Saturday, December 26, 2009

Update on the Battle of the Fruit Flies

Things are look up in the worm bin. Well, actually, nothing is physically looking up: the worms are buried in their dark and damp home, and it seems like I just may have succeeded in wiping out the fruit flies (um, I mean vinegar flies).

I took the bin outside four or five weeks or so ago, before we had our snow, and lifted the lid to check on the progress. The worms had eaten all the papers I'd put in, and the sides of the bin were coated with oblong white specks - more maggots. I wiped them off, chucked the paper towel into the regular compost bin (which is outside by the garden), and closed the lid again. At least this time nothing flew out.

A couple weeks ago I took another peek, this time being brave and lifing the lid inside. No new specks had appeared. I left the lid ajar, in hopes of getting some air circulating in the bin, for things are very damp in there. This doesn't seem to have made much of an impression on the moisture level, though.

Concerned that the poor worms might be rather hungry by now (it's been over two months since I've given them any real food), I tossed in some expired greens. This time I buried them - why give the flies any more advantage than necessary?

A couple days ago I looked inside - a good number of the greens had been consumed and there were still no more signs of fly maggots. I had some more expired greens in the 'fridge, so I dug a hole, stuck them in, and covered them up.

The lid remains partially open - trying desparately to dry things out. No luck there, yet, but as long as nothing is flying in and out, I think I can safely leave it open.

Is it too soon to claim success? Will putting this in print jinx the whole operation? Let's keep our toes crossed that this time the battle was won.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Waiting for Spring

A lonely garden decoration waits for spring to return.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Real Stuff

Now, is that a beautiful omelette or what? This photo is completely un-retouched. This is the color you get when you use REAL eggs, from happy, free-range chickens. No factory fowl here, no sirree. By comparison, store-bought eggs are so pale and anemic-looking. Not only that, but REAL eggs, from happy chickens, are also full of flavor. I'll take the real thing any day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Catalogues are Coming, the Catalogues are Coming!

Imagine my surprise this week when I opened my mailbox to see my first seed catalogue already there. And it's not even winter yet!

It was from High Mowing Seeds, a seed farm in northern Vermont that specializes in heirloom and organic seeds. I thumbed through the pages and made out my order - popped it in the mail two days later. My theory is if I get my order in early, I will get first dibs on seeds that are sparse.

The next day, the Pinetree Seeds catalogue arrived. Pinetree isn't an organic seed source, but they did have a tortilla press in the back, and I've had my eye on one of those for a few months now (after the disasterous attempt at making corn tortillas by pressing them between plates).

So, the grass may still be green, and the days somewhat balmy (where IS the snow?), but the seed companies are getting their sales pitches out to us early. So much for waiting until the cold, snowy, grey days of February to curl up with the seed catalogues. I suppose I could wait, but with my housekeeping skills, that would probably mean losing the catlogues!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Word about Fats

About a year and a half ago I started eating meat again for the first time in seventeen years. I gave up meat back in the '80s because of how it is "produced" and all the extras (hormones, antibiotics) that were added to it, but with the advent of grassfed meats, and the ability to purchase "local" meat, I have added meat back into my diet.

My meats come to me via FedEx, once a month, from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) just north of the Blue Line (the line on maps that delineates the Adirondack Park). The farm is 8 O'clock Ranch, and they work as a cooperative with a couple other neighbor farms. From them I get a mixed bag (box, actually) of meat, mostly pork, but also beef and lamb. I'm on the economy plan, so instead of prime steaks, I get mostly the lesser cuts, like roasts, stew meats, and a lot of sausage. I'm not really a sausage person, so I have a freezer quite full of sausages. If you'd like to try some, stop by and I'll load you up.

Once or twice a year, though, I ask Kassandra to send me some lard. Yes, lard. Leaf lard, to be exact, which is the prime lard found around the kidneys of the pig (lard comes from pigs, by the way). This fat comes in strips and chunks, which I must then render (cook down) before using.

Now, I know for a lot of folks "lard" is a four-letter word. Thanks to a clever marketing campaign after WWII, lard became persona non-grata in the US. However, real lard, leaf lard, non-hydrogenated lard, is actually good for you (and me). How is this possible?

Fat is essential in our diets. Here's a partial list of what fats do for us:

* when eaten as part of a meal, they help slow down food absorbtion so you can go longer without feeling hungry;
* they carry fat-soluable vitamins (A, D, E, and K);
* they are essential for converting carotenes into vitamin A;
* they are necessary for the absorbtion of many minerals.

Prior to the 1920s, when animal fats featured prominantly in the American diet, coronary disease was uncommon. After WWII, with the advent of vegetable oils and fats (Crisco), heart disease soared. This also coincided with an increase in our intake of refined sugars and processed foods (And, my personal favorite, food "products" - what the heck is a "food product" anyway? Give me good old-fashioned real food any day.).

Studies (e.g. The Framingham Study, an similar study in Britain, and the US Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trail) have shown that intake of animal fats, cholesterol, et al, decreases the rate of heart disease. It's the consumption of processed foods and sugars that are detrimental to our health.

But not all fats are created equal.

Butter, especiall organic butter that is minimally processed (not mixed with veg. oils, chemicals or water), is very healthy.

Beaf fat (suet and tallow) is full of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3 are very important, but most people have way too much 6 and way to little 3) and CLA (coagulated linoleic acid). The latter is responsible for increasing metabolic rate, increasing muscle mass while reducing fat, decreasing abdominal fat (woo-hoo; I'm all for that!), strengthening the immune system, as well as reducing risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

Lard and bacon, in their natural form (non-hydrogenated, preservative-free) are ideal for many recipes, and are good for you.

Olive oil is also good for you - extra virgin, organic, cold or expellar pressed. Unfiltered olive oil makes a good meat marinate all by itself.

Fats to be avoided include:
* margarines
* Crisco
* anything hydrogentated
* canola oil (who knew?)
* cottonseed, soy, corn and safflower oils

Now, I know that a lot of folks will never go back to eating the healthy fats, for they have become convinced that they are BAD. That's what an effective marketing campaign will do for you. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get people to understand that fats can be (and are) good for you.

But don't take my word for it. You can read about the good fats at the following websites:

If I could, I'd add chickens and maybe even a cow to my organic garden. Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood that doesn't allow livestock. So, the next best thing to raising my own is getting my meat from a local source that focuses on grassfed, grass finished livestock. If you want to take control of your food, you might want to look into it for yourself and your family, too.

Holy S#@*, Batman!

At last! A pile of manure has appeared in my yard!

Forget the diamond rings and fur coats, mister - a load of manure and I'm a happy camper!

It's only taken about two years, but someone finally heard my plea (okay, my grousing) and came through for me.

I promptly filled the wheelbarrow with load after load and spread it on five of the beds I have dug and weeded. There it will rest for the winter, allowing the critters in the soil to do their thing before the ground freezes, and again after it thaws in the spring. By late May, these beds should be ready for planting. And hopefully this year, with the addition of manure, greensand, rock phosphate, and even some wood ashes from my woodstove, I will have conquered the sour smell that wafts from the soil in these particular beds.
Five down; thirteen...nope, make that go. Plus the new plot to prepare next spring.

All we can do now is hope that there are no seeds in this manure that will sprout next year. Wishful thinking? Probably, but hope spring eternal.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

They Aren't REALLY "Fruit Flies"

First off, it turns out that the wee buggers you and I and the rest of the free world thought were "fruit flies" are actually something called "vinegar flies." Apparently "fruit flies" are found on ripening fruits in the "field", which in many cases is actually in the tropics. They are the bane of fruit producers.

Vinegar flies are the bane of home owners who brought fruit into the house and didn't eat it fast enough, and then put it in their worm bins, only to find later they have given the little beggars a perfect community in which to live.

I've been chasing vinegar flies about the house now for three or so weeks - since the great Worm Bin Debacle. I cleaned the bin and followed all the directions for ridding it of the pests (it's an on-going project). But still the kitchen was swarming with tiny insects. So I went to Phase Two: vacuuming the insects multiple times a day.

Have you ever actually tried to suck up vinegar flies with a vacuum cleaner? If they are clustered on a cabinet door, it's not too much of a problem, but once they launch themselves, you just look ridiculous trying to chase them down, waving the vacuum hose in the air as the flies drift from point A to point B and beyond. You might think you got a lot of them, but leave a light on and return to the kitchen, oh, ten minutes later, and you will see just as many as before taking a leisurely rest on your walls, cabinets, and light fixtures.

So, I decided, as a last ditch effort, to go with the old-fashioned method of trapping them: I put a bit of ripe banana into a bottle with a narrow neck. I set the bottle on the windowsill near the worm bin (the only available spot in the kitchen - the maid's been on holiday, again). Suddenly, there were no more vinegar flies on the cabinets and walls. Could it be I had actually sucked them all into the vacuum cleaner? No - I looked at the banana trap and the bottom of the bottle was coated with many many flies (dare I say hundreds?). Some were deceased, others not, but at least they were contained and no longer decorating my kitchen! Voila!

Long story short, if you have vinegar flies pestering you in your kitchen, stick a bit of very ripe fruit into a bottle with a long narrow neck and set it aside. Soon your fly problem will be under control, without the need for purchasing toxic chemicals or expensive (yet decorative) traps. It's cheap, non-toxic, and, most importantly, it works.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Finishing the Harvest

Ever so slowly I am getting the last bits of my garden's harvest put where it belongs. The last giant zucchini was presented with a flourish to my parents a couple weeks ago ("that's not a zucchini; it's a baseball bat!"). The lettuce that finally decided to grow, all of three inches tall, was pulled and placed in the compost bin. The spuds are bagged and in the basement, as are the many braided ropes of onions.

But the carrots remained in a bucket on the porch. I brought some in, scrubbed, peeled, blanched and froze them, but many more remained. Concerned they would go soft dehydrating there on the porch, I brought them in a couple weeks ago, with great intentions of getting them "done." A load was placed in a second bucket and soaked in water to help loosen up the caked-on dirt...uh, soil...for a week. Knowing full well that I wasn't getting to them any time soon, I drained the bucket and dumped them in with their compatriots, which were also sitting in water. I finally drained that bucket, too, and placed all the remaining roots into the smaller container - a foot and a half deep, and over a foot wide.

Every night I'd grab a handful of the orange roots and add them to the dog's dinner, and sometimes in the morning a carrot or two would end up in my omelet. But the bucket's contents were not noticeably shrinking.

Until the day I grabbed a carrot that had fuzzy white stuff growing on its top. MOLD! If I didn't get my act together, I could kiss all these carrots goodbye!

So, Sunday afternoon found me sitting on the living room floor with a peeler, two bowls and my bucket of carrots. All but the smallest (and the ones that went squish) were peeled, then washed, chopped, blanched and frozen. How is it possible for all those carrots to shrink down to only eight quarts in the freezer? Must be fuzzy math.

Now I have to do the pumpkins...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Revenge on the Fruit Flies

The Saga Continues...

So, I went back home and found an old shower curtain upon which to dump the contents of the worm bin. It was a pretty soggy mess. Lots of worms, very happy worms, although I suspect being dumped outside where it was about 40 degrees curbed their happiness. Hopefully, it also did in some fruit flies.

The small, rice-like white things are the sub-adult fruit flies. Maybe you can't see them...just as well. Ugh!

I shredded some newspapers, a school newsletter, and any other regular paper I had on hand and filled the bottom of the box. The whole soggy contents were poured back into the box and more papers were added on top.

Idefix, making sure no worms, or fruit flies, escape.

And now we wait. I should probably leave the lid off, to let the contents dry out, but I just don't relish the idea of having all those fruit flies (and there are hundreds and hundreds of them) loose in the house. "They" might say you can vacuum them up, but I'd just as soon not have to do that! Die, Maggots!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Horror in the Household

I haven't been visiting my vermicomposting bin nearly enough for months, so I lifted the lid the other day to check on its status and not only did a swarm of fruit flies emerge, but the bin looked like it was full of rice. Hm. Were there any worms left at all?

So, today I went home sick (developed a sore throat last night, and today I have that with a runny nose and a low grade fever). So, of course, this was my chance to deal with the worm bin.

I hauled it outside (40 degrees Fahrenheit and overcast), grabbed a bucket and put some damp newspaper in it. Pulled on some gloves and opened the bin.

Now, my plan was to rescue any worms that might remain (I didn't have high hopes of finding many), rinse them off in warm water (the "rice" turned out to be immature fruit flies - really really gross in the numbers I have - kind of like a carcass loaded with fly maggots), and stick them temporarily in the bucket of newspapers.

After one handful, I realized this wasn't going to work. First, the bowl of water was floating with "rice," which dutifully recoated the worms as I scooped them back out. Still, I soldiered on, with handful after handful of worms. Which brings us to the second reason it wasn't going to work: it seems that the worms are not bothered by the infestation. In fact, I have more worms than I ever imagined!!!

I finally gave was a classic case of tilting at windmills.

I needed a Plan B.

So, off I went to the library (a half hour drive). I looked up how to deal with fruit fly infestations in one's vermicompost. It seems that it is a common problem, although not nesssarily to the extremes mine had reached.

The solutions vary, but the overall theme seems to be that it can be dealth with! The worms are not bothered by the company, so I don't have to worry about a worm health problem.

First, the causes. In my case, the most likely culprits (well, let's face it, I am ultimately the only culprit) are an overly damp bin (I haven't added water for weeks, so it must just be decomposition juices), and the fact that I didn't (don't) really bury the food I add.

Next, the solution. I could continue trying to remove the worms, but seeing as how they've been on a breeding binge, this isn't a realistic option. So, I'm going to try the next best thing: adding dry bedding.

To add the dry bedding, I will have to dump out the entire contents of the bin (where did I put that box of black plastic I bought for the garden?). Afterwards, I will fill the bin with fresh, shredded, dry newspaper. Well, not fill-fill, but certainly add a good amount. Then I will return the whole mess to the bin. If I leave it inverted, the offending maggots will be buried (bwaa-haa-haa), or at least in theory they will. Frankly, I think there are so many that while some might be buried, others will now be closer to the surface.

And, finally, I will let the whole thing a) dry out and b) go hungry. Of course, I can't let it dry out completely, but it could benefit from a mild drought. And while worms can tolerate a few weeks without food (which I thought they already had), fruit flies cannot. My goal: starve out the @#*$&@^s.

Photos will be added anon to illustrate this article, since I am still in the library and my infested bin is half an hour away at home.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Favorite Fall Flower

Monkshood - aka: wolfsbane and aconite (any Harry Potter fans out there?). Scientific name: Aconitum napellus, in the Family Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family. This is one of my favorite fall flowers, mainly because it blossoms so late - usually after frost, sometimes after we get snow - but also because its blossoms are so unusual.

This year my monkshood has the most beautiful flowers - I've never seen them so huge! You should be able to click on the photo to see the blossoms up really close.

Many years ago I "got into" herbs. It started right out of college at my first nature center internship. The place had some herb books for sale in the gift shop, and I was hooked. At my second job, I really became an herb nut - lots of research into medicinals and their histories. At my third job, I put in my first herb gardens: Culinary, Medicinal, and Dyes & Fragrances. I was there for over four years, and invovled with the Society for Creative Anachronism, so herbs became a huge part of my life. Since returning to New York, however, herbs have taken a back seat (for many reasons), but my interest in them remains.

Which is why I have monkshood in my gardens!
One of the reasons I love herbs is that they have such a long and interesting history, and many myths and legends are associated with them. Monkshood is one of those with a fascinating history, which I shall share with you here.

Mythologically, monkshood was really big with the Greeks. One legend, in which the mighty Hercules was fighting with Cerberus (the three-headed dog who guarded the gateway into Hades), and the dog's saliva dripped on the monkshood plants growing on the hillside, thus making them poisonous. The Greek goddess Hecate is supposed to have killed off her father with a dose of aconite (she was a goddess of, among other things, the magical arts). Medea, who is also famous in Greek legends, apparently knocked off Theseus with it, too. And then there is this, which is enough to give some folks pause: it was believed that women who ate aconite daily from the time they were babies (and apparently didn't die from it) were able to poison others through sexual contact.

Monkshood, as you've no doubt acertained, is a rather lethal poison. In the Old World hunters would dip their arrow tips in a mixture made from the plant and use it in baits to kill wolves (hence the common name Wolfsbane), and apparently soldiers in Europe and Asia would drop it in the wells and other water sources of their enemies (and they say poison is a woman's murder weapon of choice).

Stories of witches flying, which come to us from the Middle Ages, have some basis in fact, but not literal fact. Apparently the "flight" these women took was more virtual, a result of the hallucinogenic properties of an ointment they made up with components from monkshood and belladona. These two herbs, when combined, create a flying sensation, thanks to the irregular heart rate caused by the former, and the delerium caused by the latter. As you can no doubt guess, these ointments had to be used with caution.

Many medicines are lethal if taken in large enough doses, and monkshood found its way into genuine medicines in the 18th century. The qualities it posseses that make it useful are its ability to reduce the heart rate, decrease blood pressure, induce sweating and reduce inflammation. If it is applied to the skin, say in an ointment, it causes localized tingling and numbness, making it a good treatment for rheumatism and other neurologic pains.

That said, this is a dangerous herb. Although many homeopaths and practitioners of Chinese medicine may still use it, it was pulled from the US and British Pharmacopeiae many years ago.

And just what makes it so deadly? The whole plant is infused with assorted toxic alkaloids (aconitine, picratonitine, aconine, benzoylamine, and neopelline), although the root is deemed to be the most toxic part of the plant. Aconitine is the most abundant of the alkaloids, but together they work to stimulate and then depress the central and peripheral nerves. And it doesn't take much to do you in: 5 ml is lethal. Ingestion is the cause of most deaths, but apparently external usage (like the ointments mentioned above) can lead to death if enough of the compounds are absorbed through the skin.

Still, it does make a lovely addition to the garden. Just be sure that you and your family know that it is not to be harvested for food or medicine. Look, but don't touch - that should be its motto.

Putting the Garden to Bed

It was a mild day yesterday, so I took advantage of the lack of rain to start putting the garden away for the winter. First I cleaned out a bed and planted the garlic - seven varieties, the larges bulbs from each (Inchelium, Chesnok, Kahzakstan, Germany White, Germany Red, German Extra Hardy (which seems to be a soft neck variety), Crysalis Purple and Purple Stripe. Planted 20-27 of each variety.

Then I attacked the rest of the garden. Pulled out stakes, pulled out weeds, dug out weeds, dug out beds. I only got six beds done - the weeds were out of control. I really should weed in the summer, but this summer it was just so wet...

Then each of the beds I cleaned out (six down, ten to go, plus the new patch to prep if I want to use it next summer), I added my soil ammendments. Since I am still manure-short, I used greensand, rock phsophate, and domomite lime. I targeted the five beds that have had a sour smell since the first year I put them in (three years ago). Admittedly the smell isn't as bad, which means the soil must be improving, but every so often I get a whiff of it - a sure indication of acidic and generally poor conditions. Which also explains why the buttercups and other noxious weeds do so darn well here.

My day started at 9:00 AM, with a walk for the dog, followed by cutting up fat to render into lard. It ended at 6:30 PM with me pounding in posts for snowfencing to protect the cedar hedge from the deer this winter. Needless to say, it was a long day.

But, it's a good thing I did what I did, for this is what it looked like this morning:

That's the garlic, under the snow.

Crabapple bent under the snow.

After taking the dog for a very short walk, I turned him loose in the yard so I could knock the heavy wet snow off the apple trees. They still have their leaves (as you can see by the crabapple), so their branches were bent way down; the new apples were actually bent to the ground, an easy feat since they are mostly just a single whip of a stem.

Snow Falling on Crabapples

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Soggy Days

There's been nothing new on the gardening front to blog about. I dug the carrots, and I've slowly been scrubbing, chopping, blanching and freezing them, but that's about as exciting as it has been. I don't even have any photos to post!

Every day that passes leaves me wondering if I'll ever get to "put the garden to bed" this year. We've had naught but rain and more rain for weeks now. I dug the carrots in the rain, took down the pea trellises in the rain, pulled down the pole beans in the rain. Late season weeds should be removed from the beds, but it's just too wet. Leaves should be raked into the beds, but again, it's just too wet.

Manure? Well, let's just say it hasn't happened yet (will it ever?).

It's time to really get the garlic planted. But, you guessed it, it's too wet (and the beds need to be weeded first).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dad's Apples

Two nights of frost, one a real killer, prompted me to pick the apples.

All told, I got four "perfect" Jonagolds!

There were more Jonagolds on the tree, but they are beyond my reach and also looked like something else snacked on them.

The Haralson has a few fruits, but they look pretty poor, so I left them on the tree as well.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, I call them Dad's Apples because when I first moved here and selected apple trees at the nursery, my dad chose the Jonagold - they are his favorite apple. This is the first year I've had any that look edible.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

F-f-f-frost on the P-pumpkin

The Weather Gurus are calling for 25 degrees Fahrenheit tongiht. Brrr.

Time to pick those pumpkins...or at the very least

get them will covered before nightfall.

I may have to look for stray zucchinis, too.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September Harvest

Faced with a bunch of chicken thighs and gradually cooling weather, I decided to make a pot of soup last night. And even though I have store-bought carrots in the 'fridge, I opted to use all of my own veg for this batch. So out to the garden I went to pull some carrots.

None were of great length, but some had some pretty good girth.

Now that's a carrot!

Peas, onions, and purple, red and gold potatoes also filled the pot. Since my celery didn't even sprout, I had to use store-bought celery to round out the recipe.

The roots weren't cooked through until after 10 PM, so I whipped up some pita bread while things simmered, and late last night I was enjoying a toasty warm meal. Mm-mm good!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When the Family Visits

Toby loves his grandpa!

You can't see it, but the tail is going 90 mph,

in hopes of a treat.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Trevails of a Truckless Gardener


I used to drive pick-ups.

I was a forestry gal and any decent woodsman (or woodswoman, for those who insist on it) has a pick-up truck. But my environmental conscience got the better of me and I replaced my last truck with a Prius.

Now don't get me wrong - I love my Prius - but it has limited hauling capabilities. At least the newer models have back seats that fold down, so that's a plus, but it doesn't help when it comes time to haul manure.

My garden needs some serious ammendments, and without an industrial-sized compost pile, I find myself faced with an ammendment conundrum. I need manure, and a lot of it. I've had several people promise me poop (horse, bison, sheep and chicken), but the promise and the actual delivery don't seem to coincide.

So yesterday I decided I would find a rent-a-wreck and rent me a pick-up. Would you believe no such outfit exists? The Truck Rental place I called, besides being a bit rude, only rents moving vans, not pick-ups, and if they did, they wouldn't rent them for hauling manure. The Farm Equipment Rental place I called does real farm equipment, not pick-ups. At least the man here had a suggestion: rent a truck and flatbed trailer from U-haul, but don't tell them what I'm planning to haul - that might squash the deal.

Who knew it would be so difficult!?!?

So, I find myself back where I started, depending on the goodwill of others to loan me a pick-up or to haul some manure for me. And neither one seems to be looming on the immediate horizon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I decided to dig some spuds last night after work, so I got out the spading fork and had at it. The first bed yielded a few small "Adirondack Reds", but none of the "Adirondack Blues" apparently grew. The next bed had "Carolas", many of which were good sized, and I was quite happy, until I dug up this:


It was a slimy puddle. It was disgusting. It was vile. All I could think was how glad I was I hadn't reached in with my bare hand and grabbed it.

I thought at first it might've been the seed potato, which often turns to mush as it feeds the plant. But then I found another...and another.

The "Purple Vikings" had a slimy mess or two, as well.

But the "Red Golds" all seemed fine.

Could this be The Blight?

I went on-line and discovered that yes, indeed, this is yet another symptom of The Blight. What's more, I discovered that The Blight isn't a fungus afterall (contrary to popular belief). In fact, the organism is more closely related to diatoms, kelp and brown algae. Very interesting.

Some of the "Carolas" were also speckled with a white granular "stuff". Could these be spores from The Blight? I don't know, but I have a call in to Cooperative Extension and to our local Master Gardener to see if they have an opinion. In the meantime, those spuds are in isolation.

Yes, indeedy, it's been an interesting year in the garden.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Last week's frost never materialized. Not that I minded. I decided that I am done with the beans, so the frost could have them. I picked a couple more zucchinis, and figured I had enough for the freezer. Peas are pretty much done (brown and crispy), so they and the beans remain for seed collection. Onions probably are frost-proof, being mostly underground, and carrots only improve with the cold. Likewise, I figured the potatoes were fine. I picked the three wee ears of corn I found (and it turns out they weren't quite ripe), and figured the broom corn was on its own (I only grew it for a novelty, anyway).

And since the tomatoes are now all in a bag, the only things I had to cover were the pumpkins!

Tonight frost is predicted again, and this time I suspect it is more serious. I shall cover the pumpkins again, and make the rounds for squash and corn.

In the meantime, I purchased a 20' x 100' roll of black plastic today. The war on the weeds will commence soon. Once the beds are all harvested for the season, I shall cover 'em all with the black plastic and let it bake away at the weeds (and their seeds) until next May. Not that much baking will be going on under snow, but hopefully we'll have some sun and heat before the snow flies.

And as for the zucchini bread, well, I made two loaves, as per the recipe, and think I put too much zucchini in. I had to bake them for almost an hour and a half. They are very moist, and the bottoms ripped off when I decanted them from their pans. After cooling the loaves were frozen for the up-coming bake sale, but I did eat the bottoms, and wasn't impressed. Maybe bottoms are not the best bits to sample. I may try the recipe again, or I may just go with my tried and true recipe from Mom.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Sad Day in the Garden

Well, there they are: ninety tomato plants yanked from the garden and stuck in a bag.

I console myself that at least if we get the frost tomorrow night that they are predicting I won't have to worry about covering the tomatoes.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Late Blight

Ugh - I think I have it. Well, I don't have it, but my potatoes and tomatoes do. "It" is late blight, that fungal disease that is sweeping the nation.

I heard about it here and there, but not having television, my exposure to it has been minimal. And I've been in denial. I couldn't possibly have late blight. I get my spuds from good sources, certified seed potatoes. I start my tomatoes from seed...heirloom varieties. None of my neighbors have gardens. Of course I was safe.

But lately I haven't been so sure.

Sure, every year some of my potato plants look poorly (shrivelled stems with no leaves), but I've attributed that to the potato beetles. Hm...could it be late blight?

And every year some of my tomato plants look poorly, but that was because it was so dry and hot, or wet and cool. Rot. And those brown spots on the fruits? Poor air circulation - that's gotta' be it.

Well, I decided to look up late blight today, just to be sure, and what I found was not good. And wet and cool seem to be key words.

Late blight, Phytophthora infestans, nails things in the Solonaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, nightshades, et al). And it thrives in cool, wet weather, just like this summer.

To really know if you have this disease, you need to patrol your garden a couple times a week. Look for brown lesions on the stems or leaves of your tomato and potato plants. If you see it, destroy it! Look for white fuzziness - these are the spores. If you see it, destroy it! Look for dark, greasy-looking lesions on tomatoes. If you see it, destroy it! Look for brown spots and granular texture on your spuds. If you see it, destroy it!

The spores apparently spread with great ease on the wind. An infected plant can be dead within four days. The fungus can live in spuds that overwinter in the ground, for spuds are living tissue.

So, how are you supposed to destroy the plants? I finally found details for this, and there are several ways you can go.

1. Don't do anything until you have a sunny warm day. UV radiation, apparently, will destroy any spores that shake loose.

2. Pull up the plants and bag 'em. Leave them in a sunny location for several days. The heat will kill the fungus. Then send them to the landfill.

3. Pull up the plants and put 'em in a pile. Cover the pile with a tarp and let the sun bake the whole thing for several days. The heat will kill the fungus.

4. Pull up the plants and dig a really deep hole. Bury them.

5. You could compost them, provided your compost pile gets very hot. If not composted correctly, it could mean doom for your plants next year.

6. Infected spuds can be spread out on the ground and left there for the winter. Apparently the fungus can be killed by freezing. Freezing is not a problem here in the Adirondacks.

Also any plants (potato or tomato) that volunteer from last year's garden (like all those spuds that I missed that subsequently sprouted) should be ripped out (and destroyed - see choices above) before they really get going.

When you dig your spuds, look for infection. Even healthy-looking tubers (or tomatoes, for that matter) can be infected. So far research hasn't found any problems with eating healthy tissue, but you want to avoid ingesting infected tissues.

So, the next sunny day we get (next week?), I'll be yanking out all my tomatoes. I'll probably do the spuds, too. What a waste. >heavy sigh<

For more information, go to: http://www.nysipm.cornell,edu/pulications/blight/ . This is very informative. Also check out - a Fact Sheet of Frequently Asked Questions.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beans Galore!

It had been two days since I last picked beans, thanks to the rain, so last night I knew there would be some ripe ones. Boy, was I right! I nearly filled up my half-bushel box on one bed of pole beans! By the time the pole beans were picked, I had to get a second basket for the bush beans. Total harvest: nearly a whole bushel!

I have the most colorful beans: purple beans, green beans, yellow beans, green beans with purple stripes. Last year I also had yellow beans with pink stripes, but I ran out of room this year and none of the runner beans were planted.

And what does one do with all these beans? Well, one doesn't have time to make the planned zucchini bread! Nope, one is up until 11:30 PM cutting them. I refused to start the blanching and freezing process that late, though, so that will be the project for tonight. Soon the freezer will be full of beans!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The One That Got Away

Warning: this is what happens when you don't watch your zucchini carefully:

And here we have Toby modeling the latest zucchini - this is a 60 pound dog, next to a five pound (or more) squash:

What do you do when life gives you zucchinis? So far, I've shredded them all and stuck 'em in the freezer to be turned into future loaves of zucchini bread. Hm...we have a big weekend event coming up soon for which I have to make baked goods. I'm seeing loaves of zucchini bread in my very near future.

I found this recipe on AllRecipes, and I'm gonna give it a try (tonight, perhaps):

3 eggs, beat until light and frothy

1 c oil (or 1/2 c oil and 1/2 c applesauce)
2 c sugar
2 c shredded zucchini
2 tsp vanilla

Mix well.

In separate bowl combine:
3 c flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
(and optional 1/2 tsp nutmeg)

Mix dry ingredients with the wet ones. Add 1/2 c chopped walnuts if desired.

Crunchy Topping:
1 c brown sugar
1 c flour
1 Tbs butter (never use margarine - read the history of this stuff and you will never touch it again)
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325*F. Grease and flour two 8" x 4" bread pans. Divide the batter between the pans and top with the cruncy topping. Bake 60-70 minutes (or until done).

NOTE: I found that this made waaayy too much topping! Most of it fell off when I took the bread from the pans. I put it in a container to reuse at a later date. I also think it needed a lot more butter to be cut into the sugar and flour.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Interesting Summer in the Veg Garden

2009 has been a strange summer in the veg garden. We had days in the 80s and 90s in April. In May things were pleasant and we were eager to get things planted...and then it snowed.

June was overcast, cool and damp.

July was overcast, cool and damp.

August has had some hot and humid days...too little, too late.

Peas didn't start producing until late June and early July, and then the harvest dribbled in, swelled to one large batch, and rapidly dribbled back to nearly nothing. Most of the vines are shriveling up now, although some are trying to rally and have put out some new flowers.

The pole beans have "suddenly" started to produce. I say "suddenly" because for weeks now all I've seen are flowers, but no beans, but a quick peek under the leaves two days ago proved that some of those flowers had produced beans and were ready for picking! Bush beans, are another story. Not a bean to be seen there.

The zucchini have surprised me with some fruits as well! Something got the first ones I saw ripening. Could it be slugs? Or maybe they just rotted away. Still, I found some foot-long ones (and longer) where I wasn't expecting them.

The garlic has been harvested and hung up to dry.

And the onions are going great guns! At least they like to have a lot of water!

The tomatoes, on the other hand, are looking pretty sad. Too much rain. As you can see, the plants are rotting away.

Fruits have started to develop, but most seem to be rotting on the vine or dropping with a solid green thud. I suspect I will not be putting up sauce this year. Such a shame, too, because I was looking forward to harvesting tomatoes with names like Orange Flesh Purple Smudge, Garden Peach, and Zebra. Well, I should have a few seeds left over...I'll try them again next year.

Potatoes are also looking pretty poor this year. First the beetles had their way with them, then the rain. This handful shows the largest ones I've gotten so far; most, however, have been the size of a quarter.

The corn, which is under three feet tall, is only just starting to get tassels!

Not a single marigold has blossomed, and only a few cosmos (all of which are very short). Calendula are also nearly non-existent!

The only herbs that are doing well are borage (I'm over-run), and cilantro (blech).

Still, something is better than nothing, and there isn't much we can do about the weather. Sure, in dry years you can hook up the hose and drippers, but when it rains, or the sun doesn't shine, your hands are pretty much tied.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

View of the Garden

Another overcast morning. More rain on the way. As you can see, most of the garden is simply existing, rather than thriving.

Corn - should be "knee high by the fourth of July." Well, here it is, just to the left of this five foot pole. It's still not quite knee high, and it's well past the 4th.

Pole beans - last year at this time they were pushing six feet tall. Most are barely three feet this year, if that. This variety is blue coco, and it is the only one in my garden that is actually becoming tall.

The onions are actually looking very good this year. These are walla-wallas, and they are almost the size of baseballs already!

Peas are starting to come right along now. These are the prized Blue Podded Peas, which date back to the 16th century! A lot of blue (or purple) veg are popular now (peas, beans, potatoes, carrots), and you'd think they were all new varieties, but in truth many of these blue veg are very old varieties.

Sunflowers and borage. This is supposed to be a bed of cucumbers. Guess what didn't grow. The borage is doing great, but these giant sunflowers are supposed to be 6-12' tall, like last year. But no, this year they are maybe 5' tall.

Here's a close-up of the borage flower. Borage is edible and makes a colorful addition to your salads.

Sweet Annie, a member of the artemisia family, is a good companion plant for many garden veg. It will reseed vigorously, so be warned.

The black hollyhocks have flowers this year (they were planted last year). No flower is truly black, but these are close!

Verbascum...lovely...and up close so very colorful! This year, however, it has popped up all over the garden! Hm...another "vigorous grower."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Splash of Color

Have you ever seen a more beautiful pea flower?
And it's not even a sweet pea!

Monday, July 13, 2009

We need SUN!

How can we have such a wet summer (okay, Newcomb hasn't had the feet of rain the rest of the state has had, but it has rained just about every day for a month and a half) and things not grow? Because they need SUNLIGHT as well. Our daily temps have been in the 50s and 60s. Very pleasant as far as I'm concerned, but the garden needs some heat.

I've never seen such short plants in my gardens! Holy cats! Tomatoes are barely a foot tall. I've only just harvested my first peas -about a dozen pods. It was enough to give Toby his veg serving at dinner. This time last year I was harvesting peas by the bowlful every day! But at least the vines now have some blossoms on them. One variety (I have to consult the garden map to figure which one it is) has the most beautiful blossoms - will have to skillfully acquire a camera and get photos.

I've actually begun weeding potatoes. As in: the potatoes are the weeds. I've got 'taters growing in almost every bed - I needed to remove some so the broccoli and tomatoes could have a chance! Seems like my potato-digging skills leave a lot to be desired. This year I will have to go about the potato harvest with a vengence.

And did you hear about the potato and tomato blight that is crossing the US? That's what you get from buying cheap stock at the Big Box Stores. I haven't heard of it hitting our neck of the woods yet...CPB are enough of a headache, but I'd rather deal with them!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Oh, yes...and peas

We finally had a sunny day on, appropriately, Sunday. A nice cool breeze and temps in the 70s. Very nice indeed. After doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen and mopping the floor (not a big deal for many folks, but major for me), I threw clothes in the washing machine and spent the rest of the day outside.

A quick tour of the garden surprised me with actual pea pods on some of the peas! I didn't think any of them had gotten that far, since I've only just started to see flowers on the plants. If I was a pea-pod-eater, I would've had a feast, but no, I prefer to eat the peas themselves, so they will have to ripen a bit before I pick them.

My lettuce, however, is still no more than a half inch tall! (Even the peas are under two feet tall.) I'm disappointed to still have to get my greens elsewhere! Although...I

It's amazing what a little bit of sunshine will do. I strung up "trellises" for the pole beans (the corn is just never going to get tall enough to work) in the morning, and by afternoon the beans had already sent up tendrils to grab them! Not as fast as kudzu, I'm sure, but not far behind!

Found more CPB on plants I haven't sprayed, but those that were sprayed before the last week of rain seem to be CPB-free...for the moment. (And there was much rejoicing and dancing in the streets.)

Chicken Shortage

I had a right good chuckle the other day as I was reading the comments to my posts over at Adirondack Almanack. For the one where I was moaning about the invasion of Colorado Poatao Beetles, a delightful reader posted "You don't have a CPB have a chicken shortage."

How true, how true and how!

I keep contemplating chickens. And ducks (they are good for slug patrols). But I always run into the wall known as "housing." I don't have handyman skills enough to build my own coop, and purchasing one is SOOOOOO expensive!

And then there's the whole care in the winter issue! Sure, I could harvest them all and eat chicken all winter, but part of the joy of having chickens is having fresh eggs all year.

I'll have to keep pondering it, though...perhaps there are chickens in my future.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Views Around the Estate

Here are the latest views from the gardens.

Bush beans and potatoes. I only had three beds left for potatoes and beans, but I had more potatoes than I thought, so I had to tuck them in anywhere there was room. Combine this with all the volunteer potatoes from 2008 and even 2007, and I will be over run with spuds this year! I really must work out a better storage system for them, because they sprout before I get to eat them all!

Cukes and sunflowers. At least I think those are cukes. Not too many squash family seeds sprouted this year, so I kept adding miscellaneous seeds to the beds to the point where I'm not sure what is sprouting where!

Garlic. The garlic is growing very well. I snapped off the scapes this last week - they were lovely with their curlicue shapes. Bagged several up to give to friends, but no one seemed to want them. I think one needs to be in an up-scale urbanesque area to find a market for scapes. (Yes, those are potatoes with the garlic...leftovers from 2008.)

Carrots. I have six or seven carrot patches squeezed between the onion patches. This last weekend I divvied up several of the carrot clumps, moving them into areas where carrot seeds didn't sprout. Looks like I may need to move some more. The sunshine and rain from the last couple of days made many of the carrot tops just shoot up. My goal is long carrots this year, not hundreds of midget carrots. Hopefully the transplanting will help with that.

Pumpkins. I had to dig into the remains of the manure pile to get enough in one spot to plant the pumpkins this year, but there seems to be enough "juice" left for them to do well (so far). All we need now is some sunshine!

Broccoli and cauliflower. Yes, they are there under that row cover by the crabapple tree. I haven't peeked under since I planted them...don't want to be discouraged. This year I'm thinking of leaving the row cover in place as a foil for the cabbage whites and their larvae.

Peas. Lots of peas and they've started to flower. None are terribly tall, though. Maybe some are just short varieties, but I suspect the lack of sunshine has also stunted their growth.

Moving onto the flowerbeds, we find several plants in bloom. The lupines are pretty much finsihed, but now we have toadflax,



garlic chives,


mountain bluets,

and Maltese cross.

The splashes of color brighten things up, even on overcast days.