Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer's End

This past weekend, a new sound entered the summer chorus.  Adding to the chirp of crickets and whistles of returning chickadees, the cicadas have announced themselves with their shrill calls.  I can always tell when summer is winding to a close when they arrive.  In addition to tell-tale signs like the blooming of asters, ragweed and goldenrod, these old bugs serve to tell me that fall is nearly upon us.

Of course, that makes my urge to "put up" kick into overdrive.  Every day now ends with either picking, preparing or processing garden harvests for storing.  The dehydrator is constantly whirring away, and it's hardly worth putting the canner to bed on its shelf.  I'm constantly washing bowls, pots, shredders and tools like wooden spoons and canning lids.  I love it.

Unfortunately, harvest season falls on the start back to my work life as well.  I'm not sure who decided that was a good plan, but they obviously didn't consult me. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fruit Cages

Every year, something eats my strawberries.  One bite taken out of each beautiful fruit, ruining it for me.  It's so unfair.

I've tried netting (which whatever it is can still poke its beak through) and I've tried diligent picking.  Still, something eats them.  I starting to wonder if it is mice...but I'm suspecting bluebirds.  I don't mind sharing the raspberries, as there are more than enough of those to go around, but my small strawberry patch is MINE dang it.  I'd like to get more than 12 good fruits in a season.

So I have an idea.  I want to make fruit cages like the ones in this video:
 Start watching at 1:47 and you'll see the gloriousness.  I think I can work on these over the winter, and have them ready for spring.  I think I may redo the sides of the beds as well.  Right now, they are rounded landscaping timbers, which work great but I think are perhaps allowing critters to crawl underneath. 

Gardening.  It's warfare, people.  Me against the critters that want to eat all my strawberries.  I'm going to do my best to win next season.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tomatoes Everywhere

Tomato season has finally arrived!  I was starting to think my tomatoes would never change over from persistent green to ripe red (or orange, depending on the variety).  But now, my patience is paying off with a glut of delightful Pink Brandywine (third generation of my own saved seeds), Orange Banana (a gorgeous orange paste heirloom tomato, meaty and full of flavor) and dozens of fat Principe Borghese drying tomatoes, which I slice and pop into the dehydrator.  I wish my solar dehydrator hadn't bit the dust via a large tree branch smashing it to bits as it fell, but luckily my electric dehydrator works good enough to give me a stash of dried tomatoes to squirrel away for winter months.

So far, I've made a couple small batches of salsa.  I think there are more on the way this week--which makes me very happy about my stash of dried hot peppers.  My peppers this year did nothing much, I think it was too cool for their liking, but I have jalapenos, cherry bomb and some crazy super hot pepper I call Kim's Mystery Pepper (after my lovely friend who grows them) in storage.  All I do is rehydrate them in hot water for an hour or so, chop up, and add to the salsa.  They work just as nicely as fresh ones, and when you're canning the lot anyway, what does it really matter if they are fresh from the garden this year, or last?  The salsa comes out lovely regardless.  And when life hands you tomatoes, salsa is where it's at.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Foraging Delights

Yesterday was a full day.  It started with me leaving the house at 5:35 AM, truck loaded with six young buck rabbits, a giant travel cup of coffee, and a wodge of homemade granola bar.  I was off to a local animal swap, in hopes of finding buyers for my surplus boys.  My last litter was 90% boys, and I don't need quite that much testosterone in my rabbitry.  By 7 AM, I had sold two bucks.  By 8 AM, I loaded the truck back up and headed out in search of pastry and hot coffee shared with friends.  Wonderful people, my friends.  They sent me home with two milk crates full of quart size mason jars.

On my drive back home, I took a winding, beautiful back way, past old farms and through lush glens.  I meandered, and spied a most beautiful thing: a lone plum tree, tucked into a sunny nook on the side of the road, with bright pink ripe fruit dropping to the ground.  I turned around and parked--thank heavens for those empty jars!  I filled two to spilling, which was as many plums as I could reach and avoid falling into a rather large and dense thicket of nettles--I was wearing capri tights and a skirt, or I would've waded in regardless.  But it was enough plums to head home with, and start something decadent.

Once home, there were beans to pick, cabbages to rescue from imminent destruction by cabbage loopers, the lawn to mow before tomorrow's horrible temperatures, and four rabbits to process and prep for the freezer.  Whew.  But those plums...oh those beautiful plums!  For them, it was something special.

With any luck, in a few months, I'll have three quart jars of fruit, sugar and gin transformed into a delightful drink reminiscent of the British classic, Damson Gin.  Yes, the drink made famous by the beloved Miss Marple of Agatha Christie will be making an appearance around Christmas time.  By then, it should be a lovely shade of pink, richly flavored by the sweet-tart wild plums, and just sweet enough to serve as a liqueur after a holiday meal.  (There isn't any science to making this kind of drink: wash the plums, sort out any rotten ones, push a clean straight pin through each plum to encourage saturation, then pop them into a quart jar to 3/4 full, add about 3/4 cup of sugar, and fill to the lid-ridge with your preferred gin {I'm a Gordon's girl} pop on a lid, give it a shake once in a while, and tah dah, you've got homemade booze started)

Lest you think that all I do lately is make booze, you'd be right.  I have more than enough jam, from foraged or domesticated sources, and you can never have enough hedgerow liquor, in my opinion.  I mean, if the Zombie Apocalypse should come to pass, who would YOU rather have on your team? Someone who can only make jam?  Or, someone who can make jam, booze AND assorted other things?  I also can wield a mean pitchfork and aim my air rifle relatively straight.  That is, before I start making in-roads on the hootch...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Time to Age

My Peapod wine has moved on from fermentation (it spent most of a week happily burping away) to needing to settle into a nice mellow state in the bottle.  Hopefully, in a few months, it'll be ready to drink.  Already, it's the most fascinating green color.  It smells a heck of a lot like a riesling, so I'm hoping it will taste a but like one too.

If nothing else, it will at least look interesting in a glass, cut with 7-Up.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Favorite Fibers

Given that it appears to be knitting season, and I am knitting away like mad, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite knitting fibers.  Partially based on luxurious feels and cost, I will warn you in advance that I have a "thing" for merino.

Ah, to someday have my own merino sheep...that would be a glorious, glorious thing.

First off, the spot to find a great selection of yarns at low-ish prices:  Knit Picks
I love their Palette many lovely colors!
Everything from silk, merino, alpaca to blank wool and acrylic, you can find it at Knit Picks.  Plus, they have free shipping on orders over $50 AND a whole line of nice needles/crochet hooks AND fun accessories.  Yeah, I like them pretty well.

Of course, there are plenty of luscious yarns that I find at my local yarn store.  One of my favorites is Malabrigo:
oooh...squooshy color!
And then there's Manos de Uruguay...
I am addicted to the Maxima line...merino...bliss.
Then again, there's always madelinetosh...
so many colors of madelinetosh vintage, so little time...
And Dream in Color yarn...
lordy, how I love smooshy...
Yeah.  I should start a twelve step group. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Slow Ripening

Well, this is not the summer for rapidly ripening tomatoes.  Even the plants in the hoophouse are taking forever to turn red (or orange, depending on the variety).  On the one hand, it's good because its nice to not have to worry about a massive glut of fruit ripening all at once.  However, its tedious to wait on three or four fruits to be joined by a dozen friends, so you finally have enough to do anything with them.  I don't even have enough ripe to start the dehydrator.  It doesn't look like the weather this week will be helpful at all.  It's supposed to be overcast and/or rainy all week long.  Definitely not helpful for tomatoes to ripen. 

Tomatoes.  An exercise in patience, by any name.