Thursday, August 8, 2013

Late Summer in the Garden

The garden has been exploding with veggies the past few weeks. 

  We've been harvesting cucumbers and peppers by the arm load and they keep coming!  I've been spraying all the pepper plants with Epsom salt water once a week and I can really tell the difference compared to last year.  

Some sweet bells.

Gypsy Sweets.

Our biggest pepper producer is the Tabasco pepper plant. When I saw this seedling at Lowes I thought, "I've had Tabasco sauce, I think I could handle these."  A couple of weeks ago I was researching harvesting them and found that they are actually a very, very spicy pepper; just below the Habanero on the scoville scale.  Because these peppers produce a juice between the skin and flesh of the pepper it is recommended that you wear rubber gloves (2 layers) when harvesting them.  And safety goggles when preparing them.  Heh.   

The peppers of death

So far Mara has shown zero interest in this plant, but we have put up a make shift gate at the entrance of the garden and she's no longer allowed in.  

Our tomato plants got a later start so their fruits are only just starting to ripen.  This is one of our tri-color candy tomatoes.  Seriously, this is the best variety of grape tomato that I've ever eaten.  This plant produces yellow, next to it is an orange, and there's another one next to our Roma plant that's still a mystery. 

We have a Pink Brandywine growing as well but we have yet to harvest any edible tomatoes; bunnies and bugs have been having a field day with it.

Our scallions have grown absolutely huge; closer in size to a leek than the scallions you would find in the grocery store.  The kids and I are heading out soon to harvest them and prepare them for the freezer. 

We harvested all the remaining carrots two days ago and have started planting some bibb lettuce and spinach in their place.  Once the scallions are gone I'm considering starting some broccoli as well.

In our other bed we planted one pumpkin plant and it has really taken off. 

We've got five growing as of now and there are more flowers and new growth everywhere.  I knew these plants spread but it's really amazing to see them take over. I'm glad I didn't put in any more!  

Our basil plants are doing their best to bolt on us.  We took a large amount on our Lake vacation last week and they've rebounded well.  I'm thinking another batch of almond pesto is in our future.  

The basil choked out our mint plant though.  Next year mint is getting it's own pot.  We had oregano and rosemary in their own pots but they gave up a while ago.  I over picked the oregano and it was all down hill from there.  

Our wildflowers are in full bloom as well.  We have discovered that the location we planted them didn't get as much sun as we thought; you can see them reaching forward trying to soak up every bit of light they can get.

I've loved being able to bring them in around the kitchen, give some to neighbors, and send our moms home with some bouquets.  

Even with all the picking there are still tons of them for the butterflies and bees to enjoy.  

We've been seeing lots of birds around the sunflowers as well.  They died a couple of weeks ago but the seeds have been forming and all kinds of birds have been taking advantage of these natural feeders.  

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Royal Birthday

Tomorrow is Juliana's fourth birthday.  My sweet girl sped through another year and I'm left marveling at the loving child she is.

We celebrated today though, with a princess party with some friends.  We had party prep last night and Nana slept over to have a special visit and help wrangle the kids while we got some things finished.  I had been able to finish the marshmallow wands but needed the majority of the night to work on her cake.  My first foray into fondant was... exciting.  I was caught unprepared a few times and had to make a few quick design changes, but ultimately I was pleased.  Homemade marshmallow fondant covered a funfetti cake frosted with buttercream.

It's amazing how many imperfections you can hide with flowers. 

This morning I headed out to the restaurant before everyone else to start setting up. Our first "girls only" party, I was able to pull out all the frilly stops and pinked-out our restaurant.

The wildflowers came from our backyard!

I got the craft/baby table set up and moved on to setting out the food.

We had chocolate nutella scones, crackers with meats and cheese, chicken salad sandwiches, fruit skewers, mint lemonade, strawberry wafer cookies, and the birthday girls' junk food of choice -- cheese puffs.  Arguably the most popular food at the party. 

We brought all of the girls princess dresses and hung them up to share so every guest was able to wear a beautiful dress (or two or three).  The last thing to set up was our princess play table.  We brought every castle, tower, and house we had along with a bin full of princesses and furniture for free play.  This was a last minute idea but probably the best one I had.  There was rarely a time when the table wasn't occupied.

Our guests arrived as we hung the last decoration.  We said goodbye to the guys (who went bowling instead), and set to getting everyone in their proper princess attire.  Once dresses were donned we moved to the craft table to decorate princess hats! My sister supplied the idea and my Silhouette cameo made short work of cutting out the paper hats.  

Crayons and glittery foam stickers were flying as they worked, making their own beautiful accessory.  Next up was face painting!  Hearts, rainbows, butterflies, ladybugs, and robins' eggs decorated a dozen sweet cheeks.

All that creativity worked up an appetite so we headed to the table for lunch as Beauty and the Beast played in the background.  

After some serious munching and a bit of running around outside we started some games.  First up was The Missing Slipper.  The girls were told that Cinderella had visited but had lost one of her slippers!  I showed them the one we had and set them off on a hunt to find the other.  Team work prevailed and they were all eager to play again.  After a few hunts we sat down to play Pass the Poison Apple;  a new twist on one of our favorites, hot potato.  We passed a ruby red apple around in a circle and when the music stopped whoever was holding the apple fell asleep!   

(Many thanks to my awesome sister, Meg, for brainstorming with me!)

As everyone started winding down we pulled out the cake.  The girls came to the bar as we sang Happy Birthday and Juliana blew out the candles. 

 Pieces were passed around along with cups of ice cream, just to push the sugar rush over edge.  ;)

As our guests readied to leave we handed out treats of a pink star wand, marshmallow pop, and strawberry cookies to each pretty princess.  We so enjoyed sharing this special day with wonderful friends.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Greening Thumb

We started growing tomatoes about 5 years ago.  Just four plants, all the same variety, as we introduced ourselves to the idea of gardening.  The next year we were excited to get started and added a few pepper plants to our small plot.  Each year we added another type of vegetable and increased the area we worked in.  This year is the first where we feel we have an actual garden;

Fenced more for protection from young children than rabbits.

what started as one small raised bed has transformed into a plot with two 11x4 beds, one 13x1 border, four pots, one half wine barrel, and a wildflower patch that's around 20x5.  Oh, and a mini greenhouse and compost bin.

This year we're growing lots of squash and zucchini.  We had some last year and it was really delicious.  I've yet to get the kids to eat zucchini in anything other than sweet bread, but we're working on it.  

We had dwarf sugar snap peas growing in the other half of this bed but they were wiped out by wilt or root rot.  We were fortunate that the variety we planted was an early producer and we had a few weeks filled with sweet, tasty pods.  A favorite of everyone in the family we were sorry to see these die so early in the season.  The kids and I went out yesterday and pulled all the dead vines.  Once they were gone and all weeds had been removed everyone hopped in for some play.  Dirt castles galore!  They've asked to plant pumpkins in the now vacant space, so we're off to see if we can find some sugar pumpkin plants!

While they played I walked the garden pulling weeds and checking for disease.  Our two potted bush cucumber plants have started showing signs of powdery mildew so I'm trying a milk solution to keep it at bay.

We had trained our pea plants to grow up tomato cages (instead of in rows) so once the peas were removed I transferred the cages to our pepper and tomato plants.  Peppers don't normally need cages, but a little support never hurts.  

Our carrots and scallions are growing nicely.  We pulled a couple of carrots to check their size and, though they still have a ways to grow, the kids declared them delicious.  The other end of this bed has what remains of our bibb lettuce.  

We tried growing some loose leaf lettuce, a Paris Market Mix, but were severely disappointed.  It grew well but tasted spicy and bitter.  I'm anxious to try some new varieties this fall.  

Our herbs are doing well; basil, mint, dill, and thyme make their home in our half wine barrel.  It's pretty, but I feel the barrel would be more useful for potatoes. 

Along the edge of the fence we've planted a row of dwarf sunflowers.  A few have already bloomed, most are still growing.  The size difference in the leaves however makes me wonder at the mature size of them.  

At the back of our yard we've planted a wildflower patch.  A hummingbird and butterfly mix, it's set to bloom toward mid-late summer with flowers reaching between 18 and 24 inches.  

The variety of flowers that we'll get is completely unknown; there was no listing on the bag and an internet search has provided no hints.  We're watching anxiously though and finishing up a rock border to try and keep our very invasive bermuda grass from taking over.  

At the back of the patch, all along and through the fence, are blackberry vines. Planted in our neighbors yard they have migrated through to ours, pushing their thorny vines between fence slats and sending new shoots up from below. We've tied them back a well as we can and are watching pretty white flowers appear along 30 feet of fence line.   Too large an area to net, we're hoping some flashing tape will deter birds from our harvest. 

This year has been so much fun for all of us.  From the planing, to staring seeds, transplanting, even weeding, it's been a wonderful way to be outdoors together and has provided most of our natural science lessons.  This just gets better and better. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Now We Are Six

We had a great party yesterday to celebrate the twins turning 6. 

 Our pirate theme party was a hit, most literally when it was time to do the pinata.   It held up surprisingly well, allowing 7 children to cycle through 3 times before the twins took off their blindfolds and went to town.

We're  looking forward to what this next year has in store.  Love my Wonder Twins!