Category Archives: Garden

What is this?

We have a compost pile in our back yard.  We throw all sorts of stuff in there, but I always know what it is when it goes in.  This year we had volunteer tomatoes, catnip and a mystery squash come up.  I have absolutely no idea what kind of squash this is but I know we have never thrown anything like that in the pile.  We have thrown pumpkin and zucchini and cushaw and yellow squash parts into the pile but none of those particularly look like this fruit.

For a bit, I considered the possibility that someone was playing a compost pile prank…but who on Earth would do that?  Too bad I don’t have any composting friends though…could be interesting.

Anyhow, back to the subject at hand…does anyone have any idea what this is?  Maybe a mutation of some hybrid pumpkin or something?  Ginny chomped on one, but quickly left it alone (and you know, my dumb dog eats poop so that ‘s saying something!)

We have found other weird stuff in the course of gardening…

81 pounds

We work a pretty big garden at Emily’s grandparents’ place. It’s somewhere around the size of Delaware I think. Planting is always a ton of fun and it looks so pretty when all of the plants are just starting to come up. Sometime in June though, craziness happens there. The tomatoes pop overnight and develop hundreds of little green wonders.  Without any warning at all, they go from green to red (and on to nasty if we’re not careful) overnight!  This year we have somewhere around 55 tomato plants and they each make 1 ton of tomatoes. So, yesterday, in the heat of the day, we crawled out into the garden to weed and pick and work on our tans…and pick tomatoes (and other stuff too…but more on that later)  We picked a good number of tomatoes last week…probably 35-40 pounds. I was pretty proud of that…until this week. We kept picking and picking and picking. We weighed in when we got home (for this week…there’s always next week too!!) and found we had collected 81 pounds of tomatoes.

(this is about 2/3 of them…in my family room…)

Now I like tomato stuff. We love to make salsa and pizza sauce and just plain old tomato sauce, but 81 pounds all at once is  a bit of a chore.  We are fortunate to have a tomato press but it is still a ton of work processing the little squirting devils!  I really need to get the child labor bit working better…

Ready by Halloween?

Look! A baby green bean!

We were a little late getting the garden in place and it seems to be reminding us of that lately.  All sorts of stuff came up and it all looks nice…we have beans and squash, and tomatoes.  There are all sorts of peppers and corn coming along.  We haven’t really eaten anything from the garden yet.  Lots of people are eating from the garden and I am jealous!  I just hope we’re ready by Halloween!

I have been running around doing all sorts of stuff (sounds like a good excuse, right?) so Emily and her grandfather have done the bulk of the weeding this year.  The garden looks beautiful and the end of this month is going to be insane!  Like most garden people, it’s a ton of fun at first and by the end, you are ready for a plague of some swarming creature to finish you/the garden off.  For me now, though, I am ready to pick and can stuff and eat!

We were in such a hurry to plant earlier this spring, that we accidentally planted corn and beans over top of one another.  Of course, that’s a perfectly acceptable way of planting and it is doing well so far…it was just not planned.  Seeing things grow in spite of us might be one of the best parts of messing with a garden…well, besides walking barefoot in dirt and seeing all sort of new bugs I can put on Emily’s arm to see her reaction.  Yes, other than those things, seeing stuff grow is my favorite part!


We always start the garden in early March by planting seeds…especially for tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli and peppers.  By the time May 10 (our somewhat official last frost date) rolls around, we have pretty good looking plants ready to go into the ground.  We plant by the signs too so we are particular about getting stuff planted at the right time.  We got our seeds planted at the right time and then we also go the plants stuck in the ground at the right time.  This year, we are participating in a test of “planting by the signs” sponsored by Blind Pig & the Acorn.  Basically we planted some squash seeds on the “right” date and some on the “wrong” date.  Lots of people are participating so it should be interesting to see what happens.

Anyhow, we got lots of stuff in the ground early in May but some stuff we have had to work on for timing reasons.  Two weekends ago we finally got the last of the garden planted.  Abigail was a huge help in getting our dry beans and pumpkins planted.  She marked our rows, planted some seeds, covered some seeds and laughed a lot.  It was a blast being all barefoot in the garden with my smelly little girl!

We checked the garden this weekend after a good rain and everything was up and looking good.  Emily’s Grandpa swears he went down in the morning one day before the rain and nothing was up.  A few hours later after the rain, everything had come up!  That would be cool to see!

So, we are planted and are mostly still weed-free!  Typically we stay ahead of the weeds pretty well so I think our time in the garden is about to increase like crazy!  No more clean fingernails or soft feet in our household!

Hydroponic Gardening

I have been itching to get dirty again working in the garden.  Spring is nearly here and the snow has melted at the house.  Daffodils are starting to poke through and I saw my first forsythia blooming today!  Spring has to be my favorite time of year as life starts popping again.  The bees fly and the birds do what birds do in the Spring.  It’s just inspiring to me…I figure I have survived another Winter.

How the garden area normally looks

We’ve had a bunch of snow this year in WV and it is melting.  Showshoe Mountain in WV actually had more snow this year than they had at Vail, CO.  Snowshoe had 227 inches while Vail had 223.  So, couple the melt with a good bit of rain and we’ve got flooding around Charleston and elsewhere in WV.

Note the fence and white birdhouse posts
The same can barely see the white posts
There's the fence

We live on top of a hill in Charleston so we don’t really have any any danger from flooding at our house.  Our garden, the one I have been itching to get into, is at Emily’s grandparents’ house which is near the river and a creek that drains one of the big nearby hollers.  It is currently under about 5 feet of water.  Nearby houses have significant amounts of water in them and many folks have been forced to leave their homes.  Even with the flooding, the Corps of Engineers report that flood control dams prevented the water from coming even higher (check out the pictures.  We were planning to have Abigail’s birthday party at the South Charleston Rec Center pool…which is now under water).

It’s hard to complain when I consider that our family is safe and our house is intact.  Nonetheless, I am still bummed that the garden is under water and my garlic that was planted last fall is undoubtedly ruined.  I suppose I will have a chance to work in he garden soon enough.  First order of business will be hauling off the trash that washed in.  We’ll have to find a compromise with the ducks and fish we have seen in our garden and consider a new place to plant our garlic this coming Fall.

Mushrooms aplenty

I was pretty excited in July when my shiitake mushrooms first started fruiting.  I inoculated several white oak logs (they hold their bark longer than other types) in August of 2008 with shiitake spores.  It took a full year of my ignoring the logs before they started fruiting so, after all that hard work, I was thrilled to see the logs sprouting some of my favorite fungi.  I was satisfied.

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Just last week, as I was…um…doing nothing, I happened to walk around behind the shed where I keep the shiitake logs.  I didn’t expect much…afterall, I had a great harvest in July…and I was satisfied.  To my amazement, my friends, the old white oak logs and the shiitake mycelia had joined to give me a wonderful Fall gift!

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I know it is not ideal to eat shiitake mushrooms when they are as big as my head, but I had so many huge mushrooms that I couldn’t even see my logs (which are 4 feet long and 6 inches in diameter)(ok…so maybe I am exaggerating…there weren’t that many mushrooms, but you get my point)!  I began to harvest the beauties and they felt excellent to the touch….like a soft, tender cut of meat I guess (ok…so I know that’s weird but it’s hard to describe).

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Anyhow, I did some talking to a friend and she said that mushrooms often delight  their collectors when the weather changes, particularly when there is a lot of rain to go with it.  That’s precisely what happened this Fall.  They are so easy to grow and so wonderful to eat!  My mushrooms…they always delight me!

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So, do you like mushrooms?  Do you grow mushrooms?  Do you ever feel like a mushroom?


Today, I wrote an article for Not Dabbling in Normal about the benefits of growing stevia, a plant that naturally produces very sweet leaves.  One can chew on the leaves and get a pretty good rush of sweet, but it’s not terribly convenient or attractive to grind up leaves when cooking.

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I decided to make a stevia extract which is a liquid into which the sweetness of the stevia leaves has been concentrated.  I saw a variety of articles and recipes on how to make stevia extract, but two in particular caught my attention.  Each required a liquid to make the extract.  One used water, the other used vodka.  I decided to try both varieties and see which I liked better.

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I am not much of a drinker.  In fact, I am pretty much not a drinker at all except for the occasional medicinal shot of brandy when I have a sore throat.  Aside from that, I don’t know the difference between varieties of alcohol.  I walked into the local drug store and headed for the liquor aisle where a huge array of vodkas greeted me.  I didn’t know one brand from another so I decided the surest way to pick a good vodka must be by the aesthetics of the label.  I looked and looked and debated, but I finally settled on Gordon’s vodka.  See?  Doesn’t it just look pretty.  The simple light blue label just seemed pleasant to me…it must be good stuff.

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So I got the vodka and headed home.  To make both the vodka and the water-based extracts, I coarsely cut stevia leaves until I had 2 cups for each recipe.  I don’t really know what a coarse cutting is, so I decided to use coarse language as I sliced the leaves into chunks.  I can’t really see how it will help make things sweeter, but if the recipe calls for cussing, I figured I better oblige (actually, I called in Emily…she’s the pro).

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(Research…purely for research)

So, into a mason jar I added 2 cups of leaves and one cup of my liquid – vodka in one jar, water in another.  I covered each and will let it stand for 24 hours gently shaking the jars a few times during that period.  I started the brew last night and the liquid has turned green by this morning.  The vodka-based extract is greener so I suppose it has drawn more of the essence of the stevia out.  At the end of the soaking period, I will filter each through a coffee filter and then simmer the extract over medium-low heat for 30 minutes to concentrate the extract and remove the alcohol.  It’s best to store the liquid in a jar in the refrigerator for future use.

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Everywhere I have read says that I will need to dilute the extract with water before using in a recipe.  I suppose the sweetness of the mix is very powerful.  I’ll know more about that soon!  We’ll use these extracts in cooking and I’ll report back later.

So, what do you think?  Have you heard of or used stevia (or truvia, the store variety)?  Did I buy a descent variety of vodka?

A Garden Dialog

The time has come to stow the garden. It seems like just yesterday that we were fussing over getting the seeds ordered. Before we knew it, we needed to get them started…we were late getting them in afterall. Of course that’s typical. We watched patiently as the tiny spouts pushed through the ground. It was almost as if they doubled overnight. Of course…they did. They grew and grew and the most beautiful array of blossoms came.

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Honeybees and bumblebees and all manner of flying critter visited to taste the sweet nectar. Of course, they got creative and sometimes visited the habaneros right before the sweet bell peppers…not so sweet any more. Everything grew and grew and we watched eagerly, waiting for the chaos of canning and cooking to begin. It’s hard to beat the food we get directly from the garden. It’s hard to beat the fun of cutting and chopping up the harvest and stuffing it into canning jars. It’s hard to beat the sound of the pressure cooker clicking away it into the wee hours of the morning.

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“Gee whiz, are we still canning stuff?” “When will this stuff ever end?” “This garden is killing us.” “Oh, just freeze all of that. I can do no more canning!” “Next year, we are absolutely not planting as much!” “This is craziness!” “In fact, I don’t want any garden next year! We need to have a life too!” “NO GARDEN!”
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“Ahhhh…look at out pantry! It’s full! That work wasn’t so bad afterall, was it? It’s definitely worth it! I mean, look at all of that free food!” “Free? Do you remember last month when…” “Oh yes, I know, but did you see all of that free food?!” “Yeah, I know.”

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“So, it’s a little early, but don’t you think we should think about what we want to plant next year?” “Oh yeah…and all that free food…we should definitely plant more!”

My sunny disposition

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Even though I don’t care much for fall and winter, the sunflowers in the garden certainly do a lot to brighten my day during this time of the year.  Initially, it’s hard to get over their size.  Sunflowers are huge.  Maybe they are too huge to even really hold themselves up, but, as I have said before, I love the optimism that they seem to symbolize.  I suppose in the wild economic world in which we live, their bold yet simple existence is just what I need.

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(sorry to the box-elder bugs that I caught in a private moment)

Anyhow, enough of that philosophical stuff…I also am fascinated by the pattern of the seeds in their head and the apparently sweet nectar that draws so many bees and other bugs.  It seems like every time that I look at the sunflowers, they have a new bug climbing on them.  In addition to bouying my mood, they sustain insects in a typically difficult part of the year when most nectar sources dry up.

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I love sunflowers…not like I love Edward Cullen or Mountain Dew, but as far as natural things go, they are the tops in my book!

Garlic, you sure do clean up real pretty

A couple of weeks ago, we harvested garlic that we had planted last fall.  We dried it under cover until Emily’s grandfather got sick of finding the dried out dirt from the roots on the hood of his truck.  We knew it was ready based on his blood pressure.

I took down all of the garlic from where it was hanging and loaded it up in the man-van and headed for home.  You see, I treat the man-van very much like most folks would treat a pickup truck.  Emily, on the other hand, sees it more as a family vehichle.  Of course, this causes some contention between us, but I always figure (as someone wisely said) that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  Anyhow, I loaded all of the garlic into the van and brought with it a bunch of dried dirt.  Emily’s blood pressure headed north as well so I knew the garlic was done.

People process and store garlic in all sorts of different ways, but I like to cut the stalk off leaving only about 1-2 inches still attached to the bulb.  I knock off all of the dirt from the roots and then trim them down to 1/4 inch or so in length.  I peel a few layers of the outer “paper” from the garlic and that’s it.  One should not wash garlic to remove the dirt.  Of course, part of the point of drying the garlic was to remove excess moisture that would cause rot.  Garlic cleans up very nicely without water so I figure, there is no sense in taking a chance.

So, I did an actual count of the garlic we harvested and we have 116 heads hanging in onion sacks in our basement ready for use.  Some we’ll save for seed to plant this October but the rest we’ll use.  If we estimate 6 cloves per head, that means we have 696 cloves of garlic for use this year.

The really cool thing is that garlic is its own best medicine.  It seems to raise the blood pressure of folks in my family, but it also, apparently, is a good way to lower blood pressure as well.  Garlic is almost like a blood pressure perpetual motion device!