Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February's Garden (2017)

It has been the most unusual winter, almost no winter at all.  A few weeks of bitter cold and then it turned warm. However, I know better than to be happy.  Spring weather is about a month ahead of schedule.  The plants think it is the middle of March and have come out of dormancy.  Buttercups are blooming, trees are budding - this may or may not good.  It could easily turn off cold and everything would be killed.  We may not have had enough cold nights for the fruit trees to set fruit and I know it has not been cold enough to kill the bug eggs.  Right now we are holding our breaths.

What few plants are left in the garden are growing so fast I can't keep up with harvesting.  It is really a month ahead of schedule in spring growth, but if it turns off cold and starts snowing, I will put the hoop house covers back over the wire supports. Everything out there has been hardened off so cold weather won't bother it much.  

When I harvest greens, I cut the outer leaves off so there are only one or two leaves left.  This forces the plant to produce new leaves instead of wasting energy keeping the old, tough leaves alive.  The tender new growth has the best flavor.  The small plants (below) have all had their leaves harvested; they are surrounding an untouched plant in the center.

Morris Heading Collards
This is a Morris Heading Collard plant.  They did wonderfully in the winter garden.  All are from seeds I saved from last year's garden.

Morris Heading Collard.
This is the first year growing a savoy cabbage and I am pleased with the hardiness; however, it grows slow. Only a few leaves were picked all winter.

On the left is a Morris Heading Collard and on the right is a Tronchuda cabbage which also did wonderfully in the winter garden.  It too was from saved seeds.

Morris Heading Collard on left, Tronchuda Cabbage on right.
The elephant garlic has sprouted and is growing fast.  I keep clipping the leaves and chopping them up to go in salads.  This is a sprout from a bulb I bought years ago.  Every harvest, I save a few bulbs to replant. Sometimes they fall apart when being dug so little pieces stay behind and volunteer sprouts appear all around the garden.

Elephant Garlic in the strawberry bed.
My favorite green vegetable, collard greens is thriving.  This area was hard hit by the armadillos so there are only a few plants left; however, they are finally starting to grow.

Collard Greens
There are only about six kale plants still alive.  They too have come back to life and started growing rapidly.

This is my first time growing scarlet kale and the flavor is better, I think than the other varieties.  It has a milder taste, which is what I like.  After all the seeds I planted, there are only about three plants left alive.  Plus, I had to make myself stop harvesting the leaves so it could grow.  Next year I will put my kale under hoop houses to keep the rabbits away.

Putting a net over the Australian Winter peas worked great. They were not bothered by the cold weather.

The Florida Broadleaf Mustard plants have also sprung back to life.  I still have too many because they love the cold weather and only Bill likes them.

They are doing something strange. The main stem is dying, then rotting and breaking off.  I thought the plants were dead, but instead, they started sprouting around the damaged area.  This might be some type of virus according to the internet.  I am not really bothered since all I need are a few plants, but I decided to show the pictures.  As I dig up the infected plants, they will be burned and not put in the compost pile.

Even more mustard plants.

More mustards than I want.
The onions were out in the open, not under the hoop houses and only a few survived.  Next year they will all go under the hoop houses.

Empty onion bed.
On the left is a red romaine lettuce and on the right is buttercrunch lettuce.  These were planted real late in the season (November, December) when I was replanting daily due to the armadillos.  I did not expect much from them and they stayed tiny for a long time.  The hoop house kept them alive since they were too young to survive.  Now they have finally decided to start growing.

Red Romaine on the left.  Buttercrunch on right.
Every year I save many of my seeds and do not worry about cross-pollination.   Open pollinated seeds, which I use exclusively, adapt to your local area and improve.  Over the years I have not been vigilant about saving plant names, I simply did not care, it did not matter since my garden was only for my family.  Now that I am blogging, oops, my laziness has been on display for the world to see.  I do not have the Latin names for everything and if someone sees a mistake, please feel comfortable correcting me.

This is Ching Chang Bok Choy that is already bolting and going to seed.  The flowers may not be pollinated well enough to make fertile seeds since there are no bugs.  Normally they don't survive my winters but for this plant, the hoop house made all the difference.  I occasionally snipped the leaves off of the sides so it was never completely harvested.

My Chinese Napa cabbages are bolting so I will allow one to go to seed.  It won't need all the leaves so I will pick the better ones off for salad greens.  This is the second year I have grown them for the winter garden.  Last year they did not survive even under the hoop house so this year's mild winter has made a difference...or the seeds have adapted...or I planted it at the right time...or...or...who knows.  It lived.

The one below on the right was harvested one week ago.  It was sliced off across the bottom leaving the root unharmed.  It has begun to sprout new leaves.

I have not planned my spring or summer garden yet and usually don't make final decisions for a few weeks; however, this year the warm weather is ahead of me!  Should I go ahead and start seeds?  Or be wise and wait? Or take a chance and risk it for extra gain?  I have some seeds I can sacrifice on the expectation the weather will stay warm.  Whatever am I to do?  Is it winter or spring?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Chicken Soup to the Rescue

More meat than noodles, more noodles than broth.  Dustin's favorite soup recipe.
This past Thursday we Skyped with Dustin.  It was the first time we have spoken to him in a few weeks because he was so busy with college classes, senior year Electrical Engineering.  When his picture loaded up on the computer, my heart sank.  As he spoke, all I could see was the dark circles under his eyes, the uncombed hair, and the disheveled appearance.  All I could hear was the exhaustion in his voice, the way he struggled to speak, sighed at the end of each sentence and yawned every few seconds. Then he started coughing and sniffing.  As he spoke about the difficult tests, unending projects, and mountains of homework, I began to worry.

I asked him if he was eating well?  When he left home at the beginning of the semester, I had sent him a freezer full of home cooked healthy meals.  He replied, he only had a few meals left and was saving them for when he was too busy to cook something.  That was bad!  In my mind I translated his statement to mean, HE WAS SAVING THEM FOR HIS LAST MEAL BEFORE HE DIED OF EXHAUSTION!!!

My heart was breaking.  So I asked him, "Would you like for us to drive up and bring some more food?"

"Mom, thanks for the kind offer but a five-hour round trip is a long way.  It is too hard to a drive."

"No, it isn't.  Your Dad will chauffeur me."  So I started cooking.

The car trunk full of frozen meals.
When we arrived, I went first to the refrigerator and it was EMPTY, just as I suspected!

Much better.  Now I can check out the rest of the apartment.

Since this was the first time for us in his new apartment, I wanted a tour.  It took about 30 seconds.

Is that your Dad's desk from his old office in the basement?  I thought he burned it?  What about that office chair I got at a garage sale?  Didn't I say throw it away?  Wasn't everything in this room supposed to be thrown away at one time?

I was being too critical.  We were guest in his new home at a housewarming party.  I should be supportive so I offered my praise on the lovely camouflage tarp on the floor, the colors pop!  It is so bachelor pad. Very outdoorsy.  Practical yet shabby chic!

I did not recognize his homework project, I don't think.  Maybe I have seen it before?  All motherboards look the same to me like all handmade quilts look the same to them.  I am sure it is very impressive and does great electrical stuff.

I recognized everything in this place even though I had never been there before.  Such a strange feeling being somewhere new and yet being completely at home.  I liked his apartment.  I felt like I belonged.

Is that his Bible laying open by his bed?  I wonder what he is studying?  It would be rude to peek, like reading someone's private mail.  But if they open the mail and leave it sitting out on the table, would it be nosey to look? I have no business reading his private Bible study or reading his diary. This is his apartment, not mine. What if he is doing a study on bad mothers of the Bible.  No!  There aren't any bad mothers!  One quick look while he is in the other room.  It isn't misbehaving;  I have decided.

The Book of Judges...and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

Oh, that hurts.  I repent.

We then took him out to eat at O'Charley's and used a 20% off coupon that he had saved from his junk mail.  Impressive, I have taught him well.  After he was well fed and his refrigerator full, I asked him, "Do you think I am the world's greatest Mother?"

"If you don't say yes, I will take my food back home with me.  Crying won't help!"

"Oh yes, Mom.  You are the greatest Mom in the world!" Dustin bragged.

I chose to believe him.

This is Dustin and his dad.  Two peas in a pod.  Pete and repeat.  Mutt and Jeff.  I can go on and on but will not.  Bill drove me all the way while I snapped pictures of stupid things, paid for lunch at O'Charley's, and didn't get mad when I got us lost.  I have repented and will be nice.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Amish, Making Ice Cream

Winter had just begun and it was the first year I was making my weekly trip to buy milk and eggs from my Amish friends.  The weather had turned bitter cold the night before and as I walked past their back door, there was an old, rusted wheelbarrow full of large pieces of flat ice.  Out the kitchen door flew the smaller children, all rosy cheeked and flushed with excitement.  They were talking so fast I could hardly understand a word.  It had gotten so cold the night before that all the mud puddles were frozen and this was the cause of the gaiety.  I saw no importance to this information, but I listened patiently as they explained.

It was their family's tradition on the morning after the first bitter cold night, they would bundle up and rush out to gather chunks of ice from the top of all the puddles around the house.  I thought, oh my, runoff water from the hog pen, horse barn, cattle stalls...oh my.  Their mom would boil the ice cream, set it out on the porch to cool while they collected the ice.  It would be poured into the hand-crank ice cream maker; of course, the ice never touched the cream since the container would be sealed, but, oh my.  Each child was looking forward to having their turn cranking the machine.  I smiled as my mind raced.  No electricity. Oh, my. 

I also make homemade ice cream but my method is quite different.  I use an electric Cuisinart with a freezer bowl.  The bowl is frozen overnight which chills the milk.


2 eggs beaten (more or less)
3/4 cup sugar (more or less)
1/4 cup cocoa (more or less)
1 cup cream and 3 cups milk (ratio of cream to milk can vary)

This recipe makes 4 1/2 cups of liquid which freezes to about 5 cups of ice cream.  It is really hard to mess up ice cream.  All that matters is that the volume be no more than 4 1/2 cups or it will spill over the top of the ice cream maker, which might not matter if there are people in the family who like to lick the bowls and spoons.  A word of caution:  Don't lick the frozen freezer bowl;  it is like sticking your tongue to the schoolyard flagpole in January.


Beat two eggs using a hand ELECTRIC mixer.

Add sugar, cocoa, milk and mix with the electric mixer until blended.

Put the mixture into the electric microwave to scald.  For me, it takes about 7 minutes.

Remove the mixture and put it in an electric refrigerator to cool down.

Remove the freezer bowl from the electric freezer (the internal liquid must be frozen solid).

Put the freezer bowl into the electric ice cream maker and pour in the cooled mixture.

Insert the paddle, put the lid on top, turn on the electric switch and watch the electric clock for about 20 minutes until it is ready.

Almost ready...

Remove the paddle, scoop out the ice cream, put the dirty containers into the electric dishwasher.  Put the freezer bowl back into the electric freezer so it will be ready to use again later.

                               AMISH                                     ME
2 eggs                    $.00 (They own chickens)       $.35 ($2 dozen= $.17 per egg x 2 = $.35)
4 cups milk             $.00 (They have a cow)          $.60 ($2 gallon= 16 cups = $.13 per cup x 4 = $.60)
3/4 cup sugar         $.20 per cup                            $.20 ($1.80 4lbs= 9 cups = $.20 for one cup)
1/4 cup cocoa        $.25?                                        $.25?
Electricity used      0 (They have child labor)         $.05?
Convenience         0 (Free labor)                           10 minutes of actual work
Total                      $.45                                          $1.45


1. Flavor - tie - We use the same milk and eggs since I purchase mine from them.  We both must buy our sugar and cocoa from the grocery store.
2. Cost - I lost - I am not willing to milk a cow at sunrise every morning.
3. Convenience - tie - I use electric labor-saving devices, but they use free child labor.
4. Appreciation - I lost again - My sons will come running when the ice cream is ready but will they churn it themselves?  No.  Will I churn it by hand?  No.

Since I hate to lose at any competition, I am going to change the contest.  I decided to compare my ice cream to Breyer's All Natural store-bought brand.  I consider it similar, although inferior to mine.  It sells for $5.99 for 1.41 liters or 1.5 quarts.  A serving (a scoop) of ice cream is ½ cup. Who only eats ½ cup?  Nevermind, we are doing the math here. There are 6 cups (3 pints) in 1.5 quarts of ice cream. So $5.99 divided by 6 cups equals $.99 per cup.

I made 5 cups for $1.45 but we need to compare 6 cups to 6 cups, so my cost for 6 cups would be $1.74 ($1.45 = $.29 per cup x 6 cups = $1.74)  That means I saved $4.25 for 10 minutes of work ($5.99 - $1.74 = $4.25).  If I decided to take a job making $4.25 for every ten minutes of work, I would make $25.50 per hour (6 x $4.25).  I could make ice cream all day long for $25.50 per hour.

Homemade ice cream is unbelievably delicious, healthier and less expensive than grocery store brands.  It is a rarity for the Amish children to get ice cream and so that makes it more valuable to them.  They are willing and eager to work for it.  For my family it is common, and, therefore, devalued.  We are not willing to work for it.  So even though the Amish ice cream cost less than mine and store-bought brands, it is far more valuable.

Additional Links

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Local Ladies' Garden Club, Valentine Party

This past week we met for our Valentine's party at the home of a past garden club president.  The plans were decided upon at our January's meeting.

Everything was perfect.  Not a flaw could be found anywhere.

Every counter in the kitchen was laden with delicious dishes.  I took a fresh salad from my winter garden.  (In the right corner of the picture.)

Last year was my first time to attend the party with my Valentine and I was not prepared for the drama that ensued.  On the way home in the car, my beloved mentioned, the dinner rolls were the best he had EVER eaten. They were the "world's best rolls."  They were light, fluffy, melted in your mouth and were absolutely perfect.

I sat in the car beside him in stunned silence. I often make homemade bread, and I thought I was a good cook. Suddenly my whole world was crumbling before my eyes.

At the next monthly meeting, I decided to do something about this problem.  After the devotional and meeting minutes, I announced to everyone, “When I joined this club, it was with the understanding everyone was a trustworthy Christian lady, yet I have discovered there is a member after my man.   In this room sits a shameless hussy who is tempting my husband with her hot buttered buns!  Who is the Jezebel that baked the “world's best dinner rolls” at the Valentine dinner?  The floozy must confess!

There were stifled snickers throughout the group.

The tactic worked - the guilty dog barked!  Mrs. Judy exclaimed, “GOOD LORD! The last thing I need is another man!  I will send you the recipe in the mail tomorrow and teach you myself how to make the bread!  Please, keep your husband!”

She was true to her word. The recipe arrived in the mail a few days later with detailed instructions. Such a kind woman.  I forgave her immediately since she just did not realize the power of the alluring scent of her bread.

This year, Mrs. Judy again brought her dinner rolls and more than one woman asked my Valentine if he wanted seconds.  He always did.

Mrs. Judy's hot buttered buns.
As we were leaving I slipped into the kitchen to retrieve my empty salad bowl and sitting on top was the leftover rolls.  I mentioned this to the hostess since I did not want to take what was not mine.  She informed me all those rolls were for my husband.

What would Mrs. Judy think?  I pondered.

She said she didn't even ask Mrs. Judy but gave them to me.  We must make sure all our Valentines are pleased, for the harmony of the club.

I guess you are expecting me to share the magical recipe.  Forget it.  This is my secret. There are too many floozies out there who might be after my man.

Additional Garden Club Links: