Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Garden Update

Here in Southern California we are blessed with a ridiculously long growing season. Seriously, last year I didn't pull my tomatoes out until the end of December! Since we have such a long growing season it's a good idea to plant several garden rotations, replacing tired plants with new, vibrant ones. Case in point: our sunberries have to go. Jonas will be so devastated, he would seriously sit out there picking berries and eating them all day long if I'd let him. See: Since the sunberries are winding down I've started ten new tomato plants to replace them with, most of them Red Siberians to carry us through the cold-ish months. I'm curious to see if they'll make it straight through the winter. I'm hoping for a bumper crop from these babies, for canning. My other canning tomatoes have not done so well and now the japanese beetles are moving in and eating them:(. Quick side note, my plan for the japanese beetles this year was to just pick them off of the plants in the early mornings when they are sluggish, but they have outsmarted me again! They are living in our neighbor's yard and coming over into our yard in the afternoons for feeding time. Very frustrating!

We are also replacing our first rotation of bush beans. Bush beans generally only produce beans for a two week period before dying back, so it's good to plant several rows of them with sowing dates a week or two apart, to keep you in constant supply. We have four rows of bush beans, or to be honest, two rows and two self watering containers, each with an equal number of plants. The good news about bush beans (and really any legume) is that they have the uncanny ability to pull nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil through their roots. This makes bush beans an ideal crop to plant near hungrier crops like squash, melons, corn, tomatoes, etc. Once the plant has died all of the extra nitrogen remains in the soil, so bush beans are an ideal candidate to be replaced by hungrier crops as well. In our case I am replacing the first bush bean row with hard winter squashes. Instead of pulling out the tired green bean plants it is a good idea to snip them off as close to the ground as possible. Leaving their roots in the ground means you are leaving as much nitrogen in the ground as possible. After snipping the green bean plants I laid them on top of the soil along with some dead tomato plants and other trimmings, then I spread a bag of manure over the whole thing creating a small grow heap. I also added plenty of organic fertilizer.

And lastly the determinate, silvery fir tree tomatoes, which were in five gallon buckets, have been replaced by basil.

Things are looking good in our garden, despite my sister's boyfriend commenting "if people didn't know what you were doing back here they'd think there was just trash everywhere." Lovely. :) He is referring to the fact that I use junk mail to mulch the walkways between rows and keep the weeds down. Here are some pictures for your viewing delight:)

A funny italian zucchini I found today. It looks like it was going to have a siamese twin but things didn't quite work out. Am I the only one who saw this and thought: Alien fetus? That's just me? Ok then, moving on...

Today's summer squash harvest.

One of the self-waterers with new green bean plants. Side note, the self waterer book I ordered from the library is in, I'm picking it up today and hope to have lots of juicy tips for you all.

The Cayenne Peppers are turning red, we'll have hot sauce in no time, hooray!

Our Myrtle is in bloom three months late. What is that about? I've heard that myrtle is sometimes eaten as an herb. I'm still a little too skeptical to try.

A new zucchini plant on the rise!

One of our hot pepper plants called Tequila Sunrise. It grows very similar to the tabasco pepper. I'm really hoping it tastes similar. I loves me some tabasco sauce!

Our giant marconi peppers are really living up to their name!

Felted Baby Bunny Slippers

Last Saturday I attended a baby shower for my friend Tandy. I love making gifts for people when I have the time, and it's so easy to make things for babies! I mean, everything's much smaller and therefore less time consuming. I whipped up a pair of felted fuzzy bunny slippers for Tandy (small problem, Tandy's baby will be born in August, in San Diego, not exactly slipper wearing weather, hmmm, oh well). I originally got the idea for the slippers from my friend Nikol (who just happens to be Tandy's sister). Nikol found a picture of felted bunny slippers on etsy and emailed it to me months ago. My initial thought was, Hey, I could make something like that! And so I did, there were a few bunny slipper prototypes and here is a picture of the final product.

I made them with some off-white wool that I had on hand, but I recommend making them with white wool if you can. The great thing about these slippers is that they are felted, so even if you're not the best at crochet the felting will generally hide any uneven stitches. To make the slippers first you crochet two infant moccasins (instructions to follow). I used a J hook and crocheted them very loosely. They will be somewhat bigger than a baby foot, but remember you are going to felt them.

Make 2 (duh!)
Round 1: ch 14. Dc in 4th ch from hook and in the next 9 chs. 7 dc in last ch. Working down the free loops on the other side of the chain, 10 dc. Join w/ sl st to top of ch 3. (28 dc)
Round 2: Ch 3, dc in same st. Dc in next 10 sts. (2 dc in next st) 7 times. Dc in next 9 sts, 2 dc in last dc. Join w/ sl st to top of ch 3. (37 dc)
Round 3: Ch 3, dc in next 15 sts, (dc dec) 4 times. Dc to end of round. Join w/ sl st. (33 dc)
Round 4: Ch 3, dc in next 11 sts, (dc dec) 5 times. Dc to end of round. Join w/ sl st. (28 dc)
Round 5: Ch 3, dc in next 8 sts, (dc dec) 6 times. Dc to end of round. Join w/ sl st. Finish off. (22 dc)

Weave in ends and felt mocs.

Next you make the ears. Here's where it gets a little tricky. Chain three and crochet 8 or so rows on those three stitches, whatever looks proportionate in relation to the moccasins, on the ninth (or so) row, the last row, slip stitch in the first stitch, half double crochet (or double crochet if you feel adventurous, it's not an exact science) in the second and slip stitch again in the last, finish off. This last step is to round the ear. Make four ears, obviously.

Then you sew the ears to the moccasins with wool yarn and felt them (felting instructions to follow). Now, with Tandy's slippers I stitched the little faces on after felting, but I think stitching a face on before hand (with wool)and then felting would also be very cute. It would certainly blend well.

Now, to felt. Set your washing machine to it's hottest setting and throw the slippers in with an old pair of pants that you are SURE won't bleed color into the wash. Also add a bit of detergent. Bring a pair of tongs with you to fish the slippers out of the stifling hot machine, you don't want to use your hand for this. Start the machine and let it agitate the slippers (agitation and heat are what cause the wool to felt). Before your washer gets to the rinse stage check the slippers to see if they are felted enough (more on this later) if they are felted enough (lucky you I ususally have to do at least three cycles) then rinse them in cold water and shape them to dry. If they are not felted enough then wind the washing machine back to start (don't rinse, don't refill, use the same hot water). Run the slippers through as many cycles as needed to felt them to your liking and then rinse and shape them to air dry.

So, how will you know if the slippers are felted enough? Use your best judgement, the slippers should start to look like a solid piece of felt and the individual stitches will all mesh together. Remember that the felted look will intensify with drying so if they look close to what you think they should look like pull them out and rinse them. Remember that the more you felt them the more they will shrink down so if they are getting to be about the right size they're done. And lastly, remember that you can always felt them more later, but you can't undo the felting so better to be safe than sorry.

The last two things to do are to stitch the face on and deal with the ears. Stitch a face on using black yarn for the eyes and pink for the nose. Now the ears: if your ears are looking how you want them to look then leave them alone, if they are falling to the side or something then stitch them into a placement that is pleasing to you with a white thread. When I did this with Tandy's slippers it only took like two small stitches per ear to hold them back, they kept falling in the poor bunny's face. And TADA! You are done. How adorable. While this may sound like a bit of work it actually goes rather fast. Now I'm working on figuring out an adult version of these, how fun would that be? Enjoy! Here's one last picture of them because I just never tire of looking at my handiwork:)

Hot Sauce

This year I planted lots of hot peppers. Originally I had no plans for the peppers, I just wanted to grow them and so I planted them. Once the cayenne peppers really started coming on I realized I would have to think of a way to use them. So I decided to make hot sauce, and I was very excited. Rightly so. I put hot sauce on everything! Seriously, it's an addiction. Seriously...I saw this thing on PBS about how it's completely possible to become addicted to spicy things. Moving on. If you've got an abundance of hot peppers and would like to make hot sauce here's how you do it. It's so easy! You can use any hot pepper you like, I used cayenne and plan on using tequila sunrise and jalapeno peppers next week.

Before you start be aware that hot pepper oils are very irritating and hurt like the dickens if you get them in your eyes, or even if your hands are exposed to them for too long. The oils can remain on skin for a very long time so please just wear gloves and be careful.

Here's what you'll need, Hot peppers, vinegar, salt.

First trim the stems off of your peppers and throw them whole into a sauce pan. Cover them with vinegar and cook them. Put a lid on the pot, the vinegar/hot pepper steam is potent!

Next, if you want to peel the peppers then be my guest. I got tired of peeling them after about thirty seconds and devised a simpler way -which will be revealed later.

After peeling -or not peeling, as the case may be- put your peppers into a blender with a bit of the cooking vinegar and blend the living daylights out of them. Add more vinegar until you get the consistency you want.

Now, if you didn't peel your peppers -or even if you did- pour the blended hot sauce through a fine sieve. The sieve should catch most of the peel and seed bits that eluded the blender blades. Salt it to your taste. Pour the hot sauce into an old tabasco sauce bottle that you saved and are now recycling:).

If you make a lot of hot sauce, I've heard that it freezes well, so you're in luck. Enjoy!

Use the pulpy sieve leftovers to deter unwanted rodents. We have a cardboard compost pile that mice just adore. I sprinkled the cayenne pulp around the back of it -where Jonas can't get to- and I'm hoping it irritates them into leaving. Probably won't happen, but one can hope.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slow Roasting Tomatoes

I love to grow small tomatoes. I'm pretty sure jelly bean tomatoes are my favorite. Now there is a plant that just doesn't quit! I also like red pear and yellow pear tomatoes. Though red pear seems a little too susceptible to blossom end rot for my taste. I feed and feed and feed some more and they still remain calcium and magnesium deficient. Whatevs. Often, at this time of year I am faced with an abundant crop of small tomatoes. What does one do with so many little tomatoes besides eat them raw and in a nice pasta salad? Jonas and Greg can pack away quite a few of the little guys, but still we have a lot left over and there's no way I'm going to can them (can you imagine peeling all of those little things? I can, I did it once, four years ago. It's hell). What you can do with them is slow roast them. I initially got this idea from Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Something everyone should read. But I digress.
Slow roasting tomatoes is easy as pie! Basically you slice small tomatoes in half, spread them out, cut side up on a foil lined baking sheet, spray them with olive oil (or toss them in olive oil pre-spreading if you don't have a handy refillable oil sprayer), season and let them sit in a low oven (like 250-300 degrees) for a few hours until they shrink down. Check them every now and then to make sure they aren't charring, charred roasted tomatoes do not taste good. Learn from my mistakes. A properly roasted tomato should be very sweet and delicious. A poor-mans version (and a somewhat softer version) of those expensive sundried tomatoes.
I am very fond of roasting a whole bunch and then freezing them for later. They are delicious alone, or on a pizza, sometimes I throw a bunch of them in the food processor with some garlic, olive oil and maybe basil if it's in season and whip up a pesto (the pesto also freezes nicely.) If you do decide to freeze the pesto, freeze it in ice cube trays so that it's easier to portion out later and defrosts faster. But I've gotten off track. Honestly these tomatoes would make cardboard taste good. Try them, I guarantee you'll want to just eat the entire pan yourself. And you can, I mean, they're tomatoes, they're good for you:) Here'e what they look like all done.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Is That Thing?!

Something has taken up residence in our worm bins. Or, I should say, LOTS of somethings have taken up residence in our worm bins. Last week I spent several hours picking a bunch out, only to find they've increased ten fold this week. At first I flipped out. They are creepy looking, and also the fact that I didn't know what they were added to the flipping out. So what am I talking about? This:

We have Black Soldier Fly Larvae!!! Gross, right? Right. It is very gross, but also very helpful. Lucky for us, we have millions of them. And I'm quite delighted. I'm perhaps most delighted because, now, since they're helpful, I don't have to spend hours upon hours picking them out. I've read online that they are just as helpful, if not more so, than red worms. They eat a lot! And subsequently poop a lot. I've read online that there are actually people who go to the trouble of acquiring them so as to add them to their compost piles/bins. In Australia they occur naturally, and apparently the same is true for San Diego.

Black Soldier Fly Larvae are not maggots, nay they actually deter maggots and keep them from sprouting up in your bins. And the adult soldier fly is not a pest. Hooray! I am somewhat dubious though, I mean, who determines what a pest is? All I know is that since these little fellas have arrived the fruit fly population has decreased to almost nothing.

They still creep me out, but then again so did the springtails at first. Hopefully I will become desensitized to these guys soon. Anyway, if any of you start worm bins and these things show up, fear not. They're here to help.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Glorious, Glorious Vinegar

Last summer, when I had a child that took two naps a day, I read Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck. It completely changed the way I cleaned house. The book is a bit long. Since reading a book on housekeeping isn't the most exciting thing in the world, I'll cut to the chase for you and share some things I learned...and still use a year later.
Easily the handiest tip I picked up from Ms. Sandbeck was the many uses of...Vinegar (kinda gave it away with the title didn't I). Who knew it had so many uses? If you don't keep a giant, costco size jug of vinegar around you're missing out. It's so cheap, and seriously could clean almost everything (if not everything) in your house, and it doesn't stop there. Here are some uses for vinegar to get you started.That's what I'm talking about.

For cleaning hard surfaces: countertops, toilets, stovetops, walls, refrigerators, floors, etc. When vinegar dries it leaves zero residue, also it dissolves stuck on messes fast and has natural antibacterial properties making it ideal for cleaning and wiping up. Also, since it leaves no residue you don't have to worry about it leaching into you (or your kids, or your food) like you do with chemical cleaners.

Sticker Removal: like it says people, vinegar will remove the stickers your kids decorate the leather couch with. Also good for removing the labels from jars you are recycling to hold the new homemade yogurt you just fermented. Clever.

Fruit and Veggie Wash: If you are somewhat paranoid about your produce being clean, and buy into that expensive veggie wash sold in stores look to vinegar (and hydrogen peroxide) instead. Keep a spray bottle of vinegar and a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide (must be in separate bottles to remain potent) around for cleaning fruits and vegetables. Obviously don't clean everything because you need to challenge your immune system every now and then to keep it strong. But if your apple fell into raw meat juice or the lettuce is extra dirty spray first with vinegar then hydrogen peroxide. Rinse if you want. Don't be afraid of the hydrogen peroxide, it's completely safe.

Spot Cleaning Carpets: In the book Ellen Sandbeck suggests that vinegar and a rag can be used to clean your wall to wall carpeting (that's some serious elbow grease). It works just as well for spot cleaning. The problem with spots in the carpet is that they keep coming back (this is doubly true for when your husband spills an entire bowl of roasted potatoes on your brand new carpet, am I right ladies?), you clean them and then a few months later they reappear. How do they do that? Basically residue stays behind and new dirt clings to it. Vinegar solves this problem since it leaves no residue. Hooray!

Glass, Mirror, Window Cleaner: If you have previously used cleaners like windex then you will initially need to clean your mirrors and windows with a solution of vinegar, water and dishsoap before using just vinegar to clean them. This is because windex and similar cleaners leave behind a wax like residue that vinegar cannot get rid of. Or so says Ellen Sandbeck. When I started using vinegar to clean windows and things I just lived with some slight streakiness from the waxy stuff and eventually it went away. If you are less lazy than I, use the dishsoap stuff once and live streak free from the get go.

Jet Dry Replacement: I am starting to sound like a broken record, vinegar leaves no residue and therefore your dishes will rinse clean. Pour it into the allotted jet dry spout, and rest easy knowing the vinegar is much easier on the enviroment, and cheaper to boot.

Weed Killer: Peace-loving lover of the earth that I am I'm strongly against Roundup and the like. Use vinegar instead, just as effective, a million times less harmful! I pour it into the cracks of our driveway every now and then when I feel like keeping up with the Joneses. Works like a charm.

Laundry Gunk Banisher: Pouring a half cup of vinegar into the rinse cycle rids your laundry guessed it...residue! Vinegar is indispensible if you use cloth diapers. It keeps the smell down (if you let the diapers soak in the wash before actually washing them, like we do) and rinses away any soapy residue that would irritate a baby bottom.

See how awesome vinegar is? If you aren't already sold on it's many glorious uses you should be. Who doesn't like saving money, helping the planet and ridding their home of unnecessary chemical cleaners? Enjoy, People:)