This has been an enjoyable and productive April. I promised myself to see the good in each day. I started each day with a project to tackle and usually ended up accomplishing that as well as another that I hadn't planned on. I also incorporated a little time for me every day with either a nap or a book.
The weather has been accommodating for the most part. There has been a good amount of rain which has impeded some of my planned projects but they will be there when ready.
All of the garden beds have been planted and growing amazingly well. I also managed to assemble the sixth raised bed. Now I have decided I have room for one more, I will have to order another. The location I intend to put it has flowers currently. As they finish blooming, I am digging, potting or relocating them.
On the vegetable plants, I have lost a few. The first tomato plant to come up missing was dug up by an unknown nighttime marauder, perhaps one of my own. I think the critter dug it up because I use powdered milk at the base of the tomatoes which seems to prevent BER. After that I protected the tomato plants with wire baskets. Should have done that to begin with... I have lost a cucumber also and never found it but there will still be plenty of tomato and cucumber plants to enjoy. There are first blooms on the Waltham Butternut squash and Carbon tomatoes. I also planted two Piel de Sapo melons which are promoted as good to store for a period of time. Fingers crossed for success.
As I am loathe to give up on my fresh lettuce, I am nursing a bed of old lettuce and have planted new batches of Parris Island, Little Gem, Mustard and Kale. If possible I will provide shade to keep them limping along. I also decided to experiment with summer Cilantro. New growth to harvest before it bolts is my plan.
Other plantings are Cannellini beans to share a cucumber trellis, New Guinea basil, dill, lemon grass, Pipicha. Red morning glory vines will climb another trellis with some of the tomatoes. I planted a row of stock along the length of one bed. Perhaps for the pollinators but the fragrance will be for my enjoyment. Still needing to be planted, the peppers, the sweeties (if they survive), two different types of egg plants and Spilanthes,
Sweeties (if they survive) was an order from Shumways for a Porto Rico vineless sweet potato. I bought a dozen with hopes of these being suitable for a raised bed. The shipping/packing was probably not the best due to the flu virus putting a strain on all aspects of business. The plants weren't all well rooted, the packing wasn't sealed well enough to retain the moisture so the sphagnum moss had totally dried out. I attempted to revive them. At present they are in moistened soil and it looks like I may save four out of the dozen.
A few days later their next package had Big Kahuna Blue Ring Ginger root. The dry dirt was seeping out of the shipping box. The container with root had lost most of its' soil. Why it was even shipped in soil, I do not know.
I have shipped enough plants over the years to think they certainly have room for improving their packing. I don't believe I will order anything beyond seed from them in the future but also see no percentage in complaining to them. I am sure these are unusual times even for them.
I managed to expand the brick flooring in the shade house and after the plants were situated I added a temporary shade cloth to protect from the evening sun. It has become a haven not just for my plants but also for my pets and I. In the afternoon with the days projects done, I grab a fresh cup of coffee and a good book enjoying the birds singing, the hummers buzzing. A nice way to wind down at the end of a day.
I had been casually looking for a pair of night stands for the guest bedroom. It occurred to me that I had two old ones in storage that I had intended to refinish back in 2004. I dug them out, determined they would work and stripped the paint. The wood was pretty but not in the best condition so I opted to repaint. I used white paint left over from the house woodwork. They are painted and suitable. When I can shop, I will look for new drawer pulls.
After much rain, I have had many herbs needing harvesting. On the drying rack are lemon balm, lemon thyme, oregano, Texas tarragon, rosemary, cilantro and Estafiate. In the dehydrator, the bulbils from the garlic chives. I noticed that the comfrey has put on two bloom stalks. When done, I will cut it back also.
I learned that I can use parchment paper in the dehydrator rather than purchase the expensive sheets from the company.
I knew but validated the fact that wheat and white flour as well as jars of yeast store well in the freezer. I leave the yeast in jars and I put the bags of flour in sealed plastic bags.
I have learned that I can use the old time canning jars with the glass lid and wire bail to ferment my vegetables. In order to vent them I will only need to pull the rubber ring to relieve the pressure build up. I rummaged though the canning jars and found I had four quart jars and one quart and a half jar. I also had some pints but left them in storage for now.
I have found that cedar shavings spread around the perimeter of the house do indeed repel scorpions. It has been many moons since I have encountered one. At its' peak, I was finding them daily in the house.
I have learned to run water in the unused drains a few times weekly to keep water in the trap to control odor in the house. In order to conserve water, I keep a quart jar by the kitchen sink and fill it while waiting for the dishwater to run warm. That is a perfect amount for adding to the traps.
Many household projects have been accomplished, new recipes tested, my sanity restored.
I have proven to many doubting friends that I could indeed become a hermit! And now, it's back to work...
Home for some time off due to the virus and what a wonderful time of year to be off from work. Although the ground has stayed too wet and the temperatures too warm already, I promised myself to find the good in each day ahead.
I have a list of projects for indoors when it rains and another list for outdoors when the sun shines.
I have been laying bricks for the summer shade house floor. It is close to the greenhouse and easy to move plants in or out. I hope to take some time to lay more bricks expanding the floor. I also need to fix more shade cloth covering for the scorching summer evening sun.
In the garden spot I have five 3' x6' raised beds which are making my life easier. I have a sixth one which I will be assembling but am waiting for the summer flowers to develop so I can dig and relocate them. It will probably be too hot by then to finish or plant the last bed.
I have half of one bed dedicated to multiplier onions and the other half is home to the old single clove garlic bulbs which a friend shared with me years ago. These plants will shelter in place year around.
Two beds have winter crops which are winding down. One is snow peas that are wilting from the early heat/humidity. I plan on turning them under this week to make room for tomatoes and cucumbers.
The other winter crop bed is half full of romaine lettuce. Today I pulled up all the red lettuce and promised myself I will not plant them again. I really dislike the texture of red lettuce. It exhibits its' delicacy with this heat by melting.
The green romaine is quite durable. I have two that I really like. Little Gem and Parris Island. To harvest, I pull the whole plant, trim off the roots and toss them in the compost. Amazingly, many plants with new growth have popped up from the roots in the compost bed. Today I transplanted them to a half bed 3" x 3' . They were wilting with the sun/heat so I covered with shade cloth. When I peeked at them an hour later, they had perked right up. Hopefully that will keep the lettuce coming for a few more weeks. I always hate to see the lettuce season wind down.
In the fourth bed, I still have Canary Chard and Cilantro. Today I added 4 Carbon tomato plants, 4 Waltham Butternut squash and 3 Green Fingers cucumbers.
The fifth bed was planted with cover crops that I have cut back and turned it once. I need to turn it again before planting in it. I will not use winter wheat for a cover crop again. The root system was so thick it is difficult to dig in.
I am still working on the logistics as I have 8 more cucumber plants and 19 tomato plants to place in ground. Five of these are the Sleeping Lady tomatoes and will be in large containers. The rest are black tomatoes and will be planted in the raised beds. The peppers are slow to germinate and won't go into ground till later.
Another "to do" will be to mulch these beds early with pine straw. I think it will be imperative with these temps to help keep the roots cooler and to retain moisture as it will surely stop raining some day.
No it won't!
I have been patiently awaiting a driveway installation but it has remained too wet for the past year. They placated me by bringing out a piece of equipment in late summer. It only irritates me to see it sitting there as I wade through the mud. I have inherited a cat with it. This is a male who is diligent about marking our territory. Grrrr… I have not encouraged him to stay. I believe he belongs to the neighbors. He hasn't really fought with my cats but little Nosy Rosie is scared of him. I am not sure why.
My Mom always said when the strays would ramble through that it was "catting season". Guess that is why he hangs with us but all mine are neutered and spayed so no catting around here.
So tomorrow, rain is projected and I will do bookwork, finish the wingback chair which I have been upholstering, dig out the two night stands from storage so I can prep them for painting, catch up on some reading. I have assessed my pantry and shouldn't need more than occasional dairy products and could do without if necessary. Fun to be ordered to stay home for a change.
The year of the Instant Pot ~ New Years Resolution for 2019
I picked up an Instant Pot as a replacement for my deceased slow cooker in 2016. I liked the variety of features it offered.
At that time, I was having the house rebuilt and was living in the small shop. I used the slow cooker often. Without internet access, I never researched recipes or hints for the pressure cooker feature. The manual included was mediocre at best.
Later that year while moving back into the house and still working, the slow cooker was still being excercised but I never slowed down long enough to experiment with the pressure cooker feature of the Instant Pot.
Fast forward to 2019... I was determined to master the pressure cooker and decide how useful this feature was.
Lots of tips and recipes later, this is what I've found.
I found that it is excellent for boiling eggs. Yes, boiling eggs. It is quick and the past years worth of boiled eggs have never failed to peel neatly, even yard eggs which are normally relentless about giving up their shells.
I found that fresh vegetables steam wonderfully in the instant pot. Wash and prepare by cutting if desired, add 1 cup of water, place produce in the steamer basket, seal and set the manual timer set at 0 pressure. That's right zero pressure. It took me a bit to wrap my brain around this one. Seal the lid and set the timer at zero. When the pot reaches pressure it immediately turns off. I have cooked fresh asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and beans in this manner and all taste wonderful!
One of my Labs has a skin allergy that is suspected to be food related. I decided to start cooking the soft food that I add to their grain free dry. I have used many ingredients, simply chopped and dumped into the pot, then cooked thoroughly and mashed with a potato masher. Foods that have been included are:
beef, boneless chicken parts
using broth for a liquid,
sweet potatoes, brown rice, squash, pumpkin, beans, quinoa, barley
cauliflower, broccoli, peas, carrots, green beans and blueberries
I'm sure more that I am not thinking of at the moment. I read that if you had (and I did) part bags of frozen vegies, they can also be added. This helped clean out the freezer. After it is cooked and cooled, I portion it and freeze to be used on a daily basis. I have yet to have these guys turn their noses up at this food. Easy to fix and healthier for them, I can't see a down side. The kitten and some of the big cats love this as well.
Tips, bonuses and hints:
My water left deposits in the base of the inner pot. When boiling eggs, I occasionally add a splash of vinegar.
Food stains can be removed using ceramic cooktop cleaner.
Make sure the eggs to be boiled aren't cracked in the least or they will expand, leaking. It makes the steamer basket difficult to clean.
If you do not want food over cooked, release pressure immediately or it will continue to cook.
Always use natural pressure release for meats. Quick release will make the meat tough.
Instant Pot accessories I have found useful:
A steam basket by Hatrigo. Thank you for this suggestion @gasrocks
A second inner pot liner so I can cook in succession.
A lid to keep the first inner pot food warm.
Spare gaskets ~ Because the gaskets will take on the odor of food cooked, some people use one for seasoned foods and one for sweets. I haven't noticed it imparting the taste to what I am cooking but did want a spare gasket.
Silicone moulds with lids to cook egg bites.
Springform cake pan ~ to make cakes bake thoroughly, I find using a pint jar in the center will help.
Trivet with handles to remove the egg bite molds and the cake pan easily.
I don't mind the preparation of food but I am not a cook. I dislike standing over the stove to tend to things. I get distracted and what is cooking often gets neglected.
The Instant Pot requires assembling the food, programming the settings and being near by when it is done. My kind of cooking.
It is also easy to clean up. The preparation tools get washed while the Pot is cooking and all that remains is the inner pot when finished.
I find that I have not used the slow cooker feature one time this year.
I believe my New Years resolution for 2019 was successful!
A few recipes I have experimented with follow... most have been snagged from the internet. Some have been tweaked to suit me.
Stretch is an old black Lab that has lived with me for 10 years. He was an adult when he arrived here so we could probably add another two to four years to his age. He is showing the years of rambling the woods in search of the illusive armadillo. Arthritis has set in and getting up or taking our daily walk can be a struggle. Watching him walk is agonizing but he does not want to be left behind so we slow our pace and enjoy the day.
Our vet has prescribed pain medication as needed. We are now doing it daily. My other Lab Annie has skin issues which I thought was diet so I have gradually changed our diet. We are on a good non grain dry food that they like. I have begun to cook the wet food which I add daily. In their food I use chicken, broth, brown rice and sweet potatoes. I add broccoli, cauliflower, beans, blueberries. I have yet to have them reject their dinner. Some of my cat collection joins us, wanting a little bowl of the wet food. Even my son in law sampled it and said it was good. LOL
At any rate, I have also added vitamins and I am seeing such an amazing change in Stretch. He still struggles with arthritis but his enthusiasm for food, walks, rides has improved. It occurs to me that I need to watch my own diet more closely and treat these older aged aches and pains by better diet as well. That is Lesson #1
Lesson #2 Is expressed in this photo. What to do on a sunny, cold winters day? Find a nice sunny spot and curl up with your "buds".
Well, this summer is winding down. I am melancholy to see the shorter days. I have spent my summer weekends working outdoors in the mornings while it is cooler winding it up by noon to one o'clock. There is always plenty to do indoors in the afternoon.
This weekend I removed the last bed of the tomatoes and tore it apart. I assembled the fifth galvanized raised bed around that raised bed. Rushing to finish before it became too hot, I couldn't seem to make it square up correctly. At 1 p.m. I finally gave up and went indoors thinking I would work on it the next morning. Well I finally realized that I put the two ends (31 inches) on one side. The other pieces are 34 inches. Sure did look odd. I corrected it early this morning and went on to haul off the old wood from the bed and then got the bushhogging done. I was still able to drag up by 1 p.m.
Please Lord, help me remember that the end pieces are shorter when I assemble the sixth one. I know by then I'll be older and greyer. One thing that delighted me was to see how many earth worms were in that bed.
The disappointment in the vegetable beds this summer was the cucumbers did not seem to produce well and the vines died early. The second planting never delivered. Another let down was the second year trial of Dixie Red tomatoes has convinced me that they are off the summer list.
The rewards were tomato seeds which I purchased because I liked the name Sleeping Lady which did well and tasted good. Those five plants still have some smaller green tomatoes on them. They will likely start producing more as temps cool. They are a determinate and delivered a good amount of produce at one time.
I have always disliked companies that send free seed. This year I had a package of Black Vernisage tomato seed donated and on a whim started four seedlings. They produced well, starting early with vines that I thought were going to take over the earth. The taste was excellent, both fresh and cooked. I froze 6 quarts of them, ate more and shared even more of them. All who sampled them liked the taste. Not bad for free seed although it is a small tomato.
The Black Vernisage has persuaded me to try more black tomatoes next season. I just turned in an order to Sow True Seed for some winter planting and while there, I cruised the tomato seeds. The first one that popped up was Black Cherry tomato so that went in the shopping cart. The SunGold I grew this year was too tart and the Sweet Apertiff had trouble delivering much fruit although it tasted good.
Now I am enjoying peppers. Good tasting roasting peppers and Red Ruffled Bells. The later is getting sliced and frozen for winter cooking use.
A preventive measure I take in the beds when planted has turned into a potential bonus. I use a piece of cattle panel grid to keep the cats/dogs/wildlife from disturbing the beds until the plants begin to grow. I left the grid on the pepper bed, raising it as the plants grew. It serves to act as staking and holds the tall heavy plants upright. I am wracking my brain to find suitable stakes for holding the panel next season. This year it is propped up with large black plastic pots which aren't too stable.
I have decided that one of the raised beds will be devoted to Solo garlic, Egyptian Walking onions and Multiplier onions. It is my intention to make them a permanent fixture in that bed, digging as needed. That bed is ready and will be planted by October.
One of the beds is already sprouting seeds for Oregon Sugar Pod peas, Burgundy Royal beans, Detroit Dark Red beets and Miyashige White Daikon radishes.
I will start the lettuce and greens in the next week or two.
August has been a varied month. Both tractors were in need of repair, both are now home and working fine. The one with the bucket arrived home just in time. It helped me bury Bella. She was a sweet older Lab that I took on a year ago. I knew she had health issues and her days were numbered. Her last year was a good one with ample food and health care, accompanying us to work, getting to be pack leader, daily walks which took us to the pond for a dip and through the woods to follow our nose. She now has a special spot in my pet cemetery with many valued friends that have gone before us.
I finally broke down and had a reverse osmosis filter installed on the well pump. The water was not palatable with 1300 ppm total dissolved solids. Recommended is less than 500. The sulphur content was too high as well. It was eating the faucets and shower heads.
The filter was installed in the middle of August. In the middle of September they will do another water test. If all goes well, I will then filter it through a Berkey water filter for my drinking water. If I should need to use well water for the plants, this filtered water should serve them better as well.
The greenhouse is cleaned out and ready when it becomes time to move the tenders and tropicals back into it. It will be lonely for me working in the greenhouse this winter without my 18 year old Pearlie who had taken up residence there for the past couple of years. She left us in March.
My plant passions are still bromeliads and begonias although I have diversified this summer with some Epiphyllums. Now for the patience to wait for blooms. The shade house has served them well.
I may have stepped off into it but I purchased fabric to reupholster two chairs. My bad but it was on sale. If my hands will hold up to it, that is my project for this winter. I haven't done upholstery for many years but the two chairs I want to do are the very first one I had done and the very last one.
Counting my blessings and looking forward to spring...
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