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July 2010

FrankenFlower: A Story of Survival

Once upon a time, in a little onion patch of a small garden, there grew a simple onion flower bud, the only onion flower bud in the entirety of the onion patch, in fact.

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The kind lady gardener who tended the onion patch was very pleased to discover the little bud and became very quickly fond of it. She would come and visit the bud every day, making sure that it had enough water and fertilizing the soil around it's roots to help it grow big and strong.

The onion bud grew larger and fuller, until one day it's cone peeled away with the help of the warm, friendly wind to reveal many, many tiny white buds.

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The lady gardener was thrilled to see the new onion blossom. Sometimes she would just sit and admire the onion blossom, even taking photos of it for her garden journal. She was really excited and could hardly wait to see how the blossom would look when all the tiny little buds opened and the onion flower was in full bloom!

One morning the lady gardener came into the garden to water all the plants, and there it was! Onion blossom was fully blooming and showing off it's newly opened buds with pride!

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"Hooray for onion blossom!" said the lady gardener, and she ran to fetch her camera.

That night, a terrible, mean thunderstorm came through the area. "Look at that little garden! ARGH! I'm going to smash and rend with my big winds! I'll douse everything with my big rains! RAWRRRR!" 

The garden shivered with fright and everybody clung to each other in their patches of dirt with all their little, planty might.

But the lady gardener had been wise when she made her garden. She placed everyone close together so they could become good friends, and so that the taller, stronger plants could shade and shelter the smaller, more tender ones.

The mean old storm did it's worst that night, rampaging and having it's tantrum. No one really knows why the storm chose to take it's wrath out on the little garden...it wasn't really a very large storm, and it's possible that it got picked on a lot, and had turned into a bully because of it.

Whatever the case, the mean storm soon grew bored of it's wrath-making and fizzled off to find a bank of clouds to fall asleep in.

The next morning, the lady gardener came out to see how her plants had fared in the storm. There were a few bits of trash that had been blown into the garden, some leaves that had been torn from trees and even a few branches lying about, but the garden seemed fine. All the plants were beaming at her with relief at having made it through the night.

All the plants, that is, except for onion blossom.

"What's wrong, onion blossom? Why are you laying there on your side in the lettuces?" Lady gardener went over and gently lifted onion blossom up to see what had happened to it. "OH, NO! Your stem! It's broken and bruised!"

You see, onion blossom had been so curious to see the other plants outside of the onion patch, especially the frilly, colorful lettuces, that it's stem had grown very long.

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Unfortunately, the blossom's stem had grown too long to be strong enough to withstand the mean storm.

And the lady gardener was so sad that the onion blossom would not get to finish out it's life (and maybe even make seeds), that she did something very drastic indeed.

She cut the blossom just above the ruined stem, and then she cut the stem way down lower to reveal the hollow tube of the onion plant's stalk. And there she gently placed the broken blossom so that it's stem was inside the tube - hopefully deep enough to get the water and nutrition it needed.

Over the next couple of days, the lady gardener saw that the tube-stem closed itself around the blossom's broken end, keeping onion blossom safe and alive.

And thus was FrankenFlower created.

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Perhaps the onion blossom isn't as vibrant and lovely as it once was, and it is surely sad to be so far away from the lettuces that had become it's favorite companions, but yet it still blooms, and yet it still lives. And the lady gardener continues to watch over FrankenFlower and all the other plants in her garden.

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The End.


Battle of Good and Evil in the Garden

The cucumbers are doing their best to cover my back deck. I may be doing a lot of pickling if all those blossoms make fruits.

Creeping tendrils of fuzzy yellow cucumber goodness:

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This one is about halfway grown. Lemon cucumbers are supposed to be harvested when they are lemon-sized and just starting to turn yellow. If they are allowed to reach full maturity, they turn a bright yellow with vertical stripes. I tried one that was already mostly yellow and the skin was too thick to enjoy, so now I harvest them sooner, rather than later.

Sliced:

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Here is a counter full of bounty:

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Chamomile blossoms on the left, a jar of pickled radishes, and a bunch of cucumbers, onions, turnips and a bell pepper. All of these are pretty small, about the size of a lime or lemon. They make up for their size with fabulous flavor!

I've got sunflowers that are about to open up, and lots of blossoms and babies on my pepper plants. Some of the labels went missing, so it will be even more of a surprise to see what kinds of peppers they make. The beans are doing really well, but I am still not happy with the trellis I made for the pole beans. I think I need to do some minor carpentry.

Also, my peppers and cukes look so heat-struck every day at mid-day in this heavy heat. I think I will make a shade that I can use to cover them in the harshest hours of the day, without blocking out all of the light. I've got some weed barrier lying around, and that seems like it would be enough to take the worst of the scorching sun away.

Most of my plants only require a moderate amount of water...I supplement the frequent short rain showers with a few moments of running the low pressure irrigation and nearly everybody seems happy. However, the container plants need more water than the ones in beds, and the cucumbers are gulping water like crazy! I think they probably go through at least a gallon a day.  Sometimes I have to water them twice a day. Today I added a tiny bit of fertilizer to the water, since so much volume goes through. I'll see how it gets on over the next few days.

I've been thinking a lot about why I enjoy gardening so much...I think it engages my curiosity because there is always something new to discover. I love growing something for the first time and seeing what it will do, what sort of flowers it will make, how tall it will get, what it will smell and taste like. I had no idea that squashes and cukes were fuzzy and grew on fuzzy vines that make you itch if you brush against them. I was absolutely spellbound last year when I saw my first okra blossom, delicately beaded with water after a summer rain.

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The harvest is so exciting. I can't wait to go outside each day and see what is ready to pick. If it's something like a root vegetable, every once in a while I'll dig down around the plant, pushing the soil away ever so gently to see if it's big enough, then carefully patting the soil back into place.


Update: GAHHHH!!! EWWEEEE!!! OMG! Ick-factor Eleven!

I just got really freaked out...

I went outside to check on my plants and water the cukes and noticed that two of my tomatoes were half-eaten away. I pulled them off the vine and saw some type of blackened, shriveled poo-goo on the leaves below and wondered what crude, foul and mannerless critter was eating my 'maters and then adding insult to injury by emptying their bowels right there at their dining table.

It was at that moment that my eyes locked onto the most ginormous, ookiest, scaryiest green caterpillar-monster thing I've ever seen in my life - quietly pretending to be part of the tomato vine!

As soon as I saw it and realized how close I had come to touching it, my body went into immediate and uncontrollable "GET IT OFF ME" flailings and convulsions. I think I remember hearing the sound of terrified squealing, too. As I was the only one around, I'm pretty sure the noises were coming from me.

(See, I have caterpillar fear. I have suffered this fear ever since I was a little kid. It isn't rational, I know, but it really doesn't matter - caterpillars creep me out in the worst way. True Story: about 10 years ago Ian, an ex boyfriend of mine, spent a good 5 minutes coaxing me to come over and take a look at a large black and orange specimin he had discovered clinging to the screen on his porch. I was on the same side of the screen as the cater-monster, and I guess Ian just couldn't resist the temptation...he flicked the vile creature onto me, gleefully laughing at his joke until he realized that I was literally convulsing, screaming and flailing about in terror. I was even crying. He had to hold me by both arms to get me to stop flailing, and then gently flicked the caterpillar off of my shoulder, where it had been clinging the entire time. This realization of course made me start flailing about all over again.)

So there I was today, face to face with my terror. This dude was big and he was gonna have to go down. I looked frantically around me for a weapon, something that could smash and destroy, but nothing too short...I couldn't risk letting the ooky thing touch me! My eyes lit upon a large pair of pruning shears. Just the thing.
 
I poked the monster-pillar with the tip of the shears, half-squinting my eyes, my head held wayyyy back in case he tried to spray me in the face with a stream of acid-spittle or slime-venom. He reared back a bit. Gulp. I poked again.
 
He tried pretending he was just a part of the plant, but I was onto him. I wedged the shears under his belly so I could pry him off of the plant. I wanted to get him down on the deck so I could do my smashing without damaging any 'maters.
 
That's when he started shaking back and forth violently, RAWR!
 
I jumped and squealed. I retreated and went through another course of squick-tremors.
 
Deep breath. No. I had to remain strong. My 'maters were at stake here, I had to protect them!
 
I went right back in there, but this time my tactic was different. I couldn't pry the fucker off of the vine, so it was time to fight dirty. I opened the shears and - cut!
 
UNNGH!!! YUCK! The head fell to the ground in a very wet, slimy, dark-green splat of writhing guts. (**shudder**) The body still clung to the vine, dripping slimy ooze and twitching. The fear and revulsion were so strong in me that my eyes started streaming. I was shaking. I poked again and again and again until I could get the rest of the bug's carcass off of my tomato plant. I had won.
 
I left the body there as a example to any other tomato-munching interlopers, and looked at the plant for more to smash while I was still feeling strong and fierce. I found another much smaller caterpillar nearby and smushed him quickly with the shears. But I had reached my limit. No more Outside for me today.
 
Noah's been sitting with me for the last half hour while I wrote this report. He gives me a gentle lick every now and then, to reassure me. His paw squeezes my thigh gently to let me know that it's okay. I think he may be laughing at me a little, too, but I don't mind.

Soul Food

Yesterday I brought home a rather large, very heavy cooler containing the better parts of one quarter of a grass-fed cow.

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The price was unbeatable, plus, this cow came from a local farm and was slaughtered and processed in the past two weeks.

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I am happy to have a freezer full of an amazing variety of cuts of beef, and I am gratified to know that my money went directly to the man who raised and nurtured this cow on my behalf (and also to the people who slaughtered and butchered the cow). I can trace the path of this meat from birth to my freezer, and all of it occurred within a few counties of mine, right here in Georgia.

I have discovered that I enjoy my food far more by knowing exactly where it came from. My eggs come from another farm in the area, and every week I get to see and chat with the farmer, directly putting my money into his hands in exchange for beautiful, nourishing food that he took part in producing. I feel connected to my food, and even connected to my community, in a way that I never experienced in the days of wholly grocery store, conveyor-belt eating.

It takes a little more time, a little more work to eat this way, but the payoff is far greater than the effort. Even when I can't find what I want locally, the wonderful world wide web makes it possible for me to get it from somewhere*.

Having a garden makes me feel even more connected to this cycle. As the season progresses, I am able to add home-grown, fresh herbs and vegetables to nutritious, local, farm-raised meats and make food that is far more delicious and nourishing for far less money than I used to spend at the grocery store.

It is also immensely satisfying to see the enjoyment, and hear the praises of my husband and my friends when I serve them these wonderful foods.


Tonight's meal was the result of being busy all day, and not having any time for extensive prepping. I'm in the middle of a sewing project and had completely forgotten about food til I realized it was after 7pm. I pulled out a pack of cube steak from the NEW COW(!), and started it thawing in warm water, then returned to my project. A little while later I decided that I wanted mushrooms too, so I poured boiling water into a cup of dried mushrooms and, again, went back to sewing.

Around 8:30 I decided that I had sewn enough for the day, and that if I pressed on any further I would begin to make too many mistakes. I turned off the machine and went back to the kitchen to see to supper.

The thing about me is that food is always near the surface of my thoughts, and I had been mulling over what I wanted to cook in the midst of my sewing and audio-book listening (Book 7 of 21 in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin Series). I was considering what I had on hand, and what would work well together, and by the time I hit the kitchen, I knew. Cube steak. Mushrooms. Onions. Basil. Garlic. Thyme. Red Wine. Cream. Butter. YES.

And thus, supper was made.

Begin by dredging your thawed cubesteaks in a bit of rice flour or potato flour. Set the meat aside and saute a coarsely chopped onion in lard. As the onions start to become translucent, add chopped garlic (3-5 cloves, depending on size and taste preference) and fresh basil. Cover and allow the alliums to soften a bit more, then add the mushrooms and the water they were soaking in. (I really recommend dried mushrooms over fresh in this case, because there is a depth of flavor that dried mushrooms add to the sauce, which would be missing with fresh mushrooms. You can find very affordable dried mushrooms at an Asian market, so don't bother to pay the exorbitant prices at the grocery store.) Add some red wine. I used some of the wine that I was already sipping, and I never measure such things. Just slosh some in til it looks good. If you add too much or not enough you will know better next time. (OK, so if you REALLY need an amount, I'd say that I added about 1/2 cup of red wine. Maybe a bit more.)

Start a frying pan heating with a bit of lard while the previous mixture reduces over high heat. Make sure to stir your onion mixture every minute or so to prevent any bits from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. When the liquid has almost completely boiled away, add 2/3 of a stick of butter. Allow this to melt and pour in some cream or half and half, and cover. Reduce heat to low.

While the sauce thickens, return to your cube steak. If you haven't already, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then add to the frying pan. Allow the steaks to sear for a moment and then flip them over. You want to sear both sides, and then reduce the heat to cook for a minute or two longer. It really doesn't take long to cook these guys so in my opinion it's better to err on the side of underdone.

When the meats are ready, dish them up on a plate, and then top them with the lovely mushroom-onion reduction simmering in the other pot. A last topping of salt and fresh ground pepper, and dinner is served!

I apologize for not having photos, but this meal was consumed too quickly. I assure you that it was quite delicious, though, and well worth trying!


*Except England. I tried to order real British Sausages from an British farm, but it was no go. Which is a true shame, because the British Sausage is a thing of profound, delicious beauty. This is completely off topic, but I can't resist linking to this scene from Yes, Minister wherein Minister Jim Hacker allows that the British are willing to put up with a lot of compromises in the course of being a "good European", a true member of the European Union, but he draws the line at the impugning of the British Sausage. (The EU wanted to ban the sausage unless it was relabeled as "Emulsified High-Fat Offal Tube".)


June Garden Update

I can't believe a month has already passed! So much stuff going on lately, and hardly the time to get things done...

I've been working in the garden almost every single day, and still loving it! Below are the latest photos. Sorry about the washed out quality of some of the pics...it was a very bright day.

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My garden has really exploded with growth this past month - particularly the cucumber plants!

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Cucumber blossom:

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They've outgrown their trellis and are starting to move to the deck railing. I'll have to read a bit and see what I need to do next. Is too much expansion bad for the fruit? If I start curbing the growth, will it focus better on making fruits? And do I need to pinch off the suckers like you do with tomato plants?

As for my tomatoes...well, the upside down planter was a big failure. In an attempt to save the 'maters,  I've taken the planter off the stand and flipped it over onto a pile of extra potting soil.

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I doubt they will make it, but I couldn't bear to just yank them out and send them to the compost heap. That is chocolate mint on the left, oregano on the right.

I bought some new tomato plants and put them in a new EarthBox, since the cucumbers have done so well in theirs. Those boxes aren't cheap, but they do a great job!

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I had to move the peppers that I had originally planted next to the cukes, so I went ahead and bought a few more and made a homemade earthbox using the original as a model. We'll see how well it does. The two transplants are a bit droopy in this photo, but are starting to perk up again. Each plant is a different variety...I can't wait to see what each one does!

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I've finally planted my beans, too. Bush beans and pole beans. I am a bit surprised by how quickly they are growing now that they have sprouted. They look bigger every time I see them! These are the bush beans, after about 3 days growth:

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I've been pleasantly surprised by the lovely flowers that my chamomile is producing right now! The flowers are so tiny and perfect! I will have to do some research to find out when and what I should harvest to make tea. I am going to do a taste test between my chamomile and store-bought to see how they differ.

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I just love these blossoms! 

Oh! And my onions! They are really getting big. The greens aren't as bushy as I expected, but the bulbs are pushing out of the soil in their expansion.

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I've also noticed that some of my onions (among other things) are disappearing. Methinks I have a thief! I suspect the chipmunks.

I've hired a small crew of toughs to keep an eye on things, but they seem more prone to idolatry than scaring away pests. I suppose that's because they are ceramic.

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A good gnome is hard to find, so I have to make-do with what I've got. This lot came from Florida. My mom's friends gave them tattoos (my favorite one: "Keebler Sucks") and cigarettes, and started hiding them in the yards and gardens of unsuspecting friends. My mom was their latest victim, and I begged her to let me take them home with me on my last visit. We are going to send photos to her pals, along with a story about their new, "reformed" life here in Georgia...

I've settled them in a nook of what will be my pole bean trellis. I tried to make a teepee trellis (which you can sort of see in the photo above) out of branches from some trees my husband cut down, but when it was finished it was so sad looking and wonky that I was afraid it would fall in a stiff wind, so I am starting over using a tinker-toy-like tomato trellis system instead. I think it will answer suitably as a Gnome Home, once the beans get going.

And now for my big disappointment. My raised bed is just not doing well. Nothing in it is growing. It's like all the plants are in suspended animation, just staying the same size. Some of the plants look sick, too. The okra leaves are turning yellow...is it too much water? Do they need fertilizer? The SFG book said it wasn't necessary with the soil mixture (see previous post for more info), but maybe the manure I bought was not as good as it should be...I'd appreciate some advice in this matter, because I am at a loss.

Here are some photos - aside from the three new plants I added, this box looks exactly the same as it did last month:

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I think I will add some fertilizer and let the bed dry out a bit more between waterings and see if that helps.

All in all, I can't complain. I've got more lettuce than I know what to do with, and a bounty of good things coming along nicely.

In fact, today's lunch will be a salad with lettuce and onion from the garden topped with bacon and a dressing made with avocado, bacon drippings, white balsamic vinegar and salt & pepper. Mmmm! I'd better get on that immediately.


(a little bit later...)

Lunch

Started as this:

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And with a little bacon magic became this:

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Delicious!