Friday, August 26, 2011

In the Garden

...and in over my head, literally...

i'm 5'5" tall, that's the top of my head and those plants are okra

...and figuratively. I'm squeezed between an upcoming vacation and processing today's garden haul before I leave so I only have time for  a few highlights from this week.

6 different kinds of tomatoes and 2 kinds of eggplant

a good shot of the okra flower still eludes; yes, those are aphids

huh? yep, those are dirty clothes: gardening sarongs and a long sleeved
t-shirt that used to be white; more on dressing for the garden next week

Head on over to No Ordinary Homestead's Garden Life  to continue the celebration. I bet they're not airing dirty laundry.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dog Blog

As I was chopping okra and peeling tomatoes for a summer gumbo last evening, the dog's chicken with green beans* was gently simmering on a back burner and I got to thinkin'...

Random Thoughts about Sleeping with Man's Best Friend and Other Practices
Don't you hate it when people kiss their dogs on the mouth or accept their doggy 'kisses' on the lips while saying stuff like, "Good doggie, mama wuvs you"? I'm sorry, I know people relate to their animals in myriad different ways, but really?! Not to be all Lucy about it, but I know what my dog eats and how he cleans himself. As a kid we heard (although not from my folks), "a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's."  Again, really ?! So I looked it up. Among others, Life's Little Mysteries (who passes no judgement on the pet kissing practice) tackled the canine oral cleanliness myth and found, "In short, a dog’s mouth is besieged by its own legions of germs, roughly as huge in population as those living in the human mouth and causing a similar array of dental illnesses."

pucker up? "no thanks, human,
I don't know where that mouth has been."
Before I could say, "See?!?!," I ran across an article from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about diseases that can pass from pets to humans through kissing, being licked by, and sharing a bed with them. Here's the introduction to Zoonosis in the Bedroom (Chomel and Sun; 2011), "In most industrialized countries, pets are becoming an integral part of households, sharing human lifestyles, bedrooms, and beds. The estimated percentage of pet owners who allow dogs and cats on their beds is 14%–62%. However, public health risks, including increased emergence of zoonoses, may be associated with such practices." 

While I don't play kissy-face with our animals (for the record, three cats and a dog), the cats do sleep with us. gulp. And I get the occasional the-cat-will-clean-that-spot-for-you licks, I get drooled on pretty regularly and my pants get mistaken for a tissue...what kind of risk are we talking about?

"Zoonotic infections acquired by sleeping with a pet are uncommon. However, severe cases of C. canimorsus infection or plague in humans have been documented. More zoonotic agents that are transmitted by kissing a pet or being licked by a pet have been identified, especially zoonotic pathogens that are commensal in the oral cavity of carnivores, such as Pasteurella spp. and C. canimorsus."  Oh look! The article has a list of diseases you can catch from your dog, cat, rabbit, and other kissable, cuddly critters...can you say, Pasteurellosis?** Cryptosporidiosis? Plague! (Here in the Southwest we know about that one.)

They conclude, "Although uncommon with healthy pets, the risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing or licking is real ... Carriage of ectoparasites or internal parasites is certainly of major concern when it comes to this type of behavior. To reduce such risks, pet owners should seek regular veterinary care for their pets."

I'm not an alarmist germaphobe who hates animals and I appreciate the full range of benefits that come with having pets in one's life, I'm just informing myself (and you, Intrepid Reader) about the consequences of some of our behaviors that might, on the surface, seem trivial. Just as I won't be kicking the cats off the bed I don't imagine people who feed treats to their animals mouth-to-mouth or get lick-y kisses all over their face are going to discontinue those practices either. As the authors point out, the slight risks can be mitigated by making sure that your animals are healthy. So do that.

And for my part, the next time I see that kind of wuvy-dovy kissing going on between pets and their owners I'll park the snark and inquire about the health of pet, "What a gorgeous dog! Who's your vet?"

This Stochastic public service announcement is brought to you by:

*No, we're not those kinds of people. This is a pragmatic choice: when chicken is $.87/lb and the green beans are free, this is a cheap way to supplement the dog's regular kibble, especially during hunting season when he's working his tail off. 
**Me neither... not the point.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mushroom Monday

This weekend we made our third trip to the local mountains to hunt for mushrooms. Yep, "hunt" instead of "forage" because we have no idea where they are, let alone whether there will be enough to collect. Since these mountains are so new to us, and the weather this year so very odd, we've picked a few areas to try to visit with some regularity. Our first two trips yielded...
not a mushroom

not a mushroom

...some spectacular views, glimpses of elk, wildflowers, mule and white-tailed deer, fingerling trout, turkeys and geese; nary a mushroom. Wrong place? Right place, wrong time? Who's to know! We're after the wily and capricious boletes of the southwest so there's just no telling.

Well, actually, there's some fairly educated guessing about habitat and timing going on but still, it feels like we're stalking wild prey. So imagine the adrenaline rush when we saw this on our third outing:

a little orange dome among the young aspen trees, what could it be?

hum... orange-brown cap, cap dry, whitish pore layer, dark scabers on the stalk, stains purple-gray to black when cut

That's right! An Aspen Bolete (Leccinum insigne). The first time we found these a few years ago we knew they were boletes (pores, not gills or teeth) but had only seen the Boletus edulis in hand so we consulted our handy Arora pocket guide to find this notation, "Edibility: excellent, it darkens when cooked." They were the only boletes around at the time so we bagged a few to try and off we went.

When we got home M hit the internet to find out more from our other best & trustworthy regional resource, Colorado Mushrooms, "Edibility: edible by some." Uh oh. Reading further:
"The Rocky Mountain Poison Center received occasional reports of serious gastric problems, some requiring hospitalization, from eating moderate amounts of so-called orange caps, usually well cooked, found under aspen in various part of Colorado."
Let's just say those specimens sat a little too long and by the time we got around to them they were bug-eaten and way past their prime. Yeah, that's the story... We ain't afraid of no 'shroom! I do, however, have a strong aversion to the idea of self-induced 'severe gastric distress.'  Which brings us to our specimen above...

Since our first experience with Aspen Boletes we've read up on the issues and we felt like we could make an informed decision: we would go ahead an try this one...just a small piece to see if either of us reacted to it. At least that was the gist of the conversation in the field. We got home and M prepped the mushroom for a simple fry up-- it was a beautiful, not a bug or blemish on it. As he peeled away the scabers from the stalk, "Why don't you see what Vera  has to say."  "Edibility: edible (but see caution). Looks like she wrote the above note in CM." He throws the mushroom into the skillet for a quick dry saute...

dry saute of aspen boletes

"How 'about Kuo? He's kind of conservative when it comes to eating fungus, see what he has to say."

aspen boletes turn to an inky black

Yikes! He has them in Group Three of this poisonous bolete look-alikes!
"Though it is a fact only recently finding its way into the mainstream of mushroom publications, it is a certainty that at least one or two of the orange-capped Leccinum species in North America is mildly poisonous. It is still unclear precisely which species is the culprit (and more than one species may be responsible), but all of them should be avoided."

That was that.

aspen boletes on their way to the local landfill

Maybe we'll revisit Leccinum insigne in a few more years when the experts have worked out the details.

Friday, August 19, 2011

In the Garden

Yes indeed, time is flying by and once again it's Friday, one of the last of the summer. Locals say we should expect the growing season to go well into October and that the cool(er) nights should bring on the tomatoes, finally! We've had enough of the tasty orbs to make Pizza Margherita (a simple 'za with fresh tomatoes and basil and a little cheese) and for eating out of hand but not enough to freeze or can; looks like we're in for a busy fall.

On to the international* celebration that is NOH's Garden Life link-up...

Here's this morning's view of the garden from the roof. The last roof view I posted is from July 22, check out the difference.

view from the roof

I know! After all that worrying about the garden even making it through the heat and bugs I'm slightly embarrassed to say it's now... overgrown. Yep. For most of the plants, the heat and lack of ambient moisture have diverted from reproductive activities to stem and leaf growth all the plant's energies. I have NEVER had tomatoes plants this tall with hardly any fruit on them (those are Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes behind the chard; a little further in on the right are Celebrity tomatoes, subspecies lycopersicon hulkverde**.) The rattlesnake green beans (all the way toward the back, parallel with the back fence) have formed a thick canopy of tangled vines at the top of the trellis that has stretched out and warped the fencing... if those weren't redwood 4x4s I would be worried about the whole structure coming down.

At ground level, it's a jungle in there.

veg convergence: black-eyed peas and shishito peppers (left) meet wild cherries (right)

The first picture gives you an idea of what I have to walk through. The next two pictures are snapped from the west ends of the rows. Embiggen if you would like to see some of the plants mentioned below; otherwise, you get it: it's a 6' high green thicket that leaves pollen and other stains on your clothes.

 between rows 5 & 4
between rows 2 & 1
Picture details: In Row 5 you see black-eyed peas giving way to okra and toward the end, the Goldman's Italian-American paste tomato has colonized the space between the rows. The Goldman has lots of fruit, none of which has ripened, and actually shares Row 4 with Whopper eggplant, basil, and a few green peppers. Row 2 has Serrano peppers, some exuberant Celebrities, Yellow Pear tomatoes, Matt's Cherry tomatoes and ends with that green hulk of a Celebrity; on the right (Row 1) are the chard and squash with another wayward Celebrity in the foreground.

What's that you say? How many different tomatoes did you plant? Glad you asked.

4 Celebrities; 5 Yellow Pear; 3 Matt's Wild Cherry; 4 Goldman's Italian-American; 7 Sioux; 4 Babywine; and 8 Unknown Heirlooms. Most of the seeds came from Terroir Seeds LLC because they had the most interesting varieties and are based in the Southwest (no, I'm not getting paid for this). Ah... you might be asking how on earth I came to have 'unknown heirlooms' in the garden, the answer: my generous MIL shared seeds from a mixed heirloom tomato package from Park Seed. They'll tell you the package contains Aunt Ruby's German Green, Dixie Golden Giant, Black from Tula, Brandywine Red, Big Rainbow, and Cherokee Purple, but they don't label which is which so we both had an unknown selection. One plant I think we can identify based on location (I made a map), and the color and size of the fruit.

could it be a big rainbow that got stuck in the O- range? (in case you forgot: ROYGBIV)

Because some spots in the garden are so overgrown everyday picking turns into a treasure hunt...

yellow pear tomatoes
serrano peppers

beans in tomatoes (see? it's a tiny matt's cherry all the way on the right)

And, of course, no Friday In the Garden is complete without a flower shot.

chive flower

And something to whet your appetite...

grilled elk leftovers sliced thin to go around sauteed shishito peppers
Happy Friday!

Now I'm off to to NOH to see what Tiffany and Carrie are up to in their gardens...

*It's true, Intrepid reader, some people believe this state is another country: "Can you drink the water there?" "Do you use the dollar?" and my current favorite, "Let me transfer you to the international shipping department..." 
** Yes, I made that up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

In the Garden

I'm thinkin' Fall is in the air: it's cooler in the mornings, the days are noticeably shorter, there are different birds at the refuge as various migrations begin, and maybe, just maybe, it's starting to cool off a bit. The local forecast:
93°F | °C
Isolated ThunderstormsIsolated ThunderstormsScattered ThunderstormsPartly Cloudy

Wind: S at 3 mph

Humidity: 30%98°74°97°71°93°70°95°70°

Ahhhhh... rain. Please rain.

This week the garden delivered its first baskets of peppers, specifically Pimientos de Padron and Shishito Peppers. Yes, I noticed that too, Intrepid Reader, they are both capsicum annums. The Padrons are from the Spanish town of Padron and the Shishitos are Japanese. The Shishitos hit farmers' markets in about 2009 (we 'discovered' them last year...yeah, we're a little slow here) and at about the same time the Pimiento de Padron became a favorite in tapas restaurants. They both taste wonderfully green and are a little spicy, with an occasional hotter pepper making an appearance. To further confuse things, the two peppers are cooked similarly: fry whole peppers in a little olive oil until slightly charred and sprinkle with salt. For us they are still a stand-alone treat*, served hot, cold, or room temperature as a side with grilled meats or on an appetizer plate with cheese, crackers, etc., we haven't used them as an ingredient yet. We were buying them several (expensive) pints at at time from the farmers' market last year and knew we would try to grow them in our very next garden.

Reading through the seed catalogs, the descriptions about size and flavor for these two capsicum annum varieties are slightly different (and there is a price difference!) but I wasn't sure if it was product differentiation, traditional use, or true variants of the same plant. You know me, I bought seeds for both and planted them far enough apart in the garden to discourage any cross-pollination. Would there be a taste difference? Would one grow better than the other? Unfortunately the experimental design was flawed as one group wound up watered by a double soaker hose and the other by a single, can you tell the plants apart?

mystery pepper 1 foliage

mystery pepper 2 foliage
The differences in color are an artifact of the light in the garden so don't go on that. MP 1 has more fruit and blossoms so you might have guessed they are on the double soaker hose. Hum... maybe these will help:

mystery pepper 2 fruit
mystery pepper 1 fruit

They do seem to grow through their blossoms differently and have slightly different pod shapes; a botanist might be able to tell use more but alas, I don't have one in-house. In the taste test the very slight differences in flavor could have been the result of the amount of water they received. Although both batches of peppers had a few hot ones, MP2 had more (probably due to increased capsaicin, related to environmental stressors like little water) and a deeper green flavor. For now it looks like we'll get a pint every other day so the taste tests will continue (I love science!). In the end I'm not sure if the peppers actually are different; guess we'll have to try again next year to find out. (MP1 are the Shishitos; the hotter and less prolific Padrons are MP2.)

And just because... this is Lemon Grass, given to us as a golf pencil-sized root by a local farmer.

look past the lemon grass... and the weeds... what's that?! a very happy Chessie

There is a certain kind of synchronicity (or is it just seasonality?) to the Garden Life, Tiffany is harvesting peppers, too.
Happy Friday!
*Be forewarned, they can be slightly addictive so buy lots at  your local market or better yet, plant a few rows next year!

Friday, August 5, 2011

In the Garden

Thanks for sticking around! Content has been sparse but I wasn't about to miss the celebration that is Garden Life. Dress for the heat and come along...

102°F | °C
Partly CloudyPartly CloudyIsolated ThunderstormsSunny

Wind: SE at 13 mph

Humidity: 16%102°73°101°73°104°73°106°72°

This weather has stymied the garden again so only some plants have fruit setting. The veg that's on the vine/stock/stem continues to grow...

how many okra pods did the last harvester miss? embiggen to find out

That's nearly an EYE-level shot of the okra; I'm 5'5. Despite the nuke-proof aphids the we're getting enough so that I need to chop and freeze a mess or two every other day.

okra, squashes, a watermelon and yes, the hori-hori.

The Chinese Yard Long Beans are coming in, too.

A bunch went into a stir-fry with Ichiban Eggplant and some of the dried porcini from last year's harvest -- it was delicious! For another use of these awesome beans, check out Brett's comment from last week... better yet, travel over to Trout Caviar for some of the best foraging information and recipes available on the web*. His take on eating locally and seasonally has been an inspiration... if only they lived a little closer, sigh.

Oh yeah, guess who else LOVEs green beans of all kinds?

"Mine! Mine!" 
Thank goodness he waits to be fed rather than harvest his own. Hum... I should consider harnessing the training potential of these treats...

Watermelon is another plant that's loving this weather. Again, not a lot of new blossoms but the fruit are everywhere.

sugar baby bush (ha!) watermelon growing off the bean trellis
missed this golden midget
ripe sugar baby
This year we planted ice-box watermelons knowing there wasn't going to be much space in the garden or our refrigerator. M mentioned there was a bush variety so I tracked down what I thought would be a compact, sort of upright growing watermelon, the Bush Sugar Baby. Unless you trellis them, they can't be mistaken for anything bush-like; they have short runners (~3.5 ft) but that does not a bush make. The great bush baby watermelon hunt will continue when the spring catalogues appear in the mailbox, in the meantime we have spots in the garden carpeted with watermelon vines and we are inundated with small watermelons (not complaining!!). Like Tiffany at No Ordinary Homestead, we've started saving seeds. If you would like seeds of either of the aforementioned watermelon varieties, just let me know**.

Oh! I almost forgot! Our garden had some auspicious visitors this week, too.

little swarm on the trunk of a juniper

no, i have no idea if they were Africanized, although no pets or people turned up missing.

I really wish they could have hung around but I bet it's like the 'no chickens in city limits' rule and I wouldn't have been able to keep them anyway. "Puhleeze Mister Mayor...?"

*I know, Intrepid Reader, there is no blog roll over there. I'm working on it...
**Yes indeed, I would be a USDA scofflaw for you, Intrepid Reader.