July 19, 2010

A Beautiful Sight

Our first eggplant has appeared.  It's SO pretty!  And there are a bunch more coming right behind it.

I couldn't wait for the peppers to come out.  Now that they've arrived, I'm not sure I can do too much with them.  These are called Mariachi peppers and holy cow are the hot!  Yesterday we roasted them on the grill with our corn and salmon.  I peeled off the blackened outsides, took out the seeds and as many ribs as possible, put some cream cheese on them and our mouths were still on fire.  We may pickle some and we can use them sparingly in salsa.  Now I really can't wait for the other two types of peppers to come up so we can actually eat them.

A few of the tomatoes, tucked way inside the vines have FINALLY started to ripen.


There is no doubt, we are gonna have a slew of tomatoes.  Look at the bunches...

So that we are all set when the tomatoes are ready to harvest, Saturday we visited a super neat old general store in Mathews called Renfrow Hardware.  They have everything we will ever need for canning, plus I think the literally have everything (including chickens for purchase).  We bought some new jars and lids, and the big purchase, a 16-quart pressure canner. We spent all day Sunday doing dry runs with the new equipment.  Our teacher from canning class suggested you always perform a dry run with nothing in the jars (except hot water) at the beginning of each canning season to make sure everything is in working order.  So that's what we did. We started with a test run using the water bath method, and it was successful. Then we ran a test using pressure canner method.  The first test failed - water was coming out in places it shouldn't and pressure never built up.  Once it completely cooled down, we took the lid off, tightened up a few things and tried again.  SUCCESS!  We now have the confidence to successfully can water!  :)

Cantaloupes are doing well.  They may be ready to harvest soon.

The pumpkin patch is growing like crazy and it's even flowering...

but the flowers don't have anything behind them so it appears they aren't getting pollinated.  I learned from the Almanac Gardener on PBS that flowers with no fruit behind them are males.  If they don't get pollinated, they fall off and no pumpkin is produced. Guess that means the males are useless and don't produce anything but waste. What? I didn't mean anything by that... I was purely talking about pumpkins.  :o

And yet, here is proof that pollination should be happening.  ?  Maybe the female flowers will show up soon, who knows.

Update on the apple tree: Apples are certainly being produced, but they are pretty gnarled up and the tree itself just isn't in the best of health.  We had Nate The Tree Guy come out and give us an estimate on pruning all the trees in our yard, including this apple tree.  He said the best time to work on the apple tree is in Jan. or Feb. after all the fruit has dropped off.  So we'll just leave it for now and start nursing it back to a health then, hopefully having a "fruitful" and productive tree.

The pecan tree that is actually a peach tree is in a similar condition to the apple tree.  In the pictures here, they look nice, but when you see them up close, they all have worm holes in them and the leaves on the tree have been eaten up pretty bad.  So we'll wait until winter for Nate The Tree Guy to do some work on it, then we'll try to get it healthy from there.


July 10, 2010

Time to Think About Putting Up

Yvonne and I attended a class Friday on the Basics of Home Canning. It was in Monroe, NC, just down the road a ways. Sally McNeil of the NC Cooperative Extension Service (thank you, NC State University!!!) led the class. It was really fantastic. We learned LOTS and both feel like we can preserve foods using both the water bath and pressure canning methods. Below, I'm putting up carrots, a low-acid food requiring pressure canning. Sally said if we could put up carrots, we could can anything. Cool!

As part of the class we each got the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It's got everything you need to know in there. The most important thing? Never skip steps. The teacher also recommended that we buy a new book every 4 or 5 years since knowledge of food science changes. But other than that it's a piece of cake.

Since Y and I were a couple, we agreed to donate one of our Blue Books back to the class. Sally gave us some extra goodies in exchange, including some liquid pectin and some half-pint jars and lids from Ball. We also got a funnel, a magnetic lid wand, two jars of jelly we canned during class, and a previous class's carrots.

And most certainly, here is proof of our new-found canning knowledge. I think this makes us Certified Canners or something.

I've started some more plants from seeds: another squash plants, as the squash bugs have pretty much killed what was in the boxes; 6 cucumber plants; and 3 Blue Lake bush plants, since those are really struggling this summer. Hopefully all will do better with mulch in boxes 1 and 2 now, and since we're using Dipel for the bugs. Yvonne has some basil growing in pots to send home with Rebecca at the end of the summer so she can start growing some in Florida.

A view of some of our tomatoes in our teepee-style bamboo stakes, and some of our beautiful okra plants (yippeee, I'm gonna have me some OKRA, horray!!!).

An okra blossom. Beautiful, ain't it?

The blossom with an okra next to it.

And yeah, baby, some Clemson spineless coming up and ready to be eaten, OR canned and put on the cupboard shelf for the winter.


July 5, 2010

Tending the Fields

Box one has been looking a little dry. It was the last box to be filled with dirt and we haven't planted as much in it as the other three.  Tom started some new cucumbers, squash, and beans in pots which we'll transfer to this box once they've taken root. In the meantime he wanted to test out the unfinished compost he's been cooking up for the last 3 months, to see if it will help retain moisture. He put a layer over boxes one and two (after putting some composted cow manure down around some withering plants) and he was quite pleased.


Haven't taken an overview photo in a while so here are a few pictures of TY's Backyard Homestead.

Now for more up close and personals shots.... Just waiting on these babies to turn red.

Here are the pumpkins in the front yard pumpkin patch. Although growing nicely, they had become somewhat overtaken by weeds. Tom weeded the whole patch with his trusty hoe, managed to gouge himself on the leg with the rusted-through wheel barrow, and finished the next day with a spread of the compost-mulch over the top.

The pumpkins are even starting to flower!

The eggplants have also started to flower. (The white powder you see on the plants is DiPel,, aka, Bacillus
thuringiensis, a naturally occuring compound harmless to humans and good insects like bees & other pollinators, but will knock out those nasties, including the devilish Yellow Spotted Cucumber Beetle and the Squash Beetle).

In case you haven't been keeping up; mystery plants were squash, then cucumbers, and as of last week, watermelons.  Ummmm.... now they seem to be cantaloupes.

Yep, definitely a cantaloupe. Of course, the plant hasn't changed; we've just been mis-identifying it. What next, corn?

We have bushes all the way around the house. They are fine bushes as bushes go. They're kind of plain, they don't flower (well, not really), they don't produce anything, so I'm sort of "eh" about them. (Maybe someday down the road I will rip a bunch of them out and make more room for more herbs.) At times I become quite frustrated with them because, well, they grow a lot. I trim them and next thing I know, they need trimming again.  I have a nickname for them but I won't say what it is here since this is a family-friendly blog.

For the last year, I've trimmed the "blank blank" bushes with manual hedge trimmers. Yes it is a pain, and I no, I couldn't lift my arms for two days after doing the job, but it had to be done and the manual trimmers did the trick.  As many of you may know, T&I just celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary. To celebrate, each year we take the day off and go buy one or two pieces of handmade pottery to use as dishware.  This year as I watched the "blank blank" bushes grow to the point they began blocking light from inside the house, I somewhat jokingly asked if I could have electric hedge trimmers as a bonus anniversary present.  Tom is so thoughtful and said, "Anything for you, baby!" 

So he got me some electric hedge trimmers and I went to town!

Here are some before and after pictures of one side of the house. I trimmed this area once with the manual trimmers but couldn't really get to the whole thing so it's been growing for some time.

Another before and after angle.

And since I wanted to make sure to give Tom a bonus anniversary gift too, I let him use all the trimmings to start a brand new compost pile.  Aren't we romantic!  :)