Thursday, May 31, 2012

I've heard before that there was a natural phenomenon called "the catchup factor" in nature that causes growing things to catchup when they are behind in growth at a remarkable rate. That seems exactly what is happening with our garden this year. One day things were not looking so good and almost overnight things seemed to almost explode with new growth. It is really amazing. The recent rain really made a difference.

We now have patty pan squash almost ready to pick.

Actually they could be picked right now to broil or saute. I wonder how they would do if grilled?

Our Ronde de Nice looks good.

And we even have zukes!

The herbs we planting in between things like tomatoes are doing well.

 And we will soon have cucumbers!

I mean plenty of them!

These cherry tomatoes are beginning to turn.

And I even have a very bad photo of our regular sized tomatoes. These are a bush variety.

We are letting our Bok Choi go to seed. We didn't have a very good crop this year but we will plant them again in the fall using the seed we save from these. Meanwhile, the bees will have some extra pollen.

Our okra is growing nicely. The regular potatoes that we have are doing well. Pictured here are two plants and we have lettuce to the right of the okra.

And here are my husbands watermelon plants. He has been watering them by hand and adding organic Miracle Grow.

This is the giant variety. The vine is small but that may be because the watermelon will be so large. I don't really know.

And our Rattlesnake beans are growing wild and crazy.

This is our first year to try these and they are growing in masses. They are supposed to be drought tolerant and have a long growing season.

After I took the photos we added some Diatomaceous earth. We were seeing some insect damage but we wanted to stop them before they do too much damage.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Making beach sculptures

This past Memorial Day weekend I went to the beach with my son and his family.

I really don't do very much while at the beach other than lounge on the beach under an umbrella. I certainly didn't stop my beach lounging very much this time, but I did prepare a creative project for my 7 year old granddaughter so we would have a memorable time. I really didn't want her to think of me as just a slug, lying on a beach chair. That is really true but after she had her fill of swimming I was prepared for "beach sculptures." Something to keep her busy and more lasting than a sand castle which only gives pleasure for a short time and keeps me in the sun way too long.

It is a very simple craft. All you need is some plaster of Paris, a beach pail and a stirring stick.

You can use shells and other objects you find on the beach to make the details. I also brought wiggle eyes and some glitter and a bit of wire and wire cutters to put a hanger in the back.

We made the fish first and didn't do the best job ever but it was fun. Then we made the heart at the top which was our favorite.

This is how you do it.

Dig a hole in the damp sand in the shape you like. Start small! Find shells and other natural beach objects and think "backwards." The objects you want to see should be placed away from you. When the "mold" is finished, prepare your plaster.

Put plaster of Paris in your beach pail and mix with ocean water. It should roughly be 7 parts plaster of Paris to 3 parts water. Stir well and if it is too lumpy or dry, add more water. It should be pourable but not too wet.

Pour the plaster of Parish into the hole. It won't hurt your hands and you can wash up in the ocean. If you want, place a wire into the back to hang the sculpture.

After the plaster of Paris is dry, dig it up and wash it off with ocean water. Good ideas for beach sculptures are fish, suns, stars, tropical masks and hearts. They don't have to be perfect, just fun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A new squash variety

Over the last several years I have tried a number of new plant varieties in my garden. Sometimes I have good results and sometimes not. I would love to recommend a new squash that I planted. I had the seeds for a round zucchini called Ronde De Nice. It is a French variety and grows perfectly round. It kind of looks like a zucchini though lighter in color, but it is very tender and more flavorful.

I was thinking I might have received these squash seeds from Renee's Gardens and they do sell this squash. I also thought I might have picked them up at last year's Southeastern Flower Show at the D. Landreth Seed Company booth. I do know that both companies do sell this variety but there is a difference in their descriptions. Renee's Seeds describe the Ronde as a French zucchini that can be picked early and steamed whole or you can wait until they are about 4 inches in diameter and stuff them. They describe them as a zucchini while D. Landreth says they are actually a summer pumpkin. (I do know that squash and pumpkins are in the same family so maybe this is not really a difference.)

I am still looking for the seed package that I think I saved but I do know this squash is really, really delicious. I haven't actually cooked them myself but gave a couple to my daughter-in-law and she cooked them in a spaghetti dish--delicious. She also used the remainder of the squash in cubes in our salads--outstanding! It has a sweet flavor that I am not familiar with in zucchinis.

I almost didn't plant them because I was feeling quite discouraged about my squash. I am so glad I did. My son said it all when he told me that this was a plant I needed to keep on growing. I also will grow zucchinis but this will be on my planting list from now on.

Note: After checking the seed packages, I found that my Rondes were from D. Landreth Seeds Company. Great thing is that they were actually last year's seeds I would say these seeds germinate well on the second year. Good news for me because I sometimes will pick up some seeds and it will be too late to plant for that season. When I pull them out the following year I won't hesitate to plant them, especially if they are from D. Landreth.

Friday, May 25, 2012

One opportunity I didn't miss!

In the past I have been one of those people who misses opportunities when it comes to potted plant gifts. I love receiving potted plants--even more than cut flowers because I have the opportunity to replant them outside and enjoy them when they grow and flower the following year or growing season. However, I normally don't take the time to do it. When the plant dies, from too much or too little watering or not enough light, I throw it out and sigh heavily because I know I missed an opportunity to enjoy it later. I think, "If only I had taken the extra time to replant."

I now have something to be proud of because last year I received an Easter lily and later planted it out of doors at the end of my driveway with marvelous results. It looks wonderful and it is now a waist-high beauty with at least ten blooms on it. Best of all, it took virtually no work to make it beautiful!

It did seem to take some time to establish itself and I wondered if it would actually bloom again, but to my delight it is so pretty.

I can't say that I will never miss another opportunity but this has certainly taught me a lesson. I will keep how pretty this plant is in my mind and hopefully will not miss the opportunity to add to my landscape the next time. This present from last year is one that just keeps on giving.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Garden Update

When I look at my garden this week, I just can't get over how much better it look. I was beginning to worry about six weeks ago because it was way to hot and we were having a bit of a drought. Now we have green beans that are almost at the top of the poles.

We decided to try rattlesnake beans this year rather than our usual Kentucky Wonders. We may be sorry but I like the looks of the pink blossoms.

We have some nice red cabbages that are a bit more green than red. I don't know why.

And we already have peppers. This is a chili. I am ready for some great Mexican home-cooked meals. I also have a number of cilantro plants.

The squash I am guardedly optimistic about. It looks good but I know we have to really watch it to protect it from pests.

So far the pests are quite as bad as I expected. Of course we are now in our fourth year of organic growing and trying to encourage beneficial plants and insects. At some point the beneficials could help but we will have to monitor very carefully.

We do have wild blackberries this year. I am very excited to have them. I know I have to fight the birds for them but I hope I can get my share.

My husband surprised me a couple of days ago with fresh lettuce and spinach from the garden.

And we are now on the third picking of Oregon pea pods. They are yummy--so sweet that I can't help but pick them and eat them straight off the vine.

My husband also brought home some squash.

We cooked them and ate them the same afternoon. Right out of the garden. That is the way to eat vegetables.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spring squash

We actually have some squash! I have been battling squash bugs for several years since we first started our garden. This year things look promising. We planted straight neck squash rather than our old faves the crookneck. The crookneck is supposed to be the favorite plant for squash vine borers when they hatch out of their eggs and bore into the centers of the squash vine where they basically eat the life out of the plant.

This year, we covered our squash with row covers, then uncovered them when the squash needed the blooms pollinated. I did try to pollinate with a brush but quickly realized that it was a lost cause. I decided to take a chance and see how the plants grew and spray them with BT to kill worms.

So far, so good. As I said, I did plant some straightneck squash and the vines are a bit larger than crookneck so they might fare slightly better.

I also have some Ronde de Nice squash. They are zuchinni squash that are nice and round like little balls. I really like how they look on the vines. These are really putting on fruit and are looking good so far. I have read that they are an Italian variety and also a French variety. I can't really say but they are supposed to be a good squash for stuffing.

We will be watching very carefully and inspecting for vine borers. We may try injecting the plants with BT and we may also plant a second crop right away and cover them with row covers. That way they have a chance to mature a bit before the second wave of the vine borer attacks begin.

We are taking nothing for granted and I must say I am very thankful for each and every squash we havest!

Monday, May 21, 2012

My first terrarium

The other day my grandson and I made a terrarium. We made it from left over plants we used in a previous project and so far it looks pretty good. It looks good after almost a week and I haven't done a thing to it other than moving it from place to place. Right now it is in my kitchen which is the worst place in my house to grow and nurture flowers. It may be the only kind of plant that will grow there--at least I hope so.

It WAS a very easy project. This one is made from a large glass jar, pebbles, potting soil, plants (leftovers), rocks, moss (from my mom's yard) and a small wild violet from my yard.

The idea to make one was from my friend Charlotte who makes beautiful terrariums and sells them at the old Fairgrounds in Newnan on Market Days. Hers are exceptionally beautiful. She told me that "anyone could make a terrarium." Because of this I decided to give it a try.

A terrarium is supposed to be a little enclosed ecosystem of living plants (and sometimes animals). It should be self-supporting and shouldn't need any care at all. I will have to see it this is true but if it works like I think it will, it should be practically care-free.

You also can grow a terrarium in almost any glass container, from a mason jar to an old unused aquarium. I like what I have done so far and I want to say thanks to Charlotte for turning me on to this easy project.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A teacher's gift

Tomorrow is the last day of school for our little grandson and he and I decided to make one last project for the school year. This one was for his teacher. Actually he has two teachers and so we made two potted plants.

It was a simple thing to do. We found the pot on sale a couple of weeks ago and just bought the plants, some potting soil, some small rocks and then after we re potted all the plants together, we made a sign of thanks for the teachers and taped it to a dowel with double sided tape.

We also added a little turtle with a small turtle on its back. A sweet little extra cute thing we added. This was our favorite thing. The pebbles will hold the dirt in place and hopefully the plant will make a nice houseplant for some time for his teacher.

I think the sentiment is perfect, "Thanks for helping me grow." I know his teachers deserved this and much, much more because they have been great inspirations for out little guy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My squash this week

 It has taken several days but I finally got up the courage to uncover my garden squash. I am hoping they are  now large enough and have the strength to fight off the usual vine borer attack. We are also working hard to keep BT sprayed on the leaves and stems.

I tried taking a paint brush, dipping it into each blossom and swirling it around but that wasn't working very well. I thought it was time to let the bees do their magic and pollinate them. We did have some small squashes on a few vines but I really think the vines needed the sun and more air.

At some point I knew I would have to uncover them. I am happy that they do look really good and I have protected them through this part of their growth life. I just hope the "adult phase" will be as good--or better.

It has been several years since we planted them in this same space. Maybe they will like life in the last row from the fence. We noticed that as soon as we took the cover off a honeybee flew up to pollinate a squash bloom. It was a good start.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Christy's cute message boards

Yesterday my friend and co-worker, Christy Hill said she had something I just had to see and she emailed these photos to me. It seems that over the weekend she had seen a message board at a gift shop that she decided she just had to replicate.

Christy is very modest about her crafting and gardening, but she has done some really remarkable things lately (maybe all along but I just found out about Christy's "crafty" side, and I just love her ideas). She has made things like headboards from pallets and she inspires me by rooting shrubs from friends to add to her growing gardens.

This idea is a particularly good one because it is simple, useful and very pretty.

She just took a frame, backed the photo insert with a pretty fabric, cut wire to fit the frame, painted the frame a nice color and then painted some clothes pins to hold the notes. Voila! You have a perfect message board!

This could make a great board for messages, photos, things you want to keep up with, recipes and just about anything. It is perfect to send with college kids so they can keep up to date with schedules and appointments.

I am definitely going to make one for myself to go in my kitchen to remind me of all the things I need to remember, especially parties, showers and weddings. I am always rummaging through my cubbyhole to make sure I don't forget a date. If I had a board like this I wouldn't have a problem because it would be at my fingertips and I hopefully I wouldn't forget. It would be in plain sight and I would look at it all the time. This would make a great gift, too!

Thank you Christy! This is a wonderful idea and I hope my message board looks as good as yours!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Making Maple Confectioner's Sugar

It was Mother's Day this weekend but it was also my daughter's birthday.

My grandson and I worked very hard to make his mom a birthday cake. It was a gluten-free yellow cake with a gluten-free icing that was surprisingly good.

My daughter's only request was to make a cake her youngest son could eat. This was a difficult task since he can't have honey or cane sugar. He is allergic to yeast so he has to eat things that don't feed yeast to help keep the yeast at bay.

He can have maple sugar, agave nectar and corn syrup in small amounts.

He wanted to make a yellow cake--not cupcakes--with chocolate decorator's icing. The only thing I could use was maple sugar and make my own version of Confectioner's sugar. This is what I did.

I used my Vitamix blender and poured a cup of maple sugar in at a time and then whizzed it until it was a fine powder. I then added a cup of maple sugar two more times. Be the end, I three light cups maple confectioner's sugar and then I added 3 tablespoons of corn starch and mixed it into the powdered maple sugar.

In a mixing bowl, to the newly powdered maple sugar, I mixed in 3/4 cup of cocoa, 3/4 cup of butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla flavoring and 1/3 cup of almond milk. I mixed all of this well. The resulting frosting was silky smooth and make a very good decorator's frosting.

I was quite amazed that I could make Confectioner's sugar this way. I know that if I was short on regular Confectioner's sugar, I could make it out of regular cane sugar with my Vitamix blender. I was very surprised by how well it worked.

We did have one very happy boy who loved his cake, by the way. My daughter loved making him happy.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mosquito plants

 My daughter moved this summer and some of our wonderful friends from church gave her a couple of mosquito plants for her deck as a going away preset. It is actually a member of the geranium family and if you brush the leaves, they release a citronella fragrance that is very pleasing.

The leaves are shaped a bit like geranium leaves but they are kind of rough and prickly and it is a plant that has done really well in hot and dry weather. This year has been a true test for potted plants because it has been so hot and dry. It's a great plant for any deck that is not shaded.

Does it repel mosquitoes? I would think it does because the odor is exactly like citronella extract. I haven't seen any bugs on the plant and I would think it would at least be a help for insects that are don't like the smell. I don't think any kind of citronella candles will keep them away if there is an infestation. But, even if this plant didn't do much to keep the bugs at bay, it would matter because it is a great smelling plant.

I do know that it is a semi-tropical tender perennial and will have to come in when the weather changes. I don't think it will survive a frost but it should live inside through the winter. Meanwhile I just love it when the leaves flutter in the breeze because I like the lemony smell of citronella.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mountain Laurel

I've have rarely ever seen mountain laurel in our neck of the woods. I have seen it at Callaway Gardens, south of us and been mesmerized by the beautiful blooms when hiking in the mountains of North Carolina but my mother pointed out this brilliant display recently on the edge of her back yard.

She said she has fertilized it and worked on it year after year with mixed results, but this year it was a real treat.

 I couldn't stop taking photos of it. It was brilliant and made a showplace of her shady spaces. I had to make a note to myself before I was finished. Shade and Mountain laurels go together. At some point this year I will be trying to root one of these beauties to see if it can grow in the shady canopy that is my back yard.

When I could tear myself away from the beauties growing overhead, I noticed the pretty ferns growing all under the laurels. What a beautiful treat. I hope you enjoy the view, too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Another look at my strawbales

I pledged to give updates about my squash straw bale garden and here is another peek. I am growing some squash in my straw bales as an experiment. My strategy is that I can avoid the early infestation of squash vine borers if I can just get my bales going, since as far as I know, there aren't any squash vine borers in my area because there are no gardens in my neighborhood.

I did prepare my bales differently than regular bales because of my desire to make them as organic as possible. I used blood meal rather than the regular recommended fertilizer, ammonium nitrate.

My straw bales are doing only slightly better than last week. I have four squash plants and some of my seeds didn't sprout. I think I might have made the dirt a little too deep and I have noticed that birds were just flocking around my bales. I don't know what is up with that but either the birds might have gotten some sprouts or they didn't get quite the water they needed as they sprouted. The other problem could be that I watered too much and the seeds rotted.

I now plan to sprout some seeds indoors under grow lights and then plant them in the bales. (That is my, "if at first you don't succeed" plan B. I still have plenty of summer left to grow my squash and the bales should be perfect.

It is interesting to me that the bales are kind of mushy inside. I am also seeing quite a bit of mushroom growth on the bales. I guess it will eventually turn into mushroom compost and that is supposed to be a good thing. If they also make their own fertilizer I should be left with some very healthy plants.