And, a pickled pot!

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Sadly, it’s nearing the end of the major growing season here in central Indiana.  The leaves are beginning to turn that golden green and a few are already floating to the ground.  Plants are rushing to produce seeds.  Squirrels are seriously burying walnuts throughout the lawn and gardens.  The morning air has a bit of chill, and there’s that definite feeling that the seasons are changing.

Oh yes, I’ve sown some fall crops, but very soon the squashes, tomatoes, peppers, okra, and other heat-loving crops will be gone.  Already, the cucumber vines have given way, so many of the trellises stand forlorn, empty of the flowing green vines that so prettily shaded lettuce and spinach crops at their base.  Even before the vines were dying, the quantity of cucumbers was dwindling to the point that there were not enough to make a batch of anything.

Fortunately, as I was looking at my harvest basket with just a bit of this and a bit of that, I remembered as a very small girl, helping my mother and grandmother make what they called “Last of the Garden.”  Of course, we canned jars and jars and jars of the colorful, tasty mixture, but I decided to  make just one jar, using a gallon jug normally used for sun-tea.  Into it, I put green and red cherry tomatoes, tiny zucchini and Sunburst squashes, 1″ chunks of cucumbers, tiny 2″ long okra, a few garlic cloves, red cherry and other colorful sweet peppers.  Small carrots and onions were par-boiled for 5 minutes, drained, and then added to the mixture, along with a few sprigs of summer savory.  If I’d had tiny broccoli or cauliflower bouquets, or string beans, I’d have added those, too.  Some might add hot peppers, but I prefer it without the heat.

The pickling mixture was simply 2 cups of cider vinegar, a cup of water, and a half cup of sugar all heated and stirred until the sugar dissolved.  Any number of herbs or pickling spices could be added, too, but I decided to keep it simple.  I added a ball of waxed paper under the lid to keep all the veggies submerged.  Any that stick above the liquid will develop mold, which should be avoided.  The colorful jar sits on my counter, where I can nibble a bit while I’m cooking, or easily pull out a few goodies to add to a salad or appetizer platter.  When I have a few more tiny veggies, I add them, and give it a good stir.  If the liquid gets low, I add a bit more, or if we’ve eaten a jar of sweet pickles, the leftover liquid from that can be added.  When the garden season has ended, and I’m no longer continually adding and removing veggies, I’ll stick the jar in the refrigerator for the winter.  That’s when we’ll really, really appreciate the “Last of the Garden.”

Disappointments

As the summer garden season draws to a close, it’s a good time to take stock and evaluate.  Considering that I grew 197 varieties, not counting all the bulbs purchased, perennials and herbs that I moved from the farm, or varieties that were already growing from prior seasons in the house gardens, the number of disappointments is surprisingly small.  Or, maybe I am just easily pleased? The hours spent pouring over seed catalogs, and then checking unfamiliar varieties on the internet paid off, I think.

zinnia-zinderella-compressed

The biggest disappointment was Zinnia “Zinderella Peach,” shown above.  They were touted as a puffy ball surrounded by a single row of petals, all in a luscious soft peach, so I planted them liberally throughout the gardens as a mid-height filler.  As you can see, they are just small (the size of a quarter mostly, with some 2″ across) single-flowered, mostly in an ugly pink fading to off-white.  Generally before that happened, the petals got spots or were nibbled off by insects.  I only left them because by the time their color showed, I really didn’t have anything left to replace them, and pulling them out would have left big holes.  Besides, the butterflies loved them.  Needless to say, they won’t be in my garden again.

celosia-armour-salmon-compressed

The second disappointment was again a color issue.  Celosia Amor “Salmon” turned out to be a glaring red.  Visitors to the garden were impressed by the large heads and brilliant color, and the fact that they didn’t topple over with their weight.  They are short, growing only about 10″.  However, they set my teeth on edge, and they certainly won’t be returning.  I see in the new catalogs (Yes, they are already arriving for next season!) that a Armor “Orange” is listed, but can I really trust them?  That will be a winter debate and research.

alcea-queeny-salmon-compressed

Another color issue was “Queeny Salmon” Hollyhock.  They are tidy, growing to about 28″ and producing numerous blooms in late July through August and now into September, which is wonderful.  Probably they are  softly “salmon,” which is just pinker than I want.  Since they were actually good performers, I’ll just switch to the yellow or white version, which will fit my color scheme better.

pepper-sweet-pickle-compressed

Fourth on the “Darn It” list is “Sweet Pickle” Pepper, which was listed as “thick-walled, delicious eaten raw and excellent pickled.”  Admittedly, they do have thick walls and an “okay” flavor…..if you can chew the amazingly tough skin!  I’ve tried pickling a few, but it doesn’t soften the skin.  I should try roasting some or charring the skin off.  They have been beautiful in the garden since planting, supplying a colorful accent of yellow, orange, and maturing red, and they were certainly bountiful and tidy.  Next season, I’d like to find an ornamental pepper that matures orange and is actually edible!

Fifth is “Homemade” Pickle, a small cucumber that was planted to grow on the trellises, and to hopefully produce enough finger-sized cukes to make my grandmother’s famous crock of sweet pickles.  Six vines did not come close to producing even a dozen small cukes at a picking.  I’ll be looking for a replacement.  There’s no photo, because the vines quit blooming so long ago, that I pulled them out.  “Parisian” produced much better, and over an extensive period, so I’ll grow those again, but I’d still like a second variety as well.

chard-orange-fantasia-compressed

Swiss Chard “Orange Fantasia” was beautiful for the beginning of the season, although the stalks were more yellow than orange to this date.  And, a few weeks ago, brown spots began appearing all over the stems, making them ugly and unusable.  I keep removing them, but the new stalks soon develop them.  I’m not sure if it is a disease or caused by insects, but it is very disappointing.  I’m leaving them to see what happens when the weather finally turns cooler, since they can take light frosts.  “Bright Lights” never showed this problem,  so I may just have to return to “Bright Lights” and only plant the orange ones in the potager.

No photo of the blue potatoes I planted, because I didn’t get any.  The “Norland Red” and the white ones did well, but I won’t waste space for the blue ones again.

tomato-mint-julep-compressed  This is tomato “Mint Julep,” which I was eager to try.  I’m not a big raw tomato fan, finding most of the red ones too acidic for my sensitivity.  However, “Mint Julep” will not be returning to the potager because it had no flavor, nearly always developed these splits, and were just generally unappealing.

tomato-polbig-compressed  Tomato “Polbig” was planted because it was supposed to be one of the earliest, most reliable, full-sized tomatoes, tolerating cooler weather, etc.  It is a nice size, and fairly productive, but it did not ripen until after we were already harvesting “Cherokee Carbon” and “Park’s Whopper” tomatoes.  They are still producing a few nice tomatoes and the flavor (according to others) is good, but I’ll be searching for a different “Early” tomato for next season.

So that’s it….only 9 losers out of 197 trials won’t be returning to the potager next year!  Still, I’ll spend lots of time this winter scouring the catalogs for interesting, new varieties to try.  Isn’t that a great part of the fun of gardening?

 

 

Mouthwatering Melons

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One of the true delights of the potager has been the melon crop.  If you read the post discussing melons when I was mulling over seed orders, you may recall that I chose 4 varieties of melon, plus 1 watermelon.  Three (“Sugar Cube,” “Tasty Bites,” and “Green Nutmeg”) were picked to climb the trellises, 2 (“Minnesota Midget” and the “Gold Crown” watermelon) were “bush” types that would fill empty spots in the interior border.  All did not go quite according to plan, so I’ll be tweaking some next year, but all in all, I’m thrilled with the melon crop.

I seeded 6 seeds of each variety, but gave 3 of the “Tasty Bites,” 2 “Green Nutmeg” and 3 “Minnesota Midget” plants away. It was right on schedule, according to my winter-laid plan, when I put the first melons into the ground.  The weather did co-operate, and our normal “frost-free” date of May 10th had arrived amid a stretch of lovely, soil-warming weather.  Happily, the hardened-off seedlings of “Sugar Cube” and “Tasty Bites” went into the ground May 11th. They need 80 days and 77 days to harvesting, respectively, so I penciled a note on my calendar to keep  watch by July 20th.  “Minnesota Midget” is listed as requiring 60 days, and “Green Nutmeg” is also 80. Those plants went into the ground on June 2nd, along with the “Gold Crown” watermelon.

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The first melon picked was a delicious 5″ Sugar Cube on July 28th.  It was an exciting moment, and the sweet aroma of the melon was apparent with the first sniff.  To tell the total truth, for all my eagerness for the first melon, I entirely missed picking the first one.  It actually fell from the vine, fortunately landing in a rather soft bed of carrot tops to prevent bruising.  It was absolutely drop-dead, mouth-watering, sweet as honey delicious.  I was definitely hooked at the first bite.

The first watermelon was picked on July 31st. “Gold Crown” is a lovely melon, with bright gold skin and rosy-pink, sweet melon flesh.  I only planted two vines and harvested 6 melons, 5 of which were delicious.  One came off the  fence, and I assumed it was ripe and took it to a family dinner.  The flesh was barely pink, and although it was not awful, it definitely was not as sweet as we expected.  The next 5 were fine, although at that point the vines were already nearly dead and ugly.  The jury is still out regarding next year’s plantings.  They didn’t take a lot of space and many visitors had never seen a gold-skinned watermelon. This one, picked this morning (Aug. 31) is fully ripe and delicious, although slightly smaller than the earlier ones.

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The timing issue definitely didn’t work out as I had so meticulously planned.  Although planted at different times, and having different “days to maturity” nearly all the melons were ripening at once as August arrived, beginning with 1 or 2 every other day, and increasing as the heat of summer continued.  I picked this crop on Aug 27th

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And this batch on Aug/ 29th

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And these were harvested Aug. 30th!  Plus 1 gray zucchini, don’t be confused by it.

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It seems as though all the plants waited until the weather was just right, and then they all celebrated and produced melons at once!

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My absolute favorite melon as far as flavor is “Green Nutmeg,” an heirloom dating from the 1830’s.  Think folks, that’s 30 years before the Civil War.  Scarlett O’Hara might have eaten this melon’s forebears.  As you might guess, it has a green flesh and the flavor has a wonderful “nutmeg” spiciness that differentiates it from any other melon I’ve tasted in the past.  I adore it, and will include many, many more plants in the potager next year, because I didn’t get many melons per plant.

Probably the most prolific melon was “Minnesota Midget,” which I grew in the 6′ x 6′ beds once the garlic came out.  I should have recorded the number harvested, but I kept gifting visitors with a melon or two, and failed to record the number (or the poundage.)  I took a few to my mother (plants earlier and ripened melons later) and gave several to neighbors, failing to record any of them.  Next year, they will go into the ground first, hoping that needing only 60 days, I’ll get melons earlier and they will be nearly done producing when the others start ripening.

I should have kept better records on the “Tasty Bites” and “Sugar Cube” which were both grown on trellises.  Frankly, they were both delicious, but the “Tasty Bites”vines are already dead, while “Sugar Cube” is still ripening a few fruits.  Maybe I’ll eliminate “Tasty Bites” and give that trellis to “Green Nutmeg.”  Just to prevent worry, the trellises will be moved to the center path next year, so melons won’t be growing in the same places.

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It really doesn’t matter to me which I grow, because I love them all.  Slice a tiny one in half, and it’s perfect for breakfast (or a hungry gardener who just happens to have a spoon in her pocket as she weeds!)  A larger (5″ diameter) is halved to share as dessert, sometimes with a scoop of sherbet in the center, and sometimes just plain.  Either way is divine.  I’ve served slices of these tiny melons on antipasto trays, and whether plain, wrapped in prosciutto, or skewered with other fruits and a mint leaf, they were a hit.

Right now, the fall red raspberries are ripe, so I’m combining melon cubes with those, chopped mint, and a bit of orange marmalade as a dessert alone, or with shortbread cookies, or poured over poundcake or ice cream.  If you haven’t tried growing miniature melons, I encourage you to plant them next year.  I’m absolutely delighted that I did, and I’m wagering you will, too.

 

Orange you just loving it?

I just got a new camera, and I’m trying to learn to use it.  One of the reasons I decided I needed a new one (besides the fact that D & I were constantly wanting to take the single one we had in different directions) is the frustration in trying to capture the REAL colors I see, so you can see them, too.  As you know, my color palette is apricot, oranges, golds with touches of blue, purple and white.  The old point-and-shoot camera just didn’t do them justice. So, here are photos I just shot of some of the oranges in my garden.

Zinnia Lion 2 compressed  Zinnia “Mighty Lion”

Zinna Prof Apricot compressed  Zinnia “Profusion Apricot”

Tritoma Vanilla Orange compressed  Tritoma “Vanilla Orange”

Apricot dianthus compressed  Dianthus …wish I knew, I came without a tag, but it’s been blooming non-stop since I purchased it in early April!  I’d love more!

Butterflyweed compressed  Asclepias tuberosa, better known as Butterflyweed

Celosia Fresh Look Orange compressed Celosia “Fresh Look Orange.”  Very happy with this, and have it everywhere in borders and containers.  Not so happy with Celosia “Armour Salmon,” which turned out to be red.  UGH! I won’t even take its photo.

Coneflower Cantalope compressed  Coneflower “Cantalope”

Daylily Dbl Or compressed Daylily “Double Orange.”  I have lots of other orange, orange bi-colors, and apricot daylilies, but this is my favorite.

Lily Tiger compressed Tiger Lily….forget the name but it’s not the standard orange.

Marigold Hero Orange compressed Marigold “Hero Orange,” the workhorse of the potager center path borders.  Blooming constantly, and definitely in the garden in future years.

Nast Tip Top Apricot compressed Nasturtium “Tip Top Apricot.”  Has performed well despite the heat!  I had some darker orange ones, but they’ve languished.

Rudbeckia Chim var compressed A seedling from last year’s Rudbeckia “Chim Chiminee.”  Surprises are always nice.

Snap Liberty bronze compressed  Snapdragon “Liberty Bronze.”  Probably the most-commented upon plant in the gardens this year.  Definitely on next year’s list.

Tomato Orange Sun compressed  Not a flower, but these “Orange Sun” tomatoes have been large, delicious, and showy along the fence.

Tritoma 2 compressed  I have four varieties of tritoma…think this one is “Elvira” or maybe it’s this one…..

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Chard Orange  The Orange Chard is not as orange as I’d hoped, but maybe it will darken as the temperatures cool.

Rail planter compressed  The “Sedona” coleus from Proven Winners is always a success.  Here it adds height to a rail planter on the deck.

Pepper Orange Sun The “Orange Sun” peppers have been a great success….bags and bags already in the freezer and lots more to pick.

Lantana, coleus compressed  An orange lantana, which blooms despite our lack of rain, causing the butterflies to rejoice.

So, I’m still learning to use the camera, but you can see that there is lots of orange and apricot in my gardens, which makes me very happy.  Orange is a color for energy, vitality, and power.  If you have a favorite orange flower or veggie that I haven’t shown here, let me know and I’ll look for it for my garden next year.

 

Cipollini

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These are cipollini that I grew last summer, in a window box, because my potager had not yet been started, but I’d already given possession of the Cook’s garden at the herb farm to its new owners.  I fell in love with these heirloom, small, flat, very sweet onions in Italy.  We had them there as an appetizer, marinated in balsamic vinegar.  As soon as we returned home, I planted a white variety from Seeds of Italy.  You can read more about cipollini, and making marinated cipollini on my website (www.caroleesherbfarm.com) by clicking on the November 2015 E-Newsletter.  We’ve grilled them (parboil for 5 minutes first) and because of the high sugar content, they carmelize beautifully.  My daughter (who lived in Puglia) sent me a recipe for Cipollini Crostata, which is really delicious as an appetizer, or with a salad for a luncheon, or as a side dish for supper.  It’s good picnic food, because it’s yummy at room temperature, too.  Look for that recipe in the August 2015 E-newsletter.

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They are very easy to grow from seed, so I planted both  white “Bianca di Maggio” (95 days) and “Red Marble” (80 days) varieties this spring.   I sprinkle the seeds in rows in flats, then transplant the tiny grass-like plants into four-packs shown above.  When they get a little size and seem stable they go from 4-packs into a row in the garden.

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The white seedlings seem to be a bit more robust than the red, so I planted them first.  I just made a small trench and put the cubes from the 4-packs edge to edge, pulling soil up around the cubes and sprinkling a bit of mulch lightly between the plants.  You can space them closely, because they only get about 2″ in diameter.  Another row goes right beside them, staggered to provide ample space.  Here’s some of this year’s crop, growing happily about mid-June.  I have little rows and patches here and there in the potager, tucked in where early crops of spinach, mini-napa cabbage, pak choi and mustards came out.

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Knowing how much we love them grilled, and planning to make jars and jars of the marinated ones for antipasto platters over the winter, I actually seeded a third variety, “Red Amposta” about a month after the first sowings went into the potager beds.  They are now ready to plant into the beds as other crops come out. Supposedly, they are a good variety for storing over the winter.  Fingers crossed.

The first variety planted are now ready for harvest, indicated by the tops falling over, so I’ll start pulling a few of the larger ones to grill, and marinate all the cute small ones.  Even if you only have space for a windowbox, grow some cipollini!

Calendula harvest

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As an herb lover, it’s always hard to pick a favorite.  Mine varies from week to week, but during the spring and early summer months, it has to be calendula.  I would hate to live without calendula.  First of all, they are just absolutely beautiful.  Available in cream, through yellows, apricots, deep orange, and bi-colors, they also range in height from 8″ to 24″ and come in singles and doubles.   Calendulas are annuals, although they often self-seed.  They prefer cool weather, and as the heat of summer arrives, the flowers become smaller and fade more quickly.  If you look at the yellow flower on the very bottom left, you’ll notice that it is starting to fade.  There are a couple of orange ones closer to the center and center right that are fading, too.  That’s when I harvest them, when a few petals begin to shrink.  First pull the petals free, and then snip the head from the plant’s stem.  Snipping off the head helps the plant use its energy to produce more flowers. I drop the petals into this handy drying trug, or spread them on screens (keeping them out of direct sunlight in a dry, airy location) until they are totally dry.

Calendula petals drying  Then I store them in an airtight jar like this one  Calendula jars compressedon the right.  The dried petals can be added to tea for sore throats, added to homemade soap, stirred into sugar cookie or scone batters, or any number of projects or recipes.

Often, I simply take a jar out to the potager and fill it with plucked petals.  When it is full, I add enough olive oil or sweet almond oil to cover and store it in a dark place for at least a week.

Calendula in oil compressed  Here’s the first jar of the season, but I’m making more.  You can see the second jar in the prior photo behind this first jar.  The oil can be applied as is to scratches, bug bites, scrapes, minor cuts, rashes, dry skin, and other skin ailments, or it can be the main ingredient in healing salves and lotions.

Right now, I have a monstrous case of chiggers, a gift from helping weed a neighbor’s garden.  From neck to knee I am covered with red spots (sorry, a photo would be just too embarassing!) which would be itching terribly if not for the liberal application of calendula salve.  So, obviously, right now calendula is definitely my favorite herb!  In fact, I think I’d better go pick some more petals!

The tiny lavender harvest

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The first harvest from my new lavender patch is complete….5 bunches, but don’t they look nice hanging in my shed?  And 5 little bunches will provide enough lavender for a few pots of tea and several batches of lavender-walnut scones this winter, which makes me happy. The harvest didn’t take long.  After fifteen years with 7,000 lavender plants that took weeks to harvest manually, this was a snap, since there are only 47 baby plants.  Fifty were planted last autumn, and I truly didn’t expect any of them to survive since I did no soil preparation, and the site is not ideal (heavy clay, run-off from the neighbor’s field, a north slope that holds the snow longer than any other spot on the property.)  I just needed a place to stick them and behold, there was the bare, bull-dozed slope next to the new potager, so in they went!

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Imagine my surprise this spring, when 49 plants began to show growth.  They not only survived, but they actually seem happy!  So, instead of moving them, I weeded the patch, put down landscape cloth, and watched them grow.  Most of the plants are “Abrialli,” my favorite for their wonderful fragrance, long stems and good color, which I reserved for myself,  but there are a few  “Sleeping Beauty,” “Victorian Amethyst,” “Imperial Gem,” “Violet Intrigue,” and one “Dwarf White” which were unsold when we closed the farm and I couldn’t bare to toss them, so in they went.

Lav first bunch compressed  I just cut them with heavy-duty scissors, shaping the plant into a mound as I go.  Harvest begins when the bees start working the flowers.

Lav bunch with bee compressed  If you look carefully at the center top of the bunch, you’ll see a bee that could not be deterred from her task.

Lav patch harvested compressed It doesn’t look very attractive without the flowers.  In fact, it’s actually ugly.  The plan is to add a layer of stone to cover the landscape cloth, and I’ve planted a few perennials and a small shrub island to help screen it from the house and driveway.

Lav patch screen compressed  I’m not sure at this point it is helping the beautification effort, but hopefully it will be lovely eventually.  For those of you detail-obsessed folks, there are only 47 plants left because two at the far end were actually washed out of the ground by a heavy rain before the landscape cloth went down, and I was too slow to notice and get them back in the ground.  Sigh.  And, yes, I’ve used leftover bits of three different landscape fabrics, but once they are covered in stone it won’t matter.  When I look at it now, I see future summers, when the fragrance of the lavender will be carried into the potager, and hopefully, with the help of westerly breezes onto the deck at the house.

At the shed

Shed without shutters

Here’s the garden shed a few weeks ago, showing the newly planted, newly mulched border in front of it.  See my problem?  Yup, the mud splashed up on the side, and I knew my newly planted babies would be pounded by rain falling from the roof.  So, I put on guttering.  Never having done it before, it took forever, but I’m proud to say I finally figured it out.  Before we go on, please notice the lovely foxgloves on the left, Polkadot Polly, which have been blooming for months!  I’m thrilled with them.

I kept looking at the shed, thinking it needed more pizzazz.  Shutters would be lovely, so while I was at the store getting guttering supplies, I priced a set of vinyl shutters….$31!!! That seemed rather pricey for such a small window, so I decided to wait.  Good decision, because when I went to the Madison Co. Master Gardeners’ Spring Plant sale, I found this very satisfactory set for $2.00!

Shutters By sawing them in half, they were a perfect fit, and only needed cleaning, a coat of primer, and a coat of green paint.

Shutter stage 3 I used some lumber left from the shed’s siding to make a windowbox.

Windowbox building compressed And painted it to match and planted it with flowers.  Here’s what it looks like now!

Windowbox installed compressed

Much, much better.  And notice how those foxgloves are STILL blooming.  And that lovely guttering!  And those half-shutters left from the project are getting lots of use as shades for new plantings here and there in the potager.  That’s one of the best $2.00 investments I’ve ever made.  Now on to other projects!

 

 

The bounty begins! But wait….

Elder compressed

One of my written goals for the potager is to “keep good and accurate records of the harvest.”  That hasn’t been as easy as it would appear, partly because it is hard to force myself to take the time, and partly because no rules have been established.  Starting out was easy, because only a few ounces of herb or a few pounds of lettuce needed weighing.  As the harvest revved up, there was less time and more questions.  Do I weigh shallots as they come from the potager, or is the correct weight after they are cured (the weight they would normally be if purchased from the grocery?)  Should bolted lettuce that ends up in the compost count as “harvest?”  Must I weigh or record that pepper or cucumber that I happen to devour while I am watering, that never make it to the house, let alone a scale?  These questions and more are still under debate.  So, I’ll just begin to update you, gentle reader, on what I’ve been harvesting and preserving recently.  The above photo is of my elder tree, taken in April, when I began harvesting the flowers.  Only the tiny white blooms are carefully rubbed free, because the stems are toxic.  The flowers can then be spread on pans or screens to dry.  Once that happens, they can be stored in an airtight jar such as the one on the left below, with the green lid.  Jars should be stored in a cool dark place until the flowers are needed for delicious (and medicinal) teas or baking.

Elderflowers dried and syrup

In the center of the photo, note the four quart jars of steeping elderflower syrup.  Each jar takes 1 1/2 cups fresh elderbloom, the zest and juice of one lemon OR lime, and a simple syrup made of 2 c. water and 2 c. sugar brought to a boil and poured over the flowers and citrus.  Shake daily and allow to steep 3-4 days, then strain and refrigerate or can in a water bath.  I use the syrup mostly to make Hugos, the cocktail using about an oz. of syrup muddled with a sprig of good spearmint in the bottom of a wineglass.  Add a slice of lime and fill the glass with chilled Prosecco.  Perfectly delicious on a hot summer afternoon, or in winter to remind you of summer!  You can tell I really like them, because I made this much syrup!  I hope it’s enough to last until next April.

Elderflower syrup compressed  Well, actually I made more, because I’ve already used one jar, there’s another partial jar in the refrigerator, plus I’ve given three jars away!  Now, how do I count this in my harvest records?  Should I have recorded the number of cups of fresh flowers that I used in the syrup, or should I have weighed them? Or, do I just count the finished product in quarts and pints?  Decisions, decisions.  I think I’d better make a Hugo, and mull it over.  If you have “rules” that you use to record your harvest, please share.

 

The Bad

Not everything in the new potager has been perfect.  The most frustrating aspect comes from critters, who thwart every effort.  The most frustrating has been the raccoons, which have decimated the strawberry harvest.  After only 4 quarts of beautiful, big berries, my harvest has been ZERO because the coons are eating the berries just as soon as they form, even before they begin to show color!  You can see from the photo that they nibble the berries right to the stem cap, just as soon as they are marble-sized.  (Note the black spot on my thumb nail….let’s just say my carpentry skills are not equal to my weeding skills.)DSC00066.JPGSince they discovered the berries, the potager has become their favorite playground.  They’ve knocked rail planters over onto the ground, dumped flats of plants,

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pulled the timbers away from the borders, and then merrily dug up plants,

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knocked over pots,

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and generally just made a mess and destroyed dozens of plants.  Some nights they dig out the landscape cloth under the paths. Most mornings it takes me two hours just to tidy up their pranks.

 

One early evening, after I had just showered and changed into my nightgown, David called, “Look out the window!”  A mother coon and three youngsters were heading straight toward the potager.  I ran outside, shouting, and banging two boards together that I picked up on the way.  By the time I reached the garden, they were already trampling strawberry plants.  Obviously, they had visited before.  After much yelling and board banging, and with David’s help, we finally herded them out of the garden.  I needed another shower after all the running.  I’m sure if someone had taken a video, I’d be on “America’s Funniest.” Good thing we live in the country with no close neighbors!

A review of the critter camera the next morning showed that two additional coons later made nocturnal visits to the berry beds, which are now fairly flattened and sad.  Raccoons are good climbers and have no difficulty going over the fence.  I guess I’ll have to add electric fence, although I really don’t want to.  However, if I want to harvest any of the miniature melons, tomatoes, and other coon favorites, I’ll have to do something besides pray.

Another bad guy is the bunny; probably the same one who ate all the parsley and violas and snapdragons while they were still in flats on the bench.  I see him occasionally hopping across the lawn.  This week in the front potager border, he bit off about half the 8″ tall zinnias just above soil level and dropped them.  What a waste!  You’d think after he tasted one and didn’t like it, he’d pass the others by and try something else, but no, he just went down the border and cut one after another.  Fortunately, I have more and I’ll give them a good spray with Plantskydd right after planting.

So far, knock wood, the deer haven’t jumped the fence into the potager, but they are browsing on the newly-planted red raspberry rows.  I finally got the posts in and berry netting over them, so that should end that.

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Another bad guy, the Japanese beetles.  They seem more abundant this year than last.  They especially like all the basils and the okra blooms, but I photographed these on the yarrow.  I’ve been hand-picking them, but it’s time consuming and not my favorite past-time.  With the 90-degree days we’ve had (unusual for June) I spent much of my time watering all the new plantings (removing spent peas and re-planting those areas) and the berry rows.  I’ve also been working on a few little projects.  (More about those in up-coming posts.)  So, dear reader, I haven’t had much time for blogging, and I do appreciate your patience.  I’ll do better!