Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Last Week of Spring!


What a busy time it’s been this month!

Basically, the gardens are done, though there are some more tomato plants that still need to go in, a row of peas or two, strawflowers to plant, I’d like to get in more sunflowers and some broom corn. Pumpkins still need to go in, but it was cold, really hot, and now cold again! So no use rushing those! Same with the melons which are doing fine in the green house for now. But most of the tomatoes, the green peppers, beans, cukes, carrots, cabbages, onions, lettuces, and corn (sweet and pop) are all in the grounds and growing along with some gourds and most of the sunflowers plus annuals and herbs and all good things like that. The birds and critters did not eat the corn seeds out of the ground, and it looks like the sunflower seeds will remain undisturbed, as well.

I have also been up in Erie almost every week day baby sitting my niece and nephew. I also made a trip to Buffalo to hear the finals concert in the guitar concerto competition they have up there every other year. I’ve gone up twice, and both times I’ve been rooting for the soloist who played the Castelnuovo-Tadesco concerto to win, and it never happens! I love that piece. But that’s neither here nor there. I only had to worry about using up too much gas, since the weather was so bad, there was no way that I could work outside. I love going to hear the Buffalo Philharmonic play. If I ever get rich, I’m going to have a little apartment in Buffalo so I can go and hear concerts and go to hockey whenever I want and not have to worry about weather! But I’d still spend most of my time here. Or the south of France. With French cooking utensils.

We have been having our usual Sunday afternoon get togethers. Sometimes in winter, we get snowed in and have only my grandmother and sometimes an aunt, but in summer, we get swamped every Sunday. Last weekend, we had my grandmother, my aunt, my dad, my sister and her husband and their kids plus my mom and I. My mom has been on a strange mashed potatoes and fish kick. That’s all she ever wants to eat, and my sister brought cedar planks and a giant salmon steak. My sister hates fish. I find this hilarious because her husband is a fisherman and works in law enforcement for fish and boating. She was really brave and tried to wrestle this almost four pound piece of salmon out of the bag and prepare it, but she just couldn’t do it. I handle stuff I don’t plan on eating all the time, since I’m veg-veg but I’ll cook anything, so she yelled instructions from out of fish-smell distance, and we got it done.

I guess it was good, because everyone but my dad liked it, and he only likes plain and mostly canned things. So that’s where I get it from. Basically, you can get short little cedar boards, about ten inches long, six inches wide, and maybe three quarters of an inch thick. My sister got hers at Linens and Things, but you can get them at grocery stores with good seafood departments, too. You soak the planks in water for about an hour, and get the grill heated up to about 375. (You can also do this in the oven, but I would guess the taste is not as smoky.) While this was going on, we put olive oil on the fish and used one of those spice rubs. Then you put the fish on the wood, skin side down, and put the whole thing right on the hot grill for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Keep a water bottle handy to put out the plank if it catches fire! The fish is done when it starts to flake.

Theoretically, you can reuse the plank, but I found that hard to believe after seeing how charred it got.

The planked salmon went over really well, even though our family is pretty spoiled because we have smoked steelhead in the fall and fresh perch that is just breaded and fried in a pan. That works on the grill, too. All you need is a deep cast iron pan. Junk shops and estate sales and yard sales are great places to find cast iron cook ware. You don’t have to buy the new stuff which generally comes from China and isn’t of the greatest quality. If you get a really gunky old cast iron pan, just toss it in a campfire or the fireplace and let it burn clean. Wait for the fire to get cool, scrub off the pan, rub it with cooking oil or fat and call it good. You can use a heavy cast iron pan to fry things in oil on top of the grill and keep the house from getting too stinky and smoky. Afterwards, though, I always play a little game called “Where can I dump the fish fry oil where Sally Ann is not going to roll in it and then jump in my bed?” I usually lose, and the dog ends up in my bed with greasy cornmeal stuck all over her.

This year is just going to be a crazy bumper crop year of all things berry. Something really drastic is going to have to happen to mess this up. The strawberries are ready to ripen, there are more currants than I have ever seen. The black raspberries are loaded, and even the troublesome blackberries are having their best year at least since the first year I had them. Even with all the pruning, there are going to be just mounds of grapes. I have been struggling to keep bird netting on the currants. We get a mighty amount of wind up here, and the netting just doesn’t want to stay at all. With the strawberries, I just tack the netting down with poultry fence staples and reach under to pick. When the netting is on the strawberries, it is better to go barefoot in the garden, because the netting catches on any kind of shoe tread, and button up shirts also present a problem. My strawberries are also about a week and a half behind the ones closer to the lake. The lower temperatures up here really make a difference. And I probably just jinxed myself and my berries since it is getting pretty chilly out there. I don’t think it’s going to frost or anything, but it will be in the forties the next three nights or so.

Speaking of weather, the National Weather Service finally released the snow total map for the season. We were right on the line between the color for 120-140 inches and that for 140-160. I thought we had a little less snow this year than last, when we had 180 inches. We ran out of wood bad this spring, though. I need to get on the ball with that, since our backup propane tank is almost empty, and with everything going up, filling it is falling farther down the list of priorities, especially since we have a nice new wood stove. Though, we did stretch the tank through three winters just with what was in it when we moved here. Little did I know that was going to be like getting a thousand dollars free with the house! We had our 36th coldest spring on record, and I’d like to think that if we’d had a little closer to normal temperatures and not so much rain that I could have either not run out of firewood as quickly or been able to get another load, but it never happened. I have a little bit of a jump on it this year, though, since my uncle brought a partial load as a Mother’s Day present, and I got another partial load from my aunt’s yard where a big piece of her cottonwood tree fell down.

That’s all I can think of which I’m just sitting around waiting for it to quit raining.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It's Garden Time!


It’s a busy time here. After Memorial Day is the unofficial time when the last frost is past and the plants I started and the direct seeds need to go into the garden. My upper garden which is the one that was here when I got here a few years ago is already full, and I’m spreading out to the newer patches.

In my upper garden, back in April, I put in yellow and red onion seeds plus a mixed greens patch. I never have the rights sized patch for salad. Either there is a ton and it doesn’t get eaten or not enough, and there is just enough for nibbling a leaf here and there. Right now I have a nibble sized patch of lettuce, but I have more greens planted in the ends of some of the rows.

The most recent additions to the upper garden were some more red onions -- sets this time to have some ready sooner, Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes, three kinds of carrots, some cabbages and broccoli which actually survived, momotaro and roma tomatoes, lettuces, spinach, a couple varieties of cucumber, peas, bush beans, popcorn, and a few hills of gourds. One of the gardening books I read (can’t remember which one) showed a layout for the garden that included little hills around the edges for melons and gourds which I think is a good idea, because I have a lot of melons started and putting things like that in the middle of the garden, when space is a premium, is kind of silly. The idea would be that you just need enough dirt for the roots, and the vines and fruit can take off and run out into the yard. I can deal with not having to mow a little right around the garden.

My “three sisters” garden is actually progressing well. I caught some of the fish myself, and had kind of a nasty afternoon braining carp and then cutting them up to put in the hills. Carp are hard to kill outright, and I don’t like to leave them gasping, so things were pretty gory. And there are reflexes and nerves in a carp that have nothing to do with whether or not that fish is actually alive. I’ll just leave it at that.

Anyway, my brother in law would fish a puddle, and when I asked for fish, I got fish, and I only need enough fish for about seven or eight more hills of corn. Which is just an hour or fishing and a little bit of digging, and phase one will be over.

In my upper garden by the house, things generally get left alone, but down below, I lost every single pumpkin I planted to critters and birds last year. I was concerned about birds being able to peck out the corn as soon as I planted it, and I also want to make a sunflower forest up in the unused half of the newly turned garden. I battled animals over the sunflower seeds, too. The corn and fish plan seems actually to be going quite well, though, as I put the fish down about six inches and really heaped the dirt over top. When I planted the corn, I shoved it in as far as my thumb. It seems to be germinating, even with being a little deeper than the recommended planting depth. But then again, I also have short thumbs. So far, the only animal that has tried to dig the fish out is my naughty little dog Sally Ann who has an affinity for stink which cannot be stopped!

My lower garden with the strawberry rows is probably as big as my upper garden after having expanded it a couple of times and consolidated the berries. The berries should be in their prime right now, but the honey berries which were supposed to be so great have been unproductive and disappointing. The row of “sparkle” strawberries is really full of blossoms, and in a week or two, I’m going to cover the row with bird netting. The robins did a number on them last year. I already have the currants covered. Barring drought or too many bad animals, I should have a ton of berries this year. I’m also pinching back the grape vines which came through their aggressive pruning this spring very well, thank you. There should be only one bunch per little stem, and there are at least two on every stem and sometimes three or four. the bunches really look like little bunches of grapes, just about an inch long.

My trouble with the blackberries is continuing, however. They were started to get blossoms and green up and look like they were also going to have a great year. Then, there were a wilted looking patch which came out with bright, bright orange color on the underside. This was on both the fruiting canes from this year and the new canes which are just coming up. I’m baby-sitting my niece and nephew these last few weeks of the school year, and I’m not home enough to keep an eye on things minutely, so I just chopped the orange canes down.

it turns out I did the right thing. My encyclopedia of organic gardening says that is called, surprisingly enough, orange rust, and the only way to get rid of it is to burn out the plants, even the roots. I haven’t gotten to the roots yet, and I’m closely watching the rest of the patch to make sure the disease hasn’t spread.