Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 - The year in review

This was the year I decided to get serious about gardening again, as I was no longer traveling for work and was tired of having one of the worst yards on the block.  Here's what happened on the floral front:

I planted roses for the first time, despite my wife's objections that the grand kids would hurt themselves on the thorns (hasn't happened); I'm relatively happy with the results, but am considering removing the Climbing Golden Showers.  It's an aggressive climber, but the blooms are uninspiring and short lived. I'm amazed that the miniature roses I got at the dollar store are doing well, as I've never had success with them before. The daylilies were a bust, but the daffodils put on quite show and I can't wait to see how they do this spring.  The gladiolas were planted too late and the blooms got sunburned, but next year they should be glorious.  The dahlias were also planted too late and even though I got a few blooms, the plants didn't make it through the summer. I've planted alliums in their place and they're already sprouting nicely; I'm hopeful they'll do well. The petunias are going great and some even made it through the summer.  The vincas are looking tired after two years, so I'm currently replacing them with various annuals for some winter color.  The hyacinths are coming up, even though it's a bit early, but it has been relatively mild so far, so hopefully we won't have any hard freezes in the next six weeks.  The Asiatic lilies are coming up in their pot and present the promise of a shower of red blooms this spring.  The salvia is still blooming like crazy; hard to believe how much they've filled out, since I was sure I didn't have enough when I planted them.

On the veggie side of things, the green beans and bell peppers did very poorly and won't be back next year.  The radishes and carrots weren't worth the effort for the yield received and also are off the roster for 2012.  On the other hand, the Roma tomatoes were fantastic, as were the chile's and are all still growing out back.  The okra did very well, but weren't a hit on the culinary side of things, so they won't be back either.  Zucchini and cucumbers produced well enough to be replanted this Spring, with the exception of the lemon cucumbers, which only produced a few flat tasting fruits.  The leeks did well, so they'll be back as well and this time I'll put the effort into mounding soil or sand around the bases to get more white parts.

In the fruit and tree department, the Anna apple gave me the biggest yield ever, probably due to the high number of chill hours we had last winter.  I had enough to eat fresh, plus make apple butter, apple sauce and apple pie; I still have a little of the apple butter left in the cupboard.  The grapes tried to produce a few clusters this year, but next year should be the first year for any real production, as it generally takes three years to get the first decent crop.  The nectarine disappointed yet again, this time not producing a single fruit. This spring is it's last chance; if I don't get fruit this year, the tree is gone!  Planted a "Eureka" lemon and it's doing well but don't expect any fruit until 2013.

I got a few projects done in the garden that are worth noting, including converting an old dresser into a potting station, recycling some old cedar fencing into a six unit birdhouse and a soaking sink next to the potting center.  I also created three solar light posts from vintage floor lamps, two of which have been installed on concrete bases, with the third to be done soon.  I also turned an old kid's scooter into a planter and built some window boxes that currently contain lettuce and spinach.

In August I created Larry the Scarecrow and he's been a big hit with the on-line community, the local kids and my grand kids, but my wife, children and siblings all seem to think I've gone nuts.  I think my wife is beginning to get a little annoyed when we go shopping and I wind up finding something for Larry.  As long as I'm having fun with him, he'll continue to be a fixture in our front yard.  When I first placed him there, he was in a back corner, but after Halloween, I moved him up front so he's more visible from the street as his former location will be undergoing renovations this spring.  I also created this blog in August, the 18th to be exact and I'm at almost 900 pageviews, which I think is pretty good.  I've had visitors from the U.S., Russia, South Korea, Germany, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, the U.K., Latvia, Mexico, Egypt and India and maybe others that don't show in the statistics available to me; to all of you, I say welcome, visit often and tell your friends.

All in all, 2011 has been a good year and the gardens are beginning to take shape, but there's plenty more planned for 2012 and we'll see how much can get done based on available time and finances.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Paging Dr Larry

Paging Dr. Larry, Dr. Larry to Labor & Delivery; it's time to bring forth the Baby New Year.  Happy New Year to all my readers and fans of Larry, even if it is a few days early, and may 2012 be all we hope it will be.

My next few posts will include a review of 2011 in the garden and a preview of projects for 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas at Mr B's

After all the hours spent decorating, shopping and wrapping presents, we were finally prepared for Christmas here at Mr. B's.  The family gathered for a Christmas Eve dinner of Ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, rolls and green bean casserole, then after dinner, gathered in the family room to divvy up the gifts.  We then took turns opening up the presents, until two hours later, the room was littered with empty boxes and everyone was admiring each other's gifts and preparing to head home.  Today we'll have roast duck and NY rib roast, with rolls, veggies, potatoes, gravy and butternut squash soup, then we'll settle in front of the TV to watch the Packers play the Bears, and hopefully beat them to secure home filed advantage throughout the playoffs.  Go Cheeseheads!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Through the eyes of a child

Ever since this Spring, when my grandson Kaleb was about 6 months old, a visit to my gardens has been a nearly daily ritual.  Back then I had to carry him and we began to develop a routine, visiting the plants in a specific order, and for the most part that hasn't changed.  Slowly he began to let me know he wanted to go outside by pointing out the window or the French door to the back yard and as he started to talk, pretty soon, it was "Outside".  Now he walks, but the rounds still haven't change; first the petunias, where he'll stand with his arms outstretched until I pick him up so he can see and touch them, one planter, then the other.  Next it's off to the potted mint for a touch and a smell, then back to terra firma so he can run to the salvia, then the rosemary, the peppers, okra and back again, until he's had his fill of touching and discussing each one.  If the roses are in bloom, he has to stick his nose into them to check their delicate perfume.  Before leaving the backyard, it's time for some swing and slide action, broad grin plastered on his face and loud laughter shaking his body; I can't help but smile and laugh myself.

Next it's off to the front yard to visit Larry and Chuck, give them a pat or a poke and then once or twice or three times around the yard, checking the grapevines, the basil which he loves to touch, but won't smell, too pungent I guess.  He has to check out all the potted plants and depending on the time of year, the yard decorations.  It wasn't until we started these tours of the garden that I really began to appreciate the texture of  plants, not just how they look, but how they feel to the touch; the sticky fuzziness of petunias, the coarseness of cucurbites and okra, the softness of basil, all have become part of my garden experience.

Kaleb's parents are hoping to buy a place of their own soon, and while it would be great for them, I know I'll miss our daily sojourns in the garden most of all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weed wars

After two straight days of rain and gray skies, the sun decided to show itself, so after work I decided to survey the yard.  The back yard is still too soggy to really do anything other than look around, but the front yard is another story all together.  The lettuce is coming along nicely in its' window box and the spinach is finally starting to sprout in the other window box.  The alliums are coming up, as are the daylilies and the hyacinths.  The snow peas are getting to the point where they should start climbing soon and the basil and sage are still going strong.  The Asiatic lily I bought last year has turned into a half dozen sprouts that should flower in the Spring.

Despite all the good news, there is plenty of bad, namely weeds, and lots of them.  I've been fighting an ongoing war against weeds for the last 3 years, and it's been bloody hand-to-hand combat, as I don't use any weed spray except on the Bermuda grass that keeps popping up in the cracks in the driveway and sidewalk.  I've gotten the upper hand on most of the weeds, except the spurge, which seems impervious to my efforts at eradication.  I spent an hour this afternoon pulling up half a grocery bag full of the stuff and when impending darkness called an end to my efforts, I surveyed my surroundings, only to realize that I'd only managed to weed an area of approximately five square feet, or less than a third of the major patch of spurge.  What's worse is the knowledge that this is only round one and I'll be forced to deal with this same patch of ground several more times before the Bermuda grass comes out of dormancy and begins to crowd the spurge out until next Winter.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fighting the weather

Last week we had freeze warnings for most of the week and I had to cover the veggies each night.  I had minimal damage, with some of the salvia lost to frost damage, but overall came out of it okay.  This week it's going to be rain, and potentially lots of it, with only 4 out of the next 10 days having no chance of rain; in fact it's raining as I write this.  The winter rains are usually more of a gentle, soaking type, unlike the intense, short-lived storms we get in summer and are much more beneficial.  Once the rain is done, there'll be lots of weeding to be taken care of, as winter is prime time for weeds in my neck of the woods.  It also means I won't be able to start working on cleaning up and prepping the side yard for the new raised beds that are planned for my salsa garden, but on a positive note, I shouldn't have to soak the ground before I can work it.

Since this week will be spent inside, guess it's time to get started on holiday baking; cookies, pies and cakes, oh my.  I'll be making mint chocolate chip. oatmeal raisin and/or oatmeal cranberry, peanut butter and sugar cookies, plus stollen, pumpkin bread and maybe a chocolate chili cake.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas 2011 - Part 2, finally!

Finally found the time to complete the Christmas decor, both inside and out.  Got the replacement tree for my frog ornaments and I like the new tree better, as it is sturdier and pre-lit.

The village got put up last night; it's over 7' long, has 16 buildings, 2 dozen trees and several battery powered items, including a billboard.  I vary the layout each year to keep it fresh and new.

The outside decorations are pretty much complete, except I still need to make a sign that says "Twas the night before Christmas..." and that is my project for the weekend.  I have an 8' snowman on the roof, with icicle lights and a double swag on the eaves.  The nectarine tree has 560 randomly blinking lights, the fence is strung with lights and the apple tree has lights as well.  There is a lighted buck with moving head next to the apple tree and then, of course, there's Larry.  This year he's portraying the narrator of the famous poem, "A visit from St. Nicholas", better known as "The night before Christmas".

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pickled Peppers

Made a batch of pickled peppers today on my lunch break.  I used a 3 to 1 ratio of vinegar to water to make 8 cups of pickling liquid (ended up having to make a second batch) so I could use the hot water bath method instead of having to use a canning pressure cooker, since I don't have one, yet.  Also added 2 tablespoons of pickle crisp to the liquid, along with a teaspoon of kosher salt, then brought the liquid to a rolling boil.  I added a garlic clove to each jar, along with cilantro and cumin seeds, plus another teaspoon of pickle crisp.  I made a quart of pickled okra and 2 pints of pickled whole peppers, using Hungarian Yellow and Jalapeno peppers with a slit cut into each one.  I made a mixture of sliced leeks and sliced Hungarian Yellow, Jalapeno, Big Jim, Poblano and Habanero peppers, then filled 2 pint jars for pickled sliced peppers.  By adding sliced carrots, sliced radishes and cauliflower florets to the pepper mixture, I was able to put up 6 pints of Giardiniera.  They will need a few weeks to really marry all the flavors and a few months would be even better, but I'm not sure I can wait that long to see how they turned out.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Another bountiful harvest

Today was a chilly, dreary day not well suited to working in the garden, but I did manage to harvest over a pound of Hungarian Yellow peppers, a few poblanos, Big Jims and habaneros (the first of the year), some okra and the last of the leeks.  Tomorrow they'll become pickled peppers and pickled okra; some of the peppers will be pickled whole and some will be sliced, along with the leeks and some basil to become Giardiniera to be served with Italian sausage on a hoagie roll.

I bought some more Christmas decor and if the rain holds off long enough, I'll get it all put up tomorrow and will post some photos; if not it'll have to wait until later this weekend.