Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I am not the only one harvesting fall crops from the garden this week.  The broccoli, which had miraculously grown back after being eating down to the ground by the hens, was putting on beautiful young heads, about 4 inches across.  I was getting excited, figuring I would start to harvest them in about two weeks.  This morning, however, I found one plant had been removed from the garden, roots and all, and was sitting neatly on the lawn, with the broccoli head itself missing.  The picture tells the rest of the story:  our smaller dog, Jo, has regularly reached into the garden to munch lettuce and kale right off the plants.  She now is taking backyard snacking to a whole new level.  You can't really tell, but her little tail was wagging frantically in the photo.  She had no remorse whatsoever.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Oh frabjous day

I don't know why I thought of a line from Jabberwocky, the poem, as I wrote the title to this blog, but I did, so please just humor me!  Of course each time I look in the garden this time of year I really do have a frabjous day.  We have so much lettuce!  Red turnips and white turnips that are so tender and sweet grow alongside carrots and arugula.  I even had my first kale harvest this week. 

I found out kale is just as good as arugula when sauteed in oil with garlic.  As a twist, I deglazed the pan with apple cider, and tossed it all on whole wheat pasta, then topped it with roasted sweet potatoes, turnips, and rutabagas.  There is nothing like a fall garden meal.  When you add that the air is cooler and the mosquitoes are almost gone, as are most of the garden pests (except for aphids in my garden), it just makes the fall garden something special.

The chickens usually appreciate the December garden as well, as it means fresh greens for them, most every day.  I was concerned, however, when I gave them the precious tops from my red turnips, and they turned up their beaks!  A few hours later they changed their minds, and ate all but the red veins in the leaves.  I wonder if chickens can taste bitter, and if those greens were just a bit too strong for them.  Maybe they wanted them sauteed!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chartreuse and ruffles

The fall lettuce is at it's peak, flouting chartreuse, dimpled leaves and red ruffles.  It is so easy to pick the large outer leaves of each plant to make a huge salad of diverse colors and textures.  Picked this way, the plants keep growing, and most are ready for another picking in only 2 or 3 days.  The salads are tender and sweet, just how I like them.  One of the dogs, Jo, reaches in and munches off a few leaves each time she passes the garden.  It is a riot, and so difficult to smile and scold at the same time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The bees pay for my mistake

About 6 weeks ago I found one hive with tons of honey and bees, but no queen. Although it was really late in the season, I made the decision to give them eggs and brood from another hive, in hopes they would make a queen. It was the wrong call. It was too late in the season, and deep down I knew that. But I didn't stop there. I made more bad decisions in each of the last three weeks, as I determined the weather was too windy, too cold, or too rainy to open and check the hive. In retrospect, opening it in any weather would have been better than what happened. Here is what a hive infested with wax moth larvae looks like. It is nasty ugly. I hope I have learned my lessons here. Lost hardware and lost bees. Sad.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


My first fall arugula harvest was today. These beautiful spicy leaves will get tossed in with garlic sautéed in olive oil, just till they wilt a little, then the mixture will be added to pasta. One of my all time favorite dinners. Now it feels like fall, because fall has reached the kitchen.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cooperative Extension

I am a horticulture agent and county director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Carteret County, NC. I am in the process of setting priorities for our future programming, and could use your help. If you live in or own property in Carteret County, would you please take a moment to answer a 20 question, anonymous survey that will tell us which issues are most important to you? Just click on the link below, or cut and paste it to your browser. Thank you!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 17, 2011

Foxy ladies

It is a little tough to see, but look closely at the first photo and you will see where a fox, and it is a big fox, has been trying to dig into the chicken coop.  Despite multiple attempts, he has been foiled.  How?  Well, first of all the wire around our coop is strong and substantial.  Where two pieces meet, we left a significant (10 inch or so) overlap, and secured the two pieces together with wire ties.  But, the two most important things:  the wire is buried 12 inches down into the ground, all the way around the coop, and the coop has either a wire or a solid roof all the way across the top.  Finally, the wire is attached on the outside of the posts, so no dog or fox can push it in.  Doing all of this up front, when first building the coop, resulted in safe hens last week, each time that fox climbed our 4 foot yard fence.

The hens themselves are looking a bit ratty right now, as they are going through their fall molt.  From all the feathers seen in the bottom of the run, it looks like the fox got in and ate a few hens!  But, no, the are just losing their old feathers and getting new ones.  You can see the new pin feathers on Louise's neck (see is the light red hen).

Finally, the fourth photo shows one of the beds where a flat leafed parsely went to seed right before the hurricane.  It looks like I will have a carpet of parsley this winter!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Look at all the tiny, beautiful lettuce, kale, turnip, and collard seedlings!  With all the rain we have been having, the replanted fall garden practically jumped out of the ground.  I had trouble finding replacement lettuce seeds locally, so just planted the one lettuce mix packet that I was able to find.  I did leave part of the bed empty so that I can put in some butterhead type lettuce if I can find it.

Mixed in you see some arugula plants that I purchased and the one remaining basil.  That basil plant is putting out a pretty good effort for this late in the season and surviving the hurricane with nothing but a couple of bare stalks intact.

Although I don't have a good picture yet, I can't help but laugh when I see the broccoli bed.  You may recall that it was planted a few weeks before the hurricane, and that all the plants were eaten down to tiny green nubs by the hens that free ranged for two weeks after the storm.  Well, every broccoli plant has started putting on new leaves!  Somehow the hens missed a growing point on each of those stems, and the plants drew from their established root systems and are giving it another try.  I don't have the heart to replace them now!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who has seen the wind?

We slipped out on a long planned vacation one day early, just as hurricane Irene pushed towards our house.  There was nothing we could do to stop her!  We came home two weeks later to find our house unscathed, but the gardens, trees and dock were not so lucky.  I loved that the cayenne pepper plant stood it's ground, and even held onto its pods!  I bet these special peppers will bring a little something special to future meals.  If you look very closely you will see the basil plant beside the pepper:  stalks only left behind, but new little green leaves already forming.

The end of the dock is gone, washed away down the marsh into a neighbor's wetlands.  We hope to salvage at least some of it for the rebuild.  One plank was left behind, you can see it at the end of the dock on the left.  It holds a cleat, where our crab pot was, and apparently still is, tied.  Like the peppers, a little something that just held on.

The next two photos show one of the four huge, beautiful cedars that were completely uprooted in the marsh, and the framework around one of the vegetable gardens, now twisted and broken.  I wanted to adjust that bed's support frames anyway, now we certainly will.  The cedars will be missed.  I hope some new young ones sprout soon to replace them.  Almost every shrub/bush in the marsh was destroyed as well, so we will see if nature replaces them with grasses or new shrubs. 

In addition, we lost two myrtle trees, one that provided the main wind break for my vegetable gardens, and one that provided full privacy for our screened porch. We lost one big pine, and our next door neighbor lost 4 big pines.  I still am a little shocked each time I look out a window, as my views have completely changed.  I loved these trees and the shade and wind protection they provided.  But, on the whole, we got off very, very easy. 

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about the chickens!  We left them huge tubs of water and big tubes of feed, and had two different friends who stopped by now and then to throw them some corn as well.  The were out and about, free ranging for two weeks.  Well, they are fine!  Fat and happy and laying like crazy.  I did have to throw away about 15 eggs that were in one of the nests, as one thin egg on top of the pile had cracked, oozed through them all, and spoiled. That was a fun clean up!  I don't know if the ladies had to fight off hawks and raccoons and foxes, and are heroines, or if they had a lazy, relaxing vacation.  They aren't talking.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Good Night . . . Irene!

No time for photos today, as hurricane Irene now has her sights set directly on our little island.   Right now they are calling for 7 inches of rain at my house, so I imagine the carefully planted and very cute fall vegetable seedlings that poked their heads out this week will be beaten down to nothing.  And if they aren't destroyed by the rain, the hens - that will be left to free range if everyone leaves for the duration of the storm-will surely eat every single seedling.  (The last thing I want to do is lock the hens in a coop, not knowing when someone might be able to get back to give them food and water.  We will make sure the doors are tied open so they can get inside their protected area, will fill two huge food tubes with food, and will fill every bucket we have with water.  The water will be placed in protected areas around the yard and in the coop.  There will be plenty of bugs around too, so the hens should be fine.)

To prepare the beehives we installed imirie shims, a little square frame on each hive that gives the bees an opening where they can come and go from the TOP section of their home.  They need that extra entrance/exit because it is quite likely the main hive opening will be underwater as the tide surges.  In addition, each hive has three flat cinder blocks stacked on top to help hold it down and keep it from blowing apart.

So, the hens are taken care of as best we can, the bees as well.  Nothing to do for the gardens, we will just replant the fall garden after the storm.  For those of you on the Carolina coast, I wish you well.  There is still lots of time for the storm to change course, so we will see.  I'll let you know how things turn out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Turn, turn, turn

To every thing there is a season.  No place is that more obvious than in the vegetable garden.  Now is a transition season for me, and one of my favorites.  As you can see, the Sungold tomato plant is still producing, much more than we can easily eat.  The cayenne pepper ripens a few pods every couple of days.   I pick them as they ripen, and keep them in an open basket in the kitchen to dry for use this winter.  They, along with the parsley and basil, are the end of the summer's plants.  But, not the end of this year's garden.  Not by a long shot.

My favorite garden season begins now:  the fall and winter garden.  Here you see young broccoli plants, transplanted, beyond all possible luck, the day this week that ended in a full inch of rain here at the house.  This is a bit earlier than I usually put in broccoli transplants, but I wanted two good weeks to keep them watered before I was away from the garden for a bit in September.  The same day I transplanted these beauties I direct seeded some kale and some chard.  It will be a feat to get good germination in this heat and the very loose new compost in the bed, but I am watering daily and giving it my best shot.  I had the seed laying about, and figured it is worth a try.  If they don't make it I will look for transplants for replacement in a few weeks.

So, here the fall garden begins.  I can hardly wait!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Basil and fig time

Still waiting on my new camera, but here are a few shots from my smartphone.  Now is the time for one of the best aromas in the kitchen (Mom said "call it an aroma, not a smell, if it is good").  Basil! Before the plants throw in the towel for the season, I pick all I can, remove the leaves from the stems, rinse them, and then chop them in the food processor with good olive oil.   The resulting blend freezes really well, and is great later in the season when you want the taste of fresh, not dried, basil.  I put mine into ice cube trays to freeze, then pop them out into a freezer container or bag.  That way I can take out one at a time when needed.  It seems each individual cube is just around a Tablespoon, the perfect amount for most sauces and soups!  I hope to get another batch for drying, so I keep picking off the seedheads in hopes the basil plants will continue to grow.

The main crop of figs, although a bit light in this drought year, is coming in.  We eat all we can fresh, and the rest I dry in the oven and then freeze.  Here you see a tray of halved and quartered figs on a parchment sheet, ready to go in the oven.  I set it on convection to get air movement, but that isn't necessary.  I set my oven just around 180 degrees F or so, and just check every hour.  This batch I had to dry for about 4 hours on day one, then shut off the oven that night and turn it back on the next afternoon for another 2-3 hours.  They are chewy and sweet and amazing.  Because they aren't fully dry they will mold, so I keep them in the freezer.  They last a really long time that way, and taste great when thawed.

I have ordered my garlic for the fall, and and getting ready to go through my seeds to see what I have and what I need.  I will have to buy transplants for things like broccoli, as I won't be able to get to starting transplants in time in year. Still picking Sungold tomatoes!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Little bites

My camera is on the fritz, but I promise to have a new one in the next week.  I won't let it stop me though, and still want to chat about the ongoing saga of backyard gardens and food.

The garden is getting a little makeover for the fall!  Since one bed is completely empty, and the other two have only a tomato each (plus a couple basil plants and one cayenne pepper), it seemed a great time to amend the soil.  The soil in all three beds had sunken as the existing organic matter decomposed, so the soil surface was six to eight inches below the sides of the bed.  It looked bad, and gave spiders (shudder) a place to hide.  So we have refilled the beds with composted organic matter!  I pulled out the two basil plants and then put them back, but I just buried the stems of the last tomatoes and the pepper.

Now this is the really inexpensive stuff from the county pile, so it is not fully decomposed.  I don't care.  I am just thrilled to have all three beds filled to the top again.  This new organic matter will be stirred into the top 8 inches of the existing soil so that I have as uniform a growing medium as possible.  Since the new amendment still needs to decompose quite a bit, I will have to make sure I add plenty of nitrogen for the next crops; the plants and decomposing microbes will be competing for all available nitrogen.  All this has me very, very excited to start my fall garden.

Even with the current vegetables on their last legs, I have been eating lost of fresh foods.  The ladies are producing lots and lots of eggs.  We are having a great deal of trouble keeping up.  I grab a handful of tiny sungold tomatoes every time I am in the yard.  Most afternoons I snatch and snack on a small plum on my way to feed the chickens.  Two mornings this week my breakfast was two figs, just ripening on the bush beside the driveway.  Tomatoes from the now deceased vines continue to ripen in the kitchen, and have been great in salads and pasta sauce.  I have honey in my tea each and every morning.  But the best fresh food from the yard right now?  Blue crabs.  Oh, yum.  The pot at the end of the dock yields 4, or 7, or 13 each time it is baited.  It doesn't matter how few there are, it is worth the effort to cook them.  This is one of those foods from my childhood, not to mention a sweet, rich seafood like no other.  I'm glad I can grab a few now and then with so little effort.  Oh, and don't get me started on the pasta with white clam sauce from clams we dug and garlic from the garden . . .

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Things are getting ugly

The squash plants have melted.  With the exception of the cherry and one volunteer, unidentified plant, the tomatoes dried up and gave up (after providing the majority of their fruit to the dogs, who learned to pick tomatoes, and to the voles, who learned to climb tomato plants).  Next year, some sort of fencing is in order. 

One row of late beans is still putting out new flowers and tender young beans.  One cayenne pepper plant bravely forges ahead, along with two basil plants.  It was a DRY spring and early summer, restricting second and third plantings, so I have an unusually empty garden.  Time to plan for fall crops.  Late August to September will be here before I know it!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pungent and Sweet

I had a red letter day in my garden this weekend:  I harvested my first garlic crop!  The stalks had fallen over and the lowest leaves had browned, letting me know that it was time to dig garlic.  I used a small garden fork to reach under and lift out the cloves, as any cutting or bruising of the cloves at harvest would ruin the keeping qualities.  These were late planted last fall from a few very small leftover cloves I ran across in the bottom of the bin in the feed and seed store where I went to buy chicken scratch.  Despite that sad start, I harvested 25 very nice garlic heads!  I have then spread out in a basket, stored in a breezy, shady spot under the house to dry.  After a few weeks I will brush off the soil and try to braid the stalks and hang the garlic in the kitchen for future use.  The individual cloves are small, so it will be a bit of a pain to use, but the ones I cooked this weekend were delicious.  I am now a big fan of growing my own garlic, so will order my cloves early (soon actually, as they need to be planted in late summer/early fall).

This weekend was also the first honey harvest of the year.  I have never seen anything like it.  We harvested 3 full supers of capped honey from Grace's hive.  That was 77 pounds of clean, clear honey!  We have another 3 or so pounds that drained out of the wax cappings, making a total of 80 pounds of honey from this one hive.  Now that is a good honey crop!  It is very dark and spicy, and I know we are going to enjoy it.  Here you see the bees walking on top of the perfect, white wax cappings over the honey, and then the cappings cut off and laying in the pan, with the frame of exposed honey on edge, ready to go into the extractor.  I feel a little better now about my disastrous year with the bees last year.  I hope these stay healthy through the rest of the summer!

Monday, June 13, 2011

First crop figs!

My fig bush puts out two crops a year, one small crop of HUGE figs, ripening right now, and a later crop of big, just not as big, figs later in the year.  You can see this in the picture: the big ripe fig with small, just developing figs right above it on the branch.  The bush is growing like crazy, and has moved out over the bed and into the driveway.  I have been told that I need to cut it back, but won't be doing that until after all this years figs have been picked and eaten!

This bush is a big producer, but I have to fight the birds for each ripe fig, so end up picking them a bit too green, and losing out on some of the ripe flavor.  These figs (locally called Davis Island) are not the most flavorful, even when ripe.  They are very, very mild, and so are not as mouthwatering as other, sweeter figs when fresh.  They really shine, however, when dried, which concentrates the flavor.  Oh my, better than candy!  I still love them fresh, and picked and ate my first fig on Saturday.  I picked two more this morning, and you see them here.

The other photo is a picture of beautiful, tender green beans.  This is about the 4th picking from the three little rows of beans planted earlier this summer. It has been so dry that I haven't planted any follow up rows, but maybe I will try to flood one bed this week and get some in the ground.  These are Derby beans, and they have produced well and are very good.

Still picking one or two big zucchini each day, but those plants are starting to show signs of drought and insect pests.  We have had plenty of good squash already, so no complaints from me.  I just accept that I will lose my squash to borers as the season progresses.

The backyard food system got to show off some this weekend.  I had some old friends over, and the meal I fixed included a number of items from the garden:  zucchini muffins, zucchini quiche, orangequat marmalade, honey butter, potato salad, fresh sauce for pasta (tons of fresh garden parsley and garlic added to chopped tomatoes),  deviled eggs from the coop, I can't even recall it all.  It feels good to serve fresh food to friends.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Digging down and reaching up

This was quite a week in the garden.  First, I gave the hens the tall stalks of chard.  I propped each one against their upper perch, so it was both a food source and an exercise regime and play ground at the same time.  Like any animals, hens like mental stimulation!

Next, I dug the potatoes.  25 pounds of the most beautiful Yukon golds you ever have seen.  Did you know that really fresh Yukon gold potatoes have beautiful pink eyes scattered about the golden skin?  These potatoes ranged in size, with about a third being really big for the short season they had.  I attribute it to the bed that is made up primarily of very (too) loose organic matter; nothing held those potatoes back!  So far I have given some away and made potato salad.  My husband eats them raw, like apples, every time he passes the basket. 

Finally, the bees.  Grace's hive has been bursting at the seams.  There are so many bees that they can't fit inside at night.  I needed to look into getting them more space, and I needed to see if honey was ready for harvest.  Problem was, this hive is tall.  It sits on three cinder blocks, then has one deep and two medium brood boxes.  Above that was two honey supers/boxes.  I needed to check those top boxes, each of which weighed close to 30 pounds.  Both were far above shoulder height.

Suffice it to say that I am glad there was no one videoing me as I built a step out of blocks (smashing one finger), and gingerly lifted each box down.  The fun part came after I added a new honey super, with lots of open space, but then had to put the two original supers back on, even higher than before!  Remember, each box weighs close to 30 pounds, and is full of thousands of bees, and is being lifted above my shoulders/head.  My favorite part?  When I stepped up onto the blocks with the last and heaviest box, lost my balance, and had to step/fall back off, all while balancing the bees on my chest.  The bad news: although there was lots of nectar in those heavy boxes, it wasn't capped, so not ready to harvest.  I actually think that the bees are probably taking what was fully ripened honey back in order to feed the huge hive.  Will check again, with help this time, in a week or so.

Note two things in the last photo:  First, still too many bees, so some are spending the night outside on the front of the box.  Second, look at the entryway.  See all those bees with their abdomens in the air?  They are part of the water cooled air conditioning system, as they fan their wings as fast as possible.  You can hear the loud hum of all those beating wings as you approach the hive!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blueberries, squash, tomatoes, oh my!

Well, the sugar snap peas are done, and I was ready for it.  It is true, you CAN have too much of a good thing.  I pulled up those vines, and used them as mulch under the blueberry bushes.  The vines were healthy, and blueberries and peas really don't share pests, so there was no risk of disease or insect issues.  My blueberry plants remain very small, but oh, the blueberries are so sweet and flavorful!  We have the entire bed covered by a frame and bird netting to insure that we get the fruit.

The Italian zucchini also are producing.  I love this meaty vegetable.  Here you see a few sitting on the railing of the steps, along with the eggs harvested the same evening.  If you look closely you will see how days without enough water, followed by days with enough water, result in squash that are not evenly sized from end to end.  Oh well. 

Almost as exciting as the ripe squash are the tomatoes that are starting to fill out.  So very beautiful!  In one of my beds the plants are 5 feet tall and dark green, making me wonder if that bed got a little too much fertilizer!  I am trying to keep the tomatoes well watered to prevent blossom end rot, but it has been awfully dry, and I haven't been quite as attentive as I should.  Time will tell!

Finally, my yukon gold potato plants are suddenly showing signs of disease.  Here you see the leaf spots.  In addition, the vines are yellowing and the plants are looking sickly overall.  So far the potatoes I dig (and oh are they beautiful and tasty!) show no symptoms, but I plan to get them out of the ground right away now, just in case.  I have not identified the disease at issue; from a cursory view it does not readily match any of the potato diseases.  I need to get some leaves, stems and roots under the microscope!  However, just getting the potatoes dug now will solve the problem, plus will give me a free bed for more beans, squash or cukes!  I will make sure to get rid of all potato plant leaf and stem and root materials, and not compost them, as I don't want to spread the disease for future years.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Harvest time!

It is harvest time, and the vegetables are beautiful this year.  Here you see spectacular beets and one of many baskets of sugar snap peas. I only had one row of beets, but what a great yield!  The peas are ripening so quickly now that it is difficult to pick them often enough.  They are so very good, but I need to come up with some new ways to prepare them.  Raw and lightly steamed are great, but with so many peas, I have to do better!

Did you notice the picture of the pea vines on the ground?  Our dog Jo likes sugar snap peas.  A lot.  She watched me and learned how to pick them.  She now also knows that pulling too hard brings the entire crop down on your head.  Every morning when she goes out now, I can look out and see her standing in the middle of these vines, munching away.  Luckily I have another set of vines in the next bed over.

I also had to include a picture of that gorgeous chard plant, with its red stem now growing tall above the adjacent potato plants.   I did not have the heart to snap it off, so it just keeps growing.  Soon I will remove it for some other plants, but for now it is just a living, growing piece of art in the backyard.

If you haven't cooked fresh beets before, remember this trick to make preparation easier: wash them well and cut off the leaves, leaving about an inch of leaf stem attached to the beet.   You will want to cook and eat the leaves separately.  Now, place the washed beets in a pot of water, enough to cover them all, and bring to a boil.  Let them simmer until just tender: test with a knife.  Immediately drain off the water and rinse with cold water until they are cooled enough to touch.  The skins now will slip right off:  I keep a couple of paper towels handy to help with the process.  Remove the skins, cut off the top and the tip of the root, and you have beets ready to slice and prepare.