Saturday, June 26, 2010

The garlic harvest

I just spent an hour sipping Plum Creek merlot and braiding garlic in my front yard as the sun was setting.

I'm pretty sure there's no better way to spend an evening, if one must spend it alone.

Except that I reek of garlic, and the scent may very well not dissipate before my husband arrives home tomorrow.

The girls and I harvested the remainder of the garlic tonight - 61 heads in all. I braided all the softneck heads, and just tied the hardnecks into bundles. Since the best place to cure garlic is somewhere dry, warm, and sheltered from the elements, I have bundles of garlic hanging all over my front porch. It'll have to stay there for about two weeks, until it's dried enough to store.

Sadly, I'm quite certain this means I shouldn't expect any sexy vampires to show up and keep me company when my husband leaves again. :::sigh:::

On the up side, we have enough garlic to get us through the year, with plenty to flavor spaghetti sauces and salsas, and to keep us healthy in case we're plagued with strep throat or bronchitis again this winter. There's plenty of satisfaction in knowing I can grow my own medicine.

I'd share pictures of the braids with you, but I assure you, they're not that pretty. Braiding garlic is harder than it looks!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flying Ant Day

We first moved into this house the week before Country Jam. And just days after moving in I noticed our first swarm of flying ants.

Every year since then, when it's Country Jam weekend, I can be assured that I'll have a kitchen full of half-dead winged ants, that I'll see them crawling all over the porch, that my cat will be going mad trying to kill them all.

It's really gross. And creepy. It always makes my skin crawl for a few days after. The best thing I've found is to vacuum them. They have wings, but they don't usually manage to fly. They crawl over the floor, on the window sills, the kitchen table if they can get to it.

I'm pretty sure they're just-hatched queen ants, flying off on their journey to try to be mated and start a new colony. Only they're hatching from somewhere in the foundation of our house, and they don't manage to get out. We have a serious ant problem outside, hills everywhere in the lawn and garden. It's rare that we get ants indoors though, except for this one phenomenon each year when they swarm.

Anyway, I'm off to vacuum ants. Because, you know, I don't have anything better to do with my time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Neighbor Kids

I'll be the first to admit that, when it comes to who plays with my kids, I'm a snob. I want my girls playing with kids that come from decent families with strong moral values and a certain amount of discipline. So yeah, I'm picky about who gets to hang out at our house.

Enter: The Neighbor Children.

As I was setting up the girls' teepee out front and bringing them out a basket of snacks, there were two young kids on bikes riding back and forth on the sidewalk in front of our house, gazing longingly at us as we munched raisins and apples and read stories amid blankets and pillows in our little tent. I smiled politely and continued reading. Finally the boy came up the fence and timidly asked if they could be friends. These are the kids that are out at all hours of the day and night, riding their bikes unsupervised through the streets. I'm pretty sure their mom doesn't set up tents and make snack baskets and read to them.

I couldn't say no. I invited them into the yard, and I went inside for another basket of snacks.

They were polite kids, and friendly. They're nine year old boy/girl twins. They were respectful to me and were gentle and kind with my toddler. They drew with sidewalk chalk, read our books with us, and asked a lot of questions about what it's like to home school.

Then they explained that their mom was sick and had a headache, and that she told them to go find somewhere to play. They weren't allowed back at home until 9:00 at night, unless it was to use the bathroom or to find something to eat, and she didn't want to be able to hear them. Their father is in prison, as is their grandpa, who owns the house. I'm pretty sure by the time they explained all of this that my mouth was gaping open and I had tears in my eyes.

As I was demonstrating how to use a Skip-It, Ethan asked me, "Are you a nice mom?" Gosh, how do I answer that? And good heavens, what kind of question is that, anyway! I have a feeling his mom might not be a nice one.

After some time, I told them it was time for us to go in for our lessons, but that after lessons, lunch, chore time, and nap time, when we were back out front, they could come back and play again, and I'd bring out some toys. They sat outside the fence, in front of my house, for two hours, waiting for us to come back out.


We finally went back out, with a tub full of baby doll toys and a quilt to play on... and more snacks. There was a tea party, and then they took all the babies to the doctor (which was a good role for the only boy in the group) and then there was more sidewalk chalk drawing and some good old fashioned racing across the yard. Ethan left us at some point when one of his friends got home - he was ready for some 'guy time' he said. Caitlyn stayed and oohed and ahhed over all of the neat baby doll stuff the girls had, telling us she wished she had so many nice things for her doll. We invited her to pick peas with us. She'd never had peas out of a pod before and thought it was pretty special. When it was time for us to start fixing our supper, she helped clean up all the toys without question, then rode off on her bike after asking if she could come back tomorrow.

Oh, what to do? On the one hand, they seemed like pretty nice kids. The girls had a fantastic time playing with them. They were respectful of our things, they said please and thank you. They could probably benefit from a few hours spent in our front yard.

On the other hand, they obviously don't meet my standards of "decent family" and "strong moral values".

I have half a mind to go to their home with a basket of cookies and ask to meet their mother, introduce myself and let her know that her kids have been hanging out at my house. Maybe offer to bring them a meal since she's apparently under the weather? Maybe if I wear a skirt and apron I can really freak her out....

I suppose I'll keep letting the kids play, as long as I have the time to sit out there and keep an eye on them. My gut instinct is that they need it. But oooh, other people's kids make me so nervous! I love my little girls being just who they are, without too many outside, worldly influences. Heh. That just made me sound practically Amish.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not Me Monday

I realize how pathetic it would be to take pictures of every single garden harvest, so I promise, I don't!

Because really, if you've seen one kohlrabi, you've seen them all. Right?

Spending my precious time laying vegetables out on a table to just take pictures? Pshhhh. Who's got time for such things?

If I did take pictures of every harvest - which I don't - my hard drive would be bogged down with pictures of vegetables. But it's not, I swear.

It's not me that randomly snaps photos of a meal I'm cooking, just because it's all self-provided and that makes me a little bit giddy inside.

Elk stir fry with sugar snap peas, carrots and broccoli.

And there's certainly not a red stain from beet juice on my camera because I didn't wash my hands before taking pictures of vegetables while I was chopping them...

I just couldn't get over how cool the insides all looked as I was chopping them.

And to be certain, let me assure you that there are not more pictures of vegetables than there are of my children in all the month of June... gosh, that'd be an embarrassing illustration of the priorities in my life, wouldn't it?

But they were the first turnips I've ever harvested!
How could I not take their picture?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A day off the bandwagon

I fell off the "wholesome" bandwagon in a big, big way today.

Between missing my husband and trying to accept the distinct reality of how much the newest schedule* sucks, dealing with general parenting frustrations, and some general burn out, I was depressed today. And so I attempted to cure my depression with some good ol' fashioned glutton.

We had the TV on all day. And when I say all day, I do mean exactly that. Movie after movie after movie. I laid on the bed with them, and we watched G-rated movies all day. We ate Cheetos for lunch, and then watched another movie. Around 4 o'clock, we went to Wal Mart for a few things. Since there happens to be a McDonald's inside Wal-Mart, we stopped in and grabbed chocolate milk shakes to sip on as we strolled through the aisles.

I bought things like root beer, Cocoa Puffs, and non-dairy coffee creamer. I bought Chloe a Skip-It knock-off made in China, and I bought Cora some Minnie Mouse panties. Then we had Taco Bell for dinner.

On a good day, we eat homemade granola with local raw milk for breakfast. We boycott cheap toys made in China and all things Disney and we shop for food at farmer's market. We play in the garden instead of watching TV, and we eat a dinner made of wild game and garden vegetables.

As you can plainly see, today was not a good day.

And I'm trying to feel guilty for it... but I don't. One day of typical American gluttony isn't going to kill us. At least, I'm pretty sure it won't.

*The newest work schedule: two weeks in North Dakota, one week off at home. This means more weeks off. It also means he lives away from home for two thirds of the year. There's a lot that goes on in two thirds of a year that he won't be around to share with us, and that depresses me. But I'll stop whining, and just be grateful he's got a job.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kid's Gardening - Creative Play

Garden bits make for good creative play.

Giant kohlrabi leaves turn little girls into flying pegasus and dragons...

Onion flower stalks are prettier than Lincoln Logs, and make a nice addition to a town built of mushroom caps and flower buds.

They harvested some of their own carrots and lettuce, then used plastic kitchenware from the playhouse to make a salad and have a picnic.

The carrots have been a big hit - neither of them really bothered with thinning or weeding them, so they're getting all kinds of funky shapes that result in lots of giggles.

The cabbageworms we saved in a jar for a science project have now built cocoons - we have three of them. It's really a shame those pretty little butterflies are so darn destructive.

I started pulling the weeds (grass) out of their garden the other night, since it was threatening to encroach on my own garden. Chloe came over, visibly upset, and said, "Mom, no! I'm growing hay for my imaginary horse!" We tied up the lengths of grass into little stands like you would with wheat, then placed them near where the horse was tied up. He enjoyed the snack, she assured me.

There is a pile of carrots in my refrigerator, some broken off half way down, others that grew only an inch, and a few that really turned out pretty good. Chloe asked if I would cook them with brown sugar and butter. There's something neat about my child growing her vegetables and then asking to have them for lunch. Of course I'll do it that way.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Kid's Gardening - Attack of the Cabbage Worms

Have you ever watched Winnie the Pooh? You know the ones when Rabbit is fighting the caterpillars in his garden, the ones that sort of take over from time to time? Right, that's how I feel. And I finally fully understand why Eric Carle called his book The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Remember in my garden tour, how beautiful my kohlrabi looked? Yes, well, that was before The Invasion Of the Cabbage Worm.

You know those pretty little white butterflies that seem to just be hatching all over the place? Do NOT let their pretty, dainty wings fool you! They are EVIL. They have a plan to take over the world, and it just may be working.

Okay, so maybe it's not that bad. But they're definitely decimating my brassicas. Broccoli, kohlrabi, and turnips all look miserable, with holes spreading quickly through their leaves.

There are two ways to fight cabbage worms organically - pick them off by hand, or use a biological powder dusted on the leaves. I'd rather not use the dust - it washes off every time you water, meaning I'd have to apply it daily since I have to water every day. So I've been spending an hour or more every evening, carefully inspecting the back of each brassica leaf, picking off dozens of worms. They range is size from barely being able to see them to an inch long. I drop each one into a bucket of Dr. Bronner's castille soap. It's satisfying, watching the little suckers drown. Mwahaha. Seriously though, there are a whole lot of other things I'd rather be spending my time doing.

In an effort to prevent further infestation, my garden is now filled with mounds of covered crops:

Row cover fabric - it lets the sunlight in, it lets the water through, it keeps those damn moths out. Every so often we watch a moth fluttering around the covered crop, looking very confused. Neener neener - go lay your eggs somewhere else, you mean ol' moth!


Every child has certain things he or she is good at. This is true even in gardening. Of course, we all like to harvest - that's the best part of having a garden. But there are other chores too... weeding, thinning, watering, fertilizing, worm-picking....

I have discovered Chloe's strength when it comes to the garden. Playing on her natural affinity for bugs, I asked her to look and see what was eating holes in my kohlrabi. In about two and a half seconds, she stood up with a teeny little caterpillar on her finger and exclaimed, "I found it mom! It's a cute little green caterpillar!"

Cute! She called that nefarious little worm 'cute'! At first it was hard for her to murder them, one by one, dropping them into the Bucket of Doom. But she started to get over it. I told her I'd pay her ten cents for every worm, and she's had a fantastic time picking them off and disposing of them. Of course, she did have to save a few for her and her sister to play with.

It's all about figuring out where a kid's interests lie, I think, when it comes to getting them to help in the garden. My seven year old is quickly becoming the Bug Aficionado in the family. I only hope her interest doesn't wane when it's time to hand-pick squash bugs.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A tour of the garden

I took these pictures the day before we left for California. Things sure have changed in just a short week! With 100+ degree temps, the tomatoes are taking off, and the lettuce is laying flat on the ground by mid day. Welcome to Western Colorado, where spring is already just a faint memory...

My garden is small. It's about four feet deep along the northern fence in our back yard. It runs nearly the length of the yard, making it almost 40 feet long. Instead of planting in rows, I plant in little clusters of plants with stepping stones every so often so I have a place to stand when I'm working in there. And now that the summer heat is upon us, hopefully a lot of this stuff will start growing up.

I'm starting at the west, and working my way to the eastern end that stops against the girls' playhouse. If you're not a gardener, you may find this terribly boring. I won't be offended if you skip it!

Green beans, set to climb up my yard-saled ladder. ($3 for the ladder, $3 for the can of red paint. Isn't it quirky? I love it.)

Next to that is the empty spinach bed, since the spinach is now bolted. I left the four or six plants at the back of the bed to go to seed to collect for next year. It was Bloomsdale - loved the variety, definitely worth saving!

On the other side of this bed are other greens - kale, chard, mixed mesclun greens (that have mostly bolted, but a few are left.)

Red Russian Kale and Rainbow Chard:

Mesclun greens:
Between the greens and the spinach on the other side are four tomato plants, different varieties. They're still pretty small, but by the time they get bigger, the greens will be bolted. There's also a couple of basil seedlings growing between the tomatoes.

I have some hanging baskets - one with cascade petunias, the other with a Tumbling Tom cherry tomato plant...

Cherry tomatoes make the perfect snack while you're working in the garden... or playing in the yard.

Beneath those hanging baskets is the broccoli bed:
Those enormous plants are broccoli. They'd be doing great, except that the weather went from 80 degrees - perfect for broccoli - to 100 degrees overnight. Broccoli hates heat. The teeny little heads that have formed are likely all I will get from them. Western Colorado + Broccoli = not a good combination. In this pick you can also see the garlic growing along the fence (60+ bulbs). Between the brocc and the garlic are nasturtiums, and just behind that pot of marigolds are two Ancho pepper plants.

A baby broccoli head:

After something - cutworms, maybe? - leveled half of my broccoli, I planted this Green Zebra tomato plant that already has it's first babies starting.

These squash plants are patisson jaune et vert - yellow and green scallopped squash. We're not squash eaters, so I decided to skip zucchini and plant these instead. At least if we don't eat them, they'll be pretty to look at! There are four hills altogether, running in front of the cold frame. These are the "half way point" in the middle of the garden.

And here's a shot of that first half - right behind Kiddo are the lettuce rows, two more tomatoes, and more garlic along the fence.

On the east side of the cold frame are four vining tomato plants - Polish Linguisa (a favorite from last year) Early Girl, and Brandywine. And on the other side of that are the root crops.

Planted in three successive plantings. The first are nearly ready to harvest and I'll reseed them one more time for a late fall crop.

And beets, also planted in succession.

I've estimated about 200 beets planted altogether... should be enough to keep us going for awhile!

On the other side of the beets, the kohlrabi is threatening to take over the garden... or maybe the whole yard.

Isn't it cool looking? They remind me of little alien heads. I finally harvested a few when we got back, and it I have to say, kohlrabi is pretty tasty. Not the best thing I've ever had, but I'm not sure why this vegetable is so unpopular. We chopped it up and ate it raw dipped in ranch.

After that is the onion bed, with turnips along the fence.

The turnips are doing surprisingly well, some are already two inches in diameter. The onion is all flowering, which means it probably won't store well - a disappointment, because this was supposed to be the winter's supply of onion. We'll see what happens...

Looking across the kohlrabi, beets and carrots...

Next to the bamboo trellis (where green beans are planted and have sprouted) is a narrower trellis built of last year's sunflower stalks and planted with cucumbers. I'll get better photos of that as things grow... assuming that they do.

And up in front of the root crops and the kohlrabi is the bell pepper patch. If you look closely, you can see the leek seedlings that are planted all along the edge.

One last shot of the root veggie area... just because I love it.
Decorating one's garden is a rather frivolous thing to do, and yet it pleases me so much! It also pleases the neighborhood sparrows, who spend a lot of time bathing in the bird bath, munching on the suet, and (hopefully) picking cabbage worms out of the kohlrabi.

So that's the garden... well, most of it anyway. there are a few things that didn't get pictured yet. Thanks for wandering through it with me!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Montana de Oro - notes

I've sat down three times now to try and blog our whole trip to the beach, but it's not working. So here's a shortened version. Lots of pics are on my Facebook if you care to look through them. Pictured above is the beach we camped by, Spooner's Cove in Montana de Oro.

*Montana de Oro State Park is absolutely worth the 18 hours we drove to get there. Beauty, adventure, wildlife, and it was all so peaceful.

*Morro Bay is a rockin' cool little town near the park. All the locals were so friendly - not like some snobby beach towns at all.

*Lina G's All The Trimmings boutique/yarn store is fantastic. I was absolutely thrilled with it - haven't seen a store that cool in a long time. If hubby and kiddos hadn't been patiently waiting in the car for Mommy to yarn shop, I could've spent hours (and hundreds of dollars) walking around just looking at everything.

*We saw sea lions, sea otters, quail, great egret, starfish, sea anemones, sea urchins, an eel, rock crabs, hermit crabs, turban snails, raccoons, loons, pelicans, and lots more. It was a fantastic homeschool field trip on so many accounts.

*Shrimp (which are actually "sand crabs" according to Wikipedia, but the guy on the beach called them shrimp) crawling all over the sand where you're wading are really gross.

*My seven year old - who claims she is afraid of heights - climbed rocks fearlessly the whole time we were there. She also poked her finger in a sea anemone, got soaking wet in the ocean when it was barely 55 degrees out, and (kind of) tamed a gopher/packrat/mouse kind of thing that lived outside our tent.

*My two year old was never entirely sure about the water, but truly loved the "sandbox". The beach at Estero Bay made for one enormous sandbox, for sure!

*I had fish and chips for the first time. I don't generally eat sea food. It was actually pretty darn good.

*Fog can come and go in about ten minutes in the Morro Bay area. We had no idea how much there actually was to see until the fog finally cleared and the sun came out!

*Contrary to popular belief, sun is a rarity at the beach in California. At least it is on the Central Coast. Temps never got above 65, and were mostly a lot chillier than that.

*Raccoons are shameless little buggers. One was sniffing around at our table while I was standing next to it. They also stole our Oreos. I finally give in and buy Oreos, and a stinkin' raccoon steals the whole package... either that, or some other camper with a sweet tooth.

*If you let Two Little Girls run wild at the beach all day, they will go to sleep at eight o'clock in the tent, no questions asked.

*If you have a DVD player in your car, Two Little Girls will sit for eighteen hours, with only three stops, and will not complain.

*California Fruit Depot in Bakersfield is worth a stop if you're in the area - super friendly staff, tons of samples, and decent prices. We brought home dates, almonds, pistachios, cherries, and a case of 88 oranges.

*Governor Schwartzeneger wanted to shut down Montana de Oro State Park. Thankfully some people rallied against that. It's way too beautiful to shut down!

*Tide pools are fascinating. So many interesting things to see, if you're willing to sit still and look closely. I found myself having to say, "For heaven's sake, would you please stop squishing the sea anemones?!" Never thought I'd have to utter that sentence!

*Don't drive from Vegas to Southern California on Memorial Day. It's a bad idea. Trust me. Three or four hours of crawling, bumper to bumper traffic, and I've learned my lesson.

Over all, a fantastic trip. It's good to be home. We're back to the real world now, where inch worms are eating the kohlrabi at an alarming pace, my closet is vomiting laundry all over, little girls are "bored" again, and I've got enough kitchen work to keep me busy for two weeks straight.