Monday, October 28, 2013

Preserving Garden Goodness - Pesto

We had our first frost of the season a few days ago.  Some plants are more sensitive to cold and frost than others.  Basil, tomatoes and peppers fit in this category.  However, there are other plants that are unaffected by a light frost.  Notice the catnip plant below survived the frost just fine, whereas the basil beside it was killed.

Fortunately, we were alerted to the possibility of a frost several days in advance and we were able to harvest quite a bit of produce the day before.  This included a bunch of basil.

I made pesto with the basil and wanted to share how I did it with you.  It is very easy and you can freeze it for use later.  Here are the ingredients you need.  You can use walnuts instead of pine nuts.  I've used both and can't tell much difference.  

These are the quantities of each that you will need:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

First, place the pine nuts (or walnuts) in a food processor and whirl them around a bit.

Next, add the basil leaves.

Pulse a few times and add the chopped garlic.

Then, with the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

 Next, add the Parmesan cheese and pulse a few times until it is incorporated.  Taste the pesto and add salt and pepper to taste.  I found it did not need much salt.

You will end up with something that looks like this.

If you are not going to use it soon, you can freeze it.  I like to freeze it in tablespoonful portions by putting it on a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet.

Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for a few hours and then peel off the pesto chunks and place in a freezer bag for long-term storage.

It will keep for months in the freezer.  It is great used in soups and pasta dishes.  Just take a portion (or two) out of the bag and throw in your recipe.  It will melt quickly in hot pasta or soup and you can enjoy fresh basil goodness all through the winter.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Black Widow

I was a bit surprised last week when I turned over a flower pot that had been turned upside-down most of the summer to find a Black Widow spider inside.

I assume most people know about these spiders and have seen pictures of them.  And many people may think, as I once did, that the red hour-glass shaped spot is on their back.  But, that is wrong.  The red spot is actually on their abdomen.  In the above picture, you are looking at the underside of the spider.  She was clinging to her web upside down.  The red hour-glass shaped spot can be irregular.  The hour-glass is broken up by a black band on this spider so that it looks like 2 spots.

The Black Widow is entirely black except for the red on her belly.  Here is what she looked like from the top side.  Actually somewhat pretty, if she weren't poisonous!

In Oklahoma, there are two kinds of poisonous spiders, the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse.   But, they have extremely different kinds of venom.  The Black Widow carries a neurotoxin that causes elevated blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, headache, painful muscle cramps and weakness, possible seizures and even death.  The Brown Recluse poison, on the other hand, is a hemotoxic venom which can cause a necrotizing ulcer at the site of the bite that destroys the soft tissue around it, possibly taking months to heal, and perhaps leaving a deep scar.

The good news is that neither of these spiders is particularly aggressive and bites are not that common.   In fact, some people who are bitten experience no symptoms.  But, still it's not a good idea to have these spiders living in close proximity to humans.  So, I got a glove and caught this spider, put her in a jar and transported her half a mile or so away to a rocky area where she was safely away from people and could go about her business.

I know it would have been easier to just kill her, but I simply didn't see the need for that.  She was just in the wrong place and needed to move on.  Since she was not going to do that on her own, I helped her out a little bit.

Oh, and by the way, the reason these spiders are called Black Widows is because they kill the male after they mate with him.  Poor guy!  Also, the male Black Widow is not poisonous, is much small than the female, and does not even look like the female in that he has a distinctive pattern on his top side that consists of a row of reddish dots and white or yellow lines. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pretty Poison

We've had a beautiful fall so far.  With the cooler nights, the leaves on some of the trees are just beginning to change color.  The other day, I noticed the following pretty red leaves on a tree just across the fence line.

The tree appeared to have many dead branches and seemed barely holding on to life.  Because of the previous two years of drought, this has been a common sight this year.  However, upon taking a closer look at this tree, I realized that the tree really was totally dead and that these leaves were not on the tree, but were on a vine growing up the tree.  As it turns out, it was a huge vine of poison ivy!

I know some folks are allergic to poison ivy and just brushing up against it will cause an itchy rash.  But, I can truthfully say that I have never experienced any reaction to it.   However, since I have grandchildren that visit and like to explore about, I decided this poison ivy vine really should go.  They may not have inherited my immunity to it.  

So, I armed myself with gloves (didn't want to tempt fate), clippers and long-handled loppers and cut through all the vines that were snaking their way up the tree.  Since poison ivy will regrow from the roots, I know I'll have to keep an eye out for more growth next spring.  But, at least now I am fore-warned and know it is there.

Here is an interesting link to information about poison ivy:

Did you know that it has berries?  And that birds eat the berries without any harm?  You, however, should NOT eat the berries!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Garlic Planting Time

It's October and that means it is time to plant garlic.   This is somewhat backward from other vegetables, but it's what works best.  We mulch it over the winter and in the spring it sends shoots up through the mulch.  At that point we let it grow until the beginning of summer when its leaves begin to die, usually in June.  Then, it is time to dig it.

We order most of our garlic from Filaree Garlic Farm.

There are many different varieties of garlic and the Filaree web site is very educational.  Most of the garlic you get in the grocery store is "soft-necked" garlic and is rather mild.  However, there are other kinds that are very strong and have quite a "bite".  These strong garlic varieties are very popular with our farmers' market customers.

After we get our order from Filaree, we separate the garlic into cloves.

The variety shown above is named Inchelium Red and some of the cloves are huge!

The cloves are planted 4 inches apart in rows that are 10 to 12 inches apart.  I use a yard stick to determine where to make the holes.

I use a tool called a "dibble" to punch holes in the soil.

Put one clove of garlic in each hole.

Here's what it looked like before I covered the cloves with soil and watered them.

Finally, we mulched it with pine needles that Tom rescued from going to the landfill from someone's house in town.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Compost Cooperation

I've written a lot of posts about compost over the last few years.  Compost is "black gold" when it comes to fertilizer.  Not only does it add nitrogen and other needed compounds to the soil, but it also nourishes the soil.   It helps to loosen the soil which in turn improves water movement into the soil.  Finally,  it also feeds beneficial microbes in the soil.  Chemical fertilizers can claim none of these benefits.

Recently, we have started cooperating with Oklahoma State University to help recycle some of their kitchen waste.  You can read more about OSU's sustainability efforts and recycling programs here.

Twice a week Tom goes to the OSU Student Union and picks up their food waste bins.  He brings them home and dumps them into our compost pile.    There are always a lot of citrus peels as you can see in this picture!

It is important to add dry material, such as leaves or straw to the wet kitchen waste, so he also gathers bags of leaves around town that he adds to the compost pile.  See this blog entry.

Then, about once a week, he turns the compost pile and mixes everything together with the tractor.

It takes some time for the compost materials to decompose.  But, after a while we end up with something that looks like this.

At first glance, it just looks like a pile of dirt.  But, upon closer examination, this is what it looks like.

The Black Gold of fertilizers!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spirea Bush

Most of my activities center around our farmers' market business, but I'd like to get some flower beds established around the house.  I've made a small start by planting some spirea bushes along the front of the house beside the porch.  Here is a picture of one of them when it was blooming this summer.

This one has a special story that I'd want to share.  What makes it special is that it came from southern Arkansas, from the "old home place" where I grew up.

I shared a little about the home place in the following blog entry from a several months ago.

This is in a rural area several miles from town.  As you can see from the pictures in the above link, it is quite overgrown now.  But when I was a child, everything was mowed and there was a big garden behind the house that my parents tended.  (Hmmmm, wonder if maybe I inherited the urge to garden from them?)  

My mother didn't have many flowers.....nothing that you could count as a real flower bed.  But, there were lots of daffodils and iris.  She also had a hydrangea bush and a spirea bush.  After she died, we sold the house and land that went with it.  But, before we closed on the property, my sister and I made a trip down there to dig up some of the daffodils and iris to transplant into our yards.   We had forgotten about the bushes and didn't have much room in the car.  However, we were able to dig up a couple of pieces of this spirea bush and fit them in.

We lived in town at the time and I planted my piece in the back yard.  It flourished there for a number of years.  When we sold that house and moved here to the farm, I dug up part of the bush and brought it with me.  It now occupies a place of honor in front of the house and rewards me each year with these beautiful lilac flowers.