Friday, July 01, 2016

Let there be beans!

Ah ha!  Bean blossoms!

Now we sit, and we wait, and then we'll wonder why I didn't plant more seeds.

THEN we'll wonder why I planted so many as I'll be doing all the picking, and giving beans away!

Let there be beans!

Ah ha!  Bean blossoms!

Now we sit, and we wait, and then we'll wonder why I didn't plant more seeds.

THEN we'll wonder why I planted so many as I'll be doing all the picking, and giving beans away!

Blueberry flavored catbird

So here's the deal - if you're going to be smart enough to find the one little opening in all the netting and get into my protected blueberries...

...maybe you should be smart enough to remember where that opening was so you can get back out again!

Catbirds drive me nuts.  They're BEAUTIFUL!  And they sound so cool!  But they're the thieves of my garden.  If I've got ripe strawberries, there's a catbird stealing them.  Now that I'm getting blueberries (from the four shrubs I planted last year)?  The catbird is in them!

I knew this was going to happen, so I netted the blueberries two weeks ago - before the first of them were fully ripe.  I've seen birds checking them out, showing interest, and even found a large frog caught (dead, unfortunately) in the netting.  I just picked the blueberries Monday afternoon, getting a nice harvest, and knowing there were plenty more yet to ripen.  I got home Wednesday afternoon, figuring I'd see what there was to pick, and found this guy fluttering around inside the netting.

And I think it helped itself to the berries while trapped in there - I didn't find any ripe ones ready to be picked.

After a very noisy capture of the bird, and taking some pics, I set it free, found the place where it most likely got in, and covered the exposed bottom edge of the netting with the pine needle mulch I use in the bed.  Hopefully hiding that will prevent another entry...

Oh, and I sent Brett one of the pics while he was at work, asking how he felt about blueberry flavored catbird for dinner.  I was called a meanie.  ;-)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sock Knitting

I've got a number of things on the needles that have just been ignored - a scarf started a year or two ago, a couple shawls started last spring, a couple more shawls started this year, the first of a pair of very detailed mitts I started this year, and yet I seem to have hit burn out on all those bigger, more detailed, more involved things that require more focus.  I'll get back to them - I know I will, so I'm not worried about that.  We've just had a bit more on our plate this spring, and I've been dealing with the aches and fatigue of the arthritis, so I think I dialed back to something that I can more easily pick up/put down when I want.  

In addition to that, I also recently discovered (re-discovered?) the Sockmatician's Toe-Ups pattern, which really intrigued me.  I really prefer toe-up socks over cuff-down - I get a better feel of how I'm using up the yarn, how much yarn I can use in one sock before binding off and still having enough for the second sock, etc.  For awhile I was knitting up what was basically a plain tube sock, then cutting in an afterthought heel - only it's a really generic heel.  Someone gifted me the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern, which I really want to try sometime, but haven't given it a go looks a bit more involved, although it's got rave reviews.

The Sockmatician's Toe-Ups are great - I don't actually have to know my gauge, and completely ignore the starting part of the pattern where you determine you starting number and then cast on the toes.  Instead I cast on the toes doing whatever feels/looks right, using Judy's Magic Cast On (which is creating the very tip of the toes), then increase every other round until the sock width seems good.  It's taken me a lot of trial and error to figure this out - and I've had a lot of really baggy socks, but they're ok - I like pulling them on over other socks when it's really cold out.

Now that I've knit a pair of socks where the width is just right for a great fit, I'm testing knitting other pairs of socks in different weights of yarn, and just increasing til they're the same width as the good fitting pair in a different weight yarn.  So far, all seems good!  Granted, I've now got three pairs of socks I'm working on, each at different stages (one just needs the ends woven in).  The trick to the Sockmatician's Toe Ups is just to have a stitch count in a multiple of 4 - that's easy enough!

The sock above is the second in a pair I'm knitting in Zen Yarn Garden Serenity Single, which is a fingering weight 75% Superwash Merino Wool, 15% Cashmere, 10% Silk.  I don't know that most people would use this yarn blend for socks - I don't know that it's supposed to be super durable, especially if worn in shoes.  But after I knit up a pair in my first Serenity Single a few years ago just because I was eager to see what the crazy yarn colors would look like (I call them my Princess Socks from the funky pink/lavender colors, and because they're so soft), and found I LOVE wearing them for sleeping more than anything else, I decided it was time to try knitting up another pair in the same yarn, but with a more snug fit.  The Princess Socks are a bit loose, and these new socks in the Tuxedo colorway are perfectly form fitting.

Somehow I DID goof the heel pattern, losing six stitches on the heel, but they're actually a really nice fit this way.  The trick will be to get the second sock (pictured above) to match the first.  Uh oh!

Oh, and I took the picture with the lavender and salvia freshly cut from the garden because I thought they paired well with the little bit of purple in the socks.  Odd that a colorway called Tuxedo is more browns and purples than blacks, but I'm ok with it!

And if you're reading this anytime soon....check out Mr Yarn's going out of business sale!  As I type this, she's got discounts up to 35% off, and let's just say I've bought enough Zen Yarn Garden to be well stocked for awhile!  ;-)  There's not much left - mostly one-of-a-kind experimental dye jobs, and most lean towards the pinky orange range, but they're still fun, and super soft.

The most recently started pair of socks (just finished the first sock last night!) is in Orange Flower Yarn, which is new to me.  This yarn is the worsted weight, but I'm mixing the superwash and non-superwash varieties - hoping it won't come back and bite me in the butt later.  This yarn is crazy soft - realllllly nice!!!  And I'm loving the pairing of the North Sea (blue, superwash) and Hyperion (grayish-tan) colors.  The worsted weight yarn lets me knit these socks up much faster than the fingering weight Serenity Single socks, so I get a faster sense of accomplishment.

Brett and I agree that the Sockmatician's instructions for adding in an alternate color for the toes and heels looks a little odd for the heel part - basically because the colored patch is just the back of the heel, rather than the back, sides and underside.  Not awful, and I've seen plenty of other hand knit socks that look like this....just different and unexpected.  Unlike how afterthought heels are supposed to be, if the underside of the heel wears out on these, I don't think it'll be easy to replace the yarn.

Doogie was just chilling out under the living room table in the pic above - I couldn't resist getting him in the pic as well!

Alpine strawberries

I think most of us would agree that red-colored things look really really tasty - just think of cherries, watermelon, red candy, fruit punch, and hey - strawberries!

In this case, Alpine Strawberries.  While the more standard issue Everbearing and June-Bearing strawberries produce bigger, more photogenic and grocery-store worthy fruits, the Alpine Strawberries produce smaller, sort of dryer-looking berries.  Their color still stands out in the garden, and these guys taste great and produce for a lot longer...they really don't stop til the gardening season wraps up.

But what's even better than those brightly colored red ones?  The white ones!  These little guys are amazing!  Sweet, with an almost pineapple flavor maybe?  People who try them are always surprised at how good they are, and can never quite place the flavor.  They're super delicate, and I doubt you'll ever see the picked fruit in a store or farmer's market, but they're well worth having in your garden, and sooo low-hassle!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Black raspberry - from picking to jelly

Knowing I was going to be out on garden tours all day with Mary this past Saturday, I didn't want to lose that "time to myself" I like on weekends, so I took Friday off as well.  Turns out my scheduling that day off weeks before couldn't have had better timing - as the local pick-your-own place, Walnut Drive Gardens, advertised on their Facebook page a few days before that black raspberries were ready for picking.  We got hit HARD with thunderstorms Wednesday night/Thursday morning, which such an extreme change in the barometric pressure that I was up throughout the night and called off sick Thursday.

Friday was still kinda arthritic, but I didn't want to waste a second day, especially a day I'd taken off as vacation, AND I didn't want to miss out on the black raspberries.  I figured people would've cleaned out the field on Wednesday, or that the heavy rains would've rotted out the berries, or that it would be a muddy mess.

Nope.  It was PERFECT picking weather.  A little warm, but not at all buggy, and aside from when moms came through with kids to pick berries, and the kids were running around arguing with each other, or telling mom to come look at the one perfect raspberry, or the mom was threatening to give up on berry picking and just head off to the pool, it was peaceful - just me, a few other quiet pickers, and the birds....

And the berries?  Let's just say there were tons of berries!  

I was told I could drive out to the berry patch at the farm and pick anywhere in rows 1-6.  I went out to row 6 and started picking, seeing there was one guy WAAAAAY down at the far end.  At first I worried I was stomping on his turf, but then noticed he just seemed to be randomly flitting around from section to section, row to row, apparently looking for the most picture perfect berries.  I'm a bit more intense - I will pick a narrow section clean of ripe berries, looking behind leaves, moving a foot or two to the side to see what new berries are revealed from their hiding places, etc, and then I'll move down the row a couple more feet.

I was given a small bucket (maybe 2 qts?).  I filled that surprisingly fast (compared to previous years), and was having such a nice, peaceful time and feeling like I was accomplishing a lot, thinking of all the jelly I'd be making, that I dumped the berries into a plastic grocery bag in the car and picked another bucket full.

When I filled the second bucket I was surprised to find I'd been picking for almost three hours!  I got out there thinking I'd listen to my audio book, but instead appreciated the nice quiet sounds of nature, and just got into a zone.  Turns out I'd picked over 13lbs of black raspberries, which cost me just over $47!  OUCH!  Holy cow!

After some other errands, the berries and I got home, and I found a pot big enough to fit all of them into - my largest stock/canning pot (it's huge!).  Added a little water before the berries, cranked up the heat, then started adding and mushing the berries.

Less than ten minutes later they were crushed with the potato masher, and dumped into my "jelly bag" (a clean white cotton pillow case that I wrote "JELLY BAG" on).  

This got put into my biggest colander, and set back over the large, freshly cleaned pot and in the basement fridge til I had time to deal with the juice on Sunday.

It's a very messy job - the kitchen looked like a murder scene!

Just FYI - a little black raspberry juice drizzled on vanilla ice cream in a glass, over which you then pour some Vernor's ginger ale?  YUM!

I made three batches of black raspberry jelly Sunday morning, each using a different kind of pectin.  This was partly because I had so much juice (something like 13 cups), and partly because I wanted to compare the different options.  I knew Pomona Pectin would make the "most natural" jelly, but it also uses a lot less sugar, and results in maybe half the amount of jelly as some of the other options.  I also used Sure-Jell (dry powder) and Certo (liquid gel) pectins.

I ended out getting 20 jars of jelly total - mostly half pint canning jars, but also some a little bigger and some a little smaller.  Two of the batches got a tiny bit of red raspberry juice added since I remembered I had a tiny bit remaining in the freezer from last summer's garden.  There was maybe a cup total of the red raspberry juice, so I doubt it'll greatly influence the flavor.

And then there was a tiny bit (1/2 cup?) of juice remaining after all three batches.  I plan to use that the supplement the black currant juice I plan to make "real soon" from a purchased bottle of "Just Black Currant" juice.  I cracked it open, gave it a try, and realized it's NOT something I want to drink as is.  You can turn purchased juice into jelly, so I'll give it a try using this recipe...

It's broken ...

Now what?

The garden - late June

Just a teaser of some of the garden goodies coming out of the garden, or getting ready to come out of the garden in the next few weeks...

The four blueberry bushes I planted in one of my former veggie beds are a success!  So far all four have survived, they seem to prefer the loose, well draining, non-clay soil of the sacrificed veggie bed over the in-ground attempt at growing blueberries that I made shortly after we moved in.

I'm not going to get a ton of berries this year, but hopefully the bushes will survive and and continue to flourish.  Of the four different bushes, one is loaded, two just have a "medium" amount (compared to the first), and one is pretty sparse.  Flavors are all pretty comparable - I just have to force myself to let them FULLY ripen before picking...

Also - sugar snap and snow peas!  I'm just wishing I would've planted a succession crop.  Now the base of the pea bed has cucumbers and gourds starting to fill in, so I don't know if a planting of pea seeds at this point would really get the sun they need to take off and climb up past the leaves of the other two crops sharing their bed.

While I thought the Stupice variety was the first tomato to show any real progress (as it should, since it's advertised as a super early tomato), these Chef's Choice Orange tomatoes right at the base of the plant are REALLY taking off!  Unfortunately, chipmunks are constantly running past this spot so, unless I do something about the chipmunks, I suspect these tomatoes will be chipmunks snacks once they ripen.

I don't eat a lot of peppers, but Brett makes great use of them in chili for us, so I try to grow a lot and we chop/freeze them in "chili packs" - measures vaccu-seal bundles of jalapeno, onion, bell pepper, and maybe celery.  Here's the first/biggest of the bell peppers in the foreground (out of focus), and you an see at least one more forming in the background.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Action dog!

Alternate names I suggested when we got  Doogie were Krypto, Flash and Rocket. The way this dog can move (and he just turned 9 last week!), I still think Rocket would have been a good name...

Friday, June 03, 2016

Raspberries, strawberries and figs

All coming along nicely!


Have I mentioned how exciting this peach situation is?


They're ripening fast!

This tree has never had this many cherries before! And aside from the buggy one, they're tasting great! I just need to pick them when they're ripe and before the birds find them.