Horrific Halloween Haggis

Halloween is here! Every year I love to celebrate this little holiday by cooking up this old family recipe. It’s a little tricky to get all the ingredients, but the result is a treat!

First, you must obtain a goblin stomach like this one…

Goblin Stomach l

Once you’ve captured and dispatched your goblin—I find a shovel to the back of the skull to be the quickest and easiest way—hack out all the guts to remove the stomach. Save whatever else you might want to grill or broil over the weekend. Try to keep the nerve to the esophageal sphincter as pictured above. It can be used to tie that end shut and keep the filling from leaking during the boiling.

Next, chop together some oats, suet and…oh, I can’t do this to you. This is really a, actually “the” sweet potato I got from the the garden this year. Despite planting three healthy starts gifted to me by a fellow gardener and surrounding them with metal mesh to thwart burrowing vermin I got next to nothing. The biggest problem was an unanticipated aboveground assault. Voles, I suspect, ate off all the leaves from the vines and in some cases chewed through them completely leaving the roots no way to obtain and store nutrients in nice, fat tubers. I may or many not steam this little fellow for some appetizer. And I may or may not try growing sweet potatoes again in the future. If I do, I’ll certainly take measures to protect them from gobblin’ rodents!

Underground News

Peanuts0

When we were in the garden doing the first big round of cleanup I noticed the peanut plants, one of this year’s garden experiments, were starting to look a little “done.” Yesterday I took up a fork and harvested them all.

Peanuts1

I wasn’t sure what I was going to find so I was pleased to see that each plant had a fair number of fat pods down around their roots.  Peanuts have a fascinating way of flowering and forming their seeds. After the bloom is pollinated it grows a stem that pushes the ovary down into the soil where the pod forms. They seemed to have enough decent soil to grow in above the more clayey layer below and didn’t look distorted at all. The tops, however, were another matter. Some had been chewed completely off by some rabbit or rodent.

Peanuts2

Once I plucked them from the plants and gave them a good washing I ended up with a decent bowlful for our little patch. They do take a lot of space for the amount we got, though. I’m not sure if the spots on the shells are caused by a soil problem, pests or disease. Time to do some research. I also need to find out how to roast them. We’re sure we won’t be making boiled peanuts, a southern treat. Last weekend we were visiting friends in Alabama and tried boiled peanuts for the first time and, while we thought they were edible, didn’t feel a great need to have them again.

OcaOctober

In other underground news, the oca patch seems to have hit its stride and the plants are looking lush and happy. As I mentioned before, they will have only just started forming tubers after the Autumn Equinox. We’ve had some cold nights since then, but no frost yet. Still, I’m keeping them covered with some row cover as insurance. It would be great if we got a harvestable crop from these, but I don’t see growing them again until I’ve got a lot more space to play around with.

Did you try any garden experiments this year? How did they do?

The Beginning of the End

I’ve known for a while that October was going to be a busy month. Not garden-busy, necessarily, but other-stuff-busy. Life happens, so what can you do? I elected to take advantage of a window of opportunity that occurred one recent afternoon when the Co-Conspirator and I weren’t at work and were actually in town to get some cleanup done.

Tomato Cleanup

Recent cool weather and Septoria leaf spot had pretty much done in the tomatoes. I didn’t anticipate getting any more harvest from them and couldn’t see much time left on the calendar to do garden cleanup. We trekked up to the garden and started removing anything that was “done” for the season. The two bare beds are where the tomatoes grew. We removed all the plants, fruit, fallen leaves and mulch to the compost heap to try to keep the Septoria in check. I also won’t grow tomatoes in those locations for a couple of years. The stakes got stacked inside the cages to keep them off the ground, though they will most likely still be under snow for much of the winter. Along with the tomatoes went all the bean plants, the tomatillo, chard and squash remains. I pulled the rest of the carrots, topless thanks to varmints. The same varmints also ate off my sweet potato vines so I doubt there is going to be any harvest of them this year.

There are a few things still growing including leeks, more Brussels sprouts than we’ll ever eat, herbs including a huge lemongrass plant along with spinach, bok choy, arugula and this year’s three “experimental” crops. I’ll report on them later. For now I’m just glad to have such a good amount of the fall cleanup out of the way.

A Design Touch-Up

The View

This is a view of the back yard from upstairs. It was earlier this summer when things were probably at their most lush. In early spring the garden is a patchy sea of blue Scilla, a bulb I have mixed feelings about. Then the trees leaf out and the perennials fill in and it looks like this.

The Lawn

A few weeks ago I re-established the edge of the lawn. It was originally a perfect circle but over the years overhanging perennials have encroached in spots and the lawn has crept into gaps in the beds. I took a few measurements to see where best to set the center, drew a radius and went from there. In the end it was a bit smaller than the original design. I had to add another stepping stone at the main entry and fill a few perennial gaps with extra hostas from here and there.

Stakes

The next step in my cunning plan was to set stakes every 16” around the circumference of the circle. For some time I’d been contemplating planting a ring of some variety of Crocus to define the lawn in spring. But something that low would probably not show in the marauding Scilla.

Bulbs

Instead, I picked up a big ol’ bag of mixed daffodil bulbs at Costco. I’m planting them three to a hole and many of the bulbs in the bag were double-nosed. I hope the clumps don’t look too weak. I’m almost done. There are still nine spots to do and I’ll need to get a dozen more bulbs to finish those, provided I go all the way up to the beehives. I can’t wait so see how this looks next spring!

Blowing Hot Air

I used my most recent birthday as an excuse to purchase a food dehydrator. I’d been trolling the thrift stores and resale shops on the advice of one of my fellow community gardeners but just wasn’t finding any there. So I decided to just go ahead and get a new one. I actually only had a vague idea of what I would use one for, but figured I would find more over time.

Dehydrator

In the past I’ve enjoyed oven-drying San Marzano tomatoes with a little olive oil and herbs which I then freeze and enjoy on pizzas through the winter. Tomatoes seemed an obvious choice for trying out my new toy so I sliced up all different kinds and put them on the trays. The cherry tomatoes I dried to just a leathery stage and they’re like tomato candy. I dried the paste tomatoes longer to try something I’d read about on the good old Internet.

Tomato Powder

Tomato powder! This stuff makes perfect sense. Imagine being able to add concentrated tomato flavor to different dishes and you’ll understand my excitement. I’ve already used it in chili and tomato soup for a flavor boost and a fellow gardener has told me she uses it in salad dressings. I just dried seeded tomatoes until they were crispy then ground them up in the coffee mill we use for spices.

I did another dehydrating session with random vegetables I thought might be good in soup like turnips, carrots and celery. I also dehydrated a couple pounds of tomatillos thinking I’d eventually use them to make a sauce or chili. Once dried they only weighed two ounces and took up considerably less space. Also, for fun I dried a sliced apple. We gobbled that up immediately. I should probably make more of those for us to snack on at work.

So far I’m happy with my little dehydrator and I’m looking forward to finding more things to dry that we’d actually find useful. I’d like to hear your suggestions if you’re an experienced food dryer.

Shellin’ Beans and Reminiscin’

We don’t eat green beans very often. The first couple of years that we gardened we grew a few but were finding most went to waste. Then I discovered how easy  it is to grow beans to the fresh shelling and dried stages. Not only do we end up with seed we can grow again next year, but there are so many different dishes we like that can be made with them: soup, chili, casseroles, cassoulet, baked beans and any number of Mexican dishes.

Shelled Beans

One of my little rituals I enjoy is picking a bag of the dried pods and then sitting on the deck cracking them open and dropping the beans into a bowl on my lap. I like to call it “Shellin’ Beans and Reminiscin’” because of the old-fashioned, homey feel of it, even though I don’t do much actual reminiscing during the process. Still, it’s a pleasant, meditative activity that’s a nice end to a gardening day. Sometimes I’ll pick the pods off several kinds of beans and let them get all mixed up during the shelling. Then I have the task of sorting them into different containers for storage, another relaxing activity. Each kind of bean looks entirely different from all the others so mix-ups are unlikely.  Half the reason I choose the beans to grow that I do is their appearance. I appreciate a pretty bean.

Bean Bounty

This summer, when it felt like there were more things to do than time to do them I resorted to a more efficient way of shelling the beans. I stomped around on the pods in a tub and then only had to pick through the ones that were more reluctant to be retrieved and winnowed the contents of the tub in front of a fan in the back yard. It worked well and took less time.  But I haven’t given up my old habits entirely. The stragglers that dried after the main wave have all been hand-shelled. I think regardless of how big my bean crops ever get I’ll be doing at least some of them the slow way. It’s a great part of the pleasure of growing beans.

Reclaimed Wood Projects

Last year the co-conspirator and I did some major refurbishing of our deck to fix a design flaw that has bugged me for twenty years. In the process, we ended up replacing most of the decking boards. The old boards were still mostly in decent condition except for rotten ends. Except for that and the old screw holes, we had a good pile of acceptable wood that we had once paid a decent amount of money for. I decided to salvage what I could for a few little projects to enhance our outdoor living space on the deck.

Boards Ripped Boards

Since someone won’t let me have a table saw I used a guide on our circular saw to rip the deck boards into 1” and 2” strips. I used a CAD program to design the different pieces so I knew ahead of time that everything would line up and work the way I intended. The boards are an even inch thick so dimensioning the different components was simple. To make thicker boards for table legs I glued together two boards with waterproof carpenter’s glue.

Plant Bench

The first project was a pair of narrow tables to hold the different potted herbs and ornamental plants I like to grow each year. The taller one is shown here with a pot stand.  The other one is six inches shorter so the plants are displayed better. As you can see growing a banana tree has attracted apes but they’re not much of a problem…yet.

Pot Stand

I followed those up with a couple of low pot stands. The second one I did (not pictured) I just used a single 1”x2” for the legs instead of doubling them up and they seem sturdy enough.

Potting Table

After years of making do with a board over the wheelbarrow for potting things up I made a work table at a comfortable height to stand next to the compost bins. The large pots and tubs fit under it. I need to get something under the legs so they don’t start rotting away.

Plant Cage Plant Cage 2

The last project I’ve made so far was the most complicated. Every year I fight a battle with the squirrels and chipmunks to keep them from digging up the pots of tubers and seeds I’m starting and from ripping out my vegetable plants when I bring them out for hardening off. I constructed a cage of the salvaged cedar and chicken wire to protect up to four flats of pots. The whole thing is two feet high and the door is held shut with hook-and-eye closures. I’ve placed it up on cinder blocks in the garden work area. I think I’ll get a couple more blocks so it’s higher.

There is still a decent amount of wood left. The only other project I’d like to attempt is a planter box with a very tall trellis. There is a large space  on the back of the house right where we have our deck chairs. I dream of get morning glory and moonflower vines growing there next year.

Have you ever built something new from old materials? I’d like to hear about your projects if you have. They may give me some ideas of what to do with the wood I have left!

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The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. (George Bernard Shaw)

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