Friday, December 30, 2011

Short-Term Stored Foods at Year-End

Barely a week past the solstice, but the chickens can tell the days are already getting longer - two eggs yesterday, another one today. We last got eggs in mid-November. I had to buy eggs to make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, and another couple dozen since. But the girls are looking all new and fluffy-feathered once again, and coming back into production. Hooray!

I used the last of my stored eggplants when I made lasagne a couple of days ago. The stored zucchini are still holding very nicely. I cut, peeled and de-seeded, then shredded two-thirds of one - half going into the lasagne, and made zucchini brownies today with the other half. The shredded storage zuke was a bit drier than summertime ones, so I added a splash of milk to the recipe.

I still have a few Asian pears left in storage - probably enough for 2-3 more batches of muffins. Fresh tomatoes are still looking ok in the cellar, but the temps down there have now dropped to where they've pretty-much lost their flavor. They're still better than buying supermarket tomatoes, though. The last of the fresh bell peppers stored down there are getting rather wrinkly - but roasting them out on the grill and peeling them solves that problem.

The Walla Walla onions just barely made it through last fall's canning season, but they were so big it made processing easy. I still have some white Ringmasters left in storage. But maybe every third one of those has started to get soft in the center, so I'm watching those closely and using them up quickly now. The Red Zeppelins didn't get very big, but they're still storing nicely. And I haven't even started on the Copras. Last Spring's onion combination order has worked out very well.

I cut the last of the chard, kales, and broccoli a few weeks ago, before our nighttime temps dropped into single digits. Washed, dried, wrapped in dish towels, then bagged, they're stored in the refrigerator and still look as fresh as when I picked them. It's nice having some fresh greens to add to winter recipes. I left the plants out in the garden but everything, other than the leeks, is looking pretty shriveled out there now.

So, going into the new year, we'll finally be eating the traditional storage foods - apples, carrots, winter squashes, and cabbages (didn't get a potato or beet crop this year), fermented stuff (sauerkraut and pickles), and our dehydrated, frozen, and home-canned fruits and veggies. Life is good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sunshine Hot Sauce

I plant one Habanero chile plant each summer. The peppers are so hot that I don't need very many - enough for a batch of hot sauce, a few more to freeze, and then a few to hang in a little ristra to dry, to grind into powder. I've learned that even those I have to harvest green, if full-size, can be left out on the counter in a bowl and will ripen to orange.

This past summer my one plant did really well, for my climate, anyway. My hot sauce recipe makes 1 quart but this year I had enough Habaneros for all my own uses plus a second quart of sauce. I just reuse the same bottles for my own hot sauce, but needed to find some way to package that second quart to give away as Christmas gifts. I found a bottle company on-line here, and ordered a case of 12 5-ounce sauce bottles plus the drip shaker inserts, tax and delivery, for $20.

I sterilized and filled 6 bottles, storing the other half-case for the next time I get a bumper crop. Since the sauce is such a pretty yellow-orange color, I decided to call it Sunshine Hot Sauce (not quite as hot as the sun, but close), and created a label to fit on 2" x 4" shipping labels. The labels were a little taller than the flat side of the bottles, so they're pleated a bit on the curves top and bottom, but I like the way they look. In fact, a couple of the people I've given them to are amazed when they realize that it's something I made myself, instead of a professional company product.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Crafty Hostess Gift

 I've been learning a bit about beading and some simple jewelry-making techniques, and acquired a couple starter tools. I've also been invited to quite a few holiday functions this month at people's houses, and don't like going empty-handed. Now I'm the type of party-goer that wanders about, working the room, talking to lots of folks. I often set my wine glass down, forget about it for a while, and then wander about trying to remember where I last had it. So I love the idea of wine charms - little decorative rings that hook around the stem of the the glass, each one different, so people like me know when I've found my own glass again. But the charms are not an item that every party host has.

So recently, when I saw some mini ornaments on sale in my local crafts store, it gave me an idea for a crafty little hostess gift. Using a few glass beads, mini ornaments (in this case, colored jingle bells), and small earring hoops, I've been making wine charms to give my party hosts. I can put together a set of 8 charms in less than an hour. I enjoy a bit of quiet contemplative creative time. Everyone just loves getting them, and sets them out to use right then and there. And I haven't lost my glass at a party once this holiday season. Pretty crafty, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leaf Mold

I was out riding my bicycle around a quiet neighborhood of one-acre lots. As I rode past one house, with lots of lawn surrounded by big trees, an elderly couple was tossing puffy-full trash bags over their fence onto a huge pile on the side of the road. That looked like something I could use. I turned around and pedaled back to them.

"Are those leaves by any chance?" I asked. "May I have them?"

"Either you or the trash pickup, whichever gets here first," they replied.

"I'll be back with the truck. Oh, did you spray your trees with anything this year?"

Assured that the bags held only leaves, and that I'd be bringing no noxious chemicals back to my garden, I rode home smiling. Returning with the truck, I managed to get the entire pile, at least 25 big black trash bags, into the truck bed, piling them up, mashing and wedging bags in against the sides so as not to lose any as I drove home. What a treasure!

leaf mold bin in foreground, Aries & compost bin beyond
We're already making compost with our garden cleanup, the leaves from our trees, and the manure from cleaning out the chicken coop. I had something else in mind for these leaves - a batch of leaf mold.

Leaf mold is just leaves - piled up and left to decompose. To help them break down faster, we ran them through the shredder first. I made a round bin, about 3' tall and 3' across (it's best to have a pile at least 3' x 3'), with a length of wire fencing, lining it with some of the trash bags to keep the bits of leaves from falling through. First raking, then closing up the circle and shoveling, we filled the bin to the top. Using a small step ladder, I got into the bin, stomping round and round, packing the leaves down as Aries kept shoveling. With a bit of work, we got an entire piled-high truckload of leaves packed into the bin.
I got the hose, and soaked it all down, until water just started to run out the bottom. I live in the high desert, so to keep the leaves from drying out I covered them with more of the trash bags weighed down with bit of carpet and a slab of wood (winter storms can come through here with 60 mph winds). Last item was then to use a pitchfork to poke small holes in the plastic lining the bin. Some oxygen is necessary for the decomposition process.

Unlike the pathogen and weed seed killing heat of a properly made compost pile, making leaf mold is a cold process. Even so, a week later, the contents of my bin, six inches below the surface, pegged out a 125F thermometer. Left alone, leaf mold bins can take up to three years to break down to a dark, crumbly texture - a much slower process than composting. But by shredding the leaves and wetting them down well this bin might be ready by next summer.. And leaf mold, being made of only leaves, doesn't have the multitude of minerals and plant nutrients of compost either. But dug into a garden bed or used as mulch, it's great at retaining water. That's a necessity for my sandy soil and hot, dry growing season, but it can also soak up and hold the water in too-wet soils as well. It's also a great additive to a container potting mix. If you have or can get the leaves, have the room for a bin or two, and the time to let it break down, leaf mold can be a valuable addition to any garden.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pink Banana Squash Pie

Pink banana squash is the best large winter storage squash I've found for growing in my high desert climate. I have the room to let the vining variety ramble, but both the bush and the vining varieties set 10 - 20 pound fruit that has time to mature in my 110-ish day frost free season. And the pink banana will keep in storage, in a crate in a corner of my bedroom, for at least 6 - 8 months - long after all the delicatas and butternuts have been used.

Of course, once cooked, a big squash can provide more than a week's worth of meals - muffins, soups, and just mashed with a bit of butter on top. But one of my favorite ways, and especially for Thanksgiving, to eat pink banana squash is as pie. Pies made with pumpkin can have a bit of a greenish cast to them. But a pink banana pie turns out even tastier, with a beautiful brown color through and through.

 This year, for the first time in at least 15 years, I get to be a guest at a Thanksgiving dinner instead of the cook. I'd only need to prepare an appetizer (jalapeno pepper jelly poured over a block of cream cheese, served with whole wheat crackers) and a dessert. Of course, my dessert offering had to be pink banana squash pie. I wanted to make two pies, but I won't be in my own kitchen the next few days, to be able to deal with the extra squash pulp. So I picked one my smaller pink banana squash, small enough to fit in the dish drainer, to prepare.

First step in making pink banana pie is to cook the squash (don't have a pink banana? this recipe also works well with a butternut or pie pumpkin). Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Place, cut side up, in a large roasting pan and add an inch of water. Bake at 375F for 1 -2 hours, until squash is soft and browned (this banana squash took two hours). Scrape the flesh out of the peel for use, as is, in any recipe calling for pumpkin puree.

Pink Banana Squash Pie (one 9" pie)
Line a 9" pin tin with 1 prepared pie crust (your favorite recipe, or you can use a half-recipe of mine - flute the edge of the crust up above the edge of the pie tin. This recipe overfills a 9" pan by a bit, and it will puff up while cooking, then sink down as it cools)

2 cups cooked mashed squash
1 12 oz. can evaporated skim milk (or can use heavy cream, for a more decadent version)
2 eggs 
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon molasses or real maple syrup
⅛ teaspoon allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
(or can just substitute 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice for all the spices)

Blend all ingredients in a blender (in batches if necessary) or with a hand-held mixer. Pour into prepared raw crust and very carefully (it will be very full) transfer to 425F preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for another 45 minutes, or until a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Baked Cinnamon French Toast, Cinnamon Apples

I recently spent a Soroptimist "girls weekend getaway" in a vacation rental house up at South Lake Tahoe. Arranged by our District Director as a planning retreat for Club Presidents and Presidents-Elect, each club was responsible for one meal or snack. We were assigned Sunday breakfast, for eight.

the weekend was BYOB, and wine was pretty much the drink of choice

I figured our Saturday breakfast would probably be some kind of egg dish (and I was right). So I wanted to do something a bit different for Sunday. Looking through my recipes, I found one in an old Taste of Home magazine Collector's Edition that sounded good: Baked Cinnamon French Toast.

We got the coffee going, and set to work. My co-cook fried up some bacon, set the table, and opened the juice. I pretty much followed the recipe as written, my only change to use non-fat milk. It was easily enough for eight. It is a bit decadent for my usual cooking style, though. To make it a bit healthier, in the future, I'm thinking of tweaking the recipe a bit - trying non-fat creamer instead of the whipping cream, maybe eggbeaters or part egg whites for the eggs, and maybe Splenda instead of the sugar. If it still turns out ok, I'll repost with my adaptations.

Instead of the optional blackberry preserves and whipped cream however, I made cinnamon apples: Cut cored and peeled apples into bite-sized chunks - quarters or eighths depending on size. Pile them in a saucepan, add some brown sugar and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. Cover and cook on very low for about an hour, stirring maybe a time or two, until apples are tender but not mushy. Notice that there is no liquid added at all.

I'm happy to say that our breakfast was a hit with everyone - and planned just right: no leftovers.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Splint Mitten

Aries' injured finger is doing much better. He got the cast removed, and the stitches out. He now has a molded rigid plastic splint wrapping around his palm, held on with Velcro straps. He can remove the splint periodically to exercise the fingers, and is slowly regaining the ability to bend the joints. He can even tie his own shoes once again.

He's still off work, for at least another 3-4 weeks, maybe more. He finally got a short-term disability check (it's a really good idea when they suggest having at least 3 months liquid emergency savings - despite having medical insurance, we've had no income since the accident 6 weeks ago). He's now able to get out and do more around the house - bringing in firewood, running more garden gleanings through the chipper/shredder (get right back on that horse, so to speak), washing the vehicles, repairing the tire on the garden cart, etc. etc.

But it's cold outside, his damaged circulation and nerves just starting to repair themselves. And that plastic splint gets cold and then stays cold. He'd have to come back in, saying that hand was painfully cold. I could feel and see the difference between the damaged hand and the other - it didn't look good. Aries asked if I could make some kind of cover for the splint, to wear when he was outside. Ideally, it would be a bit stretchy, but still somewhat loose, so he could get it over the hurt finger without incurring more pain. He wanted something thick enough to be really warm, and tightly woven enough to stop the wind. It needed to stay on without him having to tug at it or keep readjusting it, but he wanted his index finger and thumb uncovered. And then his last request was that he didn't want anything "flashy."

I don't knit very well, but I do crochet. I looked through my yarn stash, and found some light gray and dark gray - crocheting the two strands together would give me a heathered gray look, almost like a sweatshirt - nothing flashy about that. A mitten shape would be warmest. I drew around the splint plus two smaller fingers for a rough pattern. Using a single crochet would make it tight enough to block the wind. I suppose I could have just crocheted around and around, increasing the rounds as needed until it was long enough (not sure why I didn't just do that). But instead I turned at the end of each row, making a flat shaped piece to size, and then folded it and crocheted a seam up one side and decreased around the top to fit over the splint. I added a few more rows on half, to cover his knuckles, and then chained a length from palm around his wrist to the top to hold it on. He secures the loop under the splint's Velcro strap on top of his hand, and pronounced it an unqualified success.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Interesting Discovery

We very rarely buy furniture new. Other than the electronics, just about all of our furnishings are second-hand or thrift shop finds, worn classics/antiques that Aries cleans up and refinishes, or pieces I sketch out and he makes for me.

We have an old floor lamp that I honestly can't even remember when or where I got it. I think it made the move from Colorado with me, 25 years ago, but I really don't remember. It's nothing special - probably from the 50's/early 60's, heavy round pedestal base, round wood-look pressboard table midway up the post - actually quite ugly, to tell the truth, but functional and a useful size.

Anyway, lately, the switch has been a bit temperamental, needing a bit of wiggling sometimes to get it to come on. Today, Aries took it out to the garage to see if it could be repaired. The connections inside the socket had worn out - easily fixed with a $4 replacement piece from the local home hardware supply store.

After we got the piece, he brought the lamp back in, and asked me where I'd gotten the lamp. I had to admit, "I honestly can't remember," I told him, "probably a freebie from helping somebody move - I really don't think I paid money for it," and asked why. "Look what I found," he said, and held out a capped, but obviously used, hypodermic needle with a piece of masking tape across it. Ewww!

He had been checking over the rest of the lamp's wiring for wear and tear. There was a piece of felt backing glued to the bottom of the base, but he noticed it had come loose near where the wire went into the brass base. Looking through the opening to check the wiring, he saw a bit of masking tape hanging down. When he pulled on the tape, out came the needle! He'd discovered someone's forgotten drug paraphernalia hiding spot. It's a bit creepy to think I've been moving that lamp around with me for years!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Figs in Northern Nevada

I got out today, and gathered up the rest of my hoses. It was windy, but not too cold, so the hoses were still somewhat pliable. I don't have room to store them inside anywhere, so I coil them up into piles on a couple of pallets on the north side of the shed, and then cover them with a tarp for the winter.

The storm moving in tonight was expected to bring rain, turning to snow before morning. I took a gamble, that it won't get too cold, and left the fig trees out. Please note: figs are not a normal plant for this area. I inherited my two potted trees about 10 years ago, and have been babying them ever since.

They can take temps down to about 25F before it kills the top growth. I know that because I lost the trunks once, but the roots survived. This time of year, I put the pots in the wagon and move them into the garage on the really cold nights. But all the nights are getting too cold now, and I need them to finally go dormant. I don't want to just pull the leaves off. I want to make sure the tree gets the signals that it's time to drop its leaves and shut down for the winter. Then I can move them down into the cellar until spring.

I'm also chancing losing my chard and kale, as I left them uncovered tonight too. They can take it down to about 25F as well, so I'll be checking the min/max thermometer first thing tomorrow morning. I'm hoping the cloud cover from the storm moderates the cold tonight.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Garden Update

We've shut down and drained the yard water system. I got some clean-up work done out in the garden this afternoon - rolling up hoses, stacking wire cages, and storing the metal stakes. I still have to figure out where to put the chicken wire I use to protect newly seeded areas, and still have hoses out around the fruit trees that need to be stored. Low temperature last night was 15F so I now have a few more dead plants to pull, but it's looking pretty good.

Aries has been filling up the compost bins - raking and shredding leaves as they fall, mixing them in with chicken manure. He has some finished compost for me too. I got half of next year's Early Bed composted and raked smooth last week. Today, I planted next year's garlic and shallots, and broadcast some arugula and spinach seeds to winter over.

In the Late Bed, I'm trying to stretch my fresh eating out of the garden a little bit longer. I leaned a couple of pieces of wire together above the Swiss chard, put tomato cages over the Tuscan kale, and a wire frame over the radicchio, and have been covering them when the temps drop into the teens. Rain, turning to snow, is forecast tomorrow evening into Friday. I think I'll pull the covers tomorrow, so everything can get watered and the draperies stay dry, and then put them back on Friday when it's supposed to get really cold for a couple more days. I thought about digging a few plants and putting them down in the cellar, but I don't want to take the chance of introducing an aphid infestation, so I'm not going to bother. I might get a few straw bales and rig up a cold frame out of some old windows though.

I harvested the last of the cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower, but left the plants. The cabbage stumps froze, but the others still look ok. I've made a note for next year that the leeks should be in the Late Bed instead of with the other alliums. They looked pathetic late this summer, after I broke off the seed stalks, but now they're gorgeous and just keep getting bigger. And they'll still be fresh eating, no problem, in February.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011

Demons keep moving - this place is already possessed.

No trick-or-treaters at all this year. Then again, the most we've ever had was nine one year; only two last year. We're a bit too rural for even the few families living nearby to bother with. Still, on Halloween I like having my lanterns out warding the door. The pumpkin seeds I soak in a salt brine overnight, to roast tomorrow. The pumpkin guts make a nice treat for my scruffy, post-molting poultry.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nevada Day 2011

On October 31, 1864, despite falling far short of the required number of residents, Nevada became the smallest territorial population to be recognized as a state. Towards the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln's political advisers thought that bringing another northern state into the Union would boost morale and add support for his re-election. In order to get the proposed state's Constitution to the President quick enough to be included in the national election, the document was transmitted by telegraph - the longest and most expensive transmission in history. Thus, Nevada became the "Battle Born" state (also called the Silver State, for the wealth of the Comstock Lode, as well as neighbor to the Golden State, California).

Nevada still celebrates its Admission Day, here in Carson City, the state capital. When I first moved here, it was still celebrated on October 31st; the local kids would trick-or-treat on October 30th to avoid being out on the streets after the adults had been partying all day. About 10 years ago, it was decided to move Nevada Day to the last Saturday in October to allow for easier attendance for those living farther away. This year, Aries isn't working, so he could join me out and about for the festivities.

The day starts early. Highway 50/395, the main drag through town running in front of the state Capitol, is closed off for blocks. Hot air balloons lift off in the still early-morning air, a pancake breakfast is served at the Governors Mansion, and the fun run finishes in front of the crowds awaiting the start of the parade.

The parade kicks off when real Top Gun fighter jets (based at the Fallon Naval Air Station, 50 miles east of here) do a flyby down the length of the parade route. The two-plus hours long parade entries run the gamut from politicians to local Cub Scout troops, Burning Man to the Bunny Ranch, and just about every school marching band in the state.

After the parade, per tradition, we head over to the Golden Nugget for the free Chili Feed, hosted this year by our Lieutenant Governor. This year, our chili was dished up by Josh Romney, son of presidential candidate Mitt Romney (Nevada is one of the early caucus states, the only one in the west, so most of the national campaigns already have a presence here, and in Las Vegas in the south).

After lunch plus some visiting with friends, we headed over to the Beard Contest in the Legislative Plaza between Capitol, Legislature, and the Supreme Court Buildings. That's always a rather raucous affair, especially the Virginia City contingent (that almost always gets the Most Bearded Community award).

After that, we wander through the crowd watching the hard rock single jack drilling contest - men pounding away for 10 minutes, with sledge hammer and drill bit to see who can drill the deepest hole in a block of granite - but that doesn't hold my interest for very long. The street party in front of the Old Globe Saloon is also hopping, but by now a bit too sloppy for my tastes. We decide to head over to the Governors Mansion for the open house. On the way, we stop by a private porch party, and visit some more - this really is still just a small town.

The line for the open house stretches most of a block, but moves quite quickly. Inside, Reno Rodeo Beauty Queens shake hands with Nevada's First Family, before it's our turn. The youngest daughter tells me she's going to be an angel for Halloween, as she hands me a commemorative coin.

Governor Sandoval has opened up the entire Mansion to the public for the day. A portrait of a clean-shaven President Lincoln hangs in the state dining room, set with silver cups and flatware made from ore from the Comstock mines. Boots, a tuxedo cat, sits in the Governor's office chair behind the desk, watching with typical cat-like aplomb as the crowd files through. The line snakes up the stairs, where we can peek into their private quarters as well. A desert tortoise lives in a terrarium in one child's bedroom; a guinea pig's cage is in one bathroom.

We make one last stop at the Brewery Arts Center to check out a Nevada artists' display and reception. It's been a long, but fun, day, and my feet are tired. We head over to where we parked the car early this morning, and head home.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ahhhh . . .

Don't you sleep better in a clean bed, after a nice warm bath?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bathtime for Boris; Monitor Pass Colors

It's that time of year. Boris, our German Shorthair pound hound, has been shedding quite a bit (and smelling rather doggy too). This morning, I decided it was bath day for Boris. I made a fire in the woodstove so it would be warm when we got out of the bathroom. Lots of treats, lots of towels to kneel on, and some tail-down shivering on his part (he's not a water dog), and I soon had a damp but sweet-smelling dog bouncing around the living room.

I wasn't done with those kneeling towels just yet. Of course, the bathtub then needed a good scrubbing. I soon had it shining once again. Since I was pretty much wet all down the front anyway, and had worked up a sweat scrubbing, I figured I needed a shower next (best way to make sure the tub was all rinsed down too).

Well, you can't have a clean dog sleeping in a grungy bed, can you? I bundled up all the mopping, sopping, and drying towels, along with his bed, and headed for the Laundromat. Some nice me-time for reading, and Boris soon had a fluffy clean bed.

Pictures of a wet dog or of a commercial washing machine tumbling round really aren't very interesting. So instead, I'm posting some photos from our day trip last week up Monitor Pass for some leaf-peeping. Boris loves when he gets to go places with us. He's such a great car dog, too. The truck has a little bench seat behind our seats. Boris sits behind Aries, so quietly (no panting, no pacing, just sits), and looks over Aries' shoulder or out his own little side window. With Aries off work until his hand heals, we're getting to do lots of the fall excursions we like but some years can't find the time. But with plenty of time this year, we timed it perfectly for the very peak of the show. It was a gorgeous day!

Aries' hand is doing pretty good. He got the stitches out a few days ago, and his splint reduced down to just his hand so he can now bend his wrist. He won't be released back to work until at least December. He got all his paperwork in for a Family Medical Leave of Absence (FMLA), and now we're in the 2-week waiting period before he starts getting temp-disability pay.

There's been a bit of adjustment to be made by both of us. Our grocery bill has gone up, since he's now eating breakfast and lunch at home instead of comp meals at work. But it's more than balanced out by the drop in the gas money, since he's not doing his 50-mile/day commute either. A happy re-discovery, a nice reminder, is just how much I really enjoy his company (after all, that is why I married him, 22 years ago this month). We each do have our own friends and things to do, but we're having fun spending lots of time together too.

For those of you reading this and thinking about a leaf-peeping outing this weekend: you may be a bit late for the high country this year. The past two nights, temperatures got down to 20F here at our house at 5,000'. A lot of our trees are now brown and the leaves are dropping. It's been dry, though, so you still could catch some good views. It would be perfect for the canyons and the California foothills though. Just don't wait much longer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wanna See a Bushy-Tailed Woodrat?

This is a bushy-tailed woodrat, minus half his tail. We found that a few days ago, stuck to a glue trap in the cellar (he'd chewed off his own tail to escape).

And this is what he's been doing to the fruit in my cellar:

You can read more about my vermin dilemma on my post on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op blog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Growing Okra in Northern Nevada

I usually start a couple of okra seeds inside in April, the same time I start my tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Sometimes they'll take forever to sprout, sometimes the seeds are up and growing quickly. Often they'll get too big and die back before the weather gets warm enough for them. The young plants are super-tender too. I've had little okra plants freeze inside their Wall-o-waters when nothing else was even fazed. They can really tricky to harden off and transplant even when the weather does warm up.

This spring, I started seeds twice, and both times they died before even making it into the garden. I just figured I wouldn't have any okra this year (again). Then, in early July, I had a bit of empty space after I cleared out some early greens. I thought I'd try direct-seeding six Clemson Spineless seeds - it was certainly hot enough by then that maybe they'd germinate outside. The seed packet said 60 days to harvest. If the fall freezes held off 'til mid-September, I just might get a few pods.

All six germinated, and grew quickly. By the end of September, I had a little over a quart of pods in the freezer - enough for maybe three batches of my favorite lentil & okra stew this winter. I was pleasantly surprised that I got anything at all.

The first week of October, when the night temps dropped into the 20's, I figured that was it. I picked all the okra pods, but didn't pull the plants. I figured I'd get around to it after they froze. They didn't freeze! The last cucumber and squash plants are all shriveled; the last bit of basil black and crispy; the tomato and chile plants are already in the compost bin. After struggling to keep the extremely tender young okra plants alive each spring, I'm amazed to see that these mature plants are STILL blooming and growing strong into late October. Who knew? From now on, okra will be a mid-summer into fall plant in this northern Nevada garden.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Green Beast Bit Aries

Our first hard freeze was looming last week, so it was time to bring in all the tender crops. Two days prior, I'd cut all the squash and cucumbers; the day before all the chiles, peppers, and eggplants. As I snipped apart tomato plants and hauled tubful after tubful of green tomatoes up to the house, Aries was busy clear-cutting the stripped-clean plants and hauling loads up to the chipper/shredder.

After a break for lunch, he started processing everything for the compost pile. I was down by the garden shed - organizing the cages and trellises for storage, coiling up soaker hoses. Faintly, I heard Aries calling me from up near the house. I poked my head around the shed to see what he wanted. "Get up here! You have to drive me to the emergency room," he yelled down.

I thought he was kidding, and replied, "Yeah, right."

"No!" he said, "I really mean it! I caught my hand in the shredder! Get up here!!"

I ran. He was holding the fingers of his left hand with his right. At least, there was no spurting blood. I grabbed a clean washcloth for his hand, closed up the house (it was threatening rain), and grabbed my purse and keys. The hospital is about five miles away, on the other edge of town. It took me maybe 10 minutes to drive, and they got him into an emergency room right away. I settled in and waited, for hours, as they x-rayed and stitched him up, updated his tetanus immunization plus gave him two massive doses of antibiotics (those two shots, one in each arm, were the only things that brought tears to his eyes) and finally sent us home with prescriptions for pain-killers and more antibiotics.

He's reasonable lucky, albeit in quite a bit of pain. He was sweeping the shredded pile away from beneath the bottom screen, using a piece of board. There's a rounded guard piece there, with nickle-sized holes for the material to fall through. The holes are also just big enough, that when his grip on the board slipped, to let the tip of his middle finger on his left hand slip through. In an instant, it shredded his fingertip, shattering the bone into pieces. Fortunately, it didn't penetrate deep enough to damage the joint. Right now, he has 20 stitches and his hand in a cast, but it looks like the bones will knit back together.

We're ok financially. He has pretty good insurance coverage through work, and we have enough liquid savings to pay the deductibles and emergency room co-pays. His bosses are looking to see if they have any modified light-duty position he could do, but it's not likely. So we're now in the waiting period before his medical leave of absence gets approved. It's looking like he'll be out of work for 6 - 8 weeks.

I have to tie his shoes for him each morning, but since it was his non-dominant hand he's managing ok for the most part. I've had to take over the firewood hauling, and putting the garden to bed. Aries just finished up with the antibiotics, and is cutting back on the pain-killers. He's not the type to just sit around though, so being so restricted in his actions is really getting to him. Plus, I know he's berating himself for getting into such a fix in the first place.

So, could this accident have been prevented? He's always so careful around machinery - wears safety glasses, heavy boots, tucks in his shirt, but hates wearing gloves. In this case, gloves might have been enough to have been stopped by the size of the holes. As I said, it was threatening to rain that afternoon, so he wanted to get everything finished up before it started - maybe he was rushing the job a bit. He'd sprained a couple of fingers on his right hand at work the week before, so he's been using his non-dominant hand more instead. The lack of coordination in his left might have been a factor. We'll make it through this. It's a shock, but not a disaster.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bed Linens Laundry Day

Today was bed linens fall laundry day. Here in the high desert, summers are hot and winters cold. In order to sleep comfortably, spring and fall I change the bedding. Right now, it's still warm enough that we're sleeping with the windows open, closing everything up by nine in the morning to keep the house cooler through the day. But come September, I'm ready to get my fall decor out - replacing the whites, blues, and yellows of summer with tans, golds and burgundy of autumn.

It's still warm enough for cotton percale sheets, but I just replaced our light cotton quilted bedspread with a fall-colored heavier one. As nights get cooler, blankets washed last spring are added, then the flannel sheets, and by January, the down comforter too.

Then, there's Albert to figure into this too. Albert is our big tuxedo cat. Besides being covered with black hair, he'll immediately roll in the dirt whenever he gets outside. And then comes back in to nap in the middle of the bed (as well as ending up between us most nights too). My summer bedspread is peach-colored floral pieces on a cream-colored background. Between the cat and nightly opened windows downwind of a canyon with a dirt road, that quilt (and the one on the guest bed - also a favorite Albert napping spot) definitely need to be washed.

This is a small house. Our washer and dryer is a Thin Twin stacked unit - about a third the size of a standard washing machine. It's fine for our usual laundry use (a Cal-King flannel sheet set really pushes it - I wash the pillowcases in a different load). Spring and fall, when I change the bedding, I bundle everything up (in the bag I made from legs of old blue jeans - usually, it's storage for my sleeping bag) and make a trip to a laundromat at the other end of town - one that has a big, 50-pound front-loading washer.

It only takes about an hour - especially if I go in early enough in the morning that I don't have to wait for the big machine. And you know, I actually enjoy it - it's just one of my rituals to accompany the change in the seasons (plus, there's a McDonald's in the same shopping center - it's an excuse to treat myself to a Sausage McGriddle, something I never do, for breakfast and a San Francisco newspaper to read while I wait for the machine to finish). I do have to check the weather report first, though. My quilts are cotton, and I love the smell of cotton bedding dried in the sun and fresh air. So I need a warm day with only light winds. I bring everything back, damp right out of the washer, and hang it out to dry at home.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Curing Onions

I'd pulled the soaker hoses off the rest of the onions a few weeks ago, and bent down those tops still upright. After a couple of weeks of drying and dying, I used a garden fork to loosen the soil, then my hands to scoop up the bulbs. I then wheeled them into the shade up by the house to cure.

Onions need to be cured for storage. Set out in a single layer in a warm and airy spot, the roots die, the neck shrinks down, and the outer-most layers dry and toughen up. Properly cured yellow Copra onions, I've found, will successfully store for close to a year - easily until the following July. Of my long-day sampler bunch trials, the Walla Wallas are already harvested and in the kitchen, as they'll only hold for a month. Of the rest of that bunch, the white Ringmasters should store up to 4 months and the Red Zeppelins six to eight. I've liked having some red onions this year. I've been using them in the kitchen throughout the summer. I'm also very interested in seeing how the Ringmasters hold up in storage. They produced some beautiful big bulbs with small necks (necessary for good storage potential), and more importantly are an open-pollinated variety (as opposed to a hybrid). I might replant one or two of those late this fall, to let go to seed next year. Onion self-sufficiency is an eventual goal of mine.

Our weather is gradually sliding towards fall. Days are still quite warm though, and the nights cooler but still nice enough to sleep with the windows open. Last night, I hadn't been asleep long when I awakened to the pitty-pat sound of raindrops. Oh no, if the onions got soaked it would ruin their curing. I got out of bed and grabbed a vinyl tablecloth from the camping gear in the closet. The rain had just started; the tree had kept most of the water off the onions. Quickly tucking the doubled tablecloth around the onions, I went back to bed. When the flash of a full-on booming thunderstorm woke me again a little later, I just smiled and went back to sleep. My onions were safe. The next morning, I uncovered them before the day warmed up. If I'd left them under the waterproof cover, they'd have started to sweat, also threatening the curing process. With a slight chance of thunderstorms this upcoming week, I thought it best to move the onions into the garage. I can open up the doors to let the air move through, and not have to worry about any storms coming though when I'm not at home.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tragedy in the Neighborhood

I heard a series of loud pops. I thought neighbor kids had set off a string of big firecrackers in the open dirt field across our north fence, over towards the theater. Ten minutes later, the dog started howling out on the deck, as siren after siren went by on the highway two blocks below. My first thought, especially this time of year, was a wildfire someplace. But a quick scan around the horizon showed no sign of smoke. With the sirens still coming up from the south, I looked and realized all of them were fire station paramedic vehicles - lots of them.

So many emergency medical care vehicles. "Do you think there was a school bus accident?" I asked Aries, as we stood out on our deck, looking down towards the highway. The first CareFlight helicopter showed up overhead, then swung around to set down just beyond the Marriott below us, in the parking area across the highway. That's when I went inside to check the news on the internet.

Multiple people shot at the International House of Pancakes. That wasn't firecrackers I heard - that was automatic weapon fire. This is the kind of thing I thought you only read about, someplace else. Is it really happening right down the street?

Sadly enough, it was. Four people dead, seven more injured, plus the shooter a suicide out in the parking lot. Many of the dead and injured, inside the IHOP, were uniformed Nevada National Guard personnel.

The upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism had many questioning if the military were the target, if this was a terrorist act . Federal, state, and local governments, as well as our local National Guard facility have heightened already increased security. Although the investigation is on-going, it appears to have been the work of just a solitary mentally ill person. No one can say why he did it. Our community is grieving, and in shock.

Like a genteel dinner guest of old, I don't discuss politics or religion on this blog. I respect the rights of others to hold opinions different from my own, and realize that anything I say here isn't likely to change anyone's ideas. And I respect the rights of gun owners. I come from a family of hunters. I've been through the Hunter's Safety class. We own rifles, shotguns, and a handgun, and I know how to use them. But I really don't understand why we as a nation still think it's ok for a mentally ill person (or anyone, really) to have multiple automatic weapons in his possession; the ability to empty a 30-round clip in a 360º sweep of a parking lot, pause to reload, and then walk into a crowded restaurant. Our community is grieving, and in shock. And the tragedy is in our nation.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Garden Chair

I think every garden, no matter how large or small, needs a place to sit. Maybe just as a place to rest a bit, or your spot to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, or maybe it's a secret hideaway. It could be a folding chair, the tailgate of a truck, an old bench, an upright chunk of log, a low stool underneath a bean teepee, or maybe even a swing. Extra points if you also have a table close by - a place to set a cold drink, seeds and tools, your gathering basket, maybe even a radio.

I have an old cast-aluminum chair just inside my garden gate, next to an old cable spool that serves as a table. The plastic arms cracked apart from the sun years ago, but once I removed the screws holding the shattered bits the metal arms were quite comfortable. Then, the cheap cushion I had on it finally fell irreparably apart last season. However, I could still sit on the metal frame, so that's what I've been doing. It wasn't very comfortable though, and a bit too low besides.

Then, a couple of days ago I rediscovered a slab of foam up in the rafters of the shed - and it was just the right size for a new chair cushion. We have a mill ends fabric store in town, so I stopped by to check prices and their stock of outdoor canvas (aka Sunbrella). A beautiful floral stripe remnant caught my eye right away, and amazingly it turned out to be just big enough (plus, perfectly sized to be able to center the flower part on both front and reverse sides, back and seat, too). Isn't it wonderful when things work out so perfectly? Ten dollars spent, an afternoon spent sewing, and once again I have a comfortable place to sit while out in my garden.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Walla Walla Onion Harvest

I'm very happy with my Walla Walla onion trial this year. The plants, ordered in February, received mid-March, and planted in early April, did very well for me.

According to the Dixondale day-length map, I'm in the middle of the intermediate-day section. I went with the long-day onions because most of those varieties have a longer storage time. The storage potential of the Walla Walla, at approximately one month, is the shortest of those I grew this year. Knowing this, I've been using them fresh out of the garden for the past couple of months. The tops were the first to fall over, so I harvested the rest of the Walla Walla onions a couple of weeks ago.

The Walla Walla were one-third of a long-day sampler bunch, supposed to do ok here if planted early enough. Despite pulling some for fresh use throughout the latter part of the summer, after trimming and curing I ended up with almost 14 pounds of Walla Walla onions. I've been using the smaller and thick-necked ones in daily cooking, and hung the rest in a net bag in the pantry for short-term storage. Even though they have a rather thin wrapper layer, they should keep until the tomatoes and tomatillos are ready to start canning sauce and salsa.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Braiding Garlic for Long-Term Storage

This year's garlic has been harvested, cleaned, and braided. The braid is now hanging in the cutout between kitchen and living room, where the warm and gentle air circulation is perfect for curing the bulbs so they'll keep in my pantry throughout the coming year. This year, from a patch 2.5 x 4 feet, I ended up with a 2.5 foot braid, just short of 5 pounds, of 40 nice-sized garlic bulbs (plus a few more too small or with necks too weak to braid, and a couple of the biggest, nicest ones set aside to plant in October).

For more about the whole process, check out today's post on the SGF Co-op blog. While this braid cures, I'll be using up the twelve bulbs from last year, still in fine shape hanging in the pantry, for summer cooking, canning and pickling. For the two of us, a bulb a week throughout the year is just about right.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Little Pretties

When I first started gardening, I grew vegetables. I began slowly - little patches of lettuce and peas, then a tomato plant. Even though I enjoyed it, gardening was work. I wanted my energy out to result in energy returned. I focused on stuff I could eat.

The garden got bigger whenever I had the time and the space. When I moved onto my own land, I could stretch my food horizon out to a longer term, so planted fruit trees and berry bushes. Learning more, and building up my soil, home-grown food is now plentiful (most years, anyway).

And so, the body satisfied, I started to think about feeding my soul:

"If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul"
~Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet

"If I had but two loaves of bread
I would sell one of them
& buy White Hyacinths to feed my soul."
~Elbert Hubbard

I wanted to add beauty to my surroundings. Again, that started slowly - a packet of flower seeds scattered along the edge of the vegetable garden, a six-pack of petunias potted up near the house. Then, as with the food stuffs, I started to think more long-term. Even though I put in a lot of hours out in my yard, I'm basically a lazy gardener at heart. I like having flowers around, but wanted to make it easier. And the light bulb came on.

Perennials! Plant once, and then have blooms forever after! I begged friends for bits of divided iris and daylilies; started my own gallardia and hollyhocks from seed, and dug out roses someone no longer wanted. The daffodil clumps come back even bigger each Spring; the color of the blooms on the sedums rivals the changing autumn leaves.

I love bringing a bit of the beauty inside, too. My little pretties brighten up spots all around the house: a fresh posy graces a corner of my bathroom counter, another on my breakfast table starts my day with a smile. A single rose floats in a thrift store find - an oversize brandy snifter - on the dining room table. I'm surrounded by beauty and indeed, it feeds my soul.