Thursday, November 29, 2012

Asparagus and More Great Deals!

The asparagus has been cut back to ground level now.  I still have to add a couple of inches of compost, but it started storming and the rain hasn't let up enough to get outside today.  The bed is small, but it came with the house, and was a pleasant surprise. 

Asparagus - November 28, 2012

Asparagus Bed - November 28, 2012
I stopped by the Grange the other day, just to take a look at their Christmas trees (too rich for my blood!) and found some planting bags with trellises.  The package says for tomatoes, but they are quite small, so I plan on putting something else in them.  Perhaps peppers, which have a much smaller root space need.  Or cucumbers. 

Planting Bag with Trellis...
...with Boo.

The trellises can be unfolded too, so I might use them that way for cucumbers in the raised beds.  I am not a big fan of planting bags, having had little success with them in the past.

Boo Being Boo - trellis unfolded
I could also clip the plastic ties and get three small trellises to put in planters.  Oh, these are so multifunctional!  And on clearance!  Too bad there were only two left...

Oh, we ate chard last night!  The plants aren't big, so I just cut off a few of the oldest leaves from each plant.  I liked it, my son ate it, and my daughter grudgingly tried one small leaf and decided it isn't her sort of thing. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Compost and Trellises

My garbage company sells compost.  Compost that they make from "our" green waste.  Branches, weeds, lawn clippings, leaves...all that stuff we put in our big green containers.  My old garbage company didn't do that with our waste, so this is very exciting!  I drove out to the recycling center last week to drop off a broken microwave and bought 5 sacks of their compost.  $4.99 for a big, heavy bag of wonderful, fine, dark (almost black) compost.

I got a book on container gardening at the library, The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible.  I got so much inspiration for my raised beds, and more, from it.  One thing I have been lax in is support for my climbing crops.  I did make a rickety bamboo and string trellis for the peas last spring, but that's it.  So, when I ran across these metal trellises online, and on sale for only $6.99, I had to have some!  They are a bit short, 56", but the 72" ones are $46.95, so 56" will do!  The Cascadia snap peas are fairly short, I don't believe they got over 4' tall, so that will work.  Also, cucumbers might be all right.   I ordered five, but four came.  The company (Gardener's Supply Company) is sending me the missing one, with no shipping since it was their error.  They even told me to I could add extra items with no extra shipping!  So, I ordered three more of the trellises!   I am SO looking forward to spring! 

New Metal Trellises (oh, that's Cookie in the background next to the dogs' water bucket)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Crop Updates

Broccoli is getting there:

Bok Choy is looking nice:

Lettuces are so beautiful:

Cauliflower is taller, but no little cauliflower bumps yet:

Monday, November 19, 2012


Blueberries. I haven't mentioned them before, because I had no intention of growing any.  But, opportunities come up and I can't resist a bargain for the garden!  This time it was blueberry plants on Craigslist.  Four of them.  The lady thinks they are all Bluecrop, so I should get one more of another variety for best production.  Blueberries are self-pollinating, but they do much better with another variety nearby.

New Blueberry Plants

They were bigger than I expected for $5.00 each.  They are a bit ragged, with some sunburn on the leaves, but they look healthy otherwise.  I won't do a real pruning until they are dormant, but I did clean them up a bit, cutting off broken and really straggly stems.  I am controlling myself from transplanting until they are dormant too!  Eventually I will put them in half wine barrel planters, but this year I will get pots similar to what they are in but a size or two larger.  They have a fairly shallow root room need, so are suitable for planters, even Bluecrop, which matures to 4' to 6' tall. 

I sprinkled some acid-lovers plant food on the soil and watered it in.  That's the only thing to be concerned about with blueberries, the soil.  Acid lovers, needing a pH of about 4.5 to 5.  NOT what my raised beds are, since veggies prefer around 7.  After spending hours online, reading and watching videos on blueberry care, I think I can do right by them. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wet and Cold Weather, Insect Pests, and More Canning

Wet and Cold Weather:  Not too much rain, the back-back isn't a bog yet.  We have had one night of freezing temperatures, which froze the bird bath water, but not the dog water under the overhang, which will happen later on.  The tree frogs are still chirping away.  Do they hibernate?  I need to look that up. I feel so Mama- Bear about them, protective and worried!  The freeze got the marigolds, zinnias, and basil. I cut the peppermint, chocolate mint, catnip (catmint), spearmint, and wooly apple mint to near ground level.  The frozen lettuce always amazes me.  Frozen stiff, yet thaw with no harm to the fragile leaves.  Pretty frost on all the plants. 

Frost on the Strawberries - November 9
Insect Pests:  I tore out two broccoli and two cauliflower plants yesterday.  Full of aphids and I didn't want to deal with them any more since they are the same plants that have had problems before, even with my spaying Sevin on them.  I don't plan on growing cole crops again.   My "winter" garden will consist of lettuce and chard next year.

More Canning:  At least this topic is more upbeat.  I canned apple sauce, apple slices in a light syrup, and more apple butter.  Apple butter is the easiest, since it cooks slowly all day.  The apple slices are rather repulsive in that the apples are floating.  The teacher at the symposium told us to really pack them in to the top, but I followed the Ball Blue Book instructions to the letter.  My jars were a bit big also, quart size.  I bought some pint ones for apple sauce.  The apples, Granny Smith, cooked down so smooth I didn't need to blend them beyond just using a hand wire-whisk.  I did add a little sugar as the apples are on the sour side.

Apple Slices - not too appetizing!
Apple Sauce

Apple Butter Apples in Slow Cooker

I made an apple crisp for dessert tonight.  On one hand the apples are going fast, but on the other hand, it takes so many of them to make a jar of butter or sauce.  I have 34 left, which sounds like a lot, but it took about 10 just for the crisp.  

Apple Crisp
Apple Crisp Recipe
Grease the bottom and sides of a large rectangular baking pan.  Peel, core, and slice apples into the bottom of the pan.  I used about 10, it should cover the bottom about 3 slices deep.  Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.  The amount of sugar depends on the sourness or sweetness of the apples.  Mine took 1/2 cup.  Cinnamon was just sprinkled on.  Add 1/3 cup water.  In a bowl mix 1 cup packed brown sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 cup oatmeal (I use old fashioned, not "quick cooking), cutting in 1 cube (1/2 cup) margarine.  Sprinkle over apples.  You might have a bit too much, so just use the lumpiest parts with the butter!
Cook for about 40 minutes (peek!) at 350 degrees until browned and bubbly. I like the chewy parts on teh edges, if you don't take it out sooner.  Great with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gardening Symposium - session four AND My Sick Apple Tree

Maintaining the Home Orchard was the last session of the day.  The most important points I brought away from this class were:

1) What fruit trees are tolerant in my area.
     pears - very tolerant
     apples - tolerant
     plums - tolerant
Any other fruit trees are not very tolerant, even though they are grown in home gardens.
2) Pruning/shaping the tree includes 4 areas:
     heading cuts - remove parts of branch, buds grow below
     thinning cuts - remove entire branch (recharges growth)
     branch spread/bend
     pinch off unwanted buds

3) Thinning - thinning increases yield. Leave a space equal to the distance between your thumb and pinkie apart.
You need to thin:
     apples - 4-5 weeks after petal fall, leave the "king" bloom, which is the first one that opens, the one in the middle. 
     pears - 7-9 weeks after petal fall, save middle one, or 4th one from the base.

We discussed pests and what to do about them.

This leads me into my second subject, my Braeburn apple tree Dale.
I became familiar with coddling moth larva this past spring (which caused me to lose my entire crop of nine apples), and unfortunately I just discovered borers in my tree trunk.  Probably Pacific Flathead Borer.  I tried to cut the dead wood away, and dug into the small holes to remove the borer larva.  I did manage to find a couple of the nasty little yellow things.  Then I squirted vegetable oil into the areas, which I read might help suffocate the larva. Anything might help, and it can't hurt. I am afraid I might lose the tree.  A lot of damage is at ground level. 

Braeburn Apple Tree - cleaned out hole where borer burrowed in

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gardening Symposium - sessions two and three

From Radicchio to Romaine and Beyond: Growing Fall and Winter Harvested Vegetables was the second session on Saturday.  This was the one I was most looking forward to, and was the one that most disappointed me.  The presenter was new, and it was obvious.  She was not prepared, and started out the session by singing while accompanying herself on the ukelele!  Her "presentation" was mainly her PowerPoint presentation of photos of her garden, actually her business.  She sells transplants at the farmer's markets in the area.  My notes?  The titles of two gardening books, the URL for a PBS gardening series, that Dr. Earth is a good fertilizer brand, she uses soy meal, and Summer Crisp Lettuce is good to grow. No photos relating to this class, so here's my current winter garden...

Session three, right after lunch (more on that later) was Pretty as a Picture.  I actually enjoyed this more than I expected.  Not so much for the presentation on photographing flowers, as for learning more about cameras and their functions.  Terminology such as Aperture, Depth of Field, ISO, Historgram, etc. were explained.  A good composition would include correct placement of the subject, or center of interest.

Center of interest is best offset.  One way to do this is to picture a tic-tac-toe board, with the center of interest going where one of the lines intersect. The subject, or center of interest will be 1/3 from the top or bottom, or right or left. This is called "the rule of thirds."  Another way is what is called the "golden triangle," where you imagine a line from one corner to the other, then 90 degree lines from the other corners to the center line. There are other ways to do the angles, but we talked about this way.  My illustration is terrible, since it looks like a square instead of a rectangle, but you should be able to get the idea!  Your subject will be at the intersection of the lines, where I put the circles.  Make sense?  Search online for "golden triangle" and "rule of thirds." 

Golden Triangle
 I guess this photo of a gazania illustrates what I mean.  The center is off center.

Of course, we talked about how soon digital cameras need to be replaced with ones offering more features.  Ha!  I can't afford that, so I will stick to my Sony Cyber-shot, which is probably 7 years old.

Lunch.  It was delicious!  A choice of wraps, chicken or vegetarian, or pulled pork barbeque on a roll.  Waldorf salad and veggie pasta salad. I don't usually like Waldorf, as I dislike mayonnaise in most things, but this didn't take mayoish.  Apples, walnuts, raisins, and celery in something white that was quite tasty.  Dessert was pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, and fresh pears out of the Extension orchards. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Apple Butter

I DID IT!  I actually, successfully, made and canned apple butter!

Apple Butter
I saved a bit to use uncanned. After it cooled it was nice and thick.  The recipe suggests blending it smoother, but I like it this way.  Not lumpy by any means, but not "buttery."  I had some with breakfast on a waffle!  It has been so many years since I had my grandmother's apple butter, I don't remember if this is as good or not.  But, I am so very proud of myself!  Next is apple pie filling in quart jars. 

Thick enough not to drip! 

Apple Butter (made in a slow cooker, or Crock Pot)
6 - 6 1/2 lbs apples (I used Granny Smith) - peeled, cored, and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar - packed
1 TBS ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 TBS vanilla (add this after 10 hours, see instructions)

* Put apples in slow cooker.  In large bowl combine all of the other ingredients but the vanilla.  Pour over      apples and mix well.
* Cover and cook on low for 10 hours, stirring occasionally.
* Mixture will thicken and darken.
* Uncover and add vanilla.  Leave uncovered and continue cooking for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Stir more often at this point.
* Test a spoonful on a plate after 1 1/2 hours by putting it on a plate and cooling a few minutes.  It is ready to can if it doesn't run off the plate.
* Blend if desired, or if your apples retained some shape.
* Spoon into clean, warm jars and can.  Or you can freeze it.  Keeps in the refrigerator about 2 weeks.
* My processing is 15 minutes (10 + an extra 5 for our altitude) in a boiling water canner.  
* Makes enough for 6 half-pint Mason jars.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gardening Symposium - session one

As you may know, yesterday was the Winter Dreams / Summer Gardens 14th Annual Gardening Symposium.  My first session was Eat From Your Garden All Year Around, and was about canning not only produce, but meat, fish, beans etc.  To tell you the truth, canned (which is actually jarred) meat looks terribly repulsive, especially the jars that were canned raw, since the blood and goop in the meat sticks to the side of the jar.

I learned what I expected.  That I shouldn't get the easy, newer steam canners.  They will probably be tested, and deemed safe to use now that I bought supplies for water bath processing.

Water Bath Processing!  I didn't used to know what that meant!  Since I fear pressure cookers (and air compressors) I opted for water bath supplies when I shopped today.  One stop at Walmart and I got the basics.  I couldn't find a rack to fit the only pot they had, but the teacher yesterday said we can use canning rings or even a small towel in the bottom of the pot.

Here is what I got...

My Canning Supplies - November 4
1) big pot deep enough to hold large jars at least 1" under water
2) 12 quart jars with lids and rings
3) 12 half-pint jars with lids and rings
4) utensil set with a jar lifter, a bubble remover/headspace tool, a magnetic lid lifter, and a jar funnel
5) 12 extra lids (I have some jars and rings I have been saving from local jams I bought last year.  I was going to return them when I bought new jam, but maybe I'll use them!)
6) Ball Blue Book, apparently the book to have, the Bible of preserving!

Isn't growing and canning your own food supposed to save money? 

I also learned that it is "dangerous!"  The class taught us so many safety rules canning sounds scary!  Do it wrong and get food poisoning.  Boil your canned goods 10 minutes before eating.  Even if it is correctly canned you should do this. My grandmother used to overdo that, she boiled her green beans for so long they were grey and tasteless by the time she served them to us on our visits. 

So, I'm ready.  Nervous, but ready.  Why the hurry?  Those 40 pounds of apples are still on my carport!  Did I mention them yet?  40 pounds (I think the box has quite a few more pounds in it than that) of Granny Smith apples for $20.00.  Fresh picked off a home orchard near my house.  I do love it here!

Granny Smith Apples - after making a batch of apple sauce and one pie
 6 lbs. of them are in my slow-cooker now, hopefully turning into apple butter.  I will let you know how it turns out!  It smells so good right now.  Spicy.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter Recipe - after 4 hours, many more to go!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ripening Green Tomatoes Upside Down

I pulled up the Ace tomato plant. I still has tomatoes on it, but the weather is too wet and cold for them to ripen the traditional way, on the vine, in the sun.  So, I hang them upside down!

Ace - October 30
Yes, upside down!  I completely pulled it out of the ground, and just hung it with the roots and cage still attached to the top of a board.  This photo was taken the day I did it, and you can see one tomato was starting to color up.  Here is the same tomato just one day later!

Ace - October 31
Noticeably redder already!  And here it was yesterday... 

Not as red as the summer sun ripened tomatoes, but this is as long as it wanted to remain on the vine. It came off in my hand.  It tasted good, the last of the "vine-ripened" tomatoes.

I have set two green ones in my window sill, testing the other method of ripening.  The "hang-them-upside-down" way has always worked for me.  If frost is expected, you should hang them in a garage, or under some sort of cover. 

Yes, today was the Garden Symposium!  I went.  I had a good time.  I learned a lot.  About new things
and things I have already been doing wrong.  I will write about it in the next few days.