Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's a Bug Eat Bug Kind of World

Man, I love nature.  While I was at work today, my wife was checking the garden beds and found this:

It's a tomato hornworm (bad) with wasp cocoons (good) protruding from its body.  I've seen hornworms, but never as a visible parasitic host.  That's a picture to remember next time I'm having a bad day, because things could certainly be a lot worse!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Fruits (and Roots) of Our Labor

Although unruly, our tomato plants are big producers.  We've been filling several bowls every few days with tomatoes, which is amazing as my kids are off-the-vine tomato eaters - they even eat the roma tomatoes like apples.  And the little grape tomatoes are splendid.

We made our first batch of salsa with the homegrown tomatoes over the weekend, along with peppers, garlic, and onions from the farmers market.  I had to check out several stands before finding the peppers; many of our farmers have had substantial crop loss due to the unusually wet summer.  Growing potatoes in pots this year is what likely allowed us to harvest potatoes at all.

Chester the neighborhood cat checks on the progress of the potato pot harvest

We harvested just over twelve pounds of potatoes.  To increase future yields I'll plant the same quantity, but in more pots.  I think our plants would have enjoyed more space (or volume...).  The potatoes we harvested look nice with purple skins and very light purple flesh, and they have a nice flavor that is somewhat different than the varieties we commonly see.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cats, Kids, & Kraut

Cats, Kids, and Kraut.  That's what I am thankful for today.

On Sundays I volunteer at the local animal shelter and clean the cat area.  I always like going there as I find it refreshing in a way.  Yes, the work is rather dirty, as one could imagine, but cats (and any animal in my experience) don't lie.  If a cat doesn't want to be around you, you'll have no trouble interpreting the language. And for the cats that do actively seek human interaction, it is really something to be swarmed by twenty or more cats at once.

Earlier this month, some of the other volunteers built an enclosure around the porch of the building so that the cats could enjoy some outside time.  While I was cleaning today I saw a car stop in the middle of the road while the driver stuck his head out the window to take a picture of the "cat porch."  That made me laugh.

When I returned home from the shelter, aside from eating lots of tomatoes off the vine (which I am kind of bummed about because I hoped to preserve them; but at the same time, eat up boys, and learn what good food is), my younger son found a beet that I had completely overlooked.

For lunch, I scooped out some of the sauerkraut that has been fermenting for the past two weeks.  Even more wonderful than its tangy terrificness, both my boys ate it on their own.  We have a rule in our house; you are not allowed to say that you don't care for something without trying it first.  With its pungent odor, I wasn't going to force sauerkraut on my kids, but they wouldn't be allowed to say they didn't like it either without first trying it.  To my surprise, while my eldest was thinking of the best way to try it (on his sandwich), my youngest started eating straight from the bowl.

I am ecstatic, to say the least, that my first batch of kraut turned out so good.  I only scooped out enough for the next day or so, then I'll probably scoop the rest into jars and refrigerate (or maybe I'll just let it keep fermenting until we eat it all - which probably won't take that long).      

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Like a Broken Record

I have a pretty good memory when it comes to numbers and dates (I love baseball stats although I haven't seen any part of a baseball game, other than local Little Leaguers, all year - nor do I care to).  However, I have a pretty poor memory when it comes to what shirt I wore yesterday, or say, how much distance I should allow between plants.  Each spring I get over zealous with the tomato transplants and think, how much space could these little plants need?  And every summer I end up with something like this:

In early May I'll even contemplate adding a few more, after all there seems to be plenty of space.  By June, though, it becomes apparent by both physical observation and my wife's advise of "you may want to do something with your tomatoes," that I have once again failed to recall the lessons of last year's tomato experience.  Now, the plants are healthy and producing (so maybe I am just very good at maximizing yields per area!), but getting to all of the nice and ripe fruits becomes an all out quest.  Alas, I see the usefulness of recording good "field notes."  But how does one make sense of information written in plain English rather than spreadsheets full of numbers.  Electric and water meter readings, odometer readings, dollar signs, and baseball stats: beautiful!  A handwritten entry in a notebook indicating plant spacing, with a follow-on entry indicating LEAVE MORE SPACE: baffling.  Something I must remedy...


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Welcome Home!

After visiting at "Camp Grandma" for the past two weeks, my wife and sons returned home yesterday. I really missed them and I took the day off from work today so we could spend some time together.  The boys and I went kayaking.  Our town's park is about two miles from home and has a nice access point to launch the kayak.    
 We have a sit-on-top kayak, which works real well as it allows both boys to ride with me while I paddle.  This was our first kayak adventure of the summer and, not being a weekend, we only saw two other boats in our vicinity.

Although cloudy, and with a few sprinkles, I love how the water and sky become almost one at the horizon.  The picture below is looking south from near the top of the Chesapeake Bay.

While on the water we saw an eagle.  It's not uncommon to see eagles here, but still impressive to see them somewhat up close.

The boys were pleased to see that the grape tomatoes are ripe for picking now that they are home.

After lunch, they helped me add fresh compost to one of the garden beds.  I plan to plant leafy greens in this bed in another month or so.  Peas and carrots grew in this bed during the spring.

While the boys and I were kayaking, my wife, who is much better with a camera than am I, caught this gold finch enjoying the sunflowers.  If I could only get her out on the kayak, she probably could have captured a nice picture of the eagle we saw...but until then, you'll just have to believe me when I say we saw an eagle.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sauerkraut! (well...the initial attempt)

I had to go into town to pick up some chicken supplies today.  On the way home I stopped at Harman's Farm.  I occasionally see Mr. Harman at work, in fact last week he brought in a big bag of peas from their abundant harvest to share.  My wife is a high school teacher and taught one of the Harman kids.  Buying local definitely has an impact.

I bought three head of cabbage for sauerkraut, and twenty cucumbers and an onion for more pickles.  This is my first attempt at sauerkraut, but as I'm interested in the biochemical processes that transform raw ingredients into the foods and drinks we know and love, it seems to be the next natural step.  As I was researching how to prepare sauerkraut, of concern were numerous comments about lead content in many home crock pots.  Apparently, in some models, the paint contains lead.  We don't use our crock pot too often, but knowing that lead is absorbed by children much more readily than by adults, I purchased a lead test kit just to be sure.

Our crock pot doesn't contain lead, at least as indicating by the test kit, and I feel a little better about the crock pot meals our family previously ate.  And now I feel safe using the crock for fermenting cabbage.

I never liked, no, strike that, I absolutely hated sauerkraut when I was a kid.  Certainly our sense of taste changes as we age, but I also think my mom probably bought canned and pasteurized sauerkraut, which doesn't taste nearly as good as the real deal.  I remember being in my early twenties, when at a German restaurant, being baffled by how much better the sauerkraut tasted, and, shhhhhhh, I actually like it.  And now, sauerkraut is something I very much enjoy and am excited to "possibly" have right here at home.  The hard part will be the waiting while the little super bugs do their jobs...So, I am looking forward, with great anticipation, to about three weeks from now when I'll check the flavor to make sure no bad bugs thwart my attempt at homemade sauerkraut.