One can never have too many strawberries…maybe

If there’s one thing that we’ve wanted to do ever since starting strawberries, it’s make a strawberry pie.  Okay, so maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless.  And as trite as it might sound, it really comes down to the true goal: get enough strawberries to make a pie. Well, this year, the strawberries haven’t disappointed.

Last week we lamented a bit on how much critters, like slugs and squirrels, like strawberries too. (And we swear we saw a shrew in the strawberry patch the other day, too.) Last week, we were also dealing with a bout of grim, wet weather.  So far this week, not only have we had clear skies,  but it’s been sunny and hot. Like record-breaking H.O.T., which stinks for the humans, but is great for the strawberries.  In fact, it’s possible we might have too many strawberries…

…nah.

Anyway, back to the pie. The recipe for the pie we had in mind came from our trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook: Berry Glacé Pie. It sounds fancy, but it’s super simple, requires no cooking save for a baked pie shell, and as it turns out, totally delicious. (As much as we’ve wanted to make a strawberry pie, the worry remained that a baked pie would result in mushy, nearly non-existent berries, which is pretty unappetizing.  Because this is a chilled pie, the berries stay nice and firm, softening up only slightly over time.)

Berry Glacé Pie

 Ingredients

1 baked pie shell (homemade, store-bought, your choice)
8 cups fresh strawberries (the smaller, the better)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

(Yes, 4 ingredients; that’s it!)

Instructions

  1. Prepare you pie shell in whatever manner is necessary.
  2. For strawberries, remove stems and leaves. Cut any large strawberries in half lengthwise and set aside in a bowl.
    (Note: since all our strawberries have to be vetted for anything that might have burrowed their way inside [yuck], we cut all our strawberries in half. The prettier version of the pie, as listed below, contains whole strawberries that are neatly arranged with their pointy ends up. We just layered our berries as they seemed to best fit.)
  3. For the glaze, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine 1 cup of the strawberries and 2/3 water. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Add enough additional water to the mixture to equal 1 1/2 cups. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blended berry mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. (Optional: stir in a few drops red food coloring.) Cool for 10 minutes without stirring.
  4. Spread about 1/4 cup of the glaze over bottom and sides of pie crust. Arrange half of the remaining strawberries, stem ends down, in pastry.
  5. Carefully spoon half of the remaining glaze over berries, making sure all berries are covered. Arrange remaining berries over first layer. Spoon remaining glaze over berries, covering each. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. (After 2 hours, filling may begin to water out). Garnish with whipped cream.

The most surprising thing about this pie, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all,  is how refreshingly bright it tastes. Because our berries are a little tart and the glaze is very sweet, the pie is perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s also kept pretty well over several days, despite the recipe’ s warning that the glaze might become watery. Ours hasn’t, though it has congealed, darkened, and become a little cloudy. It’s probably best, indeed, that the pie is eaten sooner rather than later, but as much as we could probably eat a single pie in a day, we probably shouldn’t.  Probably.

Take one baked pie shell…
…and some strawberries…
…top with glaze and chill. Voila!
Presently, the strawberry crop is slowing down a little, though new growth is appearing, as are new flowers. Right now, we’ve got enough berries for another pie, but maybe we should aim to make jam or something. We’ll see.
Meanwhile in the garden, things are doing okay.  It’s looking like the majority of tomato seedling are starting to really take root. Can’t say the same about the peppers, sadly. Looks like another slim year there. But the cucumber, beans, and squash are all taking off, as are some of the radishes. Peas are another story. (Maybe we’ll get to that lament week.) And we’ve got greens for days. Delicious!
So many delicious salads!
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Berry Good

Despite the fact that we got the garden started later than usual this year, the strawberries are right on time! June is strawberry month round these parts, and we were heartily rewarded this past week with a host of ripened and ripening berries.

So far, we’re on track for our largest harvest yet, and that just from looking at all the berries to be that are still outside. In the past, not only was our strawberry spread not as large, but it always seemed as though the birds and squirrel got to them before we ever did. This year, the rainy weather has kept most of the critters at bay. Plus, we’re picking the berries just before they get to their sweetest points, and then we’re ripening them indoors. The results aren’t perfect – the berries remain a little tart – but we’d rather get a sizeable harvest than a totally perfect harvest.

Unfortunately, the rainy weather has has its downside for the berries in the form of slugs. Ick. There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing what looks like a perfect berry only to turn it around and find it either half-eaten or worse, with a slug still in residence. Bad berries with slugs get tossed; bad berries without them get squished back into the soil in the hope for more berries in the years to come. Interestingly, bugs in general haven’t seemed to bother the berries. It’s really only the slugs that have been a problem. Because of them, all berries get thoroughly washed and checked before any eating happens. Biting into a bad berry…well…that’d be no fun.

:::shivers:::

But enough talk about slugs. The point is, we have strawberries, and they are delicious! We hope to have strawberries spread into the garden bed that sits right on the side of the house. Because the more strawberries we grow, the better our chances are of getting good harvests. After all, it’s not like the slugs or birds or squirrel can eat ALL the berries, right?

RIGHT?

🙂

The Year’s First Harvests!

Despite everything that’s happened, or not happened in the garden this year, we’ve managed to get a few successful harvests over the past weekend. And now that the weather has evened out some, things are looking better and better, even just since our last post. Only a week out, and we already have beans, squash, and cucumbers coming in. We’ve also finally put out some tomato seedlings, though we have a bunch of “reserves” just in case. And, as we said, we’ve been harvesting!

So first up, June means strawberries, right? Well, in our neck of the woods it does, and boy, do we have strawberries!

018strawberries

It may not look like much, and we’ve picked many more since taking this picture, but it’s taken us a good three years to get a decent strawberry harvest! Now, we even have a small surplus!  (That’s dwindling, y’know, because strawberries are darn tasty!) On the downside, we’ve noticed an uptick in slugs this year, which stinks for the strawberries. Between them and the critters, we’ve already lost a good handful, and a few more tend to go each day. But we’re doing what we can to remain vigilant, even if it means having to pick the strawberries a little early and then have them ripen indoors.

Moving on, not long ago we mentioned that it looked like our radishes were doing pretty good. Indeed, in order to make room for the ground cherries and huckleberries that we planted in the same planters, we had to harvest all the radishes. While many were just stalks (we really have to better abut thinning out our plants! Or, maybe, not planting a many seeds.), many were not!

018radishes

We came away with a good several dozen mixed Saxa II (red-pink), Hailstone (white), and Malaga (purple). We didn’t get a single Round Black Spanish radish, and we’ll keep that in mind next year. Our radishes never get very large or long, so we’ll probably stick with round, small varieties in the future. Anyway, we’re we’re looking into pickling this bunch in order to help them keep awhile longer. We like radishes well enough, but it’s not like we go through them like candy! Though generally mild going in, all these radishes leave a hefty aftertaste. You definitely  know you’ve had a radish after eating one!

And finally, we picked a lovely mix of greens and lettuces.

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We mentioned awhile back that rabbits had somehow gotten into our peas. We’ll, we soon discovered that they had also made their ways into the lettuce and greens raised beds. Ugh. (This year the rabbits got smart and chewed through our net cages. Stupid smart rabbits.) After investing in some Liquid Fence, we’ve had a better time keeping the greens and such going. So in this harvest was arugula, New Fire Red Lettuce, Garnet Rose lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce, and Rocky Top mixed lettuce. It made for an utterly delicious salad! From the looks of things outside, we’ll certainly have more greens to come — as long as the rabbits stay far, far away, that is!


So we’ll round things out here with a quick update on our grass “trenches.”

017stonebed2

If you recall from our last post, our intention with this experiment was to try to keep the areas around our squash and melon (and pole bean) hills relatively moist and free from weeds. Well, we can happily report that, after surviving through a particularly strong storm this past weekend, the trenches are holding! They are keeping the soil right around the hills from getting too dry, and they’ve really helped kept down the weeds in the bed generally. And as the seedlings have come up, they’re also free from pests and mold. Whether or not this is a result of the grass circles remains to be seen, but we’re very pleased with the results so far.

 

Summer Approaches; How the Garden Turns

Before the lovely Memorial Day weekend even started, we knew that whatever we did in the garden would likely be washed out by Tropical Storm Bonnie. Still, we really had to get stuff in the ground, so we went ahead with two major rounds of prepping and planting on Saturday and Sunday. Come Sunday night, Bonnie hit with enough rain to completely fill one of our once-empty 55-gallon rain barrels! To say that the garden beds turned into mud puddles is an understatement. With the warm weather ahead, we’re hopeful that things will dry out before another possible storm arrives in a few days.

And…we still haven’t transplanted the tomato and teensy pepper seedlings yet! Blergh. Of course, if we had done so this past weekend, they would have been washed away, no doubt. Fingers crossed that this weekend will be decent enough that we can put them out, because we’re really at the eleventh hour with them.

So before the rains came, things outside were actually looking pretty good.

You wouldn’t know it yet, but we planted the cucumbers in their normal bed. Since we had previously planted greens in the center of this bed, some of which are actually growing, we kept the cucumbers to the perimeter of the bed.

017cucumbers

Then, we got all the squash and melons planted in the second stone bed. (Last year we put squash, melons, and tomatoes in here together — it was too much. We’ll see how things go this year without the tomatoes.)

017stonebed2

Curious about our “crop circles?” (Haha.) This a new technique we’re trying this year with seeds that we’ve placed in hills — mainly squash, melons, and pole beans. Around each hill we dig out a small trench and then fill it with grass clippings. The idea is that the grass clippings will help keep the soil around each hill and eventually the plants’ roots moist, as well as somewhat free from weeds. We want to see if this will help cut down on how much we have to water, as well as blight and rotting plant stems. Plus, it looks kind of cool. 🙂

Speaking of which, we also got the long bed planted — all beans this year. No soybeans, sunflowers, or corn. All we have right now are pictures of rows and dirt…but eventually, this side of the bed will be filled with shelling bush beans, like Pinto beans.

017longbed1

And then in the middle, we planted all the pole beans, which we’ll eventually trellis using extra tomato cages because they need to climb. And at the very front of the bed, we planted an extra row of bush beans — Jacob’s Cattle.017longbed2

We used the same trench and grass clippings technique around each hill o’ beans. (And hopefully they’ll amount to something!)

And on the far side of the bed, we planted our string bean varieties. Doesn’t look like much yet, but it will!

017longbed3

All that we enough work for one weekend! And we did take advantage of being out on the warm sun, which was nice after a cloudy few weeks. Our over-wintered peppers and blueberry definitely enjoyed the change of scenery, as well.

017peppersandblueberry

And it looks like we’ll be in for a strawberry harvest soon. Yummy!

017strawberries


In other, non-garden news, this past weekend we also discovered (or caught up with the rest of the world) that Memorial Day weekend is the BEST time of year to have a major appliance conk out! Our refrigerator went on the fritz last week — it seemed whatever kept the chiller going stopped going, so we ended up with a leaky machine and a freezer that no longer froze things. After looking online and through a number of store circulars, and coming up with a budget, we decided to go appliance shopping.

Fun? Erm…well…

Turns out that things didn’t go as drearily as we thought it could have. The first store that we went to had tons of stuff on sale. And we, of course, immediately fell in love with a fancy fridge that was well out of our price range. The items in our price range were okay, but most too large for two people. (Do we need a fridge that can hold 25 bags of groceries??! Certainly not!) But we took some notes and decided to head to the next store. But then, on our way out of the first store, we saw it — the perfect fridge! And it was on sale for an unbelievable low price, way less than we figured we would need to spend. And it wasn’t a scratch-and-dent or floor model or anything!

While we searched for a salesperson, something else caught our attention — a lovely new stove also at a phenomenal price. But since it wasn’t on our list, we just took note of it and ordered the fridge.

During the drive home, we talked about that stove. Since we’ve been working slowly on a kitchen remodel, we knew we would have to replace the old stove at some point. So we decided that if the new stove that we saw fit into the space of our old stove and if it rated well, we would go back to the store the next day and order it.

In short, we have a new fridge and stove coming soon! And we got both within the budget that we had originally set for the fridge alone. And now we have new motivation to get some more work done in the kitchen. Good thing we’re not in a hurry. 🙂

 

Thanks for reading, and we’ll be back next week with further updates, hopefully with less rain!

 

The Year’s First Update in Pictures

As much as we’ve been hemming and hawing about the lack of “spring” in this year’s Spring, not everything has gone sour. In fact, if anything, this year is turning out to be late and slow, which isn’t all bad. Though it seems like the un-sunny and un-warm weather has put a kink in things, maybe we’ll luck out and have a sunny and warm Fall, which would help extend the growing season past our usual ending in October. Or maybe we’ll have a great summer that’ll kick things into overdrive! All we can do is wait and see. In the meantime, indoors, we’re still caring for tomato seedlings, putting them outside when the sun comes out. Maybe they’ll get in the ground before the end of the month. We also, finally, have some pepper seedlings! They are still so tiny at this point, but a good dozen or so of the full tray that we planted have been steadily growing. It better than nothing.

How are things outdoors? So glad you asked! Because we’re about to get on with our first of out monthly updates in pictures. Let the gallery commence!

So first, we've got the bed of greens - arugula, kale, broccoli, endive, and cabbage. Things are still a little small at this point, but everything looks healthy.
So first, we’ve got the bed of greens – arugula, kale, spinach, endive, and cabbage. Things are still a little small at this point, but everything looks healthy. What’s really taking off at the moment is the arugula, endive, and cabbage. Maybe the cooler weather will prevent everything from bolting to seed!
Next is...well...this is actually the cucumber bed. But seeing as how it's been much too cool for in-ground planting, we decided to stick some random lettuce seedlings in the middle of the bed. If they take, great! And we'll eventually get the cucumbers planted around the perimeter. If not, then we'll still have plenty of space for cucumbers.
Next is…well…this is actually the cucumber bed. But seeing as how it’s been much too cool for in-ground planting, we decided to stick some random lettuce seedlings in the middle of the bed. (You can barely see them, but they’re there!) If they take, great! And we’ll eventually get the cucumbers planted around the perimeter. If not, then we’ll still have plenty of space for cucumbers.
In this planter we decided to place a few of our huckleberry seedlings. Hopefully they'll take. So far, so good.
In this planter we decided to place a few of our huckleberry seedlings. Hopefully they’ll take. So far, so good.
Next is the lettuce bed, which remains very quite for now. A few sprigs have popped up. Hopefully more will show as it gets warmer.
Next is the lettuce bed, which remains very quiet for now. A few sprigs have popped up. Hopefully more will show as it gets warmer.
This is a close-up shot of some lettuce sprigs that came up in another planter. Very glad to see them!
This is a close-up shot of some lettuce sprigs that came up in another planter. Very glad to see them!
So many peas! We're happy that our good luck with peas continues -- they seem to do well each year no matter what.
So many peas! We’re happy that our good luck with peas continues — they seem to do well each year no matter what.
And here we have a barrel of radishes. Too many radishes probably. Have got to get to thinning out the herd!
And here we have a barrel of radishes. Too many radishes probably. Have got to get to thinning out the herd!
More radishes in the second barrel planter.
More radishes in the second barrel planter.
Out back we stashed our herb planters. Since it's been too cold for basil, etc., we decided to stick a few more lettuce seedlings in to see if any would take. They look a little wilty at the moment.
Out back we stashed our herb planters. Since it’s been too cold for basil, etc., we decided to stick a few more lettuce seedlings in to see if any would take. They look a little wilty at the moment.
The strawberries are looking good! They've spread a little since last year, and now have so many flowers. The fruit is just starting to show, and now we really need to sun to help with the goring and ripening!
The strawberries are looking good! They’ve spread a little since last year, and now have so many flowers. The fruit is just starting to show, and now we really need to sun to help with the growing and ripening!
So last year we had a ton of volunteer tomatoes. This year, for whatever reason, we have some volunteer carrots!
So last year we had a ton of volunteer tomatoes. This year, for whatever reason, we have some volunteer carrots! We’ve had some success with carrots in the past, but our soil isn’t great for them. (Someday we’ll plan a nice sandy soil bed just for them.)
And speaking of volunteer plants, squash, anyone? This is the first if two little plots where squash of some variety (probably zucchini here) has popped up unexpectedly.
And speaking of volunteer plants, squash anyone? This is the first of two little plots where squash of some variety (probably zucchini here) has popped up unexpectedly.
And this is the second spot of squash seedlings. This could be zucchini as well. We'll just have to wait and see!
And this is the second spot of squash seedlings. This could be zucchini as well. We’ll just have to wait and see!
And finally, though the sky may not say Spring, our lilacs do! It has been ajoy watching this little plant grow. and we love it when it blooms each year. The smell is amazing!
And finally, though the sky may not say Spring, our lilacs do! It has been a joy watching this little (now big) plant grow. and we love it when it blooms each year. The smell is amazing!

Thanks for joining us for this first trip around our 2016 garden. Hopefully things will just get better from here on out!

 

Early Harvests: Radishes, Arugula, and Strawberries

This past weekend, we made out first multi-item harvest of the year. Granted, we’ve been filling our salad plates with lettuces and spinach since May, and we just started chomping on strawberries here and there, but it was finally time to get out and pick some things in earnest. And those things were radishes, arugula and strawberries!

First up, the radishes:

Little red globes of joy (and pungency)!
Little red globes of joy (and pungency)!

In an earlier post, we mentioned that we’ve not grown radishes before. (Root veggies in our garden never seem to do well.) So when we were looking to do so, we opted for a variety that seemed like a good and hardy choice for first-time growers. That’s when we landed on the Saxa II from Baker Creek. They took a little longer to grow than promised on the package, but we couldn’t be happier with the results. The little bunch in the picture represents about half of the full harvest, and there are plenty more in the ground just waiting. And how do they taste? Really wonderful. They’re super crunchy with a peppery afterbite, though not with that extreme horseradish-y taste that you get from some radishes.. They are perfect in salads and we’re going to pickling some soon for some homemade sushi. (Yes, yes, it’s not the right kind of radish for that, but they’re sure to be delicious regardless.)

Speaking of salad, you know what goes great underneath the radishes? Arugula!

015arugula
We’ve got arugula coming out our ears!

We’ve grown arugula before, and it has become a perennial favorite green in our house. It has an incredible texture, a wonderful peppery flavor, and is simply perfect combined with other, less pungent greens. This year, we’ve got two varieties going. The first of the two separated out in the picture above, the smaller variety on the left is Sweet Oak Leaf from Jung’s Seeds. Left of that we have arugula from our stash of Baker Creek seeds that we purchased last year. The regular, larger arugula has the taste you’d expect — green and spicy — while the smaller Sweet Oak Leaf is like that but sweeter and a little less peppery. Both make our taste buds super happy!

And speaking of happy…and salads (again), strawberries are perfect on both counts!

A fraction of what our plant is now producing!
A fraction of what our plant is now producing!

Last year our strawberry plant (a bought plant, not from seed) did little but extend its tendrils past its single pot. It produced a few strawberries, which turned out to be small and sour. But we didn’t lose faith. And good thing we didn’t, because this year we can’t eat the strawberries fast enough! (And actually, neither can the critters — we ended up covering the bulk of the plant in netting.) Though these are not the huge California strawberries you see in the store, these are just as good, if smaller. They are sweet and tart and just all-around delicious in salads or desserts. There are just a few weeks left in the strawberry season, but we hope to get fruit out of the plant for a good part of the summer.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a date with an arugula and radish salad with strawberries! 🙂

To Weed or Not to Weed?

Well…to weed, obviously…right?

It’s a question that we ask ourselves at this of year as all the plants in the garden really start to get going: just how much weeding is necessary? And it’s not something we approach from a lazy point of view, because we enjoy working in the garden regardless. We just that want to know that any hard if possibly extraneous work, like weeding, is going to pay off. And that’s when we start looking at weed abatement idea, like, as we mentioned last week, putting down grass clippings in some of the beds.

Weed blocking attempt #1 in the greens and okra bed.
Grass clipping attempt #1 from last week.

The results? Pretty spectacular, actually. While a few weeds managed to pop up in spots without the grass clippings, the beds were basically weed-free. So we decided to put down some more clippings in other beds. And then we ran out of clippings

But before putting down the clippings in the other beds, we had to weed, which brings us back to the subject of the post. When we started gardening at our then-new house a few years ago, even though we only had a fraction of a garden that we have now, we weren’t so good with the weeding. We were so busy with other house-related stuff that weeding just took a back seat to everything else. Nothing bad happened as a result except that the beds became rather overgrown, which made for somewhat difficult harvests, especially of anything close to the ground like greens and lettuces. We got better about weeding over the next couple summers and tried to make it more of a habit. And we started reading, mostly on the Internet, thoughts about weeding. While not necessarily a polarizing debate, everyone certainly had their opinions and their reasons for weeding a little, a lot, or never. And while the main thing we discovered was that there was no one right answer when it came to weeding, the primary reasons folks weeded their vegetable gardens were (1) to keep their gardens neat and (2) to maintain good soil conditions.

As far as weeding and our garden is concerned, the main issue we have is with rampant grass. As pretty as our grass may be to look at, there’s only one thing it’s good at: making more grass anywhere there’s bare soil. We’ve since learned about the joys of weed-blocker fabrics, which we’ve used in our two stone beds, but we didn’t know the first thing about that when we started. We just dug up the soil and started planting. Now, all those beds have grass problems. (At least, most of them did until we started fighting fire with fire…er…grass with grass. 🙂 ) One bed in particular, something of a legacy “garden” that had been created by the folks who owned the house before us, wanted nothing more than to become a field of grass. In the first year we planted it, the grass became so problematic that we stripped it of as much grass as we could mid summer. We thought we were the best weeders in the world! But our celebration didn’t last. Eventually, the soil became incredibly dry, and for some reason that invited squirrels and birds to dig in the dust. Only, they dug anywhere, including in the spots where we had planted vegetables. Also, the dry soil tended to repel rather than absorb water. So a number of our plants ended up drowning as a result of poor drainage.

With lessons learned, we settled on a weed routine of sorts that’s been working well enough so far. On a daily basis, and usually when we water, we’ll pick out any randomly large weeds that are growing in close proximity to any vegetable plant. On the weekends we plan for more extensive weeding sessions during which we’ll pick any obviously problematic weeds. We don’t remove wholesale any large swaths of weeds or grass that aren’t immediately disturbing the vegetable — something growing is better than nothing growing — but we do our best to maintain clear radiuses around individual plants or groups of plants. Sure, we might not have the prettiest garden, and we’re not going to make the cover of an swanky gardening magazine, but what is it that they say? “Bless this mess?” Yeah, that’s what we’re going for.

Have any advice concerning weeding, or want to discuss your weeding routine? Let loose in the comments!

Before we sign off completely, here’s a few pictures of current life in the garden. Things are looking pretty nice!

Signs of life in the tomato jungle.
Signs of life in the tomato jungle.
It's the official start of strawberry season, and are plants are ready!
It’s the official start of strawberry season, and our plants are ready!
We've got pickling plans ready for the radishes!
We’ve got pickling plans for the radishes!