Friday, December 7, 2012

Just checking in.

The garden has not been doing anything since my last post, the beds are covered, tools are all put away... it looks like a scene from the apocalypse out there.

The perennial herbs have been fantastic suppliers of fresh herbs for cooking over the winter, including rosemary and sage sprigs to put in the Thanksgiving turkey, and mint for some soothing wintertime teas.  Mina's little garden gave us chamomile, lemon balm, vervain, and yarrow for teas also; which are delicious and tasty!  While Alex's little garden is trying desperately to grow the four pea seeds he planted in September, and may end up overwintering a couple carrots he threw in it as well.

Surprisingly the camellia I planted beside the house started flowering in October and is still producing lovely pink flowers in December.  I think it's confused, it must think that this is Spring weather...

Sadly, I got some bad news about my health recently, not as bad as it could have been, but still a big issue.  It will set back my plans for buying a house in the near future, and may impact my garden as well depending on how things go.

My doctors found a tiny spot of invasive cancer on my cervix.  From the multitude of biopsies they did, it doesn't look like it spread any further than that tiny spot, but they will be performing a hysterectomy next month and depending on what they find once they cut me open i may have to undergo more treatment.  I am ridiculously scared of chemotherapy, so my fingers are crossed that surgery is all that is needed to nip this in the bud.  Of course, I'm ridiculously scared of surgery too...  ;)  Anyway, it has been a stressful few months and will probably continue to be for a while longer, but I am doing my best to keep my sense of humor about it and stay optimistic.  But there are certain perks to having cancer, like being able to win any argument and get to eat the last cookie by playing the "I have cancer" card.  (Sorry, the joking helps keep me from being too overwhelmed by my fears).

So that's what has been happening around here, I have high hopes that my surgery will go smoothly, I'll be down one major organ, and up on my feet in plenty of time for the upcoming garden season.  I'm not a religious person but I am always grateful for a little prayer or positive thoughts sent my way, so thanks in advance to everyone who will be thinking of me. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Project: New floors are completed!

Just a quick update:  the new floors in the kitchen/dining and laundry rooms are finished!

So shiny!
I'm very excited to have a clean new floor and no more stinky, dusty, holey 30 year old carpet!  No more projects for me for a while though, have to finish paying for all this first.  Then it's on to the living room...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

End of the year wrap-up

The garden is done for the year.

The patio is completely shaded now for most of the day.  All of the plants have been pulled up, the perennials in pots were moved to the sunniest area for the winter, the cat guard has been replaced over the pumpkin bed and the patio furniture is packed up for the winter.

I decided to cover the big beds with landscaping fabric (I didn't have any black plastic) because of the aphid problem we had this year.  I'll probably also be trimming out all of the leaves from the strawberry plants for the same reason.  Don't want any pests wintering over in the leaf debris.  Hopefully the fabric will also be adequately light blocking and kill off any lingering weeds and weed seeds.

The winter rains, which will likely last until June again, will start up tomorrow so it's been a bit of a scramble to get things cleaned up before the rain starts. 

In the end I harvested over 12 lbs of green tomatoes that refused to ripen on the plants.  I should get a lot of green tomato salsa from them. 

My harvest total hit 121 lbs. and a cost of about $5.84 per pound.  Not a bad tally considering the weather, the costs this year being higher, and the fact that those added costs will carry over into next year.

My biggest costs were the grow room setup and my seed order, combined they cost nearly $350.  The grow room will be used for many years and the seed order was more than enough to provide seed for next year and possibly even the year after that.  Meaning if I get 120 lbs. again next year the cost per pound should be much lower.

The couple of garlic I left in the ground this spring had split into separate cloves and were sprouting, so I separated them completely and replanted them into one of the whiskey barrels.  I will probably pick up a different variety to put into the other barrel over the winter and see if I can get a better garlic harvest next year.

This is my final garden post for a while, not much to write about with the garden shut down for the winter. 

In non-garden news I am having a pro come out to measure my kitchen for the new flooring.  I'm going to bite the bullet and let them do the work since I'm feeling stressed about the amount of chores to do this Fall. 

Hope everyone out there has a fun and safe winter and I'll be back to posting when my brain is back in gardening mode again. ;)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Over 100 lbs!

Despite a terrible year for most of the hot weather crops, the harvest of my Small Sugar Pumpkins put my harvest total over 100 lbs.

September was unseasonably warm, and October has so far been warm and dry, so I may still see more ripening tomatoes come in.  But I am content to have reached 100 lbs. in my small garden, especially considering how long it took for Spring to warm up and summer to begin.

I even discovered one tiny green butternut squash starting out back, and one Fairytale pumpkin that was also tiny and green... apparently they didn't get the memo that they should be ready to harvest by now.  I am happy to see any pollinated fruits of either plant though.

Last week I was able to collect nearly a pound of seed peas from the Oregon Sugar Pod II plants, and hopefully will collect almost as much again of the Cascadia Snap peas... though I'm not sure what I'll do with so many pea seeds.

So that's the update from my garden.  Hope everyone else's are doing well and getting ready for the coming winter.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Still Harvesting

cucumbers, beans, tomatoes
 I discovered a pile of harvest photos that I haven't yet shown off this morning.  Most of the tomatoes are nearly green in the pics because I have been picking them at first blush.  Now that it's mid-September I've actually managed to harvest quite a few of them, and even my first couple of Fairy Tale eggplants, which are small but still tasty.
cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos.

After mowing the lawn a few days ago i discovered the blackberry vines growing over the fence from the neighbor's yard had a conciliatory harvest for me... probably in hopes that the bribe would keep me from cutting them.  It wasn't much of a harvest but I also didn't put much effort into clinbing around in the busshes looking for more.  Mina had them on her ice cream and said they were delicious.

 Not sure if I already mentioned the results of my potato growing or not.  The 3 potatoes I planted never bloomed, but I was sick of waiting on them so I turned over the 3 gal. pots they were in and low and behold I had potatoes!  There was a total of about a dozen baby potatoes, and some tiny ones that were just developing.  I ate them!  The tiny ones are being saved for spring planting though, maybe I won't have to purchase seed potatoes again.

Beans, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers.
 Eventually all those blushing tomatoes end up looking like the ones below and I use them fresh or cook them up for salsa or spaghetti sauce.
Tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeno, onions, garlic, and lime.  Ready for salsa!

Cooking the salsa.
Cherry tomato bowl.  Plus a couple eggplants.
 So despite the slow end of August and beginning of September harvests, things have kind of picked up as the days are growing shorter and the garden is getting more shade.  We've been seeing temperatures in the upper 80s and occasional 90s the past couple weeks, but that ends this week and temps will continue to get cooler.  So far the tomatoes have managed to prove their worth, even though I haven't yet seen enough at any time to preserve.  The huge fat San Marzanos are driving me crazy though, they are so thick with tomatoes the branches are breaking through the string holding them to their stakes, but not a single one has ripened yet.  Maybe the change in weather will give them a nudge to finish up before they die?

Custom cabinetry.
 The last item to share is that we finished up the final touch on the kitchen before we put in the new floors... the custom cookbook shelf on the end of the island.  I need to pick up a few more little shelf brackets for the tiny shelves, but otherwise it is done.  I think it looks great!  And it's much handier than digging around in the dining room cabinets to find a recipe.  Also, the shelves are designed to contain and hide the electrical outlets for the island, which aren't visible in this picture because they face in toward the oven. 

I have been house hunting this week and found a great place with a lot of potential, including garden potential, just waiting on a response from the bank and needing to finish up the work at this house and we'll be ready to dive into buying a house!

Friday, September 14, 2012

So Sorry

I haven't been keeping up with things, the kids are back in school, the garden is dying down, the tomatoes are still hanging in green on the vines.  I have started house hunting as well, which has taken up a good bit of my brain power and a small bit of my time.  I'm sure I'll be back to blogging more as things become more regular, but it is ridiculously busy right now and I have no idea when it will settle down again.

Monday, September 10, 2012

And The Winner Is....

With only 3 entries it was fairly easy to determine a winner to the giveaway.  Peggi's name was pulled from the hat. 

Congratulations Peggi!  Since Blogger doesn't list a blog for you, please send an email to me at with a mailing address so I can send out your gift.

Thanks to everyone who entered and thanks again for reading!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Free Stuff!

This blog has finally reached 5,000 visitors!  I've enjoyed writing the blog and having a chance to share with all of you so much that I am feeling generous and want to celebrate my 5,000th visit with the rest of you.

So I am giving away a $10 gift certificate for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds to celebrate.

Please leave a comment below to let me know if you want to be in the drawing and on Monday I will pick a name from a hat and announce the winner.  Thanks everyone for reading, and happy gardening!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bargain Buys!

As frustrated as I've been with the garden, it was nice to finally have enough of something for some canning and freezing yesterday. 

I tore out the remaining bush beans and trimmed the pole beans down a bit, removing any flowers that hadn't begun to grow pods yet.  I did the same with the tomatoes a few days ago and covered them with plastic as well. 
Grow room shelves are now packed with canned goods and curing onions.  I need a pantry!

The final harvest of beans was enough to blanch for the freezer, there were also finally enough cucumbers to make two quarts of pickles, and I made up some chicken stock from the roast chicken we had earlier this week.

As if that didn't keep me busy enough I took my mom shopping and discovered a few deals at the produce store.  Mature mushrooms were $0.99/lb again, and they had 20 lb. boxes of canning tomatoes for $12 too.  So I bought up 3 lbs of mushrooms and a box of tomatoes and stayed up past midnight canning 16 pints of diced tomatoes.  The mushrooms will be sauteed and frozen today.

As exhausting as all the tomato processing was I'm sorely tempted to go get more for sauce and salsa... it was very satisfying to finally have some tomatoes around!

Dried rosemary to fill the spice jar.
In other news... I didn't post about it before, but last week I took down the hanging bunches of rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, and mint.  I stripped the dried leaves off the stems, crushed them up a bit in the mortar and pestle, then filled up my spice jars and little baggies for the freezer.  Freezing extra dried herbs keeps them fresh longer.  I reuse the storebought spice jars when I can, but some things like the mint and lavender I just put into bags in the freezer. 

My rosemary harvest was huge and paid off in two full jars of dried rosemary (purchased at the grocery store these would have cost me about $8 each.  Perennial herbs pay off!)

My daughter is super excited about her little herb garden, later this week we'll trim the lemon balm and vervain and yarrow and get them started drying as well for teas.

I'm still waiting on the sunflower seeds and pea seeds to finish up drying, but the sunflower will be weighed in and added to the food total weight when it's done.  The peas seed is just for replanting, though I should probably weigh it since pea seed costs money and these will be money saved in purchasing more.

Friday, August 31, 2012

2012 Garden Faves

I think I can safely pass judgement on my plantings this year at this point.  Nothing is going to go above and beyond from here on out.

To see a list of what was growing in the garden this year check here.

Most things did just fine considering the wonky growing season we've had but a few really stood out from germination to harvest.

Pacific Pearl onions
Pacific Pearl Onions were one of the standouts.  Germination was great, no pests bothered them, and they kept me in green onions and then pearl onions until late July.  Small, tasty, fast growing, and the small size meant bulbing was not an issue.  Small size also meant that potentially they could be productive shoved into any nooks and crannies of the garden without needing to have extensive spacing for bulb production.

Royal Burgundy Bush beans were another standout, while they aren't particularly suited to canning, these beans far outproduced Fortex and Speedy.  They are still cranking out beans, and despite the slug damage to them they have survived and produced remarkably.

Royal burgundy beans w/ zucchini, peas, and other beans
Sugarsnax 54 carrots.  These carrots had better germination than the other two varieties I planted, they grew faster, larger (though they are a long slender carrot), with fewer growth abnormalities, and were absolutely delicious.  I will definitely be planting them again.

Parel cabbage, Sugarsnax 54 carrots, lettuce
Parel cabbage, makes a softball sized head and has once again outdone the competition.  It's competition was supposed to make larger heads but instead sat in the garden for another month without growing any larger.  I think I'll stick to Parel, though I will likely continue to test other varieties as well.

2011 Cinderella pumpkins
Cinderella pumpkin (not actually planted this year), this year's pumpkins have been bleh.  Fairytale didn't even put on a single female flower, Small Sugar pumpkin put on a few but they are still very small and green.  This year's weather i'm sure had something to do with it, but I have to say i was so impressed by Cinderella last summer that I will call it a two year standout.

Amazing cauliflower.  While I liked the color of Graffiti, Amazing really was amazing.  As a Spring crop it actually maintained a tight head, and while the heads I picked seemed small I was very happy with the overall growth, production, and flavor of this self-blanching variety.

Center: Amazing cauliflower
Marketmore 97 cucumber was my best producing cuke this year.  I don't know that i'd specifically recommend it other than the fact that it coped much better with the cooler summer than any of the others did.  Flavor was ok, but it was most definitely not burpless, and after one massive burst of harvest it slowed down to nearly nothing.  Still it produced better than the Lemon or either of pickling cukes.

My kale and lettuce were both mixed seeds, but lettuce was fantastic and i'd definitely recommend either the mix I bought or the individual varieties.  Slo-Bolt, Red Sails, Valmaine, Salad Bowl, and Buttercrunch.  The kale was a good grower as well, and delicious!  But the lettuce mix outdid it by a long shot.

Kale, chard and onion
I also have no misgivings at all about recommending both varieties of peas that I planted: Cascadia Sugar Snap peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow peas.  They were outstanding this year due to the cooler weather and handled the few days of blazing hot weather with aplomb, returning to bloom as soon as it cooled again.  They were also both delicious, fresh or cooked.

Bright Lights Swiss Chard did well in the garden also, as did Black Beauty zucchini, though I don't recall the slugs eating up my zucchini as much last year. 

Oregon Spring tomato
Oregon Spring tomato, this tomato has stood out previously in the garden as the very first to produce, but this year it stands out as the ONLY slicing tomato to produce ripe fruit.  Very tasty ripe fruit I might add.  While Beaverlodge plum has produced a few ripe fruits their flavor is not as good, nor are they as large.

Bowl of Chocolate Cherry tomatoes.
Chocolate Cherry also deserves some respect for being volunteers this year that outdid every other cherry tomato in the garden and most of the non-cherries, and being bigger and healthier as volunteers than most of the plants from direct seed.  They are tasty fruits and should get a high five for doing so well with no assistance on my part.
Nearly everything else has not been particularly impressive this year.  

So my faves from the 2012 season?  Pacific Pearl Onions, Royal Burgundy bush beans, Sugarsnax 54 carrots, the lettuces, Cascadia and Oregon Sugar Pod II peas, Oregon Spring tomato, and Chocolate Cherry tomato.

Anyone else have some recommendations of winners from their 2012 gardens?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

76 Lbs. What a Shame

Painted lady on butterfly bush
Today my vegetable tally is at a whopping 77 lbs.  Not too bad considering that my two large beds are full of tomato plants that have given me a whole 12 tomatoes, and about 2 dozen cherry tomatoes.  Last year my 4 pumpkins alone weighed in at 75 lbs. 

The majority of the weight for August has been cucumbers, most of which came off the Marketmore 97s.  The Lemon cukes are just starting to roll in now, two harvested and several still growing.  I have one small green pumpkin on my shed this year, I can only hope it will ripen before the vine starts dying off.  It doesn't look like it will weigh in at more than about 10 lbs. though.
Pumpkin on shed today.

It has been a very sad year for my garden.  Apparently I'm not the only one either.  My neighbor Julie told me her tomatoes started coming in about 3 weeks later than normal, and her pumpkins are also still green and small.  In a normal year her pumpkin vines sprawl across most of her back yard and she harvests enough for cooking and carving for the whole family. 
Pumpkin vines on shed.

My garden is producing, all of the plants are in good health, but there is such a short window of growing season here that a week or two of cool weather throughout the season can be enough to completely destroy any chance of main season tomato production.

Chocolate Cherry tomatoes.
So far the tomatoes that have ripened have all been the extra early varieties.  Oregon Spring and Beaverlodge Plum and a few varieties of cherries.  I thought that my double planting rotation could be a factor in their lateness, and I'm sure it is somewhat, but it is most definitely not the primary problem.  The volunteer Chocolate Cherries have been in the ground since the first planting went in, and while they have outproduced the other cherry varieties that were planted later, they haven't outproduced them by much.  Like the other plants they are weighed down with green fruit that simply won't ripen.

Indigo Rose tomato
I considered covering them with plastic to extend the growing season.  The late season plants haven't even gotten fruits yet though, and nighttime temps are getting down into the low 50s already.  I just don't know if the plastic will make any difference.  It doesn't look like we'll be having an Indian summer this year, we may not even have much of an autumn. 

Winter is coming.

All in all this year's garden has been a major disappointment.  While the rest of the country has been hit by a heat wave, our tiny corner of the world has been much cooler than normal.  I did have a few standouts in the garden this year though despite the weird weather and will have a post soon to acknowledge those plants that really outdid expectations.

For now, I should probably get back to my housework and prepping for the new school year to begin.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


As the blog is nearing 4,000 visitors I have been thinking about what to do to celebrate the 5k mark.  A lot of blogs have a giveaway of some sort, and while I am considering the idea I'm not really sure what readers would appreciate most as a prize.

So what do you think? Seeds, a book, a garden tool, gift certificate... please weigh in and let me know what you think would be a great way to celebrate my 5,000th visitor, or even just your preference if you win.

And thanks to everyone who's reading!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Clean Up Time

With all of the excitement of the kitchen remodel, prep for the start of the school year, and getting my daughter off to summer camp for the week the garden has fallen into neglect.  It doesn't help that I'm avoiding being out there too often, since the green tomatoes are distinctly depressing me.

So it's time to get out there and do some tidying up.  Now is the time to pull any new weeds, sweep off the patio, pick up trash, trim the flowers back, and start collecting seed from the plants that are finished.  I've already gotten a handful of Speedy bush bean seeds, but the biggest seed collection to happen will be the peas and sunflowers.  Only one Mammoth sunflower was grown this year, mostly because it was a volunteer and I couldn't bear to just rip it out.  But it certainly did well and lived up to it's name; nearly ten feet tall with a single flower the size of my head! 

It is probably also time to bring in the onions that have been curing on the patio table, before we start to get rain.  In my area the rain usually starts with school, as do the colder temps. 

So off I go to get these things done, and get the garden back into decent shape before it all gets cleared out for the winter.

(For anyone who's wondering why I don't plant a fall garden; the fence behind my beds is south facing and by late September both of the beds will be shaded completely.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Garden is Slacking Off

Sorry to be a slacker about blogging, but this week has been full of recovery from the kitchen remodel and catching up on all the things I didn't do because I was remodeling.  Like laundry and dishes and cleaning house.

The garden has been rather unproductive too.  The peas are done, but the eggplants and peppers and winter squashes have nothing to harvest yet.  Right now the only things coming out of the garden are a few beans (the Royal Burgundy are still producing like crazy, Fortex is a smaller harvest but still going), cucumbers that have slowed down since their initial burst of fruits, a zucchini here and there, and a handful of tomatoes each week.  I am so sad that after all of the work I put into the garden this year the weather has nearly shut down tomato, eggplant, squash and pepper production completely. 

Surprisingly the jalapenos have quite a few fruits ready... but with no tomatoes for salsa making I'm just not sure what to do with them.  My family just isn't into spicy stuff.

I did can some pickle relish earlier this week, and one quart of dill pickles.  It's my first attempt at pickles, so I'm letting them rest before trying them and hoping that the recipe worked out well.  If anyone has an awesome dill pickle recipe for whole pickles I'd love it if you'd share, I'm always on the hunt for great, tested, and approved recipes.

 That's about all I have to report today, hope everyone has a lovely day.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kitchen Is Finished!

Wow, kitchen remodeling made for a crazy week.  It's all done now, except for a few final touches, and I'm very happy with the result.  I pinched a nerve in my arm during the week though and it has been almost completely out of commission. 

Even the garden was kind enough to give me a few harvests while I was elbow deep in sanding dust, so I'd say the week was a win in every way.

The kitchen in its original form
My brother tearing out the coat closet

After removing the cabinet doors

Jenn working on refinishing the buffet in the dining room

Lower cabinets are gone!

New countertops getting put in place

Sink almost in.

Alex, being helpful.

Wow, what a mess!

Buffet all finished, still need to paint the wall behind it.

After removing the old island

All finished! Is it obvious what the next big job will be?
I am loving the new kitchen.  It's much more functional, even though it's laid out nearly the same as before.  There are a lot more drawers and better cabinet space to store everything.  A few little things still need to be finished, like touch up staining, painting the buffet wall, hanging the curtains, and building the bookshelf that will fit under the end of the island to hold cookbooks, but the biggest jobs are complete and the kitchen is usable again.  Eventually we will get to the next big project, installing new floors throughout the kitchen and dining room.

zucchini, cucumber, and peas

Potatoes (don't let the picture fool you, they are tiny)

Cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes
While I was busy with the kitchen, the garden still managed to give me a few pounds of veggies.  Nothing spectacular... but that seems to be how things are going this year. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gardening and Blogging Are On Hold

For a few days at least I won't be doing anything in the garden, except maybe some harvesting.  Nor will I be blogging.  I will be finishing up the kitchen remodel I started last summer. 

Got my new cabinets and countertops in yesterday and my brother and a friend will be coming out to give me a hand getting everything installed.  Last year I repaired and painted all the walls and installed new upper cabinets.  This year it's the lower cabinets and countertops, and hopefully the floors will be done before next year. 

Remodeling kitchens is a pain, they are the most used room in the house (unless you only have one bathroom), and taking a kitchen out of commission for very long leads to chaos.  Which is part of the reason i have been doing mine in small steps... the other part is that kitchen cabinets are crazy expensive!

So, hopefully when this is all over with I will have a few pictures to show off.  Until then, happy gardening everyone!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cucumber Recipes

Ok, so obviously if you have pickling cucumbers... make pickles.  There are literally thousands of different recipes for pickles, some involve crocks, some don't, some involve dozens of spices and herbs, some don't.  Pickle recipes are easy to come by.  I recommend starting out by trying the recipes in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (the link to it on Amazon can be find on the sidebar -->).  It will give you a basis from which to begin your pickling adventures.

More importantly what are you going to do with the overproducing slicing cucumbers?!  They are really meant for fresh eating, but honestly you need to come up with other ideas unless you want a stomachache from cucumber over-indulgence.

So here are the recipes I use when I am sick of fresh sliced cukes:

Tsatsiki:  greek dip

2 single serve containers plain greek yogurt (I used Chobani nonfat and it turned out great)
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1 slicing cucumber (half of one if it's large), peeled
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Pinch of dill weed, fresh or dried is fine
Pinch of mint leaves, fresh

You can chop these items all together and then stir into the yogurt, but if you have a food processor you can save a lot of time by throwing the garlic, mint, and cucumber in and giving it a whirl until it's well minced.
In a bowl combine the minced ingredients with the rest and stir well.  Refrigerate an hour or two, serve with veggies, pita bread, pita chips, or falafel.

Refrigerator Pickled Veggies
(this is a recipe for cucumbers, but other veggies can be thrown in as well, like peas, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)

In medium bowl with tight-fitting lid combine:  1 part white or apple cider vinegar, 4 parts water, 1 part sugar.  This is the basis of refrigerator pickles.  Soak sliced cucumbers with onions (or other veggies) in this solution in the refrigerator.  For variation in flavor add salt, pepper, pickling spice, dill, etc. to taste.  These pickles will keep for about a week and make a zesty side salad for any meal.

For an Asian take on refrigerator pickles try using rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, a few splashes sesame oil, and a dash of Tabasco or Rooster sauce.

Pickle Relish
While most pickles are better made with pickling cucumbers, relish is a chopped pickle and is a great way to make use of over ripe cucumbers.  Just spoon out the seeds and then shred the cucumber flesh. I use a combination of slicing and lemon cukes for this recipe.

2 lbs. cukes, peeled, seeded, and shredded or finely chopped
1 large sweet onion, shredded or finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup salt

Toss the vegetables together with salt in a large bowl, set aside 2 hours, drain thoroughly.  (To save time, use your food processor for finely chopping all the veggies).

3 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp black peppercorns (I prefer ground)
1 tsp celery seed

Combine above ingredients in large non-interactive pot and bring to a boil, stir until sugar is dissolved.  Add vegetable mix and return to boil.  Simmer five minutes.  Remove from heat.
For canning:  Boiling water method.  Ladle hot relish into half pint jars covering solids with 1/4 inch liquid.  Leave 1/4 inch headspace.  Process for 15 minutes, turn off heat, let jars rest 5 minutes.  Remove jars.

Two things to note about this recipe: it tends to be a bit watery, if it is too watery for your taste add in 1 tsp. corn starch while simmering, or you can simply drain off some of the liquid in each jar when you open it.  Also, this relish looks brownish rather than the clear green color of store bought relish.  I would imagine the color would improve by substituting distilled white vinegar for the cider vinegar, but I haven't tested what effect this would have on the flavor and I like the flavor enough not to want to mess with it.

I hope these recipes have given you a few ideas to help manage the influx of cucumbers from your garden.  Please, if you have other recipes for using garden cucumbers up, post a comment to share it with the rest of us.  Enjoy!

Cucumber Culture

Cucumbers are one of the best summertime garden treats.  They are so low calorie that I've heard they contain fewer calories than you burn digesting them, making them a great diet snack. 

In the garden cucumber plants are most likely to suffer from powdery mildew, this can be prevented by watering them only at the soil level, early in the day, and avoiding touching the leaves when wet.  Another major contributor to powdery mildew is planting too early, give the soil plenty of time to warm up and your plants will be in much better health.  Cucumber beetles can be a major pest problem, and spread bacterial wilt as well.  Pick off beetles and destroy them daily.  Watch for signs of bacterial wilt: unexplained wilting and sticky stringy sap inside stems.  If you discover a plant infected with bacterial wilt remove it immediately to prevent spreading the disease.  Avoid planting other cucurbits in the infected area for at least one year, preferably three to four years.  You can also place black plastic over the infected soil between planting seasons to heat the soil and kill off the disease and it's carriers, cucumber beetle grubs. 

Female flower with tiny cucumber ovary at base.
Cucumbers grow sturdy, spiny vines and depending on the type will put out either male, female, hermaphroditic, or male AND female flowers.  Gynoecious cucumbers have all female flowers that will not pollinate if there is no male flowered plant near them.  Often gynoecious seed packets include one or two male seeds that are tinted gray or black, to insure you will have a male plant in your garden.  Hermaphroditic cucumbers have both male and female parts on each flower and are capable of pollinating each other and their own flowers.  Monoecious cucumbers have separate male and female flowers on the same plant.  Similar to most squashes, these plants put on several male flowers before they begin to produce female flowers.  Parthenocarpic cucumbers have the ability to set fruit without pollination.  Parthenocarpic varieties are excellent for greenhouse or indoor growing where pollinators may be non-existent.

Male flower with no ovary at the base.
Of the varieties I planted this year, Marketmore 97 and Bush Pickle are both monoecious, while Lemon cucumber is hermaphroditic.  I'm not sure what the National Pickling is, but it appears to have both male and female flowers so I am going with monoecious.

Traditionally cucumbers trail across the ground, but by trellising them or wrapping them around a tomato cage you can reduce the risk of soil-borne disease reaching the leaves.  You can also look for bush varieties that take up less space if you are container gardening or don't have room for the large vining varieties.

Besides the different varieties of reproduction in cucumbers you also have choices based on what you plan to do with your cucumbers.  Slicing cucumbers are larger and tend to be better eaten raw.  Pickling cucumbers are grown for canning as pickles.  They are smaller, often with a tougher skin that protects the fruit during the canning process and becomes softer after brining and canning.  Canning a large slicing cucumber would just give you a mushy pickle.  Often pickling cucumbers produce larger amounts in a shorter time frame too, to accommodate picklers. 

There are also several unusual varieties to try out, such as the Lemon cucumber which develops as a yellowish fruit about the size and shape of a small orange.  Or the Mexican Sour Gherkin, a bite-sized cucumber with a hint of citrus flavor to them.

In conclusion, cucumbers are worth the space in a small garden, or in a pot on the patio; delicious, healthy, outstanding producers, and a cool treat in the summertime.  Give them a shot and don't be surprised if you find yourself wondering what to do with all of them! 

*Next up: What To Do With All These Cucumbers*

Monday, August 6, 2012

Harvest Monday: August 6th

Thanks to Daphne's Dandelions for hosting Harvest Mondays.

I am a bad blogger... I failed to take many pictures of this week's harvests.  Well, except for the tomato earlier this week.

So the quick list is: 4 large slicing cucumbers, 3 pickling cucumbers, lots more peas (though I think the sugar snaps are pretty much done), lots of beans, one Oregon Spring tomato, two Beaverlodge plum tomatoes, one large zucchini, one jalapeno.

The slicing cucumbers are doing ridiculously well, while the pickling and lemon cucumbers are just beginning to produce and are much smaller plants.  The Speedy beans are long done and pulled out to give the zucchini more room.  But Royal Burgundy and Fortex are still going strong.  Slugs have been culling the zucchini and keeping it down to one to two fruits a week, which is manageable at least.  Though they aren't leaving me much to spare to send my mom.  The only peppers coming in are the jalapenos and they are coming in much too soon, since I only grow them to add to salsa... but the tomatoes aren't ready.

The three tomatoes that were ready this week tasted fantastic and were sliced into pita bread with tsatsiki (yogurt/cucumber/garlic dip), cucumber, and olives for a veggie sandwich.  I forgot just how good  garden tomatoes were.  Despite my seeming overwatering, the fruits were tasty and not at all mealy, so I think my watering is just right at once a day.  My soil is super well drained though to combat the heavy spring rains we get.

All in all this week is turning out pretty well harvest-wise, with nearly 6 lbs harvested all together.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What Was I Thinking?

It's our first 100+ degree day this summer, and today was the day I decided to pick apples for applesauce and apple butter.  I have literally been slaving over a hot stove trying to cook up 16 lbs of apples and get them canned.  I also picked up about a dozen beautiful peaches from the same farm and they are the most delicious peaches I've ever had.  I'm kind of wishing I'd gotten more.

Meanwhile I now have 4 slicing cucumbers and 3 pickling cukes picked.  Not really sure what to do with the little ones... not even enough for one jar of pickles.  The big ones are going to be sliced up and will make an appearance at a potluck tomorrow as greek snacks.  Pita, tsatsiki, tomato, olives, and maybe even a few nasturtiums for pizzazz will make for a tasty platter on a hot day.

Gotta go, apple butter is in need of stirring!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Woohoo! First Tomato of the Year

In all its glory...
 Picked my first ripe tomato today, it's the Oregon Spring one that's been hanging around for over a month.  In a normal year the first tomato would be picked in mid- to late June.  This has not been a normal year.  On the plus side it weighed in at 7.5 ounces.  Also the two volunteer cherry tomatoes I left in the ground still haven't ripened anything, so I don't think my late planting really affected the other tomatoes; they are right on par with their volunteer cousins.  It would seem that the weather alone has been responsible for the tomato tardiness. 

Tomato and the first two pickling cucumbers.
 The pickling cucumbers are finally beginning to produce, not a lot so far.  I have a dozen plants, but if they don't start doing better i will never have enough cukes at once to pickle.  The slicing cucumber is cranking out fruit faster than they can ripen, I'm guessing I'll have about 3 cukes ready to pick tomorrow and more a few days after that.

I didn't take a photo of the onions i pulled earlier this week, nor did I weigh them, they are curing in the laundry room/grow room/pantry and once cured they will be weighed in and photographed.  I only pulled the ones with good sized bulbs and developed skins, which accounted for about a quarter of what was planted.

Herbs (this basket holds about 2 gallons)
Also, above is the photo of the herbs I trimmed the other day.  Most of this is rosemary, which is buried under the thyme, sage, spearmint, and lavender.  The oregano wasn't big enough for trimming yet, and the cats have mauled the catnip too much to harvest.  All of these herbs were lightly rinsed (to remove spiders and dust), blotted dry, bundled, tied up, and hung to dry.  Once they are crispy i will strip them from their stems, crumble them a bit, then mix up seasonings or bag and freeze them, or fill my nearly empty spice jars with them.  I am a bit disappointed the oregano didn't grow more, I was hoping not to have to buy it for making Italian Seasoning Mix.  The mint and lavender will likely be saved for potpourri or teas, since I don't do much cooking with them.

The one other major thing I did was pull a few problem plants: the last celery that I left to flower for the beneficial bugs, the cilantro (it had long ago gone to flower and was seriously shading out the rhubarb and some peppers) and the dill that was completely infested with aphids and ladybugs.  I let the dill stay in the garden long enough for the ladybug eggs to hatch, and the nymphs to grow into adults, but they were failing at eating enough aphids fast enough so I moved them onto other plants and tossed the buggy dill.  I'm disappointed that I lost the dill before the cucumbers were ready for harvest though, i had hoped to use my own dill for pickling.  The nasturtiums have done their job of black-fly-aphid-traps so well that the aphids are killing them and moving onto other plants nearby, so I pulled a few of the most infested nasturtiums and left the others to continue their work.  Hopefully the aphids will stay out of the other plants again and move into the healthy nasturtiums.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

This Is Not August

The calendar tells me it's August 1st.  But the weather tells me it's early June.

Temperatures are ridiculously low, the sky is overcast, I actually needed a jacket this morning when I went out to check on the garden. 

Peas along the fence
More peas, with tomatoes in front
 Obviously the peas agree with me that it's only June, they are enjoying the cool weather and putting on another flush of pods.  Meanwhile the tomatoes are still no bigger than they were last June, and the earliest varieties (Oregon Spring and Beaverlodge Plum) are just beginning to blush; nearly a month later than average.  Even the cherry tomatoes haven't ripened yet, they are piling on the branches but still as green as ever.
First tomatoes of the year
 While most of the fruiting veggies are struggling with the cool weather, the slicing cucumbers seem to have gone into overdrive.  They are climbing up over their trellis and packed with about 6 cukes that will be ready for harvest by the end of the week, and plenty more aren't far behind.

Cucumbers hiding under a bounty of foliage
My July harvests weighed in at a total of 21 lbs. 3.5 oz., a few pounds less than June's.  I am still hoping that August will pay off, but I already know this year isn't going to be anywhere near as bountiful as last year.

I did however pull all of my onions that had bulbed, and trim out over a pound of herbs for drying today.  I also made my first batch of zucchini bread and the last batch of coleslaw yesterday.  I'm gearing up for the major harvests and processing of the year, even if the plants don't seem to be gearing up with me.