Monday, July 12, 2010


Any good garden book will tell you the same thing. When the snow flies for months of end and the wind is increasingly frigid, humans look towards the promise of green. Some hasten it any way they can, buying seeds, planning plots and dreaming dreams of fresh salads. Then the drifts finally drift away and ground is broken for the first time of the season. Hearty seeds are tucked gently in to hard earth with whispered prayers and fingers crossed against late season frosts. And after the first hits of green manage to push through the crust towards the sun, there is hope for flowers and a flurry of activity. The winter is now over and there is much to do, much to plant, and everything, everything, everything must be grown. The excitement of planting gives way to the first leaves of each crop, then the first TRUE leaves, then the long hopes for flowers. And as this growth is happening, sometimes doubling overnight, there is a fight against hungry vegetarians. There is transplanting, watering, staking, weeding, mulching, pruning, fencing and sweat. And it is all carried by the next new thing and the next. Time marches forward and thoughts move to the harvest, jars are purchased, recipes are planned and all is right with the world. Each day is one step closer to the harvest but to make it there you have to pass through mid-July.

Mid-July, when it is too hot for the plant munching beetles to fly, when it is too dry for new weeds to start, when the simple act of watering causes sweat to run down your back, and nothing new happens. Lettuces are going to seed and radishes are done and everything else is in an infantile state. Sure you can fry your green tomatoes or throw your squash flowers on a salad but that seems awful wasteful. Why garden, why grow things, why bother with all this time and money when the grocery store is air conditioned, why were you so ambitions, and why do you now have to go out into that hot sun to pull out the lettuce and replant radishes, beets, carrots and spinach? Why me? Why now? WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!

Because you want spinach for your pasta sauces and you want your own radishes and beets for thanksgiving. And because if you get really really lucky, those late tomato transplants you just put in will bust out a few green tomatoes before the first frost that you can tuck discretely away in the cool cellar until two weeks before Christmas. Just think of the goodies Santa will bring you if instead of cookies you offer a toasted tomato sandwich with home grown tomatoes now ripe in December. It could happen.

Yesterday I did a bit of harvesting practice. I pruned down my parsley and chives and I yanked a beet to see how it was doing. After crunching on the beet slices I threw the beet leaves, chives and parsley in the dehydrator ($8 at a yard sale baby) and went in to Boston to see Old Ironsides. This morning I chopped up the beet leaves and threw them in to some tuna salad. I couldn't taste it but other reports said it tasted like dill. Maybe thats because it went in the dehydrator with the chives. Either way I will do the tuna salad thing again. It adds vitamin A, some B's, C and a compliment of minerals so why the heck not.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Canned Zombie Berries

We picked strawberries at a pick your own place this year. The perfectest berries were set aside to make preserves only I screwed it up. Apparently with strawberries (unlike other berries) you need to soak them over night in a sugar solution. This will help to preserve their color and fill their internal airspace so they don't float. But since I didn't know this and we didn't do this we got several jars of beautiful bright red liquid with a mass of mushed albino strawberries floating on top. Zombie berries. Not exactly what I had in mind.

I have laid awake at night mourning the fact that I wasted the best of the best of our berries on a slimy worthless mess. You can't give these away. They are ugly and gross and hungry for brains.

I was super antsy tonight so I popped a box of lame $1-on-sale-with-coupon brownie mix out of our makeshift pantry to occupy myself. Instead of the oil called for on the box I used fat free plain yogurt because I had never tried it before. Then I figured "What the hell, I think brownies are gross anyway so it would be hard for me to make them worse right?" I scooped the mutant berries out of the jar and threw those in to the mix. You were supposed to add water but when I was spooning out the berries I also got a fair amount of the syrup that they were canned in which added more liquid than required. Oops. I had to add an extra 10 minutes on to the bake time to make up for this.

So now, picture if you will a chocolate covered strawberry. The fruit is perfectly ripe, red and sweet and it is cocooned in a thick chocolaty shell just waiting to grace your lips and dance across your taste buds. Now slowly transform that outer shell into a thick and fudgy chocolate cake and that is my contribution to the world.

The yogurt made the brownies fluffier and gave them a slight tanginess. This complimented the subtle strawberry flavor that infused into the brownies. And the undead berries apparently have every ounce of flavor of the fresh-picked sun-kissed fruit. And the left over syrup is pretty much just strawberry flavored juice which is pretty tasty in it's own right. But it is absolutely indescribable when mixed with an equal part gin. All grown up but still that same vibrant shade of red.

Now everyone will want a jar.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

New "friends"

Recently I started seeing little green "bubbles" on my tomato leaves. One maybe two per plant. Interesting color and shape and a satisfactory snapping noise when you pop them. They look like this:
And they will become this:
At which time they will do this:
SOOOOO....I spent 2 hours today going through my tomatoes leaf by leaf and plant by plant gently removing the little tomato hornworm eggs from the leaves and dropping them fiendishly into a Ball jar half filled with soapy water. Then giggling.

When I was done I proceeded to crawl around the rest our back 40 for oh ...3 more hours. The patrol was pretty damn successful.

In the process I managed to catch 3 pairs of these guys:
Doing the striped cucumber beetle salsa:
Which is something like a 30x bonus multiplier in terms of pest removal. I also caught umpteen hundred lonely striped cucumber beetles and more than my fair share of *#&#@# oriental beetles (See last post for image). Most garden web sites say that they aren't found in gardens and that they do little damage. BULL. They are as ubiquitous as the cucumber beetles and as frisky. They are as frequently found nibbling the outer edges of my cucurbits as digging around the roots looking for a place to lay eggs. Their cute little three pronged antennae fan out nicely in the water.

I also got one of these:
Thank God it was only one because a little part of me curls up and dies every time I see a Japanese Beetle. I must have had a bad experience as a child or something because Asiatic and Oriental beetles are the same size and shape and...consistency but they don't bother me all that much. I don't want to remember.

While we are talking about unpleasant bugs, I extricated a huge squash bug from a pumpkin plant (after which I smelled like slow death):
Who knew squash bugs looked like this when they were small?
I found squash buggies in excess sucking on the bottom side of my tomato leaves. They are way easier to squish than to pop into a jar when they are that size. Almost exactly like these guys:
We have more ants than blades of grass in the back yard but thankfully they haven't found the aphids yet. If they do they will start to guard them from predators and move their eggs around. Ants herd aphids like cattle which is wicked long as it isn't on one of MY plants.

Also on my kill list are two of these:
These have the awful extra crunchy exoskeleton of a Japanese beetle, the ability to cover you in an unholy stink like a stink bug AND they can pinch you when they back that thing up. If that isn't enough, they have teleportation powers that allow them to appear at random out of thin air. The Earwig is the officially insect of Hell.

A few garden sites claim that these buggers don't really harm plants. I put this in the same box as oriental beetles because I found them wrapped up in a wilted squash leaf that had been reduced to lace. They die in a rather impressively violent way when they hit the soap.

All told I only found two helpful insects and one of them got flipped into the soap when I grabbed a striped cucumber beetle.
Young two spotted stink bugs are beautiful, soap bath or no. Hopefully I see more of these. I promise to be more careful. They are fond of piercing caterpillars and sucking out their juices like a Capri Sun. I am going to need an army of them if I missed a tomato hornworm egg. Heaven help me.

I found a 14 spotted lady bird beetle that I managed NOT to kill. I will take more of those any day. Go ye forth and munch my aphids buddy.

We also had a robin camping out and chomping down while I was weeding my herb garden. I think cucumber beetles are like bird skittles and I am ok with that.

Someday maybe I will put up my own pictures. As before none of these are mine.