Mary, Mary Quite Contrary How Does Your Garden Grow? (My name ain't Mary!)
Mary, Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
After fits and starts this year regarding the weather, my little garden is producing quite well right now. We've already had two dinners including green beans and new potatoes (fresh from the garden!); I've made three jars of Banana Peppers for my wife and son; six jars of pickles just last night; and I'm in the process of trading green beans for farm fresh brown eggs this week. Not too shabby!
After all of the babysitting due to freezing temperatures, snow, frost, and heavy rainfall my garden is giving back to me now. The green beans are so good it's crazy. I planted two types, Top Crop and Provider, and boy are they providing! Sunday I picked a bucket full and put them into a pot with fresh dug 'taters. Sunday evening they were ready and tasted great. Nothing tastes better than something you planted, sweated over, and harvested yourself. It is such an awesome feeling.
I may be straining my abilities here, but I have some twenty-five tomato plants, a hundred each cucumber and green bean plants, fifty corn plants, and twenty or so Yukon Gold potato plants, along with a half a dozen each Banana Pepper and Jalapeno Pepper plants thrown in for good measure.
Why, you might ask. Well, for one reason it allows my family to eat food that is not processed, has preservatives and such, but also because it allows me to connect with my grandpa. He's been gone some thirty-odd years now, and I still remember as a kid, wandering around the farm behind him. He had a (to me) big garden, maybe an acre or so. One of my favorite memories of my youth was summer spent at their house, tagging along after grandpa as he fed his cows and horses, went fishing in the ponds, tilled the garden and snapping green beans and peas on the front porch with grandma. Man, those were good times.
I know, I know: they're cucumbers until they're pickled. But since they were grown to become pickles, we call 'em pickles already. Anyway, we picked 23 last night from the garden and canned them that evening. This was about five pounds of pickles, which made four one quart jars of spears and two one pint jars of slices for sandwiches. I took a jar to work today to let my drivers try them and I have orders for some now!
We harvested 2 1/2 gallons of green beans Sunday and some Yukon Gold potatoes as well. Radishes have done well and so have the Banana Peppers. Jalapenos are coming along nicely and some of the tomatoes are fist sized; just waiting on them to ripen. My corn is nearly head high already and tasselling nicely. Thus far, the fence I put around my garden has done well at keeping the critters out. Last year at this time I had over a hundred cucumber plants, a fifty green bean plants, fifty corn plants, twenty tomato plants, and some potatoes thrown in for good measure all eaten down to a nub by groundhogs. There was a family of them, a mama and four youngsters all living near the garden. I had a two foot chicken wire fence around the garden, but those dadgum things climbed it! Net result for hours of work, tilling, planting, watering: zero.
We put a taller fence up this year, from three to five feet tall in places. So far so good. I planted my tomatoes around the inside perimeter of the fence because I noticed that while deer will eat almost anything, they seem to have steered clear of nibbling on the tomato plants. Maybe they don't like the smell. What I can say is that while I have seen deer in the yard, and tracks around the garden, no deer has ventured beyond the tomatoes to eat the goodies within.
So, how does one go about making homemade pickles? Isn't it hard? Does it really work? Well, it's really not too hard and yes it really works. Here is the recipe I follow to make mouth watering, cheek puckering homemade kosher dill pickles.
First, get about ten pounds of pickling size cucumbers. If you aren't in to growing them, they can be purchased for about $1.50 a pound. This will make about ten quart jars worth, give or take.
Your mix is a store bought brand. Yes, I know: I'm cheating a little bit but I have yet to master a solution that tastes as good as this one. I use Mrs. Wage's Kosher Dill mix which runs about @$2.00 or so. Add ten cups of water and five cups of white vinegar to a pot. Heat it to boiling, adding in and constantly stirring the mixture.
While the pot is waiting to boil, wash the cucumbers and set on a paper towel to dry. Using a large canning pot, fill about half way with water and bring to a boil. Set your quart jars in the boiling water to sterilize them. Take them out and place the cucumbers inside the jars and set on the counter.
Once the mixture is boiling, allow to boil for about ten minutes. Turn the burner off and use a ladle to place the mixture in the jars. Leave about a half inch of clearance at the top of the jar. If you get some liquid on the edge of the jar, be sure to wipe it off before setting hte lids on so it will seal properly.
Once the jars are full, cap and twist tight. Set them back into the boiling water bath and allow to remain in the water for ten minutes; no less.
At the end of ten minutes, turn off the burner and remove the jars from the water. Set on a towel on the counter and allow to cool overnight. These are ready to eat in about 24 hours, but get more flavorful as time goes by.
NOTE: As the jars cool, the liquid inside will contract, giving the lid a sunken appearance if they are sealed properly. Test the lids to make sure they sealed by pressing down on the center of the lid. If it does not move, it is sealed. If it does move, either return them to a hot water bath or eat them within a week or so.
Things to look out for
You have to be aware of things hiding in your garden. If you don't use a pesticide (I don't - I prefer to not have that floating around my veggies) there will be bugs. Stink bugs, potato beetles, tomato worms, all sort of bugs can be in and around the plants. And where there are bugs, there are things that eat bugs. Case in point: Black Widow Spiders. While I was rooting around the green beans, pulling the plants this way and that while looking for and picking the ready to eat beans, I pulled back a leaf and found this beautiful little shiny black spider hanging there. I immediately recognized her and dropped the plant back down. She scurried away, running back to her web on the ground nearby. While she startled me, and she possesses a deadly toxin in her bite, the chance of actually being bitten are remote. They are reputed to have fairly weak jaws, and a human's skin can be tough. An old fart like me has pretty tough skin on his arms and hands from years outdoors, so she probably wouldn't have been able to bite me. However, that did not stop me from discovering that my green bean plants are strong enough to not only hold a 242 pound, 53 year old man aloft but also allowed him to run across the tops of them to the edge of the garden. Guess that fertilizer worked wonders!
Three are also other hunters hiding there in my garden. A beautiful smooth scaled green snake lay hidden there, awaiting other larger insects and such for its evening meal. It slid away across the tops of the plants to find a location free of bothersome human intruders.
Green Beans and New Potatoes
- Thre is nothing better than partaking of a dinner from your garden. Green Beans and New Potatoes are one of our family's favorites. This is our recipe for a delicious meal. Begin with about a pound and a half of fresh green beans. Snip the ends off to get rid of the tough stem area and the other end. Those just don't taste quite as good. Wash them thoroughly to eliminate the dust and any bugs hiding in the bucket.
- Gather your potatoes and wash them thoroughly. We love the Yukon Gold potatoes for their flavor, but any 'tater will do. I try to keep them fairly small, less than two inches in diameter. If I get one that is larger, I just cut it down to size, into quarters or so.
- Fill a pot halfway with water, and toss in some salt. First, because 'taters seem to need some salt to add to their flavor, but mostly to allow the water to boil quicker. Place the beans and 'taters in the water, cover and put the burner on medium heat. Now, go to work, play, or some other activity for about four hours or so.
- Sometimes, we throw some bacon in to cook with the mixture at the outset, but more often we just eat them as they are. You can also toss in some onions, or any other item you might like. It's all good!
- That's it! When you dish them out onto the plate, a wonderful aroma fills the air and the beans and 'taters are so soft and flavorful, you won't want to stop eating.
I hope you've enjoyed our little walk in my garden. You don't have to have a large area, if you decide you want to try it. You can put a raised garden in you yard, as small as you like. Put in just a couple of your favorite plants to start, just to see if you like it. Give it a shot! Have fun and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is a very fulfilling feeling to set down at the table, knowing you have provided a substantial portion of the meal for your family.
- How To Make a Raised Bed Garden
There are many reasons to make a raised bed garden, from poor soil to a desire to extend your growing season. This article will explain the advantages of raised beds, and tell you how to make one.