Monday, October 31, 2011

Garlic: Just Thought You'd Like to Know

Not our barn (sigh), but pretty.
I ordered more garlic this morning, as I did not plant quite as much as I would like. Also, some of the seed garlic that I saved had something brown on it and I am not absolutely certain that all of it will grow. Besides, Peaceful Valley's seed garlic is half price (for how long, I don't know, so get it soon). So why not order more? It is still expensive to buy organic seed garlic, but it was cheaper than what I bought earlier.

I still have a couple of weeks in which to plant garlic (not ideal, but it works). I ordered a variety called Metechi, a hardneck variety with large cloves that is supposed to keep longer than other hardneck varieties. We will see...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Autumn Glory

Dust billows from the gravel road with each passing vehicle, and even the cool season grasses are brown from lack of rain. Many trees provided early autumn color but were quickly blown bare by stiff winds. Those that remained green retained their leaves.

During the last few days, those trees have put on autumn colors and the hills have achieved a colorful perfection not seen following moister summers. While out on an errand, my husband drove north on our gravel road and when he returned he suggested that I take a drive to see the colors in the trees lining the road.

What I found barely took my breath away. The oaks (usually merely an ordinary autumn brown) are dressed in their finest glory of oranges, reds, rusts and golden yellows.

While the elms are brilliant in yellow.

The longer slant of light adds a suffused, otherworldy glow to Buck Creek, which flows near our house and along the road to which it lends its name.

Even in the noonday sun, everything is soft in the autumn light. Shadows are less crisp, less pronounced, as the veil thins and boundaries soften.

Tonight, I will again cover the peppers against the frost. The tomatoes were done in by the first freeze, even though they were covered. The last of the season's tomatoes, both ripe and unripe sit on the counter awaiting their final fate. Tonight, Winter takes one step nearer, while Autumn gives it her all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Time to Say Goodbye?

Green tomato pickles,
Green tomato pie,
Green tomato relish,
Green tomato fry.

What do YOU do with 48 pounds of green tomatoes?

Unripe Black Krim tomato.
What I did was give most of them away.
I made all my green tomato pickles a couple of months ago. Yet, I have visions of a green tomato pie and other potential goodies, but not 48 pounds worth.

So why do I have 48 pounds of green tomatoes?

Well, Tuesday night was supposed to bring our first frost of the season. So I picked several tomato plants clean and took out some of them. Too many other things needed my attention, so I covered most of the Black Krim tomatoes, hoping they would survive the three nights of freezing temps. Tuesday night did not bring frost to our hilltop, but last night did. And tonight the forecasters say will be freezing again. After that, we're in the clear for a while.

The last of the Ideal Market green beans.
I hope the bell peppers and Sun Gold tomatoes also are cozy enough under their blankets to survive last night and tonight.

I had hoped for a late first frost, as the tomatoes and peppers had rebounded from our brutal summer heat and were in the first stages of a production frenzy. The green beans -- pole beans by the name of Lazy Housewife and Ideal Market -- had come back with a fury. In the past week I picked as many pounds of green beans as I did before the summer heat put an end to their flowering.

I did not cover the beans, but simply picked every one that was of decent size.

The final picking on Tuesday gave me 2 1/2 pounds of beans. On Monday I had picked 3 1/2 pounds. Not bad for the end of the season.

Pink-eyed cosmos.
As sorry as I am to see the bean harvest come to an end, I am most sorry to see the flowers frozen. Yesterday I picked a large basketful of flowers and placed multiple bouquets, large and small, around the house.

The marigolds, I knew, would not survive freezing temperatures. So I have a couple of vases full of them. One vase is appropriately placed next to photos of our late grandparents. In Mexico, from what I understand, marigolds are strewn about on the Day of the Dead (aka in other cultures as Halloween, Samhain, All Souls (Saints) Day) to guide the souls of ancestors.

In the past week the cosmos have exploded with bloom. They have been blooming for quite some time, in spite of receiving no supplemental water throughout our dry summer. Being native to Mexico, they are very drought tolerant. They must have known that the end was near, for the plants were a mass of pink and white this past week.
Last weekend I picked a bouquet of cosmos to put in the guest bedroom, as a couple of friends were planning to spend a night here. As I picked them, I noted that it was appropriate that the bouquet would be of flowers named "cosmos," as one of the guests is an astrophysicist, who studies the cosmos in a larger sense.

"Cosmos" is a Greek word for harmony and an orderly universe. The flowers were given the genus name  of Cosmos because their evenly spaced petals reminded those assigning scientific names, of harmony and order.

Other flowers that went into bouquets were snapdragons, a bi-colored variety and a red one. Pull a blossom from the snapdragon and squeeze it at the back. Its "mouth" opens, then snaps shut as you release it. Lots of fun for the kids (even for 54-year-old kids). I showed this to my 3-year-old granddaughter a few weeks ago and she enjoyed making it open its mouth for several minutes.

Bi-colored snapdragons.
Killer celosia...
I also picked a few zinnias and some killer celosias. Sage, yes ordinary garden sage, is a great companion for celosias in a vase. Celosias dry down well for wreaths or dried flower arrangements, although their color fades a bit. Dry them on a sheet of newspaper or in a paper bag, as their hordes of tiny black seeds fall out as they dry. Save them to plant next year, although I cannot guarantee that the new plants will look just like their parents.

Later today I will see what survived last night's freeze. Through the window, I can see that the celosias, already stressed by drought, probably did not survive. I will cut remaining flowers to dry and then take out the plants. My main tasks for this afternoon and the next few days will be to take out freeze killed plants and to water the blueberries and autumn/winter greens. I won't remove the coverings from the tomatoes and peppers until after tonight's freeze.

Then I will wait for the next overnight freeze. At that time, I will let the tomatoes go. And maybe the peppers. We'll see...

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Fleeting Moment

I finished my breakfast and turned around to see this lovely sunrise through the window. Immediately I grabbed the camera to take a few shots. Even before I finished taking a half dozen photos, the color was beginning to fade. By the time I came inside and put the camera away, the eastern sky was simply blue gray.

How much beauty have we missed focused on something else and failing to turn around at the appropriate moment.

Life is fleeting. Don't miss it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Revival II

Black Krims of autumn.
The Black Krim tomatoes, which I almost decided not to plant again this year, have rewarded me yet again. This variety failed to dazzle the last few years and I would not have planted it again this year, except that I had leftover seed.

Not only did it offer an abundance of fruit during the summer, trickling in a few even during the highest heat of August, it has returned en force this fall. Through September, the Black Krim plants were hung with numerous beautiful shimmering green fruit. I thought I would be stuck with lots of green tomatoes come frost, with no more red ones. But that was not the case. Over the past week I have picked 24 pounds of Black Krims.

The Sun Gold tomatoes, which continued to provide a few all through the summer and fall, also have redoubled their fruiting efforts.

And the green beans...
I would have taken out the green pole beans long ago, if I had not been spending so much of my time watering. I thought the heat had done them in. But the weather cooled a bit and they started to revive. However, I got only a few beans at a time and many of them were dry and hollow. I decided they were not really worth keeping and would have taken them down had other things not been of greater priority.

In the past week, however, I have picked more than 14 pounds of green beans. Prior to the high summer heat and drought, I had harvested 20 pounds total.

Tomatoes and green beans to share, as well as more green beans in the freezer for later. Plus, the fall greens and lettuce are coming in strong. Now, if only the cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower would catch up and provide before winter sets in.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Picking Up Paw Paws

Where, oh where is Dear Little Nellie?
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch.
Pickin' up paw paws and puttin' em in a basket...

I heard these words (especially the last line) throughout my childhood, as my mother liked to sing it.
However, I had no clue what a paw paw was, although they grow wild here in Kansas and throughout the Midwest and on eastward.

Although my mother seemed to enjoy singing this song, I don't know that my parents ever went out picking up paw paws and putting them in a basket -- unless they did so in their youths.
This pencil gives you an idea of the paw paw seed's size. We plan to use these
as beads. However, I might try to sprout one, just for fun.

Paw paw, Asimina triloba, is a small fruiting tree that generally grows in colonies, spreading by root suckers. It is definitely a temperate zone fruit, although its large leaves and soft, pulpy fruit make it look like something tropical. The seeds are large, an inch or so across, and apparently easy to sprout. However, wild seedlings from seed apparently are rare.

The fruit are several inches long and a couple of inches in diameter, although domesticated cultivars can produce much larger fruit. I apologize for not having a photo of the pawpaw fruit, but you can find one here. They are not very pretty -- unappetizing looking, if you ask me. They start out green and generally turn yellowish as they ripen. As they sit on your counter, the skin starts to blacken.
Inside, however, is a lovely, creamy, sweet flesh.

Paw paw flowers.
The flavor of the paw paw is wonderful, but has an undertone that makes it something I could not eat a lot of. You can use the paw paw as you would bananas, in breads, ice cream, pie, custard and even in a jam. Kentucky State University, which leads the way in research on paw paw cultivation, offers a number of recipes here.  I enjoyed simply spreading the custardy flesh on a piece of toast.

For the first three years that I lived here, I was intrigued by this small tree with large leaves that I saw in the woods nearby, but I did not know what it was. This past spring, I saw trees with large, purple, bell-shaped flowers. My gut instinct said, "fruit," and then it said "paw paw." (see my May 3, 2011 post)

Pretty much all of our other wild fruits, from the diminutive wild strawberry strewn across a meadow, to the rambling blackberries and black raspberries, to the thickets of wild plum are members of the rose family. Thus, their flowers bear resemblance to apple blossoms, which were in bloom at the same time I found the paw paw flowers.

Apple blossoms.
I was excited when I saw that our little trees formed a few fruit. But later, when I went to see if they were ripening I found none on the trees. I couldn't see any on the ground. Wild animals also love paw paw fruit, so I imagine some raccoon had a feast.

A week or so later, friends brought a few paw paws to us, allowing me to have my first taste of this native fruit.

Because paw paw seedlings are sensitive to sunlight, the trees generally can be found in the understory of established woodlands, and the human habit of clear cutting has resulted in a considerable reduction of the paw paw population. As the trees cannot re-establish in full sun exposed areas, although mature trees will thrive and even produce more fruit in open areas.

The paw paw fed explorers Lewis and Clark in their adventures across the new world. It also was an important food crop for many Native American tribes. The zebra swallowtail larvae feed exclusively on paw paw leaves, which contain toxins that confer protection from predation to the larvae and adult forms.

The same toxins cause other insects to steer clear of paw paw leaves, so the trees are an organic grower's dream. However, the fruit are easily damaged and have a short shelf life (2-3 days at room temperature, a week in the fridge) so are most likely to be found in season at farmers markets and roadside stands. Freeze them for future use.

Paw paw fruit is quite nutritious, containing more protein than other fruit, a number of fatty acids and high levels of many nutrients, such as vitamin C. The fruit and bark have both shown promise in preventing or reducing certain cancers.

The paw paw (Asimina triloba) goes by various other common names, most of which include the word "banana," such as "prairie banana," "Kentucky banana," and so on. Do not confuse this paw paw with the two or so other fruits that are also referred to as paw paw, which includes the very tropical papaya. But do pick some up when you see them at the farmers market. They ripen late September and early October. Once you try them, you may want to head down to the paw paw patch to pick them up and take them home.
The large leaves of the paw paw are about eight inches long. You can see that
some zebra swallowtail larvae have chewed on these.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn blowing through

The dry summer brought out brilliant colors in the fall foliage in late September and early October.
Virginia creeper, before the wind.
But stiff winds over the last few days brought many of those leaves to the ground, including much of the poison ivy and Virginia creeper that had set the woods on fire with bright oranges and crimsons.
Poison Ivy (the orange leaves), how pretty

The show was beautiful, and many previously unnoticed trees took the spotlight.

The sumac is still red, although a bit duller than before, when the following photo was taken.

Ageratina altissima, white snakeroot
Autumn flowers are still in bloom. A prolific native wildflower with tiny white flowers that I believe is the heath aster, creates billows of white with hints of purple wherever it grows. And the white snakeroot (photo to right) blooms throughout the woods.

Of course, the gardens are full of blooms -- marigolds (Tanacetum spp), salvia, celosia, cosmos, brilliant zinnias and the eye popping calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis).
Calendula officinalis
I have been harvesting the fresh flowers of calendula and drying them so that I can make a healing oil or salve.

Calendula serves as a great healer of skin conditions -- wounds or rashes or other conditions.

The blue sage (left), aka pitcher sage has lent a subtle hue of blue to the prairies. It is one of my favorite Kansas wild flowers. As a species of salvia, it is related to the ordinary garden sage, as well as all of the other cultivated sages (not to be confused with the artemisia species that also are sometimes called "sage").

Blue sage looks like one of the more delicate prairie flowers, as it can seem spindly next to more robust types, such as heath aster and sunflowers, but its roots dig deep (6-8 feet they say) so it has staying power.

The beautiful autumn weather has provided many opportunities to work in the garden. Too often now the task is watering because it has been so long since the last significant rainfall. Our little shower this morning did little to quench the earth's thirst.
We can now eat lettuce and arugula from the garden. Little radishes in our salads are filling in some of the space left open by the fading the cucumbers. Greens are ready to pick. And it seems that we might have a late first frost this year -- which I am glad of, since the cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli are not as far along as they used to be.
The evenings are cool enough for saunas to be in order. And the bright days are perfect for taking granddaughters on wagon rides and lying on our backs looking at the brilliant blue sky through autumn leaves.