July 22, 2012

Independence Days Update—Summer

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Howdy folks!  It has been ages since I last posted, and all I can say for myself is that I’ve been enjoying the summer with my family.  Since the Independence Days Updates are my favorite types of posts, I thought I’d take a minute to type one up. 

April 29th was the last of these posts.  At that time I had been focused on planting the garden and enjoying the first of the harvests.  All I had preserved to that point was strawberry jam and dehydrated strawberries. 

Fast forward to today.  Our weather in East TN was very dry and hot earlier in June and then in the last couple of weeks we have received a number of rain showers and the world is turning green again.  We were away on vacation in late June and early July, and after I returned I have found myself less and less interested in the garden.  I could say that it is the abundance of weeds that multiplied like rabbits while we were gone, or perhaps blame it on the humidity, or  that our days are filled with other priorities, but the truth is that I’m just not a huge fan of hot weather.  I become lazier and lazier with my outdoor chores when the temperature peaks.  I try to go out in the early morning or later at night, but I find that it feels more like a chore and less like a form of recreation.  I yank a couple of weeds, force myself to not let the fruits and vegetables rot on the vine, and then I retreat to sit under a fan. 

Why do I mention this in a post about gardening?  Because I want y’all to understand that you do not have to be perfect to garden.   There are lots of ways to undertake having a garden, and I think many people hesitate to plant one because of this idea that they will do it wrong.  Home and garden magazines and shows depict photos of gorgeous landscapes without a weed or shriveled leaf in the shot, but that isn’t the reality for many of us.  Some gardeners I know just plant a few tomatoes each year or a handful of flower seeds, but they enjoy their garden just as much as those that spend hours and hours toiling away. 

The garden has always been a faithful friend to me.  Each year I find myself less and less interested in it when the weather turns hot, when by the way I probably “should” be spending more time in it.  As the fall nears, I return to the soil and spend hours of meditation there again.  Just like a friend who has been away, we become reacquainted with one another.  I give to it, and it gives to me.  While the harvest of fruits and vegetables isn’t as plentiful, the meditation and peace I receive in the fall and spring is much richer.  I suppose it might always be that way, and I’m sure I’ll have more zest for the garden as the weather cools.

Now for the Independence Days Update:

Plant something:  I planted another wave of Blue Lake Pole Beans and Marketmore cucumbers.  I added some watermelons, a couple more tomatoes, a couple more bell peppers, and a few more hills of crookneck squash.  I had seeded more melons and squash to go in the ground, but when we were away, those plants all died.  The eggplant that I had planted before we left isn’t looking too good.  It took a hard hit while we were away, and despite the fact that it is sprouting more leaves, I’m not convinced that it will flower and fruit in time for a harvest this year. 

I never planted the figs in the ground.  With the bathroom project taking up so much of our time this year, we didn’t have a good chance to make a front garden bed like I had envisioned.  I transplanted them to larger pots, and this will allow us to move them into shelter in the coldest days of winter. 

Harvest something: Possibly the biggest delight in this category have been the blueberry bushes.  I can’t recommend highly enough that you plant blueberries if you haven’t yet.  They have a sweet little flower, their leaves turn to red in the fall, and they take only a few years until they really start producing for you.  This year has been our best crop.  At first the berries were a little mealy but as we had more rain they have become sweeter and plumper.  This will be the first year that I won’t have to go picking at a farm.  We’ve frozen well over a gallon’s worth so far, I made jam, and we’ve had plenty to eat and bake into recipes.  Yum!

We picked radishes, asparagus, spinach, lettuce and peas until the weather turned warmer in May.  The cabbages and bok choy held off a little longer but started to bolt and wilt in early June.   We’ve had a good crop of onions this year, and they have been sweeter than previously.   I could yank them for storage, but I instead prefer to just pick them and use them as needed.  We had onions that we could harvest all throughout last winter, though it was a milder winter for us than usual. 

This summer we have been disappointed with our squash and beans.  I’m not sure if the neglect of our trip or the lack of rain or late planting or all of the above is to blame.  Others I know have had good yields on these crops, so I’ll blame it on the head gardener of our household.  The great thing about friends having abundance is that as they become sick of cooking them, they have been kind enough to pass their bounty on to us. 

The beet harvest was a good one this year.  The beets were plump and sweet, and I was pleased to have so many that I harvested. 

Other foods harvested—one Jenny Lind cantaloupe that was a volunteer from our compost bin.  What a nice surprise!  Tomatoes of all sorts, herbs, a few flower arrangements, a few puny cucumbers, and some bell and hot peppers. 

Preserve something: I learned about a farmer who had wild blackberries for sale through the local Weston A. Price Foundation group, and I jumped on the chance to buy some.  I made a couple of large batches of jam and froze a few pints.  (Can I take a moment to say how much I’m liking the Ball Flex Batch Pectin?  It is so nice to not have to have a full batch worth of fruit in order to make jam!  If I have a smaller amount, the recipe tells how much pectin, lemon juice, and sugar to add—perfect!)

A friend blessed us with more beets.  I had already made about 7 quarts worth of pickled beets but unfortunately had overcooked the beets.  They were not as crisp as I normally would like.  A friend from church called the very next week and said she had more than she could use.  I was tickled to can another 10 pints worth, and this time I did not overcook them! 

The same friend has shared squash and zucchini and corn with us.  I made a hot and mild batch of Frugally Farming Family’s recipe for Squash Pickles.  I add a couple of jalapenos in place of some of the bell peppers to give it a little kick.  We so enjoyed this on hot dogs and sausages last year!  After we gorged ourselves on the corn, I removed the kernels from the cob, blanched it, and froze it for later in the year. 

I mentioned making Blake Blueberry Jam and freezing blueberries—other than that, I can’t think of anything else I’ve preserved.

My goal this week is to work on peaches.

Waste not: A friend from church passed some winter clothes and jeans on to our daughter.  I passed the maternity clothes from when I was pregnant with our daughter to a sweet neighbor who is expecting in October.  I also gave a few hand-me-downs to a friend for her kiddos. 

I finally decided to let go of the many boxes of baby clothes that we had stored, and I was so pleased when Little Red Hen Consignment Tagging Service agreed to help me with tagging them.  Kristen has been so great to work with, and I look forward to seeing how my very first consignment sale goes! 

Want Not: The main areas where we have been building up our storage is in canning the harvest from our garden and the bounty from friends’ gardens. 

Eat the Food: I’ve really been enjoying squash casserole lately.  This recipe is one of my treasured ones because the card is written in my mother’s script.  It is her sister Hobby’s recipe.  I’ve tweaked it only slightly—you can see my revisions below. 

Squash Casserole

5-6 Yellow Squash, quartered and sliced, cooked in a bit of bacon grease with Nature’s Seasoning and a bit of onion if desired.  Since I don’t add water, there is very little liquid to drain and so I don’t usually bother to do so.  Transfer to a mixing bowl so that it cools slightly so as to not scramble the eggs when you add them.
1/2 stick butter
1-2 cups of grated cheese (I just add a couple of handfuls)
3 raw eggs, beaten

Stir and add bread crumbs on top.  I use Italian bread crumbs and add just a slight sprinkle to the top.  Cook for about 20 minutes at 300 or 400 degrees.

Build community food systems: I have worked in the church food pantry a number of times since my last update.  We try to support local farmers through our purchases.  I organized and worked the VBS for our church.  We fed about 100 people each night.  This year we only had the napkins as waste (tumblers, plates, and silverware were all washed and reused).  I had brought cloth napkins the first night, but we quickly learned that the benefit of using them was greatly outweighed by the cost and time put into cleaning them each night.  We also asked church members to bring cucumbers from their gardens to add as a veggie for the kiddos—they loved this!

Skill up:  I attended a few very interesting conferences—one on Hoarding and another on Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.  Both were extremely helpful to me in my work as a social worker.  As for other day-to-day skills, I can’t think of any brand new ones. 

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