Monday, July 31, 2006

Garden Journal 7/31/06: Growing Arkansas Traveler Heirloom Tomatoes & How To Save Your Own Tomato Seeds

Arkansas Traveler tomato plants are one of my favorite heirloom tomatoes to grow from seed.

The pretty pink tomatoes are crack and disease resistant, and the plants don't mind the heat and humidity.

Realization Of The Day:
The scary experimental super trim I gave my two Arkansas Traveler tomato plants back on July 7th appears to be a success. What a relief! As you can see, all those green tomatoes at the base of the plants ripened nicely, and the tops have not only filled out with lush new growth but are also putting on quite a few more fruits.

There are two ripe tomatoes with minor pale splotches (I assume from 'sunburn'), but other than that, these beautiful rose colored babies are nearly all perfect and have a great flavor.

The plants were started on 2/6/06 with 2003 seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and transplanted into individual plugs on 3/20/06.

The seedlings were planted in a raised bed full of soil rich with aged sheep manure on 4/20/06. They were mulched with grass clippings which kept all but a few determined weeds from sprouting. I watered them regularly.

If you garden in a location with iffy and unpredictable weather like I do, and/or you often have a hard time getting good looking mature tomatoes, I highly recommend giving this medium-sized variety a try.

Don't forget to save the seeds from your best tomatoes to plant the next year! It's so easy:

1. Slice off the top of the tomato, squeeze the seeds into a small dish (by all means eat the rest of it!)

2. Add a little water (I can't remember why I do this part except that years ago I read that I should—and considering the VFN tomatoes I grew this year were from 5 year old seeds, I'm going to keep doing it).

3. Let them sit around for a day or two, then pour the seeds into a fine strainer, rinse them off, and allow them to dry in a little cotton drawstring bag, or spread out on some waxed paper in a protected spot, or however you like to dry your seeds.

4. Store your dry seeds in bags or containers (I use itty bitty zipper seal plastic bags) in a cool, dry place or in the freezer.

From Garden To Table:
So how have we been enjoying these luscious beauties (besides as Summer In A Bowl)? Well, the other night we piled thick slices on homegrown, grass-fed Angus beef burgers while they were still on the grill—and before we put on the cheese. Oh my.

Allowing the tomatoes to cook slightly, while sealing in all the juices between the meat and cheese, gave the burgers a whole different flavor. In fact, they were so good we had burgers again the next night.

And last night we had the first BLTs of the summer (though these were made with VFN tomatoes—a standard, disease resistant heirloom—pictured here and here). This is always a highlight of the year for us—and even more so last night since we used up our last package of bacon in the freezer. No, we can't just go out and buy some more. This was not your average bacon.

Every couple of years we purchase an entire hog that has been locally and naturally raised and have it butchered to our specifications, including having bacon made that's smoked without any nitrates or other additives. I'd never seen or tasted bacon like this before 'going whole hog.' It's so lean and meaty you have to add oil to the pan when you cook it up.

But back to the BLTs. That amazing bacon, thick toasted slices of freshly baked Farmhouse White basic sandwich bread slathered with mayonnaise, the most wonderful tomatoes on earth (because they were grown on our little piece of it), crisp Iceberg lettuce. Smirk or gasp if you will, but we're old-fashioned purists when it comes to BLTs—we love that Iceburg crunch—and besides, there hasn't been any lettuce in the garden in two months.

It just wouldn't be fair to show you a photo—which is good because once those heavenly sandwiches were assembled, the thought of taking pictures of them was the last thing on my mind.

It's reward time in the garden. This year's tomato disasters are for another day. Enjoy!

©, the vine-ripened foodie farm blog where we eat as many fresh tomatoes as we can during summer and then dream about them the rest of the year.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I Can't Live Without. . .

My Wide Brimmed Sun Hat!

Forget Botox. The secret to keeping your face (and the rest of you) looking young is to stay out of the sun. I cringe at the thought of the endless hours I spent during my 20s wandering around flea markets with the summer sun blazing down on my totally unprotected face (and arms and legs). Then there were the teenage sun worshipping years when I fried my skin with (gasp) baby oil for the sake of the beloved 'tan' I'd been convinced is so beautiful. Not to mention countless childhood sunburns (including on my face) that were so bad my skin peeled off. There's nothing like growing up in sunny California.

I think you get the idea--I long ago soaked up my lifetime allotment of sunshine. Add in the fact that my mother had a brush with skin cancer a few years back, and, well, I'm just a teeny bit nervous. I've also become super-protective of my skin.

You won't catch me outdoors on the farm without my sunhat--even if I'm just running to the garden to snip some chives or snatch a tomato. And that's all year round, not just during the summer. I also keep my arms and legs covered up. It might be 98 degrees in the shade, but I'll still be wearing a long sleeve shirt around the farm. (Yes, for a heat-intolerant person like me, it's practically unbearable being outside in so much clothing this time of year, but it beats skin cancer any day.)

For me, the most important thing in a good sun hat is a wide brim. A hat that barely covers your face might make a chic fashion statement, but it's useless from a skin protection point of view. And while a baseball-style cap is certainly better than a bare head, it's doesn't completely cover your face and neck. My "lifeguard style" hat has a generous 5-inch brim that I absolutely love, but I do have to point out one drawback. A hat like this will not only block out the sun, but part of your line of sight as well. This means that you need to be very careful around things like low hanging branches, short-sided barns with stout wooden ceiling beams, and even forehead-level doorways attached to aging log cabins that are sinking into the earth. Yes, I've been bonked badly on the bean by all of the above while wearing my beloved hat. But don't let that keep you from wearing one--I'm sure you're not as absentminded as I am. (Joe has threatened to make me start wearing a hardhat, and I will as soon as he finds one with a wide enough brim.)

The other thing I require in a sun hat is an adjustable chin strap. Mine is a simple, shoestring-like affair that keeps my hat firmly planted on my head on even the most blustery of days. I bought two of these hats a couple of years ago after someone at the feed store obviously went on a springtime hat-buying frenzy. There were hats of all shapes and sizes and styles stacked and hanging everywhere. These were less than $8.00 apiece and will last for many more years. I even wear mine during light rains.

If you can't find a local source for a hat, there are literally hundreds of varieties of sun hats available online. A quick search at turned up this natural straw hat similar to mine for $10.50 and this lifeguard straw hat from Columbia Sportswear for $7.00. You can even buy sunhats for kids that are UPF 50+ rated and made from UV protective fabric that blocks 97.5% of UV rays.

Of course even the best hat and shirt do not provide complete protection from the sun. My second line of defense is sunblock, and I slather it on every single day of the year. Again, there are all kinds of sunblock to choose from. For several years I have been happily using Neutrogena UVA/UVB Sunblock Lotion with 45 SPF. It includes the ingredient Parsol 1789 which protects against the sun's skin-aging UVA rays and was recommended by my dermatologist. Once my current supply is used up, I'm probably going to switch to another Neutrogena product I recently discovered--Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock.

My face and neck receive a daily (and sometimes second) dose of Neutrogena Healthy Skin Face Lotion (SPF 15), and Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Eye Cream (SPF 30) goes on the delicate area around my eyes. (Short haired people--don't forget the back of your neck.)

If you aren't able to shop at a small, locally owned pharmacy, all of these products can be found in the new Grocery store at You really can't beat the prices (not to mention the convenience), especially if you take advantage of the $10 instant rebate now being offered on purchases of $49 or more. (Click here for details.) And don't forget the free shipping on all purchases over $25--and no sales tax.

Don't need $49 worth of sunblock? I did a little poking around in the new Grocery section today and discovered that included in the 14,000+ items they offer are many from some of my favorite companies--such as Celestial Seasonings (91 items), Newman's Own Organics (47 items), and even Wild Oats (110 items). There are also 55 different Seventh Generation products available. I noticed that many items are sold in multiples (the sunblocks all came in 2-packs), which simply means that you'll be able to shop less often--and that will help save valuable natural resources.

So this pale-skinned Irish girl may no longer be the bronze beauty she once was, but since I'm pushing 40 and still getting asked for ID when buying wine at the supermarket, I figure I must be doing something right. I definitely don't see any Botox in my future.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/27/06

Realization Of The Day:
Last week's storm (which supposedly swept through the farm at somewhere between 60 and 80 miles per hour) blew my entire greenhouse apart--and yet this makeshift bamboo bean trellis standing just a few feet away didn't move an inch. There is definitely something to be said for tipi/teepee/tepee design. Now if there were only some beans growing up those bean poles.

Okay, I know what most of you are probably thinking after reading that last sentence and staring at this photo in disbelief:

Hello!? That looks suspiciously like the same little lamb you permanently kicked out of the garden just a few short days ago for gobbling up two rows of your bush beans--and who is also responsible for pulling up and munching down most of the pole beans you planted under that trellis! Are you the biggest pushover in the world--or have you just completely lost your mind?

Neither. (Well, maybe the first one--but that was from way before.) Here's the deal. I seriously believe that I made a hasty and incorrect assumption regarding Cary and those two rows of decimated bush beans. My first tip off was the deer I recently spotted nonchalantly meandering toward the garden around dinner time. I'd been faithfully covering up all of the beans with floating row covers every single night for weeks after deer ate the first batch of them, but I'd stopped because of the storms, and because I figured the deer were done in the garden. (I know, more shaking of the head, rolling of the eyes. Deer do not get full! Ever! Maybe I am losing my mind.)

Anyway, while I stared in disbelief at the deer, saying how it probably wasn't Cary who ate all those bean plants after all (and mumbling something about grabbing the gun), Joe brought up a good point:

"Cary doesn't have that long of an attention span."

And he is absolutely right. She (like all sheep) is constantly on the munching move, always searching for the next tastier treat. There is no way she would have stood at that raised bed and systematically worked her way down two 8-foot rows of beans. I thought I had solid, tangible evidence--size "C" hoofprints right there in the dirt. But I was obviously wrong--they were in fact size "D."

So Cary is once again allowed back in the garden. I did get a few disbelieving looks from Joe who thought I just kept forgetting to shut the garden gate after myself. In fact, he still can't believe I'm letting her back in there. But the thing is, I pointed out, that all of her damage has been done already. The pole beans are history, she has pretty much already clearcut the asparagus fern forest, the bugs devoured the Nero di Toscana cabbage she recently acquired a taste for, and she did actually help tame the raspberry jungle. Besides, in all reality, she really does prefer eating weeds and grass over anything else.

This is the time of year when I pretty much give in to the fact that I have lost many of my battles in the garden, so I simply try not to get totally frustrated and just enjoy whatever there is left to harvest (although if there weren't any tomatoes it would be a whole other story). And besides, it was getting awfully boring in there without her.

I had every intention of ending this post with some useful and practical gardening advice, but I think I'd better do some laundry instead. There was a good chance of rain in the forecast today, but it seems to be passing us by. Obviously those jeans out on the laundry line aren't enough. Oh, wait! I do have some useful advice I can pass on after all. Okay, clean wet laundry on the line can definitely make it rain. But a lawnmower left out in the garden two nights in a row? That's apparently just a little too much.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Another Less Fuss, More Flavor Recipe: Fresh Tomatoes Become Summer (Salad) In A Bowl

I've Been Waiting All Year For These

After a couple of days of unsuccessfully trying to come up with the perfect way to begin this post (including sitting and staring at a blank computer screen for minutes on end), I finally realized that clever, flowery prose extolling the virtues of homegrown tomatoes to gardeners and foodies is totally unnecessary.

The tomatoes are ready. Enough said.

Either you get it, or you don't. (And if you don't, we need to have a serious talk as soon as possible.) So now that we have that settled, I'm going to skip the chit chat and simply tell you what I do each summer as soon as there are at least a few handfuls of ripe tomatoes out on the vines. I call it Summer In A Bowl, and it is so easy to make it can hardly be called a recipe.

To me it is the essence of summer. It's another example of the Less Fuss, More Flavor way of cooking I find myself turning to more and more. Over the years, I've simply learned that the better the ingredients, the less you need to do to them. And that, to me, is pure kitchen bliss.

So go find yourself the best tomatoes you can, toss together this basic recipe, and then let your imagination run wild—or simply eat it all up straight from the bowl with a spoon.

The Organic Gardener Knows Bug Bites On Basil Are Beautiful

Farmgirl's Basis Of Summer In A Bowl
Note: Any ingredient aside from the tomatoes can be omitted.

Vine-Ripened Tomatoes
Onions or Scallions
Fresh Oregano
Olive Oil
Fresh Garlic or Good Garlic Powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

If desired, slice the ends off the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds and some of the juice. (No matter what, you will end up with quite a bit of rich, scrumptious juice in the bottom your bowl. I don't waste a drop, usually slurping it up like soup, but for slightly less sloppy serving purposes you can always dish it up with a slotted spoon.)

Chop up the tomatoes and onions however you like and place them in a large bowl. An assortment of tomatoes will add color and flavor (I prefer heirloom varieties). For this batch, I used finely chopped purple onion from the garden and loved those bright spots of color, too. Add the chopped basil and oregano, plus olive oil and vinegar to taste. (I use just a splash each of extra-virgin olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.)

Toss in some chopped garlic or garlic powder (click here to learn about my source for top quality herbs and spices at amazingly low prices), and some good salt & pepper to taste. Stir everything together with a large spoon until thoroughly combined.

Now you can stop right here and have a perfectly delightful dish that will taste wonderful served alongside everything from steak to shrimp to salami and cheese sandwiches. (It will also look its best if served right away.) But if you allow it to sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, something truly magical will happen to this simple concoction as it mellows on the counter. Just leave the spoon in the bowl (if you dare) and give it a good stir every once in a while. (Refrigerating tomatoes—whether whole or cut up—will always, always steal away some of their flavor.)

You will probably be quite content to eat several dozen servings of this before you begin to think about what other things you might do with it. But this is where the real fun begins. Here are enough ideas to keep you chopping up and celebrating your bounty of garden fresh tomatoes (no matter whose garden they come from) for the rest of the summer.

The easiest thing to do is to add one special ingredient to the basic mix. Almost anything you love will work. This time I used a few Oil Cured Moroccan Olives I discovered languishing in a jar in the fridge. I chopped them into tiny pieces and their pungent flavor and super saltiness provided just the right touch. You could also add practically any other kind of olives, or some of those beautiful fresh caper berries you can sometimes find on gourmet olive bars. Or chopped anchovies or a smidge of anchovy paste. Or a handful of pinenuts. Some freshly chopped sweet red pepper or a few roasted red peppers from a jar would slide right in quite nicely.

You could add cheese, such as freshly grated pecorino romano or some of those baby mozzarella balls that come swimming in delightfully herby olive oil. Stir in crumbled up feta with kalmata olives, or chunks of rosy pink leftover roast leg of lamb and diced sharp cheddar. You could even toss in some day old cubed French or Italian bread or a can of garbanzo or Great Northern beans.

What you do not want to add to this dish are cucumbers. We are not making Greek Salad (which I also happen to adore). We are celebrating the tomato in all of its seasonal glory, and the cucumbers will only steal away some of the limelight from the true star of the show. There are no supporting actors in this dish--only a glorious background chorus of perfectly cast characters. (No, I don't have a single cucumber in the garden yet, but really, that is not why I am declaring them cuca non grata in this recipe. Honest.)

And how to serve it besides straight out of the bowl? On toasted baguette slices or next to a plate of eggs. Tossed with homemade fettuccine or a package of pasta spirals. Piled on a bed of fresh greens with big garlic croutons and freshly grated parmesan reggiano sprinkled on top. Stirred into some nice cooked lentils or a stash of leftover rice. Spooned into warm homemade pita breads.

I warned you the possiblities are endless. Enjoy.

© Copyright, the vine-ripened foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

What's Growin' On 7/25/06: Volunteer Basil Bonanza

The Volunteer Basil I Discovered Back In June Is Thriving

Realization Of The Day:
Apparently the blister beetles don't care for basil. (Thank goodness.)

Realization #2:
I really need to make some pesto. A lot of pesto. (Thank goodness.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/23/06

Realization Of The Day:
Beauty and art are everywhere--even in a single onion.

So the greenhouse survived our putting it back together. What one of us thought was going to be an extremely quick and easy task ended up taking the entire day. But it almost looks like it did before the storm. And while we worked we had homemade wind thanks to the giant fan pointed down the greenhouse walkway--and no idea of just how hot it really was out there because the thermometer broke (melted?) at 120.6 degrees F.

From Garden To Table:
TOMATOES! My simple recipe for Summer In A Bowl is coming very soon.

Friday, July 21, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/21/06

Beautiful Bumblebee Hard At Work

Realization Of The Day:
All of my current obsessions begin with 'b.'

And right now I'd rather stare at this photo (in amazement) than at the storm-/insect-/lamb-ravaged space I call my garden (in disgusted bewilderment). (Yes, Cary has finally nibbled out her welcome among the raised beds. I'll spare you the photo of the entire two rows of bitten down bean plants I discovered this afternoon. Yeah, yeah, I know what some of you have been thinking all along (not you of course Yellow Dog): "She let a grazing animal into her garden--what the hell was she expecting?" My only defense is that I was blinded by motherhood. Is that a reasonable/usable defense? Well, now it is. The Privileged Animal is definitely losing her privileges.

But back to the bees. Everyone knows that bees are invaluable pollinators in the fields and gardens. But did you know they do other helpful things for us as well? Click here to read what my fellow shepherd girl pal (and wonderful artist) Katherine Dunn has learned from the bees in her lavender fields at Apifera Farm. ('Apifera,' by the way, is a Latin word for 'bee bearing.')

Love lavender? The Apifera Farm lavender bundles are ready!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What's Growin' On 7/20/06: Summer Storm Damage

What's wrong with this greenhouse?

Realization Of The Day:
I probably won't be blogging much during the next couple of days. Busy dealing with farm and garden damage from two nasty storms. But it could have been a lot worse.

Monday, July 17, 2006

How To Deal with Blister Beetles in the Garden: Organic Pest Control Methods

Striped blister beetles on Straight 'N' Narrow bean leaves

June 2011 update: The other day I saw my first blister beetle of the year. Ick. Our last few springs have been wetter than normal, and this has apparently kept the blister beetles from appearing in their usual droves (hooray!).

If they start destroying the garden this year, I'll be liberally dousing them and the plants they're attacking with food grade diatomaceous earth. This amazing stuff is 100% natural and organic and very safe.

We buy this brand in economical 50-pound bags and use it all over the farm: we feed it to our livestock as a natural wormer and wellness supplement, dust the dogs with it to help with fleas and ticks, sprinkle it in water troughs to keep algae from forming, and have even started taking small daily doses ourselves (up to 1 Tablespoon, mixed in water or juice), as it's supposed to help with everything from joint pain to detoxification.

Food grade diatomaceous earth will last indefinitely (keep it dry) and can be used to combat all sorts of garden pests, including both hard-bodied (like sow bugs) and soft-bodied (like slugs and cabbage worms). Apparently it's also an excellent way to naturally kill bed bugs. It will not harm earthworms, but avoid sprinkling it directly on flower blooms, as it can kill beneficial pollinators.

August 3, 2011 update: Last week the blister beetles arrived in force in the pepper and tomato beds, and the diatomaceous earth is working beautifully! I liberally sprinkled it around the base of the plants and on some of the leaves, and by the next day they were almost completely gone, with no more visible damage.

You can read more about blister beetles and the many uses for diatomaceous earth in my new post, Garden Journal 8/1/11: Attack! Using Using Organic Diatomaceous Earth on Blister Beetles and Other Pests in the Garden and Around the House and Farm.

Be sure to read through the comments section below for lots more information on how to control blister beetles. And if you've had success getting rid of blister beetles in your garden, please let us know how you did it!

Realization Of The Day:
The blister beetles have arrived. What to do?

If you don't know what these horrid little creatures are, please take a moment right now to feel very, very grateful. If you are all too familiar with them and their treacherous acts of decimation in the battlefield we foolishly call our gardens, then you have my sympathy. And if the blister beetles have not declared war on you yet this year, right now you're probably taking a moment to pray to whatever or whomever it is you pray to about these kinds of things. Me? I forgot to pray.

Blister beetles devouring my Swiss chard

Last year I happened to mention blister beetles on a Farmgirl Fare post about, of all things, chocolate cake. Okay, it was about farm emergencies in general, which is why the blister beetles came up.

Anyway, a reader named Emily left me the following comment:
"Since you mentioned blister beetles, could I ask how you deal with them? We have tomato plants in our backyard garden (in Kansas), and those nasty things wiped out an entire plant in one day!

We had never heard of them before, but our extension office identified them, solving the mystery of what happened to the plant as well as my poor husband's leg. Yikes, those blisters are vicious. Any advice you have would be most appreciated!"

And this was my reply:
I was so sorry to hear about your blister beetle invasion. You're right; they are vicious—and ravenous. They can destroy your entire garden in a couple of days.

For those fortunate readers who are not familiar with blister beetles, here is a little background information on them, taken from one of my very favorite books, Organic Plant Protection, published by Rodale Press:

"The black blister beetle, also known as the Yankee bug and just plain 'blister beetle'. . . is a fairly long (up to 3/4") and slender beetle, with soft, flexible wing covers. The entire body is black or dark gray, and the covers may be marked with white stripes or margins.

Another species, the margined blister beetle, is distinguished by a narrow gray or yellow margin on the covers. Blister beetles are very active, and frequently appear in large numbers in the latter part of June and through July.

Handpicking is effective in controlling this pest, but you should protect your hands with gloves, as the beetles discharge a caustic fluid that is harmful to the skin. Some growers achieve control by dusting with equal parts lime and flour. This should be done at the warmest time of the day.

Blister beetles are usually found in swarms or colonies feeding on the blossoms and foliage of any of a number of garden and field crops—vegetables, vines, trees, and flowers."

We have both species mentioned here—the black/grey and the lighter striped ones. Last year both were out in force, and it was terrible. What they don't completely devour, they ruin with their icky black droppings.

I didn't know about that lime/flour solution until reading it just now. It sounds interesting. I would start with that as it is totally safe. Look for lime at a feed/farm supply store or nursery or garden center; it's very inexpensive.

I have read various other 'folk tale' remedies—like that they won't cross wide, empty spaces so you should either leave wide rows between plantings or once they have invaded, clear out the surrounding weeds, grass, plants, etc.

I've even read about people yelling at them to scare them away. Who knows. When I'm desperate, I'll try some pretty crazy sounding things myself.

I've never gone the hand-picking route, as there were always way too many of them—hundreds and hundreds last year. They also run fast! But that would be your best bet if you only have a few to contend with. I hope this helps. Good luck!

She came back and said:
"Thank you kindly for the information! Those terrors seem to be gone for now, but we'll know what to do next time. We thought we had gotten rid of them once, but they showed up a second time. It's good to know some natural remedies to try. Much appreciated!"

Bean and chard bed that has been hit the hardest (taken yesterday afternoon)

I saw two blister beetles in the garden yesterday morning. By the afternoon the troops had arrived and they were in full munching mode, happily making dirty lace of that poor, struggling Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard that had up to this point been eaten down to practically nothing by deer and then attacked by worms.

I snapped some photos, started getting depressed, and readied myself for total decimation by morning. A quick garden tour this morning assured me that the blister beetles were showing no signs of having filled up their small but seemingly bottomless bellies—I suppose because they immediately empty them with all that black yuck.

Attacked chard sprinkled with flour/lime mixture

I searched through Farmgirl Fare, located the above information, and decided that I had nothing to lose with the flour/lime dusting suggestion. I used all-purpose flour and limestone ('granular calcium carbonate for livestock and poultry') that I bought two years ago in a 50-pound bag at the farm supply store for under two dollars (to add to the water of the two bottle lambs I had at the time to help control scours and some other stuff).

Since it was 95 degrees F in the shade, I figured this qualified as 'the warmest time of the day' and simply sprinkled the mixture all over the plants and the surrounding soil.

I checked back later and only saw a few blister beetles, but there also weren't any in evidence on the bean plants they had been all over earlier. I wondered if they were all simply taking a siesta. I also wondered if this was such a wise idea. If I succeeded in getting them to vacate my already ruined chard, what would they attack next?

What's left of the Oriole Orange chard.

Another round of surveillance just moments ago revealed a few on the chard, a few on the Nero di Toscana cabbage in the adjacent raised bed (which had already been half devoured over the past few days by Cary and cabbage worms), and the scary remains of what had once been Oriole Orange Chard that I had missed seeing being attacked earlier.

In between these checks I launched a fairly exhaustive search on the internet for any helpful information in beating the blister beetles. I didn't find much. The highlight was definitely this incredibly significant and yet ridiculously obvious statement I found on a Texas Cooperative Extension site: Mouthparts are for chewing. At least it made me laugh.

Here's some more information about blister beetles I came across:
--The 'caustic fluid' blister beetles discharge/secrete is called cantharadin and is toxic to people and animals.

--Most of the sites I found focused on controlling/dealing with blister beetles in alfalfa hayfields, as potential injury to horses (and less commonly to cattle and sheep) is possible if they ingest blister beetles with harvested forage (the poisonous substance stays remains active in dead beetles).

--Larval stages feed on grasshopper eggs or are predaceous and are thus considered to be beneficial, although a few species feed in nests of solitary bees.

--I read more than once that blister beetles supposedly do little or no damage to backyard gardens (Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Oh please.).

--Those sites that did admit to the terrible destruction they are capable of usually had nothing helpful to tell gardeners to do except to practice "diligent hand picking" while of course always wearing gloves to protect your skin from the cantharadin. Or you can simply knock the beetles directly into a can of soapy water.

--The National Garden Association suggested using pyrethrum on them, and a site called Natural Pesticide In The Garden suggested sabadilla (something I've read about before but am still not sure where/how to obtain).

--A thread on the Garden Clinic Forum on was started by a woman in Southwest Missouri who said, "I am having the same problem with blister beetles.I had never seen them before. They have almost completely devoured my potatoes and were starting on a tomato plant. I've sprayed several times with rotenone. It kills them but more just keep on coming." Nobody was able to offer her much help.

In years past, I've simply admitted defeat as soon as the battles with the blister beetles began. Their surprise attacks come without warning (is that redundant?) and are short, messy, and full of horrific damage. But they usually seem to disappear just as quickly as they arrived, and I have never had them decimate my entire garden.

Once again, I won't pull up either of the patches of chard (even the Oriole Orange that is simply painful to look at right now), the Nero di Toscana cabbage, and anything else they decide to devour in the next day or two. At least some of these plants should recover and reward me with edible bounty once the blister beetles are only a hazy nightmare.

If you have any experience with blister beetles, especially if you've figured out a way to win the war with them, I (and probably many other frustrated gardeners) would love to hear about it.

But right now I'm forcing the blister beetles out of my mind so I can concentrate on cooking up the beautiful beets I harvested earlier to go with the garlic and herb encrusted leg of lamb that I just pulled from the oven.

And for the person in this household who doesn't care for beets (yippee, all for me!) there will be crispy pan-fried new potatoes (in homemade lard), along with salads for both of us made with any greens I can scrounge up in the garden and topped with slices of rosy red tomatoes that will no doubt still be warm from the sun.

Oh, the dragonflies arrived in swarms yesterday, too. That almost made up for the blister beetles. They're glorious.


Friday, July 14, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/15/06

Saved For A Rainy Day?

Realization Of The Day:
I am now officially afraid to take down the load of clean laundry that has been hanging out on the clothesline for 8 days. Last week's rain helped tremendously, and at this time of year, it is quite possible that we won't see any more thunderstorms for another month. That would be very bad. Because of the poor nature of the soil in this area, after a mere two weeks of hot weather and no rain, all of the plants, grasses, and even trees are considered to be stressed and in a "drought condition." It is sunny and hot today, and that laundry may actually finally dry out, but I am really thinking I should simply leave it out there a little longer.

On the other hand, I am also officially out of normal socks. This means I may have to break down and finally wear the pair in this photo. Don't get me wrong--it isn't that I don't like them. I think they're cute (plus they were a gift from my mother). But once I wear any item of clothing whatsoever around the farm, it is guaranteed that within a couple of hours (at most) it will no longer be fit to be worn out in public. So on the one hand, I hate the idea of destroying these perfectly adorable little socks that I have been "saving." On the other hand, if I haven't worn them off the farm by now, it may just be time to go ahead and trash them.

While people in town are (for the most part) perfectly nice to me, I'm pretty sure I have a reputation with the locals as being a bit of a crazy Californian recluse (as well as a very good shot). I don't leave the farm much, and showing up at the post office with a lamb on a leash when I do come out doesn't exactly help matters (though the gal at the post office absolutely adores Cary). There are quite a few odd ducks tucked into the backwoods, and tolerance for those of us who don't exactly fit in is high. But I think these socks just might put me over the line.

Perhaps the best solution would be to take down the laundry piece by piece as needed, immediately replacing them with newly washed things. This morning I realized I'm down to only one of the white cotton tee-shirts I live in all summer, and last night I actually had to use a paper napkin instead of a cloth one. We're just about out of clean towels, too. This is definitely getting serious. But, of course, so is a month without rain in the middle of summer. Oh, the dilemma. Oh, the ridiculous amount of thought I have put into this. Oh no wonder I have a reputation as a crazy person!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/13/06

Realization Of The Day:
This is the weirdest looking strawberry plant I have ever seen. And it's growing in my garden. It's one of the ones I bought at the Garden Club plant sale last year that I wrote about in this post. It's sort of starting to scare me. Not a lot. Just a little bit.

Minding The Moonsigns:
Friday & Saturday July 14th & 15th are fertile days in the 3rd quarter--great days to transplant seedlings into individual plugs, potted plants into bigger living quarters, and of course seedlings into the garden. If you have no idea what this is about but wish you did, click here.

Out Of My Inbox: Tomato Loving Squirrels!
Okay, the squirrels didn't actually jump out of my inbox, but I like the image. And I'm sure the urban gardening friend who sent me an email complaining that "the *blanking* squirrels keep eating my tomatoes--green no less!" wished he could have emailed the squirrels to me. Instead he is "trying pepper spray and metal wire fencing." He didn't say if he intended to spray the squirrels directly with the pepper spray or not. (Another interesting image.)

I had never heard of tomato eating squirrels until last year, and now I've heard from three people who are at war with them. And I guess they don't just steal one or two tomatoes (as would seem to be plenty considering their tiny size) and then go away. Apparently given the chance they'll devour your entire crop!

Anybody have any helpful advice?

--When I wrote about how I can't live without my scuffle hoe back in June, I mentioned that while researching for the article, I had discovered a very interesting company called Rogue Hoes and asked if anybody owned one of their hoes (secretly hoping that they weren't any good so I wouldn't have to start lusting after one or two of three of their many different varieties).

Well, that pretty much backfired. Tabitha said she recently received one as a Mother's Day present from her husband, Karl, and admitted that she is in "deep, undying love." (With Karl, too, I'm sure, but in this case she was talking about the hoe.) And Carol said "I just bought a Rogue hoe, but not the scuffle hoe, and I love it. I have a lot of hoes, some useful, some not, and I am ready to get some more rogue hoes! They seem sturdy and well-made and they have SHARP edges. Based on your description of the scuffle hoe, I may try one of those soon!"

Okay, so I recently had a birthday, and now I have some birthday gift money burning a hole in my gardening glove. The Rogue Hoe Outlet is currently offering a special deal where you can pick out any four of their handcrafted tempered steel hoes for $100, including shipping. And guess how much cash I just happened to receive? I know I probably do not need four fabulous new hoes (and feel a little guilty even thinking about it), but it kind of seemed like a sign. And I always like buying myself gifts that will last a long time--unlike, say chocolate. (Not that I'm knocking chocolate, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, if anyone else out there has something to say about Rogue hoes--especially in regards to which models you think I should get--I would love to hear from you. And Tabitha and Carol--which models do you have? Thanks so much.

--Over three more pounds of Straight 'N' Narrow haricot vert beans have been picked, blanched, suck-sealed, and tossed into the freezer to be enjoyed sometime this winter. That's over five pounds of tender, thin, sweet beans so far from just one 8-foot row. I have been growing this variety for many years, and this is why. The seeds were purchased from Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine, one of my favorite seed suppliers.

--I may just have to leave that laundry on the line for the entire summer. We had another 3/10th of an inch of rain yesterday. (Yes, this means I messed with the beans when they were wet, right after I said I never ever do, but I was assuming there must be allowances for desperate situations. I'll let you know if rust starts appearing now, as PaintBrushPoet's granny claimed would happen.) I really am having to wear some bizarre socks dredged up from the bottom of the drawer, though. Not that the rest of my farmgirl clothes are the height of fashion, LOL.

I'll be offline for the rest of today and most of tomorrow. I'm looking forward to finding squirrel-be-gone tips and Rogue hoe info upon my return and will hopefully have a chance to catch up on comments and questions soon. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/12/06

So close. . .

And yet so totally out of reach. . .

Realization Of The Day:
I really, really, really should have put "Tame Raspberry Jungle" higher on my spring Garden Priority List. But there may be hope for all those buried berries. . .

This morning Cary decided that she is going to munch a path through the jungle for me and has spent hours furiously chomping away at those brambles.

There is also an added bonus to this briar buffet: according to the wonderful book, Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality, "Raspberry leaf is a highly nourishing reproductive tonic, providing nutrients that tone and strengthen the genitourinary system. It is incredibly rich in iron and is also a good source of niacin and manganese, a trace mineral used by the body to produce healthy connective tissue suich as bone matrix and cartilage." It is also "a rich source of other vitamins and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and E." Wow. Remind me to make some raspberry leaf tea.

Less Than A Week Ago The Weed Eater Was Working Perfectly

This kind of makes up for her other new love--my Nero di Toscana cabbage! Cary used to be perfectly content nibbling on (mostly) weeds in and around the raised beds, but lately she has developed quite a palate for people food (besides the arugula flowers)--and she is one fast eater, let me tell you. Yesterday I covered my precious cabbage with a piece of row cover fabric, but this morning (before she started in on the raspberries), I caught her trying to lift it off with her little nose. She even managed a quick bite before I shooed her away. (If I'd been watering at the time--which I don't have to do today because it finally rained, woohoo!--I would have simply applied the Lamb Away tactic I recently discovered: a quick spray with the garden hose. Works like a charm, although more than one application is sometimes necessary.*) Just when you thought something was finally safe from the deer and the rabbit and the absentminded gardener. . .

Lucky Buddy Bear

Realization #2:
All talk of berry harvesting aside, the raspberry jungle does serve another purpose quite nicely--as a shady retreat from the summer sun. It's always to see multi-tasking going on in the garden.

*This action in no way constitutes child abuse. Cary is 100% waterproof (and shrinkproof).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/11/06

July 1st

July 11th

Realization Of The Day:
At least I know the Greek Oregano enjoyed its supertrim.

What--you thought what I am now officially calling The Arkansas Traveler Tomato Experiment was a one-time thing? Um, no, I have a slight history of getting carried away with the scissors. The good news is the potted lemon balm I cut back to nothing but about three leaves and a bunch of dead looking stems is sprouting all kinds of new growth, too.

The jury is still out on the tomatoes. I think I probably should have trimmed them a little earlier, like before all the fruit had set. Or later--as I mentioned previously--when frost warnings are upon us. (Trimming off all of the leaves at that point supposedly makes the tomatoes ripen much faster.) Right now the plants are still alive and putting on top growth and blossoms, but they certainly aren't rushing to redden all those green tomatoes. Not a single blusher in sight. This is definitely an interesting experiment, but I'm sure glad I stopped after two tomato plants.

Realization #2:
I may just leave that laundry out on the line all summer. Of course if I do, I will have to go dig out my woolly winter socks and wear them--starting tomorrow. Oh the sacrifices one makes for the garden!

We've had 3-1/2 inches of rain as of this afternoon, and it just started sprinkling again. I am thrilled. This is actually quite a bit less rain than many of the surrounding areas received, though, according to the scuttlebut weather reports I heard while out and about today--traversing the country highways in 4WD because it was raining so hard. I suppose I should have bought some new socks while I was out.

Realization #3:
All this rain has given me the perfect excuse to ignore all those beyond-ready-to-pick Straight 'N' Narrow beans for at least one more day. I was told years ago by a friend that "you don't mess with beans when they're wet," and since then I have taken that advice seriously, although I was never given a reason why. But sometimes one does not need the reason--only the rationalization.

Monday, July 10, 2006

What's Growin' On 7/10/06: Birthday Showers and an Easy Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe

Our Rickety Little Rain Gauge Holds Very Good News

Realization Of The Day:
The benefits of not taking a whole bunch of bone-dry laundry off the line because it is one's birthday and one is being lazy (even if it has already been hanging out there for over 24 hours) are obvious: the fields, the garden, and that nice clean laundry received 1-1/2 inches of badly needed rain today.

I don't know which was a better birthday surprise—this rain or the first ripe tomato of the season (which tasted absolutely wonderful by the way). The rain, of course, was a gift enjoyed by the entire farm, but the tomato was selfishly gobbled up by me.

Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to make it rain on your garden—even if it isn't your birthday.

Dragon Langerie Beans (I told you they were gorgeous)

From Garden To Mouth:
I did a bit of birthday grazing yesterday, starting with a little pre-breakfast nibbling in the garden on a few luscious ripe raspberries (I really have developed the eating habits of a sheep). Later I plunked myself down to watch a movie and munched on a big bowl of freshly picked, sweet and crisp, Dragon Langerie beans, each one lavishly dunked into thick homemade blue cheese dressing. (One taste and you'll wonder how you ever settled for storebought.)

Dinner was a very simple homemade green garlic pizza (my spring green garlic planting experiment has been declared a tasty success!) I'd made the other day and frozen (leftover homemade pizza is one of my favorite foods), a salad that included Nero di Toscana cabbage from the garden along with some of the deer- and bug-ravaged Swiss Chard (that stuff is tough!), and that tomato of course. All washed down with a pleasant Gamay Beaujolais.

Farmgirl's Favorite Blue Cheese Dressing

A nice sized hunk of real blue cheese, crumbled into chunks
Plenty of good sour cream (lowfat is fine)
A dollop or two of mayonnaise (I'm a Hellman's/Best Foods girl)
A healthy splash of vinegar (I like white balsamic)
Some chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
A little granulated onion and garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste
Milk to thin (if a more pourable dressing is desired)

Mix all ingredients together and start dipping. Tastes even better after sitting overnight in the fridge. Will last for several days (if you make an enormous batch).

© Copyright, the happy to be blue foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/9/06

That Left One Should Be Ready By Dinner

Realization Of The Day:
Perfect timing for the first ripe tomato of the season. I can't think of a better birthday gift from the garden.

No toiling among the raised beds today--just admiring the results of my hard work and harvesting some beautiful bounty. I'm taking the day off.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I Can't Live Without. . .


Several visitors to Farmgirl Fare (my food & farm blog), have left me comments saying things along the lines of "You have such a perfect life!" and "It's like a fairy tale!" One person (who is now a dear friend) even said, "I should stop coming to your blog. It makes me too jealous." To this I replied, "But if I showed you the ugly stuff, you definitely would stop visiting!"

Life here is, for the most part, pretty darn wonderful (at least in my opinion). In fact, there are days when I simply wander around totally amazed--by the breathtaking beauty that surrounds us, by all of the wonderful animals we share the farm with, by the incredible food we produce and enjoy. Sometimes it really is a perfect life. And sometimes it seems just the opposite. And while I've certainly shared some of the hurt and heartache that have happened during the past year, let's just say I definitely edit out a few things.

The other day I came across some notes I had scribbled down several months ago as a lighthearted response to one of those "perfect life" comments. They were possible titles for some blog posts I came up with that will never be seen on your computer screen--but that I could certainly produce with ease. Reality Farm Blogging, if you will. You know, things like "Pumping Out The Septic Tank--A Photographic Essay," "Entire 2005 Beet Crop Fits Inside A Snack Size Baggie," and finally, "78 Bug Bites & Counting."

Thankfully the ancient septic tank doesn't need attention very often (if we treat it with extreme care), and this year's beet crop has already far surpassed snack bag size. But the bug bites--there's no stopping them. No matter what new lotions and potions and crazy concoctions and herbal remedies and special vitamins I try, once the weather begins to warm up, it is guaranteed that I will soon end up with what people around here refer to as "Missouri legs." This is not something a girl wants to be sporting during sandal season. We have ticks galore, including ones so small you probably wouldn't even see them crawling on you save for the fact that they usually travel in very large numbers. And we have chiggers, which are (thankfully) not the kind of chiggers that burrow into your toenails, but are awful nonetheless. I'll stop now, because you are probably starting to itch just reading this, but believe me, there's more.

Anyway, several years ago a fellow bug-bitten transplant to this neck of the woods revealed his secret for surviving Scratching Season: Chiggerex Medicated Ointment. I was skeptical, but this stuff really does give you "fast, soothing relief" just like it says on the little jar. And I can attest to the fact that it works on "all types of insect bites." It isn't made out of anything really scary, either. The active ingredient is Benzocaine (for pain relief), and it also contains aloe, peppermint and clove oils, chamomile extract, various vitamins, and some other stuff.

The best part? It's under $3.00 for a 1.75 ounce jar. A little goes a long way, too. (And the nice thing about the small size is that it will easily fit in your purse. Yes, during the summer I take my Chiggerex everywhere.) I buy it in the pharmacy section of a giant discount store, though I did manage to find one online source for it--at a place called ("personal products in a private environment"). I guess I'm not supposed to be freely discussing my bug bites on the internet. But unfortunately they are an annoying fact of life, and I can assure you that your life will be a whole lot more comfortable if you have some Chiggerex on hand (and foot and ankle and arm and. . .).

Do you have your own special Scratching Season remedy? Because while I doubt I'll ever give up my Chiggerex, I'm always open to trying new things--especially if they'll keep me from getting those 78 bites in the first place.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/7/06

Arkansas Traveler Tomato Plants

Minus A Few Leaves

Realization Of The Day:
I think I got a little carried away with the scissors.

When I finally stood back from these two previously bushy plants to admire my handiwork (practically tripping over the giant mound of trimmed tomato leaves in the process), I actually gasped in horror. Then I said out loud, "What did I just do?"

I have noticed over the years that it is extremely easy (at least for me) to start becoming somewhat obsessive when trimming the "useless" leaves from tomato plants (so that they will be forced to expend more energy on fruit production). Once you get started, it can be really hard to stop. (I mean, I busted myself snipping off even more leaves after the initial shock but before taking the photos.) Also, I may have lapsed into a bit of daydreaming while I was working. It's lulling sort of work.

Just the other day I left a comment for Steven over at Dirt Sun Rain saying how I'd heard that if you're facing the end of tomato season and still have plenty of green tomatoes on the vines, you can cut off absolutely all of the leaves so that the plant will concentrate fully on ripening the tomatoes. I have never done this, but perhaps while I had scissors in hand, my subconscious was trying to trick me into thinking it was already autumn (I am not a summer person by any stretch of the imagination).

At any rate, the plants are still alive (at least for now). And I have decided that this will be a very interesting experiment.

I just don't think I should be offering to give haircuts anytime soon.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/6/06

Some Things Simply Refuse To Say Die

Realization Of The Day:
I may just end up with a 2006 broccoli crop yet.

Yes, these are the same poor, pathetic seedlings I started way back in February and then
tried to kill in April, declared I was going to snip and eat in May just to be rid of them (then promptly forgot to), and have for some inane reason been watering them twice a day ever since. These incredibly rootbound mini plants are over four months old! They have twice been nibbled down to near death by bugs, and yet they won't leave me alone. (Yes, I suppose I could stop watering them, but really, that seems so cruel.)

At one point ages ago, someone suggested that I simply leave them as is and plant them as a fall crop, but I figured (as had happened in so many previous years) that the seedlings would immaturely bolt and flower long before the weather had cooled down sufficiently to put them into the ground. Ha! These little things have been so busy clinging on for dear life that they haven't even begun to think about going to seed.

And oh yes (just in case you're wondering) those are the same little flats of leeks, cutting celery, and parsley, too--though I did manage to put half a dozen parsley plants into individual plugs a while back (they're next to this basil that still hasn't been planted either), and two of the parsley plants even made it into the ground (where they are thriving in my new experimental herb garden in the greenhouse). All of my parsley should be so lucky. Actually today I decided that I would fill in the big empty hole in the center of my herb garden (couldn't decide what to put there) with the rest of the parsley.

So I suppose I should start looking for broccoli recipes that call for leeks and cutting celery. I still have plenty of time before planting day to find one.

Planting Ahead:
I don't know about you, but I always start planning next year's garden before this year's has barely sprouted. (It usually begins immediately after the first minor catastrophe of the season--I just start over with a clean and perfect slate on next year's garden.)

Anyway, in a comment back in April I mentioned I had come across an old Seeds of Italy catalog and asked if anyone had any experience with their seeds because they sounded fabulous. Well, my pal Laurie at the always informative . . .Slowly She Turned said that "my favorite organic farmers just recommended Seeds of Italy to me. They said that there were a LOT of seeds in a packet and that the germination rate was amazing."

And then last month new British reader Rebsie (who shares her lovely garden at Daughter Of The Soil--don't miss the stunning photos of her poppies) said this: "I can highly recommend Seeds of Italy (Franchi Sementi) ... I've been buying seeds from them for a few years and have had good service from them. The vegetables are truly wonderful and every bit as gorgeous as they look on the website! Very generous packets too ... you'll be planting them year after year. Yum."

I'm convinced. Now I wonder what kinds of broccoli seeds they sell.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What's Growin' On: 7/5/06

Realization Of The Day:
The mixed lettuce bed I ate from every day for weeks and weeks in the spring and am now letting go to seed (as an experiment) looks totally cool--like a bizarre alien landscape or something. (Click on the photo for a bigger view.)

Culinary Newsbite:
KGI Sign Campaign Contest! Some of you may remember when I first wrote about Kitchen Garderners International back in April. KGI is a "fledgling international movement for dirt-y minded food lovers whose goal is to get people growing and cooking some of their own food again." Since then I've been asked to join the Advisory Board, and we've been having all sorts of e-discussions regarding possible projects, ways to make operating capital, and what direction the organization should take in general.

One question of great importance we were asked is this: Where will the next crop of kitchen gardeners come from if we don't plant it ourselves?

With that in mind, the Advisory Board realized that if kitchen gardens are not as popular with kids as, say, SpongeBob sweetened cereal, maybe it's because we're not advertising them as cleverly and creatively--and as much--as we should. One person mentioned the slogan used by Paul Newman's food products company (which donates all of its profits to charity): "shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good." And that's what we decided needs to be done.

So here's how the KGI sign campaign works. Anyone sufficiently shameless can participate. All you need to do is create a sign that advertises kitchen gardens, gardening, food self-reliance, etc. in your own special way. You decide on the slogan. You choose the artwork. If you want to include the web address or as a way of connecting it to the campaign (both of these addresses bring you directly to the KGI website), that would be great, but it's not required.

And to make things even more fun, we've turned the campaign into a contest, complete with valuable prizes, including a Cobrahead Precision Weeder and Cultivator and a $40 gift certificate to Johnny's Selected Seeds.

Deadline for entries is the end of the day Friday, July 21st. Click here for more contest details and to see the two unofficial poster boys for the We Grow Food campaign showing off their wonderful handmade signs. And then go make your signs!