Monday, July 27, 2015

Bonus Peas

Usually by this time of year, our pea vines are long gone. We typically pick garden peas through mid-July, and the vines turn brown and die back as temperatures rise. We've never had much luck replanting them in the fall, so we usually just freeze a year's worth of peas in the spring and call it a season by the end of July. You can see the die-back starting here:

But…what's that bit of green down there at the bottom? Let's take a closer look:

New growth on the old vines! This has never happened to use before—maybe because we pulled out the vine before they had a chance to get to this stage? I'll be honest: that's exactly what I was planning to do when I noticed the new growth. There's even a pea pod or two!

So to see this unbidden (but welcome) experiment through, I clipped the old vines just above the new growth and threw them in the compost pile. I left the new growth behind to see how big they'll get, and if we'll get a second harvest. My guess is that we'll get a little bit of growth and a few extra pea pods, but nothing like the big vines that grow in the cool, wet weather of the spring.

Here's a closer look at how the new growth popped up on the vines. The old, dying vine is to the left of the above photo, but you can see new green shoots bear the bottom to the right. Those new shoots are so close to the ground that at first I thought maybe peas had dropped and self-sown, but they're definitely attached to the original vine.

We've never seen this before. Have you? Let me know in the comments if you have any experience. For reference, the variety is "Penelope," and we bought them from Johnny's.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Black Raspberries

Though we still haven't reaped many blueberries from our new stock, the raspberries this year are awesome. We even have black raspberries for the first time, since this spring we remembered to prune them properly. Black raspberries grow differently than red ones:

The canes are more silvery, and when they arch over and touch the ground, they'll set new roots and form a brambly hedge. If you prune them back, they'll send out more side branches instead. We'll get to this one after the fruiting is done. 

Black raspberries also spend a good portion of their lives looking an awful lot like red raspberries:

If you aren't paying attention and think that those pretty red berries are ready to eat, you will be disappointed in a particularly face-puckering way. Unripe black raspberries are almost inedibly sour.

If you are paying attention, though, you notice that black raspberries grow together in upward facing clusters, and this bit of knowledge will keep you from eating terrible fruit by mistake. None of the berries in that cluster above is ready to pick, by the way. The one that looks almost ripe is still a little purple instead of really black, so it too will be terribly sour. You really have to wait until they're totally black with no translucent bits of purplish light shining through—then they're delicious. 

For contrast, real red raspberries hang down downward when they're ripe, and they're not as tightly clustered:

We have only two black raspberry plants, and this is the first season we've had any black raspberries to speak of. It's not enough to make a jam or anything, but they taste so good right off the vine (when they finally are ripe) that we just eat them right up any way. It's been a great season for raspberries, one of our fruit success stories.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Flower Friday: July 24, 2015

Unlike last week, this week I remembered to take a picture of the cutting garden before any actual cutting occurred:

Yes, there's still a hole in the fence. Yes, it's gotten bigger as the kids continue to use it as a short cut to the neighbors' yard next door. Allow me to distract your eye with pretty flowers:

Chinese forget-me-not, astilbe, yarrow, snapdragon, and bachelor's button.

Chinese forget-me-not, astilbe, and open-faced snapdragons.

Here's a closer look at those open-faced snapdragons. They grow on a spike, but are a cup shape instead of a mouth shape. I like them (though the kids don't think they're as fun), and they were pretty easy to grow from seed.

Black-eyed Susan, echinacea, and snapdragons.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Midsummer Herb Harvest

Last week I spent some serious time in the herb garden. It could use a renovation: some are now too shaded, others are garden bullies that have spread beyond their borders, etc. Even so, there was plenty to harvest. Here's what I walked away with:

That's not everything we grow, but it is a sampling of what's doing well. Things like sage and rosemary will be better in the fall, but these are some of the herbs that are ready to go at the height of summer.

Basil. I cut a lot to avoid having it begin to flower and go to seed. Even with this giant pile, I still only ended up with eight pesto cubes. Luckily, a little bit goes a long way in the flavor department.

Horehound. Those globes between the leaves are its flowers, so I may have cut this a bit too late for full potency. Horehound is a bitter relative of mint used to cure respiratory ailments, and I keep meaning to use it to make some homemade cough drops. 

Tarragon. It's not worth drying because it loses almost all of its flavor, so I put this bunch in a cup of water on the kitchen window sill as a reminder to use more of it in our cooking

Comfrey. I have lots of dried comfrey from last season, so I used some of the leggy bits to make some more comfrey-infused olive oil for lotions and lip balms. 

Sweet woodruff. This little wonder has the power to make dandelion wine potable and a Riesling delicious. My old patch gets a bit too much sun, but a shadier new planting is doing very well. 

Winter savory. This herb lasts well into the fall, but I cut a big clump back because it's a monster that shades its neighbors. I hung this to dry to save for winter cooking.

Oregano. This past winter we ran out of oregano, so I've been much more diligent about taking cuttings whenever a handful of stems gets long enough to do so. This is also drying on the porch.

Fennel. These bulbs are tiny because they're just the thinnings from our fennel patch. They still taste great – bulbs and leaves alike.

Lavender. I still have lots of dried lavender that I use in various cosmetics, but I snipped a bunch of fresh flowers because I am hoping that we'll be able to harvest some honey soon. I want to be prepared to make some lavender honey ice cream the minute that happens, and I would hate to be caught off-guard without any lavender left.