Archive for August, 2009

Weather Service vs. Farmers’ Almanac Monday, August 31st, 2009

Today we got a story at the news putting the weather service’s winter predictions at polar opposite of the Farmers’ Almanac. The weather service, based on El Nino influences, predicts a mild winter. The Almanac predicts snow and severe cold. Once it gets -0F does is really matter a few more degrees? Yes, I suppose it does.
What does this mean for gardeners? More of the same. To get our plants ready, continue to water until frost. Then mulch heavily – especially tender and zone-borderline plants. Rake those leaves right on top or bag them – if you like a more tidy look then set the bags on top of your roses, butterfly bushes or any newly planted shrubs, trees and perennials.
I’m wondering – who would you believe to predict your winter? I’m leaning towards the almanac, I’d trust an experienced farmer over a meteorologist most days of the week. Either way – I’m going to embrace all the warmth summer has left.

Garden Recipe: Squash lasagna Thursday, August 27th, 2009

1/2 bush acorn squash cooked (mine was leftover)
2 big meaty tomatoes (brandyboy and black krim), cut into 1 inch chunks
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 handful basil leaves, chopped
1 container ricotta
1 bag shredded mozzarella
1/2 Cup parmesan
olive oil
salt and pepper
12 lasagna noodles, uncooked
3/4 Cup water
Take a 13×9 pan, spray with non-stick spray. Preheat oven to 350F. Take just a few tomato chunks and smash them on the bottom – doesn’t need to be coated. Mix ricotta and cooked squash, season with a little salt and pepper. Lay down 4 noodles in a single layer (1 will have to be broken to finish the edge). Spoon 1/3 of the ricotta/squash mix. Spread out. Top with 1/3 of the tomatoes, basil and garlic, cheeses, sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Repeat using 1/3 of each for a total of 3 layers. Pour water over all. Cover with foil, cook 45 min. Remove foil and cook an additional 15 min.

It was awesome using only my own ingredients besides the noodles and cheeses, that I grew myself. I didn’t want to use regular jarred spaghetti sauce as I thought it would go against the rich squash flavor – tomatoes, basil and garlic were a simple complement to the subtle squash flavor. My kids loved it, I loved it.

Also, I never, ever precook lasagna noodles – I do not dirty pans if I can help it. I have been balked at for doing this but it’s how my mom always did it. The noodles come out nice and al dente. The added water is all it needs, especially with the juice from the tomatoes. If you use drier ingred. you can up the water to 1 Cup.

Bacon is calling Monday, August 24th, 2009

Sunday, on my way to work the casserole my hub was cooking wouldn’t be ready before I left so my second option was the giant rosy, volunteer tomato sitting on the counter. No way should that have been my second choice. I grabbed two slice of whole wheat, cut a few chunks of mozzarella and sliced the juicy beauty. A couple squirts of spicy brown mustard and I had a meal fit for a Queen. Gotta love those meaty, slicer tomatoes. That taste is never found in a grocery store. BLTs, here I come!

Kept inside Friday, August 21st, 2009

A fringed African violet in stunning white.

A fringed African violet in stunning white.

This past week a wicked case of streptococus caught me off guard so I haven’t seen my backyard since Sunday. The Hub did present a lovely tomato that was from a volunteer plant growing out of a cracker in our daughter’s garden – I’ll get to that more in a later post. Anywho. The only thing I’ve seen of life are the surprising, welcome blooms of two of my houseplants. Not sure how it happened but both a white fringed African violet and my sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) have bloomed. I’m not real lucky with getting plants to bloom inside. I’m an errant waterer and nearly always forget to fertilize. This mean biggers things with the African violet. Those usually want fertilizer quite consistently. This one is a gift-back from my grandmother. When she moved into an assisted living facility about a year ago she gave me back the African violet I’d given her a couple years earlier. She said she wouldn’t have room for all of them (4 at the time). I gulped and took it back knowing my luck with houseplants. Low and behold it’s doing quite well out my North-facing kitchen window.  African violets like consistent moisture but it should never ever touch the leaves or stems. The easiest way is to have it in a pot with holes in the bottom and set it into a water source for an hour, then take it out and let it drain. Water when the top of soil is dry. They are normally hungry plants and it’s extremely easy to find African violet food since they are a very popular houseplant. Usually blooming to abundance. Repot when the new leaves start to stay small and compact in the center.

Mimosa pudica in bloom

Mimosa pudica in bloom

Mimosa pudica, or my sensitive plant was quite a trip when seeing the first bloom. I’d never looked into their flowering having been too mesmerized by their sensitive traits. The blooms don’t last but a day but they are quite something to behold. Like a little bur shooting rays of bright pinky-lavendar. So far this plant has had three such blooms. The little pink hairs shrivel quickly leaving a little nubby pod. My second plant hasn’t bloomed yet but I’m waiting. Due to my lacksidasical care of these plants I can credit the suns shifting path as we are looking at the last month of summer. What a great way to welcome it.

A tree grows . . . in the newsroom? Saturday, August 15th, 2009
One of these is not like the others . . .

One of these is not like the others . . .

A coworker recently picked up a Burr Oak. It’s made itself at home in the newsroom awaiting more pleasant planting days. 80-90F weather does not lend itself to planting, dividing or anything that would expose the roots of a beloved plant. Tomorrow may be better unless it gets too wet from rain. Super moist soil, when packed around roots can leave little if any needed air pockets, thereby suffocating the rootlets.

Burr Oak is a wonderful tree to grow in our neck of the woods. It’s most distinguishing trait is the highly raised nubby bark. The acorns of this oak are under a heavy cloak – this is the burr. It tolerates our alkaline soil grows to 70 feet and after a few slower years of growth and put on a couple feet a year. When it matures it has a wonderful umbrella shape – probably one of the best shade trees for our parts. When temps start to die down next month or later it would be the perfect time to plant a tree.

Bur Oak's nubby bark and typical oak leaves.

Bur Oak's nubby bark and typical oak leaves.

Squash vine borer or &*(&*%#@! Monday, August 10th, 2009
Squash vine borer at base of bush-type butternut squash

Squash vine borer at base of bush-type butternut squash

My 3 sisters garden is not doing so well. I have 3 stalks of corn and I’ve lost about 1/2 my squash and pumpkin plants.

Apparently learning from my mistakes is my modus operandi. I found many of these ugly bugglies too late to save the plant. A couple ‘fruits’ had just started fattening at the base of the disintegrated flowers. I managed to get one acorn squash from another plant. Insecticides are useless after infestation. This usually happens in late June, early July. My guess is the dryer and hotter the season the earlier they will show up, and possibly fewer. Their entrance is apparent from the yellowing and chewed up opening usually at the base of the plant. I noticed first because even though there was plenty of water couple of my plants still looked wilted. This is a sure sign. Plus – I’m not the most inspective, nor attentive gardener. If you catch the maggot-like offender early you can slice a small opening and get rid of the worm well, an way you see fit – just get rid of it. Then cover the wound with soil.

The adult is a gray moth that flies by day. It emerges from a cocoon in the ground and quickly thereafter lays its eggs. I’ve grown squash and/or pumpkins every year and this is the first time I’ve seen them, let alone have such a large infestation. Unlike past years most of my plants were heirloom this time and that can sometimes mean a lack of resistance to pests that a hybrid plant would have. Another culprit could be the unusually and consistently cool, wet summer we’ve had.

1 Morning Dove Monday, August 10th, 2009

Cerelia Aug. 8 with morning dove chick

Cerelia Aug. 8 with morning dove chick

“Don’t touch a baby bird – the parents will smell you on it and abandon it.” A myth used to keep kids from disrupting baby animals.

Finding animals in your backyard opens up great educational opportunities. Appreciation for the inhabitants that share our space is a gift that needs to be passed on through the generations.

This little dove was found by my husband and daughter. They got a close up look which very few do. The baby bird fell asleep under the gentle hands of my daughter . (or perhaps it just shut its eyes tight and chirped to itself, “This is not happening, THIS is NOT happening.”) The bird was then placed on the ground on top of a man-made grass nest. Later when my daughter was excited for me to, “Come see!” we went to the spot only to find it vacated. Without any cause for alarm it appeared the little critter had bounced or flown away back to it’s own nook in the great outdoors. Fly on baby dove, fly on! It left our daughter with a warm memory she won’t soon forget.

Garlic grows on Thursday, August 6th, 2009
Garlic 'flower buds' in early july

Garlic 'flower buds' in early july

This year is the first time I’ve tried my hand, or thumb, at garlic. Last fall I planted some bulbs as well as some more this spring. Fall planting is the usual method but from my experiment so far it doesn’t seem to matter much. Though I haven’t dug any bulbs yet so truth is yet to come. The fall-planted bulbs had the jump start and sprouted very early. Spring bulbs are catching up and flowered just a week or two later than the fall ones.

The bulb of the garlic grows in the ground. There are two varieties – hard kneck and soft neck, the latter of which would be found on your grocers’ shelf. Hard neck differ in that they are a bit more hardy and a tough thick stem grows in the middle of the bulb.  Both varieties can be planted here.

There is some different schools of thought pertaining to the flower of garlic that starts in mid-summer. When a bulge just begins to start and the top is curled over on itself you can actually cut them off and saute this part. It gives a softer essence of garlic. When a bud is definite you can also just crimp the stem over just under the bud so that the plants energy goes back into making the bulb instead of the flower parts. Or, you can just ignore it completely.

Fall planted garlic in May

Fall planted garlic in May

Spring-planted garlic in May

Spring-planted garlic in May

Harvest comes when the plant has browned about 1/3 of the way up. Waiting longer can result in an inedible product. Dig the garlic so as not to damage the bulb. Brush off as much dirt as possible and keep in a cool dark place until you are ready to use it. You can cut the leaves off leaving a little stem or if you

have a lot you can leave the leaves on and braid them.

First pick – beet greens Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Yesterday I picked my first beets and first sweet banana pepper. The beets weren’t even a quarter-size in diameter, so I only picked 2 and utiliezed the entire things, minus the fuzziest part of the root.  Beet greens are awesome. Just wilt them by either sauteing them slightly with a little white wine, salt and olive oil or turn them into a hot dish like pasta or rice and the residual heat will wilt them. I’m guessing the small size of the actual bulbous root that is the ‘beet’ is due to my later planting of them. Beet seeds can actually be sown all season long. Just don’t expect to get very big ones if you plant them now.

The smaller beets are great for roasting, greens are great as a side or take fresh ones and turn them into hot pasta, big beets are good for pickling as them can get a bit strong to eat just cooked.

Beets are also great keepers like potatoes, onions, etc. Just keep them cool, dry and in a dark place.