Friday, August 31, 2012

A cat--the best pet for a gardener

Not too long ago, one of our garden club members--and one of the nicest people you will find anywhere--came home to find her cat had been killed by another animal. She was understandably upset. She told us that in addition to being her friendly companion as she tended her garden, her cat was a very helpful partner in her gardening endeavors. He ran off the mice, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels and other animals that were just waiting to steal her vegetables and munch on her flowers. She told us that a cat was the best pet to have if you were a gardener.

I really can't argue with my friend's gardening expertise because she is an amazing gardener. Many of you might know her as the "Straw Belle Lady," Charlotte Nelson. She grows amazing amounts of vegetables and herbs along with flowers--plus her beloved hostas--in her back yard in suburban Coweta county. In my opinion, her energy and love of nature and animals cannot be equaled in these parts.

That is why when she gives hints and tips about gardening and pets, I take them to heart. If she says it, I believe it will work because she is proof it is true. I am just sorry this tip had to come from her tragedy. My sister and I decided that we really needed to have a garden pet, a cat, to help ward off critters. The decision was made but I guess we needed the stars to align, or something to make it happen.

This past Sunday, I guess you could say they aligned. My husband and I went to lunch after church with friends and while there, a young lady (and animal lover) asked if anyone would like a cat. She just happened to have some out in her car and had an immediate need to give them away to good homes.

I have been wanting to pull the trigger on getting a cat since we found that a predator of some kind was raiding our garden at night, feasting on watermelons and our low-hanging tomatoes. (Last year it was our corn.)

I decided to seize the opportunity and now my sister and I are the proud owners of a garden cat--actually he is a little kitty and we are expecting him to grow into a cat to keep us company in our garden and to act as our garden guardian.

He is mostly black and there is a touch of white on his nose and a small amount of white under his neck and on his front paws. Our friend said he looked almost like he was wearing a tuxedo. His back paws have a little more white. He is very sweet.

We were a bit worried about what my sister's dogs would think of him but her "alpha dog," Tia, seems to be enthralled with him. I would never have guessed that!

Finding a name for him didn't take long. We decided to choose a "garden" name and after running through a list of garden vegetables, we decided to name him Basil. I think that is a perfect name for a garden cat. It is kind of an old-fashioned and elegant, British name for a little kitty dressed in a tuxedo.

It will be quite a while before he can be expected to help us out in the garden, but we think that next year is plenty of time for him to become a valuable partner as our garden watcher.

Just a footnote, Charlotte Nelson will be the guest speaker on September 11, at the Backyard Association meeting sponsored by the Coweta Master Gardeners, located on Pine Road. Her topic will be Straw Bale Gardening and I guarantee you that her presentation will be good.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Love those black-eyed Susans

Almost everyday I go to downtown Newnan, Georgia for my day job. I really enjoy coming to the revitalized downtown area that folks here are so proud of--and for good reason. They do a very good job keeping things running and looking good, even in a slow economy.

One of the things I like best about the downtown area are the plants on every street corner. This year they really hit a home run with their choice of plants that sometimes flow over the planting area and just into the streets.

This year's choices were simple and striking. In the center there is Rudbeckia, also known as black-eyed Susans or cone flowers and all around, sweet potato vines. I love the contrasting colors and the vibrant black-eyed Susans are beautiful. They move in the wind and add a bright spot to each corner that speaks of vibrancy. I am sure it is the underlying message they would like to convey. I don't know if they realize how well the choices give that message. It also speaks of economy because these flowers have withstood quite a long hot summer season and though some of them are dying, they have lasted all summer and are still lovely.

The other day I had a moral dilemma. I was thinking about these flowers and how perfect they would be if I had something similar in my yard next year. I also spotted some flowers that were dried up and dead and I asked some of the people in our front office if they thought I was a bad person if I just dead-headed some of the flowers that were no longer lovely and vibrant. That way I could help the city and myself by cutting off the dead flowers and giving me seeds for planting in the spring.

Her reply was to hand me a pair of scissors.

I laughed, took the scissors and cut off a few of the seed heads to save, put them in a small box and labeled them and I will admit that I feel I had something of value. I also felt a little uncomfortable about it. I would rather have asked someone who planted them for a few seed heads.

I do know that this was the way people used to do things. Rather than go to the store as we do today, people shared their seeds--and their stories about where the plants came from.
I don't know if I was right or wrong to cut off a few dying flower heads but I do know that if I may have some beautiful black-eyed Susans of my own and I will be able to tell my little tale about how beautiful the flowers were in Newnan and how I just couldn't see them going to waste so I just snipped off a few to start my own that will hopefully come back each year.

I don't think I will be snipping of heads of flowers everywhere I go, but I know I will be taking plants and seeds from friends, neighbors and sometimes even strangers. Southern Living calls this practice, "pass-a-long" plants. I think my grandmother who always gave away plants to visitors and neighbors would love that I am doing this with so many of my plants now. I am not sure she would approved of my "Rudbekia theft," but I know she would agree with the economy of the venture.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stylish recycling

Several weeks ago when we visited Murphy, Tenn. Murphy is a bustling small town with plenty of quaint shops and restaurants just over the Georgia/North Carolina border and just south of Andrews, North Carolina where we were visiting with family.

We saw plenty of antiques, fine art displays and handcrafts but I was amazed when I saw a new way to recycle old clothing items no longer in style. It is one of the best ideas I have seen of late and something that made me say, "I think I could do that!"

The craft is fashioning old men's ties into woven ladder back chair seats. My favorite was the blue-hued one above.

I also loved this one done in browns.

And this colorful one reminds me of a crazy quilt.

I don't really don't know exactly how they achieved this method. I am guessing that the ties are cut into strips and sewn, then strips are placed on the seat top and fastened to the wood underneath the seat. Then strips are woven across the other way and fastened tightly to the wood. I would think that a wooden lathing could be used to hold the strips more securely. It would obviously have to be strong enough to hold without coming loose when someone sat on the chair seat. A quick search gave me more than one way to do this. I am sure this would make a wonderful replacement for an old worn out chair. It would also make a wonderful seat for a child's room.

I am saving my husbands old ties and looking for yard sale ties. An ugly tie might be just be the perfect color for this craft.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tonight's August 27th meeting: Garden adornments

At tonight's meeting of the Crossroads Garden Club we will welcome Carlos Montano, a local artisan who specializes in making beautiful and exceptional garden adornments.

Montano worked for years as an apprentice artisan before he began to design and make his own line of garden statues, pots, benches and other adornments. He is a European-style artist and makes such beautiful designs that other cement statues and designs are a distant second in comparison.

Our meeting tonight at 3072 Highway 154, Newnan will begin promptly at 7:00pm and will begin with a greeting, then our speaker. A brief business meeting will follow with refreshments and a time for fellowship. Everyone is invited.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Starting seeds for fall

I will admit this is not the most exciting topic ever, but I am nevertheless pretty excited about planting for fall. I am hoping to save money--and also time--by planting seeds I already have in potting soil and moving them to the garden by the end of this month.

 Of course I started with seeds and dirt. I chose organic potting soil which includes fertilizer.

I filled up clean trays (saved from buying plants at the store last year). It is always great to recycle!

Then I poked holes in the soil--evenly spaced of course.

 Dropped in the seeds and patted the soil down.

Then watered thoroughly. All flats were labeled.

Then watered again and placed them in a sunny spot to grow.

It doesn't matter what kind of pots or trays you use, they just need to be clean with the ability to hold dirt and with drainage.

I sat them on the ground (not pavement) and here they are about a week later.

If there are gaps, I will fill in. I think I really need to do that soon.

That's about it. I was trying to wait until we had more fall-like weather before planting them in the garden. It is still Indian summer now but in another couple of weeks the time will be right.

I planted collards, broccoli, pumpkin and cabbage to transplant in the garden.

I haven't tried it before like this because I usually start seeds indoors, but if it works I will save some serious cash and have plenty of greens, too. That is always a good thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thankful for the rain

This morning I awakened to rain and though the rain is gone and the sun is out, the weather is just a bit more pleasant. For that I am really thankful.

I think today I am just going to be happy about that because we have been on the edge of a major drought. We haven't had it quite as bad as the people to our west but the kind of rain we had this morning makes me sincerely happy. I can't come up with one complaint so I think I will just be happy for the blessings of the day.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I love buying school supplies!

I love to buy school supplies. Of course this time of the year is just the perfect time to stock up. This past weekend I did just that by buying tons of supplies dirt cheap without even paying taxes.

I know the tax free holidays are primarily to give people with school-age children a break on buying school supplies and I must say I take advantage of the sales every year to refresh my crayon cache, my stash of dried up pens and other things like glue, notebooks, post-it notes, scissors and all kinds of office supplies.

At Kroger the pens and crayons were really cheap and I bought plenty of black ball point pens. I also bought a few blue and red ones. The blue are not my favorite. I can't tell you why. I did have to break a five after buying my bag full of supplies, but I did get change back on that deal and I felt great about knowing I wouldn't have to open my drawer and take out three pens before I could find one that would write.

I have noticed that at Publix, the Sharpies are buy-one get-one free. I always go there for their buy-one get-one deals each year at this time. They have some higher priced items like the sharpies and markers that are really affordable. If they sell out, they will give you a rain check coupon.

Speaking of coupons, there are always a few of those in the papers and online for school supplies and it is good to take advantage of that, too.

I just wanted to share and tell you there are still some great deals out there. You won't find supplies like this at this price until next year. Better stock up!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Saving seeds from an heirloom

Heirloom tomatoes are very popular these days and I can understand why. They are usually very good and the seeds are saved and passed on just because they were plants that had good results. The best thing about them is that they can be saved year after year and grown from seeds (meaning the seeds are practically free). You can can improve on the vegetable by saving seeds from the best fruit and as you do this, you can share something very good with other gardeners.

In fact, that is essentially the story about this tomato I purchased from a vendor this past weekend in Murphy, North Carolina at the local Farmer's Market. A lady with a booth of lovely organic vegetables sold me this beauty, put it in a container she had recycled and wrote the name of the variety on it for me.

I am fond of both yellow tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes. Beefsteaks were the variety my father grew every year from the seeds he saved. His tomatoes were wonderful and memorable for their huge size, deep red color and excellent flavor. My mother canned and froze most of what he grew, but we always had our fill of those tomatoes every summer.

When I saw this tomato in her booth I thought, "Great, a yellow beefsteak!" I hadn't seen one before so I bought it to save seeds. The price was two dollars but I expected to get more seeds from the tomato than from a packet of seeds.

It is very meaty with few seeds. The "shoulders" of the tomato are green and I can't wait to grow these next year.

Now for the history--and I think this the general consensus. If someone knows better, please correct me. Dr. Wyche was evidently a dentist who lived in Hugo, Oklahoma and was of Cherokee descent who had many interests. When he retired he invested in businesses and was a garden enthusiast raising heirloom seeds and sending them all over the country to heirloom seed growers, until his death in 1985.

Evidently, he was a part-owner or investor in the Cole Brothers Circus (since Hugo, Oklahoma is a wintering ground for circuses, this makes sense) and from this relationship, he was able to get elephant manure to grow his prize vegetables (in one account I read he got the manure from a zoo, but it was most likely the circus). All this is according to the seed companies who sell Dr. Wyche's Yellow.

This tomato turns almost orange when it is very ripe and I waited until it was very ripe to harvest the seeds. I was happy to see that this variety was firm even though it was very ripe.

I first sliced the tomato and spooned out the seeds from the small cavities.

I put all the seeds in a strainer.

And washed them with a slight stream of water. This got rid of much of the tomato pulp. I was careful not to wash the seeds out of the strainer.

I dumped the seeds onto a paper towel and set them aside to air dry.

I will store them in a plastic bag after they are completely dry and I hope to have many 1-pound fruits that are smooth, a glowing yellow-orange and meaty with heavy yields. At least that is what the seed companies say about this tomato.

By the way, I had a very tasty yellow tomato sandwich with this tomato--sans seeds. It was delicious!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A weekend of thrift store shopping

This past weekend I made a return visit to Andrews, North Carolina to visit with my cousins and enjoy the cooler atmosphere of the Smokey mountains. Many of my cousins were too busy this year to attend, but we had a wonderful time and I got to spend a whole day thrift-store shopping.

I would recommend everyone spend a little time in a thrift stores. It does take time but in my opinion it is worth it. It's kind of like a poor man's (or woman's) shopping spree and you usually walk away with more that you bargained for. You also have the added benefit of knowing that most of these businesses are raising money for charity and I really love knowing that if I buy some of their merchandise a hungry mouth will probably be fed.

My sister bought me the pretty platter, above and I love it because it was made in the USA by Paden City Pottery in Paden City, West Virginia. Much of what I walked away with was a few items of gardening apparel and some school clothes for my grandchildren. I don't have any problem with buying collared shirts that are usually in abundance if such stores.

I just bring them home, wash them up and hang them and they are good to go. I know that they may be last year's style but the truth is, I have never run in the circles where people are judged by the clothes they wear. (I didn't say the lack of clothes they wear--that might be a different story!) My only problem is that I can't seem to find really nice girl's clothing. I guess I haven't been to the right stores.

The bargains I found included collared shirts and some nice T-shirts--many of which had never been worn, a couple pairs of dress paints, some jeans, a pair of new water shoes for rafting, a pair of clogs and a pair of garden shoes, a sundress, a dress for me to redo, a couple pairs of shorts and a number of sleeveless shirts to wear in the garden, a small projector screen and a pair of never before worn earrings.

My sister bought a stainless dish drainer, a small crock pot, a pair of new water shoes, some books and a brand new baby outfit to give as gifts, a few T-shirts, several pairs of shorts, some garden shoes and some jeans. She didn't find the overalls she was looking for. I think used overalls are getting harder to find.

My husband, who BTW hates thrift shops found some Louis L'Amour books (his favorite author) and some nail clippers. I don't think he had as much fun and I did but he didn't complain very much either. That is a good thing.

I spent most of my spending money. The most expensive item was the projector screen, $5 and the little crock pot, $6. I think maybe I enjoyed it too much but it was really so much fun. We all had a relaxing time, a good visit and we didn't break the bank.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sweet ... !

... Potatoes that is. Yesterday we began to harvest some of our sweet potatoes. It was a first for us. We had never even tried to grow sweet potatoes before, but this past spring, after all danger of frost had passed we plant a row. The vines were lovely and they really didn't need any care. We mulched them and then let them go, and they grew and grew some more. The vines are beginning to die down and we just thought we should dig up a few to see what has been going on underground.

We were pleasantly surprised with a nice yield of sweet potatoes from just a couple of plants. Some of them were kind of twisted. If you use your imagination, you might think one of the potatoes resembled the letter S. Some were quite small but most were large and would make a nice meal.

We had one of them for dinner last night. It was very large and perfect for two. The taste--very good.

The easiest way to cook them is to wrap each washed sweet potato in foil and place them in a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet for about an hour or until they "give" when pressed. We usually serve them with butter and sometimes brown sugar and cinnamon. You can substitute honey or agave nectar and eat them for dessert if you prefer. We often eat sweet potatoes as a side dish with beef, chicken and pork. I like sweet potatoes with them all.

Eating sweet potatoes is a "win-win" since they are filled with vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin A, and they taste good, too. We especially loved the ones from our garden.

Next we will probably make sweet potato fries and my husband has been hinting around for sweet potato pie which is a southern favorite.

I don't know what our yield will be since most of ours are still in the ground, but I do know they have been easy to grow and I am enjoying them tremendously.