Screamy, Fiesty, Good Food and Silly Cat

16 07 2009

Well, I’ve gone and let weeks go by without any proper updates. Nothing much has happened that would pass for exciting, so I guess I don’t feel too bad.

The Oasis is looking lush and tropical.

Oasis-Close

Screamy the Pepper has ripened. AJ thinks I could sell him as a Michael Jackson likeness on ebay. I’m letting him dry above my desk to see what he looks like when old and wrinkled.

Screamy-Ripe

This is “Feisty” the Cuban Anole. How these miniature dinosaur replicas have escaped extinction is beyond me; because they are none too bright. Every day, without fail, he takes his post on the grill lid handle, puffs up his crests and struts back and forth in an attempt to intimidate his perfectly matched opponent.

Feisty-Puffed-Up

Every day, he gives his best fight, only to be equaled by the foe with the steely  bites (which leave both of their noses battered and raw). Neither will relinquish their territory in this daily ritual. This is one neurotic lizard!

Feisty-Throwdown

Talk about neurosis. I got a little obsessed with this eggplant. As it grew larger and more regal, I began to get paranoid about its well being. My research warned that eggplants lose their goodness once they get too ripe. They grow tough and seedy. They are meant to be picked while young and shiny.

This is the first eggplant I have ever grown, and with all of the dangers of over-ripeness, insects and critters I gave in and picked it. AJ chastised me, saying that they were meant to be much larger before harvesting.

First-Eggplant

I sliced it up to find firm, seedless meat. I marinated in Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar with fresh chopped garden herbs. Then I grilled to perfection. Captain Kym came over for dinner. This is when I realized that eggplant (especially my version) is not for everyone. AJ and Kym politely nibbled on the vegetable, while we all devoured AJ’s roasted, stuffed pork tenderloin. Oh well, I thought the eggplant was good.

Grilled-Eggplant

AJ’s pork tenderloin was delicious. However, just as in everything he does, he immediately criticised his recipe and began planning for the improved version. We still had half of the large cut in the freezer, so a few days later he set about perfecting his stuffed, smoked pork tenderloin technique.

Here is his recipe:

AJ’s Smoked Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Sautee Italian Sausage.

Butterfly tenderloin lengthwise to flatten.

Spread Cream Cheese as bottom layer.


Splitopenandcreamcheese

Add a layer of fresh Baby Spinach

Spinachlayer

Next layer: Prosciutto

Prosciuttolayer

Sprinkle with Grated Cheese.

6Italiancheeselayer

Spread the browned sausage.

ItalianSausagelayer

Layer on Ricotta Cheese.

RicottaParmesanlayer

Roll up and tie with cotton string. Season with Rosemary, Dill and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing.

Readyforsmoker-1

Smoke uncovered, spraying with mixture of Olive Oil, Pineapple Juice and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing until internal temperature reaches 150°

Finished-1

Remove from heat, wrap in foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Thereitis

Unwrap, slice and enjoy!

Sliced

The mystery guest’s children overran the garden, eating up all of the dill and most of the parsley. I moved at least ten ravenous caterpillars to the carrots, where they quickly matured and went on “walkabout”, looking for places to pupate.

This one chose a green onion. Hope the wind doesn’t blow too hard.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Chives

How’s this for camouflage? I found this fellow on the broccoli. The next day was a perfectly hidden chrysalis that I would have never seen had I not known where to look. I have been aching to try broccoli greens, and carefully harvested the most tender leaves, while taking care not to disturb the sleeping beauty.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Broccoli

Roxanne’s Broccoli & Collard Greens

Harvest a bundle of tender Broccoli and/or Collard Greens.

Wash thoroughly, taking care to remove all insects and insect eggs. Cut into medium-sized pieces, removing central vein from larger leaves.

Blanch by submerging greens in boiling, salted water just long enough to tenderize, and then plunging into ice water. This preserves the bright green color.

Blanched--Greens

Chop bacon, onions and peppers (I used a red pepper and Poblano from the garden). Once the bacon is almost cooked, add pressed or chopped garlic.

Sautee

When bacon is cooked and onions are tender, toss in blanched greens. Drench with white wine, cover and simmer until greens are thoroughly wilted.

AJ, who had previously stated his reluctance to try broccoli greens, enthusiastically ate his portion and raved about how good they were. We enjoyed this dish as complement to his scrumptious smoked chicken. All in all, a week of good, down-home cooking.

Greens

And as if on cue, Smokey the Silly Cat has found yet another way to chill while looking ridiculously uncomfortable.

SillyCatBack071609

SillyCat071609

Hope everyone is enjoying life with peace and happiness! See y’all soon.





The Garden (Rated PG 13)

9 06 2009

How quickly we can go from drought to deluge. It has been raining almost every day; and the garden is showing both the positive and negative effects of this.

Let’s go ahead and cover the “challenges” first:

Gardening Challenges

Spots on Cherry Tomato leaves: I have no clue. Nitrogen issues, Blight, Over-watering? I haven’t had time to delve into it; but I did cut off most of the damage. The plant is still cranking out cherry tomatoes, so we’ll watch and wait.

Cherry-Tomato-Leaves

Cherry-Tomato-Leaves2

The stem has a white fuzzy growth, which screams “fungus” to me. Since these photos were taken, things appear to have improved. I’ll focus on this more when I get a chance.

Cherry-Tomato-Stem

Pale Celery. I’m pretty sure this has to do with the haphazard transplanting I did. I did fertilize last week and after last Sunday’s Atomic Grow application they greened up considerably.

Celery

Pale Red Pepper leaves. Possibly root-bound, over-watered or underfertilized. I’ll try to help this plant this week. It is still making peppers, so I think it will be OK.

Red-Pepper-Plant

The pickleworms are back, and are now attacking the broccoli. The advice that I have found is to either poison with pesticide or give up the idea of gardening in the summer. Well, I’m too stubborn for that. The unfortunate part is that by the time I find them, they have destroyed an entire stem. I have begun to alternate between pinching them to death, and leaving the leaf intact and dousing the entry hole with Atomic Grow™. Atomic Grow™ is not a pesticide, but it makes insects pretty miserable, so it’s worth a shot.

Caterpillar-in-Brocolli

Entrance hole with frass (poop).

Frass-Broccoli

It’s not all bad news. When I first discovered these little monsters, some were already dead and rotting inside their hidey holes. I hope they died from alcohol poisoning as an effect of the increased sugars the plant produces on Atomic Grow™. I sprayed everything today and will update when something happens.

Dead-Vine-Borer

Squash Bugs. Shown here on the cucumber plant. I suspect they are responsible for the sick watermelon vine that is not doing well at all. In honor of their name I have been busily squashing them. Feel free to drop by and stomp to your heart’s content. We’ve got plenty to go around!

Stink-Bug

Harlequin Bug. Isn’t she Pretty? Pretty evil! See that shriveled up broccoli leaf? Thanks a lot you little six-legged piece of abstract art with sucking mouth parts! She is now a “Mashed Bug”, too.

Harlequin-Bug

Are you impressed that I knew it was a female? It wasn’t hard, since she left her Beetlejuice-looking eggs under another leaf. I did a lot of squashing that day.

Harlequin-Bug-Eggs

One more downer and then I’ll move on to the good stuff. The three baby cucumbers I got excited about all shriveled up like this. Yes, that really sucks. However, I did some research tonight and learned that female cucumber flowers do this when not properly pollinated. Even though it looks like a cucumber, it is still waiting to snuggle with a bee as long as the flower is there. I figure that since these babies were buried under the big, lush leaves they didn’t get to meet up with the pollinators. I have since learned how to pollinate with an artist’s brush whenever I find one of these little gals. Speaking of sex…don’t go away. There is some sex at the end of this post.

Cucumber-Casualty

Good news and bad news: The bananas are still doing their thing; but there are only going to be six. All of the following flowers have dropped off. AJ has done some research and learned that the bananas are formed from female flowers, Usually there are multiple hands and then many rows of sterile flowers that drop off along the stem. I’m pretty sure I jinxed them by expecting a huge bunch of bananas. We figure this puny output has to do with lack of fertilizer and/or water. AJ is on the job and we will be working to ensure larger families in the future.

Bananas

Gardening Victories

The muskmelons are doing great. Nothing would irk me more than to lose these to the squash vine borers (pickleworms). I learned online that covering the fruit can prevent the moths from laying eggs on them. Paper bags were mentioned, but seemed to be messy and to fall apart when wet. Not a good option for rainy Florida.

Muskmelon

Then I found a blog by someone using pantyhose to protect her melons. Best use of pantyhose ever! I have covered a couple of the largest muskmelons and will track their progress in relation to the uncovered ones. So far, so good.

Muskmelon-covered

Despite the pest problems, the broccoli is still going strong. I don’t know whether or not I will get any broccoli, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Broccoli

The baby heirloom tomatoes are getting big. I have got to get these things planted ASAP!

Heirloom

Pole beans are finally starting to climb. So far, these are the most perplexing of all my crops. They have taken off this week, so maybe there is still hope.

Pole-Bean

Here is a detail of The Oasis last night, showing the Poblanos, Tomatoes and Carrots.

Poblanos-Detail

This is the Poblano on the left before we went out of town. It grew quite a bit while we were gone.

Poblano

Despite the issues, the Cherry Tomatoes continue to proliferate.

Cherry-Tomatoes-Lower-Part

The regular tomatoes also continue to thrive. I counted over sixty on this trellis today.

Tomato-Fest

June 3rd’s Harvest

June-03-Harvest

The Oasis as it greeted us on Sunday.

Oasis-Wet

O2. Both beds are looking a bit overgrown, as the lettuce is going to seed and the tomatoes are completely out of control. I’m formulating the next phase, once the lettuce plants are removed. Be sure to read the Palmarosa post for some great news about seeds I was given by my cousin Alan.

O2

The mystery guests are growing up fast. One day soon, you’ll be looking back and reminiscing about how it seems like only yesterday that they looked just like bird poop. They will move past this awkward stage within a week or so.

Mystery-Guests

And last but not least…

“Birds do it, bees do it, lizards on the trees do it.” Or something like that.

Lizards-Do-It





Week in review – A reprieve from the rain

31 05 2009

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Everything is green. The yard is packed with baby grass, and the garden is growing fast.

If you read Things are a bit Spotty, you may recall that I was having a fungal issue with the tomatoes. I’m calling it Grey Leaf Spot until someone tells me otherwise. Last year this stuff completely ravaged my tomato plant to the point that I had very little yield.

Last week I treated the plant with Atomic Grow™ and trimmed off the terminal branches. I left a few of the branches with the initial stages of yellowing to see what would happen. One week later, the leaves are virtually unchanged and it appears that the fungal invasion has been stopped in its tracks. The new growth is green and healthy. I’m not going to go overboard with excitement, but things look promising!

Leaf-Spot-Halted

I know I said I would make my next Atomic Grow™ application yesterday. I reserve the right to change my mind, and so I have declared Sundays to be “Atomic Sunday”. I will make the application this afternoon and post some quick photos. There are some new guests in the garden (one for which I have planted a specific herb), and I will not be spraying that plant because I want to encourage the guests. Sorry for the vagueness, but I think I’ll let you watch them progress and see who can guess what they are. Their momma dropped them off on Friday, so stay tuned for some baby pictures this afternoon.

Here is the Oasis this weekend. Doesn’t everything look happy?

Oasis

A closer shot of some of the herbs. This is my first year with celery. I’m learning about self-blanching and how celery needs to be grouped together. I had thinned out the clump and moved some plants to outside areas. They are easily identified because they turned pale yellow. The central clump is still green. I guess we will wait and watch to see how they turn out.

Herbs

The cherry tomato plant has officially reached tree status in my book. It is upwards of 5′ tall and growing by leaps and bounds. If it didn’t make those yummy tomatoes I’d think it were a weed.

Cherry-Tomato-Tree

Time for a salad.

Cherry-Tomatoes

The succulent garden is doing great. Notice that green grass in front?

Succulents

Over the course of the week our banana flower has opened up and exposed the first hand of six bananas.

AJ explained to me that this is only the beginning. Each layer of the pod will open up in succession and reveal another hand. He estimates five or six more to come. This has been the highlight of my week.

Banana-Flower-Preopen

Banana-Flower-Opening

Banana-Flower-Opening-more

The poblano peppers got off to a rocky start, but now they are loaded with babies.

Baby-Poblano

Can I have more than one highlight? The Marketmore 76 cucumber has exploded in size.

Marketmore 76 Cucumber

And I found three new babies on a single branch. I’ve got to keep my eye out for those pickleworms. They are not allowed to eat our cucumbers.

Baby-Cucumbers

The muskmelon took a beating from the winds this week. The older leaves are fairly shredded, but there is so much new growth that it hardly matters. This plant is loaded with babies.

Muskmelon Vine

Dead frog walking. Yes, here is another Cuban Tree Frog. This one has set up housekeeping inside one of the bamboo stakes. The stake has filled with water, thus forcing froggie to poke out of the top in the daylight. These are nocturnal frogs, so you can see its determination to stay home. I was able to get extremely close and the frog didn’t budge. I’m still building the fortitude to round up and kill these invasives. I even bought some Benzocaine to put them gently to sleep before popping them into the freezer. AJ is promoting the idea of just stomping on them. Is he mean or what? Actually, it would probably be the most humane way. I just don’t think I could do it.

For now I am building a collection of photographs for their memorial. Eat up little froggie; your days are numbered!

Cuban Tree Frog in Bamboo

Mr. Fix It is still at it. This week the rains exposed another problem with the car: leaking tail lights, which allowed water to get into the trunk. AJ took them apart and found that they were both crazed and that one was cracked in various places. Here he is trying to salvage the blasted thing until we can afford a replacement part. Anybody want to buy a 1985 Mercedes 300D? 😉

Tail-light-repair

I’ll leave you with “Gravel Cat”, Jorgi.

Gravel-Cat

Check back later for a harvest update and some shots of the baby guests.





Week in Review: Reigning in Chaos

20 04 2009

The overall theme of this week has been finding or restoring order.

If you’ve been reading along you will know that the park has been cited by The Health Department for a plethora of minor violations.  The inspector made it known that they are cracking down across the board in order to compensate for budget cuts. It’s a blessing in disguise because enforcement of park rules has gotten quite lax. We try to keep our lot tidy, but are subjected to the mess of a junk hoarder behind us and blowing trash from a few surrounding lots. The cat situation has gotten out of control creating a crisis of disease, fleas and fighting as the cat population pushes its bounds.

In The Cops are Coming for the Gray Brigade I described how the cat situation affects us and our small herd. Today (April 20th) was the deadline for everyone to get their act together, including cleaning up their lots and leash training their cats, Ha! One resident put collars on some of her cats. One seemed particularly pissed and went about kicking ass all over the park. One look at his backside tells me that he is an un-altered tomcat, or one that was not properly neutered. At least he’s clean, because he took more than one shower from our hose this week!

Even though our lot escaped the scrutiny of the inspector, we had a mess going on in our eyes and set a goal of getting projects finished before today.

Oasis2 “O2” Completion

If you don’t know about the bamboo and Oasis2 made of buckets, barrels and tires…well, I don’t know what to say. Go back and read about it.

I spent a great deal of the weekend on this chair, cutting up this bamboo with this circular saw.

O2 Work zone

I also spent a great deal of time installing said bamboo around the border of O2.

O2-progress

Finally, by Sunday evening I was finished. O2 was done, bamboo scraps cleaned up and gravel dispersed.

O2-Complete

O2-Front

O2-Side

O2-Back

Harvesting and Pruning

The flea market tomato produced the first full-sized ripened fruit.

Tomatoes-ripe

Combined with some baby lettuce and purslane, we had a nice salad.

1st-Real-Harvest

Within two days another tomato is ripening.  Yesterday morning I cut back the branches of this massive plant. It was out of control. At last count there were over 30 tomatoes in various stages of maturity. I started a Harvest Log to document the weight of all produce collected from the garden this season.

Tomatoes

The Inspector Arrives

By early afternoon I was on the couch working, and had almost forgotten about the dreaded Health Department inspection. From the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red. It was a woman in a scarlet polo shirt, clipboard in hand, walking behind our lot with the park manager.

I glanced out onto the patio and saw something that looked like this.

Gray-Brigade-another-day

Perhaps she was completely immersed in her inspection of the septic tank lid repair, or maybe she was kindly overlooking our gross violation of the cat leash law. For whatever reason she seemed completely oblivious to what I did next. Quickly, I sprang into action, snatching up each cat and throwing them inside. Jorgi was shocked and momentarily paralyzed with fear, Smokey was befuddled and Llami just thought it was time for a cheese treat. Bedlam ensued for the next 30 minutes as we waited for the inspector to leave. Once she was gone and I opened the door the cats returned to their normal routine.

Smokey wants to play, but Jorgi doesn’t understand this.

Gray-Flash

Painting

These are the neighbors who left us the box of sealers and stain salvaged from the dump transfer station. I don’t know how else to describe them other than “compulsive painters”. This is their third unit in the park. When they first moved here they had lost their house in the hurricanes. They arrived in a homemade RV made from what amounted to a utility trailer with vinyl siding and a window unit AC. As shabby as it was they painted it multiple times. Next they bought a slightly larger travel trailer in the park. It too, went through various color iterations. Last year they bought this mobile home, which they immediately set about fixing up and painting.

The driveway has been painted more times than I can count and they even bought a boat and painted it (including pin stripes). In a reaction to astronomical electric bills they are now painting their trim a lighter, and much more attractive color. I give it four months until it changes again. Looks great, though!

Painting

AJ has gotten attached to the dumpster chair and titled it “The Epiphany Chair”. It is also getting a coat of paint.

AJ-Paints-Refelection-Chair

Mechanics

A little late, but here is our anniversary present to each other. Our anniversary was on February 21st. AJ has turned into a Mercedes diesel mechanic in this short time, and now knows as much about these cars as anyone. His weekend was spent working on this car, as has been most of his free time since we got it. This project was especially chaotic as it involved removing, disassembling, repairing and reassembling the instrument panel. This was as tedious and frustrating as anything I’ve seen him do. Of course it has all been done with his trademark precision and attention to detail. He promises to start his own blog to document all the “guy stuff” he does.

For now, here’s the car:

Mercedes

Turbo-Diesel

Weed Rescue

And finally, here is a little gem I rescued from certain destruction by the mower. It must be some sort of wildflower, although I have yet to identify it. It adapted quite well to being yanked from the ground and potted. Now it graces our beautiful steps.

Mystery-Wildflower-Pot

Unknown-Wildflower

Exhausted from this grueling weekend I left for work today without my cell phone and forgetting an important piece of equipment. On the way back home I managed to lose my coffee thermos mug. Now that the outside looks great I must get busy restoring order to the inside (of the RV as well as my head). I’m only grateful that the Health Inspector didn’t look in here!





Home from Funky Chicken Farm

18 04 2009

I returned from Funky Chicken farm with the long end of the stick. In return for a couple of trays of seedlings Suzanne gave me a dozen happy chicken eggs laid on Tuesday, many packets of seeds including a variety of heirloom tomatoes, a strawberry plant and a gallon of Atomic Grow™.

She described these farm fresh eggs as “creamy”, which is exactly what they are. After having them I can attest that they are the best eggs I have ever eaten! I still chuckle when I recall our initial discussion about the eggs. She said “Isn’t it amazing that something so good comes out of a chicken’s butt?” Amazing indeed!

Eggs

As we toured the garden I commented upon her gorgeous strawberry plants to which she replied by yanking out a good handful of runners and sticking them into a pot for me. Strawberries are the one thing AJ’s mom wished our garden had. See how easily some wishes come true?

Strawberry

The final goody Suzanne gave me was a gallon of Atomic Grow™. I have contacted them via email and hope to have a response in order to update this post. For now, I gather that this is an all natural, organic wonder soap, that when sprayed onto all types of plants causes them to do everything they do a whole lot better. The leaves turn greener overnight, the root systems become massive and strong, and insects are repelled. It appears to be a single application, environmentally friendly pesticide and fertilizer. I will take some before and after shots of my garden to document the results.

In addition to the physical objects I obtained in my trade with Suzanne, I gained an incredible introduction into the local permaculture movement as well as a wealth of new activities and ideas in which to participate.

During my visit I mentioned to Suzanne that I would love to go on a foraging expedition, but don’t have enough local plant knowledge to do this properly. She jumped on the idea and offered to suggest this to her good friend Vicki who is a member of the Conradina Chapter of  the Florida Native Plant Society.

As soon as I get my projects under control I want to get out and forage!

Suzanne also turned me onto Eco Growers of East Central Florida:

Eco-Growers of East Central Florida is an informal group of local growers that support and participate in sustainable, environmentally-friendly agriculture and offer an outlet to exchange resources, knowledge, current events, education, and more.

Our group was started to support growers (a grower can be anyone who has a few tomato plants or fruit trees, or maybe a flock of laying hens, or someone with a small working farm) and to help raise community awareness about local food.

Our goal is to promote local, sustainable agriculture in east central Florida and help make the community aware of the opportunities to buy locally grown or produced goods, as well as the environmental and social benefits of buying locally.

The members hold a “Local Flavors” potluck approximately once per month, and Suzanne hopes to hold one at her place soon. Where am I going to find time to do all of this fun stuff?

Since my visit Suzanne and I have also decided to get into the business of raising Ox Beetles. I will try to go into more detail about these delightful insects, and share a couple of photographs in a future post. For now I must get busy in the garden.

Once I finish this post I will compile all of the links and place them in my sidebar.

All in all I would have to rate this a five star day. I returned home both exhausted and exuberated.

The garden greeted me with some spring blooms and a surprise.

Green onion bloom

Green-Onion-Bloom

Chive bloom

Chive-Bloom

Cardinal Air Plant ready to bloom

Tillandsia-Fasciculata-Flow

Does this look familiar? This is the mystery fruit from “Saturday in Review – Spring is Springing”. Things didn’t turn out quite like I expected. This is a passion fruit from a variety of which I do not know the name. My internet research assured me that it would ripen and drop to the ground, from whence I could retrieve it and enjoy it’s sweet goodness; perhaps by infusing into a bottle of vodka. Instead, the thing dried up, split open and released a handful of seeds on wispy parachutes. Oh well…

Open-Passion-Fruit

I saved some of the seeds, although I have no use for them, with a plant for cuttings growing right into my yard. I read that they are difficult to grow from seed and take many years to bloom.

Passion-Flower-Seeds

Fortunately the plant I enjoy is mature and produces a constant supply of  blooms to the joy of butterflies and bees alike.

Passion-Flower

So, that’s my wrap-up of my visit to Funky Chicken Farm. If you live in the area or find yourself passing through, I highly recommend making an appointment and dropping in for a tour. You will find a warm welcome, lots of treasures and an experience to remember.

Thanks Suzanne & Andrew!

Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Rd.
West Melbourne, Fla 32904
Suzanne at 321-505-4066 or at srichmond2@cfl.rr.com