Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Mistletoe Moon

It's the last full moon of 2012. Winter has still been unusually warm and dry. We've had a few mild freezes, but still plenty of days where I could wear short sleeves in the afternoon. We also noticed our water bill went up, probably because I've had to water the garden so much. I really wish it would rain. We have a chance of rain on Monday, so I hope it doesn't turn out to be another disappointment.

The kale and collards are still getting badly eaten up by cabbage worms. It just hasn't gotten cold enough to kill the bugs. It's also too dry for them to grow very quickly to make up for the leaves that get eaten. I'm going to have to buy collards for the traditional New Year's Eve black-eyed pea, collard, and cornbread dinner.
The Red Giant mustard and arugula are still getting eaten but not as badly. I've actually been able to harvest some. I guess this really shows that spicier greens are better defended against caterpillars.

I just planted the celery, which had been in pots. I've never grown celery before, but so far it's doing well. I've heard that celery needs a lot of water, though, so we'd better get some rain soon now that they're out in the garden.

The shallots seem to be doing fine. That's another thing I haven't grown before, so I hope they turn out to be easier to grow than onions, which I've never had much luck with.

The beets are struggling along due to lack of water. Chioggia is still doing the best, but that could be because it's right in the middle of the patch, while Bull's Blood is doing the worst, but it's on the edge. This is why it's better to have multiple repeats of any experiment.

The peppers are finally starting to look wilted after that last freeze. They were going along fine for the first few freezes, but that last one might have been a bit too much for them.

The luffa gourds aren't looking too good either. I was trying to give them as much time as possible to ripen the gourds they have, but they're still green. I doubt I'll get ripe gourds from them.

In the garage I've got my baby nightshades under lights. In the cellpack to the left I've got potato seedlings. I tried to grow some potatoes from seed last year, but they didn't make it once I transplanted. I'm trying again with the rest of the seeds, though I'll probably also buy some tubers. On the right I've got the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. They'll all go in their own individual pots once they get bigger.

Next I need to figure out what my 2013 Garden New Year's Resolutions will be!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cinnamon Basil Pumpkin Pie

For Thanksgiving this year I wanted to make another pumpkin pie (using more of that cushaw squash puree from 2010), but I was running low on ground cinnamon, so I thought this would be a good chance to try using some of that cinnamon basil I had growing.

I got the idea from this recipe I found on the internet, but it makes a deep dish pie, and I only have regular pie pans. I decided to use the pumpkin pie recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and just substitute cinnamon basil for the ground cinnamon. I also used Alton Brown's pie crust recipe from I'm Just Here for More Food, which is great because it has lard in it!

Overall the pie was good. It set up well, and had a nice smooth texture, but I ran into a couple of problems. I think 400 degrees for 30 minutes is too hot an oven for too short a time. The edges of my pie were starting to get overcooked before the middle was done. Custards need to cook low and slow, so next time I'm trying 350 degrees for a longer period of time.

The pie tasted good, but the ribbons of green basil in it just seemed weird. It took some explaining to my fellow guests for why there were green things in the pumpkin pie, and then why I would put BASIL in the pie. I think from now on I'll stick to ground cinnamon in my pumpkin pie and save the cinnamon basil for other things.

Cinnamon basil doesn't smell exactly like cinnamon. It's not as hot and spicy. I think it would do well paired with fruit of some kind, like apples. Maybe it wouldn't be as weird in an apple pie.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

First Frost

Last night we finally had our first frost, though it looks like it was fairly mild. The tomato plants aren't looking so good, but the pepper plants look fine.

Here are the mushy tomato plants in the foreground, with beets and carrots in the background. It doesn't look like they froze all the way down to the roots, but I went ahead and picked all the green tomatoes off them anyway. It's supposed to get below freezing again tonight, so that might finish them off.

I ended up with about 5 pounds of green tomatoes, along with lots of lots more peppers, especially Lemon Drop peppers, but also some more bell peppers, negro peppers, and Cayenne peppers. Even though the peppers seem to have made it through the freeze I thought it best to relieve them of their burden of ripe fruits anyway.

So what to do with this final bounty of 2012? The bigger tomatoes would be good made into Fried Green Tomatoes, but I also have lots and lots of little ones that wouldn't be worth the trouble. I think I'll make those into Green Tomato Relish from the Ball Book of Home Preserving. Maybe growing fall tomatoes is worth it after all.

My first batch of Lemon Drop Hot Pepper Sauce didn't turn out very good. Way too vinegary. All I could taste is vinegar and capsaicin, and none of the nice citrus fruitiness of the peppers. I think a good Lemon Drop Hot Pepper Sauce should be fruity and hot, with just enough acid to preserve it, but not to overwhelm the flavor (if that's possible). I've seen sauce recipes around that used pureed fruit such as peaches, apricot, pineapple, etc., usually with habanero peppers, which are also reputed to have a fruity flavor (I've never been brave enough to try!), so maybe something similar with lemon drops would work out.

I guess the good news is lemon drops are so prolific I've got plenty more peppers to experiment with! Though next time I'll start with a smaller batch just in case.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter Coming Late

For the last month or so, it seems like the deciduous trees just don't know what to do. We had a little cold weather, but then it's been in the 70's and even 80's for a while and very dry. Most of the trees usually turn in October, but some still seem confused and are turning color late, or some of their leaves are falling while some are still green.

Here are the Western Soapberry trees growing along the side of the old garden shed. Usually these turn a lovely golden color, but as you can see here, some of their leaves are still green, while others are already falling off.

The Flameleaf Sumac was also late in changing color to brilliant red. Usually it does that in October and would be leafless by now, but mine still has about half it's leaves left.

Other trees in the area, like the Cedar Elms, Red Oaks, and Pecans also seem confused, with some green leaves still hanging on even though it's December already!

Meanwhile, the Yaupon Hollies have plenty of berries and have for a while. It's kind of weird seeing them, a tree associated with winter and Christmas because of their winter berries, all loaded up with berries while it's 85 degrees outside.

The good news is we're supposed to get a good cold front tonight! It's supposed to get down to freezing every night for the next few days. I'm looking forward to it. Sure, it means I need to go out there today and pick all the rest of the peppers and tomatoes, and they probably won't survive, but it's just felt so wrong to be listening to Christmas carols and putting up lights when it's this warm. It's about time for it to be winter already.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Topaz Moon

Wednesday was the full moon of November, named after the state gem of Texas and birthstone of November. This November we've had very strange weather. It's been unusually warm, with highs pushing into the low 80's. It's also been very dry. San Marcos got about 0.1" of rain a few days ago, but in Austin they didn't get a drop, which is the first time they've had a completely dry November for over 100 years.

Usually mid to late November is when we have our first freeze, but we haven't even gotten close. Deciduous trees that usually would have lost their leaves by now are still in the process of turning color.

Out in the garden the warm-weather crops are still doing well, or at least if I water them, they are. All the peppers are working on a fall crop.

From top to bottom we have Chile Negro, red mystery pepper, Lemon Drops, and the bells my in-laws gave me. The only one that's not really doing much is Emerald Giant.

Most of the tomatoes have green fruits on them. I guess we'll see if they manage to ripen any before we finally get a freeze. There's no freeze in the forecast so far.

The Luffa gourds way up in the trees are starting to ripen and turn brown. Still not sure how we're going to get them down.
The warm weather has been less kind to some plants. My Tuscan kale is getting all eaten up by caterpillars. Usually I don't have this problem in November, but it hasn't been cold enough lately to kill the bugs. Might have to resort to spraying with Bt or neem oil or something.
They haven't gotten to all the kale yet. Here are some others I have between the rows of different garlic varieties.
The spicier brassicas are not getting quite as munched as the kale and collards. The arugula is doing very well.
The Red Giant mustard has some holes, but not that many. It's turned nice and purple on top, but green on the bottom.
I still have red lettuce, dill, parsley, and celery waiting to be planted out, but I don't really have room. I thought by now my summer crops would have been dead, leaving room for no winter crops, but not so far. They just keep waiting. I also would like to plant some pea and fava bean seeds, but haven't done that so far either.

Wonder if it's at least going to get cold by Christmas.