Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's perfect!

Weather is everything in gardening down South. We have had a perfect balance of rain, sun, hot and moderate days. A blooming miracle for which I am most grateful. It's been cool and cloudy enough to work outside most mornings, rainy enough, with sunny days and afternoon showers in between.

I started gardening during a drought cycle that dried up the South. Atlanta's water supply was down to 30 days and our own little Lumber up here in NC got so low there were sandbars you could walk across. It was a regional drought. In my mind it was epic. I watered ever single day and gave up on flower pots for years after. It wasn't just dry, it was very hot as well. Take away: we are still at the mercy of the elements. Wind, sun, rain, the ever lovin' tilt of the earth and what we've done to it, rule.
Treasure Falls, Colorado

Hot, hot, hot potato

NC Cooperative Extension agents advise that replanting of squash in late summer is a likely fail. They are still right. Frustrated and defeated I pulled up some beautiful, bugged-out zucchini, dug the soil for a new planting of beans, and found more potatoes. This a a happy thing. I found enough for two more meals. Cool.

Okra is the big deal right now. It loves heat so it is huge and beautiful. Best I can tell, only aphids like okra and they can be blasted off with the hose.  You have to keep and eye out for them. They love to suck at the new top growth. So far, so good. No aphids.

I went ku-razy and planted twice as many plants this year which had me looking for hot, okra pickle recipes today.  The internet is a lovely thing. Should we have an over-abundance, pickles will be every neighbor's Christmas box. Think of it, a six pack of locally brewed ale and hot, spicey pickled okra at Duncan's outdoor kitchen, round an open fire pit. Very satisfying thought, it is. Cool nights, cool friends, cold beer. Very nice day-dreamy-thingy on this hot, hot day.

Two days ago I planted broccoli and cabbage seed and they are up! Surprised me. I dug weeds and watered for a carrot bed this morning and will plant the seed tomorrow. Our fall garden is in the making. Looking forward. One foot firmly planted in the present, the other on a banana peel.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Most of what we grow gets eaten straight away. Our garden is not large enough for old time canning and freezing-which is good. Who's got time for that? Lord preserve us,  and protect us, not me! There is the fig clause, however, stating that there will be no wastin' of the figs. Our's is most prolific. Big. Huge. Gigantic. Tree. Fifteen feet tall, fifteen feet wide, every, single, year it is loaded with fruit. I could start a small jam operation. Scott uses a step ladder to harvest his reach. We ceed the top fruit to the birds. I make fig jam, so does neighbor Ann, and we keep a list of fig friends. But hold up! I have found a new preservation technique! Alcohol! Brilliant! Currently soaking are peaches, blackberries, next, I'll throw in figs. Did I invent this thing of beauty? Nope. Germans call it rumtopf. No secret that it includes rum, right? A measure of sugar, add any summer fruit, glug in the rum, and you're off. This is not instant gratification food. It takes months. Is it good? Let's think for a minute of fruity, alcoholic drinks...
Bonus: If the polar vortex strike again, we be ready, mates.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Out with the old, in with the new.

     The life cycle of summer vegetables is mere weeks down South. Heat, iffy rain, stifling humidity settle in. Productivity stalls. Then something has to happen. In military speak (I learned a lot working in Fayetteville, NC) it is euphemistically called "Doing the hard, right, thing." In plain American it is, "You will now die." Continuing, military-style, I chopped off green beans at ground level leaving the nitrogen bearing roots in the ground to fertilize the next round of plantings. Dig, compost, dig, plant. In went more Mountain Magic tomatoes. Repeat but with different plants. Sweet potatoes and squash replaced the potatoes. Okra went in where garlic had grown. More beans went in the carrots patch. Waltham's butternut squash is where the kale grew and lima beans are about to bloom where the early peas were.
     Thomas Jefferson, gardening books, blogs, how-to shows and know-it-alls,  all recommend planning rotations and sequential plantings but I am so not there, yet. I have just worked up the courage to snuff out the sad-looking things taking up space, time and water. Knowing when to let go, then doing it. I learning and growing with the garden.

...becomes this. And a cobbler. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

They're ba-ack...

Squash borers. If you see one, there are hoards. I won a battle, it's true. I, Fearless Gardener,  prevented them from invading the stem directly, but revenge is sweet. Here's how it went down, literally:

 Thwarted at the ground level the soft, oozy caterpillars gathered at dusk in the canopy of the defenseless, fruiting Zucca Maxima, in the prime of her bloom. There, they hatched a plan to invade from the air. Oooo, this would be fun! They would bore holes at the junction of the leaf and leaf stem on the underside knowing that I, Fearless Gardener, their opponent, would be watching down on the garden floor below.
The point of entry.
     In a stunning, mass assault they each chose their individual leaves for cover, waited until dark of night, signaled silently using pheromones and started chewing. It was hard work for a time, but they had time, and darkness of night, on their side for the Fearless Gardener would need respite. 
Fearless Gardner, weapon at hand. 

     Simultaneously,  they began their chewing through the fibrous stem they found waiting undefended a cool, wet, natural waterside. All together, with elation at their victory, they slid down their curvy, watery stem-slides. Ity-bity voices cheering joyously, "Weeee!" and "Waaa-hoo!" Exhausted but victorious, and just a tad hungry, they snacked their way into the luscious, mother-stem bringing Zucca Maxima down much as a dragon brought down by arrows.
Now you will die! I will squash you!

     It is a sad day, gentle gardeners, in Grande Oak Garden. A sad, sad, day. Really. I am in mourning.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The large and small of it...

Ta-da! I was right. Again. Elephant garlic is a biennial.

Here's how it works:
Year one: Plant the hard brown pips that are attached to the mother garlic in late September/early October. It will sprout green leaves that look remarkably like leeks. Wait about 10 months. It will not flower and you, dear gardener will leave it in the ground. 
Year two: Wait some more. It will sprout again and grow all winter but...this spring it will send up a flower shoot which you, gentle gardener, as soon as you notice,  will pinch off as soon as you notice. This will allow your Elephant garlic to get bigger. Wait for the leaves to turn brown, pull it from the ground and you will have a milder version of the garlic we all know and love.

Does it kill vampires? Haven't tried it yet but I know they are out there. The new millennium term is Republican.
Elephant garlic with clove and pips and the regular stuff

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Harvest Time

Potatoes, cabbage, beets (yep, I did it) turnips and green beans galore are all coming out this week. It is deadly hot and dry, dry, dry-so out they come. No point in going on, or as Freakonomics my favorite drive-to-work podcast would suggest, failure can be a good. Give a listen and, if you have ever failed, you may feel better about conceding to your opponent(s).

In the winner's corner: I have given cabbage to neighbors, hope to have potatoes for a fall harvest, and have been eating steamed green beans with my fingers, like french fries, for weeks.  Grill roasted potatoes, turnips and beets have graced my dinner plate. Okra is up and looking pretty darned good. Field peas are thriving and by some miracle of fate the squash borers haven't attacked before I got some squash. Now that's something to talk about!  Life is good when the garden is giving. Food foraging for blueberries and blackberries at River Lumber, I am reminded of my place in food history. Dudes. It's hours of picking to come up with enough ity, bity blueberries for a cobbler. I do not exaggerate.
Red okra. A Christmas gift.