Tag Archives: Gardening

Waiting out the cold

OK, so it isn’t -4F here like it was at Lambeau Sunday night. It’s still cold to someone like me. I don’t like the cold and never have, which made our living in the northern reaches of the country interesting when I was younger. Then, it was just an annoyance because I’m a summer kind of gal. These days it’s actually annoying and painful, because while I’ve never had much bodyfat, since the whole cancer dance, my bodyfat is even lower than it was. A nice problem to have, no?

No.

When the weather cools off and the days only go into the 50s with the nights somewhere in the 30s, my feet never seem to be warm. My hands are cold all the time, making for interesting typing on the computer, and while everyone else is fine in a sweatshirt to combat what to them is a chill, I have a shirt, a flannel shirt, and two pairs of socks on, with my heater going under my desk to try and warm my feet. Going outside on a day like today in particular is rather heinous, as it was also very windy out there. I know my little cat (the one with the wrap around her waist in the photos) feels the same way, since she herself has a tumor that can’t be removed as she’s too old to be put under and she’s dropped down to virtually no bodyfat as well. She spends her days either in the window with the sunlight concentrated on her small frame, or curled up, leaning right against the other heater near my desk.

But I know that soon enough, my kind of temperatures will return, the sun will be out instead of taking the day off as it has this past week, and we’ll have colorful things growing out in the garden and yard. I may still get chilled when I come back in since everyone else likes the inside temp at around 72 (too chilly for me), but at least outside, my bones will be warm again. I can’t wait for summer.

One winter day

Today has been all about food. Well, that and getting the dogs shaved and bathed. That, and getting the Princess wiped down and brushed. And watching football. But it has been a day full of cooking for me, although I was a bit behind schedule due to the dog-bathing part.

We begin our tour with a hunka hunka nice looking buffalo.

Buffalo roast

Salt, pepper, garlic, and in it went to a pan to sear. After nicely browning on all sides, it went into the oven in a bath of beef broth with some onion and garlic as companions.

After that, it was time to start the soup. I had roasted a couple of butternut squash, and started some onion, garlic, and carrot in a pot. Some chicken broth, a couple of diced potatoes, the innards of the squash, and some spices, and it turned into something like this.

Starting the soup

All of that was stirred together and then allowed to simmer while I began the next item on my culinary agenda: guacamole. Here, our model Aubrey demonstrates the functionality of that fabulous green appetizer.

Guacagoodness

Meanwhile, those of us still suffering from a root canal went on to the creation of another yummy item.

Dough

The soup was coming along nicely, and was almost ready for the immersion blender.

Simmered soup

Two other parties chimed in with their own orders.

Boots

Often, they don’t know exactly what they want, but they know you might have it.

Newton

The soup was ready, so I blended it and Mom kindly jarred it for me.

Jars of soup

I asked that she do that because I was moving along on the bread front.

Rising

I also threw together some tarragon-pickled mushrooms and onions for Aubrey, who was starving because she insists on doing this “total carb” thing instead of net carbs since she wants to drop some weight, but hey, who am I to say anything about peoples’ strange ideas? I moved along to the roast, pulling it out of the bath it had been in for about three hours.

Roasted buffalo

The braising liquid, to which carrots, onions, and potatoes had been added, was thickened a bit to give us a hearty backdrop for the roast.

Stewed

We also had some roasted zucchini with parm-reg.

Zukes

And we added the final touch of our lovely focaccia.

Focaccia

Besides the Packers losing a game the Giants seemed better prepared to play, a very enjoyable day. Just to prove I am certifiably insane, I also ordered more seed today, because the very best thing to do when you think maybe you’re getting too close to that gardening mania line is to just boldly step right over it.

Dreaming of spring

It has been cold, dark, and gloomy today, and our chance of snow flurries has dropped down to almost nothing for tomorrow evening. Since we don’t get the thrill of that chance, it’s time to focus on the job ahead and the fun that goes with it: seed sorting and selection.

Seeds

That may seem like a lot of seeds. In fact, I think it probably is. There are maybe a dozen varieties of tomatoes, eight peppers, squashes, onions, herbs, corn, beans, melons, cucumbers, and just about anything else you’d find in a typical visit to your pantry and fridge. The fun now is determining how to lay out our frames, what to plant where, and where to build the trellises for the climbers. We still have a bit of time before our last frost date, and since things tend to germinate very quickly and spring up ready for transplanting, still some time before the seedling flats need to be started. We’re looking forward to quite a lot of canning, pickling, and freezing this year. With all the work done on the soil and the effort going into the frames, hopefully this year’s harvest will be leaps and bounds above last year’s meager and short-season pickings.

We received several orders this week of meat packed and shipped from elsewhere. One of the shippers used dry ice instead of cold packs. You know what that means.

Fun with dry ice

Doing the funky chicken

Or maybe not.

Tonight’s dinner plan was to roast a chicken (salt, pepper, ginger, fresh orange, onion) for dinner. When I started peeling it out of its wrapper, it smelled like a three week old chicken left in hundred degree heat after a skunk had sprayed it. In other words: no chicken tonight. Fortunately, there was cheesy potato vegetable chowder to be had on this gloomy, rainy evening.

My seed packets are spread out on the table, with the exception of the packets of the sungold tomato seed, which I can’t lay my hands on this instant. I need to get some flats started in the garage under the heat and grow lights, in an area which will also house some special guests for several weeks: chicks. Yes, we will have a few chickens when all is said and done, and they’ll be here in mid February to take up residence with the rest of the zoo.

It’s going to be an interesting spring around the homestead…

Harvesting fungi

About a week after tucking my mushroom box away in the bottom of my closet, the little buggers starting coming up. Then they started growing so quickly it was a bit disturbing.

Mushrooms

I had to try one.

Harvest

It was quite mushroom-y, and not at all like the cartons from the store.

Snack

The next day – and you can see the spot where the snack vanished – they’d doubled in size again.

Giants

I read in the little guide that mushrooms, when they are young, will often double their size daily. I think we can safely say this is true.

Big

A little frightened that they would start to crawl out of the box and kill me while I slept, I decided to take the first harvest.

Cut

They’re very pretty, and spectacularly easy to grow. Like goldfish, without having to change the water.

Button mushroom

Did I mention they were quite large? The one in the middle is one from a carton we picked up at the store the other day, before I went on a rampage through my personal mushroom bed.

Comparison

Ah, and the taste: magnificent. Sauteed in some olive oil, with salt, pepper, and some sliced onions, served alongside some organic, grass-fed burgers.

Keep ’em in the dark and feed ’em crap

That’s what you do with geeks who are low on the totem pole. Those of us who worked back in the day for a very, very large, and very, very well known  ISP but managed to escape know this well.

Know what else you keep in the dark and feed (pasteurized, inoculated) crap? That’s right.

Mushrooms!

One of my gifts for the holiday. The instructions there say not to open the kit prior to the date on the box. That was the 25th, as is happened, the very day it was given to me. Handy.

Opening the box

Not much to look at, is it? I’d always thought it would be cool to grow our own mushrooms. We probably go through more of them than the average family, and being able to harvest them when we want or as we need always seemed rather nifty.

Dirt

This is the base, which was moist and looked a bit like what you’d find in the bottom of a rabbit cage. But my friends, it smelled rich and loamy, the way I dream the soil outside for my gardening areas would smell were it something other than what mostly resembles beach sand.

Dry peat

On top of the base, in a separate package, was a bag of dry peat. The instructions said to pour a specific amount of water into this, mix it, and let it sit. So I did, for once, follow the instructions.

Mix

After allowing it to sit, then mixing it up well by hand, I had another batch of moist, rich material. Finally, the instructions said to spread this new  moist material on the base, and then give it a little raking with a fork.

Finally

The raking roughs up the surface so the mushrooms can take hold – akin to the way a patch of ground needs to be prepared for grass seed, really.

After doing all this, the box, as is, goes into a cool, dark place. After a week or so, the mushrooms are supposed to begin germinating, and after a few weeks, they should be large mature enough to harvest. Do we have any germinating mushrooms in my closet, ready to burst out and consume the populations of small towns?

Maybe.

It’s the thyyyymme…of the season…

Bad jokes. That’s why people come here, I know it.

The mini garden made it through the hard freezes without too much trouble (and some 4 mil plastic sheeting helped, too). I covered the garlic, the strawberries, and the snow peas, and left everything else to fend for itself.

The thyme, of course, made it through with nary a peep.

Thyme

I pulled one of the English pea pods, tried to feed a piece of it to the dogs, but neither of them were going for it. The peas themselves are not thriving, which is a little curious, but since several of them didn’t even germinate at all, not altogether surprising. The Italian replacements I dropped into the place of the duds not only germinated but made it through the serious freeze with no cover at all. If both sets come in, then we’ll have some tasty peas to shell.

Peas

I pulled the covers from the plants yesterday and they were a little limp, but perked up nicely after about 40 minutes of watering. It continues to bluff rain here, but we’ve not seen a drop. As we climb back into the 70s, maybe we’ll get a little luck in that area.

The next plan is to get the greenhouse up, or rig a test bed area with some hoops and plastic to try some hothouse items: sungold tomatoes – something you hardly find in the stores, as they are fragile and don’t ship well, but taste fantastic – peppers, and basil. This is Florida! It’s always the season to be growing.

But wait, there’s more

Our newly revised forecast for tonight and the next couple of days.

Brr

Eighteen. Eighteen? That’s a little extreme. Our little kumquat tree, which has valiantly put out a couple of handfuls of fruit, will definitely need to be bundled up against this. Luckily, it’s just under four feet and won’t pose a problem.

Working backwards a bit: mom loves peach ice cream. Her favorite. Unfortunately, it isn’t peach season (and last year’s peach season wasn’t all that terrific). The solution? Frozen peaches. Not the best, but an acceptable substitute.

Peachy

While we do a huge Thanksgiving meal, for Christmas it’s more of a buffet type of thing. People come and go, and eat if they want (or not, although that’s rare). This dinner was no different.

Merry Christmas

We have ham, roasted turkey, smoked turkey, potato salad, rice, fresh rolls, stuffing, cranberry compote, and gravy on the table. There was not a lot left at the end of the night, so yours truly did not get to nosh on leftovers for days on end.

Three days of freeze

To be more accurate, that should be three nights of freeze, but it comes down to the same thing: we will be dipping down into hard freeze temperatures for more than a few hours come the first few nights of the new year.

It's gonna be cold out there, baby!

Altogether, that isn’t terrible, and certainly nothing compared to the tales that could be told by people in other parts of the country or world. But I don’t live there, I live here, and after almost a week of temps in the 70s (over 80 one day), the crazy nature of Florida weather once again rears its head for a reminder that there are actual seasons, even if we don’t see them all that much.

It’s that crazy nature that has the milder temp things popping up all over the place in my frames. Last year’s garlic was wiped out by the nonstop rains of a tropical storm, but this year’s garlic is motoring along with nothing more than an initial watering after planting and the occasional rain we’ve had – including the strong line of storms that moved through late last night as a precursor to the coming cold snap.

Garlic shoots

The strawberries are a bit off their schedule, too, with multiple plants flowering and putting out berries. They are everbearing plants, but this isn’t exactly the sort of thing we’d expected from them. And yesterday, we pulled the first pod from the snow pea trellis.

Snow pea pods

Mom judged the first one quite sweet, but alas, it didn’t taste like much of anything to me other than green. The smell, though, was fabulous: there is nothing quite like the fresh, earthy smell of something you’ve just pulled from the vine.

Tomorrow will be a test for me, to determine how best to cover the entire fenced area for the overnight hours. Some of the plants would survive a nuclear attack – thyme, I’m talking to you – but overall, I’d like to give all of the plants every opportunity to make it through the cold stretch and back into the more normal mild weather we usually enjoy down here.

Going green

In more ways than one. Followers of this homesteading saga probably recall that our soil, such as it is, mostly contains clay and on this lot in particular, sand. The sand is predominantly the result of this house being built after others were built; it was used as a dump site for fill dirt, excavated sand, and it’s rather remarkable the trash that continues to wash up as we receive rain here and there.

The problem with this of course is that beyond the scrub, the hardier weeds, and saw palmettos, which seem to thrive no matter what, it’s difficult to coax anything else from the ground. The guajillos loved it, the thyme I’d probably only be able to kill by setting it afire given its hardy nature, and the cowpeas (black eyed peas to those of you not from around here) were fine as well. The tomatoes couldn’t do much of anything, the bell peppers tried valiantly but only mustered two, and most of the seedlings just couldn’t hack it.

Getting grass to grow also proved to be a huge challenge: with nothing nutritious in the sand and the hardpack of the clay/sand combination making it virtually impossible for grass seed to take hold, it almost seemed that it would take many, many loads of topsoil for us to do anything with the barren front of the property. I’d rather spend the money for the topsoil to be put in the areas where we’ll be growing more productive things, really: four of the five loads we had trucked in went to the back, not only to give us something more to work with, but also, like the one load that went up front, to level out some of the hollow areas in order to give us better drainage.

That left us – or, rather, me – with the problem of the front of the property and getting grass in. It isn’t primarily to have a nice lawn. After all, if I thought no one would object too terribly much, I’d just as soon plant vegetables and fruit trees all around the front of the property. No, the primary reason to get something down out front is erosion. The wind here blows mainly from the plain…I mean, from the east to the west, and there is rarely a day with no wind. This results in the sandy part of the soil mix flying off, leaving only the hardpack. This further results in flooding, as the hardpack of course does not drain particularly well, as the older photos from our rain and tropical storms show. What is an aspiring farmer to do?

Lots of backbreaking breakup of the hardpack. Lots of organic additive to get something nutritious into the soil. Lots of grass mixes (fescues, perrenial ryes, bahia). And lots of hay, spread by hand after getting the seed down. This what it looks like on November 16. Some small patches of grass are there from the first attempt to just see what would grow with with seed put down and no other real work done beyond the addition of a bit of topsoil (not much).

Grass beginning

With a lot of other work, on December 2, it looked like this.

Grass, finally

And this is today.

More grass.

The edges of the area are places where no work has been done on getting grass down, as other work needs to be done first. The far area in the above image has a giant mass of blackberry bushes that need to be dug up and burned so they don’t reroot and come back. The pile near the left of the picture behind the tree is the debris, including saw palmettos, that Wade the tractor guy cleared out from these trees so we didn’t have to spend the time digging them out by hand. There is something to be said for doing that sort of work by hand, but there are also limits to the amount of time available when there is also a huge list of other property-related work that also needs to be done (and that is also much more fun, even if it is still hard work).