Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Don't let the zombie flamingos get you!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Butterfly Moon

As I write this, Hurricane Sandy is making landfall in New Jersey, which seems to be an unusually northern location for a hurricane. It's also worse because of it being on the full moon, making high tide even higher. Take care up there!

Here in Texas, it's finally feeling like fall. We haven't had a frost here in San Marcos yet, but further out in places like Johnson City and Fredricksburg it's at least been getting close. The plants out in the garden that are not freeze-tolerant are running out of time. By next full moon, we will probably have had our first freeze.

And yes, I have been seeing the migrating monarch butterflies, along with lots of snout butterflies, and some others. Lots of migrating animals, not just butterflies, but bats and birds also ride the cold fronts this time of year to get to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.

Most of the peppers are doing a good job putting on a second crop before frost. Too bad I can't say as much about the tomatoes. They have a few blooms but that's about it.

Speaking of blooms, I gave up on trying to save basil seed this time because I just couldn't keep up with pinching off the blossoms to prevent the basil I wanted to save from cross-pollinating with other varieties. Every time I got out there, there are more blossoms, and more bees mixing pollen all around.

The luffa gourds now have several fruits the size of large cucumbers. Problem is most of them are way up in the tree. Not sure how I'll get them down.
Most of the garlic seems to be sprouted by now, mixed in with all those rain lilies. The garlic appears to be lighter in color than the lilies, but the only way to tell for sure is by smell.

Fall crops like the arugula are also doing well, and almost big enough to start harvesting from.

The beets are mostly doing well too, though some varieties are germinating better than others, Bull's Blood being the worst. I seem to have this problem with Baker Creek's seeds fairly often. I'll buy several different varieties of seeds from them, and one or two will have really low germination. I wonder if they don't store them under very good conditions or something.

The Red Giant mustard is also doing well. It's turned out to be purple on the top of the leaves and green underneath. It's going better than my other Brassicas, but all of them are getting eaten up by caterpillars. I'm not sure if I'll spray them with Bt or wait for a freeze to take care of the bugs for me.

So that's how things are doing in the garden now. I love this time of year!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cushaw Pumpkin Butter

Yesterday I decided to try a new thing with the frozen cushaw puree I still have in the freezer from 2010. I made a batch of pumpkin butter with some of it. I based it off of this recipe, with only a few tweaks. I added some more spices, since pumpkin pie spice usually contains ginger and allspice in addition to cinnamon and nutmeg, so I added a half teaspoon of each of those spices as well. I used a cup of brown sugar and only two tablespoons of maple syrup to sweeten it, mainly because that's the all the maple syrup I had left! Of course, I only use real maple syrup, not that artificially maple- flavored high fructose corn syrup, and using the full quarter cup the recipe called for probably would have been even more yummy. I used a pinch of kosher salt instead of sea salt, since that's my default salt. Lastly, I cooked it a lot longer than the recipe called for. The recipe said you only need to cook it for 10 minutes, which seems way too short. Maybe it depends on how high your heat is and how watery your squash started out.

The tip to keep a lid on with a wooden spoon sticking out was very helpful. Once the stuff starts cooking it bloops everywhere, and if a drop of it hits you in the arm, it hurts! I put it on the stove on low enough heat so it was gently blooping and blubbing... and then I ended up letting it do that for a full two hours. I went to work on potting up some more transplants, and came back about every ten minutes to take it off the heat and give it a good stir. The point is to get the pumpkin to a thick, spreadable consistency. I'm sure it's possible to burn this stuff, so I kept it on low heat and made sure to check on it often, and that seemed to work just fine.

After two hours this is the result. When I stirred it, it mostly kept its shape. A blob put on a plate didn't leak out any liquid around the edges. It also made my house smell wonderful!

There is some controversy over whether you can safely can pumpkin butter. The USDA says absolutely not, but I found plenty of blogs saying they can it all the time and nobody's gotten botulism yet. Well, I decided not to take my chances anyway, and ended up packaging it in Ball freezer jam jars. I ended up filling 5 jars all the way, and a 6th one about halfway full. The halfway full one went in the fridge, and the rest went in the freezer.

And here is the completely cooled butter being put to the test on some ciabatta toast. As you can see it's thick enough to be spread with a knife, so I guess that means I cooked it long enough. It was tasty too! I bet this would also be good on a hearty whole grain bread, or English muffins, or pancakes, or oatmeal, or ice cream, whatever!

So that used up two more containers of cushaw puree. I still have 11 more left in the freezer! I guess I won't have to grow any more pumpkin/winter squash in 2013 either.

Pumpkin (or winter squash) Butter
  • 4 1/2 cups roasted and pureed cushaw squash (or whatever winter squash or pumpkin you have)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2-4 tbsp real maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
Mix everything together in a medium saucepan and put on low to medium-low, just so the mixture gently simmers/boils. Cover with a lid propped up with a wooden spoon to protect from splatters. Stir well every ten minutes or so to keep the bottom from burning, and cook for an hour or two, until the butter is as thick as you'd like. Keep in the refrigerator or freeze for longer term storage.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Gold Moon

Sorry this post is a couple of days late. The full moon was actually Sept. 30. I think traditionally this moon is called the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox. It's just not very gold out there right now, it's mostly very green. We got lots of rain in September, about 5 inches, so everything is looking very lush and green out there. The weather has cooled down so we're having highs in the low 80's and lows in the low 60's.

The garlic is starting to sprout, but so are a lot of rain lilies that are in the bed with them, so it's a little hard to tell what is what. I planted the garlic in the last bed on the end, which is very close to some oak trees, so I hope that wasn't a bad move. I think after I harvest the garlic next summer I'm going to abandon that bed. Hopefully by then I'll have the old shed taken down and that prime sunny area it's now taking up made into more garden space. (We plan on rebuilding a new shed in the shade.)

I also haven't gotten around to mulching the garlic yet. It's probably OK for now since we've gotten a lot of rain and it's not cold yet, but it's on my to-do list.

The Red Giant mustard is growing bigger, but it's still not very red. Does it need cold weather to get red? You can see some more rain lilies coming up there too. They're so pretty, I just don't have the heart to pull them out. They're hard to pull out anyway because of the bulb.

I've also planted some arugula, which you can see here with another wildflower, purple wood-sorrel  growing up among it. That's another "weed" I don't like to pull up. It gets pretty purple flowers on it and the leaves are edible. A whole bunch started coming up in the yard after the rain.

I also planted kale, chard, and dill plants which have also settled in nicely. Still left to plant are parsley, cilantro, and celery.

The beets are just starting to sprout as well. Don't see any carrot sprouts yet. This year I also planted leek and onion seeds directly in the ground instead of trying to transplant them like I've done before. No sprouts of them yet.

The fall tomatoes are doing OK but still pretty small. I don't know if they'll have time to set a crop of tomatoes before frost. Maybe fall tomatoes just aren't worth it.

The tomatoes that survived the summer aren't looking much better than the fall-planted ones. Still no fruit being set. Maybe in the future I should concentrate my efforts on getting a good tomato harvest in the spring and summer, and just accept that there will be no more fresh tomatoes after July or so.

The basil is doing great. I think I should plant basil earlier next year so I'll have some to harvest earlier in the year (like when I have tomatoes!), but no problem with getting a fall harvest of basil too. The only problem I'm having is pinching off the flowers on the varieties I'm not saving seed from this year fast enough to keep them from cross pollinating with the variety I am saving seed from this year.

Well, another problem is figuring out what to do with so much Cinnamon Basil. I've found a few recipes for it, but most of the time when I do a search for "cinnamon basil recipes", I get recipes that have both cinnamon and basil in them but not Cinnamon Basil.

The luffa gourds are another summer survivor that I'm not sure are going to do anything before frost. I wonder if they are in too much shade? They're on the extreme other end of the garden from the garlic. They have grown up into the Ashe juniper tree that shades them on that side, but even the part that's up there isn't setting any fruit.

The hot peppers are putting out a second crop, but disappointingly the bell peppers haven't. The plants look fine, but no peppers. I feel like I'm up to my eyeballs in hot peppers already, but it would be nice to have some more bells before frost.

The leeks I planted in spring are still there, and I still think that's weird. They still haven't bolted or made any bulbs. They've just sat there all through the summer. I was going to try either saving seeds or bulbs from them but they haven't made either. I think this week I'll try cooking with some and seeing if they're at least edible. I keep thinking they're probably tough or bad-tasting by now, but maybe not.

Lastly, the Austrian Winter Peas I planted as a cover crop in the bed I plan on planting potatoes in are growing nicely, with all the rain. The idea is for them to fix nitrogen in the bed before I plant nitrogen-loving potatoes in there in January or February.

Which reminds me, I still need to plant my edible peas and fava beans, but I've run out of room. This is why I'm a bit annoyed with my tomatoes, bell peppers, and luffa gourds right now. They're taking up valuable garden room, as it becomes increasingly doubtful I'm going to get anything more out of them this year. I wonder if I should go ahead and yank any of them up, or if I should wait until they freeze to death before I plant my peas. Except that might delay the pea harvest, and I'm really looking forward to some delicious, fresh homegrown peas. This winter I want to grow enough peas to freeze some for later.