Stinky, in a good way

There is a reason garlic is called the stinking rose.

This was the beginning of some roasted garlic buttermilk ranch dressing made by yours truly on Friday evening. A small batch, since it was just a few of us for dinner and unlike the crap laden with preservatives, homemade dressings will go south fairly rapidly if not used in short order.

I shouldn’t have worried about it not being used. The small batch is practically gone, tonight, before launching the cooking of the beer battered shrimp, fried flounder, boiled shrimp (with Old Bay, of course), and steamed snow peas picked a few minutes before, I made a double batch. That should hold us for a few days. Maybe.


There is a wide range of formats for the seed catalogs that come in. One thing that is the same, however, is the promise of what you could grow in your very own yard were so inclined to do so and doesn’t that plant look interesting and wouldn’t it be great to be able to show off this unique tomato and I wonder if this tender item would survive the brutal summers here and…well, you get the idea. Great fun to look through.

The things you find

We had a cool front blow through very quickly yesterday, dropping five minutes of heavy rain and leaving behind a lot of wind. Perfect time to get out and plant a long line of peas and snap beans – 30 feet of each – and start getting the frames in shape for the coming transplants. That means leveling out the dirst, pulling miscellaneous weeds and crap out of the frames, but also finding a few surprises here and there.

Like an unwelcome slumbering pest.

This would have been a hornworm had it survived the cleanup. It didn’t.

Nor did this visitor.

That one went to the chicken as a snack.

On the plus side, I also found a stray peanut in one of the frames, happily sprouting in the temperate weather we’ve had. I put that back in the frame, and we’ll have others joining it. I also found these volunteers, which should give a fairly good idea of just how warm it’s been.

Yes, those are watermelon seedlings. They probably all died from the surprise freeze last night, but it was nice to see them out there, going about the only business they know.

It’s what’s for dinner

Hoo boy.

No, we’re not planning on eating the entire thing in one sitting. It’s just three of us for dinner. This is a sirloin tip roast, one of the various cuts we picked up from our quarter cow order and packed off into the freezer. Tonight, this very good looking piece of meat was seasoned very simply (salt, pepper, garlic), seared, and then put into the oven with some freshly squeezed orange juice (oranges courtesy of my aunt’s highly burdened tree). The leftovers will be part of the makings of salads and sandwiches.

What to eat with that? How about some butternut squash, roasted with some butter, salt, pepper, and brown sugar.

That’s rice there in the background. We also picked up some buffalo mozzarella from our visit to the new Whole Foods in the city. The cheese is from Italy (not too many buffalo around these parts) and was fine indeed. Tangy and cheesy and just good eating.

Whole Foods apparently have issues with people taking pictures inside their store, for some reason. Why is that? Scared of people knowing that it’s set up just like any other specialty grocery? It isn’t as if there is anything proprietary in nature about a publicly accessible place like this. The people were friendly enough, the place was very clean, and it was packed with customers. My pulled pork looked much better than that on their hot bar, but they did have some other good looking things. I was very tempted to pick up one of the whole fresh grouper they had in the case. At 10.99/pound, it was a great deal when you’re not right on top of the dock buying it off the boat. Perhaps another time.

Begun, the tomato trials have

Why thank you, Yoda: you are absolutely correct.

Yesterday, I started a couple of flats almost entirely of tomatoes.


  • Ibsen’s gold
  • Toas
  • Koralik
  • Porter’s pride
  • Ildi
  • Peacevine cherry
  • Gold currant
  • Isis candy
  • Amish paste
  • Arkansas traveler
  • stakebreaker
  • Gardener’s delight
  • Imperial
  • Brandywine OTV
  • Italian tree
  • Mrs. Maxwell’s italian
  • Anahu
  • Sungold

I had a few cells left, so I also started some jalapeno, cayenne, and datil pepper seed as well.

First round of flats
First round of flats

These are sitting on some black plastic on the table to keep the heat levels up. This means, of course, that they also need more than regular monitoring to make sure they don’t dry out.

I’m hoping we’ll see the first seedlings pop up by the weekend. The trick will be babying them through the next month or so and then getting them transplanted successfully.

Last year, we had some frames that remained empty as we never got anything in them due to the bugs, the wacky weather, and general busy-ness with other things. This year, I intend to fill it all. And by “all” I mean…

The hoop supports were where the doomed tomato and peppers resided before being evicted to the compost pile. I’m hoping to try something under cover over the next month and a half before spring arrives and turns rapidly into summer.

What’s growing right now? Lots.

Parsnips, rounds one and two, to be followed in the next few days by another round. Parsnips take awhile, and are better in cooler weather, so the third will probably be the last until late summer unless I can rig a way to keep them cooler than 100+ degrees in summer without using any electricity or excessive watering.

The corn frames, relocated to the front. The first frame has hard red winter wheat, which should be able to be pulled by the time I want to start the corn in March. The second has alfalfa, for sprouts.

Carrots, four varieties. We should be able to begin pulling these in a couple of weeks.  I’ll be starting another round of the little finger variety in the smaller frames.

That spot there where the water head is and the perfect circle of no carrots is where a cat got into the frame before the fences went up. The bunnies also munched around the edges of the frames, taking the tops of some of the carrots down, but after I got the fence in place, everything bounced right back. Good thing, too, or there would be pictures of rabbit stew on this blog.

Peas: sugar snaps and oregon sugar pod.

We’ve had some of these already – remember, picking makes for productive plants! – and according to those who have eaten them, they’re mighty tasty. Peas can stand a light frost, and these were not covered even during the hard freeze we had a couple weeks ago, so they appear to be winners all around.

Here we have a couple of cabbages, a round of spinach and lettuce, and onions at the far side. The frames to the left and at the end are empty except for the weeds that need to be pulled.

The smaller frames up front have some things in production. This is the only row with anything, and four of these are taken up by four different varieties of garlic. We loves our garlic.

We don’t love the weeds, but they’ve invaded that first frame and need to be removed. Just another job on the farm.

One batch of the garlic I almost deemed a dud, as it did not spring up very quickly. Once it started, though, it turned out to be just as healthy as the other batches.

Healthy, icky brussels sprouts. Three varieties. There are some leeks in the front, and the ones that didn’t totally die off when the bunnies ate down the greens have come back strong.

I will note for the record that the bunnies did not touch the brussels, at all. Can’t blame them for that.

Finally, broccoli and another variety of peas – shelling peas, piccolo (small) from an Italian seed.

The broccoli is coming along nicely.

When I was keping track last year of the harvest – between 5 Jun and 7 Aug – even with all the issues we had, we harvested 132 pounds of food from the frames we had in place. This year, I’m going to keep better track and we’ll see how much we can produce on our own here.

Working for peanuts


Way back last summer, we put in a test batch of peanuts in a single frame. Nice, low growing, low maintenance things. Forgot to water them a few times, didn’t cover them during a freeze here and there, and the top leaves and vines eventually died. When we were moving the frames to the front of the property, I decided to pull them out and toss them in the compost. Lo and behold, we had peanuts. Who knew?

We let them air dry for about a week, and on Sunday, tossed them in the crockpot with some salt, covered them with water, and set them on the boil.

Taste test: good peanut flavor, but that’s about all I could taste. Mom swears they are very sweet (and not salty enough, but she is the original salt monster), but apaprently not sweet enough for me to be able to tell. All in all, a worthy experiment, and I have plans to start another set soon.


Venus and Jupiter at dusk, December 12, 2008.

‘Tis the season for spring planning. Admittedly, around here, winter is fairly spring-like, with only random frosts and freezes – including one surprise soft freeze last week that not a single weather forecast indicated. This is not to say it doesn’t get chilly here. Yours truly gets chilled when it drops into the 70s, and when the lows are in the 30s, I have to focus very diligently on reminding myself that it won’t last as long as it would were we living elsewhere, like the frozen hinterlands up north. My lack of bodyfat does not help matters, and all of this is usually a great source of amusement to everyone else when they are complaining about how hot it is and I have my heater under my desk warming my feet.

Those random freezes also serve to remind me that I need to deal better with them. Example: I had started nine tomato seeds (trust F1) and nine sweet bells (seven made it). They survived their transplant after almost two months in the flat. What they did not survive was an overnight freeze, under plastic and some agribon. The main issue was the thickness of the plastic – unfortunately, my brother had gotten pretty thin stuff, and although we doubled it, it was clearly not enough. The thicker stuff at 7 mil should be plenty, though, in the event another freeze comes along and we have to cover overnight. I even set up hoops and figured out that half inch conduit clips would work just fine to keep everything in place. At this point, what is out in the frames is hardy enough to survive without covering since the tomatoes and peppers keeled over. Even the peas, growing like gangbusters, will survive a light frost. Like these peas, freshly shelled, then cooked up for dinner when everyone was here the other night.

But these chillier days also serve another purpose: planning for spring. And as it happens, this is when the seed companies send out their catalogs, so I am awash in the wonder of what’s available, much like the thrall in which we were held many years ago when the Sears catalog would arrive.

In order to decide what you want, what’s doable, and what you need, the first thing you have to do is take stock. There are 222 lines on the spreadsheet I made, and that doesn’t include the box of flower seeds I have. That’s quite a bit of seed, and means that I don’t need all that much. The things I want to try that I don’t have, though, are becoming quite the list. There is also the tree situation: we definitely want a couple of almond trees, and a few mature citrus. Maybe an olive, for those around here who like them – not me. Oil, yes. Fruit, no.

So, as ordering goes, there probably won’t be a ton of things on my list beyond seed for corn and a few odds and ends. But since I have all this seed, and most things should be started in flats 6-8 weeks before the last frost, I made myself busy and got some things started today. Typical last frost around here is February 14, and that really puts us at about six weeks about now, so this is the time. Today I started seed for:

Tomatoes: big beef, Marianna’s peace, Cherokee purple, Sausalito, Abe Lincoln, Trust F1, Manitoba, Stupice, Early girl

Peppers: Socrates X3R, mild jalapeno, quadrato d’asti, sweet bell mix

Broccoli (calabrese), warm weather cauliflower (why not?)

Herbs: sweet basil, lime basil, lemon basil, sweet thai basil, Greek oregano, rosemary, mint, lavender

Others: marigold (petite doubles), pyrethrum, phacelia tanacetifolia (good composter, beneficial nematodes)

I plan to start another flat or so in the coming week, with more fun stuff. Including what rapidly became everyone’s favorite last year: sungold tomatoes. The sungolds are very early, at only 57 days, so I don’t want to start them too early and not be able to liberate them from their flat – or worse, transplant them and then lose them to a weather quirk.

Tomorrow: pictures of the front – and now, main – garden as a bit of a tour to what’s going on around here.

Details, details

There is a rather annoying commercial I’ve been seeing for some company that promises to scan your computer and zap all the stuff that slows down a system, fix malware, and other assorted things. The ad begins with a bunch of people whining about how slow their computers are, shows the typical error messages that pop up on Windows systems, and in the middle, says the scan is only for PCs. Fair enough. Why, then, do they insist on showing people pounding away on Macs and gleefully reporting at the end of the ad how much faster their systems are? I’m sure only people like me notice these things, but it’s rather amusing to think of someone who does indeed have a Mac thinking that this might be just the thing for them (even though it isn’t) because some of the people in the ad are shown using machines just like theirs.

Poor girls

We lost another chicken last week. Those of you following our chicken story know we had three at the beginning. One flew the coop, we believe, and got taken or run over. Last week, mom came back inside after heading out to the coop to let the two remaining girls out, and said, “One of the girls is dead.”

I headed out to the coop (with some disposable gloves) and sure enough, one of the girls was dead just inside the door of the coop where the wood has warped and there is an open space. Inside was clear evidence that something had gotten in and a terrific fight had gone on. There were feathers everywhere in the coop, and the poor girl had part of her back end shewed away. I think it likely the orange and white male cat I’ve seen around the property was the culprit, and he could not get the rather large chicken through the rather small gap through which he entered, eventually leaving her behind.

I buried the poor chicken out near the treeline, and we rigged a temporary additional fencing to use to cover the gaps until we build a real coop. We’ve decided to get another five or six layers, and we really do need a sturdy house-like structure for them to go into at night, given all the critters roaming around the country here (raccoon poo on the porch, anyone?) that will happily snack on a chicken head if one is unwise enough to poke out.

Drive time

Had to start the new year with a trip to the NOC this morning for what turned out to be a relatively minor issue. As the Gator Bowl is today, I saw a good number of cars with Nebraska and Clemson flags flutering in the heavy wind here. Excluding semis and of course excluding the home state here, I saw license plates from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Virginia, West Virignia, and Quebec. Quite the collection on a morning with very little traffic.