Category Archives: Gardening

Holding your breath

Today I did the most significantly foolish and nervewracking thing I have ever done in my entire short life. Thus far. I signed a contract on a house. A house that is owned by a builder, who actually understands the market, and who actually wants to sell the thing, unlike every other owner we’ve encountered along the way who received an offer from us.

The house is so new that it isn’t even completed yet, but will be within the next couple of weeks: a 4/3, situated on 4.1 acres in an equestrian community, with another 1.4 acres very likely to be added on to the back end of the property. It backs up to a huge nature preserve, so there are no worries about a development suddenly arising from the ground behind us, and the entire development is on a single cul de sac – I believe there are abut 30 lots, total, of which only half a dozen have houses. Given the market conditions, that will likely remain the situation, at least for awhile.

We have our realtors to thank for the rather extraordinary fortune. We’d actually driven by this place on a previous excursion and decided at that time that it was a) too far out and b) too expensive. Part a was really a misconception, and the result of too much damn driving around in a single day. By the time we’d found this underdeveloped development, the butt soreness to coffee to aggravation ratios were way, way off. A trip meter shows that the house is 15 miles from the current house, and adds between 17 and 20 minutes to drive time, even at 4 PM. Not bad.

Part b was a little more interesting. We hadn’t looked at the listing for this one since that driving around time about a month or so ago, and the builder reduced the price by a fairly significant amount in the past week. And, to top it off, there will be a pool thrown in for good measure, which means we won’t have to have one dug. Bonus! And to top all that off, the builders are quite nice guys, and totally upfront about why they’re doing all this: they need to unload the inventory, because they’re now paying interest on the house they’ve almost completed on the lot. One of the builders lives in the development, so we’ll be neighbors when all is said and done. And he’s a huge barbeque fan, so bribery is always an option.

And now begins the game of getting everything together and writing more checks, all of which makes me frantically nervous about the deal. Not that we don’t know that this will be our new home. Far from it, in fact, since the approval was already done for a higher figure than the price of this place, and my paperwork is already in order from the first time we went through this. I’m just worried that a meteorite is going to come crashing out of the sky and turn the lot into a dinosaur-killing sinkhole whose worth is only infishing rights.

There are also all those other things that will need to be done – we’re getting a pad for the garage, for instance, but we’re going to do the driveway in pavers ourselves. There’s no way for them to economically sod the entire lot – at over 2 acres cleared, from my estimation, that would cost a fortune – so they’re going to put down five pallets of sod, and we told them to put it in the back around the pool, since that’s where we and everyone else will be spending most of our time this summer. That means we’ll be seeding the front and sides of the lot ourselves, which isn’t a big deal (grass seed is cheap!), but which also means that eventually an investment will have to be made in a riding mower. There’s also the question of the dogs and the immediate need for a fenced in area for them to run and poop in so they don’t get any bright ideas about running out on the county road and getting squished. And finally, one of the biggest things to me: the garden. Since harvest times on most of the better known and more often eaten veggies (for us) runs anywhere from 50-78 days or so, there’s a need to get some things going and in the ground as quickly as the ground can be made ready. That means tilling and picking up large quantities of compost from the city (free!), then making sure the pH of the soil is appropriate in each zone for each type of veg. Wouldn’t it be something to be harvesting some corn three months from now?

I was avoiding posting anything about this, as some kind of superstitious theory and my generally pessimistic nature about this whole house/land hunting thing we’ve been doing for about eight months. Monday we go back to lay out the exact position of the pool and get a quote for extending the deck area in pavers so that people can gather without being right on top of one another. The electric should also be up, with the a/c coming next week as well so the wood floors can be laid in. I’m hesitant to take any photos and post them, so as not to allow the fates to jinx anything, but I may very well haul the camera along with me on the next visit.

Going to ground

It isn’t enough to feed a family of four, but it’s a nice snack.

Those were the first handful of sugar snaps pulled off the vines. The collards remain as yet unharvested, but that’s going to happen soon – they’re taking over the line and need to be eaten.

Friday night, my sister decided she wanted to try a new restaurant. I’m not a huge fan of Indian food – although I love naan – but I’m always interested in other cuisines. The rest of us had also already eaten, but since her planned dinner date was a no-go, The Boy and I went with her.

Authentic Indian cuisine. The restaurant was recommended to her by her calculus instructor, who is himself Indian, so we figured it was a good bet.

We started with some sweet corn soup (right) and paneer pakora (left). The latter was homemade cottage cheese, according to the menu.

Since I can’t eat very much at one sitting, and since I’d already had some hearty soup I’d made, I didn’t order anything and opted to just sample whatever the kids ordered. The Boy, who is not a vegetarian, ordered chicken saagwala.

For my sister the vegetarian, the menu was a bonanza of available items. She choose aloo palak (potatoes and spinach). We also ordered some naan (at the right), as they both chose rice to go with their dinners. We had also ordered a sweet lassi (upper left) so they could taste it.

Both look exactly the same due to the spinach in the dishes. I don’t want to say that they didn’t look appetizing, but it’s not as if they were jumping up and down with an “eat me” sign blaring away. Still, everything was tasty, and the kids seemed to enjoy everything. I suspect The Boy was less enamored of the food than my sister, even though he did like the chicken.

Before we went on our Indian excursion, Mom, The Boy, and I had gone to look at a piece of property, just down the road a bit from the original piece of property that we wanted. The agent listing it said there was a “livable doublewide” on the property. Now, we’re not particularly interested in that, and would have it yanked off the land anyway, but when we reached the property, we wondered just how long it had been since the agent had been there, since the structure was in no way “livable”.

The property is just under 3.5 acres and is overgrown. View to the front of the property, toward the road.

Turning around from that same spot, a view of this “livable” trailer.

We started out around 4 PM to go see the property, but by the time we made a long detour around downed power lines on the main road, it was after 5 PM, and the sun was beginning to sink.

Whoever lived on the property last left behind quite a few things. From old Coke bottles that some collector would probably love…

…to some split and cured firewood (which would have been nice to use to start a fire, as it was getting chilly)…

…to an old saw…

…to a camera that would pique the interest of those who collect such things…

…to an old piano that has seen much better days.

I wonder what sort of tunes someone played on this? Finding views like this makes me think about searching out other old, abandoned places and finding out what’s there.

A view into the neighbor’s property. It was a stunner of a day: chilly, with a piercing blue sky settling into dusk.

The light was fading fast, and we needed to work our way back through the overgrowth to see what else could be seen. One thing was apparently a workshop or shed of some sort, overtaken by the brush.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

Always liked Robert Frost. Anyhow, we met up with a guy from the property next door, who heard us talking – a good thing, since he had a pretty high powered rifle on him, and we could hear doves in the air. Since the growth was too severe for us to make our way further back on the property, he kindly invited us to walk down his property to the back end of the property line and cut through the preserve to an entrance on the property at which we were looking. This tree was one whose branches we could see had been used for target practice.

The sun was dropping further from the sky…

…but still illuminated the trail on the preserve for us.

We found parts of the land that had apparently been cleared at some point but which were now tangled with grass and brush.

And were amazed at how brilliant and sharp things were against the sky.

But finally, it was time to go, as the light continued to fade.

It has potential: it’s far enough out to be in the country, but not so far out that people would refuse to visit. It’s large enough to have elbow room for us and from the neighbors, but not so vast that it is unmanageable.

It’s definitely a possibility.

Football haze

There is no better way – in my humble opinion – to start off the year than to have an entire day full of football bowl games, even if you are like me and have no particular favorite college team. Work is fairly slow (unless a server’s hard drive is in imminent danger of death, as one is today), and it’s usually a good day to do a little of this or that. For me, between working and moving accounts around, that means baking some bread for the carb fiends around this place. It also means making another batch of the maple-cornmeal biscuits to go with the traditional southern new year’s meal of black-eyed peas this evening.

My sister, lucky girl that she is, had the opportunity to go to the Gator Bowl in person, sit in one of the terrace suites, and be waited on while watching what turned out to be an exciting game. The rest of us had to be content with watching on television, which worked out well: we all got a lot of work done, watched a bunch of different football games, played with the dogs, packed some more holiday stuff to be stowed away until later this year, and in general had a day that wasn’t particularly frenetic but wasn’t so slow as to put you in a coma. And my mom made small meatloaves.

My mom loves hamburger: extra-lean, lean, chuck, round, whatever. If it’s from a cow and can be formed into a patty, fried, perhaps with some sauteed mushrooms and onions on the side, and maybe a pan gravy by yours truly, she’s happy as – well, happy as a pig in poop, I suppose, or as happy as one of those cows in the California cheese ads.

She has a recipe she sort of follows to make meatloaf these days, that is more meat than loaf, if you get what I mean. Make a few extra, toss them in the freezer, and it’s an instant fix for the beef-addicted.

We had meatloaf tonight, along with rice (with shallots and parm), black-eyed peas, maple-cornbread biscuits, and corn on the cob.

And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee for me today. Mom also fed the dogs Cheetos, because she’s a sucker for a cute face.

Right now, the cinnamon-raisin loaves have just gone into the oven. I’m not pleased with the feel the dough had as I rolled it, and I would not be at all surprised if there were gaps in the bread, because for some reason the dough just felt extra sticky and wet. Wet = steam = bad oven spring = gaps. Still, it will taste fine, and the fam will down it even if it isn’t perfect, but this tells me I need to work on this recipe a bit. I’m also going to try my hand at this no-knead bread that apparently everyone in the world knew about but me until today. Instead of kneading the bread, the gluten develops through an extra long rising period of about 18 hours. It would be rather handy to toss everything together and forget about it, instead of fussing with dough every couple hours – although that is part of the fun. Some days are meant for a hands-off approach.

Patience

I sincerely hope I’m not the only one in this world who couldn’t care less about the nuptials of Tom and Katie. It seems to be the only thing plastered all over the news (besides the Michigan – Ohio State game).

Anyway, patience. Ever since beginning treatment for cancer, that’s what everyone counseled. Be patient, you’ll get your speech back. Be patient, you’ll get back to eating. Be patient, you’ll get back to eating normally. Be patient, you’ll get your range of motion and strength back.

I’m not the patient sort with myself, as anyone who knows me could say. And being patient is making me tired and crazy. So is having my eyes glaze over from looking at properties.

I stepped out the front door the other day, as the tow truck was bringing my sister’s car back to the house. It has been raining a bit, and was still sprinkling, but directly in front of the house was a huge, perfect and vibrant rainbow, with a smaller rainbow shadowing it.

Fall has arrived, sort of. At least the trees seem to know something that may not be entirely apparent to the rest of us.

I’m sure if she could speak, she’d be saying “Put me down, dammit!”

But what have I been doing? Working a lot after firing some support people. Tending my garden. Not cooking much, although we are having Thanksgiving dinner here and there will be a pack coming in – the menu will be a traditional roasted turkey, a honey-brined, smoked turkey, ham, beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffing, yams, pies, and all sorts of other things. The cranberry-apple compote is already made and in the freezer. Should be a good time for everyone.

So we’ve seen the peas when they first started sprouting. The looked like this last week.

Last night, they looked like this.

I sowed more peas of a different variety last night after we returned from a brisk walk in the cool weather.

Everything else is popping up and thriving.

Catnip.

The carrots have sprouted.

The zucchini is moving right along.

Cilantro is growing out of its starter pot and will need to be transplanted next week.

Most of the tomatoes have been transplanted, with just the big boys to be done. The leeks are now on the outside of the row with the collards and broccoli, both of which are growing like (if you’ll pardon the expression) weeds.

The sky is a clear and piercing blue as we make our way into evening. The weather has turned cooler now, giving rise to thoughts of having a fire going tonight while football plays on the tv and Boots curls up against my leg, dreaming whatever it is that cats dream when they really go to sleep. And I keep watch over my plants, patiently awaiting the first flower that is the omen of the bounty to come.

How does your garden grow?

Very well, thank you.

But before that, I wanted to mention something we saw last weeked. It was an absolutely stunning fall day, cool without being cold, bright blue raining down from the sky. It was also the weekend of the air show, with the Blue Angels performing. We didn’t see any of that, but we did see this.

Clicky!

I couldn’t get the entire image in one shot, so merged two shots after flipping them vertically and horizontally. If you can’t read it, it says Happy 60th Blue Angels. Very nice, and stayed up for quite awhile as there was not much wind.

Last night was a bit cool, so we had a fire crackling.

The little one appreciated it.

Today, in addition to doing my regular work stuff, I got my hands dirty.

Transplanted the zucchini, which was erupting out of the peat pots and threatening to take over the warmer.

I also started some catnip for the kitties, stevia, cilantro, and spearmint. The dill has sprouted and is well on its way to a lovely bouqet.

What else has sprouted? Those sugar snap peas we sowed not terribly long ago.

I’ll be digging up another small section for another variety of peas (real peas, the kind that most people get out of a can). I started some carrots (little finger), and we’ll see how those do.

Next weekend it will be time to thin and space the lettuce, put up some twine for the peas to climb, and transplant the tomatoes and leeks.

And maybe – just maybe – some of these will be ready next weekend as well.

Did someone mention cooking?

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work…

Ahem.

Cal was right, of course: there does need to be more cooking going on around here, but it’s been a bit weird lately.

Before we get into that any deeper, though, let’s talk about this whole gardening thing, and people who think that conditions must be absolutely perfect and everything must be exactly in season before even thinking about beginning. I suppose it is simpler for you if you don’t bother to try. After all, it does entail a lot less work if you just want to sit around and bitch about how you just can’t have good vegetables in the fall, and how expensive it is to buy summer-type vegetables as the weather turns cooler.

Bah, I say. Work at it, just a little. Pay attention to what you’re doing.

10 AM this morning:

10 PM this evening:

There’s something to be said for a little nurturing.

Collards:

Broccoli:

My cousin Stacy and her husband Cueball…I mean, Troy were down for the weekend, having scored some great seats for the Florida-Georgia game today. They left for the festivities this morning after 10, with gametime at 3:30, in order to enjoy the whole experience. When they returned from a glorious Florida victory over our neighbors to the north – and I don’t mean Canada – here’s what was awaiting them (and everyone else who was here, ready to eat).

Someone take the knife away!

Perfectly baked sweet potatoes.

Add some sweet corn, unfrozen from our summer bushel, and you have dinner.

But wait, there’s more! Two kinds of bread: honey oatmeal loaf (for small sandwiches).

Bread porn!

And more Italian bread.

Bonus bread porn!

‘Til the season for Halloween parties, too. Aubrey was going to go as a compost ball…

…but settled instead on Helen of Troy.

Holy smokes!

Do… Do you know what this is? This is… A lamp!

Oops, sorry, that’s not right at all.

It’s actually lettuce.

Yes, the lettuce has already sprouted. The other day, my mom sowed the peas while I transplanted the broccoli and collards, and tonight, we finally have the rain we’ve been awaiting for three days to give them as deep a soak as they can get for however long this lasts.

What else is sprouting? The zucchini, the leeks, and two of the tomatoes. I’m always amazed by new life.

We also have kumquats ripening on the tree, and I managed to find a place to send a meyer lemon tree here – I also ordered an orange tree and a lime tree from that same place. There are basil leaves drying on a rack in the kitchen, and we used some fresh parsley in the rice pilaf I made earlier this week. I’m very pleased with all this activity popping up around us, but I do have to remind myself to keep things in check so I don’t take over the entire backyard as a garden.

Out of season

“So…you’re growing tomatoes.”

“Yep.”

“And zucchini.”

“Yep.”

“And basil and oregano. And peppers.”

“Yep.”

“You know these are all summer crops, right?”

“Yep.”

“And you’re growing them organically, with no pesticides, no boosters, no chemical fertilizers.”

“Yep.”

“Sorry, but I just don’t think it’s going to work. Seems to me to be a waste of time.”

“Well, maybe it won’t work. Maybe nothing will germinate. Maybe nothing will take root, and I’ll be left with no homegrown vegetables of these sorts in the dead of winter, and no herbs to dry and store. But if it doesn’t work, it won’t be because I didn’t make the effort.”