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What A Crock of Pickles!

Submerged PicklesSubmerged Pickles More accurately, it will be a crock of pickles in 7 days. Currently, it's a crock of pickling cucumbers in brine.

Back in June, Yarndiva of Sew Old - Sew New commented on my first silk chiffon tunic post. Then I followed her back to her blog and discovered her Best Dill Pickles post. And so I planted some pickling cucumbers.
Now I have picked some pickling cucumbers and started them pickling!
Crock of PicklesCrock of Pickles
I hounded her quite a bit with pickling-noob questions. And only just noticed, upon checking that post again, that she has a picture of the salt and pickling spice that she used. And it's the same kosher salt that I got that says that it can be used in place of pickling salt, so I was thinking that maybe I'd gotten the wrong stuff. (Note to self: always look at the big pictures!)

I found that I had trouble finding proper pickling vessels. I ended up taking "crock" literally and using the crock from my crock pot. I probably should have picked the pickling cucumbers when they were smaller. Smaller cucumbers would have meant more flexibility with containers. I thought maybe I could fit them into a vase, but I couldn't. So this time it's a crock. Next time it'll be smaller pickles in a vase. That would definitely look better while they're pickling. I had trouble finding something that would work to weight the top to keep the pickling cucumbers submerged. I ended up using the lid from my Pyrex mixing bowl, because I needed something rather large in order to keep them all submerged. This is not a very photogenic pickling situation.

Kris thinks I'm crazy for wanting the cucumbers to look pretty while they're pickling, but it's not just in the fridge that I want them to look pretty. A crock pot crock and a Pyrex mixing bowl lid don't make for pretty blog pictures either! Definitely not as photogenic as Yarndiva's milk jar.

Ripening Pumpkins! In July!

Pumpkins Turning Orange!Pumpkins Turning Orange!My pumpkins are starting to ripen! They were the "early sugar" variety (Pumpkin Early Sugar or Pie, but a different brand; I think I got them locally) so I guess I shouldn't be so surprised. What, did I think they were kidding by "harvest in 90 days"?
It just feels strange to see ripening pumpkins in July. Only these two seem to be developing into mature pumpkins, though; I'm not seeing any others developing on the vines.

The lighting and shadows were too weird to get a decent photo of them both in one picture, so I just put the two photos side-by side.

The pumpkin plants also took off earlier than most of my other plants. They're in a row right next to the cantaloupes and watermelons, but for some reason at the beginning of the season the pumpkins were much happier than the others were.

I've already started some new pumpkin seeds so that I'll have pumpkins in the fall, too.
The ones I started are more of the "early sugar" pumpkins. It's probably too late in the summer to start any larger pumpkins. I think I'll try some Giant Pumpkins next year, along with the small, sweet ones for cooking.

Just how long does it take for pumpkins to ripen after they start to turn orange, anyways?

Plenty of Pesto

Basil for PestoBasil for Pesto Basil Stuffed into Measuring CupBasil Stuffed into Measuring Cup Pesto and MessPesto and Mess For the first time ever (I think) I made pesto all by myself!

I started with an absurd amount of basil. My basil in general is absurd. All of the basil you see in the bottom two pictures, that casserole-dish full of basil... all that was from pruning! I removed a couple large branches from one of the plants that was overshadowing my cilantro (and a couple branches from the marigold on the other side that was contributing to the buried cilantro.) The rest is just from taking off the starting-to-approach-flowering tops.

So basil-basil-basil.

I'd ordered a two-pound bag of bulk pine nuts from Amzaon, which worked out quite well. There were various warnings about "pine mouth" from Chinese pine nuts, but these were American and seem quite good. I ended up using about a cup of them in this batch.

While I was looking up info before I started, I came across this page on How To:Simplify that says that if you're going to freeze the pesto, you shouldn't add the Parmesan cheese right away, but right before serving it. So I added a little bit of the Parmasian, but figure on adding most of it as I use the pesto.

I used the blender for most of the process, but used the salsa-maker towards the end-- at the point where it was getting to be too much and too think for the blender to be effective, and when I was wanting to give it a bit of texture rather than make it totally pureed.

Yes, I did manage to make all that basil fit into that measuring cup. I'm thinking that when they say "two cups fresh packed basil leaves" they probably don't mean quite such extreme stuffing!

As you can see, I produced an entire salsa-maker full of finished [minus most of the Parmesan cheese] pesto. I froze an icing container full, and put a butter container full into the fridge.

Really, I need better pesto storage. A whole icing container full is really more than I'm going to want to defrost at any one time. So an idea came up in the PR chat [of course.] Ice cube trays! Freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, then store the frozen pesto-cubes in freezer bags.

So now I need ice cube trays. So, as usual, I headed over to Amazon to see what was available in the way of ice cube trays. I'm thinking I'll go with the silicone trays. these Jumbo-Size Silicone Ice-Cube Trays seem like they'd be about what I need. But of course I couldn't stop there, I had to keep looking.

And that's when I saw the Pi Symbol Ice Cube Tray! Probably not good for pesto storage, but oh-so-nifty! I'm getting a kick out of the Set of Heart and Stars Ice Cube Trays too, and those probably would be good for freezing pesto!
There are even Ducky Trays and Musical Note Trays! Decisions, decisions.

Peppers, Carrots, Herbs, Stevia (Another Garden Update)

Jalapenos (July 12)Jalapenos (July 12) Small Garden (July 12)Small Garden (July 12) Stevia Plant -- Ordered OnlineStevia Plant -- Ordered Online More on the garden. All the way to the left of the big garden I have jalapenos; they didn't fit into the pictures in the post I put up yesterday.

The jalapenos were ravaged by insects early on, so they're only now starting to actually grow. I had them under tulle floating row covers for awhile, and then starting using diatomaceous earth and pesticides to keep the bad things away from them. They're still kinda struggling, but are starting to establish themselves. (Same situation with the bell peppers, which are in the next picture down, but they seem to have recovered more quickly.)

Behind the jalapenos you can see the cantaloupes and watermelons that did fit into yesterday's pictures, and off to the right are the pumpkins and cucumbers.

I have marigolds interspersed throughout both gardens. None of them have bloomed yet so they're not all that obvious, but the ones that I put in earlier are starting to get quite large. There's a marigold plant in between the jalapenos and the cantaloupes too, but it's kinda hard to see exactly what's what in the picture.

I find garden photography so frustrating. Getting a closeup focused on one plant is one thing, but pictures of whole sections of garden end up looking confusing. Green in front of green, green behind green, green hidden and tucked behind green.. even labeled it's hard to tell what's what.

And the confusing-garden-pictures problem is nicely illustrated in the next picture. You can see the row of bell peppers, you can see the row of tomatoes to the right of it.. but then there's that left row. It has basil at the front, then a section with cilantro and oregano side by side behind the basil, and then a section of carrots. But the basil bush hides the oregano and cilantro, so I guess you'll just have to use your imagination to see them.

The original volunteer Brandywine tomato plant that sprouted up out of the top of my herb planter sometime around the end of winter is in the front of this row of tomatoes.. but you can't see it here. Perspective is so darn annoying in garden pictures!

And yes, I know, the deck is a bit of a cluttered mess. I really need to come up with some kind of decent outdoor storage solution. What am I supposed to do with not-currently-in-use plant supports, rakes, shovels, etc? It seems absurd to bring stuff like that all the way around front and into the garage when I still need them out back. We don't have a shed.

And the bottom picture is the Stevia Plant I ordered from a seller on Amazon. (It was one of those semi-Amazon purchases where you have to click the "see all buying options" rather than having a normal "add to cart" button. Not sure what's up with that, usually even things that aren't fulfilled by Amazon have a normal "add to cart" button. The seller on this one was "So Succulent Gardens.")

I decided to just buy a plant after figuring out that at least one of the seedlings I've been growing wasn't actually stevia. (The bottom one in that last stevia post turned out to be mint. This wasn't all that surprising as the mint I planted last year never sprouted.. so the seeds had to be somewhere!)

Garden Update (July 11, 2011)

Big Garden (July 11, 2011)Big Garden (July 11, 2011) Pumpkins (July 11, 2011)Pumpkins (July 11, 2011) Cabbage and Cucumbers (July 11, 2011)Cabbage and Cucumbers (July 11, 2011) Watermelon (July 11, 2011)Watermelon (July 11, 2011)
Yes, I know this garden post is overdue. I have so much trouble getting garden pictures that I like. Even growing everything in well spaced, significantly raised rows, with vine plants grown mostly up, everything just looks jumbled.

And I need so many pictures in order to give much of a real view-- especially since I have so many plants interspersed, rather than having each type of plant together.

The tomatoes are all staked to bamboo. Most of the vine plants are grown up short sections of fence, sometimes supplemented with bamboo for added stability. The cucumbers are particularly suited to growing up fences and bamboo trellises.

The pumpkins took off really fast. I ended up attaching a bit of fencing to a pole in the center, and starting them growing up that. I added some bamboo to that rig, although the only actual pumpkins I can see growing are the ones along the back fence.

The watermelons are growing up a section of fence attached to a bamboo support (vertical with a couple of diagonal pieces to keep it steady--you can see that in the bottom picture) and the cantaloupes are growing up a section of fence between 5-foot garden U-style posts I picked up at Lowes specifically for that purpose. (Like these: U-style Fence Post 5')

The main garden fence uses much shorter posts, and the cucumbers are using slightly longer ones I'd gotten from my mom. (Mostly they're using the two-foot fencing, though. I like the plant-support fencing not to reach all the way to the ground.) I'll have to invest in some more taller ones for next year, I'm very fond of the vertical growing. I also have one 6' fencepost pole that I haven't put into use yet. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to use, so I picked up a couple of different options to try. While I dug holes for the bamboo before putting in the tomatoes (bamboo doesn't hold up so well to pounding), fence-posts I put in with a sledgehammer, so I did have to make sure I wasn't using any posts that would be too tall for me to reach to pound into the ground.
(Actually, perhaps it's an Engineer Hammer. It appears to be that one, although most of the writing on the sticker is worn off, so I'm not sure. I haven't weighed it.)

I had the bush beans covered with tulle while the plants were developing, to minimize insect damage; my green bean crops last year were not good. I eventually had to remove the tulle so that the bees could pollinate, though. I'm avoiding much pesticide on the green beans for the same reason, but I am using bug-killers on most of the other plants. I have upside-down soda cases on either side of the green beans to help keep the edges off the ground.

Most of the lettuce is protected by cages. Some are regular wire garden fencing (the same stuff that's around the outside of the garden and that supports most of the vines) shaped to enclose the plants and some are modular wire storage cubes.

There's some cabbage at the back of the garden. I'm protecting that from pests mainly with a combination of Diatomaceous Earth and Dipel Dust (Although I got the Dipel locally and it's not the kind with the cayenne in it. I'll probably try the stuff with cayenne next time. Through much of last summer I was actually making jalapeno-seed "tea" to spray onto my plants to repel pests.)

The bugs have been really bad this year, so I did break down and buy some Ortho Bug-B-Gon MAX Dust and Sevin Dust. I'll definitely be buying more of the Bug-B-Gone-- that duster bottle is about a zillion times easier to get where I want it than the shaker cans that the Sevin comes in. The shaker cans aren't bad for low-to-the-ground things like my savagely-bug-attacked pepper plants, but applying it to the cucumber plants to keep away the awful bugs that cause bacterial wilt is quite awkward.

Wow, I didn't realize how long it had been since my last garden progress post! I'd taken some pictures since then, but hadn't gotten around to editing them down to the relevant parts, labeling them, and posting them. Whoops!

Stevia Seedlings

Indoor Stevia SeedlingIndoor Stevia Seedling Outdoor Stevia SeedlingOutdoor Stevia Seedling I split up my stevia seedlings; one inside and one outside. The leaves on the outside one look a bit gnarled, but it's also significantly stouter than the indoor seedling. The indoor seedling taller, but distinctly more fragile.

The windowsill really doesn't get quite enough light. It's good for starting seeds, but not quite enough for decent growth. In the fall I'll probably put in a grow light to supplement the light so I can keep a few plants going through the winter. Herbs at least, but it would be nice to keep at least a few vegetables going.

The rest of the garden is doing more or less okay. I'm having big bug problems. The cucumber beetles are bad. And of course, so are the stink bugs. Really bad. I've been using diatomaceous earth, Dipel, and insecticidal soap, and tulle floating row covers, and they all help some.. but not quite enough. I finally bit the bullet and ordered Sevin. I'm getting some cucumber wilt. I've read that you diagnose bacterial wilt by breaking the stem and seeing if there's a milky sap inside and it'll be kinda sticky. It's not, but there's still some kind of wilt problem. And this was a strain that was supposedly disease resistant.. maybe just not to bacterial wilt, though. So I set up another fence for cucumbers, will plant some more, and will use the Sevin. I may order some more seeds too, of one of the really good disease-resistant varieties.

Stevia From Seed and Ordering Plants Online

Tiny Stevia SeedlingTiny Stevia Seedling
I ordered a packet of Stevia Seeds along with an Amazon order awhile ago, before I actually knew anything about growing stevia. The overall rating was low, but included "reviews" like "how many seeds are in this packet?" and of course, non-review reviews piss me off to no end. They were eligible for super saver shipping, so I ordered them to push an order over the $25 necessary to qualify for the free shipping.

At the time I didn't realize that germination rates on stevia are rather low, so I only planted a few outside. I don't think they've sprouted outside, but I planted them out in the big garden and that's not really a great place for starting seeds. After learning that they're fairly difficult to start, I poured the rest of the packet into cup of dirt inside and sat it on the windowsill, not really expecting much since it was a fairly small packet. I've actually gotten two started, though!

I divided them into separate cups, and placed one of them outside and left the other on the windowsill. Both are growing slowly (as seedlings tend to do before they establish enough leaf surface area for faster growth,) but are growing.

There have been subsequent reviews (after I bought these seeds) stating that they don't grow at all. This I find pretty strange, especially since one person says that they ordered three packets. I'll have to leave a review stating that mine are growing, but since they're tiny and not really established yet, I'm still holding off making judgments either way about them, particularly since I've had massive problems with strawberries sprouting as tiny seedlings and then dying.

Just to be certain (given that I use a significant amount of artificial sweeteners, growing stevia would be really nice,) I'm kinda considering ordering an already started plant. As far as I can tell, there is one place online, Michigan Bulb Company that sells established stevia plants. If I want to order, I'll have to soon, because their spring shipping season is almost over. But they have flat rate shipping, and I can't order just one little thing when there's flat rate shipping involved! ..So I'm still debating it. Maybe I'll tack on an order for a grape plant.. if I can figure out where I'd want to set up supports and all for grapes. Grapes are something I keep thinking about growing anyways.. it's just the "where" that's a tad problematic. And I don't want to give up on my started plants. But three plants are better than two, right?

Some of those dwarf citrus trees are pretty tempting too. But then I have to decide just which one or two I want, and I have problems deciding what I don't want to grow. I want to grow everything!

I'm also still a tad nervous about ordering live plants online. I've ordered plenty of seeds online, but still haven't ordered any actual plants. I know some come as bare root and some actually come potted, but I'm having trouble picturing just what a plant traveling through the mail would look like.

It's a Tomato!

First Tomato!First Tomato!
My volunteer tomato plant has been getting lots of flowers, but most of them were dropping off, and I was starting to get concerned.

But then this morning I found this!

Garden Progress

Big Garden Pictures (May 28): A full view of my bigger garden, with some closer shots of a few of the rows underneath.Big Garden Pictures (May 28): A full view of my bigger garden, with some closer shots of a few of the rows underneath. Small Garden Pics (May 28)Small Garden Pics (May 28)
My garden seems to be coming along fairly well! I'm using a combination of modular storage cubes and wire fencing for protection from poaching animals-- so far so good so far as animal pests.

I have been getting insect damage. For now I'm using diatomaceous earth, which helps some, but I do still plan on picking up some insecticidal soap too. The DE is all well and good, and useful in many places, but I don't so much like the way plants looked covered with the stuff, and I'm not sure how good it is for them either.

At this point the small garden is pretty much planted, and about half or a bit more than half of the big garden. I put up a short segment of a fence support for cucumbers in the big garden, and planted seeds there, but sprouting in the big garden is slow, so I'll end up transplanting cukes started in small containers on the deck into the big-garden cucumber spot.

A not about diatomaceous earth. An awful lot of people seem to be terrified of it because you're not supposed to breathe in huge amounts of it. This seems to me like a bit of an obvious thing. It's not generally a great idea to inhale lots of any kind of powder, much less one being used for its properties as an abrasive. Diatomacious earth is the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae. It is used everywhere, for purposes ranging from pest control to pool filtration to stabilizing nitroglycerine into dynamite. One of the pest-control uses for diatomaceous earth is as an additive in flour. Yes, you eat it, whether you know it or not. So no, breathing in clouds of the stuff is not healthy. But I really hate it when people act like I'm doing something crazy while applying the stuff with a paint brush.

Let's Get the Garden Started

Small Garden (May 15)Small Garden Big Garden  (May 15)Big Garden Technically, I've already gotten the garden started, but now it's starting to get more interesting. I've tilled, worked leaves and stuff into the ground, dug holes for bamboo to hold up the tomatoes, gotten things started inside, but now is when it's really starting to become a garden. That big tomato plant at the front of the small garden is the volunteer that sprouted out of the top of the hanging indoor herb planter
that lives in my kitchen.

The dill is really taking off; I planted most of it in that planting box, and I ended up transplanting a bunch of it out into [temporary] pots because it's growing together and generally getting big. The basil doesn't seem to be so lucky. I'm finding that a lot of plants that have been living inside aren't particularly happy with going outside; if they survive, it takes them awhile to adjust. Some of the cilantro I started inside is doing okay outside, but I've also gotten new seeds and planted some of it directly into the ground outside. So far in the small garden, there's the row that has my blueberry bushes at the front, and then the fence with cucumber plants on either side. I started some of those cucumber plants in the planter box; those are the ones that are doing the best so far. Last year I had the cucumbers growing up a setup of those modular metal storage cubes into a "cucumber tower," but that had the tendency to blow over in strong wind. That was particularly problematic because strong wind frequently goes along with heavy rain; during that huge storm we got at the end of last summer, I kept trying to go outside to fix the tower! This year I'll probably use those mostly for protecting lettuce and spinach.

Potted Plants (May 15)Potted Plants (May 15)
Planter Box: Yes, this picture is GIMPed together, I couldn't actually get the whole width in one shot.Planter Box: Yes, this picture is GIMPed together, I couldn't actually get the whole width in one shot.
A few of the ones I started inside are growing outside, but a few died. Next row over is tomatoes and lettuce, then a row of teeny tiny bell pepper plants, and then a row with sections for basil, cilantro, and carrots.

I don't have too much out in the big garden yet. I've got some seeds planted in that row all the way to the left, and I'm starting to transplant the tomatoes in starter cups and pots into the row with the poles. I picked up a copy of Square Foot Gardening, and while I'm not actually all-out using the method, I am trying to apply some of the principles. I'm putting in some more poles around the garden, in hopes of growing a lot of my plants vertically, and trying to keep the garden to controlled rows built up, surrounded by ditches that can work as a simple irrigation system.

I'm also filling in the spaces between the rows with leaves and various plant matter, partially just because if I don't, they get really muddy. One step in, and my shoe sinks. So leaves and pine needles and whatnot help with that, but also serve as plant matter that should decay and work to feed the plants. (I hope.) Looking at composting systems like the Soilsaver Classic Composter on Amazon, I've gotten (Gasp!) An idea! If you can speed up composting with a dark plastic container, how about covering the biomatter I'm putting in between my rows with cheap dark fabric? I'm thinking half-width strips of polyesters I'm not expecting to use might improve composting right in my garden. I haven't decided whether I'm going to do that or not (or whether I might just buy one of those nifty composters with the door at the bottom to get out the well-rotted stuff!) but I'm definitely going to put more thought into exactly how I'd implement the direct-in-garden composting.

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