Friday, July 27, 2012

Outdoor Living

The Gazebo Under the Pecan Tree
 Besides the plants that I have added to the yard that produce good fruit, we are lucky to have several very large pecan trees around the house. Every fall they drop lots of pecans, and I get exercise by picking them up. Last year we had 20 pounds of fresh pecans shelled, and I'm hoping this year we will get even more of them. This is the gazebo in the side yard where we enjoy the mornings and evenings - and shelter during pecan season when the trees are dropping lots of nuts on our heads.
The Square Foot Gardens By the Picket Fence
We added the picket fence last year to keep critters out of the gardens, and it has been a great addition to the yard. The three 4X4 foot beds are in their second year of use, and I started a compost pit this year so that next season will be even better. We chop up all the leaves that fall and add them to the compost pile, and next spring those leaves will go back into the beds to make them even richer.
     I even lucked out at the garden store and found two plastic greenhouse covers that were 4X4 foot size and three feet tall on sale. I grabbed them so I can extend the lettuce and cold weather plants in two of the 4X4 foot beds, and get an early start next spring.
     I hope you have enjoyed seeing the gardens, the fruit that comes out of them and how I use it. By December, those little beds will just be flat spots in the yard again, waiting for spring so they can fill up with vining and blooming plants in the new season!I'll rake up the soil, add compost and leaves, and cover them for the winter. 
     But what will I do with all the extra time on my hands when there's no garden to tend every day?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Herbal Bounty

Lantana and Miniature Roses in the Herb Garden
Just outside the kitchen door by the carport, I have a 4X8 foot bed for herbs and flowers. I have a miniature rose in it - I've always grown them in my herb gardens. 
Mexican Marigolds and Sweet Potato Plants in Pots
 For color and pest prevention,the pot of sweet potato plants have mexican marigolds growing with them. 
4X8 bed for Florals and Herbs
Herbs don't like a rich soil or a lot of feeding - they have a better flavor when they grow lean. So I keep them out of the vegetable garden, and I don't feed them very often. Just when I transplant them, or add new footings, to get them started. This bed is on the sheltered south-facing side of the house, so the rosemary is perennial - especially with a mild winter like the one we had last year. I can go out of the kitchen door and cut some rosemary or oregano to use fresh in cooking.
Rosemary and Lantana
I just added a small mint plant to the bed, but I double-potted it to keep it from covering the entire bed in mint. It grows aggressively, and will send out runners to spread itself. With one pot inside another pot, and potting mix in between, I hope to keep the mint controlled and where I want it! It's great for cooking and drinks. 
The Double-Potted Mint Plant

Oregano in the Herb Garden

Sweet Balm Leaves

I just bought a dehydrator, and I've been using it to dry my purple and green basil leaves to store them for use later. I plan to dry lots of herbs and vacuum pack them for soups or stews when the cold winds blow in December and January! A little scent of summer saved up.
The New Dehydrator With Basil Leaves Inside
I'm also making dried tomatoes - they're not sun-dried because it's too humid here to do them out in the sun - but they still have a rich, sun-dried flavor. Great for salads. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kitchen Plenty

Cajun Bell and Sweet Banana Peppers
If you wonder what I've been doing lately, I've been tending the garden and making good use of its fruits. I almost have enough of the sweet yellow banana peppers to make another batch of sweet pepper relish. I got the recipe from Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening Cookbook, along with the recipe for the bread and butter pickles you see in the jar. I like to add pink peppercorns for the light flavor and the pretty pop of color in the jar.

Bread & Butter Pickles with Pink Peppercorns
Refrigerator Pickled Peppers
2 lbs sweet or hot peppers
12 black peppercorns
6 to 8 tsp coriander seeds
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 small red onion, thinly slices
6 to 8 garlic cloves cut in half
2 1/2 c. vinegar
2 1/2 c. water
1 Tbl. salt
3 Tbl. to 1/3 c. sugar, to taste.
Leave small peppers whole, cutting a small slit near the stem for flavorings to penetrate. Cut large peppers into strips. Remove seeds and ribs. Pack peppers, peppercorns, coriander seeds, bay leaves, onion and garlic into 3 or 4 clean glass  pint jars. Heat the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a small saucepan; cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Pour the vinegar mixture over the peppers, top with a lid and ring. Refrigerate for at least 1 week before using. The peppers will keep for several months in the refrigerator. Makes 3 to 4 pints.

I like to use mustard seeds and pink peppercorns also - I like the extra flavor they give. And instead of plain white vinegar, I like rice vinegar, for a slightly lighter taste.

Small Loaves of Butter Pound Cake
 Last weekend I baked 3 small loaves of pound cake. There are only 2 here because we ate one already. We used it as a substitute for shortcake with strawberries, to make strawberry shortcake-like breakfast bowls. Instead of topping them with whipped cream, we used some homemade greek yogurt. YUM!
Homemade Sunflower Seed Bread Loaf
I also baked a loaf of french sunflower bread. As soon as it came out of the bread machine, we had to cut into it and add butter and honey for a mid-afternoon Saturday treat. There's nothing like homemade bread with local honey spread all over it. 

We are eating fresh, and homemade wherever possible. Lots of vegetables and salads, batches of green beans from the garden, and home pickled and baked goods. There's nothing like the taste of fresh home grown, baked or pickled foods!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Fruit Payoff

Green Tomatoes Just Starting to Ripen
I've enjoyed having the garden, and go out early every morning to check on progress. Every night when I get home from the day job, I go out and see if anything needs to be picked or taken care of. 
See the Pink Tones at the Bottom?
 The tomato cages I bought this year were brightly colored. I got them for my granddaughter, so we would have a "rainbow" garden. Right now everything is getting ready to be picked, so the red, blue, green and yellow cages don't show up as much as they did in April when I first set them out.
First Come Male Zucchini Blooms
 Using the Growboxes is new this year. The zucchini bushes get so large, they take up 9 square feet in a square foot garden, not leaving much room for anything else. I thought I'd try the zucchini planted in separate Growboxes, to let them expand and have as much space as they needed, with only 2 plants per Growbox. If they still get too big and expand past to start shading other plants, I can just move the Growboxes over. You can't do that in the ground-based garden plan!
Then Come the Female Zucchini Flowers for Baby Squash
 This plant survived the big windstorm we had. One thing I will do differently next season in the zucchini Growboxes - I will put tomato cages, round ones, around the zucchini plants in the Growbox. When it's very windy, the stems can get thrashed around and sometimes they break. I think if I had trained them up inside a round tomato case, instead of letting them sprawl down on the ground, they wouldn't have gotten any injury even in a heavy wind. We'll see how it works out - for the fall zucchini I'm going to try the experiment and let them grow up inside a tomato cage.
Yellow Banana Peppers
The sweet yellow banana peppers have been covered with fruit since June, and I just keep picking them. Lately, it's a game to see how large I can let them get on the plant before snipping them off. If they stay on too long, the plant will stop blooming. So far, my timing has been good. They keep making new peppers higher up on the plant. 
     I have found that roasting or sautéing zucchini with yellow banana peppers in a lemon-butter-olive oil mixture is so tasty!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lots of Square Foot Gardening

New 4X4 Foot Garden for Fall
 It's the middle of July, and I'm setting up for my fall garden. This is the newest 4X4 foot bed that I put out a couple of weeks ago. It's a cedar kit for the 4X4 outside, and my husband used strips cut from our cedar fencing to make my grid. I've started the fall zucchini plants under little net cloches, to keep the borers and squash bugs off of them. There's also parsley and pineapple sage showing in the bed. What you can't see are the 4 squares of bush beans that I planted this morning on the left side, and the 2 square of radishes I planted on the right side.
Net Cloches Keep the Bad Bugs at Bay
     I've found that pineapple sage, marigolds and radishes help keep the bad bugs off the zucchini. This time around I planted "Sure Thing" zucchini from Burpee - it doesn't have to be pollinated by bees to set fruit. We'll see how it comes along, it's the first time I've tried that kind of seed. I grew these from seed in my plant nursery area, then transplanted them into the new bed.Usually I would plan the seeds directly into the bed, but I got the seeds before I got the bed ready - so I went ahead and planted them. It all came together in the end, as you can see.
 The narrow strips of cedar lathe that my husband set up for me to use as my grid had an unexpected benefit - the net cloches fit right into them perfectly! Do you recognize what they are? I am using the small umbrella netting domes that you get for keeping bugs off your food at a picnic to keep the bad bugs off my baby zucchini plants! They will grow too large for the domes at some point, but I've already found frustrated snails and slugs climbing on the netting, trying to find the way in to eat the leaves. I was able to just pick them off and ... dispose of them.

     On either side of the 4X4 new bed are two Growbox planters with two Black Beauty zucchini in each. The Growbox planters are self-watering, which helps with heavy drinkers like zucchini plants. I put a mosquito dunk in each water reservoir. The mosquito dunks contain BT - an organic bacteria that kills mosquito larvae and also helps with squash vine borers. It's an experiment to see whether the BT in the water the zucchini take up in their roots will also inoculate them against the dreaded squash vine borer. Fingers crossed! Those little beggars are tough on squash. 

Tomato Tower and Cucumber Cube
These two beds are across from the new 4X4 bed, with its cedar plank walkway. I put them in last year, and now wish I had some cedar boards or mulch between the beds, so we wouldn't have to mow so close to the garden beds. 

These beds are composite recycled boards, not wood, and the grids are strips from plastic foam board to make the 4X4 grids. I like these grids because they let me put up the bright red 18" square 6" tall tomato towers that I order from Burpee. I like them because they last forever, look cool even with no plants growing on them, and I can fold them flat for storage at the end of the season. The bed on the right has tomato plants that are loaded with fruit and starting to bear. See the bird block netting? There are a nesting pair of cardinals that have their eyes on my ripening tomatoes!

I made a mistake and planted an indeterminate vining tomato in the shorter tomato cage, and when it grew right out of the top, I got a staking system at the garden store to keep it from falling over - so it's double-staked! Sort of like a belt-and-suspender system. Next time I'll learn to READ on the transplant's tag whether it's determinate (bush) or indeterminate (vining) and cage accordingly.
Rooting Tomatoes and Starting Melons
     The further away bed is basil, marigolds and cucumbers, with a couple of determinate tomatoes on the other side. The cucumbers have been bearing heavily all summer. I love going out and picking one, then cutting and eating right in the kitchen. So fresh! and I know exactly how they were grown. It makes me feel very virtuous to grow and eat my own salads! 

 This is where I start plants off from seed, in the plant nursery. There's a concrete slab here, probably from an old pump housing years ago, and I have another Growbox on top of it with baby watermelon and cataloupe vines getting started. That large pot has tomato rootings in it. I cut away large limbs and sucker vines off the vining tomatoes and put them in good potting soil to grow roots. When my spring-started tomatoes are all done, these will be ready to get started and bear through to the first frost.
Supporting the New Plants for the Fall Garden
 Because I'm in Zone 8 here in Central Louisiana, I almost get a chance at two gardens, Spring and Fall. The Spring-Summer plants get tired from bearing all summer, but these new baby plants are all ready to take their places and keep growing all through August and September, for a fall harvest. I plant marigolds all over the place, to help keep the bad bugs away - and to give a splash of yellow color here and there.

Peppers and Pineapple Sage
This is the other side of the tomato square foot bed - it has okra, pineapple sage and yellow banana pepper plants. The okra hasn't started blooming yet - it went in where the yellow squash plants came out when they got finished. We ate all the yellow squash, and the plants were done, so out they came and okra went in their place. That's one thing I love about square foot gardening - it has crop rotation built right into the system. I don't make up a planting chart or anything like that - when the lettuce is done, plant the beans. When the beans are done, plant something else in their place. 
     Also in this bed are some cajun red pepper plants. I've almost picked all of their peppers and used them in banana pepper relish. I like the bright splash of red in the jar with the yellow pepper rings of relish. 

 This is my second year with my square foot garden in this location - I built the beds last year. This year's crop has been much better. It's the first time I've tried a second fall garden - wish me luck!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Garden Bounty

Ripening and Rooting in the Windowsill
This is my kitchen windowsill, with a few green tomatoes trying the ripen. We had a heavy thunderstorm a day or two ago, and some of my tomatoes were shaken. The basil in the glass jar are being encouraged to root, so I can plant them in small containers for the cooler weather (surely, it will be cooler someday?) to keep fresh basil for eating and garnishing. Through the window to the left, you can see the new 4X4 foot bed I just put in this year, for a fall garden. I can watch the plants and check on things from the kitchen window.

Green Cucumbers and Red Tomatoes
We've been eating off the garden all summer, and right now these are the ripening tomatoes and ready-to-slice cucumbers I brought in earlier this week. I've been making salads using both of them. Last weekend I made a batch of bread-and-butter pickles. I don't make huge batches, as they get opened and eaten pretty quickly. It's almost time to make another batch for the refrigerator. 

Just Picked and Still Ripening
I pick the tomatos as soon as they start showing a little red, because they will finish up nicely in the kitchen. I don't put them in the refrigerator, but leave them on the counter to finish ripening up. Putting them in the refrigerator gives them a "mushy" consistency, and they're just fine on the counter. I pick them because we've been getting quite a bit of rain lately, and that can make them crack if they get too much water while they are trying to ripen. The cracks can let in bad bacteria and they start to mold - so I pick them and leave the stem on, so they can ripen in my kitchen. Also - the local birds can spot them when they start to redden on the vine, and they are VERY interested. I put bird block netting up, but it wouldn't stop a determined bird, I learned that the hard way.
     I'll share more about my square foot garden in some other posts - I'm very happy with the food goodies we've gotten from it this year, even though I planted a little late for this region - the weekend before Mother's Day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Red in the Garden

     Who doesn't love homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes? I just picked my first red ones this week, the big ones, that is. I've been getting small cherry tomatoes for a while now for salads.

     I've been researching planting for fall gardening here in Louisiana, and I've learned that it's possible to start plants now for a fall harvest! And, I learned that tomato cuttings will root themselves and grow a new plant. So I'm giving that a try this year.
     I set up another 4x4 foot square garden box and started filling it with compost and garden soil. I'm going to put more zucchini in it, for a fall harvest. That new box makes four 4x4 raised bed boxes I have now. Each year I expand the garden just a little!

     Last weekend I made bread and butter pickles with homegrown cucumbers, and 1/2 pint jars of yellow banana pepper pickles. They're in the refrigerator, pickling away!

     I like this time of year. And maybe by fall, I'll still be picking tomatoes and cucumbers in the shortening days before the first frost.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Scared Myself Then Fixed It

     Do you ever just fool around on your blog, trying out a new look or new gadget? I was doing that, and I almost gave myself heart failure! I thought I'd wiped out all my sidebars and blog links. Oh NO! But I talked myself down off the ledge, and tried to re-set things.
     Blogger has introduced the dynamic views, and I had never tried them to see how they looked. They are fun, and look good, except all the things I've added to the sidebar disappeared! Well, actually, they became dynamic links on the side. But you couldn't see them.
     If I was just creating a new blog, and had started out without all the sidebar things I've created and added, the Magazine Dynamic look might be fun. But I have put a lot of "extras" on the sides, and gotten used to the look of them. I didn't want to lose those.
     Whew! I scared myself there for a minute! I'm still not back to the template I was using, but I need for my heartrate to return to a lower level before I do anything else!   
     Have any of you ever done that to yourself?
     Deep breaths!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Anniversary Day

     Today is July 5 - my wedding anniversary. We went on an Alaskan cruise, and got married at sea by the Captain of the cruise ship, 8 years ago. This is a picture taken on the deck as we went past the glaciers. Getting married on a cruise ship is the easy way out! They do everything for you, and as soon as the Captain is done, you're already on your honeymoon! 

     We moved to Louisiana 2 years ago today. It seems that July is a busy time in my life. And my grandson's first birthday is July 19. Isn't he a cutie, with that red hair and brown eyes? The whole family came over yesterday to swim with me in the back yard, something I've been wanting to do for a good while, and now he's big enough to join in - even though he's not quite walking yet, he seems to know what to do with his legs in the water! he's a good kicker...
     So much to appreciate, so much to enjoy. I'm happy that life has worked out the way it is now - and I can't wait for what comes next.