Friday, May 31, 2013

Storing Potatoes

This year I got a bumper crop of potatoes and I am not sure how store them for consumption later.  I planted red and white potatoes and a few Yukon Gold at different times hoping that they would mature at different times.  They all matured at the same time.  Although we do eat potatoes several times a week and we give some away too.  It is apparent that I do have to come up with a solution to store the potatoes.

One year, I let them stay in the ground and used them as needed.  The end result was that the potatoes developed roots.  In other words, they were beginning to grow a new crop.  It wasn't the best idea to leave them in the ground for the hot summer.

I read somewhere that you could dig a large hole in the garden,  fill it with straw, and store the potatoes in the ground that way.  It sounded all right to me so I called the seed store and asked if they had any bales of straw for sale.  They said that the straw would be available in September-November time frame.

Another year, I stored the potatoes on newspaper on the floor in the garage.  The problem with that storage is that the garage gets very hot in the summer time, enough to heat the potatoes.  They started to rot rather quickly so that is not the best idea either.

This year, I plan to dig up the potatoes and let them "harden" or "cure" for a few hours in the sunshine.  Some people recommend a much longer time for letting the juices settle; for the potatoes to dry up a little before storage or for the skin to harden.  They will store better and longer after such a curing period.

It is recommended that the dirt be brushed off ever so gently before storage.  But do not wash the potatoes at all.  This is to let the potatoes retain their protective coating:  dirt, skin, and all.

It is all right to keep store bought potatoes in the fridge.  They have already been cured and processed against sprouting.  If potatoes from the garden is stored in the fridge, they have a tendency to turn "sugary," so I have heard.  Some say that they don't and others question this obviously.  Potatoes are starchy and starch will turn into sugar etc etc.  One person didn't believe that potatoes became sugary when refrigerated.  He said that they just turned cold.  So much for scientific data.

I have some boxes that fruit was stored in at the Farmer's Market and I plan to use them to store the potatoes.  They already have plenty of holes to let the air circulate.  Paper bags with air holes will also do well.  In addition, I plan to wrinkle up newspaper to put among the potatoes to keep them from touching each other.

Finally, I plan to put the boxes in the hall closet in the house where it is dark and cool.  It is important that the potatoes be kept in the dark to keep from sprouting.  I will also check on the potatoes from time to time to make sure that they remain firm and healthy.

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Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Poison Ivy

poison ivy in summer
I received a telephone call the other night from a dear young friend who said that he had just returned from his doctor's office:  he  had contracted a severe case of poison ivy.  He was concerned about a  secondary infection  because of all the scratching that may break the skin. He learned that poison ivy is not contagious; however, fluid from your skin will spread the rash on your own body.

The poison ivy is not an easy plant to detect and it changes appearance and color with each season.  I learned early on to keep my eyes open for plants with three shiny spoon shaped leaves which are often serrated. When walking in the woods even on the Back Forty, I am always on the lookout for thick brown and hairy twisted runners wrapped around trees but poison ivy also grows as shrubs.

I know first hand that poison ivy along with poison oak and poison sumac are prevalent in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.  The poison ivy, the poison oak, and the poison sumac belong in the cashew family.  Eating cashew nuts will strengthen the effects of these poisonous plants. There is hardly any distinction made between the poison oak and poison ivy in the Reader's Digest's The North American Wildlife (1982).

The poison ivy grows along ditches and in hedgerows.  Sometimes, people burn these hedgerows and yard debris.  Hopefully they are aware that the smoke from poisonous plants will also cause you to break out into a rash if you are sensitive to the poisons.

The poison ivy can easily be mistaken for Virginia Creeper that has five serrated leaves. " Leaves of three?  Leave it be.''  The poison ivy may be lurking among the grass around lakes and streams as well as along trails in woody areas, even on the Back Forty.

Sometimes in nature, there is an antidote nearby the troublesome plants.  In the case of poison ivy, there is the jewelweed that grows by my friend's garage among other places.  It is an upright plant with healthy green leaves and often orange/red/yellow flowers that can be made into a poultice and applied to the itchy areas caused by the poison ivy.

The ol' timers in the first book of the popular The Foxfire Book from the early 1970's recommend that you rub "the infection with the inside of a banana peel."  Eat the banana; it is rich in potassium.  Furthermore, they suggest that you "apply the water drawn from cooked oatmeal."  These remedies make sense to me.

Some people may indeed have a severe reaction (itching, swelling, and a rash) to the poison ivy, just like my friend, and to seek medical help is the prudent thing to do and I am the first to urge you to do so.

A good source for checking out poison oak, symptoms, and treatment is the

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Nightshade Vegetables

I was just sitting in the summer kitchen, minding my own business, listening to the wind singing in the tree tops, and surfing the Internet.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular when the Nightshade Vegetables caught my attention.  I don't recall having heard that classification of vegetables before so I was curious to find out what it meant.

That nightshade vegetables grow in the shade of night is the obvious explanation offered at where I searched for this subject.  I found out that the nightshade vegetables contain alkaloids which may be responsible for some health problems including muscle pain and morning stiffness.  I thought that working too hard too long in the garden and old age were causing those aches and pains.  Live Strong goes on to list poor healing, acid reflux, insomnia, gallbladder problems, arthritis as well as other inflammatory problems are caused by alkaloids.

It is further explained that the alkaloids are produced by the plants to protect themselves against harmful insects; however, these substances can act like chemicals and leave strong physiological effects in humans.  This reaction may occur in individuals who are particularly sensitive to the alkaloid substances.

On the list for nightshade vegetables are potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers to name a few.  The nightshade vegetables, some herbs, and some trees containing alkaloid belong to the SOLANACEAE family according to the (The World's healthiest Food).  On this page I also found that pimentos also belong to the Salanaceae family. Thus pimento cheese and stuffed olives with pimento should be classified as containing nightshade components.

On the other hand, doctors at the Best Health Magazine (on line) claims that the nightshade vegetables have gotten a bad reputation and that it is doubtful that these vegetables contribute to osteoporosis, migraines, and arthritis pain.  Dr. Piotrowski maintains that "tomatoes and peppers are amazing sources of antioxidants that lower the risk for cancer and heart disease; potatoes are high in vitamin C; and eggplant is a good source of vitamin K."  In other words, the health benefit of the so called nightshade vegetables far outweigh the
health risk contributed to these vegetables.

I urge you to carry on, do your own research, and form your own conclusion.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day

A Prayer for a Fallen Soldier
Unknown Author

I saw a soldier kneeling down,
for this was the first quiet place he had found.
He had traveled through jungles, rivers and mud
He'd tasted sweat and shed his blood.

He folded his hands and looked to the sky
I saw his tears, as they welled in his eyes.
He spoke to God, and this is what he said:
"God bless my men, who now lie dead;

I know not what You have in mind,
but when You judge them, please be kind
when they come before You, they will be poorly dressed
but they'll walk proudly, for they have done their best.

Their boots will be muddy and their clothes all torn
but these clothes they have so proudly worn.
Their hearts will be still and cold inside,
for they have fought their best and did so with pride.

So please take care of them as they pass Your way
the price of freedom they've already paid."  Amen


Thursday, May 23, 2013


Summer Squash
Pumpkins, gourds, summer and winter squash as well as zucchini and what other kind of squash you may think of belong in the same family.  No surprise there, right?  Regardless of what kind of squash you choose to plant, they require plenty of room to grow unimpeded. Last season, I planted (threw out is more accurate) a handful of pumpkin seeds along the scenic creek.  They are now show-casing their big bright yellow flowers and they are sporting large leaves and runners rambling along some logs.

My favorite squash are the crooknecks but they were not available at planting time so I settled for a summer squash also known as yellow zucchini.  Did you know that the yellow zucchini flowers are edible? They are supposed to be a "culinary delicacy" when sauteed or deep fried.

Professional gardeners recommend that you slip a barrier such as a foam tray or a newspaper between the squash fruit and the soil to prevent rot.  Experts also suggest that you cut out the smaller squashes to promote the growth of larger ones.  It is important that you harvest the fruit before the skins turn hard.

Unfortunately, squash is susceptible to troublesome pests that spread bacterial wilt before any of the fruit is ready for harvest.  You may control aphids with a forceful spraying of water.  The aphids are known to carry virus.  The pumpkin plants on the Back Forty have developed a powdery mildew that requires spraying with a commercial fungicide.  So far, the rest of the squash planted among the red top bushes are doing fine.

Summer Squash Fruit
A delightful and colorful stir fried vegetable medley may be enjoyed by chopping a yellow summer squash and a green zucchini into bite size pieces and mixing them with onions and any colored pepper.  I use the skin of the squashes as well as the seeds.  If you prefer, scoop the seeds out with a spoon after cutting the squashes lengthwise before cooking.

Since my squashes have succumbed to rot and wilt in previous years, I have not had a chance to freeze too much of them, but it is doable.  I cut the squash up with skin and seeds in large bite size pieces, dunk them in boiling water for a few minutes, drain, and cool under running water, then bag them and put them into the freezer.  They turn out fairly well and when cooked with some onions taste rather delicious.

Source:  Encyclopedia of Plant Care by Miracle-Gro

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Have a safe weekend.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Oklahoma Monetary Relief

We really don't know when it might be our turn to experience a disaster.  If it should happen to any one of us, I hope our neighbors are there to help.  We are indeed our brother's keeper.  I don't think that we can get away from that responsibility.

In the last few years, there have been severe hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding--natural disasters that we have been unprepared to handle.  Often there has been little or no time to prepare for evacuation or to seek shelter.

Unfortunately, at this vulnerable time for those directly involved in the disaster and for those who are willing and able to help, there are pitfalls.  There are so many people wanting to take advantage of this situation for their own gain.

If you feel compelled to help in the Oklahoma Relief, donate money to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.  I feel these two organizations are in the best position to do the most good in a bad situation.

God bless you and God keep you safe.

Unwelcome Guests to Your Garden Party

We have a long holiday ahead of us with an opportunity to spend time cooking and eating outside while visiting with family and friends.  Last weekend, my husband and I attended a Family Reunion with church service and good food.  At a Memorial Service in an old cemetery, my husband sat down on a concrete bench when little girls from the Fancy Nancy's tea party crowd pointed out the chiggers.

Ouch!  The chiggers are nasty small red mites that are found in tall grass and weeds.  In most cases, the bites cause itching with swelling occurring several hours after the initial bite that is painless.  All of a sudden, you may develop a rash and you have no idea as to why.  Antihistamine,  corticosteroid cream, and calamine lotion may help in the treatment of bites from chiggers.

It is a myth that chiggers bury themselves into your skin and it is a cautionary old wife's tale to cover the affected area with nail polish to cut off oxygen for the chiggers.

Other unwelcome guests to your outing may be wasps and bees.  If you are stung by one of those, remove the stinger by scraping the area with your finger nail or using tweezers.  Try not to pinch the stinger which will eject even more venom.  Apply a mixture of baking soda and water or calamine lotion to the affected area.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife News for May 2013 provided an answer to a Kids' Quiz of how to get rid of ants including fire ants.  It suggested that you sprinkle yellow corn meal in a ring around the edges of the ant mound.  The ants will eat the corn meal that will swell up in their stomachs and kill them.  They will also carry the corn meal to their queen and it will kill her too.  You may need to sprinkle the corn meal around the mounds several times.

In general, if you live in an area with bug infestation, you may want to use a bug spray containing DEET as a prevention against attacks.  Avoid getting spray into your eyes.  Follow direction provided on the container.   When you are done with your out door activities, shower to remove the spray from your skin and launder your clothing.

Caution:  Some people have a severe reaction to chigger bites, bees and wasp stings as well as ants.  If a person has difficulty breathing or starts wheezing, or has difficulty talking, call your doctor or your emergency facility immediately.  Tightness in the throat may also develop.  Nausea and vomiting may also occur as well as a fast heartbeat.  Get medical help immediately.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Report: Fancy Nancy Tea Parties

I came across this fancy hardcover book that absolutely makes my heart sing.  When I am reading this book and looking at the pictures, I want to dress up in a frilly dress, top it off with a flowery hat, and even wear bright colored lipstick.  I return to the book again and again to try out some recipes for sun teas and lemonades, to make butterfly place mats, and to make fancy tissue paper corsages for myself and my granddaughter.

Fancy Nancy: Tea PartiesLast Christmas, I bought Fancy Nancy: Tea Parties written by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Glasser as a gift for my granddaughter.  The colorful cover with its glitter, I assure you, is an indication of the fun to come when you read this book.  Looking at the delightful and colorful illustrations is a joy.

In the book, Nancy doles out plenty of good advice and explanations e.g. she explains that "casual is a polite way of saying plain."  When attending Fancy Nancy's tea party you are advised to dress up in an "ensembles"-- nothing plain about such an outfit.  Another sage advice is to compliment the hostess by saying things like "it's yummy."

What makes the book extra special is also the French that is used -- things sound fancier when using that language according to Nancy.  Of course, you must call each other "darling."  It's good advice that we all can take to heart.

My granddaughter and I have spent many hours making the simple but fun and fancy crafts projects mentioned in the book.  I could tell you how to make them, but I would like for you to go out and get your own book which is actually aimed for the 4 to 7 year old set among us.  Gloria Steinman (I think it was her) once said that you are never too old to have a happy childhood.

In addition to the crafts, there are delightful and useful recipes to make for a fancy tea party or any other event.  There are Nancy's open faced Nibblers, Crunchy Munchy Crudites (vegetable platter).  How about Ants on a Log and Ladybug cookies?

While doing the A to Z Blog Challenge, I happened upon a lady blogger who wrote that you must drink fancy tea in the best china in the best china possible in a nice setting with napkins and flowers.  i loved it.  Tea anyone?

The Fancy Nancy: Tea Parties made it to number one on the New York Times best selling list and it is rather affordable at $12.99.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Difference between Herbicides and Pesticides

I have used herbicides and pesticides interchangeable in my thoughts and in my writings, not knowing the difference between these two terms.  It is clear, however, that we want to get rid of the pests that require these chemicals.  The pests can be in any shape and form.  We are most familiar with insects and weeds, fungi and microorganisms, even plants, mammals, birds, and fish are classified under the heading of pests.

The reason that they are considered pests is because they compete with us humans for food, spreading disease, and destroying property.  You have heard of termites, have you not?

Pesticides are chemicals, biological agents, or disinfectants.  They are made to repel, control, and terminate pests to make our lives less troublesome.  The classification of pesticides is often based on the type of organism it is designed to target and kill.  Basically, insecticide is merely a type of pesticide designed to  kill insects.

Some herbicides are made to specifically eradicate certain plants e.g. dandelion, crabgrass, and dollar weed.  Selective herbicides are often used on golf courses, lawns, and gardens.  Other herbicides do not discriminate but kill every plant it touches.  The latter may be used to kill greenery along railroads.

Additionally, herbicide is just a category of pesticide along with fungicides, rodenticides, nematicides and algicides.  It should be noted that some, if not all, are toxic to humans and animals.  It is extremely important that caution be taken when using these chemicals.  Gloves should always be worn and that goes for masks to cover mouth and nose.  By all means, use goggles, too, and shower after using these chemicals.

Here are some suggested safe solutions for landscapes and houseplants:

Insecticidal Soap:  Mix 4 tablespoons of liquid dish soap with 1 gallon (almost 4 liters) of water.  Spray liberally to combat aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites.

Horticultural Oils:  Mix 2 tablespoons liquid dish soap and 2 tablespoons of vegetable cooking oil in 1 gallon (almost 4 liters) of water.  Spray liberally, especially undersides and leaves.  This will control mealybugs, scales, and spider mites.

Coffee Grounds and Tea Bags:  Don't throw out the coffee grounds and tea bags.  The tannic acid prevents mosquito larvae from hatching.  Use the grounds and bags in damp places where mosquitoes are seen.

Beer:  Share your beer with slugs and snails.  Put a small container of beer on the ground to attract these pests.

Hair Shampoo:  This is a health warning!  It involves shampoo when used to wash your hair in the shower.  When I wash my hair with the shampoo with the label "For Extra Body and Volume," it runs down my whole body.  No wonder I have been gaining weight!  Well, I got rid of that shampoo and I am now going to start using Dawn Dishwashing Soap.  Its label reads "Dissolves fat that is otherwise difficult to remove."

Have a great weekend.  I'll return on Tuesday.  
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Great Egret

The Great Egret is a common and welcome visitor to the Back Forty. The egret is the largest and most widespread egret in America and a most elegant and graceful bird.  There is no distinction between the male and the female; they both are snowy white with a yellow beak and black legs and feet.  The breeding birds have impressive plumage reaching from the top of their heads to the end of their tails.

In flight, the long slender neck is tucked into the egret's body.  The wing span can reach over 50 inches and they are tall and skinny birds.  They are most graceful when they land on the scenic creek bordering the Back Forty.

The Great Egret wades ever so slowly in shallow water, most often waiting for fish and frogs to come to him and then he spears the prey with his rather long and pointed beak.  His black legs and feet make good camouflage in ditches and lakes; not easily seen, they are just some sticks or shadows.

Great Egret
The egrets are social birds, nesting together in colonies or resting on banks by the water's edge.  We have only one Egret that comes and visit the Back Forty; that is, one at a time.  It may be just one bird or they may be taking turns to visit.

In our backyard, the Egret can hunt without being disturbed.  He hekps himself to anoles and small lizards, insects, and an occasional small snake.  Again, the Egret waits patiently for its prey to come to him and when his prey is within reach, he spears them quickly with his beak.  He does not charge his prey.

Many a times, I have taken the kitchen debris to the compost pile, deep in thought, enjoying the solitude and the quietness of the yard when all of a sudden I am eye to eye with the white egret.  I am startled.  I scream. He screams silently.  Woman, get a grip on yourself.  After I have recovered, I continue on my merry way, avoiding the egret, and he continues to scour the yard for more suitable food.

In the late 19th century, the egret was hunted for its showy white feathers for women's hats and was fast becoming extinct.  The only threat to the egret nowadays is the human population encroaching on his territory but he is adapting well in both urban and suburban settings.  My featherless hat is off to this bird.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dancing Queen

I just read that ABBA now has its own newly built wooden museum in Stockholm, Sweden.  It opened a week ago.  Everything ABBA is on display:  platform boots, knitted hats, and glitzy costumes.  The museum details the two couples starting out, young and fresh faced, and visitors can listen to the band members' recollection of the break up and the story of their divorces.

The ABBA brings back memories; however, I was never a Dancing Queen.  Many young men have asked me to dance with them but I always stepped on their toes.  They soon tired of having their toes hurt and bruised.  There is still one man who dances with me but he has big feet and wears steel toed shoes.

Dancing Queen Hosta Plant
Dancing Queen
What has the Dancing Queen got to do with gardening?  Sometimes flowers and plants like good vibrations. Aside from that, there is a beautiful Hosta plant named Dancing Queen.  It is an easy to care for plant and it grows best in partial shade and attracts butterflies.  There is also a gorgeous Amaryllis, also named Dancing Queen, that grows in sunny to partially shade areas; however, all parts of this plant are poisonous.

Thank you goes to the kind folks at Wayside Gardens in Hodges SC for letting me use the beautiful image of the Dancing Queen.  Give them a look and see at

On the way to the garden on the Back Forty this morning, I kicked off my flip flops and pretended that I was indeed the Dancing Queen.  For a few moments, I danced barefoot in the dew in my very own Park while the sea breeze was mussing up my long blond hair.  I'm off dancing  tomorrow.  

Planting Tomatoes

I have on purpose stayed away from writing about tomatoes because there is such a variety of them and as many different ways of planting and growing them.  Here at the Back Forty, we have a few favorites, too.

To linger on the porch, close to the kitchen, there are tomatoes specifically for the porch.  They are called patio tomatoes.  They may be grown in pots or raised boxes.  The Cherry Tomato also does well on the porch and usually produce an abundance of fruit.

There are the heirloom tomatoes, true and tried, that have been developed over decades and passed down from generation to generation.  Some gardeners grow them for the historical values and others for their many different sizes, color, and taste.  Other people like to save their seeds for the next planting.  They are not as disease resistant as the commercial tomatoes.

From the Decorah Newspaper in Iowa, I have more or less copied the following:  An interesting heirloom tomato is the German Pink brought to America in 1883 by a Mr. Whaley's great-great grandparents. The German Pink was one of two original varieties that inspired the founding of Seed Savers Exchange in 1975 by Whaley's parents.  Seeds from this tomato was put in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway and they were happy that this tomato made it back across the Atlantic.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault functions like the ultimate safety deposit box for biodiversity and global food supply preservation.  The vault rooms have been carved inside a mountain down a 125-yard long tunnel chiseled out of solid stone.  Please, visit for more information.

We planted 'Celebrity,' not a heirloom, one season and were disappointed in this cultivar.  It produced an abundance of tomatoes at one time and after harvesting, that was the end of the growing season for this plant.

We usually plant 'Beefsteak,' Big Boy,' and 'Better Boy' which are large and juicy.  They keep producing until the heat of the summer.  We tie these tomatoes up around wooden stakes.  Sometimes we use the metal cages but have found that the tomato vines break because of the sharp wires.  Staking is beneficial in that it does keep the branches and leaves off the soil preventing diseases.  This is particular true if it is a wet season.

We have found that using fertilizer especially made for tomatoes work the best when following direction provided on the package.  It seems that most gardeners like to add fertilizer at the time they are transplanting the tomatoes to the garden.  I prefer to let the tomatoes get over the shock of transplanting, start growing, and then adding a balanced fertilizer.

Sometimes the tomatoes have a tendency to split on the vine.  This has nothing to do with the fertilizer but too much watering or too much rain.  The fruit is expanding too rapidly and the skin splits because it can't keep up with the growth.

It is a good idea to look out for side shoots that form between the stems and the branches.  If the suckers are left alone, the plant becomes too dense limiting air flow.

When the tomato plants have stopped blooming and producing, pull the vines, bag them, and dispose of them with your yard waste.  Do not put this debris in your compost pile.  Nematodes have a tendency to attack the root system and they are transferable.  Nematodes are those invisible pests that will knot up the roots and thus prevent nutrients from reaching the plant.

You may not be the only one waiting for that first tomato to ripen.  Here at the Back Forty, we have the Florida box turtle as a common guest that will devour that ripe tomato in a short time.  That's OK; we share.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Thank you Mothers and Grandmothers.  Thank you for all that you do.
Love and Devotion

Friday, May 10, 2013

Potato Harvest

Last winter or early this spring, we had a freeze that affected the potato farming communities in Florida, even the few rows on the Back Forty.  Some of the greenery wilted but the potatoes recovered.  Last week hit the farmers with torrential rain and subsequent standing water.  We did all right in my backyard but I feel for the farmers and understand their problem.

Potato Flower
It is believed that the potatoes are ready to harvest after they have bloomed.  Most often the potatoes in my lot do not bloom with the exception of a few blooms this season.

While the vines were still green, bugs started to do serious damage to the leaves and it did not look pretty.  To combat the situation, I immediately dusted the leaves and stalks with a generous helping of all-purpose white flour.  The flour should be applied when dew is present.  It makes a glue and the bugs don't want to get stuck.

Shortly after this, the vines as well as the stalks wilted.  Was this a sign of disease or what?  Oh, no.  The potatoes were ready to harvest.  To make sure that was the case, I carefully dug up a hill and sure enough the potatoes were indeed ready.

After harvesting the red potatoes, I let them 'rest' a few days before eating.  This is to get rid of the earthy flavor and let the juices settle.

A pot of new potatoes boiled with fresh dill is a delicacy when eaten with a dab of sweet margarine.  What else?  Pickled herring will do fine along with crisp Wasa bread and slices of Jarlsberg cheese.  Top this off with Aquavit made earlier and you have yourself a feast like no other.  Cheers.

Reminder:  Sunday is Mother's Day.  Please, honor her.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Planting Butter Beans

Sieva Butte Beans

It was another day of digging and pulling up tenacious dollar weeds in the Back Forty. We dug out a garden strip of about two feet wide and twenty feet long for planting beans.  The bean poles were already in place and we made a furrow on either side of them,  We partially filled the furrows with commercial compost already containing fertilizer and is made to retain moisture.  This strip is separate from our regular garden because we needed additional space.  

Our choice of butter beans is 'Sieva.'  It is a climber and needs support.  We put down five (5) seeds of butter beans together in hills in the furrows.  We left enough space between the hills for a hoe or my hand to remove weeds in the future.  We covered the beans and gently tapped down the soil.

Professional gardeners recommend that you space seeds 6 - 8 inches apart in the rows and leave 18 - 30 inches between the rows.  It will take 7 days for the beans to germinate and 40 - 65 days to mature.

Seed Testing:  To make sure that the seeds will germinate, we test the seeds.  This is especially important when we save the seeds from one season to another.  We wet a small dish cloth and put ten seeds on the towel and fold it up.  The towel is placed on a plate and we make sure it stays moist.  How good the seeds are is determined on the how many sprouted.  If half of the seeds sprouted, we double the amount of seed to plant.  If less than 50% sprout then we throw them away.

Tomorrow's topic:  Potato Harvest

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Planting Sweet Corn

The sweet corn is finally planted in the garden on the Back Forty.  It is a little late in the season but the weather has been chilly.  To prepare for the planting, I tilled the soil and pulled the dollar weed as I went along.  I spread compost over the tilled area and smoothed it out with a rake.

I was going to make rows about one foot apart when my engineering husband pulled out a tape and measured out a two foot distance between the rows and marked them with pegs. We agreed on planting the corn about three inches deep and one foot apart. He said to plant two kernels but I wanted to plant three.  He also suggested that I fertilize whereas I prefer to wait until the corn has taken root and started growing,

The result of this minor dispute:  I made furrows two feet apart, fertilized, and planted two (2) kernels of corn about one (1) foot apart in the rows, covered them up, and gently tapped the soil down.

My husband and I do agree on the type of sweet corn.  Hands down 'Silver Queen' wins.  It is a white corn and very sweet.  Some people will eat it directly from the stalk.  In other words, no cooking required.  I put in a few leaves of sweet basil with the corn when I am cooking.  I just let it come to a boil and it's done.  When cooking/grilling corn outside, I wrap the ears in foil, add a bit of water, sweet basil, and put them on the grill along with the hot dogs or hamburgers.

It takes about 7 days for the corn to germinate and 75 - 100 days to mature.  For the purpose of pollination, the corn needs to be planted in blocks of several rows, as opposed a single long row.

When the silks have developed, use a medicine dropper to dribble a few drops of mineral oil onto the silks with the idea that the oil will run down into the kernels on the cob.  This prevents worms and other bugs from getting into the ear.  You may easily obtain a bottle of mineral oil at the grocery store or the pharmacy.

When the ears of corn are ready to harvest, the silks will turn brown/black and dry.  It is also a good idea to pull the stalks when the harvest is complete.  Some people save the stalks for decorations at Halloween and even at Thanksgiving.

To freeze corn on the cob:  Blanche in hot water, let cool under running water, bag 'em and freeze 'em.  It is easy to remove the corn kernels from its cob after blanching and cooling, if you prefer to freeze them that way.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In Memory of Sir Henry

Once upon a time, when my husband and I first started gardening with our small children, you know how it is with small children:  you also have pets--dogs, cats, guinea pigs, gerbils, even canaries.  We had Sir Henry, a wire haired Scottish terrier with a mind of his own.  Sir Henry belonged to our oldest son or it could have been the other way.  Where one diaper clad butt was in the air, the other black tail was wiggling right beside it.  Both were equally mischievous.

We had a nice green backyard just becoming for vegetables to be planted, sowed, grown and harvested.  We felt that we were so self-sufficient with only trips to the store for staples.  Otherwise, we went to the local butcher and to the fish market.

That spring, the shad were running and we decided to get as much as our bicycle baskets would hold.  We took our catch home, cleaned it, and put it in the freezer.  Now, what should we do with scales, innards, and heads?

Aha!  Let's plant corn as the Native Americans once did!  What a brilliant idea!

We buried the remnants of the fish in the garden where we were going to plant corn.  The fish would decompose and provide the corn with nutrients to grow strong and healthy.  We made holes about a foot a part in rows and dropped about five seed kernels in the holes.  The kernels along with the fish were covered and patted down.  

Time went by and we forgot about the corn and the fish until one day when we were playing with the children in the front yard and this immensely foul odor descended upon us.  Gee, it stank!  What the . . . ?  Immediately we knew that Sir Henry had been digging in the corn furrows and rolling in the decomposing fish.

Mercy!  Mercy!  We thought the dog's days were counted and so did he.  Yes, we scolded him.  We cleaned him up and made him presentable again.  Sir Henry lived with us for a long time and during this time, he continued to get into mischief.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Four Basic Herbs

My heart is doing somersaults as I am harvesting my herb garden. This is the first time the parsley didn't stump in its growth; the dill grew tall and spread its feathery leaves; the rosemary is kind to my memory; and the oregano is also growing and is getting ready to bloom.  I am surprised and delighted with at all this activity in my small herb garden.

I have picked parsley and laid it out on the dining room table after removing the thickest stems and I have done the same with the oregano, the "mountain joy".  I've given them plenty of time to dry but to make sure that they were completely dry, I put them on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven on low heat for about 30 minutes.  Both parsley and oregano felt crisp to the touch when I put them in air tight bags for storage and later use

I also cut some tall and feathery dill and removed the greenery from the stems and laid it out to dry on the dining room table.  At the same time, I cut the new growth off the rosemary and also laid it out to dry.  These two herbs lend themselves to being loosely tied, put upside down in a brown paper bag, and hung to dry.  Again, I choose to lay them out on the table.

I sometimes finely chop up parsley and mix it into my margarine to spread on toast and sandwiches.  I often use parsley and oregano in stir fries, stews, and soups.  When grilling a piece of meat outside, I toss a sprig of rosemary on the rack or on the meat directly.

Fresh dill is one of my favorite herbs and I use it generously when boiling potatoes and
steaming Mayport shrimp. A bouquet of rosemary, dill, oregano, parsley together with a clove or two of garlic look very nice in a bottle of oil and a bottle of vinegar.

Teas may be brewed using these wonderful and beneficial herbs.  All of them are said to boost the immune system, aid in digestive disorders, and they are rich in vital vitamins.  Rosemary and parsley have diuretic properties aiding in flushing out toxins from your system. Both of them are calming herbs.

Caution:  If you do use herbs on a regular basis, let your doctor know because it may interact with your medication

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of a victory by Mexican forces in 1862 in the fight for independence from French forces in the Battle of Pubela.  It is a festival of Mexican pride and heritage in the United States.  It gives me an opportunity to try some recipes.  Here is one for a Chunky Salsa:

In a cook pot, combine 3 lbs diced plum tomatoes; 20 oz (1 pkg) frozen corn kernels; 2 med onions and 2 cloves of garlic diced; 2 chopped jalapenos; 1/3 cup chopped cilantro (or parsley); 1 can (5.5 oz) tomato juice; and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Drain and rinse 1 can (15 oz) of black beans and add to the pot and cook for another 10 minutes or so.  Let cool and serve with corn chips.  Store in the fridge but enjoy within 2 weeks.

For a Simple Margarita:  In a shaker combine 1 cup tequila, 2/3 cup fresh lime juice, 1/3 cup orange flavored liqueur, and 2 tsp sugar.  Shake it all up.  Pour into glasses with rims rubbed with lime and dipped in coarse salt.

Now excuse me.  I am going to carry my tray with salsa, chips, and margaritas outside.  I have my one and only stairway patterned quilt under my arm.  My husband has just fastened a red hibiscus flower in my hair. . . .  We are on the trail through the Park and to Margaritaville.  See ya'!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

How to Make Bean Poles

My husband and I like Sieva Butter Beans.  We prefer the climbing beans as opposed to the bush beans because we get more beans per plant.  The climbing beans do grow rather high and require support.  Initially we used wooden poles but they rotted in a few years.  We had to come up with something else that was durable, easy to handle, easy to make, and inexpensive.

My husband came up with this idea of using 2" schedule 40, 10 foot long, sun resistant, gray Rigid PVC Conduit.  For this project, he needed 6 pieces of Conduit.  Four of them were trimmed to 8 feet.  These four Conduit (pipes) were put 2 feet into the ground.

The two remaining 10 foot pipes were used to brace the two ends.  The braces were fastened by PVC Ys.  When we braced the end pipes in the middle, we found that the flanges broke due to the strain exerted by the top wires caused by the heavy load of the beans vines.  (In the picture, one of the old braces remains and is visible.)

The pipes were also capped.  This prevents water from accumulating and becoming a good breeding point for mosquitos. It also keeps small frogs and other critters from becoming trapped.

After the poles were put into the ground, my husband drilled holes through all four pipes and the braces as well for horizontal wires.  One wire is threaded though all four poles about 6 to 8 inches above the ground; the top wire is 2 to 3 inches from the top; and the middle wire is, you guessed it, in the middle.

Cotton strings are fastened vertically to the metal wires approximately 6 inches apart for the beans to climb.  We are using cotton because these strings will eventually decompose. The horizontal wires will remain on the poles and may be tightened at season's end.  Also, we recommend that cloth strips be tied to the metal wires as caution until the cotton strings are in place and the beans start growing.

The reason the pipes are put rather deeply into the ground is so that they will not blow away causing danger and damage when loaded with heavy and dense vines. After all, we live t the beach and the threat of hurricanes or heavy wind is real.

We are using the same kind of support for the peas but these pipes are cut in half making them 3 feet above the surface.  They do not require braces but they a
re also capped.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Wise Owl in the Park Revisited

Yes, I got the names mixed up.  It is a husky barred owl, not a barn owl, that comes and visits the Back Forty Park.  I don't know how wise he is:  he may be lazy and opportunistic.  For a fleeting moment, I thought he might be a "snow bird" leaving for a cooler climate to spend his summer.

There seems to be a lot of interest in the barred owl.  Not only is he a fairly common visitor to the Back Forty and the neighboring beach communities but all along the East Coast.  The barred owl is a welcome guest to my back yard.  He keeps the rodent population at bay; he dispatches an occasional snake, and he also gives the moles a good chase.

Last Sunday, in the local paper, I read about a couple in a nearby beach community who fed two owls and had them trained to go to different places for food that was given to them.  These two owls even had names.  I was horrified to read about this intervention.  Owls are part of the wild life and in my opinion these acts are neither cute nor adorable.

It may be the same owls that come and visit my back yard and when they are not allowed to do their jobs--hunting, we are upsetting a balance to the ecosystem.  No wonder they seemed to be familiar with human beings showing no fear and taking no flight.  By feeding these birds, they will become dependent on us to provide them with food on a regular basis.

The owls are wild and the kindest thing we can do is to let them be wild.  In our yards, we will provide water and a safe place to rest and hunt and to raise their young.  We do not need to actively participate but be a casual observer.

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Back Support

How often have you said that your back is killing you?  Well, I thought mine was after cutting the grass and fertilizing the lawn on the Back Forty the other day.  I could barely walk upright and I would be a hilarious sight with books stacked on my head for balance and posture while spreading fertilizer on the yard.

I have long wished for some sort of back support, even a motor bike belt, to wrap around my waist to keep me upright.  Lo' knows, I'm uptight, but when my back is hurting I don't feel up to snuff.  Would you?

After a fast food lunch at the local hamburger joint at the beach, my beloved husband suggested that we go to one of the home improvement centers to see what they have available in their tool department--a belt without tools.

Support Belt
Sure enough, the salesman knew what I wanted and needed.  He showed me the belt that he was wearing.  He offered to measure my waist without looking and I said that I wouldn't tell.  Furthermore, he told me that the belt came with suspenders.  Why in the world would I need suspenders?  He informed me that the suspenders prevented the belt from curling and/or slipping.  OK.  I am sold.

The belt is made of "breathable mesh fabric that provides lightweight comfort and lets moisture escape."  It also promotes proper lifting.  It will not prevent you from bending, twisting, and turning the way you want and need to  perform your work.  It makes you more aware of your back and your posture.

When I am wearing the belt, I am walking tall and it does feel snug and comfortable.  Also, I don't slump when sitting.  The belt is fastened by Velcro.  The belt, of course, won't cure what ails me, but it does support my back.

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Please, leave a comment but only your foot prints on the beach.