Monday, July 26, 2010

This week in the garden

The beans and peas are plentiful and often.  Abigail and I love eating them fresh from the garden.  I made the trellis for the peas from hemp and birch branches.  I love the sloping angles of it, reminds me of a house roof.  But for next year, I will need to remember to make it taller.  Who knew the peas were going to grow almost five feet high?  (Well, not me obviously!).  Since I didn't have enough pea seeds for the length of both sides of the trellis, I planted lettuce which will be ready for its first cut this week.  With all the hot weather we have had, the shade of the peas has been really helpful.  In Matt's weeding earnest he pulled up the spinach and pepper plants, so I have a few bare spots to plant some more beans.  In his defense, the kids and I started the pepper plants from seed in April and they were probably never going to produce peppers before fall so I am glad for the room.  And the spinach will do better in the cool fall anyway.  Tonight for dinner we had beans and peas from the garden, locally grown tomatoes and garlic, and basil from our herb garden.

With all this crazy hot weather this summer (loving it, not complaining.  I wait through 4 1/2 months of solid snow for this!), the blueberry bushes have all ripend at the same time and overwhelmed us!  We bribed enticed 4 of our students that work for the summer to come help us pick the bushes clean with a reward of blueberry pie.  There were 5-6 of us working for about 3 1/2 hours to get it all done.  In the end we picked about 12 quarts with lots more in people's bellies.  We had a great dinner with every single person contributing to cooking the meal in some way and 2 pies with ice cream for dessert.  I have never had so many people cooking in my house at the same time.  It was a wonderful experience.  There is just something so unifying about preparing food with people.  It was about the best way I could think of to spend a Sunday afternoon.


Friday, July 23, 2010

A new (temporary) pet

Friends of ours have been raising monarch butterfly caterpillars, some of them from eggs, and have entrusted them to us while they leave on vacation.  I know that keeping monarchs through its metamorphosis stages is common for many families but we just haven't yet.  And it really is so exciting!  When we picked up the critters yesterday, two were already in the chrysalis stage and 3 were very hungry caterpillars.

This morning when we woke up 2 had formed a silken mat and were hanging in the famous J shape.  According to my internet sources, the caterpillar should hang for about a day. Then it will shed its skin for the 5th and last time and a green chrysalis will be underneath.  I am just as excited as the kids to watch this all unfold (literally!) before our eyes.

In this picture you can see the caterpillar on the right in the J shape and the last very hungry caterpillar still eating milkweed on the left.

See those golden flecks on the chrysalis?  They look like the gold paint you see in museums or fancy churches.  I think the two on the bottom will be the butterflies eye.  Just a guess from looking at pictures of the chrysalis right before the butterfly emerges.  Updates of the progress to follow...


Thursday, July 1, 2010

We're jammin', we're jammin', jammin'

(Bob Marley fans will get the title reference - I hope!)

8:45 pm Tuesday night, after putting the kids to be a little late (it was swimming lessons night), I walked out to the kitchen, rolled up my sleeves and took a deep breath.  There were 20 lbs of strawberries in my refrigerator waiting to be jammed.  The kids had helped me prep the jars that afternoon (aka loading the dishwasher) and I had washed all the rings and lids.  I prefer to make freezer jam.  I love the fresh fruit taste, it is less work and I can use the lids year after year since the jars don't need to seal like in canning.
Matt came into my madness around 10 pm after paying some bills and was planning to go to bed.  Oh, the plans we make and how they come undone!  When he saw my progress (snail-like), he took pity on me and joined the effort.  The strawberry season was early this year due to a hot spell in May.  Therefore the time in June which is usually mid-season was the end this year.  We got to the farm on the very last day of picking, this past Sunday.  The wife said we were "ambitious" when I mentioned that we wanted to pick 20 lbs.  It was hot as, well you know, the kids got cranky, had to go the bathroom (a lot!) and went to the van after about 30 minutes.  So Matt and I were left on our own to search and wade through rows of mushy, end-of-the-season strawberries to find the edible ones and fill our containers!
 You know, it takes a long time to fill a quart container when the almost all the berries are small, a looong time.  But after 2 hours and a bad sunburn, we had picked our 20 lbs exactly (the farmer wife was very impressed, I am sure).  So, back to the kitchen - there I was an hour and 15 minutes into jamming washing, stemming, mashing, stirring, pectin-ing, and filling by myself and I only had 3 pints full.  I told you it was snail-like.  Picking tiny, end-of-the-season berries takes a long time remember?  Well, stemming, cutting off the mushy parts of tiny end-of-the-season berries takes even longer.  Really.  Which is when my handsome prince on his white stallion appeared and stemmed to my rescue!  (Accurate description, honey?)  After a few foul ups (not adding enough sweetener or pectin - it was late, my brain was done), Matt singing silly (sometimes obscene) songs and me asking him to quit it, and laughing up a storm listening to the hilarious comedy portion of this pod cast (First Contact) I had listened to before Matt came to my rescue, the jammin' was all done by 1am.  Whew!
Strawberries we love you but next year, we are picking early!