Sunday, May 31, 2015

Potherbs on the Deck

Having an herb garden on the deck is turning out to be a great idea. The herbs are thriving in their pots. For one thing, they get a lot more of attention than herbs growing in the garden. For another, they are not in danger of being overwhelmed by nearby plants, as herbs often are when in the ground.  The greatest advantage for me is that I can harvest herbs while sitting in a deck chair, which sure beats standing bent over in the garden. (At my age, sitting on the ground or squatting to cut herbs is not an option.)

From the bottom of the photo the plants are thyme, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sweet potatoes growing slips, and curry plant. Sweet potatoes aren’t herbs of course, but this is a nice spot for their developing shoots where I can keep a close eye on them.

If some of the herbs look as if they have flat-top haircuts, that’s because they’ve just been through the first harvest, which is now drying on a tea towel in the kitchen. How long the drying process will take depends on the weather. In damp weather it may take weeks, but in sunny, dry weather it can be finished in a few days. The main consideration is to keep them out of the sun.

From the left the sprigs are curry plant, thyme, basil, and rosemary.

Homegrown and harvested herbs seem far more flavorful than commercial ones. I don’t know how commercial ones are grown, harvested, and dried, but I’ll bet home grown herbs get a lot more loving care than those in commercial ventures.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Frugal Way: Putting Food By

I’ve been frugal all my adult life, no doubt because I was raised in a frugal household where food preservation was the primary summer activity. I must have bought into this way of life. One of my favorite preschool books was The Little Old Man Who Loved to Can.

Frugality probably is no longer necessary, but my frugal ways are too deeply ingrained to abandon. For example, I was passing through my grocery store’s produce department yesterday when a rack of reduced-price red, yellow, and orange bell peppers caught my eye. I didn’t need peppers but these were not spoiled, their skins were just a bit a wrinkled.

Each bag of three assorted peppers was priced at 99¢, a deal too good to pass up. I did restrain myself to one bag.

This morning I put the peppers on a broiler rack from a now defunct toaster oven and put them under the broiler to roast. After a few minutes I could hear the skins popping and sure enough they were charred on top, so I used tongs to turn them to another side and continued the broiling. When all sides of the peppers were blistered and charred I put them into a covered saucepan and left them to cool. Most directions for roasting peppers call for putting them into a plastic or paper bag, but a saucepan works just as well. The purpose is to steam any skin that didn’t blister under the broiler.

Skins of the roasted peppers peeled off easily. The stems and seeds went into the chickens’ bowl. After rinsing the peppers, I pulled them into segments and put them into plastic sandwich bags. Now the bags are in the freezer. They will be waiting to be used for pizza, in tossed salads, or potato salad.

It’s only the end of May, but food preservation is in full swing. So far I’ve frozen spinach and gooseberries and now peppers. Peas and broccoli will come next. I just can’t help myself.

Outside, Husker Red penstemons are putting on their best show ever.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, May 28, 2015

This May Is out of Kilter

This spring is very odd. In normal springs we hope and pray for a good rain and rejoice when one arrives. This May the sound of thunder and flashes of lightening have become so routine that we scarcely notice them. Instead of rejoicing in rain we celebrate the now rare sunny day.

Outdoors is a sea of green. Flowers bloom exuberantly and the yard always needs mowing. Dennis finds the garden soil almost too wet to cultivate for the planting of summer vegetables. Yesterday he used his dad’s old hand tiller to prepare a bed for Tiger’s Eye beans, but it was rough going.

This year also is oddly accelerated. We’ve already enjoyed a fresh gooseberry pie, a full month before the berries traditionally are harvested. The June-bearing strawberries have already ripened and I noticed yesterday that some of the garlic’s lower leaves have turned yellow and are drooping. That’s a sign the plants are in the early stages of maturity, at least a month before normal.

I really became alarmed about these irregularities this morning when I noticed a yellow maple leaf on a sidewalk in town.

Surely the trees aren’t going to turn this early! That would really throw a monkey wrench in our peace of mind. If we can’t depend on the seasons we will be lost.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Every Seventeen Years

We saw them in 1981 and again in 1998. Now the seventeen-year cicada, more formally called Magicicada cassini., is hatching again, right on schedule.*

Their gossamer wings are works of art. In 1981 the gravel roads were littered with their wings. I gathered a cigar boxful of the wings thinking I would use them in a collage. They are still intact and stored in the basement along with all the other art supplies I haven’t used.

Male cicadas make a lot of noise in their courtship of females. The males sometime sing as a chorus, which makes quite a din. In 1981 our neighbor, a townie transplanted to the country, couldn’t bear the noise and tried to eliminate the cicadas by firing his shotgun at the trees. He soon realized that he couldn’t control nature, and moved back to town.

The cicada spends most of its life deep in the soil, feasting on roots. Cultivating the garden we sometimes find their larva, whitish grey grubs, and feed them to the chickens, who fight over the delicious treats.

I don’t blame these insects for making a lot of noise. We have to remember that they spend more than sixteen years living underground. Who wouldn’t be shouting joyfully when finally emerging into the light of day?

*For some reason I don’t comprehend, the seventeen-year cicada is known as “Brood IV,” nicknamed “The Kansas Brood.” For an excellent article about cicadas, including time-lapse photographs of a cicada emerging from its shell, visit Wikipedia’s “Periodic cicadas” page.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Monday, May 25, 2015

With Apologies to Beatrix Potter

It has been a long time since rabbits showed up in our yard, but they were plentiful when we first moved here. I remember once watching two rabbits playing leapfrog in our yard by the light of a full moon. As years passed we saw fewer rabbits, but this year is different.

Our first sighting of Peter Rabbit was at dusk a few weeks ago. He was between the garden fence and the gooseberry bushes, eating clover. “How sweet!” I declared. “Look at the perfect profile of his ears.” We watched from the living room until he hopped away into the cedar windbreak

To our knowledge, Peter Rabbit first visited our garden when the rows of greens – lettuce, spinach, and escarole – were about three inches high. We knew he had visited because he ate the leaves of the entire row of escarole, leaving little stubs. We had neglected to block the rabbit-sized opening between the garden gate and the fence, so we assumed that was his pass to the garden. I thought the escarole would recover, and it did. We faithfully stuck a 2”x4” board in front of the opening, but Peter got in anyway and mowed down the escarole again, leaving spinach and lettuce alone.

Dennis searched in vain for a place in the fence where Peter might be gaining access to our produce department. Twice more the escarole recovered and twice more Peter ate his fill.  It seems that escarole is very hardy stuff, in spite of being a gourmet rabbit’s favorite food.

One morning last week Dennis announced that some of our pea vines were wilting. Immediately I began doing research on fusarium wilt and what to do about it. The next day Dennis said the wilt was spreading and asked me to come to the garden to see for myself.

Indeed, a lot of the vigorous pea vines were wilting.

When I glanced at the base of the wilted vines I noticed right away that they were no longer attached to the soil. In fact, the stems were missing from the soil line to about ten inches above it.

A rascally rabbit obviously was causing the wilt. When I pointed this out to Dennis he declared, “This is war!”

The hunt was on and it is my duty to report that Peter and his sisters Flopsy and Mopsy, are no longer with us. Sister Cotton-tail may be still on the loose. For the first time ever, my sympathy lies with Mr. Mcgregor.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer