Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Wrap-up

As we head into the new year, I'm archiving my 2008 Pantry List. My goal for 2009 is to double the amount of food I preserve.

applesauce: 18 pts
bell peppers, frozen: 1 gallon plus 1 pt
blackberry jelly: 3 cups
blackberry syrup: 2 cups
blueberries, frozen: 2 gallons (some for winemaking)
blueberry jam: 14 cups (plus 6 cups w/ friends)
blueberry syrup: 4 cups
caramel apple jam: 5 1/2 cups
grape jelly: 6 half-pints (from Tx grapes)
jalapeno pepper rings, pickled - 2 pints
jalapeno peppers, frozen: 6 1/2 pts
pepper jelly (green): 3 cups plus 5 half-cups
pepper jelly (red): 3 cups plus 5 half-cups
pepper relish, 7 pts
praline syrup: 3 cups plus 3 pts
raspberry jam: 7 cups

Another Year Older...

Yesterday was my birthday. As Love headed off to work, he admonished me to not work all day, to take some time for myself. So I did. I dug a trench and set out the asparagus plants I hauled home from Bro's home near Ft. Worth this weekend. The soil is awesome! All that work Love put into the raised beds this fall really shows. I hope the plants do OK moving them in December. Bro didn't think it would be a problem, and he's usually right. Sister called while I was setting them out to wish me a happy b-day. She asked me if it was true that you can control grass and weeds in asparagus by using salt water. I told her that Bro says you can, and I've never asked him anything about growing anything that he didn't know. We both agreed that he is pretty amazing, but then, he DOES have a degree in agriculture!

If all goes well, we should harvest asparagus in the spring of 2011. The books I consulted yesterday say that I should be able to judiciously harvest a few stalks as early as this spring, but I think I'll practice patience and let the plants build vigor before I start harvesting. That's what Bro recommends.

I got some great presents for my birthday: books, jewelry, kitchen stuff. I have a feeling that the item I will get the most use out of will be a book from Love (which I put on my wish list after borrowing it from our public library): Seed-Starting Primer and Almanac, edited by Vicki Mattern. I plant to start vegetables indoor for the first time this year, and I think this will be a great guide. I can hardly wait to get started!

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Snow" Day

Skye and I are home today, as school is cancelled for our first "snow" day of the season. I got up this morning, made coffee, put veg soup in the crock pot, poured myself a cup and sat down to read my morning blogroll, poured Love a cup and took it to him, snuggled in beside him for a moment to watch the weather forecast. Imagine my surprise that school was cancelled! It is cold (17F this morning, and that is COLD for us!), and there are ice pellets on the ground, but I was still surprised that we had no school. But I must say, I am always thankful when the buses stay home and the teenagers aren't out driving on iffy roads. And I could certainly use a catch-up day this close to Christmas. But in the back of my mind, a little voice says, "Yes, you get to stay home today, but next June, you'll be one day later getting those longed-for gardening days. It's pay now, or pay later." But, today, it feels like a gift.

So, what have we been up to?
1. Made a batch of jelly from frozen grape juice my sister-in-love brought me all the way from Texas. Two summers ago, Bro, Skye, and I picked the wild grapes on a roadside near their home near Ft. Worth. We brought grapes home and made jelly, which Skye declared the best jelly for PB&J ever! I told Bro, who went back and picked every grape he could reach -- it was late in the season and they were just going to waste. G juiced them -- which is always the hardest part of jelly-making -- and froze them for us.
2. Tried homemade blueberry muffin recipe #2. This one featured brown sugar, sour cream, and oatmeal, but it's not that elusive perfect blueberry muffin recipe, either.
3. Cracked a bowl of pecans with the rocket cracker for picking out later. I did this on the back porch after Skye ran me out of the kitchen with a top secret project on her mind.
4. Made a batch of Buck's Pralined Pecans. They are wonderful and fill the "sweet" spot for the three toasted pecan recipes I set out to find this winter: salty, sweet, and spicy hot.
5. Made another batch of praline syrup: dark Karo, water, brown sugar, pecans, & vanilla. Verrry disappointing. Uses too much Karo for what it makes, so it's expensive. And it's a lot of work for what you get out of it. I made a single batch yesterday and got 3 half-pint jars. I was going to quadruple the recipe today, but a large bottle of Karo makes only 2 batches, so that is all I made. I got 3 pints, and I'm worried that the headspace is too deep. I will probably keep the pints, so I can monitor the quality, and give the half-pints as gifts.

1. Wrestled with the printer to print her short story that is now due tomorrow morning. I keep thinking she will learn not to wait until the morning to print her assignments, but it hasn't sunk in yet. -- Skye tells me that she printed her story last night. She tried to print gift labels this morning.
2. Packaged jellies and jams from this summer's canning as teacher gifts. Dropped them into jar-sized tins we bought at the Lobby two years ago after Christmas for 90% off, then attached hand-made tags.
3. Made a top-secret gift for her mom.
4. Set up the snow village in our living room.

Still to come:
1. Me: Bookkeeping. (boo! hiss!)
2. Skye: Piano & clarinet practice.
3. Both: Top-secret gift-making.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pecan Bonanza

Across the back of our property are two rows of pecan trees, 18 trees in all planted by Jasper & Pearl, our next-door-neighbors who once owned this property. Some years the harvest is better than others, but this year we are having a pecan bonanza. What a year for me to vow to let no pecans go to waste! I've been considering standing at the four-way-stop down the road and handing bags to motorists. This weekend alone, I picked up 45 pounds of pecans.

The blow we got off Hurricane Ike earlier this year left countless pecans on the ground. I can't imagine the crop if those pecans had matured as well. However, my brother suggested that perhaps the pecans are larger because they were thinned somewhat. Perhaps he's right. Pearl, my 87-year-old neighbor, says her daddy always said that if it rained on June 29th, there would be no pecans. When I asked her if that was true, she said yes, because rain at that time of year knocks off the blooms that develop into the pecans.

My mother always let the pecans "dry" in shallow pans before storing them. I set out to find out if that was indeed necessary. According to a website from the Agriculture Department at LSU, pecans should be air-dried in shallow containers for two weeks before storing them, unshelled, in bags. Love will be so glad that I actually explain why we have endless flats of pecans sitting around, instead of just saying, "Well, that's what Mother always did...."

And just what are we doing with all these pecans? I've invited friends to come pick up pecans. I've given pecans to friends and neighbors. We hauled pecans south at Thanksgiving. We've been toasting them and taking them in our school & work lunches as snacks. Today I made praline syrup. I was a bit disappointed that I got only 3 8-oz jars from the batch, but I plan to make more. I also made caramel popcorn with pecans. We plan to work on perfecting a "millionaire" candy, and, of course, we'll make pralines. My brother in Texas has requested I save some in the shells for him; he says the pecan crop there is short this year. I'm picking up pecans in my dreams these days....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fall's My Favorite, But Winter's Here!

Two days ago, I finally admitted that winter is here. It's time to stop scurrying like a squirrel in autumn and settle down for winter. So, here I am, typing with one hand because of the cat on my lap, getting back to the blog. Watch for more to come!

Monday, December 1, 2008

December Ozark Gardening Calendar

Kitchen garden
Begin planning seed orders.
Clean up empty parts of vegetable garden.

Cold Frame
Watch Christmas sales for 7-watt Christmas lights for heating cold frames.
Harvest late crops from cold frame. Ventilate cold frame on warm days.

Cottage garden
Mulch perennials as ground begins to freeze.

Continue harvesting pecans. Dry in shallow boxes for two weeks before storing in shells for up to six months. Freeze shelled pecans.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November Ozark Gardening Calendar

Cottage Garden:
Cut back daylilies.
Mound dirt around base of roses. Mulch if desired when soil mound freezes.
Cut back perennials to 3-4 inches.
Cut back mums wehn they finish blooming.
Plant spring bulbs before ground freezes.

Cold frame:
Continue harvest of lettuce, spinach, & mustard.

Rake & compost leaves.
Harvest pecans & walnuts. Finish drying in flats.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New on the Bookshelf

My obsession with home canning books has surfaced again. I recently brought home the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I once, in my foolish youth -- about five years ago -- I thought a friend was crazy when she told me she enjoyed simply reading cookbooks. Now, I read canning books for fun! And this is a fantastic one. If you have room for only one canning book on your shelves, I think this might be the one.

I've only made it through about the first quarter of the book, and I've already learned two bits that made the purchase worthwhile, not even considering all the fabulous recipes. First, glass measuring cups of more than one cup tend to be less accurate than single-cup measures. Second, you can make a temporary rack to turn a stock pot into a canner by tying together several canning rings into a circle. Cool, huh?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October Ozarks Gardening Calendar

Average first frost for Fayetteville, Arkansas, is October 17.

Cottage Garden:
Cut back perennials to 3 to 4 inches.
Plant early spring bulbs & lilies.

Wood lot:

Plant evergreens.
When leaves fall: plant deciduous trees & shrubs. Take hardwood cuttings.

October 1
Begin purchasing straw for spring mulching.
Kitchen Garden:
Plant garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, & English peas.
Pinch off ends, lateral shoots, & side shoots of cucumber vines.
Cold Frame:
Continue planting lettuce all month.
Cottage Garden:
Prune hydrangeas lightly & fertilize with 13/13/13.
Begin checking Fuji apples for ripeness.

October 15
Kitchen Garden:
Plant lettuce and gradually cover with leaves.
Dig sweet potatoes.
Harvest tomatoes and peppers when nighttime temperature dips below 55F.
Water fall-planted crops.
Cut the September-planted spinach down to 1" and leave uncovered until ready to harvest in March.

After first cold snap
Kitchen garden:
Plant spinach, Alaskan peas, black seeded Simpson lettuce, & lettuce. Dress with compost. After the ground freezes, cover with a thick layer of straw. When the weather moderates, pull off the straw and replace it later in the day.
Harvest winter squash.

Before first hard freeze
Harvest apples.

October 18
Cottage Garden:
Fertilize peonies with bone meal.
Begin planting tulips and other spring bulbs.
Pull annuals when plants stop blooming or are killed by frost.

October 30
Kitchen garden:
Cover the garden beds with a thick layer of leaves or straw, then cover with 6ml plastic.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kitchen Garden Update

The Kitchen Garden is so beautiful that it makes me want to cry. When I first discussed it with Love, I envisioned beds made from the old fence we were tearing down, a couple of inches above the paths. I should have known better: Love doesn't do sloppy work. The beds are simply beautiful: made from western cedar, they rise six inches above the paths. Everything is square and true and perfectly proportioned. These beds will last for decades.

A huge pile of topsoil waits to go into the beds, and Love has compost on order. He's decided, after talking to the folks out at Chicken Holler, to go with a 2:1 mix, 2 parts topsoil to 1 part compost. We've started filling the beds in the evening, one at a time. First we break up the soil at the bottom of the box and then top it off with topsoil. Everybody helps: even the cats climb in at loosen the soil for us.

The whole thing will be surrounded by a chain link fence. I'll be planting English peas on that late this winter, followed by other vertical crops. I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tarts for the Sweet

Skye found this recipe in one of my collection of canning books, Sunset Home Canning. (Hey, it's an addiction -- I simply cannot pass one up!) Aren't they pretty? She made them all by herself. Actually, I picked up store-bought pie crust for her to use. We were getting ready for her Suzuki Book II party, making two dishes for a potluck picnic, and cooking for a friend with sick family, and I just didn't have time to teach her to make pie crust. She was fearlessly ready to make it from her Granny's recipe, but I suggested she take a short cut this one time and promised to teach her how to make pie crust soon. She used two favors of jam from our pantry: blueberry and raspberry. Have I mentioned that I have discovered the joys of homemade raspberry jam? I'm currently hoarding a second round of raspberries in the freezer for another batch of jam.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Wanna Go.....

Last week brought our monthly issue of Rural Arkansas, the magazine of our rural electric coop, to our mailbox. One of this month's articles features Heirloom Seed Shop in Norfork, Arkansas. Who's up for a road trip, maybe next spring break, just in time for spring planting? I'd really like to see those 50 types of tomato seeds and talk to the volunteers who run the shop about heirloom seeds and organic gardening. Maybe a side trip to the Ozark Folk Center would be just the ticket....

Saturday, September 20, 2008


This week I read Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark. Stark left a life as a struggling writer to become a struggling market farmer selling his produce at New York City's Green Market and to a bevy of New York's top chefs. I think I need to read it again: there was simply too much to take in. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, elderberries, the Amish, fingerling potatoes, groundhogs, chocolate Scotch bonnet peppers, more tomatoes.

The last chapter, chronicling the real estate squeeze that has driven farmers farther and farther from the city, hit me squarely between the eyes. As the daughter of a farmer with none of the family left in farming, these realities hurt me. And frighten me. Who will grow the food for my grandchildren?

So I garden. And I teach Skye. And I know that while I am happiest in my garden, this place will never be a farm. I will continue to go off to the library each day and collect my paycheck on the 15th of the month. I'm a coward. Farming is too hard. And we all rely on it every day of our lives.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Love, Laney, & Skye

As is often the case with bloggers, I’ve chosen screen names for my family as I write about our lives. But why Love, Laney, and Skye?

At first my husband was Hubby as I wrote about him, but the name just didn’t work – too many Hubbys out there in the blogosphere. But why Love? My mother’s sister called her husband of sixty years Love until she lost him two years ago. Actually, come to think of it, she still does. Calling my husband Love on this blog seemed like a fitting tribute to both of them, especially my uncle, who was a “Master Gardener” before the term was invented.

I’m not Laney in my real life, either, but she’s there in the back of my mind. Laney Whidden was a several-greats grandmother of mine who lived in Georgia two-hundred plus years ago. I’ve loved the name since I stumbled upon it several years ago, and I often think about what her life must have been like and what she would think of mine.

And then there’s Skye. My daughter actually chose her own screen name, and she uses it, too. She’s named for Skye Penderwick, a character in two wonderful books by Jeanne Birdsall. If you have a daughter, granddaughter, or neice in her tweens, you might hand her The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, two wonderful books about a bevy of young sisters making their way in the world with no mother and a Latin-speaking, absent-minded professor of a father.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Hurricane Ike came ashore hundreds of miles from our home in northwest Arkansas, yet we still felt his touch. We got up early Saturday morning to make phone calls to check on family in Houston. Love's sister and her kids and my niece and her husband all rode out Ike in place, with only a loss of electricity and a few shingles.

Ike blew into our corner of the world much weakened, but he still left his touch. Neighbors told us today that the wind roared last night, but we uncharacteristically slept through the whole thing. We awoke this morning to lots of pecans and pecan limbs on the ground, but no major tree losses. (We did see lots of broken Bradford pears on our way to church this morning -- good riddance.) We have the heaviest pecan crop on the trees we've had in years, but first Gustav and now Ike have left lots of those immature pecans on the ground. A good lesson for Skye -- never count your pralines until they're cooled.

Every pepper bush in the vegetable garden is now leaning at an angle somewhat less the 90 degrees, but none are uprooted. It was tempting to try to right them, but I decided the best course of action was leave them be -- they will surely grow as good crooked as upright.

The raspberries are all leaning, but once again: no harm done -- I think.

We did pick up ten pounds of windfalls from under the apple tree. I studied a bit and decided on applesauce. The Fujis aren't quite ripe yet, but the applesauce is fabulous. My only fear is that Skye is about to become an applesauce snob -- she has already declared this first batch far superior to the stuff from the grocery store.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Learning about Permaculture

For the last year or so, I've seen the term permaculture in many contexts and thought I knew what it meant, but when Skye asked me for a definition a few weeks ago, I found myself at a loss. I could tell her that the term originated as a combination of the words permanent and agriculture and that the movement started in Australia in the 1970s, but that's about as far as I could get. So what else is a librarian to do? I went down to my public library, checked out a book, and started reading. I was lucky enough to have great public librarians who had selected Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway for the collection. I came away feeling like I can now explain what permaculture means.

Permaculture is gardening by using a variety of strategies to create groupings of plants that support each other and the soil over an extended period of time. The strategies include choosing plants that serve multiple purposes at once. For example, a small tree might provide shade for shrubs that need protection from the broiling sun to get started, pull nitrogen to the surface where it is more readily available for use by other plants, and drop leaves in the fall that serve as mulch to keep down weeds and to add organic matter to the soil. Permaculture evolves from young, immature plantings to forests over a course of decades; the permaculturist focuses on trees and perennial shrubs rather than on annuals and on building the soil in place rather than by adding materials from outside the loop.

The book is a great introduction to the discipline and gives lots of starting points for the home gardener. Will I forego my vegetables for guilds focused around black walnuts? Not tomorrow and probably never completely. Will I ask Love to build a series of ponds to filter our graywater and provide habitat for ducks to keep the insect population of The Realm in check? Not next week. Will I gradually incorporate some of the techniques and ideas Hemenway posits? Absolutely. Take those heritage apples I've been thinking of putting in to expand our apple harvest. I now plan to use each of those as the centerpiece of a guild. I'm also going to chunk the woodlot and approach each section with a critical eye as to what plants to encourage, which ones I should eliminate (or move), and what plants I should add to help move our overgrown yard toward an edible forest.

My favorite quote from the book: “Doing an imperfect something is better than doing a perfect nothing.” Amen, brother!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

8 Cups of Heaven

Once the novelty wore off harvesting raspberries, Skye stepped aside and let me at the bushes. Oh, she still slips out to the Berry Patch to graze, but for the past week or so, I have been harvesting a 1/2 cup, cup, or 2 cups a day from our Heritage bushes. Unlike Skye, I don't eat them. I squirrel them away, dumping them into a freezer container each evening. Last night, I hit my goal: 8 cups of frozen berries. Tonight, I made jam.

It is glorious jam, destined for early morning toast, jam tarts, and pb&j lunchbox sandwiches. Check out the mashed berries, along with the perfect mashing tool: Love's Mamaw's meat tenderizer. The flat end is perfect for mashing any berry, and these berries were perfect for mashing!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Flowers on the Porch

This weekend's beautiful weather was great for gardening, and the gardening was great for both me and my gardens. I'm always happier when I can get into the gardens, and the gardens are always happier when I'm around. As the Chinese proverb says, "The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow."

Saturday I worked in the Berry Patch and the temporary vegetable plot. Sunday morning found me putting things to order in the Cottage Garden. Work and rain and motherly duties and more demanding gardens have kept me from the Cottage Garden for too many days. It's not fair that the flowers get attention only after the food-bearing gardens have been cared for, but that's the way it is. Anyway, my first step was to clip back all the flowers that have grown into the path. The clipping made a nice centerpiece for our porch table. The choice of vase is in keeping with the feel of our back porch -- nothing fancy here!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another Generation?

My mother, who lives in northeast Lousiana, got 17 inches of rain earlier this week from Gustav. The water did not rise into her home, thank goodness, but she says it hasn't been this high since 1991. That year it didn't get in her house proper, but it did enter her enclosed back porch.

Mother says everything is fine, but she wondered did I have any of her "bachelor's buttons" in my gardens this year? (I learned a few years ago that "bachelor's buttons" is the common name for several flowers; what Mother is referring to is more accurately called globe amaranth.) All hers are covered with water, and she is afraid she doesn't have any seed frozen. Why all the concern for a plant that is commonly available? It's a heritage plant. Mother got the seed from her Aunt Lula in the 1950s. Aunt Lula dug the plants from her mother's houseplace after she died in 1942. Heaven only knows where Mother's grandmother got them.

As luck would have it, I have one specimen in the Cottage Garden this year. Very lucky indeed, as I did not plant the seed this year, and it almost never reseeds itself for me, as it almost always does for Mother. It's a spindly plant this year, not a bunchy compact one covered in blooms, because I didn't pinch it back earlier in the summer as I should have. But it seems to have come through the 5 inches of rain Gustav brought all the way to northwest Arkansas. Matilda Owens Smith's bachelor buttons should survive another year in the gardens of her progeny.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Apple Harvest

My husband, who is not a farmer, says the apples on the Fuji tree are going to break the limbs. My brother, who is a farmer, says the apples on the Fuji tree are going to break the limbs. I guess I’d better start harvesting apples.

I did thin the crop, I really did. But the apples are huge and the tree is loaded. I picked up a windfall yesterday and tested it – yummy! Even though my ripening calendar says to let them ripen through October or even November, I’m going to begin selective harvest this week to ease the stress on the tree.

One problem, though: what am I going to do with the frozen apples that didn’t get used up from last year? I’m thinking I’m going to cook them for applesauce. Any ideas? Can I make good applesauce from frozen apples?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blondes ARE More Fun

Skye came tearing into the house yesterday evening with her usual refrain: "Momma, look!" And just what was she waving in front of my face this time? Our first ever ripe golden raspberry! I tried her patience greatly, but I made her refrain from eating it until we took its picture and then went back to the berry patch and picked a red raspberry for a comparison shot. Isn't it a beauty? It's an Anne, which I set out this spring. I didn't get to eat the berry, but Skye reports that it tastes very similar to the red ones. I know some of the "red ones" are Heritage raspberries, and I suspect that they may all be.

The raspberry harvest is coming along nicely. I'm using my usual philosophy concerning the harvest of berries. Skye picks them, and she gets to eat as many as she wants. This scheme does several things at once: develops ownership in the berry patch in her, provides her with healthy treats, I don't have to pick (much), and I will eventually get some for my projects, if not this year, then next year. And it has worked well so far. We now have way more blueberries than she can eat each summer, and she considers those blueberries a family project -- and they are. This year, the second year for blackberry production, I made a cobbler and a batch of jelly, even with Skye eating all she wanted -- which was lots, after I taught her that the only proper way to eat blackberries is with cream (real cream, not non-dairy whipped topping) and sugar. So far, I have squirreled away two pints of raspberries this fall. I hope I can make jam from frozen raspberries. I've been juggling so fast since the school year started that I haven't taken the time to research that one. But the next golden raspberry -- it's mine!

Monday, September 1, 2008

September Ozarks Gardening Calendar

While the average first frost for Fayetteville, Arkansas, is October 17, the earliest first frost on record was on September 27, 1942.

Throughout month
Cold Frame:
Various lettuces.

September 1
Kitchen Garden:
Plant lettuce, mustard, leeks, carrots, turnips, summer squash, spinach, & radish.
Cottage Garden:
Fertilize roses for last time this year.
Begin gradually harvesting Fuji apples to prevent limb breakage. Keep windfalls picked up.

After raspberry harvest
Berry Patch:
Prune Heritage (red) & Anne (golden) raspberries to the ground.

September 15
Kitchen Garden:
Plant lettuce, mustard, radish, & spinach.
Cottage Garden:
Plant hollyhocks, larkspur, & poppies.
Plant perennials for next year.
Fertilize mums just before buds open.
Cut back earlier bloomers when tops begin to die back.
Dig & divide crowded spring and summer bloomers.
All Gardens:
Apply milky spore to areas affected by Japanese beetles.

September 20
Kitchen Garden:
Plant beets, carrots, mustard, cauliflower, & celery.
Woodlot & orchard:
Prepare planting holes for evergreens, trees, and shrubs.

September 24
Cottage Garden:
Plant spring blooming bulbs & lily-of-the-valley.
Cut lilies back to the ground when the stalks die back.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cookin' with Bro

Most Americans don't consider Labor Day a major holiday, but here at The Realm, we do. My brother and sister-in-law make the trek from the Fort Worth (TX) area each Labor Day weekend for the shared birthday celebration of my sister-in-law and my daughter. We enjoy each other's company, sometimes watch a little college football, and always eat really good. My brother offered to make gumbo again this year, but I suggested that he teach me a new dish. What can I say? He is such a better cook than I am.

Tonight's menu consisted of Crawfish Bisque and Shrimp Etouffee (and it only took 5 college-educated adults to figure out how to spell etouffee). The etouffee was good, but the bisque was sublime!!!

Tomorrow, they will head back to Texas (along with their 2 grandkids who came along). We will miss them. We enjoyed the food, the trip to War Eagle Mill, and tracking the Razorback game and the LSU game on the Internet. We did not enjoy worrying over Gustav, and we all hope our home state of Louisiana gets off easier this time than 3 years ago.

The good news is that Bro is taking jalapenos home with him! We plan to strip the 4 bushes tomorrow -- except for the smallest peppers -- and pack those back to Texas to share with my nephew (who contributed the crawfish bisque recipe). Here's one recipe they plan to use them for. It's a good one -- we made it a couple of years ago on one of Bro's visits.

12 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
12 slices bacon, cut in half (cheap stuff -- not too thick)

Stuff each jalapeno half with cream cheese. Completely wrap each stuffed jalapeno half with bacon. Pin in place with a toothpick. Deep fry until bacon is cooked.

Indulge responsibly!

UPDATE: I managed to place almost 2 gallons of jalapenos with Bro! The small peppers left on the bushes will take me through first frost quite nicely.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Sad Day

My brother-in-law sent me this.... I guess we'll have to pack more jars for our next La. trip.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

A whole row of surprise lilies popped up in the Cottage Garden 2 weeks ago, and then this lone one appeared last week in another part of the same garden. I personally like to be naughty and call them Naked Ladies, but I usually get strange looks when I do so, especially by the folks who favor the nickname Resurrection Lily. Skye would probably dip into the Latin and call them Lycoris squamigera, from the family Amaryllidaceae.

All of these summer bulbs were real surprises, as they are bulbs I rescued from an old farmplace nearby that was about to be bulldozed to build yet another subdivision with endless front yards perfectly mowed, fertilized, watered, and poisoned (with herbicide – we wouldn’t want any of the WRONG grasses in our lawns!). And, yes, I called and got permission first. The thing was, when I dug the bulbs, I thought they were spider lilies. Imagine my surprise when all these pretty flowers popped up the last two weeks of July and were PINK!

By the way, I've read that these are also called Spider lilies by some folks, but we differentiate between the pink summer-blooming Naked Lady and the (usually) red fall-blooming Spider Lily.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gourd’n Arches

Skye and I made a field trip out to The Pet Lodge last week to visit the gourd vine from the seed Dee reclaimed from my mother’s 24-year-old gourd. (Mother has revised her estimate. She says the last year she grew gourds was 1983.) We came away with a bag of seeds to plant ourselves next year and to share with Mother. While we were there, I snapped this picture of the Gourd Arch made from cattle panels. I have an arch like this planned for the bench in the Kitchen Garden, but I’m thinking morning glories followed by cypress vine, at least the first year. I really want to tempt the hummingbirds into the Kitchen Garden.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Kitchen Garden Update

Wednesday, the top soil was finally delivered! Here's the dump truck unloading the first of two loads of dirt and also The Kitchen Garden with all the dirt. (That's border collie and tennis ball savant Penny in the foreground.) Next step: tear down the fence and begin building the forms to hold in place the gravel we plan to use as a transition between the pool and the beds. But it's hot, hot, hot in northwest Arkansas, so work is progressing slowly.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pickles, Anyone?

I'm posting these 2 pickles recipes after a conversation about cucumbers and pickles at a party last night. It seems some of us (not me!) have more cucumbers than we can give away!

Pickle Recipe #1
Aunt Faye's Dill Pickles
summer 1994

per quart:
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
mustard seed
1 tablesoon salt
1 clove garlic
dill seed
dill weed
2 hot peppers

Bring vinegar, water, and salt to boil. In bottom of quart jar, place dill seed, dill weed, mustard seed, clove garlic, hot peppers. Pack with whole cucumbers. Half fill jar with boiling liquid. Put more dill on top. Cover with liquid. Waterbathe 10 minutes. Let set 3-4 weeks before using.

Pickle Recipe #2
My nephew loves this one: Kinda Sorta Sours by Alton Brown. Find the link at the Food Network.


Morning Sounds...

The sounds I awaken to vary. Some days, it is my alarm clock, or worse yet, my daughter’s alarm clock. Other days, it’s one cat or another wanting to go outside or to come inside. Sometimes it is routine noises made by my husband or daughter as they move about the house in the early hours. On my best days, it’s rain on the roof or the gentle gurgle of the coffee pot.
When I was a kid, the noise three days a week was my mother’s churning. She used a dasher churn, one that required her to move a wooden dasher up and down in like a piston. The churn went “ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk,” with a bit of a sloshing as the dasher struck the continually solidifying milk. It was an ordinary household noise to me, as ordinary as my daughter finds the washer, the mixer, or the bread machine. I know now that it was not ordinary to most people of my generation. When I describe the household I grew up in, which was more self-sufficient than most 1970s households, my friends marvel at my stories. (The picture isn't Mother's churn, but one of a similar style.)
I’ve shared with my mother those early morning memories and asked her what she remembers hearing in the early morning of her 1930s childhood. Her morning memory is the sound of her father grinding coffee beans in a manual coffee grinder that hung on the kitchen wall of their Louisiana farmhouse. The ordinary sounds of her childhood are as different from mine as mine are from my daughter’s. I can’t help but wonder: what noise will someday awaken my granddaughter?

Friday, August 1, 2008

August Ozark Gardening Calendar

August 1
Kitchen Garden:
Plant southern peas, summer squash (in partial shade with thick mulch), carrots, collards, lima beans, cucumbers.
Set out tomatoes, broccoli
Plant snap peas & sugar peas.
Take cuttings of perennial herbs to start new plants.
Berry Patch:
After blackberry harvest, remove spent floricanes and fertilize. Prune laterals on primocanes to 4 feet to encourage branching.
Replace thin straw on strawberries & blackberries.
Cottage Garden:
Order bulbs for fall planting.
Plant autumn crocus & colchicum.
Cut lilies to ground when stalks die back.
Cut back annuals to promote fall reblooming.
Woodlot & Orchard:
Order stock for fall planting.
Keep windfall apples picked up.

August 8
Kitchen Garden:
Transplant cabbage, cauliflower
Plant beets, cucumbers, turnips
Check elderberries for ripeness. Harvest & mark for taking cuttings in spring.

August 15
Kitchen Garden:
Plant bush beans, cucumbers, mustard, kale.

August 22
Kitchen Garden:
Plant cucumbers, lettuce, radishes
Start pinching out any newly set melons.

August 29
Kitchen Garden:
Plant spinach, lettuce, radishes
Cottage Garden:
Plant perennial and biennial seed.
Plant container-grown evergreens if weather is not too stressful.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sustainable Gardening?

I was almost home from my morning walk with the dog before I realized what today is: my last day of summer vacation. I love my work at the library, but it's awfully hard to leave the homefront each year, where I've gotten into the rhythm of gardening, homemaking, and cooking -- really cooking. I know that most Americans work year-round, with only a couple of weeks of vacation plus holidays, and that I am really fortunate to have the 6 weeks I have each summer, but is doesn't make it any easier when the end of July rolls around. And I always wonder: can I sustain the gardens this year?

Frankly, the answer is usually "no." It's just not possible to keep up the same level of gardening when I spend 9 hours of my day off The Realm. And lots of things hit this time of year: back to school stuff (for both me as a teacher and Skye as a student), Skye's birthday, then soccer season, then Halloween (which I love!). Before I can turn around twice, it's November.

I've been trying to make my gardens more sustainable: piling on more mulch, adding landscape fabric under the paths, promising Love "no new gardens," laying out soaker hoses early in the season. And the Berry Patch is a success story -- this summer I've pulled only a weed here and there and hooked on the garden hose to the soaker hose once each week that we haven't gotten an inch of rain. Easy peasy. The Kitchen Garden (which is getting topsoil hauled in as I write this -- more on that later!) is planned for minimum maintenance. Now if I can just get the Cottage Garden in hand!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Just How Old Is This Hibiscus?

According to our estimates, at least 17 years old. I got rid of the houseplants 11 years ago – traded all those pots for a baby. I rooted this hibiscus for Sister two houses ago – sometime between 1989 and 1991. All my hibiscus plants are long gone, but they never looked like this one anyway! Sometimes Sister’s pot plants are so big that they’re scary!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Planting for the Future

My mother is 84 years old and feeling every year of it these days. Between the arthritis and the Louisiana heat, she’s feeling pretty whipped this summer. But not too whipped to water her plants. She’s tending this little sawtooth oak that she planted three years ago from an acorn from a friend’s yard. I hope I’m still planting trees in my 80’s!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Elderberry Envy

I am so jealous! Skye and I made the trek to Louisiana last week, and we saw thousands of elderberry bushes along the roadsides in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. I have dreams of making elderberry jelly this fall, but I just don’t know if they will become reality. Last spring I set out two named elderberry bushes in The Woodlot, Adams and Johns. One is growing but did not bloom this year; the other has turned up its toenails and died this summer. While I plan to replace it, that will delay my elderberry crop another year.

This summer I have made note of a few wild elderberry bushes in our area. I plan to go back and harvest when the fruit is ripe. But will I have enough to make jelly?

Future elderberry plans? Well, I plan to replace the dead one. This spring, I plan to take cuttings of the wild bushes I have noted. Perhaps the woodlot will one day produce enough elderberries for jelly and even elderberry wine.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sister’s Satsumas

Skye and I visited my sister in Monroe, Louisiana, during our trek southward. My sister has an absolutely incredible backyard, much of it in pots that she overwinters in a shelter that she and my brother-in-law build for the plants each fall. She has fabulous ferns, beautiful bougainvilleas, and luscious lantana. But I think my favorite of all her plants is the Satsuma. A transplant from my uncle’s yard in north Florida, the Satsuma bears a yearly crop of 3-10 fruits which Sister guards ferociously. Don’t mess with Sister’s Satsumas!!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pesto Project

I'm never happier than when I have a new project. That is not necessarily a good thing, as it often leads to entirely too many projects to juggle. But still, I love a new project.

And this one just fell in my lap. When I was watering a couple of days ago, I looked at the basil and wondered what to do with it. (You may remember that my basil was a freebie this year.) Then, as I was eating lunch today, I opened Margaret's newest post over at A Way to Garden and learned all about Pesto Fest. Tonight I'll be harvesting pesto, and tomorrow I'll be making my first pesto. Yes, really, my first pesto.

Peppers, Peppers, Peppers

Last week, I threw out a partial bag of frozen bell peppers and another of jalapenos. Salmonella scare? Freezer meltdown? Sudden development of pepper allergies? Nope. Once again, I have enough peppers in my garden to keep us in peppers for three or four years. At least. And we haven’t even hit the second crop yet.
I’ve already made pepper jelly. Love no longer eats pickled jalapenos, so there’s no point in that. I’ve begun freezing and will freeze enough to keep us through the year, although I always overestimate – must start keeping better notes. I have uncovered a pepper relish recipe that I’m hoping will use up part of the glut. Perhaps I can unload some on my brother when he visits Labor Day weekend.
Why do I do this every year? Those plants are so pretty in the spring, and one just doesn’t seem like enough. And honestly, I have gotten better. This year, I have only jalapenos, orange bells, chocolate bells, and green bells. There was a year when I had 24 pepper plants – jalapenos, a rainbow of bells, habaneras, bananas, chilies, pablanos. I pickled. I jellied. I froze. I dried. I made pepper sauce and pepper oil and pepper vinegar. A friend’s daughter won her elementary school’s jack-o-lantern decorating contest after I gave her a Wal-Mart bag full of peppers in my desperate attempts to get rid of them. Frost came with peppers still on the bushes. Never again, I swore.
But then there is that neat wreath design I found this summer in a library book -- perhaps just a few more chili pepper plants next year might be just the ticket.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gourd Seeds

Last week as Skye and I were packing our farmers’ market purchases into the ice chest in our van before heading off on foot for other errands, my phone rang. My friend Dee, the gourd artist, was calling to report a gourd growing in her employer’s garden. You may remember that Dee took some gourds from my house last spring to paint and return. One of the gourds had sat on a shelf in my laundry room for years after I hauled it home from my mother’s Louisiana home, where it had been in her “storeroom” (a.k.a. pantry) for even more years. When Dee had started working on it, she cut into it and removed the seeds. This spring, she planted them in the garden she helps tend. And they came up.
Later that day, my phone let out the little beep it makes to announce a message. It was Dee, sending pictures of the gourd plant and even a tiny gourd among the many blooms.
I called my mother that evening to ask how old the gourd was. She thinks it was 20-25 years old. Of course, her first words were, “Well, I hope she didn’t plant them all!” That is one of the guiding principles of Mother’s life: “Never plant all your seeds at once.” Wise words. Dee reports that she didn’t plant all the seeds; she saved some for another year, as any good gardener does. And she promises to share seeds if she produces any gourds. And I promise to share them with my mother.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pepper Relish

I just put by 7 pints of pepper relish and am watching Skye swim. Here's the recipe:

7 1/2 cups chopped sweet pepper (bell)
2 1/2 cups chopped hot pepper (jalapeno)
5 cups chopped onion
3 tablespoons salt
2 cups sugar
2 cups cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients in large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Cook uncovered for two minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Great on purple hull peas!

Jammin’ with Friends

While I was talking with one of Skye’s mentors the other day, the conversation turned to our Berry Patch and the canning of jellies and jams. She pointed out that such skills are going to be in demand in the coming years. I guess they already are, because I spent a recent morning teaching three work friends to make blueberry jam. Truthfully, only one of them begged, “Do you know how to make jam? Will you teach me?” But the other two jumped at the idea of spending a morning with other women, picking blueberries and jamming them. Skye declared that grown-ups have weird ideas of fun: getting together to pick blueberries and make jam did not sound like her idea of a party. However, she was glad to entertain the other daughters in the backyard swimming pool.
But it was great fun. The berrying gave us a chance to chat in a companionable situation away from work. When we moved inside to make the jam, everyone pitched in and the work went quickly. Even the friend who said, “Oh, I’m not going to take any jam home: we’re really not jam people,” succumbed to the temptations of blueberry jam once she tasted the brilliant purple concoction. And when the day’s work ended with blackberry lemonade – made with syrup from my own berries – the day was declared a success. We’re still deciding whether our next lesson will be homemade yeast bread or roux that leads to gumbo.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Syrup, Jam, & Jelly Roll

I spent part of Thursday morning making hot pepper jelly. It's a treat around here, served on crackers with cream cheese, but it also makes great Christmas gifts. If I keep my act together, I'll make another batch later in the season, when the jalapenos and bells are red.

While I worked, Skye sat at the kitchen bar, studying Latin, keeping me company, and plotting to sneak bites of the raw bell pepper. Her food preservation lesson of the day was "always wear gloves when working with jalapenos."

I ended the work session with three pints and five cups of jelly. Skye and I also inventoried our pantry production for the summer. I've added a list to the sidebar -- I'll try to keep it updated.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Little Shade on a Hot Day

Skye snapped this picture of Cookie enjoying the shade of the cat cave under the angel trumpet. I wish I had a nice cool cave in the Cottage Garden: I might never come out!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When Life Gives You Angel Trumpet Blooms....

When life gives you angel trumpet blooms… make new dresses for your clothespin dolls.

Skye is never bored for long. I truly believe the best parenting advice I ever received came from my friend Wisty who said, “Don’t be afraid to let her get bored. Kids have to get bored and move through that boredom to become truly creative.” Or something like that. Wisty is a wise woman.

We are not Luddites, but our home is not filled with all the latest technological gizmos. We have cable and a DVD player and cell phones and laptops and a digital camera. We don’t, however, have a Wii or an Xbox or Webkins or iPods. I’m not sure what we’d give up to make time to play with them…. there’s way too much real living to do. I’ve offered to get Skye an iPod for her birthday, as music is such a big part of her life, but she insists that she doesn’t want one. She likes her CDs and making her own music, thank you very much.

And Skye has always enjoyed making toys as much as playing with them. The clothespin dolls have been a favorite over the years. I’ll be sad when she doesn’t play with them anymore. But I’ll never be able to see an angel trumpet bloom in the same way.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Kitchen Garden Begins

Finally, the Kitchen Garden is more than a dream in my head and a sketch on paper. I first knew that I wanted a Kitchen Garden to surround our pool last summer when I read Jennifer Bartley's Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook. I planned the garden in my head, then put it on paper. At the time, we were adding our lovely back porch and rethinking what we wanted around the pool. I advocated for the Kitchen Garden, and it is slowly becoming a reality -- more slowly than I hoped back in September.

The ground is cleared. I moved everything I wanted to keep, gave lots of plants away, and put even more on the compost pile. The bermuda grass is gone -- there is a time and place for Roundup in my life. The perennial border that sat where the new Kitchen Garden will be had been overrun by Bermuda, which got its foot in the door when Skye was a baby and has been waging war and gaining ground ever since.

Love has tilled the ground. I have picked up rocks. Love is searching for topsoil to have hauled in to build the beds up. My perfectly symmetrical but impractical raised beds on paper have morphed to fit the new layout, and Love has made me a beautiful drawing using his cad program. I have actually purchased my own copy of Designing the New Kitchen Garden -- the public library will be so glad. When Dickson Street Bookshop didn't turn up a copy, I ordered it from Nightbird Books. (I really am trying to buy local more.)

There are more rocks to pick up, more tilling to be done, beds to build, soil to ammend and work, a fence to install, plants to set out and seeds to plant. My brother in Texas has promised to share his asparagus. The strawberry plants that are too close to the blueberry bushes will have a new home. Two roses in the holding bed (the very weedy holding bed) are looking for a new home. And this time next year, they will have one, and we here at the Realm will be enjoying more than just tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and berries. We'll be enjoying the beauty and bounty right outside our kitchen door.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Glory in the Morning

These purple beauties are gracing the fence on the south side of the Cottage Garden this summer. And it's confession time again: I've actually never grown morning glories before. I've bought the seed more than once, but have just never gotten them planted. I think it's a mental block: my mother grew morning glories on the fence behind our home one summer, and when my daddy spotted them, he declared them to be "nothin' but damn tie-vines!" To a Louisiana cotton farmer, the morning glory (aka tie-vine) could make a mess out of a well-kept cotton field. But those little wild morning glories were mild shadows of the beauties in my garden. The deep purple is truly breath-taking. And these guys are in my garden due to the generousity of friend and neighbor Cee, who shared these with me one Sunday afternoon in May.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Packing' Water: A 3rd Generation

Back in June, I heard that we were already ahead of the annual rainfall for 2005 & 2006 in this area. Indeed, I have done very little watering this year. Only twice have we begun packin' water, each time for a couple of days, and we have yet to start all-out watering. I carefully record the rainfall on the calendar by the back door: if we've had an inch in the previous week, we don't water. If we've had a 1/2" in the previous week, we start packin' water on the fourth or fifth day. But we just haven't gone without rain for more than 10 days since the summer began.

"We" here means Skye and me. She likes saving bath water, catching kitchen sink water, and hauling buckets of water around in her wagon and doling them out to the trees and bushes that I have identified as top priority subjects. I think she's actually a bit disappointed that we've had so much rain.

I'm very proud of Skye. Besides being a curious kid, she's very environmentally conscious. She's been trying to convert Love to the Packin' Water Philosophy. Check out the signs she posted above our kitchen sink last week.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Garden as Art

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Dee came over for supper and some downtime on the back porch. Image my delight when she showed up bearing gifts!

About a year ago, as we sat outdoors on the deck that preceded the back porch, she told me about how she had started etching and painting gourds. She even brought some of her finished and half-finished gourds to show me. The next thing she knew, we were tramping out to my gardening shed (locally known as "The Barn") to root around for gourds. I knew I had a couple out there that had come off a gourd vine here a few years ago. I had been saving them for a project that I doubted would ever happen. So my gourds went home with Dee.

Now they're home again. Isn't sharing fun?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mamaw's Canning Jars

It's confession time. I've been spending more time indoors than out these last few days. Aside from picking blueberries and Japanese beetles, I haven't really done much in the garden. But I have been weeding.

Weeding? Surely I've been in the garden. Nope. I've been weeding the garage. And the attic. And the pantry. And the linen closet. And that pesky cabinet over the stove with toothpicks spilled all over the place. And I feel better. It's a big psychic load to get rid of the clutter and the unneeded stuff that threatens to take over our modern lives. If it weren't for all the stuff, we wouldn't be neighbors to a mini-storage facility, where the busiest business day is December 26th. But I digress.

The hardest thing for me about weeding stuff is the concern that we might need this stuff some day in harder times. Part of that is my parents' heritage from The Great Depression, and part of it is the constant news reports of prices going up and the economy going down. But why keep stuff that we will never use again? So the baby stuff is going, along with some other things.

But not the canning jars, even though they take up lots of space on the garage floor. Years ago, Love and I rescued 13 dozen canning jars from behind his grandmother's vacant home. They were all bagged up and ready for recycling. They've mostly sat empty in our attic and then our garage since then, along with a few jars collected over the years as my mother has gradually gotten rid of hers. Canning comes out of my kitchen in a trickle these days: a few pickles here, a bit of apple butter there, but mostly jellies and jams that go into my collection of smaller jelly jars. But, I promise, Mamaw, I'm working my way back. Some year soon, hopefully next, our pantry will overflow with green beans, peas, tomatoes, tomato juice, and all the other things I used to can B.C. (before children). And your jars will be at work once again.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day, from our garden to yours!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July Ozark Gardening Calendar

One of my goals is to create a single gardening calendar for each month. I have lots of goals and not enough time, but today is the day to start. I have a few minutes while Skye finishes her Latin lesson.

I've been looking for a good gardening calendar for this region, and I think I've finally found one: Gardener's Tote-Book from Ozark Seed Exchange. My hope is to start with the information provided there, the notes I have scribbled here and there, and what's in my head and put together a gardening calendar for my microclimate.

July Calendar

July 1
Kitchen Garden:
plant bush & pole beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce
Monitor tomatoes for stink bugs & spray with pyrethrin.
Berry Patch:
Continue blueberry harvest.
All gardens:
Continue beetle patrol.

July 7
Patrol for webworms in pecans, cut, and burn.

July 15
Kitchen Garden:
plant bush beans, collards, southern peas, Irish potatoes
brocolli, lettuce, cabbage

July – after blueberry harvest
Berry Patch:
Fertilize blueberries with cottonseed meal (6-2.5-1.7), feather meal (13-0-0), fish meal (10-4-0), soybean meal (7-1.6-2-3) or alfalfa meal (3-1-2).

July 25
Kitchen Garden:
Plant turnips.

July 29
pre-sprout corn to plant August 1

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Fat Little Dragon

A much-munched group of angel trumpet leaves by the garden bench caught my eye as I strolled through the gardens Thursday morning. I immediately knew who the culprit was, for, as much as the hornworm loves tomatoes, he seems to love angel trumpets even more. A quick search of the plant turned up the fat little dragon.

I had a chuckle recently as I read Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts when her thoughts turned to the hornworm. It seems that Ms. Perenyi braces herself and cuts him in half with scissors. How ladylike! I just stomp him with my garden clog. Fifteen years ago, when I gardened in my bare feet -- how unladylike! -- I smushed him between two rocks.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Uncle Dillon's Grape Vine

Two summers ago, we visited my uncle in northern Florida, and I brought home a tiny grape vine. Now, Uncle Dillon told me I could buy a grape vine much more easily than I could carry this one home to Arkansas on an airplane and set it out in the heat of August. But I value heritage plants above all else. It doesn't matter to me that he bought it down at Wal-Mart, my vine came from his garden (and he has a wonderful one).

So, I set it out. It lost all its leaves and looked quite dead. But it came back to life before the end of fall. It survived the winter and put on leaves nicely the next spring. Then the Easter Freeze of 2007 zapped it. It came back, though, and went wild with growth.

This spring, when it started leafing out, I got out the gardening books and figured out how to prune it. I cut it to one main stem, as directed. It looked pretty pitiful, but then it started growing like mad.

Jump to this week. Skye had a friend over to hang out, swim, and pick blueberries on Wednesday. Her mom just happens to be a daughter of Matt Post, fourth generation owner of Post Familie Vineyards, one of the top wineries in Arkansas. When J spotted it, she went to work on it. I had the good fortune to have Uncle Dillon's grape vine pruned by a Post girl! Now it looks much more orderly, it has two cordons selected, and the tendrils have been trimmed off the main shoot to prevent those from cutting into the wood.

One the down side, J also told me that if the grape vine was a seedling that it will probably never produce grapes. I'm pretty sad about that, as I think it may have indeed been a seedling. So I'll watch, and if it doesn't bloom next year, I'll pull it out and start over with a plant from a nursery. I love those heritage plants, but I love grapes more!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When Life Gives You Green Tomatoes, Fry 'em!

While weeding the vegetable garden yesterday, I knocked off a nice-sized green tomato. Love asked if it would ripen off the bush, but I didn't think so, since it had no pink on it. So, what else was there to do but fry it?

Now, I've lived in the South my entire life, but I've never eaten fried green tomatoes. My mother never cooked them when I was a kid, and I've always loved ripe tomatoes much too much to bother with green ones. But, what's a girl to do?

So, I pulled out my trusted Southern cookbook, Thirty Years at the Mansion by Liza Ashley. But Liza let me down. So I resorted to Mother's old copy of Looking at Cooking by Mildred Swift. Fried Green Tomatoes is the last vegetable recipe listed. Mildred says:

Remove the hard stem end from the tomato. Cut into slices about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll each slice in corn meal, and fry in hot fat until brown. NOTE: Bacon drippings are good for frying tomatoes.

Can you tell that Mildred wrote the cookbook before cholesterol was in our national vocabulary?

I fried the tomato as directed, although I used canola oil. Not only could I just not get past the idea that frying anything in bacon grease would take years off my life, neither could I spare any off my precious stash of bacon grease. Because, yes, I do use bacon grease in my kitchen, but I use it sparingly for flavoring, not as a frying medium.

The tomatoes fried up nicely, and the entire family tried them, a first for all of us. We thought they were OK, but fried green tomatoes won't become a summer staple at our house anytime soon. Now, if I could just find some okra, we'd be in business....

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just Passing Through

Skye and I were headed into town this morning for onions and eggs from the Farmer's Market and her piano lesson, when we encountered this fellow crossing the road just south of our place. We swung around and grabbed the camera. By the time we got back, he was probably ten yards down the side road ditch. I didn't know turtles could move so fast!
We sat down a while ago to report him to the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission as part of their citizen science Box Turtle Survey, but it turns out that he's not a box turtle. Or at least I don't think he is. But I'm not sure what he is. Does anyone out there know? I know the picture of his carapace (top shell) is not that great, but his plastron (bottom shell) doesn't seem to match up with any of the pictures I can find for Arkansas turtles. He also had a much flatter shell than the "box" that box turtles have. We surely would like to know the name of this fellow who was just passing through.
Update: The nice gentleman at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission tells me the turtle looks like an adult red-eared slider. How would you like to go through life with a name like that?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Skye Blue Berries

Berry season is in full swing in The Berry Patch. We started eating berries off the blueberry bushes around June 14th; Skye started picking in earnest on June 20th. By now, we've put up 6 jars of blueberry jam, made a Blueberry Brunch Cake, have eaten berries at breakfast, lunch, and supper (Skye and I are eating bowls of blueberries for breakfast), and we have a gallon or so in the frig reserved for the firt person on our sales list. Plans call for blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, experiments with new blueberry recipes, frozen blueberries, dried blueberries and more blueberry sales.
So why is the picture of blackberries? The blackberries have arrived as well! This is our first year to have more than a few blackberries to eat. Pearl, our octagenarian next-door neighbor and gardening sage, gave me the plants 2 years ago in the heat of the summer. She didn't tell me the variety, but I'm guessing they are Apache, a thornless variety developed right down the road at the University of Arkansas, the leader in development of blackberry varieties for the United States. I lost several to the heat that summer, got a handful of berries last year, and now the plants are going full force. I had to sacrifice a couple of plants this spring that showed early signs of orange rust, but all signs are gone and the berries are beautiful.
Yesterday, I made my first blackberry cobbler, from my mother's recipe and in the cobbler pan she gave me last summer. She undoubtedly baked thousands of cobblers in the pan during the 34 years that she was raising kids. Here's the recipe:
Mother's Cobbler
1 quart fruit
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup cold water (colder than cold tap)
1/2 tsp baking powder
(cinnamon for apples)
sugar & butter
1. Cook fruit with sugar until softened.
2. Mix flour, shortening, water, and baking powder. Might take more crust.
3. Put cobbler pan on fire. Layer fruit, dumplings, fruit, dumplings, dabbing dumpling layers with sugar and butter, (sprinkling apple layers with cinnamon) and ending with fruit layer. Top with solid crust, split crust with knife, dab with butter, and sprinkle with sugar.
4. Bake at 350F until crust is brown (40 minutes).
We've harvested a few strawberries along for nibbling, but the spring has really been too wet for strawberry production without resorting to using lots of antifungal agents.
We've also picked a handful of raspberries from the floricanes of our oldest raspberry variety shared with us by friend Wisty years ago. The new Heritage plantings are just beginning to show small green berries.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Standing by the Dumpster in the Rain...

You just never know what the day will bring. There I was after a long day at work, putting my mixed paper in the recycling bin behind the school, when one of the Agri teachers pulled up to drop off a load of trash. And in the back of his truck, he had beautiful little herb plants that he was trying to find a home for before leaving for the beach for a week. So, I stopped in the rain to recycle my junk mail and soap wrappers and came away with five little pots of herbs: an oregano, a thyme, and 3 basils. Pennies from heaven!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Patience and Frugality Pay Off

This morning, a year's patience finally paid off, as my Longiflorum-Asiatic (LA) Brindisi lily bloomed for the first time. I rescued this beautiful pink lily from a sale shelf at the back of Lowe's last summer. (You know, that shelf where the unfortunate flowers that are past bloom are doomed to a slow death from dehydration.) Now it is showing off with a mass of buds and a little plant coming along beside it.

Yesterday found me in Lowe's buying landscape fabric and cruising the sale shelves once again. I picked up two Asiatic lilies, Tiny Todd and Tiny Ghost, for a great price, and they still had the last bloom on them. Todd is another pale pink, and Ghost is a burgundy. They have already found a home in the Cottage Garden near the path, as they are small varieties.

Thanks to Skye for the picture!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hello, Stranger!

I was surprised to find this friendly face yesterday in the section of the garden that is on stand-by, waiting until next year to be transformed into the second installment of the Kitchen Garden. Taylor's Guide to Perennials identifies it as rose campion. I have no idea where it came from -- did someone give me a plant I forgot about? Did I buy it off a sale table somewhere? Did a bird drop the seed? Taylor's says it's a short-lived perennial or biennial that will self-seed. I dug it up and moved it into the Cottage Garden, where I hope it will live a long and happy life with lots of children.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Aunt Beedie Mae's Amaryllis

This lovely amaryllis joins the Cottage Garden all the way from Aunt Beedie Mae's home in south Florida, by way of my sister's garden in north Louisiana. It always amazes me that it can thrive here in north Arkansas, but I guess it has a pretty wide range of hardiness zones. Besides that, my sister sliced the edge of the bulb when she dug it for me three years ago.

It was in bloom about a week ago. It's showy for a few days and then fades away. The Cottage Garden is heavy on pinks, blues, and purples (lots of cornflowers and larkspurs right now), but there are touches of red and yellow here and there.

Thanks to Skye for the picture, as usual.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thrive or Die

As my mother before me, as a last resort I occasionally employ the "thrive or die" philosophy of gardening. I have too much to do every day to pamper plants. This pink rose was a Mother's Day gift several years ago. Roses aren't exactly my thing, but at the time I thought it was lovely, in the full blush of nursery hand care. I set it out in a handy empty spot in my garden border, which just happened to be the worst clay in my yard. Needless to say, within a couple of years it was a shadow of its former self, struggling to live and producing a raggedly flower or two each spring. But it just refused to die!

Three years ago, I tired of that. I dug it up, pruned it within an inch of its life, moved it to a spot with better soil, and made sure it had lots of room for air to circulate around it. (My biggest weakness as a gardener is crowding plants. I just want to let ALL the seedlings grow!) And then I threatened it -- thrive or die! And it is thriving!!!

Thanks to Skye for the pictures.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Opening of the Pool

Today marked the official opening of our pool for the summer. On her last day of school for the year, Skye came home and jumped in the pool. She was actually in for about 2 minutes a week ago, but today's 78F was much more pleasant than the colder temps.

The garden is creeping along this week with a minimum of care. Between the 2 inches of rain that fell during the week and a tender nerve in my left foot, the garden has had to function mostly on its own. We did pick 3 strawberries on Monday to top our chocolate pudding. With another large pvc strawberry cage that I assembled that morning with Skye's help, we're actually saving some from the birds, but now we're scheming against the slugs. Skye and I put out two aluminum pie plates with beer yesterday evening. As of this afternoon, we have one drowned slug to report.

Also from the berry front, the last of my six golden Anne raspberries has put out new growth!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bookshelf: Green Thoughts

I picked up Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi this winter at our local public library's used book store (one of my favorite places -- Skye calls it my obsession). I didn't expect to like it once I began reading it, although gardening essay collections are easy for me to lose myself in. After all, it is in alphabetical order -- not a good sign when it comes to essays. First published in 1981, it is a simply delightful collection of gardening essays by a gifted writer and passionate gardener. I've been reading it for pleasure, but I think I'll reread parts of it with a pencil in hand -- for taking notes. Eleanor Perenyi has much wisdom to share, and I take wisdom wherever I find it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peony Genealogy

After weeks of nervous anticipation, I'm happy to announce the arrival of Trafford Bigger, the newest addition to our happy peony family. I purchased TB in the spring of 2005, set it out in the fall of the year in a location it obviously hated, worried over it for more than a year as it limped along, being too puny to bloom in the spring of 2006. In the spring of 2007, the Easter freeze conspired to keep it from blooming once again. I moved it around the corner in the fall of 2007, and it obviously likes its new digs -- it has graced our presence with its very first bloom in the Cottage Garden.

Trafford Bigger joins a lovely family. The matriarch of the family has been with me since 1995 and with my mother since the 1950s. I don't know her name, but her smell brings back memories of carrying flowers to my gradeschool teachers. She also was moved in the fall of 2007 (to make way for the Kitchen Garden) and has been divided into two large plants in the Cottage Garden. Skye took a vaseful to her teacher on the morning after she learned her baby is a little girl.

Trafford's older sister doesn't have a name, either. I think she came off a sale table at Wal-Mart, half dead from lack of care. She is exquisite, with large cream outer petals, the palest pink inner petals, and a bold pink stamen in the center. All three peonies have scents to remember. They will be joined in the fall by Whitecap, which smells just as sweet, but is a burgundy rather than the white her name implies.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Battling the Birds

I'm still tearing out the old perennial border to create the new Kitchen Garden, but today I battled the birds.
Monday afternoon found Skye and me cruising the gardens before taking off for her clarinet lesson and finding the first nearly red strawberries of the spring. She dove for the first one she saw, and I was right behind her, telling her not to pick it, that it wasn't really ripe yet. And then I spotted a second nearly ripe one -- with a bird peck in it. "Go ahead and eat it," I told her, "before the birds get it."

Now, I had no plans to battle the birds this year. The strawberries are supposed to be in a keeping year -- just biding their time until the Kitchen Garden is ready for them. I have two beds planned, one for production and one for growing young plants. I did take the time to set the strawberries into a grid so that I could put down landscaping fabric and mulch in my efforts to get the Berry Patch into good shape for the summer. And now I have these beautiful plants with huge berries on them -- totally unplanned, totally unexpected.

I've never done well with strawberries. Weeds. Birds. Bird netting that has a mind of its own. And now I have these beautiful berries that I'm simply not willing to share with the birds.

I came home from work this afternoon, unloaded the groceries, left Skye in the kitchen baking chocolate chip cookies and Love in his shop working on the lawn mower, and began building strawberry cages. The first one was about 4' by 4' of PVC pipe (from Skye's wonderful stash of various PVC lengths and connections that Love created to allow her to build life-sized projects) and covered with bird netting taped down (and patched) with duct tape. I realized I had created the perfect Redneck (which I can say because of my Redneck heritage) strawberry cage -- PVC AND duct tape in the same creation! Then I took apart two tomato cages that aren't in use, created a mountain-shaped cage, and covered it in more netting. I also made a wire and netting cage for the strawberry plant in Skye's garden (where the sunflowers and cornflowers are beginning to emerge).

Now all my pinking berries are safe in their little cages, and I have plans to create more as the crop continues to ripen. The Berry Patch looks great: as well as the strawberries, the blueberry bushes are loaded and just beginning to purple, and the blackberries are covered with blooms. I had to dig out two small blackberry bushes last week -- orange rust had struck and I wanted to prevent it from spreading. Still, I think we will get our first blackberry cobbler -- made in Mother's cobbler pan that I hauled home from Louisiana last year -- this summer. The raspberries are beginning to set berries on the floricanes of our existing crop. The new crop of red Heritage and gold Anne have sprouted new growth and are looking great. 2008 looks like the Year of the Berry around here! Take a look at Skye's pictures from the Berry Patch a couple of weeks ago.