Dressed for summer

A couple years ago I got in the habit of dressing my vegetable garden fence just because I can. Because it’s fancy. Because it makes me happy. Now, I like to think it makes my chickens happy.

The flags only last through the summer because I choose pretty fabrics as opposed to outdoor fabrics, but they’re easy to make. This year I found four beautiful, vibrant West African fabrics that look especially dashing with my red chicken hut. What silly traditions make you happy in the summertime?

Victory Garden 2021 Underway!

I’m about two weeks late getting my Victory Garden in this year … because life. But, over the weekend I got everything underway and I suppose the best upside to the delay is that we’ll get veggies into the fall. Optimism, right?

I sketched the layout in my garden journal and started seeds in early April. None of my shishito or cucumber seeds took (boo, hiss), but the okra, green beans, cucumbers, and bell peppers were successful. I amended my seedlings with tomatoes from the Carrboro Farmers Market, and cucumbers and rainbow chard from Country Farm & Home. I’ve also started a second batch of shishito seeds this week and am transferring the balance of my karma patience points their way. In my raised beds, I’ve got butter crunch lettuce, the chard, and herbs (cilantro, basil, oregano, sage, thyme); in an open spot on the side of the house, nestled between batches of irises and camellias, are some potatoes that my friend Johnny gave me. And back along the edge of the woods by my husband’s honeybees, we’re growing watermelons because the chickens love them as much as our son does. The final prep will be a little patchwork to the landscaping fabric in the main garden because over the winter that asshole June Carter Cash, who loves to fly the coop and hang out in the garden abutting the chicken hut, scratched it up — but otherwise, Victory Garden 2021 is a Go!

What are you planting this year?

Welcome, Honeybees!

Welcome, Honeybees … bringers of spring and bountiful fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

Today, my husband introduced two new sets of bees to the meadow hives – one Italian and one Russian. Queens Isabella and Natasha. The honeybees are already scouting the field, checking out our peach, plum, fig, and apple trees. They’ve done fly-by’s to my chickens and are giving our beagle the side-eye. They’re synchronizing GPS’s and already bringing in pollen. #squad 

Everything seems to be in order and we’re excited for the forthcoming growing season. Shout out to James Fogleman at Silk Hope Bees for the packages. Let the 2021 Victory Garden season commence!

PS. Two of Queen Isabella’s henchmen stung the mister, so it looks like we’ve got a protection racket happening downfield. lol

Microgreen harvest

Yesterday I harvested our first batch of arugula microgreens. They are D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S. But they are a pain in the ass to harvest. Tiny trims with sharp harvest scissors, just a couple shoots at a time. I have a new-found respect for microgreen farmers, and could totally get behind the microgreen union raising the prices for these tasty superfoods. The process made me happy that our family are subsistence farmers and the community-at-large isn’t relying on me for microgreens. But like I said: tasty. I can feel their superpowers surging through me now. So thank a farmer, and find a microgreen farmer in your community to support. You’ll both be happy.

Thanks to the honeybees

My husband started keeping bees early this spring because, thanks to quarantining and no business travel, he suddenly had the time. I jest, but I’m happy to report many good things have come from staying at the meadow. One of them is our garden–both vegetables and flowers!

We’ve had a little more rain than usual, the summer has been hotter, our beds are more established … all of these things are true. But I think we can really attribute much of Mother Nature’s success to honeybees. I did a little digging. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service states that “Roughly one of three bites of food is dependent on the work of honey bees and other pollinators, mostly wild native bees.” And according to the American Beekeeping Federation, “Many of the country’s crops would not exist without the honey bee at bloom time. Crop yield and quality would be greatly reduced without honey bee pollination.” I concur.

Perdue University’s horticulture program has an informative guide on the use of bees with vegetable crops, and according to them, our cucumbers and squash greatly benefitted from the bees. Our okra and pepper “set fruit without bees, but bee activity has shown to increase yields.” And our snap beans and tomatoes apparently got nothing from the honey bees other than having their pollen and nectar collected. But I don’t believe that, because my tomatoes have been more productive than ever this year.

So whether you’re relying on wild native bees, or are a practicing beekeeper, keep on providing a safe space for honeybees in your area. Their direct and indirect hard work pays off. Check out today’s tomato haul: 20!

Bumper Crop: Tomato!

Last summer I couldn’t get any of my tomatoes to ripen, and this summer we’ve got tomatoes out the wazoo. I’m not complaining, mind you, because there’s nothing better than fresh field tomatoes. But we can only eat them so quickly. I decided to put some up for the winter, and am super surprised at how easy it was.

I used what we’ve got: Roma, early girl, and big boy. I tried one batch with citric acid, at the suggestion of my friend Karla. And I tried one batch like Vivian Howard, with lemon juice, salt and sugar. Both were super easy, so I think I’ll stick with Vivian’s because we always have lemons, salt and sugar on hand. I borrowed a large 16 qt gumbo pot from some friends down the way, but am going to get one to have on hand. The process was the same either way, and because it uses a hot water bath rather than a pressure cooker, you can consider me a forthcoming regular practitioner of canning.

Sterilize your jars and lids, either in the dishwasher or in the pot where you’ll be canning. Wash your tomatoes, then score them on the bottom. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then submerge your tomatoes for 30 – 45 seconds (I typically put them the water, then roll them around a couple times with my strainer spoon) and shift them over to a water bath. Peel, core and then quarter them. Add the quarters to your sterilized jars — I filled them to the top and pressed just a bit to make sure they were nicely filled. Run a knife around the edge to make sure you get out any air pockets. Then sprinkle 1/4-tsp of the citric acid over the top — or, if you’re using Vivian’s recipe, add the lemon juice, salt and sugar to the bottom of the jar before you add the tomatoes. Screw on the lid and place them down into the hot water, making sure you’ve got an inch or two above the top of the jars. Karla said to keep them at a low, rolling boil for 75 minutes, which I did, and it worked. Use jar tongs to remove the jars, and place them on drying racks on the counter. Leave them for 12 hours, and then move them to the pantry. I like an easy recipe, and this was definitely easy.

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Behind the Scenes: Tomatoes

In this week’s Chatham News & Record, I talked about tomatoes. I’ve been reading Max Brooks’ latest novel, Devolution, which is why I mentioned I’d be willing to arm wrestle a sasquatch for the last tomato. That opinion stands yesterday, today and tomorrow … because even if the sasquatch eventually does me in, I’ll die happy with a belly full of tomato yumminess.

I also mentioned Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. If you’re a child of the 70s and 80s, you know what I’m talking about. I grew up on an Army base in Germany, and we didn’t get the same shows in the mid-70s as American kids did in the states. I love Sesame Street, but didn’t see that until we got back state-side. Before that was the Electric Company, which I’m certain heavily contributed to my ADD. Because, HEY YOU GUYS!

But I digress … we’ll blame it on the Electric Company effect. Back to tomatoes! I always ask my community gardening experts about fertilizing and pest control, and Kathryn Robinson said, “Early on, I use an organic tomato plant fertilizer every few weeks.” She’s also the unicorn of farmers because the Japanese beetles in her garden “don’t seem to like the tomato plants.” 

If there are any tomato-whisperers out there, hit me up. I’m always looking for ways to improve my tomato game.

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Blueberries

Our son and I could both eat our weights in blueberries. Last spring I added a blueberry bush to our Victory Garden, and last summer we got, maybe, eight blueberries. I didn’t even bring them inside to share; I just ate them right there in the rows. Guilt-free.

This summer, however, we’ve already pulled off about three dozen, and there’s as many still ripening. Maybe next summer we’ll have a whole pint that comes off at one time, that we can use to make blueberry muffins. Who knows!