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Monday, July 21, 2014

Tomato Prison

This is what it has come down to in order to keep the friggin' crows out of my tomato patch:


I have cattle panel fencing, tin foil tied to pieces of string, twine strung across any opening, and electrical wire running along the bottom of the boxes.


At first when this all started, I thought we were having mice or rats, so we set out mouse traps. I was losing about 4-5 green tomatoes a day and had to do something. The tomatoes that were damaged didn't actually have gnaw or teeth marks on them, they seemed to be hollowed out completely from a small opening in the fruit. When we didn't catch any mice and the damage continued, I was suspicious. I knew it was something larger than a mouse/rat, as some of the limbs on the tomato vines were broken from something larger trying to get at the higher setting fruit.

I hung sheets of tin foil on string and that worked very well for a while. The occasional crinkling and noise put off from the tin foil rustling in the slightest breeze even spooked me out. It sounded like someone, or something, was sneaking up on you from behind. But still more loss.

So, I ordered this battery operated electrical wire from Amazon. Even though it is operated by D batteries, it still puts out a good zap and it has worked from keeping ground dwellers out. It worked for a while, but we still continued to lose tomatoes. I was setting my sights on the crows more and more until one day I caught one red-handed (winged?). I took a look at a tomato that was damaged and then noticed a definte "V" mark made by a beak.

The little shits land in the yard and walk right up to the beds and help themselves like it is some sort of grocery aisle. The electrical wire stopped them for a time, until they figured they could hop right over it in between the rows and party on, so we had to set up the cattle panels with the twine on top of everything else. The crows won't go into an area where they can't easily have a wing span to get out in case they are caught. They won't go into an area where they can't fly out and escape quickly.

This has worked (for now) and I scare the fcukers away from the property every chance I get. My tomato patch looks like some sort of ghetto, produce prison. Whatever....now if I can keep the bunnies from eating my hollyhocks!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ground Cherries

This past winter, I decided to winter sow some Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry seeds that I ordered from a seed company. Descriptions for the fruit on these unusual plants include "pineapple in flavor" or "mango-like" and I was curious. They are in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos, and from what I've read, they are an old garden fruit that were once grown abundantly, but not any more. The fruit makes an excellent jam, so of course that convinced me to give it a try.

More research revealed the seeds needed stratification (cold weather) to sprout and were notorious for taking a long time to do so. Well, during the winter, time is all you have, so I planted them without any expectations. To my surprise, they have done exceptionally well! At first, I wasn't bowled over by their flavor, but then I learned they needed to really ripen to get that pineapple flavor.


They do look like tiny tomatillos in their husks, but when you peel the husks back, they are about the size of a very small grape.


The plants grew to about 4 feet tall! And true to their name, the ground cherries are ready for "picking" when they fall off the plant to the ground. It's like nature's own Easter egg hunt.




I usually make two or three passes around the bed they are growing in and have been picking a bowl-full every 2-3 days. The plants have been super tough and nothing has bothered them, not even the crows! They have been pestered by flea beetles and white flies, but that hasn't slowed them down at all.

More research told me that the cherries freeze wonderfully in order to gather enough for jam, so that is what I have been doing. I let them sit in a bowl for a few days in their husks to fully ripen and dry the husks out before peeling and freezing. I can't wait to see what kind of jam these babies will make!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sixteen Pounds

On Sunday, I harvested 16 pounds of tomatoes from my tomato patch. I picked 13 pounds last week, which were partly devoured on BLTs, with cheese and wine, and in salads before the rest were processed in pints for the most honored sauces.


This brings my season total up to almost 30 pounds, as I didn't weigh the first few I picked earlier. There's probably a good 20-25 more tomatoes ready to be picked even as I type...gotta love it! This batch is destined to be sliced and mixed with some fresh basil, mozzarella, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. What is left over will be made into salsa. So far, my favorite has been Early Girl in taste. There are two German Johnson's in this batch that are heirlooms and I'm curious to see what they taste like.

Unfortunately, all of my winter sowed tomatoes weren't mature enough to make it into the garden beds and are being grown in pots. I didn't think they would make it, but surprisingly they are doing just fine. They have set fruit, but they won't be ready for a while. Next year, my goal is to only grow tomatoes that I grew from seed. No store bought transplants, even if that means I go without.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why Does My Garlic Turn Blue?

I was getting ready to write a post about the PERFECT dill pickle, when this happened...


Looks scary, huh? Sometimes this happens to me and sometimes it doesn't, so I decided to look into what was going on. From what I found:

"Garlic contains anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments that turn blue, green or purple in an acid solution. While this color transformation tends to occur more often with immature garlic, it can differ among cloves within the same head of garlic. The garlic flavor remains unchanged, and it totally edible without bodily harm."


And since I had just picked up some garlic from the farmer's market last weekend versus buying garlic that had been sitting in a basket in the grocery store for who-knows-how-long, that pretty much sums it up: Younger garlic will most likely turn blue/green when you pickle. 

So, it looks like this first batch of pickles will be destined for only me and my husband, as previous experience has told me that people who don't know this scientific tidbit tend to freak out when they see it. As much as I would love to use local, fresh garlic for my pickles when pickling cukes are in season, it ain't happening and I'll be digging into that basket at the grocery store.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Here It Comes!

Here are the first tomatoes of the season! It won't be long before I'm up to my armpits in produce and canning like crazy.



We've had to start bringing in the tomatoes when they are just starting to ripen as the crows have decided to use my garden as a drive through snack bar. What makes me even more mad is that they like to eat the green tomatoes and have picked all the lower hanging fruit off the vines. I've had to resort to putting up electrical wire and playing Rush Limbaugh on a boom box outside when I am not there.

That will keep them away!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What a Real Garden Looks Like

We have been inundated with greens this spring. I planted waaaaaay too much bok choi, lettuce, and spinach for just the two of us to enjoy. And enjoy it we did! It's all gone now, as the heat has made everything bolt or wilt into slime. That's okay because I'm ready to move onto malabar spinach and bush beans.



All the extra greens we had were given out to coworkers and friends. I'm always surprised when people expect perfect produce and I want to tell them, "This isn't Whole Foods, but it's better." Yeah, it may not be perfect and it might even have a few blemishes or holes, but I can absolutely guarantee that it was grown organically and with love. It's a real garden, with food grown in real soil, with real bugs, heck I might even find a sneaky slug or two.



I don't use any pesticides or chemicals, so things aren't grocery store perfect. This is what food looks like grown in a real garden.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Garden State

The garden is off an running for the season! This past year, we added 5 more raised beds for more planting real estate. We have really compact, thick, mucky, red clay here and the easiest thing to do was go up, plus we had two large maple trees removed from this very spot and there are some serious roots still in the ground.

I tried winter sowing this past winter, which was surprisingly successful; however, I used styrofoam cups to plant within my mini greenhouse containers and I think next year I will just fill the containers with potting soil and plant in that. We are growing a lot of tomatoes and I am happy about that!

There are 10 beds total, which will be rotated with planting as the season carries on.

We planted 3 rhubarb starts at the front of the garden and they are spending their first season sending out roots versus foliage (I hope). A gardening friend says they do better from seed, but we'll see. When the greens and garlic are done next month, I will fill those two beds up with bush beans, and when the peas are done, I will plant malabar spinach.

I plan to plant that raspberry bush (it's in a pot now) where those PVC pipes are for my hoop house. It's a Bristol Black raspberry and I'm hoping I'll at least get to try a berry this year before the squirrels get to them. It sent out several runners last year that I dug up and grew in pots, so now I have enough raspberry plants to plant a small row!

I know you are thinking, "Hey Kathy, you have your tomato cages upside down!" Not so! I purposely turned those things upside down for more stability and to get the true height of the support cage. I know the tomatoes will grow taller than those cages and I'm not sure what I will do after that. I need a better system.

Big changes from last year, huh? We love our new garden shed too!



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