Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In the Midnight Garden of Nothin' Growin'

What do you do when your garden is a complete and abject totally dismal failure?

You harvest the only two things growing: cherry tomatoes and armloads of mint.

And beg your parents for fresh veggies.

And, instead of wasting water on the sad, sad remains of wasted delinquent plants - you regroup and start planning the fall garden, which will lay the groundwork for the garden next spring.

A quick rehash: my normal garden site was inundated with the Evil Wiregrass. This spring, that site was covered with black plastic to bake out the said Evil. Meanwhile I decided to try straw bale gardening as a temporary solution.

The good news: none of the plants in the straw bales has been eaten by the various bunnies, deer, groundhogs, or neighborhood dogs.

The bad news: it's because the plants are either dying or dead, and not even the groundhogs will touch them.

There comes a time when every gardener should be smart enough to throw in the trowel, and give it up. This would be that time for me.

Straw bale gardening works for a lot of people. Didn't work for me.

Global warming works for a lot of people. Isn't working for me. What should be a May/June growing season has accelerated into a late April/May growing season, followed by two months of searing hot temps. Spare me the "global warming is a myth" emails - I am permanently entrenched in the camp of your opposition, having seen the evidence for my own eyes, for more than a few years.

Even the mint is two months ahead of itself, which considering the lack of rain, is pretty much unexplainable.

The one bright spot is that the cherry tomatoes are all container grown, and are as sweet as they can be.

What's coming out of all this is a decision to cut back on the backyard garden next year and pull the veggies in close to the house, in containers. The big growing space out back is going to be replanted with large herb beds - plants that do well in heat without extra watering (herb is simply code for "weed" after all).

And gourds. That's the third crop that's doing well this summer - the gourds are deliriously happy out there - they *LOVE* the black plastic.

So let me know if you need any birdhouses, dippers, or carved out bowls. I'll have plenty to go around.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blueberries.......The Sequel

Spent Tuesday picking blueberries *BUT* this year we haven't had much rain, so as a result the berries are much smaller and not quite as sweet. In my personal opinion, any blueberry is better than no blueberry, and in that spirit I'm re-posting last July's entry on what to do with said blueberries once you get them home.

Perhaps this will summon the rain gods, and next week we'll be back picking those gigantic sweet berries.....

My life mantra: One can never, ever, eat too many blueberries....

Therefore, one must think of a way to preserve them, 'cause those canned blueberries don't cut it. Not even in January, when I'm desperate. Frozen berries are pricey, unless I buy the frozen wild blueberries, which are affordable, and 10 times as healthy as the cultivated blueberries, but the wild ones just don't taste the same.

Even as I speak, blueberries are on sale and very affordable in our area, so I loaded up on the little suckers, and decided to freeze enough for this winter. Or at least as many as I can fit in the freezer.

First: lay a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap on a cookie sheet. Cover the pan with a single layer of the best berries (unwashed). Set the entire cookie sheet in the freezer for a couple hours.

It doesn't take the berries long to freeze, so multiple batches can be made in a single day. In my case, I froze a gallon's worth in a day. Did I mention I LOVE blueberries?

Note: When the berries come out of the freezer, they sound like marbles rolling around on the cookie sheet and are hard as rocks. It will very tempting for your children to use them as BB's or mini-balls. They will hurt if launched out of any sort of propelling device.

Probably best to keep them all for yourself, just for safety's sake.

***Note from July 2010: This winter I discovered that the frozen blueberries can be eaten like candy - they melt in your mouth literally. In fact, many never made it to any sort of cereal at all...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Solar Flair

Yesterday was the Monthly Payday, meaning last night was Bill Paying Night. meaning I wrote out this HUGE check to the stupid power company, on account of we live in unbearably hot, humid Virginia (or "hell" as a friend of mine put it the other day).

Coincidentally yesterday, I was reading another blog, The Simple Dollar, and while I disagree a lot with the author (pretty much everyday, but it's an interesting blog irregardless), one of their readers sent in this way to cut air conditioning bills.

Today I tried it, and I'm so impressed I have to pass it on. You can find the original write-up here for more in-depth detail, but my personal adventure is below.

First - we have a total of four windows on the west side of our house. Almost all of our interior summer heat comes from these four windows. Today I went to wal*art (hate to give them any free publicity) and purchased the thinnest, least expensive tension curtain rods ($2.57 each) to fit our window width, four emergency solar blankets from the camping department (they're about the size of a pack of playing cards, but unfold to approximately 4'x6', and cost $2.98 each), plus a 99 cent pack of hinged plastic hair clips.

Total cost: $23.19.

Arriving home at 3 p.m. (peak afternoon sun heating time), I moved the first window curtain, raised the mini blinds and set the tension rod at the correct width. Then I unfolded the first solar blanket (pretty much just a large sheet of mylar as near as I can tell), folded it over the tension rod, securing it with two of the plastic hair clips. Then I snapped the rod into place over the window, lowered the mini blinds, and released the curtain.

Within 5 minutes, the temperature in the room had noticeably cooled off, and within 20 minutes, it was 20 minutes cooler. Placing my hand back in the window, behind the solar blanket next to the window pane, it was almost hot enough to burn my hand. All that heat had been coming in the window, and I was paying to cool it.

The solar blanket is barely visible behind the shades.

But there it is.

With the curtain down, it's invisible.

Outside, it looks shiny, but, really, it's hotter than Hades out there, and no one is walking around looking at my windows. Or offering to pay my a/c bill so I can have more attractive windows.

We're about halfway through the next utility bill, and I'll let you know if there's a noticeable difference. We've already cut the a/c off today, because suddenly it's comfortable in here.