July 28, and we’ve just got our first tomato

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At this point we’ll take anything.

As I told you previously, the only red tomatoes we’ve seen in the garden this year have had blossom rot. My husband applied some calcium to the soil and we’ve been waiting and watching.  This one grew out of the rot, pretty much, so we brought it in and cut it. The end was rotten, but most of the mater was still good!

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When I opened the container this morning, it smelled like SUMMER!

We cut off a thick slice and diced it over our salad. Today I will have a tomato sandwich. I wish I could say I had my own bread to eat it on, but it’s been too hot to take Bob out of the bucket, we’ve been subsisting on Alvarado Bread.

This weekend I am enjoying a “Staycation”.   I have finally got my husband to take some time and just sit around and enjoy.  We set up our tiny Intex pool on the patio, and put our old tv on the patio table, the antenna strung up on the umbrella.  

I can mix work with relaxation. This morning I watched “King of the Hill” while I mowed the lawn, when my eyebrows were heavy with sweat, I jumped in the pool! 

The other day they played the episode in which Mega lo Mart moves to town and forces Strickland Propane, where Hank works, out of business. Hank has  to go to work at Mega lo Mart. One day he’s trying to tell his co-worker, Buckley, to be more careful with the propane cans, when Buckley drops a can and blows up the entire store. Hank escapes but his niece Luann’s longtime annoying boyfriend Buckley is killed. 

At the funeral, Hank’s neighbor Kahn tells about his strange friendship with Buckley, explaining that Buckley taught him to “live in the moment” – a nice way of saying Buckley was completely careless and irresponsible, without any consideration for the future or those around him. 

Kahn tells a story to illustrate – a story about a man who is hunting a tiger, when the tiger charges and knocks him off a cliff. As he grasps at a root, pondering his fate, the hunter notices a strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. Instead of being hysterical, he reaches up and picks the strawberry, eats it, and declares, as he falls to his death, that it was the best strawberry he’d ever eaten. 

So, whenever I see a strawberry, I pick it and eat it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another crazy Summer in NorCal – no tomatoes yet?!

Back in July, as we were watching the blossoms on our tomatoes dry up and fall off, I read this post from Pobept:

https://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/summer-weather-pattern-settling-in-for-a-long-hot-dry-period/

“Tomato’s and Peppers stop pollinating and blooms drop occur when:
Daytime temperatures greater than 32° C (90° ) Pollen sterility occurs, flowers may drop.
35° C (95° F) Much reduced fruit set .
Night time temperatures less than 15.5° C (60° F) or greater than 24° C (75° F) will result in poor fruit set.”

Well, crap! Our daytime temps have been well over 95 for months now, with night time temperatures in the high 60’s, even 70’s.

We’ve seen some fruit on our tomato vines, but it’s just sitting there.

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This will be a nice tomato…some day…

Beautiful green round tomatoes. The only ones that started to ripen turned out to have blossom rot.

But, we have been getting my favorite beans, the asparagus and long red beans. We get enough of those for dinner about every other night.

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These asparagus beans will be ready tomorrow.

I have to look hard, they like to hide in the Johnson grass. 

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It only takes a few of these beans to make a meal. You have to pick them regularly or they go to seed, like the bean at left. Of course we’ll save those for next Summer.

Peaches don’t do well in this weather either. They don’t get very big, they get burned, they don’t ripen evenly. And the blue jays are waiting. Every day I go out and pick a small box and leave it to ripen in the garage for a couple of days.

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These are small but smell good.

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Next January I will be damned glad to have them!

Today I have enough to fill a freezer bag.  They aren’t as nice as tree-ripened fruit, but it’s better than paying $2.50 a pound at the store.

 

My husband planted the usual melons, different kinds – in past we’ve done well enough to freeze a bag of mixed melon.

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The future looks bright in the melon patch.

The last months have been tough. We spent our “discretionary” money fixing up our old rental to sell, and with no tenants to pay rent, that got pretty hairy. I worried and worried as my husband and son scraped paint and replaced rotten wood, replaced old fixtures, spent a couple thousand bucks just doing required testing and repairs. Luckily the buyer was anxious and willing, and very cooperative, or I think my husband would still be on top of that house scraping and hammering. 

He had to replace the hail-damaged shingles himself, but it was worth the savings.

Plus, my son was going through a lot of angst over the last year, marginally employed, girlfriend marginally employed, our town turning to crap all around their heads. Even in the worst neighborhoods, housing  is incredibly expensive here, whether you buy or rent. They wanted a house with a yard – in their price range, that would mean “Chapmantown.” Poor Mr. Chapman, getting that albatross hung round his neck.

A typical example – one cute house they looked at was on the news a few nights later. The neighbor, an elderly woman, had an old motor home parked in her side yard, and couldn’t keep the transients from breaking into it at night. One night it caught fire and nearly burned her house and the house next door. The news crews talked to other neighbors – older folks, many of whom kept little trailers on their property, or had sheds in their yards, and had the same problem – constant break-ins by transients.

Chico is having horrific problems right now, so we all had to wrap our heads around the concept of them moving to another town. That was hard for me, and later I realized, it was pretty traumatic for them too. 

They found a much nicer house and cheaper expenses, but we are physically separated for the first time, another town, a good half hour away. 

So, it was nice for the boy to spend a couple of months tagging along with Dad, scraping and painting and hammering, and talking about things that go bump in the night.

So now I got my husband and my dogs and my garden, and thank goodness for texting. 

 

 

 

If you don’t like the weather…

Here we are, last day of May, and I woke at 4 am to a dumping downpour. Welcome to Northern California. Here, if you don’t like the weather, come back next week. Or leave, cause it’s not going to suit you.

A little over two weeks ago, we had flannel sheets and heavy comforters on the beds. My younger son came home from University of Reno to report there was still a snow blanket on Mt. Rose. A few days after he arrived, temps shot up to over 100 for two days, the old Kist thermometer registering 102 at one point. The air conditioners buzzed all around our house, and we wondered what kind of jump our PG&E bill would take.

This week it’s been in the low 90’s, not quite hot enough to stick more than a toe in the snow melt. It’s been uncomfortable to work in the direct sun at noon, but very nice the rest of the day, windows open most of the time.

My son drove back to Reno Sunday and spent Monday boarding Mt. Rose. He said “It didn’t suck,” which is his way of saying it was pretty good.

And now this dumper, which just started to get heavier as I’ve been typing. Haven’t I told you 100 times about that June we had a week straight of dumping rain? Our neighbor’s huge old oak tree was so overburdened with ivy and the roots so rotten, we actually watched it do a slow-motion tilt right onto our house, it took the entire week. 

Another year the temperatures were so mild and we had so many cloudy days, right into Summer, that we didn’t get our first ripe tomato until August.

Pobept had real tornadoes back in OK the other day –

https://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/rain-storms-in-oklahoma/

Here we have little whips that come down from the sky to take chimneys and treetops. Now and then they “explode” an old barn, barn wood  scattering for miles.  Some years they’ve ripped out entire orchards – about 10 years ago there was so much orchard damage that  ranchers were selling downed trees for $5 each, come and cut your own firewood. Almond wood is the best, my husband and his friends brought in three big trailer loads of fuel for our wood stove.

Just a couple of years ago a Glenn County rancher lost an entire pistachio orchard! Noooooooo, not the pistachios!

We’re kinda nuts around here.  I don’t know what this “late” rain will do to the nuts, or the prunes. We like prunes around here too – although, some snobs like to call them “dried plums.” Hopefully this storm will just save the ranchers on their irrigation bill.

I know my yard is going to be very happy, I’m pretty stingy with water. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have watered Monday, but oh well.  My grapes are looking good this year, so burdened down, we had to take some wire and tie the branches up off the ground. The fruit is smaller than a pea right now, but growing fast. I’m not getting any “eating” grapes – I don’t know what’s the deal with  that old vine – but I am looking forward to plenty of juice to put in the freezer for next winter. My juice grapes have always been very generous.

Still dumping! I’m so glad my husband went out to take in our old patio chair. It’s not really an outdoor chair. It’s a “score” – we were going to the dump, and offered to take some of our neighbor’s stuff. She toted out this oak rocker – I envy this woman’s farm girl strength. It’s one of those new kind that works on tracks with a big heavy base, so you don’t squash your dog’s foot all the time. She said her “monkey boys” had it over, and it was all falling apart. My husband asked her if she’d like him to take a look at it, probably fix it. She said no, it caused too much trouble. So we headed right back down our driveway and left it.  

Later, my husband  put two screws in it, and it was good as new – except the cushion was pretty trashed. So it sat in the garage a while – it is too heavy to tote up the stairs into our apartment, where there’s very little room, anyway.  It sat in the garage, I waited until the Fall sale at Lowes and picked up a new cushion for about $9 – reverse-able! Get the hell out! New chair! We leave it in the garage during Winter and as soon as the weather dries out in Spring we put it on the front porch. We don’t fight over it as we immediately adapted to a take-turns system.

Still dumping. I’ve sat here for about 40 minutes. Thanks for keeping me company.  Things have been chaotic around my house, I’ve been so stressed out – new weight loss plan Girls! Worry! I’ve lost six pounds, and my hair line is headed due North, but I think I see a light at the end  of the tunnel. 

I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

 

 

Motherhood is a good gig!

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Here’s Old Mother Cactus and her children and grandchildren.   Those furry nodules to the upper right will hopefully bust into striking pink flowers before too long.

My succulents took a beating this past Winter, but my spiny flowering cactus seem to be happier than ever. They are reproducing so fast I can’t find pots for all their offspring, and most of them have two or more flower buds swelling with promise.

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This is a variety of aloe vera known as “Alligator” – I get it! Not only do the leaves remind me of snapping jaws but the flower spears resemble baby gators.

I’ve got sap from these alligator aloe before, they’re just not as juicy as their cousin. They are more hardy, taking to the bright open sun. I’ve been spreading these along my rock walls, in out of the way spots – they make a good ground cover, treated with the proper respect.

Speaking of the garden.

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Here’s our tomato nursery – the bigger plants are from the box store. I’ve transplanted them from their original sixpack containers and they are ready to go in the ground now. I planted the smaller ones from seeds we got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I’ve started to put them into the sixpack containers left from the box store plants.

Last year my kids got me this cute little plastic tray with teeny tiny cups for planting seeds. It sits in another tray, and came with a lid, which I did not need.  It was supposed to be disposable, but I’m careful with it and I will  use it again next year. 

Baker Creek is a very reliable source of seeds – almost every one I planted sprouted.  Of course we love the Best Boys and Early Girls we get a Home Depot – they produce a lot, all Summer. Some of the heirloom varieties – like the beautiful Indigo Apple – produce a lot of fruit. Others produce small quantities of really good, big fruit.

https://worldofjuanita.com/2016/07/17/think-i-can-fill-my-empty-nest-with-tomatoes/

The Hungarian Heart  and the Carbon produced big, sweet, meaty tomatoes, weighing in at over a pound each. I don’t know if I got a dozen fruit between the two of them, so this year I’ve made sure to plant about a dozen seeds each, and the little plants are growing really well. 

Of course our tractor is on the fritz – we bought a used Kuboda tractor, a tiny backyard model, from a friend of ours about 10 years ago. It’s been great, but the last couple of Springs we’ve held our breath as my husband has jimmied the ignition switch. This year it won’t start, so we’re digging beds by hand and waiting to borrow our friend Wooton’s little rototiller. 

Luckily we still have about a dozen pints of tomato sauce in the freezer. Last night my younger son came home from college and we sat down to homemade pasta, meatballs, and sauce from last year’s garden. 

It’s good to be a mother. 

 

 

Life is full of surprises

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

Just when we had stopped looking, the garden provided us with a sweet surprise.  These little maters will be delicious in a salad or on some tacos this week. 

It’s good to take a stroll out about 6:50 am, the sky puts on an incredible color and light exhibition. I can’t really catch that with my digi-cam, it moves so fast – like a river of melted crayons. 

The sun comes up quickly in the morning, moving across the sky and starting to sink by early afternoon. I feel the days getting shorter – it’s like a friend is getting ready to go on a long trip.  By 6 o’clock I’ve lit my candles around the camp stove, my husband has lit the bbq, and we sit watching the flames. The dogs draw so close up to the stove I have to constantly pull one tail or another out of the ashes.

When it’s raining and we’re stuck in the apartment, I really miss that stove. I try to cook more, get the house warmed up and get food.  Sometimes I make a good meal, other times I give in to whimsy. 

My sister had a boyfriend named Roy who worked at a restaurant called Ricky’s Rib Cage.  It was  very popular, not just for Ricky’s ribs, but for Roy’s sweet potato pie. One night we had dinner at their house and Roy made the pie – I never forgot it.  It wasn’t the standard sweet potato pie, which is really  a pumpkin pie filled with sweet potato. No, it was different – more of a cake in a pie pan.  

Roy was pretty tight with his recipes,  being in the restaurant business, so my sister waited until he left the room to hiss the secret into my ear – “number 7 yellow cake mix and a can of 7-Up…” That was all she had time to tell me because Roy came back into the room. Boy did he look suspicious. I never told, and I never figured  out how to make the pie either. I was afraid to ask Roy for help cause he’d know my  sister gave him up.

They broke up over a dog – Roy’s rottweiler turned on him one day and let him know he was not allowed in my sister’s house anymore.  A sad ending to a gourmet relationship, but I have to admit – my sister was getting way too fat living with that guy.

30 years later, I was still thinking about that damned pie, but until recently, I just didn’t have the confidence to try it. This Thanksgiving something came over me and I picked up an average size sweet potato, a box of yellow cake mix (they don’t number them anymore) and a bottle of 7-Up –

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Hecho en Mexico?

my husband convinced me that can  or bottle wouldn’t matter, even though my sister insisted that it did. Some people are real superstitious about cooking.

The dough boy looks so coquettish.

The dough boy looks so coquettish, this just has to be fun!

So, I just guessed – prepare the cake as instructed on the box,  then add the pureed sweet potato and 7-Up.  See what happens. Holidays  are good for experiments, there’s always the store if you screw up.

Ever cook a sweet potato? Takes for-ev-er.  I thought steaming would be quicker, so I cut it into pieces and put it in the pot. It took almost an hour, and I kept having to add water to the steam pan, but I got it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I'm about to do to it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I’m about to do to it.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

And then dump it into a bowl of yellow cake batter. I’m sorry – probably a great way to hand diabetes down through the family! Be sure to add that bottle of 7-Up nice and easy – it’s like NITRO! 

I couldn’t get pictures, too much action, only so many hands.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions - 350 for about 40 minutes.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions – 350 for about 40 minutes.

Something that didn’t occur to me is a batch of yellow cake mix is a two-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes, and that translated into two sweet potato pies. Luckily it was very good, and my husband and  I sat down immediately to eat a quarter of a pie each. We work hard, we get hungry. A friend who stopped by polished off another quarter and took a slice for his bgf.  I told him he should just staple it to her ass, cause that’s where it was going to end up. He said he liked a little sweet potato pie on his woman’s bones!

Who cares, I’m old, if I want to eat stuff like this, I will do it. But yeah, not every day, that’s for sure. Don’t forget the whip cream. 

Thanks Roy-Boy, wherever you are.

 

 

 

As the skies darken, keep reminding yourself – la primavera esta a la vuelta a la esquina!

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Super Moon was at my window this morning.

Last night my husband and I built a fire in our camp stove and sat out under the Super Moon for a few hours. It was an enchanting evening, the nopalitos glowing around the stove, Screech Owl calling as he and his mate feasted on  bats over our back acre.

This morning I am not too surprised to find Super Moon still brightening all the windows and setting an eerie light over the yard.  Clouds have moved in to form a Super Rainbow.

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And Super Moon sinks into the Western sky.

Whipple gave me some celery starts – a  couple of his celery plants had gone to seed and he dutifully dug the little plants up and set them in an old container. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about a winter garden – I’d rather wait out the drought. Last Winter I had to water everything, and I still lost plants, so you know, I hate to make the emotional investment.  But these little celery plants were so vibrant in that old pot, they would wilt every now and then, but a splash  of water would bring them back singing, so I finally set them out in my lined wooden boxes a couple of weeks ago. They just wanted to live so bad.   And yeah, I like celery  – it’s a “Super Food”, full of vitamins and minerals, complex carbohydrates that don’t irritate my system, and it’s the King of Fiber.

These little celery plants look so delicate but are actually pretty tough.

These little celery plants look so delicate but are actually pretty tough.

You know that old saying – “the best laid plans of mice and moms…” I set my little plants out and I watered them and they seemed to be taking off well.  Within a week the blue jays moved in to cause trouble – they just love that soft dirt to hide their nuts, those little bastards.  I went out one morning to find they’d dug holes all over my celery bed.  They didn’t seem to have upset any of the plants, just scooted the dirt around, so I raked it out again and put some water on it. They did it again, and I fixed it again, and the plants are actually growing.

When I was cleaning the beds I found some garlic from last year that had sprouted into new cloves, so I separated those and planted them in neat rows in the other half of the garden box.

If I can get the jays to leave these alone, I should get some Super Foods.dfs

If I can get the jays to leave these alone, I should get some Super Foods.

I don’t like to put a lot of effort into Winter gardening, and garlic is one of those things that doesn’t take much  effort, just a clean bed and regular watering.  The biggest trick is keeping the crab grass from getting it.

I know – celery and garlic are two of  the cheapest vegetables at the store. It’s just this compulsion I have to garden, just for that confidence you get when you grow your own food.

Another plant I’ve learned to grow is aloe vera – I started with a couple of pots and now I have so many I can’t find room for all of them. Some of them are suffering

This aloe pot had become so crowded the plants were withering.

This aloe pot had become so crowded the plants were withering.

while others are growing big, fat leaves, which I pick every morning to get sap for my smoothie. I also rub the sap on my skin, and my psoriasis and eczema are on the run.

The other day I was cleaning an empty rental, and I stuck my hand  way back in an old cabinet to wash it out. Suddenly I felt something ripping my fingers – my index and middle finger were slashed and bloody. It was a staple that had worked it’s way out of the wood, and it was sharp as heck. My husband reached in and fixed it, saying, “Don’t worry, those things are coated with zinc, that’s a clean wound.”  I trust my husband on these matters, he’s had a million injuries like this, but it still hurt like the dickens. My fingers swelled up,  throbbed all night, and the next day, I  couldn’t do anything with that hand, it drove me nuts. But all day, I smeared aloe vera on it, the miracle cure – by the next day the middle finger was healing. The index finger has taken a little bit longer, but today it feels good again.

So I hoard my little army of aloe vera pots, giving one away once in a while to a true believer.  I planted some in one of my box beds to see how they grow outside – I saw a picture of an aloe vera farm in Mexico,  and I figured, what the heck. I’ll  have to cover them from frost, they will probably not survive a real freeze, but let’s see what happens.

They look a little sad now, but I think it's just the shock of transplanting. There's already new growth.

They look a little sad now, but I think it’s just the shock of transplanting. There’s already new growth.

Gardening gives a person Hope. Hope is essential to a person’s mental health. As Winter darkens the skies, we all fight with SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is natural to want to slow down when it’s cold and dark,  but our modern lifestyles are contrary to Nature, so we have this conflict. It’s good to stay positive, have activities that help you look forward, don’t spend too much time dwelling over bad things – like Election 2016! Time to look forward, not backward. Get a project that will actually amount to something without draining too much of your energy.

And remember, always, la primavera esta a la vuelta a la esquina…Spring is right around the corner!

Star gazing, eating apples, squeezing melons, and mau-mauing the flakcatchers – Juanita’s been busy

When I went outside this morning I saw Orion finally pulling himself up over my neighbor’s trees, like a giant peering into my windows. Betelgeuse was bright red and blinking. The Sisters were sparkling like a little tiara, and Taurus’ red eye glowered down on Orion. A crowd of celebrities tinkled all around them, the moon having business elsewhere.

The last couple of nights have been tough – Arthur’s been sleeping over with us, Arthur Itis.  He’s literally a pain in the neck. When he can’t sleep, he sits next to my bed and whines and complains until I get up to keep him company. He actually makes a pretty good cuppa java, I’ll give him that.

I been working on the usual things – I write myself a note – “pick _______ today.” The tomatoes are coming around again, and we have green apples getting ripe now too. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding, should I work inside or outside today? The temperatures have been so nice, we’ve been outside almost all day lately, coming in to lay under the fans when we need a break, eating chips and salsa, watching “A-Team” on the boob tube.

At this time of year, we have given up weeding, and the garden is a mystery patch. 

Look what we found in the crabgrass that has overtaken the melon beds.

Look what we found in the crabgrass that has overtaken the melon beds. Welcome to the Melon Nation.

 

Look what was hiding in the crabgrass that has overtaken the melon beds.

So ripe and sweet – I’m sorry I don’t have “Smellaround” on the camera.

Yesterday my husband brought in a payload of melons. We ate one, put another in the fridge, and then I cut the others into pieces and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer.

I always try to shove these waaaay back in the freezer, forget about them, give myself a little surprise in January.

I always try to shove these waaaay back in the freezer, forget about them, give myself a little surprise in January.

We stripped our tiny Fuji apple tree, a good enough crop of sweet little apples.

Here's some nice Fuji's - I have about the same amount stowed away in the refrigerator drawer.

Here’s some nice Fuji’s – I have about the same amount stowed away in the refrigerator drawer.

Those will get eaten pretty fast, but I couldn’t resist throwing a few in the juicer.

I juiced  some Fuji's with a some "baby carrots".

I juiced some Fuji’s with  some “baby carrots”.

I found a 2 lb bag of “baby carrots” (which my husband reminds me are just big carrots put through a peeling machine) at Cash and Carry for the same price Safeway sells the 1 lb bag, so took a chance and bought them. It seemed like an awfully big bag, I was afraid they would go bad before I could use them.  Nope, we polished off the whole bag without any losses. They’re just too damned convenient!  We ate them on salads, juiced them, and chopped them up for the dogs’ food, so the bag went fast. I’ll have to pick up another bag next time, carrot juice is the nectar of the gods.

So, I told you I was going to get out there and do something different – yesterday I went up to O-ville and turned in an “argument against” a bond the school district has put on the ballot. I know, people think I’m nuts to consider that kind of stuff fun and interesting, but I’ll have to tell you all about it over at Chico Taxpayers.