeydew’ that the ants eat and the ants protect the aphids from their predators. The ants will actually carry the aphids around and place them on choice plants so they will produce more honeydew. The ants have even been observed to ‘milk’ the aphids so they will produce more honeydew. Even though I find the ants and aphids to be a serious nuisance, I find this fascinating.

I had a batch of aphids on some of my purple hull peas and I wondered if the assassin bugs would eat them. So I gathered up about 10 assassin bugs from one of my pepper plants in a jar and put them where the aphids are. It didn’t seem to make any difference. Now I think it is because of the ants. We have not come up with a natural way to combat the ants. There may not be one. They have really boomed this year and become a real problem.

This morning while out picking the garden I was able to welcome a new bug – a praying mantis. It was in the Romano bean trellis and I was happy to see it.

Another update is the fall garden. We have had seven inches of rain in the last three days along with several more inches in the week prior. The fall seedlings I have planted are ready to go in the ground but it will be several more days before that is possible. The winter squashes and pumpkins are growing well even though they were rather beat up by the heavy rain.

I think the grasshoppers mowed down one of the melons, but there are still four left.

 

The potatoes haven’t come up yet, and I hope they don’t rot with all of this rain.

I wrote about the flood in the herb bed earlier in the summer. Time has not allowed me to work on the herb bed this year the way I hoped. Sometimes I would walk by and look at it and think it is a real failure this year. But a few weeks ago, I started really looking at what I had growing there. Even though I hoped to have much more established by now, I realized that I have quite a few things growing. The mulch is not in place and I am fighting the weeds more than I would like, but I have some strong perennial plants that will continue coming back. So here they are in no particular order.

Basil






Blackberry Lily



Chives
Comfrey
Elderberry
Green tea
Horseradish
Kale
Leeks
Lemon Balm
Marjoram
Multiplier Onions
Oregano
Parsley (which has bloomed and gone to seed)
Peppermint
Rhubarb
Rosemary
Sage (two types)
Sweet Potato (I replanted one we grew last year)
Wild Lettuce (going to seed)

Muddy footprints just trying to get around in the herb bed.



The kittens are starting to get out and around and ‘help’ pick the garden. They still get lost a lot, but it’s fun to watch them explore.

We are blessed with abundance and beauty all around us. Even if we have too much rain, the weeds are growing like crazy and the grass needs mowing, life is good – very, very good.

Until next time – Fern

Saving Seeds Really Pays Off

Remember when we showed the pictures of the zinnia and marigold seed heads we had picked one afternoon? After they had dried somewhat, we separated them to make sure they dry completely before we store them for next year. There are millions, well maybe not millions, but thousands of seeds. Most of these came from

volunteer plants that came up this year from the seeds we planted last year. Many of those seeds came from an end-of-the-year sale at a hardware store for 10 cents a package. 10 cents! So for 10 cents, we now have thousands of seeds that we can use for 10 years even if we never save another seed.

So, that got me to thinking. We saved three big cucumbers and kept the seeds from them. Since we don’t really like cucumbers (believe it or not, I just like dill pickles) these seeds will last us forever – not counting the ones still in the original package I bought that I have been planting for three years now.

In the past few years we have saved okra, corn, zinnia, marigold and black-eyed pea seeds. If we continue to expand this process with seeds from plants we like to eat that are non-hybrid, pretty soon we will not need to buy any. Wouldn’t that be great? One more small step toward independence and self-reliance. 

It is always good to have a stock of seeds on hand though. What if the weather doesn’t cooperate and you need to replant? What if the bugs kill everything and you need to replant? What if you can never buy another seed and what you have is all you have? You’ve heard the old saying ‘Never put all of your eggs in one basket’? Well, never plant all of your seeds. Never. Always have some in reserve for the unexpected. Your life may depend on it one day.

I know that sounds odd in our day of plenty, but I truly believe this will not always be the case. I am very grateful for the comfort and luxury of living in a time when failure is an option – that I can go to the store and replenish all I need and want that is within our means. We are truly blessed. 

Now, at the end of the season, wisely stock up on extra seeds – more than you think you will ever need in your lifetime. They will be worth more than silver or gold. They may feed your family, your neighbors or your community. They will be tremendous bartering commodities. Providing others with the means to provide for themselves may be one of the most

priceless gifts you will ever be able to give someone.


Until next time – Fern

Saving Our Own Seeds

We have saved a variety of seeds over the past few years, but we haven’t been very diligent about it. So this year we are trying to save several different kinds that we haven’t tried before. We only save seeds that are from non-hybrid or heirloom plants. This insures an accurate reproduction of the original plant.

These are the cucumbers we let go to seed. This is also a great book – The Seed-Starter’s Handbook by Nancy Bubel. It is another of my old books with a copyright of 1978. 

There are two options for drying cucumber seeds. One is to take out the pulp and wash off the seeds as best you can. 

 
Frank is being the funny photographer while I am trying to figure out what to do. He has always been able to make me laugh. That is a wonderful attribute after 30+ years.

The other option is to scoop out the pulp and let it ferment for a few days.


So we did.






 




We left the jar sitting on the shelf for a few days and watched the pulp liquify like described in the book. But then it got to smelling so bad it had to migrate to the porch.

 

I used a colander and the garden hose to rinse out the pulp and fragrant liquid.

 


 

The lighter or less viable seeds floated to the top (just like the book described) and I was able to pour them off.

I poured the seeds onto a few layers of paper towels to absorb most of the moisture before spreading them out on a cookie sheet to dry. 

We have also saved some purple hull pea seeds along the way. We let them mature, shell them and put them in this bowl to dry. I shake them around a few times each day as I walk by. 
We didn’t save any corn seed this year because we planted two varieties together which would cross pollinate, making the seed not reliable for replanting. We wanted to use up the last of our oldest seed, but it wasn’t enough, so we added another kind to the patch.

We went flower seed picking a few days ago. We had many, many zinnia volunteers come up this year in the garden which was wonderful. The hummingbirds love them and they help deter destructive insect pests. We have also planted more zinnias and marigolds this year throughout the garden. I hope we have many more volunteers next year. But to supplement them we are harvesting some seeds along the way. 

Another first this year is sunflowers. You know those beautiful pictures you see of sunflowers lining someone’s garden fence? I have always wanted to try growing them, but have never taken the time. Well, this year I poked a few seeds in the ground here and there in the garden, and you know what? They grew! And they are beautiful! Then one day I walked by and looked at some of them and they were dead. I wondered what was wrong until I tilted

the flower head up and saw sunflower seeds. Well, that is what they are supposed to do, right? That was a very fun discovery. So now I have 3 seed heads drying. Life is so great and rewarding!

We plan to save more seeds this summer, so we will keep you posted. We do this because there might come a day when we can’t get any more seeds. What are you saving this year?

Until next time – Fern

Fern’s Fried Chicken

We butchered some of our young roosters in May and froze them for fryers. We have always enjoyed fried chicken. 

There is a definite difference between homegrown and store-bought chicken. Our chickens are smaller even at an older age. The meat has less water in it too. It is hard to describe. Even though we buy commercial laying crumbles, sweet feed and scratch grain to feed them, they will never put on the weight of broiler house chickens due to the difference in feeding rations.

When we butcher the chickens for freezing, we wrap them in plastic wrap and newspaper. In the past we have tried butcher paper which costs more than keeping old newspapers. We have also tried freezer bags which cost more and don’t cling to the bird as well, thus allowing  more freezer burn. We also cut the carcass into pieces that will ‘nest’ into each other to protect from freezer burn. The leg/thigh pieces are tucked into the backs and covered by the breast pieces. After a lot of experimentation, this seems to work the best.

 I cut up the bird…..

roll it in flour seasoned with seasoning salt and pepper. We fry it in olive oil, which is the only type of oil we use, besides WD-40.

We had fresh purple hull peas from the garden seasoned with cured ham hocks to go with the chicken. We bought the pig from a family at church. Their kids raise and show pigs for FFA, Future Farmers of America. When they are finished showing them, they usually sell them to help cover some of their feed costs. This works well for us because then we don’t have to raise them. I don’t like live pigs much. But they sure taste good!

This was a great meal! Simple, good, homegrown and no leftovers! Frank really likes fried chicken.

Until next time – Fern