Monday, June 29, 2009

Garden Flowers

Today my first tomato blossoms opened. The pink heirloom and the mystery heirloom were first with their large yellow blooms.

The Sweet Chelsea Cherry isn't far behind and will be fully open tomorrow. Hopefully that means that cherry tomatoes are that far off in the future. I hope that the tomatoes will pollinate despite all the wet weather.
Also blooming in the garden is the arugula. I didn't intentionally let it go to seed, but now I don't want to tear out the beautiful flowers. I've continued to harvest the leaves and the taste doesn't seem to change.
The tatsoi will be blooming soon if I don't pull it first. I thought it was just my first planting that was going to seed, but I noticed some flower buds amongst my later planting too. I guess it didn't like the few days we had in the 80s last week.
Today I harvest an assortment of oak leaf lettuce, tatsoi, and arugula for a lunch salad. I topped it with four or five peas, a carrot thinning, and strawberries. The cheese is a home-made ricotta which was a by product of making mozzarella last week. It was a tasty salad.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cedar Waxwings

Lately I've been hearing the high pitched "bzeee- bzeeee" of the Cedar Waxwings outside our side door. You can listen to their song at They come in groups to feed on the red berries on the bushes and to perch in the locust tree. They're a little skittish when I come out with the camera, but I managed to capture a few today, though the evening light was not great. I enjoy their striking accent colors, especially the yellow-tipped tails and red-tipped wings.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pineapple Weed

Earlier this month we stopped in at a greenhouse to look for some annuals. I couldn't resist looking through the herb section, but I was restrained and didn't make any purchases. When we came home, I noticed a marked similarity between the Chamomile and something growing in amongst the grass in our front yard. I got down my herb book to read and compare. I convinced myself that we had Roman Chamomile (perennial) growing in the front lawn. It was about to bloom and so I hoped I could harvest some before the blossoms were mowed off. I dug up a few plants and put them in a pot on the porch, just to be sure.
I waited a few days and harvested some blossoms and put them on the windowsill to dry. However, I was a little uneasy about using them for tea since I wasn't absolutely certain that I had Roman Chamomile. I looked again at my herb book and pictures on the web and found that I must have something different because there were no white petals coming out from the yellow centers. Through persistent internet searching, I found that what I did have was Pineapple Weed (Matricaria matricarioides) and that it was also used as an herbal tea.

I've since brewed some as tea and it lives up to its name as a pineapple tasting drink. I was able to harvest a little more from the lawn before the mower chopped the rest of it off. It is a welcome weed in our yard, but it probably will loose it's spot in a pot on the porch.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Strawberry Season

Today I went to a local farm and picked 20 pounds of strawberries. It is early in the season so it was hard work finding the ripe berries. Here's what is happening to all those berries.
  • I canned 9 half pints of Strawberry Jam.
  • I'm in in the process of making 7 or 8 more jars of Strawberry Preserves. They are plumping overnight before being canned tomorrow.
  • I set aside two quarts to make Strawberry Pie for a picnic on Friday.
  • I made the strawberry syrup to mix with cream for making a batch of Strawberry Gelato.
  • I put one cookie sheet full of strawberries in the freezer.
  • And I made a strawberry-mango cobbler for dinner tonight. ( I added a bit of cinnamon and cardamom to the recipe. If you like your cobbler sweet, add more sugar to the fruit).
There may be a few extras left for eating, but I may have to go pick some more next week for us to snack on.
Earlier this week we were perusing my favorite canning book, The Joy of Cooking: All About Canning & Preserving, and saw a recipe for Mango Preserves. When we went to the store on Sunday, mangos were on sale. So yesterday I started Mango Preserves and did the canning of them today.
Preserves take two days because first you let the fruit and sugar sit in a cool place for 4-8 hours, then you bring the fruit to a boil and to the jellying point. Then the fruit sits overnight to plump so it won't float in the jars. Finally you return the fruit to a boil before processing it in a boiling water bath.

The summer canning season is off to a good start!

Purple Aran Sweater Finished

I designed this aran cabled sweater pattern myself using an excel spreadsheet. I find that in a spreadsheet it is easier to 'draw' a pattern and copy it to see what it will look like repeated with other patterns. It also made it easy for me to make a chart to knit off of. The central pattern came from a book I have, which I have yet to successfully make a sweater from. In fact the book had an error in the cable pattern and after one repeat of it, I had to rip back out and start over again to get the pattern right.

I knit this sweater in the round, starting from the bottom. I did a few decreases in the purl sections, but decided not to increase again after the waist. I knit to where the arms come in and then set the body aside.

For the arms, I knew I wanted a cable running up the shoulder and that I wanted the rest to be in seed stitch, mirroring the seed stitch on the side of the body. I puzzled for a while about how I was going to make the increases to get the change from the wrist measurement to the upper arm measurement while keeping in the 2 x 2 seed stitch pattern. Usually these increases are done under the arm where seams are usually placed. However this would be in the middle of the seed stitch and make it difficult to keep up the pattern. I decided to do my increases on either side of the cable. I kept a row of knit stitches on either side of the cable and did my increases on the outside of it. This way, my increases could always be what would come in the next part of the pattern. It worked very well and I'm pleased with they way the sleeves came out.
When I joined the sleeves to the body and began the raglan decreases, I started to do some fudging. I wasn't ready for the outermost cable to disappear half way up the arm, so I did decreases in the shoulder area instead. Then I decreased the cable stitches closer to the end of the raglan decreases. This caused my raglan line to not be quite straight. When I finished the raglan decreases, I did a few short rows across the back to raise the neckline of the back of the sweater.

I finished the sweater exactly two months after I started it. I was very pleased with the process and I think I'll be making a raglan of my own design again. I liked the challenge and the success of seeing my own design realized.
After washing the sweater, the wool softened up a lot. It took two days to dry and now it will be ready when cooler weather sets in (or in the case that summer heat never arrives).

Knit on size 7 needles (5 for the ribbing at edge)
5 skeins of Bartlett yarn
Started 4/18/09
Finished 6/17/09

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Garden Work

This weekend we took the walls of water off our tomato plants. Half of the plants were growing out of the walls, and it is easier to make the transition to cages and stakes all at once. The tallest tomatoes are my mystery heirloom and pink tomato (right back), followed by the Sweet Chelsea cherry. The yellow heirloom(right front) and green zebra (left front) are the shortest, though the green zebra was most productive with suckers already.
I had four cages from last year, and three red bases from my mom. We didn't want to buy more cages, so we're trying out the stake method using bamboo stakes which we had on hand. I'm using the green velcro fabric ties for plants (thanks to mom too!) to tie the tomatoes to the stake. I made sure to do one Roma with a cage and one Roma with a stake. Right now they are pretty even in height and we'll see if the method of support makes any difference as the season progresses.

For now, we kept the walls of water on the peppers for extra heat protection. Temperatures have been in the 60s to 70s with cloudy days and rain showers for the past week and the forecast for this week doesn't look any better. Peppers will need all the help they can get. One has signs that blossoms will form soon.

We recycled strapping that was used to make tepees last year into a trellis for the cucumbers to grow up. Matt cut one piece to make two cross bars and screwed them together. Then we screwed the uprights into the box. They had to go inside the electric fence which reduced the width of the trellis. We strung twine between the nails that were still there from last year. It is a little tall, hopefully my cucumbers don't grow six feet up because it will be hard for me to pick them.
You can see the walls of water in the background of the picture above. After moving them off the tomatoes, we put them around my sesame seed plants in the extra bed. These were started from seed, put into the cold frame and are still only one inch tall. The packets say they get to be three to four feet, but I'm not sure we're going to get there. I figured some extra warmth and protection wouldn't hurt. We weren't ready to dump all that water from the walls onto the already soaked ground. We'll wait until things dry out.
I missed including the swiss chard blossoms in the last update. Here's a photo. I don't think it has officially bloomed, but it looks close. Maybe I'll be able to save some seed from it.We also had another harvest: 7 oz of kale which we cooked with italian sausages for a satisfying dinner. The garlic scapes really needed to be harvested and now I need to decide how we'll use them.
I spent the afternoon on Saturday making a spreadsheet for timing of fall and winter crops for the garden and cold frame, using Eliot Coleman's Four Seasons Harvest as a guide. Once I figured out when plants needed to go in, and where they might fit as space opens up, I started some seeds.
I started:

6 Freckles Romaine
8 Winterbor Kale
2 Italiko Rosso Chicory (Italian Dandelion)
8 Tatsoi
5 White Vienna Kohlrabi
The indoor lights are back on their timer and everything has already sprouted. Our winter garden experiment is off to a good start.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dying Yarn

Last month, I picked up some un-dyed yarn at Green Mountain Spinnery's Tent Sale. Since then I've been saving onion skins to make a dye. I read about mordants, but didn't have any on hand and decided to just go ahead and jump in. However, I wasn't content to just try one thing. I knew onion skins would created a reddish brown color and I wanted a bright yellow. So I decided to try turmeric too. I was planning on just experimenting with one skein of fingerling weight yarn that is for Christmas ornaments, but once I got the dye baths going I decided to go ahead and dye the worsted weight yarn too. I split the fingerling weight yarn into two smaller skeins so I could get some in each color. I tied all the skeins in four places to keep them secure. The larger skeins of worsted wool were doubled up so that they would fit in the pan.
For the onion skin dye, I filled the pan with onion skins and then covered them with water. I simmered for about 45 minutes. After removing the onion skins, the dye bath was this lovely color. I added a dash of salt and a dash of vinegar because I saw people used both on other sites.

For the turmeric dye, I filled the pan with water and added three tablespoons of turmeric. I wanted a strong yellow color. I simmered the bath for about 30 minutes and added a dash of vinegar too.

I soaked the yarn in warm water before adding it to the dye baths. The yarn in the onion bath simmered for about 45 minutes. The yarn in the turmeric bath took only about 10 minutes. It was at this point I decided that the worsted skeins would be yellow. Only one skein would fit in at a time and it would be a lot faster in the turmeric dye. I was very happy with the color in the first few skeins.
However, by the time I got to the fourth and fifth skeins the potency of the dye was waning and instead of the vibrant yellow I started with, I had a paler shade. You can see them here on the drying rack.
I ran out to the local store for more turmeric and cooked up another batch. I forgot the vinegar, and the first re-dyed skein came out rather orange. I was more careful with the other skeins, and to even out the color, I dipped parts of all the other skeins onto the more orange bath. I'll have to alternate skeins ever few rows when I use this yarn for a project. Here's the finished range of yellow worsted weight skeins on the drying rack. Overall its a good set of color.

Here is the fingerling weight yarn: dyed with tumeric
and dyed with onion skins.
I'm very pleased with my first experiment with dying yarn. Now I'm waiting for the yarn to dry and am curious how long it will take before my fingernails loose the yellow color.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Recent Harvests

Though I wasn't good about updating the blog earlier this month, I did photograph vegetables as we harvested them. Here's some back-dated harvest photos.
Carrot Thinnings 6/8
Tatsoi 6/8
Kale 6/10
Spinach 6/17. I pulled the plants since they had bolted.
Swiss Chard & Green Onion 6/18

Friday, June 19, 2009

Garden Update 6/19/09

Between the end of school and the rain we've been having, I haven't been able to spend much time in the garden. I snapped these photos on Wednesday in between the rainstorms. Here is the south bed. Some of the garlic has scapes which we need to snip and eat. Carrots are doing well, you can see the earlier planting is on the right and has a head start on those next to them. You can also see in the back one tall red stalk. That's my red swiss chard that overwintered and is now going to seed. The yellow chard I overwintered is continuing to produce regularly. They were in different lighting conditions over the winter so maybe the yellow doesn't know it is the second year for it. To the left of the carrots are my golden beets. There is a bit of a mystery with these. I started them inside and transplanted out. However, the ones on the right were started and transplanted earlier than those on the left. Yet the ones of the left have outpaced the others. I also recently seeded another square of beets, mixing together the red and yellow seed and planting it more thickly. That way I hope to have some thinnings to enjoy.
Also recently seeded are Mizuna and more Broccoli Rabe. I seeded those thickly as well to be able to eat thinnings.
My peas are blooming, but I don't expect to get more than a handful of peas since I had such poor germination and only have about 4 plants.
My tatsoi is doing very well. We harvested some for a stir-fry a few weeks ago and it continues to grow. I also recently seeded another square with some so that when these go to seed we can continue to harvest.
My northern bed looks like all walls of water. The seven on the left are my tomatoes. The mystery heirloom and the pink heirloom are reaching out of the walls. If it ever stops raining and warms up, I'll take the walls off and stake them. The two walls on the right are my hot peppers. Behind the walls of water, I have two zucchini plants in the middle of the bed, and then my 6 kale plants. It's almost time to harvest for another dinner from these plants. My romaine is hanging on, though it is getting bitter, and the arugula in the middle of the bed is going to seed. I need to get out there and harvest it.
As I peer into the walls of water, I can see that many of my tomatoes have buds. Now if it would just stop raining and give them some more sun. About two weeks ago we planted our beans and now they're up. The Romano Beans (front) had much better germination than the Blue Lake. Some of the Blue Lake sprouted, but have no leaves. I'll need to re-seed because I plan to make dilly beans out of these.
When we transplanted the cucumbers & tomatoes, we put compost in the soil. My compost had mushrooms growing earlier in the season and now with all the wet weather, there are mushrooms growing in the garden. Too bad they're not edible. I'd covered the cucumbers to protect from pests, but when I lifted the cover, I found they were looking pretty moldy and miserable with all the wet weather. So until things dry out, we'll hope the cucumber beetles don't strike.
Now that's school is out, I should be able to keep better tabs on the garden and update the blog.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Warm Weather Crops

Today was a lovely warm, sunny day and we made the transition to a summer garden. The cold frame was put away. The row covers came off and the electric fence was turned on. We staked up our sad 4 pea plants. And we transplanted tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cucumbers into the garden. I planted 7 tomatoes: 2 Roma, 1 Yellow Brandywine, 1 Pink Tomato, 1 Green Zebra, 1 Sweet Chelsea Cherry, and 1 Mystery Heirloom. I planted peppers #1 and 4, which are the only two that sprouted. We put walls of water around all the peppers and tomatoes to help them with the cool climate. I put in 2 slicing cucumbers, and 9 pickling cucumbers. I covered these with row cover to protect them from cucumber beetles. We also seeded 18 of Blue Lake Bush Beans and 18 Romano Bush Beans.
We harvested a lot from the garden today. All the radishes came up and went into a salad for lunch with arugula that was going to seed and some spinach and freckles romaine.

For dinner we harvested the two squares of Broccoli Rabe.
Matt cooked it into Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe which was the recipe that led us the plant it in the first place. I planted on 4/27 so it matured pretty quickly. I read that it goes quickly once it starts to flower and since some of the flowers were beginning to open we decided it was time to eat it. I only had about 4 plants in a square. Next time I'll put it closer together. The roots didn't expand that much and so I could have had a lot more. I'll probably re-seed it and see how another batch does in the summer temperatures.
The kale is looking great, and we plan to harvest some for dinner later this week. I'm not sure how long the leaves will keep their unspoiled appearance now that the row cover is off. I can't cover just the kale because they are too close to the electric fence. I'll have to use BT if the cabbage moth caterpillars start attacking.