Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Scientific Christmas and Birthday

While the holidays are not quite over around here, I thought I would show everyone what has made a Pooka a very happy girl. And not just because she has seen seeds reappearing at the store. Seeds which only bring out the Plant Zombie in her, and I scoot her away since it is still too early and I need to finish the holidays first.
Science garden supplies from Christmas. 
She was so happy when she opened her microscope on Christmas day. Santa apparently knew she desperately wanted one as well as some extra slides for it. This microscope should also work when taken off the base so she can explore with it. She got a butterfly kit from her Aunt and Uncle, so I guess the Black Swallowtails won't be the only butterflies a Pooka raises, and the new ones might have a better home then a mason jar. Mommy and Daddy got her the root viewer to watch the carrots and radishes grow. (Yep, it was a clearance find at the end of the summer). Hopefully it will work well and once the standard carrots are done, we may put some colored ones in it to see the difference.
Birthday flowers
Pooka also got some plants for her birthday. The Amaryllis in the box is a birthday present from her great aunt. They have had so much fun this summer discussing lavender even with the Great Aunt living far away. They have sent actual letters which just brightens any Pooka's day. The blue Amaryllis is from us. We bought it for someone else, but between the time we bought it and the time I went to wrap it, an oops happened. So it became a Pooka's, which will go along with the one Santa got her, so I think there may be some flowers in our future. I am sure I would have these all planted already if we didn't have a "You can open one toy/present" a day rule. You see we unwrap them all, but when Brother was about 2, I got real tired of getting halfway through opening whatever to have him bring me something else to put together. So the rule was put in place. This way, everything gets a special day, and I don't spend 3 days straight only putting things together.

Looks like I still kill house plants
It is probably a good thing that Pooka got more plants because as you can see, my black thumb has killed a good chunk of our herbs. I think it is a combination of being too dry, (although we try to water them quite a bit with any water left in drinking cups), and the cold since the sunniest spot is also by the back door that lets the cold in whenever the dog needs outside. This picture was taken the Christmas eve. The cilantro (blue pot), the dill (big pot with the stick) and the parsley (next to cilantro back row) have all been declared dead. The rosemary plants and the chives are doing fine, so they will be allowed to stay for now. With the new plants, I may see if I can find a better place for them, but that is not a decision for tonight. I hope you have had a good a winter holiday as we have. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy holidays and snow

Well, the holidays are here and may I just say its been a busy few days around here. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I will post more on the holidays after sort through everything, but lets say the science experiment is going to continue for awhile.  Now that its over, maybe I can get back to doing the blog regularly.

A few days ago, we got our first big snowfall. And while it was more ice then snow, it was enough to remind me and the garden that we do get a winter around her.

The garlic were a bit harder to find in all the snow. It didn't cover all of it, but it covered a good chunk and fortunately got the weeds that had encroached into the bed. However the garlic is a bit worse for the wear. I will be amazed if the garlic is alive in the spring but I don't think it will be.
However, the snap dragon pot that refuses to die is doing well. Even with the cold and the snow, its just as happy as can be and about to bloom again. I don't understand it at all.

The snow did claim the broccoli. I got most of it picked in the days before the snow, but it won't be coming back anytime soon. We pulled it out on Sunday and come spring we will till it into the ground.

On one small side note, I need to wish a Pooka a happy birthday. While I was never sure what I would do with a girl (I am so not a girly person). I cannot imagine life without her. I love you big girl.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Finding words

As we are all aware, something horrible happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. I find I am struggling with words on how to express what I feel, or even to figure out how I feel about what happened. With one in 4th grade, and another about to enter Kindergarten in the fall. I find that someway the world was knocked askew and I am having a harder time to fix it.

So while I grieve and feel and send as much positive energy as I can to those who need it, today is not a blogging day. So instead I will post a few pictures of flowers Pooka grew. Flowers for those who were lost, those who will be missed and those who will be missing them and will find the strength to go forward from here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's December

First off, sorry for the bit of a break we took around here. The Thanksgiving holiday had us hopping and then things got a bit  busier at work when the first of December rolled around. Needless to say, things around here are still going, but the science experiments have taken a bit of a back seat to getting ready for the Holidays. Although Pooka said something to me recently while I was at work doing one of the less glamorous jobs. I was scrubbing out the container of preserved specimens and Pooka sat on a chair and watched me and said "Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a scientist." That little comment made my day.

However, I blinked and it became December. It certainly doesn't feel like it with the temps being in the 60s and lots of sunshine. But that's what the calendar is saying. 

Garlic in DECEMBER?
I think the garlic is as confused as I am. Since the garlic is in the front yard, every time I come home I see the garlic and it just keeps growing. I am seriously doubting it will still be there in the spring. But like everything else this is an experiment and I think I am not the only one having a problem with bulbs I put in the ground being confused due to the weather. Don't you love the penguin Pooka picked out for her garden to make it more festive? 

Well, the garlic and weeds are happy

Also the weeds are only in that bed. If the garlic all dies, then we will just rake the entire bed over and turn it and the mulch that will be going in come spring will help keep them under control. I hope. As of right this second, the bed is pretty badly overgrown.

Broccoli keeps producing
Another confusing point is the Broccoli. It is flourishing in this weather and we are getting enough broccoli off it for about a meal every week to 2 weeks. Multiple times now Daddy and I have talked about it probably being done for the winter, and we should pull it, only to find more florets on it. Now I will admit we have never gotten a good broccoli "head" off it like you find in the grocery store, but we actually seem to prefer it this way since it means we don't have to chop it up before preparing it (which saves time). I think we will definitely be doing broccoli again next spring. But part of that depends on what Pooka wants to grow. 
Fallen but still producing broccoli
As you can see, one of the broccoli plants fell over awhile ago. It is still growing and still producing, but its laying on the ground. It is not the prettiest thing, but its doing what we ask of it, so it lives another day. As with everything around here, things continue to grow. Pooka has a birthday coming, and I may be hard pressed to pull off a scientist gardener party in the middle of winter.We still have a few plants in the house but that is for another day.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Supporting the plants

I fully admit, this post is a tad overdue. You see almost a month ago now, we tore out the garden. We tore out the cucumbers and the tomatoes and we managed to do most of it in a way where we could see the underlying supports. This was partially done because I wanted to see exactly what was under there. I knew we kept adding supports that went taller and taller, but I was curious.

Alive and happy

This is what the tomatoes looked like on September 3rd. Which is the last good picture I have of them being alive and healthy. As you can see the tomatoes are going everywhere and you cannot see the deck railing behind it. We stopped using the stairs on this end of the deck for awhile since the plants were growing on the stairs. 

The "bones" of the plants
This is a picture of all the poles that were supporting the tomatoes. The tallest verticals were 8 ft tall. We also had 6 ft poles, 4 ft poles and 2 ft poles. How silly were we to only use 2 ft poles. There is all sorts of horizontal that held the tomatoes back (and they they grew over them). On the day we had the big harvest, we realized that the tomato plants grew up and over the top horizontal bar, then all the way back down to the ground. We had poles tied to the front supports and the lattice to keep it from falling forward, as well as a ton of ropes tying it to the deck to hold it as well. 

As a small note, Pooka loved the rainbow that appears in the picture above. She said Green Thumb must of had it put there. 

Tiny little green bean plant
On this day we found the tiny little green bean plant that had been overgrown by the cucumbers and the tomatoes. We never got enough for a meal, but it made enough to snack on. (Sorry for the mess around him,  we were still cleaning out the tomato plants and stuff just kinda fell wherever.  We eventually cleaned it up and raked a bunch back into the dirt. 

Supports for the cucumber plants
Here is all the supports for the cucumbers. If you remember  they grew around the corner of the deck, as well as up the poles, across the ropes and all over the railing. We had so many cucumbers, I would say these did amazingly well, and while Daddy asked that we grow fewer plants next year, hopefully we will have another wonderful year with them.
All the poles used in the cucumbers and tomatoes
Once we tore down all the poles from both sets of structure for the cucumbers and the tomatoes, we put them in piles by size. There were so many, I wish I had counted them, but I forgot. Hopefully next year we have all the poles we will need to build a garden for Pooka. Hopefully. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Colored Carrots

Winter had finally started to hurt our carrots. They looked great, but some of the greens were starting to get a bit of frost damage. We decided to go ahead and pull them. We probably could of gotten away with just thinning them, but since it is Nov, the decision was made to pull them over the weekend. Sadly, I forgot to get a picture of the pots filled with green. Daddy and I were trying to beat a storm when we decided to pull them.

This is what we initially pulled. There are a few that are still a bit small in here, but they made for great baby carrots. These are not the baby carrots you buy in a store that are just real carrots whittled down. These were true baby carrots.

Washing the carrots
Pooka couldn't wait to try her new carrots. She ate one and then grabbed a tiny orange one and ran to Brother and begged him till he tried it. He didn't initially want it, but he realized there are somethings you do to make smaller siblings go away. What was better was after he tried it, Pooka looked at him and said "How did my experiment taste Brother?" Daddy and I had quite a few suppressed giggles.

The carrots we can use
 Baby carrots were on the menu with dinner that night. We were originally going to saute them, but Pooka asked Daddy not to since she didn't like carrots that are cooked. They went over quiet well, the carrots are not woody or tough. They are actually very tender. We didn't finish them all, so Pooka asked if she could take a few to school to show her teacher. That is the plan for today. Here's to another science filled day.
Colored Carrots for dinner anyone? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Failure...

The Science Experiment Garden had our first big huge failure this year. Remember when we planted the radishes this fall. Well they failed. Quite dramatically actually.

Sad sad radishes

At the end of October, (about the same time we released the butterflies) I noticed the radishes looked rather sad. Really sad. Really really sad and pretty well eaten by something. A closer look showed us more little visitors, and not the friendly kind.

Sneaky little guy

This is a cabbage worm, which will eventually turn into a cabbage moth.  I do find it slightly funny since the broccoli (another one of their favorite foods) hasn't had a problem with them at all. Even now the broccoli is still alive and growing great and still producing. But the radishes apparently were rather tasty. So tasty in fact the plants were eaten bare. 

Fallen worms... But they were still alive
Being that it was late October when this happened, we decided to just pull the radishes. We found over 30 of the little buggers in the 2 pots. You can see 2 of them that fell off as we carried them through the house to the front yard to dispose of. Talk about nasty little buggers.

Radish Harvest. 
We harvested the radishes. This is all that was really worth keeping. I know part of it is that Pooka planted some of them too close together.  Okay all of them too close. This tells us next spring we are going to work on doing a seed tape or something (something new to learn and try next year). One failed experiment leads still teaches us something. Like watching a bit closer as a 4 yo puts seed in a bucket of dirt when it comes to root veggies. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tomato, tomato, Apple Pie?

As you can guess, I have a few posts backed up. Alright, more then a few posts. I promise to get better about trying to get posts out, now that the immediate threat of a holiday is past.

Remember the great green tomato harvest. Well, it took a few weeks but the last of the tomatoes ripened. Daddy and I got to work canning all the tomatoes you can see here into crushed tomatoes. Pooka loves being in charge of handing us warm jars and lids out of the sink. Crushed tomatoes is a very heavily used item around here. We make our own spaghetti sauce, as well as using it in chili, soup, texas hash, all sorts of things.
Tomatoes everywhere

We ended up making 5 quarts and 1 pint of crushed tomatoes. I always forget how much tomatoes cook down.

Homemade crushed tomatoes
And remember all the apples we used to help ripen the tomatoes. Well nothing around here goes to waste, and since we aren't very big apple eaters, Pooka, Daddy and I decided to turn it into Apple Pie Jam. I found the recipe over at Hickery Holler Farm's blog. I will always give credit when I find a neat recipe or idea.

Apples did their job ripening tomatoes
The directions are there, but in the end, we had apple pie in a jar. The 2nd batch (which was a double batch) came out a bit more syrupy. I am pretty sure its because the apples were overflowing their pot a bit and I turned off the heat a bit sooner then I needed to so the pectin may not of set as well. Either way, it still tastes so wonderful on ice cream, cheesecake or in oatmeal. Pooka just loves it on toast or biscuits for breakfast.

Pictures of batch 1 - 6 1/2 pints
The apples we had ended up making 21 1/2 pints of processed jam and 1 pint of unprocessed (I didn't have a time for pints). I think we will be finding all sorts of neat ways to use this. I also know a couple of pie lovers that I wish I could share it with (but I don't want to send it through the mail).

That Sunday was a very busy day. We did a ton of canning in one day (while watching a football game). However, I did forget to get a picture of all the jars we had made that day. Mostly because we were anxious to get it put away so we could have counter space. The next day I thought of it, but didn't want to go pull them all out again. Another day I will have to sit down and type up the canning inventory I made the other day. It amazes us how much Pooka loves this, and how good we feel knowing what we are feeding Pooka and her brother. One other huge thing that surprises us, the very large amount of food out of a garden we didn't expect to do much and how little went to waste.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Scary things in the garden

Happy Late Halloween/Samhain! I was hoping to get this post up last night, but it didn't happen. Kids and Halloween and blogging don't mix.

Something is in the Garlic bed
There was something scary in the garden. This is the garlic bed that we spooned so we would know where we planted the bulbs.  On Halloween night, I noticed something spooky.

Eyes and spiders and pumpkins. Oh my...
The eyeballs we made out of Styrofoam balls for Brother's Halloween party along with the orange basketball shaped pumpkins. The spiders (bought on clearance) we used as well (we had a game of throw them into a bucket to make monster's stew). This was a great way to get a bit more use out of something that was really a 1 time needed item. But something else was spooky in the garden.

What is in there???
Do you see it yet? It's not the gravestone looking spoons (that are not as straight as they use to be). 

While yes, there are a few weeds in the bed, do you see all the garlic sprouts? Those long straight leaves are Pooka's garlic that in this weird weather sprouted WAY early. The question is, will it live till spring? I don't know, but something tells me I may want to plant more garlic very early this spring. Just as a back up.

We hope you all had a Happy and Safe Halloween/Samhain.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cilantro, Cilantro

As the cooler temperatures came rushing in, I had to move the Cilantro into the garage for a few days. This was less than ideal because the window box planter it was in would not fit in the house very well. It was meant for outside and now we had the extra chore each day to pull the box onto the drive way to get some sun, then put it back inside the garage at night. So Pooka and I spent part of the other day repotting it.

Homegrown vs. Commerical
Here is the cilantro before. Remember how we did the experiment to see how well our home grown seeds would do compared to commercial seeds.  The left side is our home grown seeds and the commercial ones are on the right. Well as you can see the commercial seeds did much better then our home grown ones. I guess we will keep the homegrown seeds for coriander instead.

Clearance pot with a new hole
First I found some pots. This one I found for $2 at our local home improvement store. Gotta love clearance. However, it didn't have a hole in it. So Daddy put one in it with the drill and a masonary bit. We probably wouldn't of bothered with this blue planter if it had cost more. I didn't want to risk drowning roots.

Cilantro headed inside

Doesn't that $2 pot look so much better with a small plant. It is will hold the home grown seeds.
Ready to live inside
The pot from the purple basil plant got reused to hold the cilantro. It will be great having cilantro in the house for cooking all winter, or at least until my black thumb kills it. We have never had much luck bringing plants inside. However, up until this year, I would never of said we had much luck with plants outside and look what that turned into.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Freezing Peppers

Peppers are still coming
In an early post, I mentioned we were freezing all the sweet peppers and the poblanos. Well fortunately  our pepper plants are still producing. Pooka asked if we could show you how we are freezing the peppers.

Late harvest
Once we harvested the peppers, I washed them and then left them in the colander or on a plate  for about an hour or so to make sure they dry completely. You don not want to add extra water to the peppers.

Cored and seeded

After the peppers are dry, you core and seed them. Since these were poblanos, I wanted to get most of the seeds out to lesson the heat. WORD OF WARNING: Don't be silly like me and forget to wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth. You will regret it. I did. My eye was mad for a couple of hours.

 In this case we happened to have my Mom's handy dandy onion dicer in the house. This is a great way to make sure you are getting a uniform cut size (FYI to anyone out there: Christmas idea for Mommy). It is even better since it allows a Pooka to do the cutting. Place the pepper on skin side up. This allows it to get a better cut. If you do skin side down, it tends to have a harder time getting started.

Pooka's picture Diced Peppers 
 Once they are cut, they fall into the nice little catch area. I cut all ours at once before emptying out the basin. This way when I had more peppers in the house, I was able to keep track and I only cut them as I was ready to freeze them.

Ready for the big freeze
 Pooka then helped me spread them out on a silicone pie pan. We found this worked out better then a metal pan because A) the silicone we could bend to fit in the freezer easier and B) the frozen peppers could be popped off since we could again wiggle and flex the pan

Frozen peppers ready for use when you are

Put the pan in your freezer for a couple of hours. Once they are good and frozen, pull out the pan and "pop" them off. We just used our hands, and we never needed to dirty a utensil.  The frozen peppers were put in a ziplock bag that was labeled  dated and thrown right back into the freezer.

However, PLEASE remember if working with hot peppers to wash your hands (I didn't think again and checked Pooka for a tooth coming in. Yeah.. That didn't go well.) Please learn from my mistakes.

The frozen peppers have been used in meals already. They work great in anything that is cooking them. I haven't tried thawing and using them raw. I don't know if this would work well since when the water froze into crystals of ice, it may of damaged the cell walls of the pepper (thus possibly leaving them kinda mushy). However, for cooking with and adding to many a meal, its a quick and easy way to add peppers. Plus hopefully come middle of winter, we can still be eating from Pooka's garden.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Hello there....

Yesterday morning was rough. One of those mornings where you are rushing, things are not going well, and even the happiest morning person is just not happy. As we rushed to the car, I had Pooka and Brother loaded in the car and ready to leave for school, I had forgotten something and rushed into the house. On my way back to the car through the garage, I noticed movement out the corner of my eye. I stopped and realized it was still moving and BLACK.

Considering the mood of my morning, I feared the worst. I was ready to scream and run and find SOMEONE to deal with whatever black thing it was. I turned and saw this.
It is black and it moves.... 
Now, I freely admit, I was quite relieved when I realized it was the butterflies. However, I was rather surprised. All my research had said they should sleep till spring. Since we didn't have much time, I grabbed the jar as well and continued to the car where I handed it to a very surprised Pooka (I only wish I had taken more time to see both kids reactions, but remember, we are running REALLY late here). I did however go BACK into the house and grab the camera so we could get pictures. The butterflies then went to school with Pooka.

Again, Pooka was the hit of the class. Her teacher had taken the aquarium of chrysalises home to winter in the garage (she was going off my info). So no one expected them to be waking up. She went home and grabbed the aquarium only to find some waking up as well. So Pooka's butterflies stayed all day in her jar in the classroom (while the entire school would come visit and look at them) while the class began to release the awakening butterflies into the prairie behind the school as they found them. 

Yes, I was silly and took the lid off, but it is a great picture
Once school was over, Pooka asked if Grandma could see the butterflies when she came over that evening. Now, yes this meant I would probably have to care for the butterflies for at least one more day, and since I had no idea when they woke up, so Pooka and I looked up what to feed them until the next day. A simple sugar water solution kept them happy and Brother was relieved to come home to find we hadn't released them without him.
A view of where they spent the night
This morning before school, I told the kids we had to let the butterflies go. Pooka was very very sad, she wanted to keep them, but I didn't give her much of a choice (besides, they weren't eating that sugar water solution and I would hate to explain death right now). 

I let the kids choose where to release them, here or next to Brother's school is a small wooded area. Pooka convinced us to let them free in our yard. 

Brother communing with a Butterfly
We took the jar out and opened them. Neither flew out, however the one that liked to hang out by the lid was looking around. I convinced Brother to put his finger out and it crawled right onto him. Brother was so happy but at the same time couldn't get it to fly away. I told them at since it was morning, it may still be a tad cold for them, so I had Brother put his hand next to the lavender plant and he crawled right onto it. 

Goodbye Butterfly
Now it was time to release the other butterfly. He was a bit skittish and I think he had gotten his wings wet in the sugar water. So I pulled out the stick they had in it and offered to let Pooka put this one on her finger. For all that girl's talk about having a butterfly on her finger, she got scared and nervous and worried it would bite her. So I let her hold the stick with the butterfly. She loved being able to bring it really close to her face to examine it.

We then placed the stick in the lavender plant and said our goodbyes. Pooka has been checking the lavendar all day to see when they fly away. She got to see the last one take off and fly away, in search of food. She is very sad they had to go, but I told her in the spring we will do it again and who knows, maybe come spring, we will find the kids of her butterfly to raise all over again.  

Goodbye Black Swallowtails and good luck, and stay out of the dill.