Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene Adventures

Irene came through our area of Maine on Sunday. The sky was ominously dark, the air was heavy, and rain was falling when we awoke early Sunday morning. Severe winds picked up over the course of the day.

We ran the air conditioners to combat the 100% humidity and 70% dew point. The garden is visible from our living room windows and I watched the plants bending back and fourth from the wind's assault. By mid-afternoon, one SFG trellis holding several tomato plants was leaning precariously forward. K went out in the wind and the rain and secured it.

Soon our view outside was blurred as torrential rain fell. It looked like someone was throwing buckets of water at our windows. Lights flickered, but the electricity remained on for the majority of the day. We did lose our internet service early in the afternoon rendering all of our wi-fi items useless. We were able to catch up with the news using our smart phones.

We lost our power around 4 pm just as we were discussing what to have for dinner. It was too rainy and windy to grill anything outside, so I made a quick venture into the refrigerator to extract some leftover homemade pizza from Friday night, a veggie and cheese platter prepared earlier, and a bottle of wine. We ate cold pizza, snacked on veggies and cheese, and drank wine as the sunlight faded and the winds continued to roar.

The rain slowly tapered off and we opened the windows and enjoyed the cooler temperatures. The sky lightened just before the sun began to set. The winds continued to blow.  I lit a few candles and set an oil lamp on the dining room table.

K retreated upstairs to finagle a battery powered tv and antenna in order to watch a game. I settled myself on the couch with a glass of wine and read a book on my ipod for most of the evening.

It was peaceful listening to only the sounds of nature outside carried with the wind. Each sound was magnified with the absence of the normal household noise. There were the usual nighttime sounds of crickets and various toads and frogs. Then there were the unexpected sounds of deer and even fox. These were heard even above the noise of our neighbors' generators. I have seen many deer in my yard, but I have never seen a fox. Until tonight, I didn't even realize they were around.

We went to bed and woke the following morning to find we still didn't have power. The sounds of generators and chainsaws reverberated through our neighborhood. Several trees had fallen across our road and our neighbors said there were more fallen trees on the main road.  I alerted work that I wouldn't be in. I communicated with coworkers with my smartphone via email by painfully typing on a teeny-tiny keyboard.

It was a beautiful day after the storm. We cooked a large breakfast on the gas grill. The side burner came in handy to heat a teakettle for instant coffee and tea. A cast iron skillet was used to cook up some Dark Red Norland Potatoes and Red Onions and to make a delicious pepper and cheese omelet. Lunch was grilled chicken sandwiches with slices of onion, tomato, and lettuce. Accompanied by sliced fresh cucumber.

Irene's rainfall and winds were much less than predicted, but still left behind some damage. Luckily, our property didn't have any major harm other than a few small branches. The garden faired much better than I expected. The tomato cages were leaning slightly, pushed by the winds. But only a few tomatoes were knocked from the vines.

Our power came back almost 24-hours after we lost it. We celebrated by washing dishes that had accumulated, taking a shower, and cleaning out the refrigerator. Thankfully, freezer items stayed frozen.

Still, we eagerly awaited our internet service to return. I kept up with email, news, and blogs using google reader with my smart phone, but I can't seem to figure out how to comment on posts.

I went back to work on Tuesday. Some of my coworkers still didn't have electricity. K called me during the day to let me know that internet service had returned at home.

Luckily for us, all is well after Irene and life has returned to normal.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Harvest Monday: August 29, 2011

Each Monday, Daphne’s Dandelions hosts “Harvest Monday” where everyone can share links to their harvest for the week. It’s fun to see what everyone is harvesting from his or her gardens in different areas.

I am a day late with my Harvest Monday post because Irene left us without power for 24 hours and no internet for 48 hours. All is well in the garden spot. There was no damage to our property or the garden. The neighborhood suffered a few tree casualties. Below are some harvests from last week before the storm:

First Apples from our trees - Not perfect, but usable once trimmed.



Lots of partially ripe tomatoes were harvested before Irene struck

Tomatoes, Eggplant, Beans, and Cuke harvested the day before Irene

Summer Squash, Peppers, and Potatoes harvested the day before Irene

Be sure to visit Daphne's Dandelions to see what others are harvesting this week.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm: Final Preparations for Irene

While Irene began its assault up the east coast, here in Maine the sun is still shining through some milky cloud cover. The air feels very tropical and soon the sunlight will be extinguished as the outer edge of Irene begins to move into the area. Some rain is expected to begin tonight, but the 500 mile wide storm will not reach us until Sunday and continue through the night. It's hard to believe that it will be all over by Monday morning.

The yard has been cleaned up from anything that can blow around. The cars are parked in the middle of the yard away from falling trees and limbs. I have made several treks through the garden harvesting all that I can. I expect high winds to do some damage. Some of the foliage on the trellises is pretty thick and will only act like a sail in the wind.

Other than the damage to the garden, our greatest inconvenience will probably be losing our power for an extended period of time. We can easily get by with candles, oil lamps, and flashlights for lighting and our gas grill can be used for cooking. Since our well pump runs on electricity, we have filled up various containers of water for drinking, bathing, cooking and flushing.

We have plenty to eat:

Last harvest from the garden before Irene

Safe wishes to all my garden blogging friends affected by Irene.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Harvest Monday: August 22, 2011

Each Monday, Daphne’s Dandelions hosts “Harvest Monday” where everyone can share links to their harvest for the week. It’s fun to see what everyone is harvesting from his or her gardens in different areas.

Things have certainly picked up in the garden over the past week and daily harvests have become normal. The first few Delicata Squash surprised me. Since it is the first time growing these, I wasn't sure how to tell when they were ripe. I looked it up online and found it is when the white changes to beige and the green lines thin out. Hmm... So I peered into the foliage to see what the Delicata looked like and was shocked to see that two of the oldest had already detached themselves from the vine. A third popped off the vine with only a gentle touch. We will try them this week. I hope they taste good.

Delicata Squash

I am harvesting string beans every other day. The first canning took place this weekend providing 12 pints for storage.

Mixed Beans

The tomato plants are terribly diseased, but the tomatoes are still unaffected. They are harvested partially ripe and allowed to ripen fully on the kitchen counter. Some were used to make a batch of salsa this weekend. Each day, I go through them and pluck out the ones that are fully ripe. Then they are washed and added to gallon-sized zipper bags and frozen. I keep adding tomatoes as they ripen and will make tomato sauce once a large batch is ready. There are still a lot of green tomatoes on the diseased vines.

Roma and San Marzano Tomatoes

Peppers very rarely mature to red in my garden. Lately, I have to watch them carefully for insect damage. Once the flesh is pierced, water gets in and the fruit rots. So any fruit that has holes gets harvested and the bad parts cut away. Most of these peppers were used in a batch of salsa and the rest were frozen.

Marconi Rosso and Jalapeno Peppers

Quadrato Rosso D'Asti Peppers

We had our first harvest of Black Beauty Eggplant this week. I am looking forward to having some Eggplant Parmesan this week.

Black Beauty Eggplant
Cucumbers, Beans, Black Beauty Eggplant, and Japanese Eggplant

Not pictured but still part of the harvest are more zucchini and summer squash. They are growing crazy this year in the newly dug garden bed. Most was frozen and some were given away.

Preserving the harvest also officially began this week. String Beans were canned, a batch of salsa was made and canned, the small onions from last week's harvest have mostly been cleaned chopped and frozen, and summer squash has been frozen.

It was a hot and humid weekend but I did achieve some progress in the garden. The beds where the onions were harvested last week were weeded, amended, and plotted out for fall crops. I have two trays of crops growing under lights that will be ready to harden off soon. I am just waiting for cooler temperatures.

Even though I have all winter to plan, I can't help but think about next years garden. I think we are going to make some changes to the SFGs and add another in-ground garden bed. This will give me more space to include additional crops and allow me to work in a yearly crop rotation by full garden bed instead of sections. More detailed planning will occur over the winter.

Be sure to visit Daphne's Dandelions to see what others are harvesting this week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Preserving the Harvest: Herbs

Last Friday, my goal was to tame the overgrown herbs in the garden. The oregano was is full bloom, parsley was taking over the bed, dill was a tall tangled mess, and the cilantro had bolted long ago. All of these plants were attracting many different bees, hornets, and other pollinators to the garden so I left them alone for quite some time. However recently, they began to sprawl out smothering other plants and making it difficult to mow and trim around the garden beds. It was time to take control.

Parsley stalks were cut, the leaves trimmed from the stalks, washed, then run through a salad spinner to rinse and spin out excess moisture.


The remaining parsley leaves were microwaved dried via Carol at Annie's Kitchen Garden's method. Parsley leaves are layered on a paper towel, microwaved until dry (4-5 minutes), allowed to cool, then stored in a jar.

Dried Parsley

Sage was trimmed, washed, run through the salad spinner, then left a clean towel to dry completely. The leaves were loosely packed in zipper bags, excess air sucked out with a straw, and frozen.


Sage Leaves

I have dried sage in the past, but find that the flavor is much stronger when frozen requiring less in recipies.

I was hoping to gather some coriander from the cilantro plants, but waiting for the seeds to dry on the plant seemed to be taking forever. A recent post by Thomas at A Growing Tradition made me realize that I didn't have to wait. I bit into a green coriander seed and found that I liked the flavor. I can see it working in many Mexican dishes.

Green Coriander

I pulled the cilantro plants and collected a bowlful of green coriander seeds. These were washed, allowed to dry, placed into a zipper bag, and frozen.

The oregano was trimmed down to the base of the clump of plants. Usually, this results in renewed growth of the plant providing a late season fresh harvest for tomato sauce and pizza. We shall see.

The long stalks of oregano, dill, and cilantro were tossed into the woods. I usually compost most of my garden waste, but the compost pile doesn't get hot enough to kill the seeds and most of the stems were too woody to break down.

I also try to grow parsley, rosemary, basil, and oregano on a sunny window over the winter months to provide fresh herbs. However sometimes dried herbs work better especially for slow cooked meals such as sauces, roasts, soups and stews.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Harvest Monday August 15, 2011: It All Comes At Once

Each Monday, Daphne’s Dandelions hosts “Harvest Monday” where everyone can share links to their harvest for the week. It’s fun to see what everyone is harvesting from his or her gardens in different areas.

Our growing season is so short. Sometimes when I am reading the bountiful harvests on garden blogs throughout the summer, I often wonder if my garden will ever produce a harvest. Then it does...

Anaheim and Jalapeno Peppers

San Marzano Tomatoes


Mixture of Beans


Green Coriander



Dark Red Norland Potatoes


Yellow Summer Squash and Zucchini

Mixed Beans

Roma Tomatoes

Be sure to visit Daphne's Dandelions to see what others are harvesting this week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Preserving the Harvest: Onions

I wanted to grow more onions this year. Last year, I grew enough for making and preserving salsa and tomato sauce for a year but didn't have many for storage. My seeds were old and I didn't expect them to be viable another year. I also didn't expect them to all germinate because of the seeds age, so I sprinkled all the seeds into repurposed berry trays. I think each and every seed was viable and germinated after all.

Copra and Patterson Onion Seedlings (Jan 22, 2011)

I had to adjust my garden plan to accommodate the onion seedling overflow, but each seedling was planted. About half were planted in the SFGs.

Copra Onion Seedlings in SFG (April 22, 2011)

Patterson Onion Seedlings (April 22, 2011)

The others were planted in the regular in ground gardens. One batch was planted at the end of April but I ran out of room before I planted them all. The final tray sat outside for quite some time before more space was available in the new garden dug this year. The final onion seedlings were planted almost a month later then the others.

Although the onions were still small, most of the onion tops in the SFGs began to fall over a few weeks ago. I pulled them all this weekend. These are all disappointingly quite small. The largest are about 3-inches wide, but most are 1-2-inches wide. Absolutely pitiful.

Small Copra and Patterson Onions Harvested from SFGs

I decided to freeze these. The really small ones will be frozen whole. The larger ones will be chopped, spread out on cookie trays, frozen, then placed into freezer bags. This will make it easy to scoop out whatever is necessary for soups, stews, sauces, etc.

It will be quite labor intensive to peel, trim and/or chop these tiny onions. The photo above shows about half. So I will be working on it a little at a time over the next week or so.

The onions in the regular garden are growing much better. The ones pictured below are quite a bit larger and will be cured and used for storage onions over the winter.  The tops flopped over just this week. The largest is about 5-inches and the rest are all at least 3-inches.

Onions Growing in In-Ground Garden
Onions Growing in In-Ground Garden

The late-planted onions in the new garden are healthy but have some growing to do to catch up with the others. If they don't size up by the end of the growing season, I may try overwintering them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"We were picklers..."

When I planned my garden last year I asked K if he liked pickles. He said he did so I planned on growing a bunch of pickling cucumbers. Past years, I only grew a few cucumber plants to eat fresh and in salads.

Cucumbers were my most prolific producers last year and I made several batches of pickles. I made Bread & Butter Pickles, Kosher Dill Pickle spears, and Sweet Pickle Relish. Soon my shelves were filled with jars of pickles. We had so many pickles that I began asking K if he wanted pickles almost with every meal. I gave jars and jars of pickles and relish away and still have jars on my shelves one year later (sigh).

Thankfully I learned my lesson and only planted a few cucumber plants this year...just enough for snacking and in salads. I think of this scene in Modern Family's "Coal Digger" episode from 2009 every time I open the pantry door and am reminded of the pickles still on the shelves:

Mitchell: I don't like football.

Cameron: You know what? I thought part of being in a relationship was pretending to enjoy your partner's interests. Do you think I really loved home pickle making?

Mitchell: Yeah, 'cause you did.

Cameron: For a week, until we became the weird guys who gave everybody pickles. "Oh thank you, Marvin, for inviting us into your lovely home. Here, would you care for sacks pickles?"

Mitchell: It was charming.

Cameron: We were picklers, Mitchell. Okay, you know what, fine. Stay home with your little, jagged scissors. Maybe catch up on your scrap-booking.

Mitchell: Uh, come-you love scrap-booking.

Cameron: Did I Mitchell? Did I? [Leaves room]
From Modern Family's Coal Digger episode, "I don't like football" scene

Monday, August 8, 2011

Harvest Monday: August 8, 2011

Each Monday, Daphne’s Dandelions hosts “Harvest Monday” where everyone can share links to their harvest for the week. It’s fun to see what everyone is harvesting from his or her gardens in different areas. Below are some harvests this past week:

First San Marzano Tomato


Zucchini, Yellow Summer Squash, and Japanese Eggplant

Zucchini, Japanese Eggplant, and Cucumbers

Raspberries (most are not photographed and get eaten on the spot)

Be sure to visit Daphne's Dandelions to see what others are harvesting this week.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Update on the Garden

Nothing big to harvest for this last Harvest Monday but things are growing really well. Overall, the garden is still running a bit behind than last year.

The yellow summer squash and zucchini paused for a bit during our heat wave a few weeks ago allowing us to catch up on consuming and preserving the first round of fruit. They are just beginning to ramp up again and I suspect I will be harvesting more by the end of this weekend:

Yellow Summer Squash

The rest of the squash took advantage of the warm weather and produced numerous fruit and spread their vines far and wide.




I thought these bush beans would finish producing once the squash needed the room, but as you can see they are only forming blooms now and the squash has already invaded. Rarely do my plans work out, as the garden seems to have a mind of its own.

Royal Burgundy Bush Beans

There are some beets next to the beans that will also soon be overwhelmed. I think I will harvest them this week. They are still small, but I think they will be good roasted with other root vegetables.

Chioggia Beets

I spent this morning trimming the tomatoes and culling out the fruit that had developed BER during our heat wave. Thankfully, only the newly developed fruit was affected, the older fruit is still ok.

All my tomatoes are showing signs of some sort of leaf spot disease, which is not unusual this time of year. I mulch to reduce soil splash and trim off affected leaves as the growing season progresses. That was when I discovered this:

First San Marzano Tomato

The official first tomato of the season! As I looked around, I saw others too were blushing and ready to turn red:

Roma Tomato

I also found a few of these:

Small Hornworm


The peppers loved the hot temperatures and are producing really well. I am thankful because I am only growing half of what I planned on because of germination issues:

It looks like we will be enjoying some fresh salsa soon.