Confused but . . . ?

Here it is, the first Monday of Central Standard Time, and I’m feeling — addle pated?

 Truthfully, I like Central Standard Time, or at least I thought I did. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe, it’s the result of too many time changes in my overly long (for some) lifetime.

So I, classically trained, blame all my present angst on Benjamin Franklin. He was among the first of we Americans to argue for the strategized life that harnessed not only the power of our acquaintances but of time itself and turned it to our favor. He thought we’d save candle power if we rose earlier and worked harder and — lived the Daylight Savings Time Life

But I ask you, what did he know?

Oh, I can picture it: a thousand followers of Benjamin Franklin will descend on me and call me names and ask what the heck do I think I know that HE didn’t?

Well, I grew up on a farm where I was taught among other things to tell the time by glancing at the sun. When it was directly overhead, Dad said, it was noon.

But his comment came before Daylight Savings Time. How could he have anticipated America’s preoccupation with saving daylight. Dad was only a farmer, what the heck did he know about time and how it was best used?

Well, he knew a lot, I’d argue and I still belive he did.

So did he know enough to go up against the great Benjamin Franklin? Well, maybe. (I’m Dad’s daughter, don’t forget.)

And every fall, while Daylight Savings Time stretches longer and longer, I resent our arbitrarily darkened dawn.  Each day, I rise, muttering to myself, “It’s awfully dark for 6 a.m. Surely, the day should be lighter by now, right?”

I’m in the minority. I know it. Most people would rather take their daylight on the tag end of the day. But I like a lighter morn, myself.

But regardless of all that, here I sit today trying to adjust myself to another head-jerking readjustment of the day’s timepiece. Is it four or five o’clock? My computer says one time and my kitchen clock another while my biological clock bounces back and forth. I am so confused. Come on guys. Make up your minds and give us, the poor grunts of the world, some peace. Please!

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Harvest Monday, Nov. 1, 2010

The hangers on.

I’d say my harvested veggies pictured above are nothing if not determined. Our weather last week dipped into the low 30s and even the 20s. So this is it — almost. I still have a lovely tub of lettuce and a couple of Swiss chard plants. The leaves on one of the chard plants, however, have shifted from the color green to purple, so I don’t know if they’re still edible.

But while I still harvested some lemon cukes and cherry tomatoes, their plants were killed by last week’s frost/freeze. I’ll pull their stems this afternoon. The desire to let them keep going until mown down by frigid temperatures was irresistible to me. I like my backyard veggies.

Now, I’m revved  for next year. My most immediate need is for more tomatoes. I think I’ll stick with the clearly bred-for-containers varieties next year, though. I just don’t have pots large enough to handler the regular fellows, except for the celebrity, which is close enough to a container variety to grow well for me.

In the meantime, I’ll finish this season off by covering the lettuce tub in a sort of make shift cold frame. The plants are too large and lush to let frost kill them on me. Already, it’s November, and I’ll be eating lettuce from my garden tonight. That’s amazing.

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Beef Wellington for One

Sitting in front of my TV one night, I watched in fascination as a young man in a cooking competition made Beef Wellington. No disrespect to him but the thought that went through my mind was, “I could do that.” I mean, the crust is ready-made. How difficult can this be? Not very. Not really.

So to make Beef Wellington for one you must first make chicken liver pate (recipe here) one day ahead. But that’s a fairly straight-forward process.

And then, on to the Beef Wellington:

Ingredients

  • bacon-wrapped fillet
  • four mushrooms, chopped
  • one-quarter or less of a small onion, chopped
  • two rectangles of crescent roll dough, leaving the two triangles of dough in each attached together
  • 1 Tablespoon of liver pate
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

Add oil to skillet. While the oil heats, remove the bacon around the outside of the meat, then sear the tenderloin quickly on all sides in the hot pan. (You don’t want to cook the meat at this point but to sear it and give it a nicely browned crust). When browned, remove meat from pan and set aside. Saute mushrooms and onion in same pan.  When done remove mushroom onion mixture to bowl and add the liver pate. Blend the two mixtures together with a fork.

Open roll dough container, place one of the two rectangles of dough on a work surface.  Reserving a small amount of the mushroom/onion mixture for the top of the fillet, spread the rest over your rectangle of dough from the center out, leaving about a half-inch of dough uncovered all around. Place fillet in center of dough. Then, spread the rest of the mushroom/onion mixture over top of the fillet. Top with another two-triangle dough sheet. Wrap dough around fillet and seal the two dough pieces together by folding them over each other. 

Place the uncooked Beef Wellington on a baking sheet. Brush pastry all around with egg-yolk wash (one egg yolk beaten with a few drops of water). Slash top of dough. Bake on the bottom rack of a pre-heated, 450 degree oven for four minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, bake another five to eight minutes until dough is golden brown.

Keep an eye on it while cooking. Ovens vary. This is high heat and such a small bundle can cook quickly. Remember, you want the meat to stay rare, while the dough becomes golden.

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Harvest Monday, 9/26/10

Each week this month I’ve thought this would be the end of my gardening story. But my little garden has kept going. Please note in the photo my first-ever home-grown peas. The cucumber vines have become so long they’ve grabbed onto the garlic chive flower stalks for support. Surely, they’ve played themselves out. But I’ve enjoyed them and this past week I made another batch of refrigerator pickles from them. Yum. I like and recoomend lemon cucumbers.

Unphotographed was my baby leaf lettuce brought in for lunch yesterday. I also transpanted a couple starts of it earlier this week into a tub which I will cover with plastic to try and extend the growing season slightly. I’m picturing a sort of mini, would-be cold frame. It will sit in full sun, just as soon as the oak tree drops its leaves.

Harvest Mondays are hosted by Daphne’s Dandelions. Visit her site to see what gardens from multiple locations are still producing.

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Hoof prints in my soggy yard

We’ve had a lor of rain here, and this morning I went out to check my garden. Well, I’d say from the ripped up sod I’d had deer in the yard. They’re heavy and their hooves sink into the turf when my clay is wet. And patches of sunken sod were scattered, here and there, from the back of the yard right up to my house and garden.

I tried to see what they or it had eaten. But I couldn’t find anything. My lettuce is fine, ditto the radishes and peas. One spot, which was so badly trampled, had nothing growing there to be missed, and nothing looked as though it had been consumed. I have no idea what captured its interest there long enough to tear up the grass like that.

I’m always astounded by the size of them. They don’t look any smaller when you see their hoof prints deeply embedded into rain saturated soil, either. Alas no picture. I’ve no idea when this thing came through my yard. I should alert my neighbors. It looks like after tiring of my place, the critter went up my driveway and meandered into the open turf that are front lawns here.

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Container Gardening: A side trip

I got such a laugh from the first few minutes of this clip that I thought I’d share it. It’s a feature on urban farming, right down to and including farm animals.

I suspect in most cities there are ordinances against many of the things she does. But for this woman, she’s able to do t his in the large, American city in which she lives. Urban farming — it’s a category I didn’t know existed.

Watch her story here.

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Container Gardening: first, grab a pot.

My gardening efforts this year included growing peppers, herbs, tomatoes, chard, beets, radishes, turnips, green bean, and peas.

It seems there are an increasing number of people presently turning to container gardening. In fact, I wonder how many people today are gardening who wouldn’t be without this new craze in gardening? Certainly I wouldn’t be growing the vegetables in my back yard that I did this year. Only container gardening made that possible for me. I can only suspect that my fellow numbers are rather large.

And where do they get all their pots and what kinds of pots should be used? There are two schools of thought on the latter question. Purists, and rightfully so, use clay pots. They come in a variety of sizes and can be rather pricey — unless you snag some at a garage sale or a flea market or a local thrift shop. Beyond their classic good looks, there are benefits to using them, the most important of which is that they’re porous. They help wick water away from plant roots.

That’s a big deal in container gardening, as it’s the built up water in containers that over time can compact soil and stress the plants. But clay’s wicking action also means the gardener must water plants more often. One of the other drawbacks to clay pots is that they’re easily broken. If not stored away in winter, they can crumble in winter’s freeze and thaw cycle.

Then, there are all those other kinds of pots made from all of those other kinds of materials: plastic, metal, you-name-it. Some of them are very attractive. They’re also easily bought in most gardening stores. They too can be pricey, but they are often very pretty and convenient. Buy them, take them home, and pot them up. You’re done. It makes life simple.

Then, there are the other pots which may be scrounged from all kinds of sources. and which are limited only by one’s imagination. I recently saw a photograph of a strawberry plant grown in a tiny food tin and hanging from a wooden wall or fence. I’ve tucked that visual into my memory and will probably copy the idea in my own garden. I like garden whimsy.

I’m also a person who likes the rustic look. Among my collection of planters, I have an old, metal coal bucket and a galvanized metal bucket that I’ve used for years. They were my first, fragile step into container gardening. I began using them in desperation, in response to finding myself on a lot which was composed almost completely of hard, black clay.

I grew onions, lettuce, and basil in them — and not very well. One year, I augmented their offerings with a tomato plant. I planted it in my real dirt. It grew a nearly as tall as my waist, and I’m a very short person. It also produced three small tomatoes, which my neighborly groundhog obligingly ate. Life was golden.

Then, gratefully, the book, The Bountiful Container, by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey came into my life. And my serious container gardening effort began. Not only, they said, could everything I’d ever longed to plant be grown in pots, it was easy.

Pots! I needed pots. And I didn’t care where I found them. I thought my lowest point came the day I bought a large storage tote in a local discount store. I berated myself internally: no self-respecting gardener would plant anything in such a contraption. But I wanted tomatoes and the book said I needed a BIG pot. This thing was BIG. I’ve since discovered that I’m not the only person using them.

The thing to keep in mind is no matter what kind of pot you use, unless it is what they call a self-watering container (SWC), it must have drainage holes. And if you’re planning to use containers which weren’t designed as growing boxes, be sure you have something at home with which you can add them to the container. Many people use a drill for this. I don’t own a drill nor do I want one. Instead, I use a box cutter to twirl holes into my plastic pots.

In comparison to clay pots, which as noted earlier wick excess water away from plants, the downside to plastic or any non-porous containers is that they don’t give that service. But both types of containers can be used — and used successfully. However, it is important that you be aware of the differences between the containers and adjust your use of them accordingly.

I’m no purist. I use whatever I can find. I have clay pots. I have plastic. I have darling pots, and I have some pots that are dead ugly. One of the containers I want to add to my stash for next year is a grocery tote. You know, those things they sell at the checkout counter to cart groceries home in? One store has one in the prettiest shade of lime green. I can just see it filled with lettuce next spring. With its built-in handles I might even hang it on a wall, giving a nod to another popular gardening method today, the vertical garden. But more on that later, as well.

Next time, we’ll look at tomatoes and the pots used to grow them, with details on one of the most popular planting options — the self-watering container, referred to by many gardeners as the SWC.

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Container Gardening: What have I learned in year one?

Combing plants is part of the fun.

Combining plants is part of the fun.

First, I’d have to say growing vegetables in containers bears little resemblance to in-ground gardening. Container gardeners don’t use what is commonly thought of as dirt. They use mixes made of a variety of ingredients, none of which is plain-old garden soil. That’s because regular dirt used in containers compacts over time, damaging plant roots and limiting their access to air.

Most container gardeners buy a “gardening mix,” a product which is available just about anywhere under a variety of labels. Just grab a bag, lug it home, dump it into a pot, and start planting. But there are those who say that even this is not enough. They say it’s better for gardeners to make their own mixes by using a variety of substances. Next year I hope to try making a mix which starts out with something called pine bark fines, which is pine bark partially decomposed and finely chopped. But it is also said to be a difficult product to find. We’ll see.

Sound confusing? Well, it is a lot to absorb starting out. But I think it’s worth the effort. Container gardening keeps me from trying to repair the heavy, clay gardening soil in my yard. At my age, that task is beyond my strength, interest, and patience. Plus, I don’t get many weeds in my containers. I seriously dislike pulling weeds or hoeing them down. Additionally, experts say diseases which can infect garden soil are avoided, another plus in my book. And if I need to move my pots around to follow the sun, I can. I can pup pots anywhere, on the patio, in the driveway, on a porch, what have you.

On the down side, containers must be watered often. For some people that’s something they’d rather not do. For my money, I’ll swap out watering for weed pulling any old time. Plus there are self-watering containers for sale, or instructions for building your own self-watering planters are available all over the Web. More on those later,

And what about yield? I suspect it’s all over the map. Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey in their excellent book, The Bountiful Container, write that container gardeners will never experience the yield that in-ground gardeners do. They say, though, if you’ve limited space what you will get is great tasting produce. And I am so with them on that. I cannot tell you how much I’ve enjoyed eating my homegrown produce this year. Plus, as in that old saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” you should see how seriously some people take their container gardening. They use large containers and line up lots and lots of them like soldiers all in a row. I have to believe their take in home-grown veggies is huge. But I garden for one person. I don’t need large harvests.

What about my yield? Well, in this, my first year, it was spotty. Things didn’t really start taking off for me until I began fertilizing everything. Then, things ticked up quite noticeably. Plus, (big sigh here) I learned that gardening sites which start out sunny in spring don’t necessarily stay that way after tree leaves start popping out. Also, I am at heart a lover of potager gardens and English country gardens. I want my “gardening” to be pretty as well as productive. So I lose some efficiency due to that.

But one of my greatest joys, this year, was the visual impact of a pot of bronze basil combined with nasturtiums spilling out of a planter. So I’ll probably always be looking for the interesting containers or pleasing pot combinations which bother the more practical vegetable gardeners not a whit. In fact, upon seeing my collection of tubs and plants for the first time one of my friends declared, “That’s cute.” (I think she was being too kind.)

Mostly my little gardening experiment in this my first full year was tasty. But I have bigger and better plans for next year. But for my next entry here, I’ll give you an overview of growing tomatoes in pots and the pots they grow in.

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Harvest Monday, Sept. 20, ’10

My take for this week

Hey, hey, hey! I have radishes. Not many, I grant you, but I didn’t plant many, either. And it’s all a plus for me, since, as I previously noted here, they all came up leggy. And what I’ve harvested are not perfect, but sauted or roasted with some meat or another, along with the greens, I’m sure they’ll taste grand.

Also pictured are the last hurrah from my determinate tomato plant. They’re what I call the “second generation” of toms from that thing, which has since been pulled. I used the ripe tomatoes in two excellent sauces and made a home-made tomato soup from sine others. Everyting tasted quite grand. The remaining green tomatoes are too small for fried green tomatoes, but I’m an unconventional cook. I like them diced and added to stir fry nearly as well as batter dipped and fried up solo. So I’m enjoying these, too.

My next task is to repot my herbs to bring inside for winter. I wintered over a rosemary plant last year and am anxious to try to save other herb types. They’ll die for sure left outside in pots in this zone, so I’ve nothing to lose.

This post is part of Harvest Monday hosted by Daphne’s Dandelions. Be sure to visit there and enjoy all the harvests from some pretty amazing folks!

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Harvest Monday 9/6/10

I have very little to report this week — other than my first-ever lemon cucumber. I loved it. It’s just the right size for a single diner, and it made my son laugh when I told him about it. I’m rather proud of it. It came out of my beginner’s, overstuffed gardening container, and it had to battle its way to sunlight. He’s a champ in my book.

My first-ever lemon cucumber

I’m glad I have something to highlight because otherwise, I’m in a bit of a gardening bust. In fact, if I weren’t such an optimist, I’d be pessimistic about my gardening future now. All of my fall root crops — radish, beets, and turnips — came up leggy. I think I’ve mentioned that I battle shade here. Next spring before the leave come out I may have better luck. I’m also a little confused because I’ve successfully grown tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers in the same place. Additionally, I’m seeing leafminers in all my greens. So once my tomatoes and cucumbers dry up, I’m done for this year. But . . . there’s always next year.

This is part of an update from many gardeners, including those who are good at what they do. To share in their tales, visit Daphne’s Dandelions.

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