Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Watermelon Woe!

Between 6 and 7 am every morning (except that rare occasion when it rains!), I get up to water my garden. As I water I check for fruit, pests, escaping vines and weeds. This daily routine creates unusual feelings of intimacy between me and some of my fruit and vegetables, usually the slow-growing ones that I check over for cracks, spots, and bugs. One such fruit that I felt particularly close to was a watermelon that was beautiful. I checked its growth with daily admiration!

My soil is new and not the best. I will be amending it over time, but for now I have very small, but sweet fruit. With this in mind, I kept my eye on my prize watermelon. I turned it, examined it, and thumped it. Finally the day came to harvest it!!! With excitement I clipped the vine, already tasting the sweet pink goodness in my mind. I secretly put the watermelon in the refrigerator to chill for dessert!

After dinner when I cut the watermelon I was shocked to see that it was unripe! I had picked my precious watermelon too early! What to do? I couldn't just toss it into the compost pile. I decided to taste it; it tasted like a slightly sweet cucumber. I cut it to try it in a salad with ranch dressing. It was very good!

Even though I was disappointed to not taste sweet goodness, the watermelon was pretty good as a cucumber and I saved it from the compost pile!

A ripe cantaloupe: just one of my tiny ripe fruit!

Watermelon salad!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Mixed Blessing of Rain!

Rain in July is unheard of in Texas and we have had nearly 5 inches here in a little over a week!!! While it is truly a blessing for our wildlife, water table and lakes, too much rain coming too fast reeks havoc on fruit.

Many of our figs were lost because they started rotting on the tree. As the figs rot they attract bees, ants and beetles. The bees are fine, but the ants and beetles track mold inside, speeding up the fermentation process. I have gone out daily to gather bloated, cracked tomatoes and gaping figs. In this condition, the fruit has to be processed immediately!

I wash and cut up the cracked tomatoes, adding a pepper or two, and put them in the food processor. They can be processed more or less chunky, according to preference or recipe requirements. Although tomatoes can be stored in the freezer raw, I choose to bring these to a boil since the skin has been cracked open and the interior is sometimes exposed. After the tomato sauce has cooled, I add it to a bag and freeze it. If I have a bag that is not full, I continue to add a new batch to the same bag.

As for the figs, after I rinse them off, I smell the open end. If they smell like vinegar, they are already fermenting and destined for the compost pile! If they still smell sweet, I cut them open and discard any part not suitable to freeze and store. At this stage, many head directly out to be composted!!

So, as you can see, summer rains are a mixed blessing! I will always be grateful for the rain and just know I have to hustle if I want to save the fruit!

Tomatoes cracked from the rain

After I cut away any unwanted area from the tomato I process them in my Vita Mix. A food processor works well too.

I bring the mixture to a boil for a couple of minutes.

I add the cooled tomato sauce to some that was already in the freezer.

Battle of the Ants: Round 3 - VICTORY (for now)!!!

At least it is a victory for now! I finally was able to get a few pods off my three okra plants that were planted in early spring!!! Up until now, fire ants have eaten all of the flowers and, if by chance any pods started forming, the new pods too! Since I am opposed to spraying insecticides on my food, I have combed the Internet for any organic solution. I have tried putting baking soda, coffee grounds, cinnamon, and orange oil on the ground around the plants. (Not all at the same time!) I have sprayed the leaves with homemade tomato leaf tea, diluted vinegar, and dish soap! I finally just gave up and accepted that I would have no okra!

The ants started spreading and nesting in the soil in different parts of my garden!!! After several bites on my hands and feet while I was cleaning out a planter box, I decided to pour liquid dish soap directly on the soil and use the "jet" setting on my sprayer to work it in.

The next day the ants were gone from that area! In excitement, I thought about my okra! Would it work there? Would I hurt the roots by pouring soap around them and "jetting" it into the soil? Well the okra was a loss if I did nothing, so I decided it was worth the risk.

My normal planting routine is to cut the bottom out of plastic pots and push them into the soil around the base of many upright plants. This is a way to conserve water and keep the soil from eroding away from the roots. I put a ring of soap inside the pot and used the jet setting to work it into the soil. I also sprayed off the ants that were already on the plants. Now to wait and see.....

It has been a week now and the ants have not returned in force! I have actually harvested some okra!!! Since I love okra, I am quite excited! At least I can claim victory for now!

See Battle of the Ants Rounds 1 and 2.html

The ants eating the blossom!

Generic dish soap.

A healthy blossom!

Okra pods!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July Rain!

We've had 3 days of rain so far and I'm thrilled!! Texas has had severe drought for the past two years. Our lakes are low, our water table is low and last year's dry brush and high winds fueled wildfires all over the state, including several in our area.

This heavy rain in July is quite unusual!Since Sunday we've had 3 1/2 inches of rain at our house. I'm loving every minute!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Figs 102!

I was having a hard time reaching several ripe figs. I don't mind sharing with the birds, but too many rotting figs draw ants and don't leave a pleasant odor in the yard! One day I voiced my lament to my neighbor as he and I were picking figs. He told me how he made a fruit picker out of a tin can mounted on a stick! Aha! The next morning I got busy making my version of the fruit picker. It is pictured below. I just used stuff I found in the garage. I'm sure there are lots of variations to this idea. Today I gathered over 3 pounds of figs and put them in the freezer!!!

I screwed a shallow can to an old axe handle.

I covered the screw with wax so it wouldn't damage the soft figs.

I used wire cutters for the thick edge and tin snips to cut a slit in the can.

Here is the finished product!

Another batch of figs ready for the freezer!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Figs 101!

We have a wonderful fig tree! It started out about 6 years ago as a shoot growing next to my parent's fig tree. We arrived home from a visit with this "stick" in a pot. The first two years after we transplanted our "stick" it died back completely to the ground each winter. We were surprised in the spring to see it emerge and leaf out again. Finally the third year it didn't die back, just lost its leaves after the first frost. The fourth year it started producing figs. Now, I can hardly keep up with the figs. I can pick as much as 3 pounds a day!

When I first started harvesting figs, I dried them. I cut little circles and loaded the circles into the dehydrator. I would freeze the packages of dried fruit and munch on them all winter. The problem was that I was the only one who would eat them! The were very hard on the outside and tough to chew. This year I decided to do something different....fruit leathers!

I looked up information and found that figs freeze quite nicely. I decided I wanted to freeze them separately so I could take out the amount I wanted to use each time. I washed the figs, cut them in halves (ants can track in mold spores, so I cut them open to make sure they are free of ants and mold), and put them on a sheet of plastic wrap spread on a tray. Next I put the tray in the freezer for a couple hours then put the individually frozen pieces in a freezer bag. Each day I followed this routine, adding fruit to the bag until it was full.

A few days ago I happen to throw a couple of frozen figs along with a frozen banana in my smoothie. It was so yummy! I may not have as many fruit leathers as originally planned!

To be continued......

Our fig tree.

Lots of figs!

Cut off stem and cut in half.

Place fig halves on a tray covered in plastic wrap.

Place the figs in the freezer.

Put the individually frozen figs in a freezer bag.

If you have no self control, make smoothies out of the frozen figs!
(vanilla yogurt, frozen banana, vanilla almond milk, two frozen figs)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Refreshing Showers!

The little rain cloud reminded me of an island surrounded by pale blue sky and wispy clouds. I watched as it approached through the valley! Would the rain make it here, or would the cloud dissipate? "Come on little cloud, you can do it!", I thought as I stood outside.

I watched the white curtain of rain as it shrouded each consecutive ridge in the distance. I thought of the places it had reached: Kutscher Ranch, Sunset Ranch, and finally our neighbor's property line. It was nearly here!

The first wisps of cool air blew in the smell of rain and finally big drops began to fall. I stood in the drops until they began to gather into a steady sheet of rain. This cool refreshment lasted only two minutes, but they were a wonderful two minutes!

Just as our land benefits from a refreshing shower, our soul benefits from the refreshment of God's word!

Psalm 68: 7-10 (NIV)

7 When you, God, went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,[d]
8 the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
9 You gave abundant showers, O God;
you refreshed your weary inheritance.
10 Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor.

Quarter Inch on June 30th!

While I was out of town for the weekend, we got a shower! Mark said it was about 1/4th of an inch!