Friday, December 14, 2012

Seasonal colors

Although my garden is full of seasonal green, it is substituting carrot orange for the traditional holiday red. Here you see this year's unusual broccoli plants, putting out side shoots at the same time as the primary head. These huge, sweet broccoli heads cook up really fast, in less than half the time of grocery store heads that have been in storage. I have to be careful not to overcook, and therefore ruin, them.

I get home after dark now, so the vegetables wait till the weekend for harvest. My basket remains full, every weekend, here in mid December. Especially beautiful this week were the carrots. I love the garden season colors!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

1 x 1 = 4

I have one houseplant. It lives in four pots and is beautiful once a year. Meet my holiday cactus. It gets ignored and abused. In the summer it lives outside, and each time a storm or the dogs knock it out of it's pot and break it into pieces, the pieces become new plants.

The original plant came from a friend 25 years ago. Every year it (all versions in all pots) puts on this show, despite my lack of good care. It apparently has great holiday spirit!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


For those of you who think summer is the time for high garden yields, let me introduce you to fall in coastal North Carolina. I am buried in produce. I pulled up the one pepper plant, as a freeze was predicted, and found a heavy yield of late fruit hidden in the leaves. My first broccoli head was a full 10 inches across. I have fennel, lots and lots of fennel bulbs. Not shown here: two kinds of kale, arugula, and those mixed lettuces, plus a bed full of volunteer (self seeded) flat leaf parsley and a happy thyme plant! All I have to do is remember think of all this in August and September, planting time for my fall garden, and the rewards are great.

Oh, and now both of the young hens are laying. We are getting two eggs a day, as the ladies seem to be alternating days. What a thrill, but now I am back to figuring out what to do with 14 eggs a week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Inspired Response

In response to the new hens' inspirational production of cream and green eggs, one of the pullets has graduated to hen! The first small pullet egg is on the right. It always is so much fun to get the first egg from a young hen. I am not sure, but I suspect this is from Frederica, who is a bit larger and more mature than Petronella. Soon we will see 4 eggs a day; well not too soon, but when the days lengthen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Egg report!

Diana's eggs are pale greenish blue, and Michelle's are creamy beige. Now that we have two laying hens in the coop, maybe the youngsters will get the hint and start laying!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Let me introduce you

Before the big news from the garden, I have to mention that it is pecan season, and I purchased my annual 5 pounds yesterday. Sadly, I found that Mr. Gooding, the gentleman that I saw each year for this purchase, died last winter. These are not quite as perfectly shelled and picked over, but the new owner of the equipment is learning. I toasted them in a 350 degree F oven for 15 minutes, and will freeze them after they cool. Both processes keep the natural oils from going rancid.

So, now the big news: I was offered some beautiful hens. Not just averagely attractive, but gorgeous and just under one year old. I could not pass this up! So I asked a friend who told me that a lovely gentleman that I know would take my older ladies to his little farm. For now they will join the laying flock, especially Lena and Pauline, who still lay regularly. They will free range and make friends with the other hens and goats.

In their place, let me introduce Michelle (the black and gold) and Dianna (the "blue" Americana). As soon as I see what color egg each lays, I will share it with you!

I sneaked the new ladies into the coop and onto the perch in the dark of night, when all 4 were in that dopey stage chickens go into at night. This morning is going pretty well so far!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Salad Days

The salad days of fall are in full swing in my garden.  The bed of mixed lettuces is thriving, and we have a salad every night now.  The leaves are so tender that I must take extra care not to bruise them when I wash off any grit!  Fresh chard leaves (from the ONE plant that survived) fit in perfectly.

Here you see freshly washed and spun lettuces, the 4x3 bed where they grew (more than enough for two and for occasional gatherings), plus my first ever fennel and celery salad from that beautiful fennel you saw in the last post.  It was spectacular:  very mild and crunchy and fresh tasting.

There is not much else going on in the gardens.  The tide came up around the beds during the storm, but the soil was already saturated, so I am not seeing any signs of salt injury.  The hens (and new pullets) remain on strike due to short daylight hours and fall molting.  I am starting to really miss fresh eggs, so I hope the new girls, Petronella and Frederica, get in gear soon and don't wait till spring.  All in all, it is a lovely fall in the gardens and coops.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hidden things

Every year I forget the carrots, quietly hidden underground below feathery tops. Then, on a day like today, I notice them, and check, and find a few sweet beauties ready to eat. These were great! At about 6 inches long they are tender and sweet. You see the garlic growing in the background.

The other photo is my dock, usually 3 feet above the marsh, almost hidden by the tides that came with the edge of last week's hurricane. She stayed far out to sea as she passed our coast, and we lost only one small board from the dock.

Friday, November 2, 2012

After the storm

We had lots of wind and high tides from hurricane Sandy, along with rain. As always, the wind is my worst enemy in the vegetable garden.

The fall vegetables with thick, waxy leaves, like kale and broccoli, came through well. Although the huge broccoli plants did blow over on their sides, I think they will be fine. The fennel, as you can see, was unscathed!

The story is different for the lone squash plant, with it's big tender leaves. It is a mess. With almost no time before frost, it is unlikely to produce much regrowth.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Storm bouquets

Although the plants will be fine, the wind from this weekends coming storm will bruise and desiccate tender leaves. So, I now have two huge bouquets on my table: one parsley and one basil. Take that, storm!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Salads and Italian gourd

It was time on Sunday to thin the lettuce plants to about 6 inches apart so they could grow to a decent size. I carefully washed the micro plants that I thinned out and made a spectacular salad. Here it is, dressed in good olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Every year I forget how tender and good fresh lettuce tastes. It was wonderful.

I watered and fertilized the plants left in the garden for growth and future meals. You can see that they now are doing quite well. I am worried, however, about this weekend's forecast for very high winds and the impact they may have on everything.

Although the season is way too late, I planted some seeds from an Italian relative. They call the plant zucchini, but it seems to be a gourd (white flowers, not yellow). I am growing it for the tips if the stems, which get boiled and the broth mixed with tomato and garlic. Broken pasta is then added. It was my favorite dish in Sicily.

Looking forward to the weekend rain, concerned about the wind. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beans and greens

Last of the turnip greens from the fridge go into tonight's beans and greens dinner, adapted from the How To Cook Anything app's recipe. The steam fogged up the lens! Can't wait to add a drizzle of really good olive oil and a bit of Parmesan to my bowl!

Monday, October 15, 2012

What's new

Five rows of baby lettuces are happily growing in the garden now, with help from regular watering out of the rain barrels. You see them here. Small red peppers continue to flourish, and, as you see in the basket photo, the arugula is ready! I had my first dinner of pasta with arugula and garlic - it was just as good as it was with the last season's crop. I have put turnip roots and turnip greens in the freezer, plus still have some in the fridge to cook fresh. Turnip greens are not my favorite, but I still was shocked to see that my hens won't touch them!

Where the turnips were harvested I planted garlic, one of my garden favorites. Now I want some rain! My curly kale is big and healthy, and needs a first harvest. I have given away armloads of beautiful basil, and still have more than I can handle.

My fall failure: lactino kale. I planted two rows, and all but two plants have died from damping off (rotting at the base). Clearly I have a problem in this little part of the garden. It is late, and though I plan to plant a row in a new spot, it has been too dry. I need to bite the bullet and drag out the hose to soak the bed and get the planting done.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thinning, intentional and not

Today I thinned out the Haikauri turnips, and ended up with a nice harvest of roots up to golf ball sized +. These were planted so recently; was it four or five short weeks ago? They are so sweet and tender and fast growing! I got hooked on them a couple of years ago.

Mother Nature thinned the carrots and chard as punishment for my failure to water the young seedlings over the last sunny week. I am left with two pitiful chard seedlings and only half my carrots. Disappointing after getting them so far along from seed. Well, I know better and have only myself to blame! Now, what to plant in those bare spots ...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Turnips and herbs

Haikauri turnips are leaping out of the ground, as are the red turnips planted with them. Coming along more slowly are the fall carrots and the fennel and curly kale planted at the same time. No doubt though that it is fall garden time here on the coast.

I have direct sowed all but a few broccoli, and most rows have come up well. I may transplant a plant or two here and there to fill gaps, but overall am happy. Keeping the new seedlings watered is my biggest job right now. I have a bucket full of worm juice and I add a bit to each watering can that I fill. I am hoping for great results.

Other tiny new seedlings popping up are arugula, lactino kale, and chard. I am waiting for my garlic to arrive for planting, and will wait a week more before trying some lettuce seeds. I imagine I will actually pull a few tiny turnips in a week, just to thin them out and have my first taste of fall.

The harvest right now is hot peppers, basil, thyme, and parsley. Quite a flavorful mix!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It is quiet in the back corner

I fell in love with bees and beekeeping in the spring of 2006, just after I started my job as an Extension Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. I was assigned the job of helping a dedicated local beekeeper, Tia, to start a bee club, and to teach a beekeeping class. I studied and studied, collected all the information I could, and put together an extensive course notebook for the students in that first class. I was sure I would just teach lectures, and would not keep bees myself, but I was so wrong.

As soon as I began to learn about the bee colony and its social nature I was enthralled. Once I went into a bee hive I was hooked. My first hive came from relatively a small swarm I caught with the help of beekeeper Gus. That is a tale in itself, as hundreds wiggled through a crack between the lid and the box and found their way from the trunk to join me in the car for the hour long drive home. The swarm was unexpected, so an emergency trip to Tia's was in order for some assistance in putting wax into my new frames for the first time. I had to get those loose bees out of the car before I could go over to her house, leading to a voicemail to my husband: " if you get home before me, DON'T OPEN the shopvac that is in the driveway."

That first weekend,and many, many weekend days over the next 6 years, I sat by the hives for hours and watched the bees come and go. I got lost in the entrance to those hives. I fell in love with bees and with the gallons of honey we extracted each year. I had good years of healthy, strong hives, and bad years with weak hives that became overrun with wax moths before I intervened. I studied and taught many beekeeping courses, and became a certified beekeeper, a journeyman beekeeper,and finally a master beekeeper. I was given the honor just this year of being named the State Beekeeping Association's Extension Agent of the Year. Bees became a wonderful, if sometimes hot and exhausting, part of my job and my life at home.

Two weeks ago my husband and I went out to take some boxes off my hive. It was a big, tall hive, as I had combined two earlier in the season when one queen went awol. I needed to reduce it's size as we entered the dearth, that time in the summer when there is not much for bees to collect. I knew that numbers would begin to drop, and there was just too much real estate for late summer and fall bees to patrol for moths and beetles. We were in the hive for a long time, and he wore black gloves (never a good idea). He was stung twice on the back of the hand, through his gloves, just before we finished our work. No big deal, he had been stung before.

When we got back inside after a successful and otherwise uneventful hour of hive chores, he went to take a shower, indicating that, due to the heat, his back was burning and itching. When he got out I saw the hives. Fingernail sized raised hives, covering his back. "Heat response" he said, and we thought nothing of it. Within 5 minutes the hives and spread under his arms, across his torso, and down to his stomach. I gave him benedryl. I told him to keep me updated on how he felt. 5 minutes later his arms had hives. I gave him another benedryl. When he calmly mentioned that his lips were getting numb, I called 911. When the EMTs arrived 5 minutes later, the hives had meshed into one huge hive (skin of the orange I now know it is called), which was deep red and spread from his face to his knees. Eyes swollen almost shut. Lips and tongue swolllen. They gave him a pepcid (I now know these are histimine blockers and can be used for an allergic response). They watched his vitals. They injected an epipen into his thigh and injected steroids. They took him down to the ambulance and headed to the hospital.

I was in a separate car, but he tells me that they kept monitoring vitals and listening to his lungs, and then told him they needed to prepare him for a possible airway, and put some spray into his oxygen mask. However, right after that, within 30 minutes of entering the ambulance, his body responded to all the medications and his symptoms began to subside. He was kept at the hospital and watched for about 4 hours, then released, with instructions that we should no longer keep bee hives at our house.

The purpose of this tale is not to frighten, and certainly not to suggest that anyone not keep bees. They brought great joy, and were no more dangerous than the yellowjackets and paper wasps that inhabit our yard. Other honeybees still will visit our hard as well,and we are glad for that.

What I want you to glean from this story is that, even if you have had only standard reactions to bee stings in the past (swelling and itching), it is good to be alert to the possibility of a stronger reaction in the future. Have up to date benedry on hand, in a spot easy to find. Before the rescue squad got here, my husband had two benedryl onboard. I am sure that played a big role in slowing things down so that our experience was not even worse. Have pepcid or another antacid histimine blocker as well. See you doctor about getting a prescription for a pair of epipens. Most of all, understand that a severe, systemic reaction to a sting on the hand can manifest itself as hives on your back! We were all right in the long run, but wasted a good 10 or 15 minutes brushing off key symptoms because they weren't anywhere near the sting site!

I had to choose whether to keep or get rid of the bees. After all, as I said, there are many other stinging wasps and bees in our yard, and the hive itself was very, very gentle. In the big picture, I just decided that even the tiny chance that he might be accidentally stung when mowing the grass and getting into the bee line was an unnecessary risk in our situation. This was not the right choice or the wrong choice, it was just my choice.

So, where are the bees? I am thrilled to say that they are living with Kenny, an extremely enthusiastic teenage beekeeper in our county club. The rest of my equipment, and there was a lot, has gone to start new, first hives for a young schoolteacher. I could not be happier to have it there. I held on to my extractor and honey bucket. Why? I don't know. I just am not ready to let them go. After it all was gone, I went to the back corner of our lot. I sat on the cinderblocks that used to be besidie that entrancing hive entrance. It was quiet, and I cried, just a little.

Late Summer Garden News

A lot has been happening here in the last few weeks. Remember those three new chicks? Well, two seem to be beautiful pullets. They are growing quickly, and at about 14 weeks old we moved them from the small pen into the main coop and run. They spent the first week hiding in the corner and going into spastic, screaming fits whenever one of the older hens ventured near! With few exceptions, the big hens occasionally give a passing peck, just to show who is boss, but are very easy going. The exceptions come from Lena, the lowest in the original pecking order, who really does go after the new girls now and then. That is an interesting dynamic, isn't it? Here are the new pullets. The one looking up at the perch, with white legs and a big fuzzy tush, more Buff Orpington qualities, is Frederica. The one with yellow legs, mildly darker red feathering, and more dark tail feathers, more Rhode Island Red qualities, it Petronella. Their combs are still small and pale, so I don't expect those first pullet eggs for awhile yet. They will be appreciated, however, as Lena is broody and not laying and Louise is molting and not laying. That leaves poor 5 year old Pauline to pull the whole egg laying load. She is not keeping up.

Following expectations, all 50+ apples on the larger tree were destroyed by birds. We were able to completely cover the small tree, however, and we rewarded with this one large fruit and about a dozen smaller ones. My first apples! I am thrilled, and now determined to find a way to keep the birds out of both trees next year. I am saturated with figs, so adding a new fruit, one that is so delicious and does not need immediate processing when picked, is a treat.

The summer crops, with the exception of pepper plants, succumbed to the intense heat and have been pulled from the garden. Although a bit early, I could not resist four perfect broccoli plants grown locally, so here they are in the garden. Each is bordered by some leafy twigs that I broke off a nearby wax myrtle. They shade the young broccoli during the worst heat of the day. If it ever stops raining (don't get me wrong, I prefer this to the drought we suffered the last three years) I will start planting kale, collards, more broccoli, carrots, and other fall crops. I need to find some arugula seed!

Finally, I need to tell you that the bee hives are gone from their spot in my yard. It is quite a story, and so I will give it a separate entry.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Two Birds With One Shot

Thank you for all your suggestions for using my hot peppers. I will dry most, to add to my home grown spice cabinet. I really, however, wanted to make hot pepper jelly, as I love it on cheese, pork, chicken - well, most anything! The recipes called for green peppers as the bulk of the final pepper jelly, with just a touch of hot peppers. I loathe green peppers. So, I decided to use my abundance of figs for the bulk item, switching to jam instead of jelly, with lots of hot peppers to spice it up.

What a spectacular success! I used the jam setting on my Zojirushi mini bread machine for the first time, which made this absurdly simple. It makes only about a cup and a half of jam, but all I had to do was dump in the ingredients, push one button, and walk away for an hour and a half, so no complaints from me. I can just increase the same recipe to make a larger volume of jam on top of the stove with lots of watching and stirring.

I invented the recipe by choosing bits and pieces of three or four recipes. Luckily it worked first time around. I didn't write it down as I went, but I think this is it:
2 cups chopped figs
3/4 cup sugar
1 T lemon juice
1/2 T white vinegar
4 chopped mildly hot red peppers, most seeds removed
1 clove garlic, chopped

This is nicely spicy, but not really hot. I might up the pepper ratio for the next batch.

Too many figs, too many peppers: hot pepper fig jam!

Saturday, August 4, 2012


What am I supposed to do with all of these???

Sunday, July 29, 2012

There are good birds and bad birds

This week highlights one of the not-so-pretty sides of gardening: fruit destroyed by birds. The figs you see here were just starting to ripen one day, destroyed by birds and subsequently overrun by ants (we have astounding numbers of ants, EVERYWHERE) the next. The 100 degree heat didn't help. Luckily there were enough figs on the tree to give us a nice bucketful as well, but I hate to see these losses.

The apples? Well, just another year of feeding apples to birds in my yard. I do have a net over the tiny young tree, so it's apples are safe, so far. It would be wonderful to actually harvest a mature apple and bite into it in my own yard! I know now why Hitchcock choose these flying terrors for his movie.

But, it is not all bad. The ladies in the chicken coop love the ruined figs, and one of the dogs loves the ruined green apples.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

There are good birds and bad birds

This week highlights one of the not-so-pretty sides of gardening: fruit destroyed by birds. The figs you see here were just starting to ripen one day, destroyed by birds and subsequently overrun by ants (we have astounding numbers of ants, EVERYWHERE) the next. The 100 degree heat didn't help. Luckily there were enough figs on the tree to give us a nice bucketful as well, but I hate to see these losses.

The apples? Well, just another year of feeding apples to birds in my yard. I do have a net over the tiny young tree, so it's apples are safe, so far. It would be wonderful to actually harvest a mature apple and bite into it in my own yard! I know now why Hitchcock choose these flying terrors for his movie.

But, it is not all bad. The ladies in the chicken coop love the ruined figs, and one of the dogs loves the ruined green apples.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The rest of the story

By figuring out a good way to support the plants, and a netting system that keeps out the birds and most of the voles, I have ended up with the best crop of tomatoes from four plants that I have had in years. So, while those cherry tomatoes were roasting (see prior post), I figured it made sense to also show you the best way to peel those full sized tomatoes that were starting to stack up. You bring a pot of water to a boil, drop in a few tomatoes, and leave them for about 30 seconds. You will see the skin start to split on some of them. Lift them right out with a slotted spoon and let them cool a bit. Cut out the core and the peel just slips right off, often in one piece!

I add one more step: I slice them down the middle, in the direction you would cut to made a nice sandwich slice, and then squeeze out some of the excess water and seeds, Here you see the peels, seeds and cores ready to go to the chickens or the worm composter, and the beautiful tomatoes, ready to use. I went ahead and canned these: six nice pints of crushed tomatoes for future use, plus made a bit of sauce and added some to stock I had to start a soup.

Roasted cherries

Noticed the pile of cherry tomatoes on the cutting board, and knew there were many more on the vines. For an easy solution to this overload, I sliced the already picked ones in half, laid them one layer thick on parchment in a sheet pan, drizzled olive oil, salt and pepper over them, and placed them in the countertop convection oven on 425. Turned them around after about 15 minutes and turned it town, then left them alone for a few minutes more till they turned nice and chewy and caramelized, as you see below.

The only problem is that they are almost too sweet. Not sure yet how I will use them, but I know I will do this again if we get more than we can eat right away.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Simply perfect

While cooking, I realized that our entire, spectacular, simple breakfast came from our own yard. The basil filled eggs, from the garden beds and coop, balanced perfectly with the caramelized tomato slices. As my husband said: "the only way to get more local would be to eat it on the porch.". Not a bad idea ...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tomato time

I tried something new with my tomatoes this year, an idea I stole from the commercial farmers. Instead of cages, I ran a line of twine from a brace at the base of my beds to the frame 5 feet above the bed, and trained each plant up one string. I pinched out side suckers and left flower clusters. It was a huge success, but try as I might I can't get a photo that shows the system off. One string did break while supporting a huge load of fruit, so next year I will use a braid of twine instead of one string. Netting over the entire bed, using the same frame, keeps the birds off the tomatoes.

The basil produced another flush as well, most of which I puréed with olive oil and froze in ice cube trays. Some, however, combined with the tomato crop and some cheese for a yummy lunch tower, drizzled with good olive oil.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Young things

Well, here are the three new chicks. Notice the big comb already turning pink on the head of the one closest to you? Rooster, 99% sure. Notice the very feminine comb and stance on the one closest to the fence? Hen, 90% sure. The one in the middle could still go either way, but is leaning rooster. Drat! If I am correct I will return the two roosters as arranged, but will need to return all three if I can't get another hen of the same age. So cute though!

Next are the first apples on the goldrush tree. Thought I would show them to you before the birds destroy them all!

Banks, the big dog, caught a vole this morning in its way to the tomato patch. I won't share that photo! Thanks Banks for a job well done.