Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting Fresh Tonight

I'm pretty excited about this evening's event. Hubby and I are traveling about an hour or so to a homesteading farm to see a screening of the movie Fresh. Here's one review of the film:
  • Fresh Offers Hope for Our Food Future: Santa Barbara Independent
    As we continue to endure tough economic times, many of us turn to fast food and cheap grocery store options in order to feed ourselves without depleting our wallets. Fresh the Movie shows how these choices are unwise, unhealthy, and unsustainable. However, instead of focusing on this bleak reality, the film highlights examples of sustainable and natural farming, offering hope and an avenue for moving away from shortsighted industrialized farming techniques.
I found this event through, a site where you can find farmer's markets, local farms, CSAs, co-ops, and other similiar items. I signed up to receive notification when new events become available, and that's how I heard about this screening of Fresh.

The screening is hosted by Antiquity Oaks, a homesteading farm in Cornell, Illinois. They raise dwarf goats on their farm and sell goats' milk soap and other products. Frankly, I'm about as excited to see the farm (especially the goats!) as I am to see the movie! I hope to be allowed to take a few pictures of the farm to share with you, but at the very least, I'll be able to provide you with a review of the movie. Stay tuned for more information!

Bring on the Pickles!

I finally found my recipe for freezer bread-and-butter pickles last night, still packed away in a box from the move with all the loose recipe sheets I never got organized. After looking over the recipe, I realized that the cucumbers I picked yesterday would not be enough for one batch of freezer bread-and-butter pickles.

So I headed back out to the garden this afternoon and found 11 more, for a total of 20 harvested, and promptly set out to clean and slice them. The recipe is very easy--my kind of recipe--and doesn't require any kind of canning. You can freeze them in canning jars designed for the freezer or in freezer bags, whichever you prefer. I've used freezer bags in the past, but this year, I'm going to freeze in canning jars. That way, I can give them away as gifts much easier and can reuse the jars. Plus, I don't have to worry about the mess I always make trying to transfer the pickles and juice from the bags to a jar for current use.

To show you just how easy this recipe is (and I can attest to its tastiness), I've provided the recipe below. As usual, I have made an adaptation, so I'll give you the recipe as it was given to me and then tell you how I change it.


16 c. cucumbers, sliced thin (not peeled)
1 c. onions, sliced thin (I leave this item out and substitute another cup of cucumbers)
3 Tbsp salt (I use sea salt)

Combine the above ingredients, then set aside for three hours. Rinse and drain. Meanwhile, mix together

2 c. white vinegar
4 c. sugar
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. powdered alum
1 tsp. whole mustard seed

Set aside for three hours, stirring often to dissolve sugar. After three hours, pour over cucumbers and onions. Refrigerate for several days, then put in containers and freeze.

These pickles are crisp and very refreshing--I think you'll enjoy them!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cucumbers at Last!

Harvested 9 cucumbers this evening, with the promise of more in just a day or two. It's time to break out the freezer bread-and-butter pickle and the marinated cucumber recipes. Add to the cukes 4 more zucchini and 23 sun sugar tomatoes and a few sprigs of dill for today's total harvest.

Note: I will be spending the evening shredding zucchini for freezing until my arms fall off. At least I can do it while I watch So You Think You Can Dance.

Hornworm update: Upon investigation, hubby and I spied two more hornworms this evening, which met certain death. I plucked them and David stomped the first one.

Those two hornworms stripped the leaves from several tomato stems, and one of them was cheeky enough to eat one of the green tomatoes. It looked like he had been pretty darn hungry, because as you can see, a little more than half of the tomato is gone (with a big pile of what I can only assume is hornworm poo --not shown--globbed up where a couple of stems bifurcate). For his blasphemy, he was killed with a large rock and, five minutes later, had become bird food.

It looks like I will be on hornworm patrol daily now if I want any tomatoes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bad Bugs, Bad Bugs, Watcha Gonna Do?

Hubby and I were checking out the garden tonight to check the status of the various plants. I always start at the tomatoes, because I am most proud of them.

And then I saw the disgusting thing: A tomato hornworm. And then I saw a second, longer one. I didn't have the presence of mind to go get the camera, so the image at left is a royalty-free image from

These have to be THE most disgusting bugs a gardener has to deal with. There is something really creepy about them, too--perhaps because they don't have least not eyes you and I would recognize as eyes. They are evil bugs, because they will strip the leaves from your tomato plants faster than you could ever imagine.

So here's the fun part--you have to pick them off the plant and stomp them. I can handle--barely--the picking them off part, although I am always a little creeped out by the fact that because they grip the tomato stem so hard, I might accidentally squish one. Ewwww. But I can't stand stomping them, so I gave that job to hubby, who delightfully complied.

If the hornworms are covered in white sacs, then you aren't supposed to stomp them; you're supposed to leave them. The white sacs are parasitic wasp egg sacs, and the hatching babies will eat the hornworms before the hornworms can really do significant damage to your plant.

I was surprised to see them at all, actually, because this is the first time tomatoes have been planted in this garden, which wasn't even a garden until this year. I thought that hornworms only appeared after you have already had a year of tomatoes behind you. Live and learn, I guess! I will, however, be closely patrolling my tomatoes for other hornworms. I am looking forward to tomatoes too much to let these creepy creatures damage my plants!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pickles on the Horizon

I've been looking every day since the cucumbers blossomed to see if I had any cucumbers actually growing. Today, I spotted this little guy, about the size of a small gherkin pickle. My first cucumber, I cooed.

And then I spied another one. And another one. And another one. They're all fairly small, although some are bigger than this one. But within a couple of days, I suspect I'll have pickable cucumbers.

I did pick one today, despite its small size. I couldn't help myself. It wasn't fully grown by any means, but I have been dying to be able to pick that first cucumber, and decided today was the day. I also harvested two more sizable zucchini (not shown--I'm getting tired of photographing zucchini) and three sun sugar tomatoes. How sweet they are!

I can hardly wait for pickable cucumbers so I can make freezer bread-and-butter pickles...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vegetation Cogitation

"When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere."

Thus begins John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids. I read this book years ago, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. So did the movie. The Triffids were a kind of vegetable or plant that became, well, sentient and started taking over the planet after most of the Earth's citizens were blinded by green comet-like lights.

I was scared, too, by Invasion of the Body Snatchers in its various film incarnations. In that science-fiction flick, aliens travel to earth in seed pods. When the pods' spore is released, it forms into a sort of human clone, complete with the original human's memories.

I find tales where plants become beings with evil machinations for world domination to be quite creepy. After my harvest of zucchini today--11 in all--I am beginning to worry that the plants might uproot themselves and begin stomping around in my backyard, searching for a way to become masters of our planet. Especially when they get as large as the one on top in the picture. I've placed a quarter on it for scale. This zuke is only three days old. It frightens me.

I really don't understand how zucchini can grow so quickly. The sucker ways about 20 pounds, and that's no joke! It is really only good for shredding or stuffing at this point, but I feared that if I did not pluck it from the vine, it would become a monster.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Planting a Peck of Pickled Peppers...Well, Just a Few, Really

It was a beautiful day, so I decided it was time to plant the pepper seedlings: 9 California Wonder sweet peppers and 6 Chinese Giant heirloom peppers. They've been seedlings long enough, in my view, and I think they will grow faster out in the regular garden. Now that the rabbit fence completely surrounds the garden, I think it's safe to put them out.

David conveniently mowed the yard today, leaving me a couple of bags of grass clippings to use for mulch. After hoeing up the weeds in the empty section of garden (tough work!), I planted the peppers and mulched around them, using leftover rain water to water each individual pepper plant. We'll see how many survive the transplant. I'm not even certain I'm planting peppers at the right time--most gardeners probably have had their peppers in for a month or more and may even be harvesting at this point. Unfortunately, I only have so much energy, and have to put things out when I can.

After the planting, I went inside to rest up a bit and shredded my next batch of newspaper for mulching between plant rows. As you can see from the picture, the onion/shallot/bean section of the garden is weed-ridden, and I will need to weed first, then lay down the shredded newspaper base, followed by grass clippings. I did that previously with the tomatoes, and I am happy to report that I still have no weeds growing in that section of the garden, and the tomatoes are happily growing in the moisture-retaining mulch. But I won't get to the weeding and mulching of this section until tomorrow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Rabbits Found My Garden

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.

The bunnies I have so delighted in watching finally realized that the fence did not yet extend all the way around the garden and helped themselves to mouthfuls of tender soup bean plants. I think we caught them in time, however; with a few leaves and the occasional blossom remaining, I think these bean plants will eventually rally. Only time will tell. I do wonder, however, why as a child I delighted in tales of Peter Rabbit outwitting Farmer McGregor. Today I have much compassion for the poor storybook farmer.

Hubby and I finished putting the rest of the garden fence up tonight in the hopes that we will be able to keep the bunnies from feasting on more beans or any of the other plants. (Especially since I need to plant my pepper seedlings.) I took a long shot of the garden while David was fixing the fence, and I have to say that even with a section not yet planted, the garden is looking amazing! And of course, the zucchini is producing like crazy. So are the tomatoes, and it won't be long before they begin to turn and I have some luscious, red, juicy tomatoes to eat! They're best straight out of the garden on a warm, sunny day, but frankly, I'll eat tomatoes just about any way I can get them!

The sunflowers and okra continue to grow. Not much to report there. The cucumbers continue to blossom and are still trying to overrun the dill and cilantro. Well, not really trying, actually, but rather succeeding. I do need to train the cucumbers up, and to that end, I purchased three large trellises at JoAnn Fabrics a few days ago. They are regularly $24.99 each, far more than I would ever consider paying; however, I happened to be endcapping in the store (searching the clearance endcaps for bargains) when I discovered that the wrought-iron trellises were 70% off, making each one just $7.49 each! Now that is my kind of deal! I'm going to try setting them up at the end of the fencing and train the cucumbers up the trellises. If it works, it should be much easier to harvest the cucumbers.

Today's zucchini harvest totaled 8, with 5 sun sugar tomatoes. The tomatoes are slow, but I suspect they will all ripen around the same time. It has cooled off again, so their growth will slow a bit. But as soon as the weather heats up and humidifies, they'll take off again. Without looking back at previous posts, I think I've harvested close to 40 zucchini already. I'm not sure what the poundage would be--maybe next year I'll invest in a scale and weigh my produce.

And finally, the bug report. David and I went out and attacked the bugs again. I added another inch of handpicked bugs to my disgusting beetle bucket, and David sprayed down the bushes and trees again. Just so you get a sense of how thick the Japanese Beetles are, here's a shot of just one leaf-worth--13 bugs. See how they have eaten the life right out of the leaf? And this is just one leaf of hundreds sporting this many bugs. How many bugs does it take to make a plague, anyway?

No, It's Not Soup. It's Bugs.

I'm beginning to wonder whether Japanese Beetles are a member of the locust family. After our initial infestation, much handpicking and spraying unappetizing concoctions on the foliage and shrubbery in our yard, we thought we had battled the beetles into obscurity. Or maybe the rains drove them away. Regardless, we thought they were gone.

The last couple of days, they've returned, dive-bombing our upstairs windows, trying to get to the light, I suppose. So I told David we should probably do a quick survey of the trees.

Holy. Beetles. Batman.

It definitely looks like we've been swarmed by a plague of beetles. They have turned so many bush and tree leaves into lace, and now they are attacking the iris leaves. So, once again, David and I headed out to the yard to strip it of beetles, with me handpicking and David spraying. The picture at the top of this blog entry shows what looks like "bug soup." Believe it or not, these bugs are not floating on the soapy water I drowned them in. They are stacked upon one another, two inches thick in the bucket. The picture at the right shows a side shot of the beetle bucket. See the shadow at the bottom? That's the beetle line. Ick.

We'll have to head outdoors soon tonight and do a beetle check to see if we've had any impact on the beetle numbers. I will be really glad when these beetles have moved on or died. They give me the creeps.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The One That Got Away (from Me)

Another day, another harvest. Only six zucchini yesterday (although the one in the middle is probably worth three regular-sized zucchini). I had one small sun sugar tomato (which I promptly ate after taking this photograph). The largest zucchini in this harvest is really bigger than I should let them get (it got away from me), but it will actually be perfect for my stuffed zucchini recipe! I'm also going to try a recipe I found for zucchini-pineapple bread. It sounds yummy.

With the cooler weather we had, the growing had slowed, but once the weather snapped back to hot and humid, the tomatoes grew like wildfire. I have tons of sun sugars pulling down the branches of tomato plants that are nearly as tall as I am (5' 6"), and clusters of Beefsteak tomatoes loading down another couple of plants (see picture). The heirloom tomatoes haven't blossomed yet, but they've grown so much, they look like they will bust out into blossoms any time now.

The okra is up and continues to grow, but I won't see okra for probably close to a month. The plants are still very small. The sunflower plants are growing, as are the cilantro and dill, but there's a problem--the cucumbers are taking over the far end of the garden. I put in a couple of edging fences to hold back the cucumbers, but in just a few days, they have grown over the fence and are once again smothering the dill and encroaching upon the few cilantro plants that have come up!

What I am very excited about is that the cucumbers are now blossoming! It shouldn't be long before I will be overrun with cukes and trying to keep ahead of them. I can almost taste those freezer bread-and-butter pickles now!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chocolate and Zucchini: A Delicious Pairing

I know, I know. Chocolate and zucchini together sounds a bit disgusting. But I assure you that it isn't! In fact, I made a Chocolate Zucchini Sheet Cake tonight! The zucchini doesn't really flavor the cake--the cocoa comes through strong and clear--but rather helps make the cake moist...while adding extra nutrition, of course. The icing on this sheet cake is still melting, so it's a little uneven in places, but it will even out into a kind of glaze as it cools. Chocolate heaven, I tell you!

I spent the rest of the afternoon picking zucchini again (thankfully, I'll have a few days reprieve from zucchini picking now while more grows). I thumbed through my copy of The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food: Easy Step-by-Step Instructions for Freezing, Drying, and Canning by Janet Chadwick (which is no longer in print, apparently, since it can be purchased at Amazon for a mere $103.14) and learned that I can tray freeze zucchini and then pack it in a freezer bag.

I also shredded a lot of the zucchini and packed the shreds in snack-size (1 cup) Ziploc bags and set them in the freezer. Once the packages are well frozen, I will slide several into a one-gallon Ziploc bag and date it.

Broccoli Never Tasted So Good

Yesterday I went to our local farmer's market. I would provide you with a picture, but it was cloudy and began to rain, so I decided to get my veggies and meat and duck out before the clouds exploded. (Which they did, about one minute after I got into my car.)

I'm impressed with how friendly the farmer's market vendors are. Before I make any purchases at a stand, I ask questions. For vegetables and fruit and herbs, I ask whether they have used any herbicide, pesticide, or insecticide on their fields or products. If the answer is yes, I thank them and move on; if the answer is no, I will purchase the produce. If the vendor is selling meat or dairy or eggs, I ask whether antibiotics or hormones were used on the animals. If that's a no, I ask whether the animals are free-range. If they have four-legged critters, I want to make sure the grazers are grass-fed, not corn-fed.

Luckily, we have several "organic" veggie and animal farmers. (I put that word in quotation marks because legally, farmers are not allowed to label their products as organic unless they meet the USDA organic guidelines.) So yesterday I purchased a green pepper (the only one left at the market), the last carton of eggs, some bratwurst burgers, and some broccoli. I would have had a much bigger haul if I had been able to force myself out of bed earlier than 10 a.m. Maybe next week.

The meat is pricey--$4.89 a pound for the bratwurst burgers, which added up to $15.31 for 10 patties. But I am willing to pay extra to know that I am not eating added hormones or antibiotics, and honestly, about $1.50 per burger (they're a good size) is not unreasonable for good meat. I'll supplement my meat purchases with complimentary deer meat from my friend Blake's family's hunting adventures.

The broccoli was incredibly inexpensive. It was priced at $1 per pound, so I asked for two pounds. I ended up with a plastic grocery bag full of broccoli! They had already trimmed the heavy core away from the branches, so what I was getting was completely edible. I steamed the broccoli for dinner, and I could not believe how wonderful it tasted. The broccoli from the store doesn't have a tenth of the flavor that this broccoli had. No more store broccoli for me! I also found out that you can freeze broccoli without blanching (it stores for about 6 weeks that way), so I may have to load up on broccoli and do some freezing.

The eggs were more expensive than I could find at the grocery store, but again, since they are antibiotic- and hormone-free, I'm willing to pay the extra. They were asking $3.50 for a dozen medium eggs. They had one dozen left, with one cracked egg. They offered it to me for $3 if I didn't mind the cracked egg, so I leaped at the opportunity. I'm looking forward to tasting home-grown eggs from free-range chickens.

After the farmer's market, I stopped by Kroger to pick up some organic milk (we prefer Horizon or Organic Valley, but we'll settle for the store brand as long as it's organic). I spied some portobello mushrooms on manager's special for only $1.49 for a 1-pound package instead of the $3.79 regular price. Once I got home, I cleaned the mushrooms and sliced them, then sauteed them in a little bit of olive oil, and packaged them in snack-size Ziploc bags. Then I placed all those bags in a larger 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag. When I need portobello mushrooms for a recipe, I just run the bag under warm water for a minute or so and then empty the mushrooms into the sauce or whatever I'm using them for.

Tomorrow my goal is to pick whatever zucchini is ready and to freeze some and bake with some. The freezer is beginning to fill up with healthy food for winter. I feel a bit like a squirrel, hiding nuts for the lean months.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mom Always Said "A Watched Pot Never Boils"

Sometimes daily, sometimes every second or third day, you will find me out in the garden, camera strapped around my neck, looking for blossoms, bugs, and produce. So far, the sun sugar tomato plants have produced one very small round of tomatoes (but O. M. G. when they produce the next round, it will be an explosion of fruit); the zucchini have been giving nonstop now for over a week. In fact, today I harvested 9 more zucchini, many of which are destined for a zucchini chocolate sheet cake. The picture shows one of my cats, Dakota, checking out the zucchini to see if it is kitty-worthy. (Yes, Dad, I will wash off the kitty hair before cooking with it.)

But I am ever-so-anxious for the rest of the garden to bring on the food! My beans are blossoming and vining and just beginning to produce some beans (as evidenced by the picture), but they have a lot more work to do! Plus, while I love zucchini and have lots of recipes to fix it many different ways, it would be nice to have some variety in my garden diet...some rich, juicy tomatoes, a crisp cucumber, a little cilantro to spice up a salad or some salsa.

But despite my whining, the plants are doing very well. The cucumbers look absolutely amazing. I do wonder, however, WTH I was thinking when I planted the dill in the very next row. I am going to have to put some fencing or something between the cukes and dill or move the dill so it won't be literally overshadowed (and killed) by the cukes. Only about three dill plants took hold, so I'd really like to keep them growing!

The beans are vining and blossoming nicely, including the ones that I planted too close to the zucchini. The onions and shallots look pretty good, too, although only a few shallots actually came up. I'll probably end up simply using those for seed shallots next year. But the onion greenery is fantastic, and I can see a thickening of the stalk at the bottom, which hints to me of a decent size bulb growing.

I didn't think much about companion planting this year, so eager was I to get the plants into the ground. Apparently, beans and onions do not companion well. I'm not certain what this will mean for bean production or flavor...I'll have to do a bit more research. But even though I haven't gotten much produce out of my garden yet, I have high hopes that I will soon be eating more of a variety of food from my garden. And I suspect that once the tomato fruit begins to ripen--there is already a LOT of fruit on each plant--I will be complaining that I can't keep up with the variety.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Keeping Up with the Zukes

I checked my zucchini plants today and found 8 more zucchini ripe for the picking. I left several others to be picked tomorrow or the day after--they are still a little small and skinny. Of these 8, I picked all but two of the thinner ones (which I'll sautee for dinner tonight) to shred for future zucchini bread and other zucchini recipes.

For the freezing, I had to decide the best way to go about it. I decided that right now, I'd shred some zucchini (I'll look at flash freezing later on.) I packed 3-cup freezer bags (quart-size bags) for future zucchini bread since my recipe calls for 3 cups, but also 1-cup freezer bags (snack-size bags), which I could use for other zucchini recipes. I was very pleased to get all of this processed today; the zucchini is still fresh and none of it went to waste! The tips and ends will go into my compost bin, where the worms and other bugs and microbes can sample my garden fare as well.

Recipe: Zucchini-Raisin Bread

Having put only 2 of the 8 zucchini I harvested earlier in the week to rest using my fried zucchini recipe, I decided to use 4 more to make some zucchini bread today. But oh, what recipe to use? I finally reached for the 1985 Betty Crocker Cookbook. I used to adapt many of my recipes from this cookbook, but then after several moves, lost it. Fortunately, about a year ago, my aunt Barbara had several cookbooks of my grandmother's and invited me to select one. Imagine my delight when I spied this very same cookbook! As a bonus, it contains inserts of some other recipes Grandma liked to make, along with her marginal notes about the tastiness (or lack thereof) of some recipes as well as recorded changes she made to others. Grandma was a wonderful cook, so I am blessed to have this special remembrance of her.

I need to warn you: I seldom, if ever, make a recipe as it is written. I usually object--mildly or strongly--to one or more ingredients for any number of reasons, and therefore end up substituting some other ingredient I prefer, or I may try to make the recipe a bit healthier. My recipe for zucchini-raisin bread is an adaptation of the BCC recipe for zucchini bread. I've tried to "healthify" it a little by substituting organic extra virgin, cold-pressed, olive oil for the shortening. We'll see what effect that has on the finished product. Additionally, the BC cookbook calls for 2/3 c. coarsely chopped nuts, but I really don't care for nuts in soft baked goods--to me, crunching down on a nut in a soft bread or cookie is like biting down on an eggshell piece in a cake. [shiver] So instead, I increased the raisins from 2/3 c. to 1 cup.


2/3 c. extra virgin olive oil (substituted for the same amount of shortening)
2 2/3 c. sugar*
4 eggs
3 c. shredded zucchini
2/3 c. water
3 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 c. golden raisins (I prefer these to regular raisins)

Heat oven to 350. Grease bottoms only of two 9x5x3 loaf pans or 3 smaller loaf pans.

Mix oil and sugar in large bowl. Add eggs, zucchini, and water. Blend in flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves. Add 2 tsp. vanilla. Stir in raisins. Pour into loaf pans.

Bake until wooden pick or knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 60-70 minutes. Cool slightly. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans to a rack. Cool completely before slicing.

*I like to use non-sweetener sugar substitutes when possible, but I haven't tried baking with them yet. I'll experiment sometime with agave nectar (a liquid), stevia (a dried, powdered herb), and Just Like Sugar (a fiber extracted from chicory root).

If you have a zucchini recipe you're willing to share, please post it in the comments--I love trying new recipes! Also, if you have any experience using agave nectar, honey, stevia, or Just Like Sugar in baking, please let me know what you have discovered.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Eggshell...It's What's for Dinner

I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry that I had rinsed out an eggshell when I was making the fried zucchini and gave the shell to my hermit crabs. Within just a couple of minutes, the two eggshells were being attacked. Here's a picture of one of my smaller crabs sitting inside the shell half, taking chunks out of it to eat. Eggshells are a great source of calcium for hermit crabs.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Recipe: Pan-Fried Zucchini

I settled on fried zucchini for dinner. I was a little hasty in my preparation, so some aren't evenly browned and a few of them got a little dark, but all in all, they tasted terrific! The bonus is, I only used two of the smaller zucchini, so I still have six good-sized zucchini for other zucchini dishes.

The recipe is simple:

Kris's Pan-Fried Zucchini

2 medium zucchini, end-trimmed and washed
2 large eggs
1/8 c. milk
Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
salt to taste
coarsely ground pepper to taste

First, wash and slice the zukes about 1/4" thick (too thick and they take too long to cook through; too thin and you won't have much substance to bite into and they'll get overcooked quickly). I use Veggie Wash.

Next, break the eggs into a small bowl and combine them with the milk. Beat well.

In a separate bowl, pour a generous amount of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (you may use regular breadcrumbs and then add Italian seasonings to your heart's content, or--and I recommend this move--use the Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and add your favorite seasonings to strengthen the flavor). Add enough salt and ground pepper to taste. If you prefer, you may salt and pepper each side of the zucchini slices while they are cooking in the pan.

Heat a frying pan with enough extra virgin olive oil (I prefer cold-pressed) to just cover the bottom of the pan. Once the pan is ready, dip each slice of zucchini into the egg/milk mixture and then coat in the breadcrumb mixture. Place in the pan. Fry gently over medium-low heat until one side is brown and crispy; then, flip with a spatula to fry the other side. Remove to a paper-towel-covered plate when both sides are lightly browned and crisp.

Be careful not to let the egg get too gloppy (that's the technical culinary term, I'm certain)--you'll get lumpy zucchini that browns unevenly--see the picture for evidence. You may have to occasionally clean out the eggy bread crumbs and replenish the bowl with fresh bread crumbs.

Serve with ranch dressing, a sour cream/cucumber dip, honey mustard, or whatever your favorite zucchini dipping sauce is. Experiment!

Make sure to add the leftover bread crumbs to your compost pile; any remaining egg should be discarded. Rinse out your egg shells and add that to your compost pile or, if you have hermit crabs like I do, throw them in the tank. It took my crabs approximately two minutes to find them and begin munching on them. (It's a great source of calcium for them.)

Run for Cover: The Zucchini Have Arrived!

Last night, I blogged that within just a day or two, zucchini should be ready. Let this be a warning to all of you who are growing zucchini, desire to grow zucchini, or will be victims recipients of zucchini on August 8, "Leave a Zucchini on Your Neighbor's Doorstep Day": zucchini grows FAST, especially when it gets heat, humidity, and rain!

Here's a look at my first zucchini harvest: 8 beautiful squash! How will I prepare them?

This first batch will end up as sauteed and fried zucchini, and perhaps even a first batch of zucchini bread. I have a traditional zucchini bread recipe, but if you are willing to share yours, please post it in the comments section; I'd love to try other versions to see which we love best!

The Benefits of "Spider Mulch"

I stopped by the local Goodwill thrift store today and came home with a copy of The Experts Book of Garden Hints: Over 1,500 Organic Tips and Techniques from 250 of America's Best Gardeners. The book is copyrighted 1993, so it's a bit dated, but it seems to have some very useful information in it and, after all, only cost me $2.

I was thumbing through the book, looking for information about how to eradicate Japanese beetles (nothing new on that front), when I stumbled across the subheading "Use 'Spider Mulch'" under "Bringing In the Good Bugs."

Apparently, by using grass clippings as mulch in my garden, I am using what one of "America's Best Gardeners" calls "spider mulch," apparently because it attracts spiders (I have seen lots of evidence of them in the garden where I have mulched--[shiver]), and those spiders are beneficial critters that eat the bad bugs. Here's the entry about "spider mulch":

Mulching your crops with hay or dried grass when you plant in the spring will attract spiders--a formidable natural "pesticide" that can drastically reduce insect damage in vegetable gardens, says Susan Riechert, Ph.D., a professor of zoology at the University of Tennesee at Knoxville. Dr. Riechert conducted a two-year study comparing the insect damage in hay-mulched and bare-ground vegetable plots. She found 60 to 80 percent less damage--and natural spider populations 10 to 30 times higher--in the hay-mulched gardens. Then when Dr. Riechert regularly removed the arachnids from the mulched plots, insect damage immediately climbed to levels comparable to those in the bare-ground gardens.

Spiders need high humidity, moderate temperature, and some type of structure to hide in. Peak spider migration occurs in April and May, when most gardens are still fairly bare. A garden mulched early in the growing season will provide a better habitat and end up with more resident spiders, Dr. Riechert explains.

Any bulky mulch that keeps the ground moist and cool offers an attractive habitat. Hay mulch, shredded newspaper, and leaf litter are examples.

Dr. Riechert adds, "You can't use any chemicals, or you'll wipe out the spiders along with the pests. But that shouldn't be a problem. In my opinion, backyard gardeners can virtually eliminate the need for chemicals by using spiders."

On reflection, I realize that the only bugs I have noticed in my garden are the spiders that crawl out of the mulch when I move it or add to it. I'm using both shredded newspaper and grass clippings, so I'm sure I've encouraged many spiders to move in. I don't use any chemicals on my garden since I don't want chemicals anywhere near my food, so the spiders have a safe haven for food foraging. Let's hope that they find Mexican bean beetles and squash bugs tasty--those are the two pests that my past gardens have had the most trouble with!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Head for Cover: The Zukes Have Arrived!

I am happy to report that thanks to yesterday's steady rain, which jump-started the crops again after a few coolish, dry days, about a half dozen zucchini are within just a day or two of picking. This friendly zuke is just shy of pickable size--tomorrow, I suspect, he will become part of the summer harvest.

My okra and sunflowers are just breaking through the soil and "spider mulch" (more on that in the next post). I can almost taste the fried okra (mine beats Cracker Barrell's, hands down!) and the salted, roasted sunflower seeds (assuming the birds will let me have any to roast). Of course, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, because they are only tiny seedlings right now. Sigh.

I repotted my pepper and Beefsteak tomato seedlings in bigger plants and placed them back under the grow light and on the warming tray, respectively. That was the right move; the seedlings are already sprouting additional leaves in just two days, whereas in their little pots, they had stayed at only two leaves for a week or more. I can't wait for them to get big enough to transfer to the garden, and the last area of the garden will finally be filled.

Still no sign of the cilantro/coriander or the green onions. I only have a couple of "Mammoth Dill" plants also, and they are by no means mammoth. In fact, they could be called "Wee Dill," or perhaps even "Puny Dill" right now. But no worries--they will grow.

I now have baby green beans, people! You can't tell from the photo, but these green beans are only about an inch long. They are very cute! [Ignore the onion that is trying to hog the picture--I tried to beat him back, but he was very determined to be in the photo. I finally gave in.]

And finally, a shout out to my Dad, who is racing me in the tomato department. He has one of those Topsy Turvy tomato plants--you know, the ones that grow upside down--and we're counting to see who gets the most tomatoes. Well, Dad, my Beefsteak tomato plant is about to enter the race--and I know I have some catching up to do. Here's a picture so you can see what you are up against. I have six teeny tomatoes on their way in just one segment of the plant. I didn't check out the rest of the plant yet. What's your count so far?

Will It Float? Testing Japanese Beetles

Have you ever seen the David Letterman show when they play the game "Will it float?" Let's play with Japanese Beetles...will they float?

As the Magic 8 Ball would say, "All signs point to yes."

Above, you'll see a picture of hundreds of Japanese beetles that I handpicked off several of our trees and bushes. According to the articles I've read, handpicking or knocking them off branches is the best way to eliminate the problem. The fewer Japanese beetles in your yard, the fewer they attract to your yard. So evening before last, I went beetle collecting, knocking them into this basin of soapy water. I actually had hundreds more collected from a couple of days before, but I had too much soapy water in the basin and accidentally dumped it before getting started. What you're seeing here is only about 1/3 of what I collected total in two days of collecting.

Collecting beetles is not a pleasant job. First, I feel sort of guilty since I am drowning some of God's creatures. It just doesn't seem nice. Plus, as previously blogged about, many of them were engaged in, um, intimate pleasantries, which seems like a double whammy. (Although perhaps they died with smiles on their little beetle faces.) After I'm done collecting, I feel like I have bugs crawling all over me until I take a shower. It's probably simply protestant guilt, but nonetheless, it's a creepy feeling.

Meanwhile, David was spraying our heavily infested trees, bushes, and lawn with an organic mixture of water, "lemony fresh" Joy dishwashing liquid and garlic (although he also added Coca Cola and castor oil for fertilizer and varmint control--apparently, moles hate castor oil. Can you blame them?).

Today, a quick check of the trees and bushes show only a few beetles remaining. So either the handpicking and tree spraying is working, or the steady rain yesterday drove them off, or they are dying after mating, or they are migrating to a better climate. How's that for certainty? I will be glad when I don't have to look at them any more.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Who Knew Bugs Got So Busy?

I have to admit, I really hadn't noticed that bugs had sex lives lives until photographing Japanese Beetles for this blog. I suppose I knew they had to have sex in order to procreate, but thinking about bugs having sex is, well, almost akin to thinking about your parents having sex. Ewww. This is my last bug porn post, so enjoy it while it lasts.

The Japanese Beetles have migrated to a new tree set that I can actually get close to, so before I go knocking them into soapy water and drowning them, I decided to photograph them in their new setting. And, lo and behold, the bugs were having get-togethers in this tree, too! Since I was able to get closer shots (I wish I could figure out my macro settings, but maybe I don't want to get much closer than this), I began to notice that the various pairings are fond of one particular position...and yet, I discovered variations on a theme.

In this picture to the right, the male (I'm assuming he is male) has his front legs in the air. They aren't waving wildly; they are just...there. If they were waving, I could imagine him saying, "Whoa, guys, this bug chick is awesome!" But maybe he's paralyzed with ecstasy? Saying, "Look, Ma, no legs?" Dunno.

In the picture to the left, we see bugs with no legs out, bugs with only one leg out, and bugs still seeking a partner. I feel kind of sorry for them.

But this final picture is my favorite. These beetles are keeping their legs close, and that's a good thing, because they are living on the edge, baby! They look like they are about to fall off the leaf. It is good that bug sex apparently does not require much movement, or this would be their last encounter. Not sure if the bug above and to the right of them is simply there or is a peeping Tom. Are beetles voyeuristic, I wonder?