Late fall in the garden

IMG_8111This update is a little late but if you are wondering how the garden is coming along, here it is!  When we finally had our hard frost a few weeks ago, I went out and spent the day cleaning and harvesting what I could.

IMG_8112In my effort to add visual interest, I have added a bottle tree and the white metal baskets are a project in the works.

IMG_8118Our hens have really helped us improve the soil and control insects.  These are two of our young hens; a Black Australorp and an Americauna, who is also our only green egg layer.

IMG_8121She really is a sweet bird but she is also a bit shy and the other hens tend to bully her a bit.

IMG_8122These are a couple of the old girls.  We brought our Golden Laced Wyandottes with us when we moved here from Virginia.  They aren’t laying much anymore now that they are over 2 years old but they still help out by providing us with manure and by eating insects.

IMG_8120The iridescent feathers on the Australorps are beautiful when the sun hits them.  The hens wander the outside of the garden in their tunnels and they are safe from hawks and our plants are safe from the hens!

IMG_8132This pretty lady, an argiope aurantia or yellow garden spider, was hanging out in the carport until we moved her to the garden.  She quickly settled in and stayed out there until the hard frost.

IMG_8137Because I was curious, I looked up information about her and discovered that this little brown ball is actually an egg sac.  Each one can contain about a thousand live babies who will over winter in the sac.  As I cleaned up the bed of flowers where she was living, I discovered three of these egg sacs!  In the hope of having another spider or two next year, I carefully moved the sacs and placed them in the beds with our fig trees.

IMG_8127Early in the spring, I planted a number of perennial flowers and herbs around the garden.  At that time, I also planted an artichoke.  It has gotten large and if it survives the winter, I am hoping for chokes!

IMG_8125Cabbage heads are looking good.

IMG_8126We harvested most of the broccoli for Thanksgiving dinner and froze what we did not cook.  Because we only cut the top heads off, we left the plants in the ground so that they would produce side shoots of smaller heads.  If all goes according to the plan, we will be picking broccoli through the winter.

IMG_8124When we were in Virginia, I planted Tokyo market turnips for the first time.  They are smaller than the typical turnips found in grocery stores.  At last check, they were nearing maturity and I am looking forward to roasting a few!

IMG_8141Cardoon looks a lot like an artichoke.  The difference, chokes or the flower, are the only edible part of an artichoke while both the flower and the stalk are edible on a cardoon.  Actually, the stalk is more commonly consumed and it requires a long simmer to soften the extremely tough fibers.

IMG_8143The stalks look like celery on steroids and they are just as tough as you would imagine.  And then there are the spines; they are every bit as sharp as they look!

IMG_8147Handle the stalks with care and be sure to cut them off before you try to cut and cook the stalks.

IMG_8117All around the garden are little pops of color in the form of violas, one of my favorite plants.

IMG_8131Love this color combination.

IMG_8129Part of the clean up meant gathering tomatoes, both ripe and green.  If you are considering planting tomatoes, give these little yellow gems a try.  They are called Barry’s Crazy Cherry and they can be found in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog.

IMG_8149Late in spring, we put a watermelon plant into the garden.  Hoping for a few melons to share with the hens, we were disappointed by how slowly the plants grew.  This was the largest of three melons.  The first one that we cut into was white inside, it became some really nice pickles.  The other two are still waiting to be cut and we are hoping for better luck!

 

hypertufa pots and a garden tour

IMG_7925One of the best decisions I have ever made was to become a Master Gardener.  Not only have I learned a lot about the hows and whys of all things gardening, I have had a chance to make wonderful friends!  Earlier in the summer, I was talking with a fellow MG member and I mentioned that I really wanted to learn how to make hypertufa pots and that I was more than willing to plan a get together at my home with some of our gardening friends.  It was if the walls, or maybe the hostas were listening in on my plans because as quickly as I mentioned this, we learned that one of our fellow MG members was offering a tufa pot workshop in her backyard.  Needless to say, I quickly signed up for the class!

Georgeann may be known for her love of hostas and her beautiful garden (watch this episode of Volunteer Gardener for more information) but in our circle, she is well known for her knowledge and craftwork with hypertufa.  If you are not familiar with hypertufa, it is a mixture made from peat moss, portland cement and vermiculite and when it is completely cured, it is just as strong and durable as cement but not nearly as heavy.

IMG_7926IMG_7927IMG_7928IMG_7929Making the mixture is fairly easy, it takes a little elbow grease but it is not at all difficult to make.  In a large container with a wide opening, combine 3 parts peat moss, 3 parts vermiculite and 2 parts portland cement.  For extra strength and durability, you can throw a handful or two of fiberglass reinforcing fibers.  Add water to the container and mix it until it is moistened but holds its shape-refer to the photos above.  Do not do this with bare hands!!! (nevermind Georgeann’s bare hands, she warned us about the consequences)  Portland cement can be a bit caustic and it will dry your skin to the point of irritation.

IMG_7922Select a mold with a wide opening and grease the inside with spray or a thin coat of shortening.  Line it with a couple of plastic bags or a sheet of plastic drop cloth.  Do not worry about the crinkles and wrinkles, they will add texture to the pot.

IMG_7923Press handfuls of the mixture into the bottom so that it is at least an inch and a half thick.  Using your fingers, make a hole for drainage.  Keep building up the sides so that they are at least an inch thick but when it comes to the top edge, make it a little thicker and rounded so that it is stronger.  Let it cure, out of direct sun-in full shade, gently lift the plastic sheet to remove the pot from the mold after a day or two.  At this point, you can carefully shape the edges or carve designs into the surface of the pot.  Use a metal brush or a file to sand the edges and small chisels for the carving.  Replace it into the mold to finish curing.  You want to do this to ensure that you can get it out of the mold at all-a lesson I learned the hard way!

Allow the pot to dry in the mold for at least a week and then pull it out and peel off the plastic liner.  Keep the pot in the shade to finish the curing and it is best to keep it slightly moist and wrapped in plastic.  The longer and slower the curing process is, the stronger the pot will be.

IMG_7937If you walk around Georgeann’s garden, you will find tufa pots.  This one is home to just one of many hosta plants.

IMG_7938The pots are very durable and can even spend the winter outdoors.  Even though the cement mixture is on the alkaline side, plants can thrive in them and so can moss.

IMG_7939The moss is a plus in my opinion, I just love the character it adds to the pots.

IMG_7934As a beekeeper, I love seeing Vitex (Chaste Tree) in gardens.

IMG_7936All through the garden, I found little surprises like this mosaic of a Blue Jay.

IMG_7940And this Earth ball.

IMG_7941The waterfall is actually a water feature that recirculates but it is no less beautiful than a real stream!

IMG_7942Of course, there are plenty of Hostas to admire, too!

IMG_7946As much as I love Hostas, I really love Hydrangeas!

IMG_7949Arbors are everywhere in the garden.

IMG_7950Another of Georgeann’s tufa pots, this time it is a trough.  Remember what I said about the crinkles and wrinkles in the plastic liner?  They really do add a lovely texture to the finished pot.  IMG_7953Everywhere you look, there is something to see, and in my case, covet!

IMG_7954Don’t you just love this little cottage?

IMG_7956IMG_7957IMG_7959This swing is hidden from view in most of the yard but I was still hesitant to sit on it for fear of acting like a child…

IMG_7961If this were my garden, I have a feeling that I would be spending a lot of time sitting out in front of the cottage at this table.

IMG_7962Caladiums are quickly becoming one of my favorite plants to add color to a shade garden.

IMG_7964This stone sits at the start of the path that leads up to the cottage and if you ask me, it is an accurate description of Georgeann’s garden.

IMG_7970So the moral of this story; if a Master Gardener opens their home to you, go!  You really have no idea what you will discover or learn until you walk through someone’s garden and I am genuinely grateful that I had the chance to spend a morning exploring this beautiful garden.  And in case you were wondering, there was definitely cake; I brought my Guess Again Tomato Cake and the recipe will be posted soon!

Gardening with water runoff in a stream and pond

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Living in a mountain setting generally means having to manage storm runoff at times.  Luckily for my mother, the previous owner of the property finished drainage ditches with stones.  For the most part, all she needs to do is keep them clear of weeds and debris.  However, she is currently recovering from a bad fall and cannot get out into the ditches to do the work.  If you look at the slide show above, you can see how badly one small section of the stream and the pond filled in with forget me nots.  As is with all weeds, digging them out is best and I filled the bushel basket I was using about 6 times with plants pulled out from the stream and another two or three times with the plants growing in the pond.

Once everything was cleaned out, I reopened the trench that runs down the hill to the pond and began contouring the sides of the stream bed with rocks.  If there was one thing I did not need to worry about, it was having enough rocks to do this.   Never in all of my years of gardening have I encountered such a large amount of rocks in the ground and it made the work challenging.

Once I had the stream bed finished, I started adding plants for color.  Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’, is such a dainty little plant that will not reseed vigorously but will grow near stream beds.   Did you know that this plant is not actually grass?  True fact; it is a member of the iris family and my guess is that is why it likes to be near water.

After clearing out the stream bed, it was so muddy and barren that I decided to try some plants that I know will spread; Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ (commonly called Bugleweed) and Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (commonly called Creeping Jenny). Only time will tell if they also enjoy frequently moist soil.  After just over a week, both are showing some growth.

IMG_7620Let me just say that I am not a landscaping expert.  My first idea was to shingle the rocks starting at the top.  The thought was that the flow of water would be slowed down from hitting the cracks and crevices created by the rocks.  It did slow the water but it also created many little pools of water and as I stood out there in a down pour watching, I realized that I needed to try it in reverse order.

IMG_7665Because I had previously hauled all of the rocks to the stream, reversing them was a fairly quick task.  For my second attempt, I started at the bottom and shingled them upwards.  So far, it seems to work better but I suspect that in time, I will have to come back and truly dig out the stream bed to create a deeper channel that I can line with rocks.  For now, this works.

IMG_7642As I gathered rocks, I tried to pick them for shape and color but also for moss.

IMG_7638Lichen also makes nice markings on the rocks.

IMG_7636Because this is a mountain stream, mosses were a must and there is also no shortage of it here.

IMG_7667By carefully digging out small ferns, I was also able to add them to the rocks.

IMG_7625Once the stream was finished, I began working on the pond area.  The person who built the stream bed had it all flow down hill into a small pond which acts as a basin to hold most of the water.  The area is terraced and has a dry bed as well as a wet bed where the water from the stream flows in.  Almost the entire yard is shaded or has dappled sun light which makes it easy to use plants like hostas but beware, deer will eat them and the pond is fenced in to keep them out.IMG_7645The flowers on shade plants generally are not as showy as their sunny counterparts.  This tiny spike of pink blooms on the Tiarella Pink Skyrocket, commonly called Foamflower, it your reward for taking the time to look closely at the plants in the garden.

IMG_7676If you recall, about a year ago, I posted here about my mother’s garden.  In that piece, I mentioned how she is a gardener of things rather than plants.  This meant that I spent some time rearranging the statues in the garden as well.

IMG_7623In the wet area of the pond, I had the chance to plant some water lovers; Iris versicolor Blue Flag and Iris sibirica Sparkling Rose.  Keeping them company is a Ligularia stenocephala Little Rocket (commonly called Leopard plant or Ragwort), Lobelia speciosa Vulcan Red (commonly called Cardinal Flower),  Pulmonaria Raspberry Splash (commonly called Lungwort), Phlox divaricata Blue Moon (commonly called Wild Sweet William or woodland phlox) and Astilbe chinensis v. taquetii Purple Candles.IMG_7628One of the surprises in the yard is the large quantity of native Jack in the Pulpits growing.  With a small trowel, I carefully dug a few smaller specimens up and moved them into the wet area as well and near the center of the photo, you can see the trio of leaves from a single plant.

IMG_7649Ligularia in bloom makes a statement and is large enough to be easily seen from the deck.

IMG_7647The pulmonaria and the phlox have adapted well to their new homes.

IMG_7651The cardinal plant has show quite a bit of new growth; the bright green leaves will turn darker with age.

IMG_7674This is the first time I have tried gardening in my mother”s yard and everything I have planted is an experiment.  Between the growing conditions and the deer, I am hoping for success.  After seeing the amount of growth on this Cardinal plant in just one week, I am encouraged!

IMG_7680Whoever did all of the stone stacking and terracing gets the blue ribbon!  When the stream empties into the pond, it comes over this pile of rocks and collects in the basin which is lined with cement.  Years of water have led to lots of ferns, moss and lichens but I think I like the reflection best.

IMG_7682On my next visit, I hope to bring help with me along with a mattock; that hose needs to go!

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there’s gnome place like home…

IMG_7587Long story short, I am staying with mom while she recovers from a fall.  While out in the yard, she fell, broke her leg and had to have a rod inserted to support the bone.  Thankfully, she is well on her way to returning to normal but it will take some time and for the next few weeks, I will be here doing all of the things she cannot do and some of the things she does not care to do, like baking cookies.

IMG_7600Leaving my garden for a month was rough.  We had really just begun to get the summer crops in and there is still much to do to eradicate the bermuda grass.  Here in PA, spring is still in the air and the trees have only recently leafed out.  In case you haven’t visited this blog before, I have posted photos of my mother’s yard before.  In her community, deer are prevalent, and as a matter of fact, there are several grazing in the yard as I write this.  Because they eat everything, including plants that they shouldn’t, mom gardens with things rather than plants.  As you walk the yard, little statues and hidden treasures will become obvious.  Of course, gnomes have a mind of there own and we never quite know where they will pop out and surprise you.  Standing stock still and looking like a statue, you will almost think that someone placed them there on purpose…

IMG_7602Moss grows all over the yard because it is shady and moist.  This little cherub spends his time watching the yard but if he knows what the gnomes are up to, he isn’t telling anyone.  He sits and stares in disbelief as raccoons and squirrels come to the basin to drink water.

IMG_7604This little guy seems to be guarding the front door.  We throw peanuts to him from the deck but he usually lets the squirrels eat them.

IMG_7607The yard is so lush and green right now that the only color that pops out is red.

IMG_7611All over the yard are these tiny blue blossoms, wish I had my wildflower book with me!

IMG_7612When you walk the yard, you really need to watch where you are going, it is easy to step on the residents.  This moon face greets all that visit the pond.IMG_7617It must be nice to have the time to lounge in the woods all day.

IMG_7576Mom is not a big fan of chocolate so I made a batch of crispy lemon cookies with a small amount of anise seeds thrown in for fun.  Since I do not have my cookbooks here to flip through, I used this recipe from Taste of Home magazine.  They really are crispy and for the most part, I followed the recipe except I used fresh lemon zest instead of the extract, threw in a half teaspoon of anise seeds and scooped them out with a #70 scoop.  Because I am unfamiliar with the oven here, I lowered the baking temp to 375 which allowed them to spread out nice and thin but I did have to increase the baking time by 2-3 minutes.  The review, mom tested and mom approved; this recipe is a keeper!

Happy baking and gardening and if I were you, I would keep an eye on those gnomes-just leave them a cookie every now and then, that should keep them happy…

 

latest news from the garden

IMG_7534We have been hard at work building our new garden.  Actually, we have been engaged in a war with bermuda grass and right now, we are barely hanging on to the lead in this battle!  Despite using lots of cardboard and wood chips, this stuff finds a way to break out and sprout up everywhere.  Luckily, there is no shortage of cardboard or wood chips as well as my stubborn determination!

Because of the density of the grass layer, we have turned to a favorite method of building beds and have begun layering materials on top of it rather than break our backs and knees with digging and sifting.  The blue tubs each have a sweet potato plant and we are hoping that we will have good luck with this method.  In the empty beds, I have layered horse manure, leaves and grass clippings and I will cover the area with cardboard and use purchased organic soil to grow in.  Eventually, the layers will compost and the cardboard will disintegrate leaving us with a nutrient rich layer of soil to garden in.  Patience is key here because this will take at least a year to accomplish and if all goes well, it will also smother out the bermuda grass in the beds.  Otherwise, I will have to dig it out because using something like glyphosate is not an option-read this to see just how bad the stuff is!

IMG_7536In late winter, I started a few beds by broadcasting a bunch of seeds over them.  In this bed, the Chinese Cabbages are doing really well and we should be harvesting them soon!

IMG_7539These Tokyo Market turnips are a favorite of ours and we are harvesting them about once a week.  They are wonderful when roasted and the greens are tender enough that you just have to saute them, no boiling necessary!

IMG_7541In a nearby bed, I threw in lettuce seeds, obviously too many but, we have had tons of lettuce to eat and to share.

IMG_7545We purchased about a dozen broccoli plants and we have been eating it roasted and in salads.  Did you know that you can harvest those large leaves and eat them too?  We have done this on many occasions making the individual plants twice as productive.  Use the heads and some of the stems raw in salads and slaws or roast the florets with a little oil and your favorite spice blend.  The leaves should be blanched first to soften them, then saute them with a little garlic, you won’t regret it.

IMG_7554Who doesn’t love surprises?  Especially if it is a raspberry bush-we have found two so far!

IMG_7556Of course, we learned of the muscadines from a neighbor and earlier this spring, we gave them a hard pruning to alleviate some of the weight and shading on the vines.  New vines have erupted and we are starting to see the promise of fruits.

IMG_7557Beyond the garden is an area where I am hoping to develop a meadow for bees and butterflies.  Right now, it is a tangle of weeds and in the middle, is what looks like a dandelion on steroids.  Goatsbeard, trogopogon dubius, is a type of salsify and is considered a weed.

IMG_7560It was disappointing to learn that it is an introduced species and not considered a beneficial addition to the landscape. But that seed head!

IMG_7550Then there is this guy, Hunky Dory the Americauna rooster we got in the latest brood.  He is a handsome fellow but a noisy one as well.  We gave him that name because he will crow to let us know that something is not up to his standards.  Not enough pellets; crow.  No water; crow.  Roosting bar fell down; crow.  Clock strikes 3am; crow…

IMG_7553Not only is it against the law, we do not want fertilized eggs or more chickens so the handsome fellow will be rehomed as soon as we can find a suitable situation.

To keep up with the happenings here, sign up for emails.  Happy Gardening!

building garden beds from the soil up

img_7420Although the space we have fenced in was once the site of a very successful garden, it hasn’t been maintained in years.  Then as if to add insult to injury,  some thoughtful person seeded it heavily with Bermuda Grass.  Really heavily-inches thick on top with roots half a foot deep.  What a nightmare!!!  We started the process of building the beds today and in 4 hours time, we only finished 3 (4’x4′) beds.  This is going to take a while to do and we may not have much of a garden this spring.

The first thing we did was to outline the beds with string.  Using shovels, Darry flipped the top 8 inches of soil and we spent a lot of time shaking out the roots to save the soil and remove the Bermuda Grass roots and rhizomes.  Along the way, we threw many larvae, worms and beetles at the chickens who were watching our every move! img_7426My good friend and fellow Master Gardener Shirley always tells me that Bermuda Grass is meaner than a snake and if you try to rip it out, it gets even meaner.  She is absolutely right about that!  Each jointed area is a node and it has the potential to become a complete plant.  It isn’t enough to just pull it out, you must remove all of the little pieces or you will have lots of new little plants!  We spent at least an hour sifting the soil as we turned it to remove as many little pieces as we could.

img_7428Once the soil was prepped, we spread the contents of a bag of Black Cow Composted Manure over the surface.  We didn’t have much to work with and bit the bullet and purchased a bunch of bags to use.  As far as purchased compost goes, this stuff works pretty well.  We then cut used leaf bags to cover the surface of the bed.  Our hope is that the paper will help cut back on the weeds and Bermuda Grass from sprouting in the beds.

img_7429Since we haven’t found an arborist to supply us with wood chips yet, we are using a combination of cardboard and leaves to control the Bermuda Grass in the walkways.  Free leaves and cardboard make this project a lot more affordable and keep stuff from going to landfills.

img_7431We purchased a dozen broccoli starts to test our method.  To plant each start, I cut an “X” in the paper and folded the pieces underneath to create a hole.  Then I used my hands to make a hole and plant each start.

img_7432It isn’t the prettiest bed I have ever seen but it should work!

img_7433We are also without rain barrels which means using city water and decided to top each square with straw.  If all goes well, this layer of straw will help conserve the water so that we do not have to pay Metro for tap water.  The added bonus, the paper and straw will also break down over time and help improve the soil.

Be sure to visit the blog regularly to see the progress of our new garden.

just another sunday in the chicken coop

img_7335About a month ago, our chickens came home from their temporary location.  We decided to put the coop within the garden so that they can help us with insect control and composting and more importantly, to keep the dog away from their droppings-we won’t discuss her disgusting taste in snacks…

Although they are fairly safe in the garden since it is fenced in, hawks are still a threat and we knew we would have to spend some time building a large pen and tunnels.  Neither of us is particularly handy in a construction manner, but despite this, we were able to build the structures from PVC pipe, poultry netting, 2×3 wire fencing, lawn staples and cable ties.

img_7336The garden itself is approximately 38 feet wide by 94 feet long, which makes it about 3500 square feet.  That gave us plenty of room for the coop and pen as well as the tunnels.  The first thing I did out there was dedicate an area for composting and it is just behind the wheel barrow.

While we worked on things, the chickens explored the entire garden.  After being confined to the coop for two months, they wandered all over, pecking and scratching and searching for bugs.

 

They also discovered my compost pile.  Those feet move fast-they scattered the compost all over and after raking it back in place half a dozen times, we had to build a barricade.

img_7367It took us an entire weekend to paint the PVC, build the hoop frame and cover it with the poultry netting.  Knowing that we can leave them outside during the day without worrying about hawks.  The large pen has another purpose; we will store leaves in there and the chickens will help us compost them.  They constantly dig in the leaves which helps break them up and because the leave droppings as they go, the nitrogen in them will also help with the composting process.  It takes at least six months to break them down so we will have to be patient.

img_7385The hoops are attached to the coop so that we can leave their door open to give them access to the pen.

img_7369If the chickens are going to help with insect control in the garden, they need to be able to walk through it but unfortunately, they could run into hawks and more importantly, they would make a mess of the beds.  The  solution; tunnels.  We built them in Williamsburg so that they would have more space to roam and when we moved, we took them apart and moved them with us.

img_7375Starting at the far end of the pen, we are running the tunnels down the fence line and around the exterior edge of the garden.  We may still let them out into the garden occasionally but not with out supervision.

img_7371We attached the fence hoops to the wire fencing with cable ties.

img_7373To keep them in place on the ground, we used lawn staples.

It didn’t take them long to figure it out-they spent the afternoon in the tunnels eating as much of the green grass and weeds as they could find.

Rainy with a chance of mushrooms

img_7202We have grown mushrooms on many occasions.  The kits available make it easy to grow shiitake, oyster and buttons but for serious hobbyists, purchasing innoculated plugs and loose spawn are the preferred methods.  Last year in the spring, Darry innoculated some oak logs with shiitake plugs and 16 months later, we are harvesting mushrooms for the first time here in Virginia.  It takes a long time for the mycelium to spread out within the log and when conditions are right, it produces fruit; mushrooms are the fruit of the mycelium.

img_7204Fresh shiitake look very different from the ones commonly found in the supermarket.  Notice the shaggy appearance of the cap?  It was surprising to me as well-I forgot about that!

img_7207While many mycelium grow in wood, many more grow in the ground.  The mycelium for a web that spreads out under the soil surface and when the conditions are right, mushrooms pop up.  Right now, stink horns are popping up all over the ground under our crape myrtle and in areas of our former vegetable garden.  They are bright orange and are the subject of more than a few less than “tasteful” jokes in our yard.  The greenish-brown top has a strong odor which attracts flies who in turn, spread the spores of the fruit.  Without flies, these stink horns would not be able to reproduce.

img_7212Stink horns are very fragile and do not last long.  They come up early in the morning and by late afternoon, this is what they look like.  The good news, mushrooms growing in the garden is not a bad thing.  Not only are they good at helping to compost things like wood, they can also improve the soil in the garden and increase the yields of vegetable plants.  When you see them growing in the garden, leave them there and enjoy the benefits of the mycorrhizae-the symbiotic association of the mushroom mycelium and the roots of plants as they grow in the same space.

img_7218Along with the stink horns, our former garden is full of these fragile mushrooms.  They are rather small, notice the blades of grass?  And just like the stink horns, they do not last long and are generally gone by late afternoon.  The mycelium for this mushroom is all over the garden area.  They came up in beds and walkways and all over the front yard.  We let them do their thing and left them to break down in the beds.  This spread the spores and allowed them to spread and it also helped to improve the soil.  If you are looking for good, organic garden soil, be sure to grab a bag with mycorrhizae in it and see the difference it makes when you have active and living soil in your garden!

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baking from the garden; cucumber bread

IMG_6786Gardeners have preferences when it comes to the plants chosen each season and I am no different than most.  In my flower beds, I always include a mix of herbs and edible flowers as well as those that will attract beneficial insects and help repel the destructive ones.  My vegetable garden follows the same plan and tucked in between the crops are many of those same herbs and flowers.  Companion planting is another of my strategies in the garden but honestly, I haven’t seen a huge improvement by following the does and the don’ts of plant location.

This year, like every other year, I have planted cucumbers in my garden.  The selection of varieties chosen include Marketmore (both #70 and #76), Homemade Pickles, Charming White, Lemon and Tendergreen.  The weather pattern this summer has been challenging and while none of my squash plants survived and produced fruits, the cucumbers have done well, at least, two varieties have.  Homemade Pickle plants produced enough cukes that I have completely stocked my pantry with pickles and relish and I have enough gathered now to make one last batch of relish.

Making salads with cucumbers is another one of my favorite summer activities.  While I enjoy adding slices to green salads or just mixing the slices with a little rice wine vinegar, honey and chili flakes, I decided to try something different.  With more Tendergreen Cukes than I could eat, I thought about a loaf of bread and what it might be like with cucumber puree in it.

IMG_6790The previous photo is a Homemade Pickle and this one is Marketmore #76.  In the past, Marketmore #76 has been a great producer, this year, not so much.  My thoughts are that the weather has affected the yield but more importantly, I think the soil is still lacking.  If you have been following this blog, you are aware that we started this garden from the ground up two years ago and this is the first year that we are planting in the ground.  Lots of layering with materials such as compost, leaves, coffee, chicken litter from our hens and eggshells has greatly improved the structure but I think it needs to be amended further and turned as well as given a season off to let the nitrogen levels fix.

IMG_6792The tendrils are amazingly strong and these plants would sprawl out all over if I give them a chance.

IMG_6769For my first batch, I peeled, seeded and pureed some cukes.  The pale green liquid was added to a hard roll recipe and the dough was shaped into batards.  My thought was to keep it simple and I added a few dill seeds to the mix.

IMG_6775Once baked, it was nearly impossible to see that the cucumbers had an effect on the dough.  The interior of the loaf is nearly white and the crumb is a tiny bit compact.  Not the results I was hoping for but still a good loaf of bread.

IMG_6780After giving it some thought. I started a second batch of dough using a different recipe.  For this batch, I left the skin on the cukes but removed the seeds before pureeing.  The liquid was a much darker shade of green and had little flecks of skin in it.  For the dough itself, I settled on a recipe that used a Poolish style starter to develop more flavor in the dough.  After letting the flour, water and yeast mixture age overnight, I mixed the dough using a method that does not include kneading the dough.

There are several good books out there that use this method but I chose to follow the Country Loaf recipe found in Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and found here in this New York Times Recipe.  To clarify, I did not use his recipe, just his method for mixing, shaping and baking the dough.

IMG_6781As you can see, the inclusion of skin gave the dough a good amount of green color.  The little flecks of skin provide some visual interest and a little texture, as well.

IMG_6799Using a lovely little banneton mold that my husband gave me, I was able to give the loaf a nice spiral pattern on the surface.

IMG_6806As you can see, the interior has a tint of green to it and a few green specks here and there.  The crust baked up crisply and it tasted wonderful while still a little warm.  The problem, it just didn’t taste like cucumber, at least not while it was warm.  Once the loaf cooled and sat for several hours, the flavor of caramelized flour and dough from the crust of the bread was no longer the predominant flavor.  The subtle, earthy and almost sweet, flavor of the cucumbers was fairly obvious.

This loaf recipe is a work in progress and if all goes well, it will be part of my next book.  Until then, I will have to make more bread and test it for flavor and color, and you will have to forgive me for not including a recipe that is only half done!

latest news from the garden

IMG_6810In the beginning of the spring, I was so hopeful that the garden would be producing enough vegetables to feed us for the year.  Quite a few of the results are in and thanks to a cool, wet spring and a hot, humid summer (all above the norm), we would go hungry if the garden was our main source of vegetables.  So many plants did not come close to expectations.  Just about all of my squash plants rotted away from the moisture and the sole survivor has yet to produce a single squash that did not rot.  Eggplants are struggling, barely producing and so are the peppers.

Having no choice but to remove my tacky string fence to keep out the deer, I have had to watch my 20 tomato plants get munched away.  While they are still trying to set fruit, almost none of them have except for a few.  The Gold Berries are one of the only plants producing fruit.

IMG_6811These are small cherry tomatoes, about an inch in diameter and they are a little on the tart side.  The color is what I really love; that brown blush at the top, so unusual and so pretty!

IMG_6815The color develops as the fruit grows rather than as it ripens.  In technical terms, the color is on the “shoulders” of the fruit.  Whatever you prefer to call that area, the seeds are available from my favorite source of heirloom seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

IMG_6816One of the only other plants with fruit is the Chocolate Pear.  What happened to these fruits is a mystery.

IMG_6830Garlic chive blossoms are so delicate but beware, if you let them flower, they will reseed and you will have chives everywhere.  Honeybees like them so I am leaving these flowers in place, yes, I like to live dangerously and I ain’t afraid of plucking plants…

IMG_6823While wandering the garden, I was surprised to find a Charentais melon.  Unlike the squash plants, the melons in my front bed have been sprawling out.  With any luck, we will get more than one.

IMG_6824Near the Charentais is another variety called Golden Crispy.  Having never had one, I cannot tell you anything about it but we have several fruits on the vine and I will have to wait patiently for them to mature.

IMG_6820If you take a moment to look in all of the carrots and parsley, you will find swallowtail caterpillars.  Lots of them actually, probably about two dozen or so out there now.  We have a variety of swallowtail butterflies that visit the garden; zebra, tiger and spicebush swallowtails are abundant but these are zebra swallowtail caterpillars.

IMG_6827The biggest surprise of the day was spotting this monarch caterpillar on a swamp milkweed plant.  In the two years we have been gardening out front and with all of the butterfly plants we have added, we have seen so few monarchs.  Finding this caterpillar was like winning the lottery!

IMG_6829The abundant milkweed plants have also attracted this milkweed leaf beetle.  They look a little like a monster sized ladybug and mainly eat the leaves of the plant.

IMG_6825This butterfly weed, which is a native variety of milkweed, has set seeds and will soon explode and release them into the wind.

IMG_6826One of my favorite plants, Ironweed.  It too is a butterfly magnet, and I just love the color of the flowers.  When we had our home in Nashville, I planted Ironweed on a slope in the yard and it spread by reseeding.  With some luck, this will spread as well.

IMG_6828And another one of my favorites for attracting butterflies, Joe Pye Weed.  If you have an area that gets a lot of moisture and would like to try a rain garden, Joe Pye Weed can tolerate moist soil, a win-win!

As the season progresses, I will be sure to share more from the garden, stay tuned!