Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day lilies and Death Day...

The past week or so sure slipped away from me fast!  I can't believe how long it's been since I've posted.  This is a tough time of year for me in the garden, it's so darn hot and there's not a lot going on at this point.  The peas are all done and pulled, the lettuce is all pulled, I've picked one little tomato (though there are a lot of green ones right now), I've picked and pulled 2 of the 4 cauliflower, and the onions are getting large enough I could probably pull them any time now.

The big highlight of the past week has come not in the vegetables but in the ornamental garden - day lilies are blooming!  The Stella d'Oros have come and gone a while ago, but the rest of them started blooming in the last week.  I have lots of 'My Sweet Rose' blooming, and my favorite day lily of all, 'Golden Illusions'.  It's a beautiful golden yellow color with a large flower with ruffled edges.  Of course it is the slowest at multiplying, but the clump will get big enough to divide eventually - maybe in the next couple of years.  What's your favorite day lily?  Is there a "must-have" I should look at getting down the road?  There is a master gardener in Cincinnati that is know for his day lilies - he has probably pushing 200 varieties in his yard, and he hosts an open house every year.  My mom and I went back when Kate was about 18 months - he had a little play house for kids and a large electric train set.  It's perfect.  I don't forsee my yard becoming a regional draw for day lilies, but I do love them!

My Sweet Rose

Golden Illusions

I also was super excited yesterday (the first day of weather in the low 80s in over a week) to go out to the garden and find a bloom on one of the eggplants!  It's a standard Black Beauty, which I love because they're so reliable and usually are the first to produce.  I also have an Ichiban, which has a bud but no flower yet.  And the random tomato that sprouted out the drain hole of a pot that I put compost in has a tiny tomato on it.  I left the plant go, mostly to see what would happen.  It's growing out of the drainage hole of a cheap 1 gallon pot I got with some perennial I bought long ago.  With nothing but water when I remember, it's produced a tomato.  And people say they can't grow things!

Black Beauty Eggplant

The tiny tomato on the plant growing out of the drainhole...

Finally, there are two things I want to share - first is in honor of "Garden Blogger's Death Day" over at Gardening without Skills - my pathetic blueberry has finally kicked the bucket entirely.  It's all brown and shriveled and very much dead.  I attempted to amend the soil in it's pot to make it more acidic, and I thought I followed the directions on the elemental sulfur VERY closely, but the blueberry definitely did not appreciate it.  I am really sad about it, as I don't want to start over from scratch and wait another 2 years for blueberries!  :(  I don't have a picture and it's already dark out so I'm not sure one I took now would do the dreadful looking thing justice.

Lastly, our crazy neighbors.  When we bought our house 4+ years ago, it was our first house and therefore we didn't think much about neighbors.  Well, we got the crazies.  I take that back - they're very nice for the most part, they just have no business living in a suburban housing development.  The siding blew off a large part of their house in a big windstorm we had in February and they are just now getting it fixed.  And they are using vinyl siding that looks like fake cedar shakes.  But I suppose it is better than the half-missing siding they had before.  And their 4 ft deep temporary-type backyard pool sprung a leak, which drained entirely into our yard, and then the empty pool blew over against our fence in another strong wind we had last week.  Plus in the winter they have 4 golf carts and a 4-wheeler living on their back patio - and no, they don't golf.  We had new friends over one night last month and someone asked if there was a golf course near us.  Mark and I burst out laughing.  Again, they are very nice, but they need to move somewhere with some acreage so that this is not right in the middle of regular suburbia.  Though the neighborhood would have much less to talk about if they left!

Our neighbors backyard - down to 2 golf carts, the 4 wheeler, and the half-missing siding.  Also not the dying/dead spot of grass where the pool was blown over for a week.  Good times. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

And the heat goes on... plus a recipe

Today is the 2nd day of 90 degree heat - blech.  I am, without a doubt, NOT a heat-loving person.  I went out at 2:00 today to take a couple of photos and fill up the kiddie pool, and the 10 minutes I was outside was enough for me, ideally for the whole week (the lowest temp in the 5 day forecast is 87).  This is when gardening gets tough for me.  I want no part of pulling weeds in the mid-day heat during naptime, and I don't want to get up at 6:30 AM to do it before the girls get up.  Thankfully (or not so thankfully from a humidity standpoint) we've had quite a bit of rain, so things in the garden are withstanding the heat fairly well.

One thing did make my trek out into the heat this afternoon worth it - my first tomato is ripening!  I have 4 "known" varieties of tomatoes in the garden, and about 5-6 "unknown" volunteer plants that germinated from stuff thrown in the compost bin (I obviously don't maintain a hot pile).  The 4 kinds that I know are growing are San Marzano, Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple and Mr. Stripey.  All are heirlooms, so I'm planning to save seed for next year. The San Marzano is going to have the first ripe tomato.  Actually, it's the only one with a tomato at all right now.  Everything else is just blossoms.  I am actually very excited about the San Marzanos.  As a lover of basically all Italian food (I studied for a summer in Italy in college, which got me totally hooked) the San Marzano is the quintessential Italian paste tomato.  I am looking forward to much homemade marinara sauce this summer and fall, between the San Marzanos and the Amish Pastes.  I have not had a lot of luck with regular Romas the past 2 years - they got blossom end rot really bad - much worse than any of the other plants I had, so I decided to see if either of these do better.

I also visited the West Chester Farmers Market this morning.  I bought a small bunch of red onions from the Gravel Knoll Farm booth, but there wasn't a lot of produce at this point that I haven't grown myself, with the exception of beets, which are not my favorite.  I did buy some absolutely delicious lemon curd from the lady that sell homemade frozen scone dough - I have been eating some slowly with just a spoon this afternoon.  I basically love all things lemon.  It tastes a lot like the custard part of a lemon meringue pie.  (Insert a Homer Simpson-esque gutteral Mmmmmm.... here).  I also got some homemade raspberry jam, and an organic, pasture-raised skirt steak for fajitas.   (Another Mmmmm....)  Kate and Claire came with me today, and happily got snow cones - they even had a lemonade flavor which was colorless (a big plus as I knew Claire would end up wearing as much as she ate).  They also have an awesome scavenger hunt program for kids, where there is a "clue" each week that the kids have to search the different tents to find.  When they find the clue, they tell the person working the booth and they get a wooden nickel.  They save up the wooden nickles and at the last 2 markets of the year in October they can spend them on kid stuff.  Kate was so excited to find the clue.

On a final note, in honor of the first tomato, I'll leave you with a simple, tasty, healthy recipe involving fresh tomatoes.  This is a staple recipe from my friends Jill & Brad.

Corn & Black Bean Salsa
2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 can hominy or yellow corn, drained (if using fresh, blanch quickly to soften just a tad)
2 - 3 medium tomatoes diced (you can use diced from a can, rinsed & drained if it's not tomato season yet)
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro (or more to taste)
3 T olive oil
3 T lime juice
1 1/2 tsp cumin

Combine in a medium to large bowl and chill for 2 hours for flavors to meld.  Serve with tortilla chips, or even just with a spoon!  The picture below is minus cilantro, which I hadn't trekked out to pick yet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Strawberries, Roses and Mud puddles

Wow, this past week snuck away from me!  We got quite a bit of rain over the past week or so, and I haven't been in the garden too much.  I spent a lot of time sewing orders, which I really needed to do.  On Friday, I stopped at Varnau's, my favorite local nursery, and all their plants were 50% off (they're only open from mid-April to mid-July, so they're starting to clearance things already).  They had a few strawberry plants left that were only $1.50 each, and I couldn't resist.  I have wanted strawberries ever since we moved into the house 4 years ago.  They mostly had Junebearing, but I did find one everbearing (literally one plant).  I bought the June bearing "AllStar" and the everbearing "Ozark beauty".  Hopefully next year I will have a handful of yummy strawberries to eat.  I am not sure where I am going to put the AllStar, since I believe they send out a lot of runners being a junebearning.  The Ozark Beauty I am going to put in a pot - I just have to get a pot to put it in.  I also got a beautiful scented leaf geranium for $2 - I have a different variety in a container on the patio, and I love them.  Their foliage is always so interesting.

These are the strawberries, obviously...

The cool scented leaf geranium leaves.  I'll have to post a picture of the leaves of my other plant later - they're very different.

I also am excited to see the knockout rose that I transplanted earlier this year finally having new growth.  It was by our front stoop, and it tended to take over the flower bed and part of the front walk if not regularly pruned.  It's a red one and it was growing gangbusters.  This year, I dug it out and moved it to the other side of the driveway in front of the rain barrel.  I also pruned it back to about 12"-18" from the ground when I did so, so that it was more manageable to move.  It's been a big group of sticks for a month since I did this, while it tried to recover from the shock.  It finally is.  I was not really worried about it, as this is the hardiest plant I've had.  People say roses are tricky and need special care.  Not this one!  My hope is that it will grow and next year camouflage the rain barrel somewhat in the summer.  The barrel is functional, but it's not pretty.  However, I have had about 4-5 people in the neighborhood ask me about where I got it, how I made it, etc over the past year, so I'm kind of glad it's visible from the street.  I know of one other house in the development that made one of their own after asking me about mine.

I also have to share some photos from Sunday.  We had a torrential downpour (which of course started while I was driving home from Costco - it's about 3-4 miles away and it took me about 15 minutes to get home - roads were like rivers).  My rain gauge is broken I discovered, but the news said rain was falling at the rate of 5 inches an hour, and that doesn't surprise me.  I can't remember when I'd seen rain that hard last longer than about 10 minutes - my guess is it was about 30-45 minutes of serious downpour. Our backyard slopes to the middle slightly, and we had a river running through our backyard.  When the rain let up, Kate really wanted to go splash in the puddles, and of course Claire had to join her.  Who needs a pool?!?!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I do when I'm not gardening....

It rained today, which is great for 2 reasons.  First, everything needed the rain, and I now have full rain barrels again.  Secondly, I needed to NOT be in the garden for a day (actually, for a couple of days).  I have my own business making items for moms & children predominantly, called The Daisy Chain Boutique (that's kind of garden related), and I am getting behind on some orders because I am spending too much time in the garden.  Seeing as how the garden doesn't really bring in income in the same sense the business does, I need a day (or two) of some poor gardening weather to help me refocus.  I just thought I'd show some photos of what I do when I'm not gardening, for those who are interested.  If you absolutely love what you see and want to check out my Etsy site (which sorely needs to be updated) you can do so here- www.atthedaisychain.etsy.com

I am rather addicted to crafting - I rubber stamp, scrapbook, make candles, sew, make hair bows, and I know I'm forgetting some things.  I also really want to learn to quilt, knit and make baskets, but I've kind of forbidden myself from picking up and new crafting hobbies.  Though I do have a friend who crochets cool animals (amigurumis) and we keep saying we're going to get together... I might not be able to resist learning crochet.  Just don't tell my husband. :)

This is a display of hair bows I did for a craft fair last fall.  The problem with craft shows is inventory - I still have a bunch of these bows left, especially the single color ones.

Some of the "pillowcase dresses" - they are originally designed to be made from a pillowcase.  They're fun and fairly easy to make. The purple Tinkerbell one in the bottom right corner is probably my top seller.

This is a fun large purse/diaper bag I made.  I've made a couple of them.  They're not so quick, but they're cute.  Debating if I should sell these, as they're rather labor intensive and I'm not sure people would be willing to pay as much as I'd need to charge to make a profit (probably in the $40-$50 range)  I also have a yellow daisy/flower one and a 4th of July one.

A nursing/breastfeeding cover.  This is one of the best inventions ever.  And really easy to make with very basic sewing skills.  Buy why sew - buy one of my reasonably priced, hand made covers instead.  They make great shower gifts!  Yes, this is a shameless plug.  :)

Kate modeling on of the aforementioned pillowcase dresses (as a tunic top) at the Van Wert Co Fair last year.

Cute ladybug hair clips.  I also do bumblebees.

Another great bow, best for preschoolers and up as it's a large bow and overwhelms smaller heads.  All 6 major Disney Princesses and Tinkerbell available (as are other themes).

A "pouch-style" baby sling.  This is me and Claire last fall when she was about 8 months.  This is another absolutely brilliant invention.  I do coordinating slings and covers.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cauliflower, compost and water fights

After dinner most nights our family heads out to the backyard.  The girls play and we work on things in the backyard.  Tonight I needed to water everything, especially the rest of the new raised bed that I finally planted on Sunday, and the potatoes.  It seems like I always have to water the potatoes. As I was watering, I noticed that the cauliflower is forming heads on 3 of the 4 plants.  I'm really glad that it seems to be doing well, as last year my cauliflower left a lot to be desired. Actually, it was downright pathetic.  Of course I failed to save the plant tag or write down the information about what cauliflower I planted this year, and it's doing really well.  Go figure.  The leaves definitely have some damage - not sure what from as I've never actually seen anything on them, but the heads are looking good.  No spindly, tiny, oddly purple-streaked heads this year.  The one problem is that it is taking so long for the cauliflower to form heads, and the eggplants I put relatively close to them are having to compete quite hard for sun and water.  I thought the cauliflower would be out by now.  I was wrong. Thankfully I am used to being wrong (see the crazy pea trellis picture in my last post for further proof).

The aforementioned mystery variety of cauliflower.

The garden area, complete with the new raised bed and wood chips (chipped Japanese honeysuckle - yay!)  And Claire (heading over to play in the hose also).

I also worked until dark last night hauling compost.  I emptied the compost bin, or so I thought, earlier this year, about April or so.  I am really lazy with compost.  I don't analyze it, I just dump stuff in the bin (it's mostly "greens"- kitchen and yard scraps). I turn it infrequently and begrudgingly.  I have 2 large bins made of wire fencing that are about 4-5 ft in diameter.  One of these is new and one I've had for about 4 years.  The older one is around the south side yard near the air conditioner, and since we finally have a gate in the back fence, I want to move it back there - closer to the garden and not visible from the front yard.  So I am gradually starting to move the stuff out of it into the back bin.  In digging through things, I found an entire trug tub worth of mostly finished stuff in the bottom.  I was thrilled, as I still have a small area of the new raised bed to fill, and I want to put a bunch around the eggplant in front, as it is lagging significantly behind those in the garden.  My ribcage and stomach muscles are extremely sore today, and I think it's from pulling the stupid tub all the way around the house and into the backyard.

The compost I pulled out of the bin last night, minus what I already put around the onions which were peaking out of the dirt too much.  My stupid ribcage is sore just looking at this picture.  That tub holds a lot.  Why oh why did I not use the wheelbarrow??

Finally, I have to show some pictures of the fun we had this evening. When I was done watering, before I put the hose away, Kate was thirsty from playing soccer in the backyard with Daddy, and wanted a drink from the hose.  I was pulling weeds in the garden, and somehow missed the next few minutes, but a drink from the hose somehow degenerated rather quickly into Kate chasing Daddy around the yard trying to spray him with the hose and giggling so hard she could hardly catch her breath.  Then she decided to spray me, which was no big deal except for the small detail that I had the camera around my neck which is not cheap and not waterproof.  It came out unscathed, we all came out wet (Claire from playing in the water in the baby pool) and throughly happy. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Joyful Reluctance of Peas

I belong to a philanthropic, educational organization for women that I love from the bottom of my heart.  Our Ohio state convention was this weekend, about an hour from where I live.  My mom and I got to go for the weekend and my wonderful husband took care of the girls for two and a half days while I was gone.  It was great.  I came home today and went out to the garden, because Mark had not thought to water while I was gone (which I am not remotely complaining about, as he did a wonderful job taking care of the girls and even cleaned the kitchen and things before I got home!).  As I was out watering, I noticed... peas!  (As if this is a surprise from the title of my post.)

Let me start out by saying that I generally do not like peas. I tolerate snow peas in stir fry, but that is about it.  Apparently I loved them as a toddler (my mom always tells the story of me saying "But Mom, I need peas!" when she would not give me any more for dinner.  Since then, my love affair with peas has waned dramatically.  However, since I believe everything is better when grown fresh, and especially when it is the fruit of your own labor, I planted peas this year so that I could give them another shot.  Regular peas that you shell and eat.  So when I saw the peas tonight, I was torn between the joy of harvest and the realization that it is peas.  But I pulled a pod off the vine and shelled and ate it raw, right next to the garden.  And I didn't die.  Or choke.  Or turn green and swell up into a green ball, a la Violet Beauregaurd from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.  In fact, it wasn't that bad.  Mind you, it wasn't necessarily good, but it wasn't as bad as I expected.  So I am now soliciting recipes for fresh shelled peas.  Send me something that will make me fall in love with the pea.  It's one of those foods (like rosemary and cucumbers) that I really want to like, but try as I might I just don't. 

Kate and Mark are not vegetable people at all, so kid and husband friendly recipes are also welcome.  Kate did try one in the yard (which is absolutely wonderful simply because she was willing to try it), however she bit the pea in half, made faces as she swallowed the half in her mouth and threw the other half into the yard.  (Perhaps if it were doused in ranch dressing... In the fall we may do sugar snap so we can dip them in ranch dressing.  Mark hates ranch dressing though, so that does not help there...)

This is Claire in the swing while I was pea-picking. That is the remnants of a delicious vanilla milkshake from United Dairy Farmers.  That is not peas.  I will gladly accept any suggestions of how to make peas taste like a delicious UDF milkshake.  Gladly.

This is my crazy makeshift pea trellis.  I can't remember if I showed this before.  I originally just turned tomato cages upside-down for the peas to grow up.  They were not tall enough.  This is probably obvious to everyone but me.  I then rigged up the craziest looking trellis extension out of bamboo poles, twine and the existing tomato cages and plastic garden fence.  It works.  But it certainly isn't pretty.

The peas.  "Early Perfection".  The "early" part must be a misnomer. It couldn't be that I planted them late.... No way that would happen with 2 small children...

A close up of the peas I am trying to love.  I really am.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another Trip to the Discovery Garden

I know I've posted before about the Highfield Discovery Garden at the Glenwood Gardens Metropark.  We went again today.  In the rain. Again.  I love going on rainy or almost rainy days because there is hardly anyone there.  I thought I'd post some pictures for those of you not familiar with the Discovery Garden so you can see why I love it so much (almost more than the kids).

This is their garden area - it's all square ft gardening in raised beds that are near "eye-height" for young children.  It's awesome.  They are made into these funky shapes so you can walk on paths in between the beds.  They grow all kinds of things from carrots and lettuce and tomatoes to things most kids have never seen before like kohlrabi.  They give all the harvest away to visitors to the garden (which are often urban kids who don't garden).  To the right, just out of the picture, is a cottage house that houses their bunny, Lulu.  Kate ADORES Lulu.

This is Kate checking out some marigolds growing underneath the cabbage leaves. This week's "lesson" was on planting and kids that visit get to plant marigold seeds in peat pellets in a dixie cup.  Kate was happy to plant Claire's.  Claire kept trying to eat the peat out of her cup. 

Claire checking out the ambient music speaker in the middle of the raised garden beds.  That's garlic growing behind her head. To the right may be collard greens, I can't remember for sure.

The "Cottage House" that houses the lesson area, and Lulu.  They teach kids about composting (I want their bins, they're so much nicer than mine).  You can see the garden beds in the back.

The fun whimsical "tea party house" as Kate calls it.  

Inside the tea party house, getting ready to have a tea party. Or play restaurant.

Their pump and rain barrel.  The dark area under the rain barrel is covered in rubber mulch, and I think there is a large drain under it, as the pump and the "rain feature" use recycled water for the most part.  Though the kids like to water the plants with water from the pump.  A lot of watering the plants.  The plants in this area need to be tolerant of overly wet conditions, I'm sure.  The rain feature is cool because kids can push a button and the fake cloud over the roof area "rains" and then the rain goes down the gutter and into the rain barrel.

The train area - they have about 3-4 electric trains that run around multiple tracks in this area, and a little walk-through path just for kids (the overhead bridges at either end of the path make it extremely hard for adults to walk in to the middle of the trains).  There is also a station house with buttons the kids can push to make train sounds.

One of the frogs we saw in the pond today - it was a cool overcast day and they were all over the banks.  On 90 degree days they are almost impossible to find.

The new feature for this year, the Fairy Garden.  Kate loves to stare at the garden and try to find every little fairy in it.

Apart from this, I haven't done much in the garden the past couple of days.  The second planting of beans is beginning to sprout, and I got the rest of the new raised bed filled.  Now I just need to get the peppers and tomatoes in it.  And I desperately need to get out and weed.  However, I have been spending so much time in the garden recently I am in danger of falling behind on the orders I have to sew for my business.  So since it's drizzly today, I will be in the basement with Kate (who is watching Barbie Princess & the Pauper - ugh) sewing up a storm.  Hopefully I will emerge at the end of Claire's nap with two almost totally finished pillowcase dresses.
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