Recommitting to Paleo (the Butter Post)

I've been drifting in my paleo diet over the past 4 or 5 months. O, let me count the ways:

  • eating rice or corn a few times a month to several times a week
  • eating potatoes several times a week
  • consuming processed foods such as chutney (my favorite way to eat eggs is fried in butter and covered in cheese, chutney and chili sauce - which is mostly paleo, except that commercial chutneys have sugar)
  • eating out at Waffle House about once a week (meats and eggs are fine, but I won't lie - I go there for the hashbrowns which are fried in very bad oil) 
  • eating about twice a month at a local Korean place, where I am certain there is gluten and HFCS in all the sauces, the ricecake wraps are most likely made with wheat flour, and I drink the "happy wine" - a fairly sweet rice and corn wine.
  • and there have been more than a few "lost" weekends recently due to overconsumption of alcohol that makes my liver twinge just remembering.

I am starting to notice little things creeping back into my daily life that I do not want: more allergies, carb cravings, bloating after many meals - particularly meals eaten out, more gas, etc. I've also noticed that drinking raw milk, which never used to bother me, has recently started making me bloat.

There are a lot of good things that I am doing with my diet, like cooking with lard, butter or coconut oil, and eating a lot of grass fed meat and pastured eggs. Some of my veggies are even home grown. I haven't used sugar in ages. I read labels pretty religiously, choose things with the purest, simplest ingredients, and mostly make things from scratch. I cut out diet sodas about a month ago and haven't looked back. But all these good things don't counteract the damage I am doing to myself, and I've decided to get back on the plan.

I'm not quitting everything cold turkey due to financial reasons. Right now any money we spend needs to be put to good use and I am not throwing away all the groceries I just bought. That being said, when the potatoes are gone, I'll start buying sweet potatoes. When the cheese runs out, I won't be replacing it. I've already stopped drinking alcohol - that last hangover left me with plenty of resolve.

For me the hardest thing to give up is going to be dairy. I LOOOOVE my glass of milk per day (sometimes two) and I put cheese on everything. In an attempt to eat more fish, I started putting herring on rice-crackers with cream cheese, and now I still eat the cream cheese, but not so much the herring. I drink my morning coffee with about a 1/2 cup of half and half (I'd prefer heavy cream, but can't usually find any without fillers and emulsifiers, so I started drinking the half and half, which is only cream and milk). And then there is the yogurt, the goat cheese, the occasional cave-aged gruyere...Basically, a large proportion of each grocery haul is dairy.

So what am going to do? I am cutting out all soft cheeses immediately. Also gone is my milk and half and half. This morning I used coconut milk in my coffee, and it was...tolerable. Not fab, but I didn't really notice after the first few sips. As I said, when all that lovely cheddar, asiago and parmesan is gone, I won't replace it, and I suspect that we will slow down on what we still have.

I know some folks who are doing the Whole30 paleo diet, which is basically a very strict paleolithic diet for 30 days. No Neolithic foods at all. No dairy (no butter, even), no alcohol, no grains, no white potatoes, no sugars or sweeteners, no legumes. Just meats, eggs, veggies, some fruits and nuts, and healthy fats (animal and vegetable), excluding butter. I'm pretty much on board with this entire plan, including ditching the dairy, especially after reading this post on the Whole9 website. But there is one thing I'm balking at - that no butter thing.

See, I'm not convinced that the dairy factor is that simple. Here and here are a couple of articles written by doctor and paleo blogger Kurt G. Harris about dairy that make me question one particular assumption in the Whole9 post. I'm not doubting the science they cite, but they make the assumption that dairy is going to have this huge negative effect for most folks, and should just be avoided. 

I believe that if dairy is going to affect a person, it's usually exacerbated by other bad things like gluten, which causes leaky gut. I suspect that my recent bloating problem with milk is due to the crap that I am eating, and the possible gluten I've been getting at restaurants, because this is the first time since I started drinking raw milk and eating paleo that I've had a problem. I agree that I probably need to reset my baseline and so I will stop consuming dairy for at least 30 days. When the 30 days is up, I will try some milk and see what happens.

But my big question at the moment is: Does butter contain enough of these milk proteins to be a problem? That is what I have to decide.

I mostly cook with lard anyways, but I always use butter for certain things like eggs, baked things like potatoes, sweet potatoes and apples...At this point, I'm not going to stress about it. I think that butter and dairy are the least of my problems, and I'm sure that I will improve immensely by ditching all the things on my bulleted list. In addition, I'll go dairy free and quit drinking for 30 days, and maybe I'll even leave out the butter.

I have no idea what is going to happen to Stoney's Pub nights, though. Sheesh, we'll all be a bunch of tee-totalers. Maybe we should take up knitting and checkers. Hmm...geeky board games, anyone?


July Garden Update

With the increased heat of summer I haven't been out in the garden as much as I was in June...it's fecking hot out there! That being said, I have been giving my share of garden tours, as we've been doing quite a bit of entertaining these past few weeks.

I can see the garden beginning to wain all around me. The cucumber plants have almost succumbed to some sort of wilt or virus, but I'm alright with that because I am about sick of cucumbers!

IMG_1056 

The progression of the wilt starts with little yellow spots forming on the leaves, which spread until the whole thing wilts and dies, then turns brown. I tried cutting away the infected leaves, but it didn't seem to slow down the process. :(

IMG_1057 

My pepper plants have been producing some lovely peppers, although some of the bell peppers are getting rotten spots before they are fully developed. The peppers are small, too, but then so are the plants themselves.

IMG_1033 

The best pepper plants are ones that I can't identify, because I lost the labels for them. I know that one of them is mild and popular in Korean cooking, and the other one is small, shiny and hot as hell.

IMG_1038 

IMG_0795 IMG_0790 
   
My tomatoes have been really dismal this year. So far, in my admittedly limited experience, I find tomatoes to be one of the hardest plants to grow. This year I have two productive plants, but one of them seems to be diseased, and both are producing a pitiful crop.

I don't even know what the disease is, but this is what happens to most of the tomatoes it produces:

IMG_0927

Perhaps it would be best to just pull them out and try again next year.

One of the biggest problems I have with growing tomatoes is the evil, nasty, vile hornworm, as you probably know if you've read this post.

Last week I discovered two more of the buggers - really big ones. I look for them a couple of times a week, but I just never see them until they get ginormous and scary.

IMG_1026 

Okay, so maybe they are pretty. But only in the safety of a photograph! Face to face, I tell you that was a scary monster!

Luckily my friend Miranda was visiting, and was willing to slay (smush) them for me. She got oooged out too, but she bravely carried on. She actually picked them off the plant with her fingers. She got green slime on her and everything. **ewngah**

IMG_1027 

I stood by (at a safe distance) and took photos of the extraction.

IMG_1029 

Unfortunately it wasn't a clean extraction. Part of the ick factor with these guys is that they hang on tightly, and the process of pulling them off the branch makes them leak (or squirt?) a nasty dark green fluid. Miranda got it on her hands and clothes.

I don't think I can ever again ask her to do this favor for me, as she was pretty freaked out by the end. We were both squeaking and ewwwwing by the time she stomped on the second hornworm and kicked it off the edge of the porch. **shudder**

She's my hero.

Down don't get me wrong, it hasn't all been doom and gloom in the garden. My sunflowers finally bloomed and were glorious! The bees were happily pollinating, and afforded me some great photo ops.

IMG_0778

IMG_0835 IMG_0836 IMG_0837 

Now that the sunflowers have pretty much fulfilled their cycle, the heads are drying out and making seeds. I've noticed one beautiful and sweet little pair of goldfinches harvesting the seeds, and I suspect that they have a nest somewhere nearby.

This is the best photo I could capture, since I can't get closer than the kitchen window, or they fly away. They are both in the photo below, but the female is hiding behind the top center leaf with the hole in it. Every time I see the male it makes me smile and revel in the beauty of his bright yellow plumage. I hope to get a better shot of him before he flies off for good.

IMG_0922 

Also, my bush beans are producing...I harvest them when they get about 4 inches long, and I never get more than 10 or so at a time, just enough to saute in butter as an occasional side dish.

IMG_1051 

 I love their color! My pole beans are still in the flowering phase, and I can't wait to see how their beans look...the flowers are such a pretty crimson!

IMG_1061 

Well, I was going to spend some time today writing about some of my other endeavors, such as recent sewing projects, but I think that will have to wait for another day. Supper (actually Breakfast) is in the oven and there are plenty of other tasks that are calling for my attention.


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.

IMG_0587

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.

IMG_0646 

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!

IMG_0753

"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.

IMG_0602-1 

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.

IMG_0758 

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.

IMG_0757

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:

021 

024 

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:

IMG_0742

Here is a counter full of bounty:

IMG_0716 

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.

IMG_0002 

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.

IMG_0650

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

IMG_0652

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.

IMG_0612

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

IMG_0605

Cucumber blossom:

IMG_0575

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.

IMG_0603

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!

IMG_0604

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!

IMG_0606 
 
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:

IMG_0589 

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.

IMG_0569

IMG_0598

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.

IMG_0567

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.

IMG_0559

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:

IMG_0583

IMG_0585

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:

IMG_0629

And with a little bacon magic became this:

IMG_0630

Delicious!


Garden Update 5-7-10, or Life and Death Among the Vegetables

There's been quite a bit of excitement around the homestead this morning! Mostly good, some not so good, and some downright funny!

First the good.

The radishes are here! I harvested them this morning!

100_0843

I figured it was time, because I found this guy peeping out at me while I was weeding:

100_0842

I think I'm going to try pickling them, using lacto-fermentation.

The carrots are still just wee little sproutlings. Some of the radishes didn't form a root of any significant size, so I am leaving them in the ground to shade the carrots and protect them til they get bigger.

A couple of new shots of the garden:

100_0827
100_0831

That big pouf of green in the top right is all mint and wild strawberries, both of which grow vigorously and invasively everywhere. I don't mind, though, because the mint smells so good and the strawberries are pretty....much better than the weeds that would be there if the mint and strawberries weren't. I like to dry some of the mint and use it in my cooking, too.

My tomatoes are doing pretty well...I was worried that I may have killed them, trying to get them through the tiny little holes in the bottom of the hanging planter, but they seem fine, if a little confused about being upside down!

100_0832
100_0833

My cucumbers and peppers are really thriving in their earth box!

100_0849

And finally, my square-foot garden box is full of new sprouts.

100_0830

I had to build a fence around it to keep Noah out. I kept finding cat-sized foot prints and holes! I'm surprised that so many things still managed to sprout! The only things I think I need to replant are the eggplant and ancho pepper.

Here is the little digger:

100_0834

He's heading straight for my bed of sunflower sprouts.

And that leads to the rest of the excitement this morning. Actually, it all started last night. The cat came in with something and started chasing it. I realized it was a little chipmunk just as I saw it scramble to a secure spot under the couch. I got the cat and locked him in the back, and I used a butterfly net (that I bought for a costume prop!) to catch Chippy and get him out the door. He seemed alright, but maybe not moving as fast as chipmunks normally do.

Well, sadly, this morning I found the poor little guy half-eaten and smeared across the great room floor. :P

I cleaned up the mess, and went on to make my coffee, water the garden and take all the photos I've been posting here, as well as start writing this post. I realized that I had forgotten to take the photo below of my newly planted sweet potatoes (I sprouted them in water on the window-sill, which took me back to the days of being a kid; my grandma wanted me to see how things grow, and we had a potato or two growing in her kitchen window sill):

100_0855

I don't really care if I get usable potatoes out of these vines...it would be nice, of course, but I'm more interested in having some nice ground cover in this spot. Also, I've read that even the vines are edible. I might have to give them a try.

Anyway, getting back to the adventure...as I was walking out of the office to go take the photo, a chipmunk suddenly burst out from under the closed bedroom door and ran right past me into the office! I have no idea how he got in there. I am guessing that Noah had a busy night of chippy wrangling...he seems to be getting pretty good at rounding things up. I just wish he wouldn't bring them inside!

This little guy was fast and I'm pretty sure he wasn't hurt. I got out the butterfly net again and managed to corner Chippy 2.0 and wrap him up in the net. This time I put him out the front door, so maybe he will live on to tell the tale of his adventures to his children and grandchildren. :D

This net is becoming one of the most useful tools in the house! I think I've used it at least 2 or 3 times a week since I bought it.

100_0854

I'm about to go start working on the watering system, before it gets too hot. Hopefully, the rest of the day will pass without too much critter distress. At least Noah seems to be taking his ease now.

100_0852

Brat.


Souper-Salady

It got a little rainy and cool this weekend, so I was in the mood for something hearty and rich to eat. I also wanted something relatively low-carb and simple. I ended up concocting a Creamy Ham, Potato, Cauliflower soup that started out a bit rocky, but turned out fabulous!

I started with a small ham and a bunch of baby vidalia onions with the greens still attached. I chopped about half of the ham up and put it in the crock pot (on high) with the chopped vidalias and greens, garlic and some chicken stock. When the onions began to soften, I started a pot of peeled, chopped potatoes and chopped cauliflower, salted and filled with enough water to cover everything. I let this boil til the veggies were soft, then used a stick blender to puree it. This got added to the crockpot ham and onions.

White wine and salt and pepper were added, and I tasted it...well, it was pretty darn bland. I decided that maybe there was too much liquid in the potatoes and cauliflower, so next time I think I will steam them, and add as much of the steaming water as seems necessary, which should reduce the water volume quite a bit.

To perk up the flavor, I added some fresh lemon thyme from the garden, fresh grated nutmeg, some cream, butter, and the last bits of some cheese I found in the fridge. This made the soup fairly tasty, and the rest of the folks that were here visiting for a geeky board-game day seemed to enjoy it, too. I left it on low in the crock pot, figuring that the flavor would improve with more slow cooking. My kind husband put the soup away for me, because I fell asleep pretty early that night.

I came back to the soup the next day, and discovered that there wasn't much left! It had been eaten by hungry gamers, but there was still enough for a meal for two, with a bit of stretching. I chopped up some more ham and sauteed it with bacon fat and several big cloves of garlic, minced. When this was cooked until the garlic seemed done, I added the soup and a bit of milk and cooked it long enough to heat it all up really well.

It was like a whole new soup! The rich flavors that I had been hoping for the previous day were all there.

Today for lunch I finished up the very last bit of soup by heating it and pouring it over a bowl full of leaf lettuce and spinach from my garden, and WOW! The peppery, bitter flavor of the fresh greens really enhanced the creamy, garlicky, hammy soup, and the fusion of the two were outstandingly delicious.

100_0820

100_0823


My little Square Foot Garden

Garden Update!

So, lots of good things are growing in my garden! And lots of new stuff is on the way.

First, look at how much everything has grown since my last post:

100_0807
The spinach is ready for harvesting, and I've enjoyed a couple of tasty salads with it. There are some lettuces growing in the foreground. (The empty plastic bottles were from my attempt at a slow drip watering method, but it didn't turn out so well.)

Note the marigolds in the bottom left. I've scattered them throughout the garden, because they are supposed to discourage root-munching pests like nematodes, and even some weeds.

 

100_0808
Radishes, and two collards (on the left). Between the radishes, I have rows of carrots. They don't seem to grow very quickly, so I suspect I'll be harvesting radishes well before the carrots come up.

 

100_0809
More carrots, and a wee broccoli in the background.

 

100_0810
Gobs of lettuce! I like these little leaf lettuces. They are pretty peppery and remind me of arugula. I put some in a cream of potato-ham soup the other day, and it was most delicious!

 

100_0817
Unfortunately, my swiss chard hasn't been doing too well. I expected it to grow more quickly. It doesn't help that somebody has been munching on the leaves! Methinks one of my next projects will be building a critter-proof fence around my garden. I suspect bunnies.

 

100_0818
Turnips! They seem a bit puny too. I wonder if its the soil. Maybe this gardening soil straight from the bag isn't as ideal as I had hoped.

 

100_0811
Overview. Onions are growing! There is also a strawberry plant coming up in that orange pot. I planted 8 strawberry roots in several places in the garden, and this is the only one that has sprouted. I won't give up on the others yet, though.

 

100_0806
Cucumbers and peppers! I'd better get that trellis kit set up on here before the cucumbers get too big. So far, the Earth Box is doing its job well.

 

New Stuff

I've been busy putting new things in the garden, too.

I've been having to do a whole lot of weeding in all these beds, because I used the soil from my yard, amended with gardening soil. I weed just about every morning when I water, and it is quite a nuisance. When I realized how much time I've already spent in weeding each week, I decided to revisit my book on Square Foot Gardening, and try something else for my latest bed...

I made a 3'x6'x6" frame with some wood from the garage, held together with L-brackets, and I filled it with "Mel's Mix" potting soil: a 1:1:1 ratio of peat moss, vermiculite, and manure. This should be weed free, and is supposed to be so nutritious for the plants that they won't need fertilizer, and don't even need more than 6 inches of depth. According to the book, roots dig deep into the soil if they can't find all the nutrients they need right in their vicinity.

It will be a neat experiment to see how well this new bed does in comparison to the other beds. I also decided to add a grid in square foot increments, and it really did help me figure out where to plant all my seeds. Plus, I have to say, it looks pretty nice and orderly.

100_0812 

 

Here is a long view of most of my garden, looking all pleasant in the morning sun:

100_0819
I still haven't planted anything in far left bed. I hesitated when I realized how weedy everything was getting. I think I will scatter some sunflower seeds there, or maybe plant nasturtiums in there...bunnies don't like nasturtiums, so it might help keep them out of the rest of my garden noms.

 

Oh! I also have tomatoes started!

100_0805
I saw this planter at Walmart, and just had to give it a try. I've got two types of grape tomato growing in the upside down part, and oregano, two peppers and some basil growing in the top, along with the marigold to protect it all. I filled it with the same potting mix as the new SFG frame.

 

Future Expansions

My next projects include adding a drip-feed watering system to help optimize the watering, a fence around the main garden area to keep out critters, and making new room for beans! I think another raised frame bed will do the trick for the beans, although I am also tempted to make a teepee for at least one grouping of beans. I mean, how in the world am I supposed to resist having a teepee in my garden?! I can even find some more garden gnomes to put inside.

Oh, yes. It has been decided. Gnome Bean Teepee has been officially added to the list.

Well, I had better bugger off and get busy!

 

Addendum

As I was just about to finish this post, my cat came in, meowing quite insistently, proudly even, and I looked over to discover him placing a dead varmint at my feet. "Good Boy!" says I, as I petted him, and then carefully carried said critter out to where my cat's food dish is. (I'd rather not have blood, guts and carcasses on the office floor....I know - how fastidious of me!)

Noah likes to catch these little guys, which I have been thinking all this time were voles. Yay, for pest control! Well, I just googled images of voles, and discovered that Noah is not actually catching voles. He's catching shrews, which it turns out are good for the garden because they eat bugs.   :(    They are darn cute, too. Their fur is like the finest, softest velvet you've ever felt...Ah, well, such is the price of having a cat.


Biscuit's Garden 2.0

Last year was the year of my Very First Garden. Prior to that, I had only planted a couple of things at my old house: some day lilies that came from my grandmother and some honeysuckle. Neither of these required any effort to maintain, so I hardly consider that as counting.

Last year's gardening experiment was successful, easier than I thought, rewarding, and even fun. So naturally now that spring is here, I can't resist having another garden this year. In fact, I am so excited about it that I can barely sit still! I squee every time I see new seedlings pop up. I learned a lot last year, and expect that I will learn even more this year.

A few pics from last year's wee garden:

100_0579 100_0623 100_0627
Most of the growth in this first image is the weeds that I neglected to do anything about. I've put mulch down in hopes of controlling it better, and I'm planning on having a lawn service for mowing, because we just do. not. mow. It's worth it to pay someone else.

This year's garden is already about 3 times bigger than last year's, and I am making plans for more beds because I've run out of room for the stuff I still want to plant. I may be biting off more than I can chew, literally, with too many plants, too many varieties, and just too much to maintain, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of it, and so far I've done pretty well.

Here are some photos of my progress so far:

100_0786
Gnigel, the Gnarden Gnome gnuards the spinach and thyme.

100_0760
Terraced slope under construction. There is now a prepared bed where the dirt and weeds are in the bottom of this picture. Most of the back yard is a hill, so I decided to put terraced planting beds with little stone paths between them. 

100_0800
These zones are reserved for future planting beds. I want to build frames for raised beds and see how I like them. There's plenty of wood in the garage that's been sitting there for years growing cobwebs...might as well put them to use.

100_0787
Spinaches, lettuces and yet-to-sprout strawberries.  

100_0789
Lettuces! And a couple more spinaches.

100_0798
Wee little chamomiles (front), swiss chards (middle) and turnips (back). I am going to have to move the turnips I think, because they probably need more room for root development, so when they all have their real leaves, I'll transplant them to a larger bed.

100_0778
Swiss chard sprouts! I got the Bright Lights mix, so they should be very colorful. I've never tasted swiss chard before, so I'm looking forward to giving them a try!

100_0776
Onions. These are a mixture too - all sweet - red, yellow, and white. In the back you may be able to see a second bed of onions...they are planted really close together so I can thin them for spring onions.  

100_0792
Radishes and carrots. I used different color toothpicks to mark the rows...red for radishes and orange for carrots. The radishes are growing a lot faster than the carrots. 

100_0803 

These are peppers peeping out of my Earthbox. I've also got a couple of lemon cucumbers planted on the other side of this box, but they haven't sprouted yet. I'm thinking of getting another one of these boxes for my tomatoes. They aren't cheap, but I am impressed with the construction, and I like the easy to fill water reservoir. I discovered that what I thought was a disease of my tomatoes last year was actually tomato blossom end rot caused by inconsistent watering. I watered those 'maters every morning, and even kept drip bottles in the pots, but it wasn't enough.

In addition to the stuff I've pictured, I also have basil and cilantro waiting to be planted, sweet potatoes sprouting in water on my window sill, a broccoli and a couple of collards already in the ground, and oh, yeah! These 4 blueberry bushes:

100_0802 

The morning sun was a bit too bright when I took this, so it's kinda hard to see the blueberry bushes. I'm really excited about these guys! Each bush is a different type of blueberry. I don't expect to get anything from them this year, because I plucked off all the blooms to let the bushes focus on developing good strong roots. But next year....YUM!

I'm also going to grow beans. I'm not actually planning to eat the beans, as they are not part of my paleo diet (they kinda give me gases), but they make a lot of nitrogen, so they are good to grow for soil replenishment. I'll give the beans away to folks who eat them, and compost the plants for good soil next year. 

I've been reading about companion planting and how some plants help others with nourishment, or protection from predators, bugs, diseases, etc., so I am growing some things that I might not have done otherwise...I'll probably write more about companion planting another day. Mostly I just wanted to get some photos up to document what I've done so far.

Now I need to get my butt into the sewing room! I've got a costume to make before our big Caribbean/Pirate themed party next weekend! Only 8 days left to get so much stuff done. Plus, my mom will be here next Wednesday, so I really only have 5 days! Gah!