Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This week our local farms have strawberries ripe for U-pick and for purchasing already pre-picked.  Now of course you can just go buy any ol' strawberries at the grocery store, but there is just something about going out early in the morning and picking them right from the patch yourself that makes all the difference in how they taste.

It's been several years since I have been able to go picking, and I have been talking about it for months, so much in fact that I got others in the family interested in going too.  Monday morning several of us had time off work and I decided it was now or never for getting our berries.

Tips for going berry picking:
 Go early in the morning--less bugs/bees (terribly important consideration when picking with my brothers!) also it is best to pick when its not scorchingly hot out later in the day.
 Use shallow containers--most places around here provide a flat cardboard container to put your berries in as you pick, however if you have to bring your own containers remember to bring something shallow.  Berries are so fragile, and if piled too high even on themselves  the lower ones will be juice by the time you are finished and get them home.
 Plan on having dirty fingernails!-- there's no way to get around it,  if you are picking juicy ripe berries you are going to get messy hands.  Just adds to the experience, and that's ok because once you get them home you have to clean and prepare all those berries for storage--and that gets messy too!

We picked a good amount of berries, and after sharing them I ended up with about 16 pounds of strawberries... and now what do I do with all of those!?  There are a couple of options to chose from but  first things first, gently put berries in a colander in the sink and lightly rinse them with cool water.  Next, the little leafy caps need to be removed without wasting much of the berry-- I am not really one of those people that has to have every possibly gadget for the kitchen, however I found that this handy little tool works great. This particular one is called a tomato corer  but I have seen the same thing called a strawberry huller.  Remove the caps and stems, and place the berries on a towel to air dry a little more.

kitchen gadget 
removing the cap

Once the strawberries have drained  somewhat, they can be placed in freezer safe containers, or freezer bags with as much air removed as possible,  and frozen for use later.  The berries may also be "flash frozen" on a wax paper lined baking sheet and then bagged after they are frozen.  This will help prevent them from sticking together in a giant strawberry ice blob.

Another option for using the cleaned berries is to make jam.  In the past I have cooked down the berries with sugar and canned the glarp in hot jars...etc...etc..  then I learned of Freezer Jam  which is very yummy, and super easy to make and store.

Though it was the first time I made it, I think it turned out fine and here's what I did:  cleaned strawberries, placed in the food processor, 4 or 5 presses of the pulse button and voila... mashed, crushed, or chopped whatever you want to call it.   Ball (as in the canning jar company) has a product available called Instant Fruit Pectin, sold in small batch packets.  Mix one of these packets with 1.5 cups of sugar, and then add 4 cups of the fresh fruit puree.  Stir for 3 minutes.  Wait 30 minutes and it will be setting up, or thickening.  Ladle into containers or freezer safe jars--use now, keeping up to 3 weeks in refrigerator, or freeze for up to 1 year.

My final products for the day are 6 quart bags of whole berries in the freezer, plus a nice bowlful for shortcake at supper tonight, and approximately 7 pints of strawberry freezer jam. Now if only we had some homemade bread to have with that jam for breakfast...YUM!

Vegetable Garden update 1 & Nitrogen lock up

Two weeks have passed since everything was planted out in the vegetable gardens. I am pleased to say that all plants are now showing much growth.  I say now because until just a few days ago, I was really worried. Nearly all of the plants turned an awful sickly yellow, and just didn't look to me as if they were taking hold in the garden soil.  Needless to say I was sick over it! All that work, preparation, guest gardeners, and now they were going to die?  I knew it wasn't from lack of water or over watering since I have pretty much gotten the hang of that, and I knew we had cultivated in all that manure to feed our what could the problem be? Then I remembered something I read in one of my gardening books, and took much comfort in re-reading the section on Nitrogen.

Chemistry class was a LONG time ago, so I am not going to attempt to explain or diagram the actual workings of the chemicals, but I will try to put this in really simple terms:  Nitrogen is essential for leaf growth--if plants are pale or yellow and their growth is stunted then the soil most likely needs nitrogen which can be increased effectively by adding compost, or turning in manure animal or green (plant).  When we created this new garden area we turned in a lot of green manure in the form of grass and leaves and such, so I really didn't know why there would be a nitrogen deficiency...and so I read on...  A nitrogen deficiency can often occur even when there is plenty of it in the soil... the problem is that the nitrogen is temporarily "locked up" and unavailable for the plants' usage. Microorganisms break down mater slowly making nitrogen into a form the plants can use. As fresh organic material (such as the grass we tilled in, unfinished compost, or un aged manure--as I discovered that which we had delivered was in fact not aged but fresh from the barn) breaks down quickly, those microorganisms remove available nitrogen from the soil.  After one to two weeks breakdown of the material is complete and the nitrogen is again available for the plants roots.

One resolution to this problem--use certain particularly nitrogen-rich plants like alfalfa as your green manure--it is known as a nitrogen fixer changing the nitrogen from the air in the soil into a form the plants can use.  Since it was too late to do that for our current situation I had to go with a short term/quick fix to help my plants until the nitrogen in our soil was released for their use.  I could have added substances called bone meal and fish emulsion--but I was concerned about overdosing the plants and at this point I really didn't think they could handle any more trauma. Instead I used good ol' Miracle Grow plant food for Vegetables. I happen to have it on hand, and it is already balanced for general purpose feeding, so I gave it a shot.  Mixing according to the directions on the box, and soaking the soil at the base of the plant as well as wetting the foliage, I fed each and every one of my sad, sickly, little plants. Within the 2 days following the feeding, the garden was a much darker healthier green color and the plants showed signs of new growth. The weather forecast is calling for warm, humid conditions, and some rain  so that should really give them a boost as well.

 Here are several pictures to show you how things are coming along.

Our lettuce net row cover is holding up very well.  This row has yummy bug-free lettuce,  however the second row under the netting has some bug-eaten holes--did I trap a little bug inside the cover? just giving it a personal buffet--I am still not sure if I will bother with lettuce next year at all, but I will let you know.

    Cucumber plants are still small, after having struggled a bit when first moved outside.  It seems strange to see so many blossoms already on such a small plant.  The various squash plants are similar, in that they have several big blooms and small new leaves sprouting out.

Shown here are the first fruits of the sweet banana pepper and the jalepeno. Can hardly wait to make the homemade salsa!

A tiny BEAN! I think the beans might just be the easiest to grow veggie that I have in our garden.  I have decided that it is just not necessary to start beans so early in the green house as I did this year when I started all the others.  My decision is based on the following picture--showing the beans that were directly sown in the garden soil 2 weeks ago.
These beans have sprouted and grown over 6 inches tall and have really big leaves already.  Before I know it we will be picking baskets full!

For some reason I cannot get the pictures of the tomato plants nor the squash to upload so you will have to wait til the next garden update post to see how those are doing.  Although, I can tell you that last night I saw several flower buds forming on some of tomatoes and I will have to stake them up soon to keep them off of the ground.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Plant Profile: Kousa Dogwood

Blossoms of the Kousa Dogwood

one of the new trees

A couple weeks ago my husband came home with a big smile on his face and said he had a surprise in the back of the pick up truck!  I, hesitantly, went out to see what he'd brought home this time--if it was a good surprise or a not so good one.  And it was a good one--bargain trees from a farm he had come across somewhere nearby.  For a fraction of what they should have cost  and would have cost someplace else, he had snagged us 4 small trees which he thought were Dogwood and he planned to plant them just beyond the fence that separates our back yard into 2 sections.  

Once we got them into place, I took a closer look at the leaves and realized they didn't quite look like the 2 old Dogwood trees we have, though similar; They do however look just like another very pretty tree we have at the front corner of the house, which I never was able to identify--until now.

I started researching and found out the name of our mystery tree and our new bargain trees is  the Kousa Dogwood or Japanese Flowering Dogwood.

foliage & small blossom on new tree

The Kousa/Japanese Dogwood is described as a small ornamental tree with appeal for all four seasons with its darker green foliage, long lasting showy flowers, multi-trunked low branching shape and interesting decorative bark.  

Leaves:  a medium to dark green, broad elliptic, opposite, fall color ranges from reddish purple to green or chartreuce.

Flowers:  the true flowers are ornamentally insignificant and are small yellowish green, centered in what most people see as the "flower" which are actually 4 showy bracts beginning small and lime colored and then expanding to bold white. Blooms in June for 4-6 weeks. 

Fruits:  globular, resembling large raspberries, green turning to pink then dull red in fall, readily eaten by birds and squirrels when ripe.

Trunk/Bark:  multi-trunk or single trunk with very low branching, slender twigs, light brown-grey bark interrupted by yellow-beige or dark grey-white blotches more prominent with age. 

Other notes: slow growth rate, maturing to 20 feet tall 20 feet wide, full sun to partial shade, no serious disease or pest problems, more adaptable to alkaline soils and dry soil than its more popular counterpart Flowering Dogwood, upright vased growth style in youth but horizontally layered branching as it ages. Particularly good for a focal point, entryway, border, or seasonal accent plant.  Usually available in ball, burlap, or container form. Propagated by rooted cuttings.

In summary, these trees were a very good bargain find, and a lovely addition to our yard/gardens which we will be able to enjoy even more as they mature.  Also, they look especially nice at night with the accent of a solar spot light set close to the trunk and pointed upward into the branches. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Guest Gardeners at Planting Out Time: Getting all those seedlings into the garden.

Getaway Garden had its first ever "guest gardeners" helping out this past week as planting out time had finally arrived and it was time to get those seedlings out of the greenhouse and into the dirt!  Big thank-yous to my sister-in-law, my step mom, my dad and my brother, and also to a guy from our church, who all got involved. Some with planting seedlings, and watering, others with re-rototilling and raking, and setting fence posts for the new fence.  Their efforts helped me a great deal, and though I had a few things left to do myself afterwards, I am very happy to say everything is planted and lookin' good!

Here are a few final pictures of how things looked in the greenhouse just before we moved them outside--nice healthy and good green color. Not shown--those troublesome pepper plants--bell peppers only reached 4 inches in height by now but they were put out in the garden anyways just to see if they get bigger and produce.  I went ahead and bought a few bell pepper plants as well as sweet banana peppers and jalepenos which didn't sprout for me at all.

Squash Plants

Tiny Herbs


Of course the few days that it was not thunder storming and we could get out there and work in the gardens, the temperature shot up to 90+ degrees--which is not particularly conducive to transplanting anything, let along fragile veggie plants!  So, some of the plants, cucumbers especially, are looking slightly sunburned and struggling.  Good news though--today I noticed that some beans and some jalepeno peppers are beginning to flower already!  

They don't really look like much now, but here are a couple of views of our gardens with their rows of small plants.  Notice the bare fence posts that are in place around Second Garden--we are hoping to get that fence, which will look like the one around First Garden, finished this week in order to keep the deer and ground hogs from having a buffet!

First Garden

Second Garden--view 1

Second Garden-view 2

I haven't yet taken a final count of the number of plants we actually put in, but there are A LOT, and I also gave away a bunch of plants to friends and family who are putting in gardens of their own.

The last task after installing all of the plants is routing all the hoses and sprinklers to do the watering.  Something I have been working toward for several years is to be able to water my entire edible garden(s) WITHOUT having to drag the hoses and move the sprinklers every time...This year I have finally reached that goal too with the addition of 2 new hoses and 1 more "rainbow"style sprinkler, and the soaker hoses I received for birthday gifts.  Hoses now run from the outdoor faucet on the house--under/across the driveway through a rigid PVC tube buried under the stone--around the kids playground--and to a manifold near the greenhouse (which will hopefully be mounted on a post soon instead of lying in the dirt).  The manifold allows one in and several out lines each controlled separately by a lever. Obviously we do not have enough water pressure to run everything at the same time but this way each section can be turned on/off easily and without getting me getting dirty!  From this splitter, I have one hose running to the First Garden which feeds a single rainbow-style (for lack of a better term--you know what I mean--the kind that have an arch and go back and forth) sprinkler that is able to cover the whole First Garden.  On other connections of the manifold I have the soaker hoses that zigzag through the potato rows, and 2 more lines have hoses to the 2 sprinklers that water the Second Garden.  The final outlet works my short coiled hose for filling watering cans and watering things in the greenhouse.   I prefer to thoroughly water the gardens in the mornings--early enough though that the leaves will dry some before the hot sun scorches them. Watering in the morning is better for the plants and lessens the likely hood of disease which can occur if the plants are wet at night. That being said--on these extremely hot days everything gets a good drink morning and night unless we have rain.

AND NOW....we wait.....again......

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lettuce Protection

If you remember in a past post I mentioned that last year our row of lettuce was infested with little green worms from the Cabbage Moth, also known as the Small Cabbage White.  These pests are very prevalent, emerging in the early spring and remaining about until a hard freeze in the fall.  The adults mostly fly during mid-day, and lay eggs on the food plant leaves, on varieties such as cabbage (duh), kale, radish, broccoli, horseradish, mustard families, AND MY LETTUCE!!  The green caterpillars are hidden on the underside of the leaves.


Yes, those cute, fluttery, white butterflies that kids love to chase around the whole backyard....are NASTY little things!!  Maybe its just me, but I think its gross to pick through the lettuce leaves trying to make sure I don't get any worms in my salad, and I am not real big on using poisons and sprays on my food either.  Last year was so bad that I just gave up on it all together after only one dinner's worth of greens.  

So, this year I vowed to figure out something to prevent those moths from getting onto the lettuce to lay their eggs in the first place.  I think my idea came from looking at one of those table mesh tent things that goes over a tray/plate at a picnic to keep flies off of the food--you know what I am talking about?  Anyways, I wanted to make a sort of net row cover, that would keep flying insects, like the Cabbage Moth OUT, while still allowing sunshine and water and plenty of air circulation IN.   The result of my deliberation is shown here:

It is made of 6 wooden stakes (left over in a pile behind the greenhouse from staking up tomatoes last year)--4 on the corners of the raised planting area, and 2 in the center. The stakes form the support for a few yards of tulle--a mesh sort of fabric.  I chose a fairly sturdy gauge of this material as it comes in a wide range from very fine and flimsy to coarse and stiff.    My handy dandy staple gun was useful next, to fasten the tulle to the wooden supports, and I secured the edges to the ground with rocks and some extra pins from the landscape fabric pathways.

Now obviously this contraption will not keep out crawly bugs or anything that was IN the soil (so I will still be on the look out for those) however I do think it will do the trick for flying insects and our little enemy The Moth.
So far the project has held up to watering from the sprinkler, moderate wind, and even sheltered the fragile lettuce from the 90+degree heat we've had for a couple of days.  I am interested though to see how it will withstand any strong rain storms, unfortunately we will probably find out soon enough.