08 October 2016

My New Stack!t Herb Dryer

The gardens are still lush, pretty and producing. I hate to cut things back, but the season is winding down and it is time to start cutting the herb garden back and preserving the harvest. Some things like tarragon are just now starting to put on blooms, so I will leave them for a little while longer, but the garlic chive seed heads, bay leaf and lemon verbena need to be harvested now.

Both lemon verbena and bay leaf are tropicals and need to be brought inside before a cold snap takes them. The garlic chive seed heads need to be cut now so that I can let them dry in a place where they will not drop their seeds before I can collect them.

While I was at Prepper Camp this year I purchased a nifty net hanging food dryer. It is called a Stack!t. It is great for drying herbs and other leafy things that my Excaliber blows around too much. The net sides and shelves allow good air circulation, and the zippered access doors make it easy to add or remove one kind of herb while not disturbing the rest. But the best thing about the Stack!t is that it can be hung by either end. There are D-rings and hanging straps on both ends, so you can collapse the whole unit, herbs and all and invert it, then hang it again from the other end. This way you can turn the herbs without handling them. Love it!!The only drawback is that Skittles thinks it is a toy for her and she bats it around and scales the sides like she is rock climbing... (bad kitty...).

Since Hurricane Matthew was on its way, there was a potential for the winds and rain to ruin some of
my harvests, so I have been cutting things back and drying all week. Yesterday the breeze was high, but the air was dry, so I hung the Stack!t from the eave of the house and let the breeze help do the drying. I brought the dryer in before the rains started yesterday evening. Today the dryer is hanging in the sitting room, snug and dry out of the rain. The lemongrass blades are already dry, but the bay leaves and the garlic chive seed heads will still be drying for a few days.

All in all I am very happy with my purchase. It is great for herbs and other leafy things, but I wouldn't recommend it for wet things like apple slices since it is fabric and would absorb the liquid and become sticky. The Stack!t has a nice storage case that can be hung on a hook or on a hanger in the closet. But here at Heart's Ease Cottage the Stack!t will be employed full time drying my medicinal herbs and culinary herbs until the frost comes!

01 October 2016

A Sabbath Walk Around Heart's Ease Cottage

Sabbath is a lovely time to stroll through the gardens and soak in all that is going on there. The east side gardens have grown to rain forest proportions. I almost feel like I need to break out my machete to get past the lemongrass planters on the veranda, but in truth I wouldn't touch a thing.

 I love all the lush growth, the late season exuberance lifts my spirits and I try to spend as much time as I can out in the gardens. Before long frost will take all my flowers and I will have to hold on to the memory of their bright blooms all through the colorless cold months ahead. But for now I will soak it all in and enjoy. The tarragon is getting ready to bloom. The late season wild asters add an ethereal shade of blue to the back of the herb garden. Both the rosemary and bay laurel are reasserting themselves now that the Black Eyed Susan flower seed heads are being cut out.

             Soon it will be time to cut and dry the garlic chive seed heads so that I can save the seed.

   The night blooming jasmine has finished blooming for the year and has begun to climb the chimney. I will cut it back soon so that we don't catch the vines on fire when we start using the chimney for the year. The bay laurel, (left side in the background), is 5 feet tall. It is a tropical so I need to take it inside before the first frost. I will cut the top 3 feet of branches, harvest the bay leaves and dry them, that will leave me with a plant that I can take indoors. I will also divide the lemongrass, harvesting about half of it and cutting the rest back to a more manageable size, since it is also a tropical and will live indoors for the winter.

The espaliered Granny Smith Apple tree needs to be cut back for the season so that the new fruiting spurs develop close to the lateral branches.Our Turkey fig has completely blocked the path to the three month pantry, I have cut it back already but it just put out more growth and there are figs on the branches so I will wait until the figs are ripe to remove the offending branches. Until then I will just push my way through when I need to get to the pantry! Skittles is making sure she gets in a s many of the photos as possible...

  At this stage in the season, the summer vegetable garden is winding down, the tomatoes are mostly done and many of the beds have been cleared for the fall garden. Our volunteer pumpkin has be allowed to run amok on the empty beds while we get the seedlings going for the fall crops. I have harvested and cured many pumpkins already this year. Several have been cooked and frozen or dehydrated into pumpkin leathers. We have given some away and we still have some growing out in the garden. I guess it is a good thing we use a lot of pumpkin!

As the pumpkins begin to ripen I prop them on a pot to keep the roly polys from eating into the bottom of the pumpkins. Once the neck dries and the vines die back I will cut the stems and put them in a sheltered place with good air circulation to cure for a week or two so that they will keep for use during the winter. A the moment, the vines are still putting on flowers and growing more pumpkins, some of the later pumpkins will probably not get ripe before the frost, and eventually we will need to clear the beds so that we can put in the late fall garden, but for now I will leave them and hope they will finish off before I need to pull up the vines.

A pumpkin blossom decorates the comfrey plant. Da has made me permanent beds for my medicinal herbs so soon the comfrey plants will be moved to their permanent bed now that the weather is cool enough for transplanting.

A dew covered Black Swallowtail caterpillar is munching away on the parsley. I plant about 50 parsley plants every year so that there is enough for juicing and for sharing with the butterfly caterpillars. I do have to inspect the parsley I harvest for juicing very carefully, so I don't end up running caterpillars through the juicer.

Well, Skittles and I wish you well and thank you for coming to stroll the gardens with us! Have a great day!

16 March 2016

It's Not Too Late for a Spring Garden

Our normal gardening schedule was completely thrown off when we had to move out of the house and take up residence in the garden, due to black mold that was caused by water damage in the kitchen. With all the tasks that come with a major construction project,  Much to my dismay,  I did not have the time or the brain cells to plan and plant a garden. So we did not have our fall garden or an early winter garden, late winter garden or an early spring garden to speak of... just the stalwart chard and kale plants that have been growing continuously for the last 3 years, (I will write a post about them another time). But if I have anything to do with it, I will have a spring garden!

We have some seedlings growing under lights, for the rest I swallowed deep and bought seedlings for plants I knew there would not be time to grow from seed, (we normally grow almost all of our plants from seed under lights in our walk-in closet). Since we depend on the green leafy veggies like kale and chard for juicing, they have first dibs on the seed starting shelves. Tomorrow I will take the kale seedlings out from under lights, re-pot them and set them out on the deck to grow another week or two before we plant them out in the garden. Then I will be able to squeeze in a few flats of lettuce and oriental greens before I have to turn the growing shelves over to the tomatoes and peppers that must be started soon if I want them to be transplant size by late April/ early May.

Normally by this time of year my cabbages are the size of my head and I am gearing up to ferment sauerkraut, (we ferment rather than pickle sauerkraut), and dehydrate cabbage for use later. But this year I am just now getting my seedlings set out. I am not really worried though, it is not too late for a spring garden, I just had to select varieties that mature early, so that they will be ready to harvest and the beds will be empty when it is time to plant out the warm weather crops in May.

Most years I plant Dutch Flat cabbages for sauerkraut and Jersey Wakefield and January King for fresh eating and dehydrating. The Dutch Flat cabbage, makes on average a 12 pound head, takes 90-105 days to mature and likes to spread out so they need a 36" spacing between plants. This year since I need a short season variety, I am planting Stonehead, a medium 3-4 lb. dense cabbage, that matures in 50 days. They can be planted about 20" apart so I can just have one bed of cabbages, and if they are a little late finishing off, I will still have room in other beds to get my warm weather crops in the ground. I will miss my dutch flat cabbages though, you can make a lot of kraut with a 12 pound cabbage!

It was perfect gardening weather yesterday. It was slightly overcast, there was a nice breeze and it was about 75 degrees. I got several flats of seeds planted and got my cabbage plants in the ground.
When planting out cabbages, I use a technique that I learned in 1978 from John Seymour's book , The Self-Sufficient Gardener , (see my review of this book here). I make up a bucket of thin mud and add a handful or two of pulverized garden lime, (not the pelletized kind that you lime the lawn with), and stir it up well. Then when I have the hole dug and the my home made organic fertilizer at the bottom of the hole, I dip the root ball of the cabbage plant in the lime/mud slurry. put the plant in the hole. It is important that cabbage roots are in good contact with the soil so I press down firmly around the base of the plants until there is a depression all around the stem of the cabbage.

I use the mud /lime slurry for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that cabbages appreciate a little extra lime since they grow best with soil ph between 6.5 and 7.5. The second and probably most important reason is that the higher ph will deter club root, a disease that not only damages your cabbages, but also will infect the soil and will continue to be a problem for years to come. We use this technique every year as well as rotating our crops so that disease and pests don't have a chance to build up in the soil.

Once the cabbages are in the ground, I water them deeply and then scatter an organic slug bait round the plants. I use Gardens Alive, Escar-Go! It is very effective and will not harm pets or beneficials. I spotted a cabbage looper moth while I was planting the cabbages so it is time to break out the butterfly net and once the cabbages have a chance to settle in I will spray them with BT (bacillus thuringiensis, known by label as Dipel, I can usually find it at Lowe's but if not just follow the link). It is an organic biological pesticide, that will take care of any caterpillars that may pop up on the cabbages and kale. Bt is really great! It won't harm pets or flying beneficials, (although it will kill butterfly caterpillars if you spray it on plants that they feed on like dill, and parsley, but I don't spray anything but the cabbages and blue kale, so my butterfly caterpillars are safe, but look out cabbage looper moth caterpillars!). About 50 days from now we will have lots of cabbages to make into tasty, healthy, naturally fermented sauerkraut... Yum!

Skittles our little rescue kitty is "helping" me with my garden chores.

Tomorrow I will be transplanting seedlings, starting more seeds and planting some herbs that I bought today. It has been lovely weather so I am looking forward to being outside! Have a great day!

**Oh and just an note... any words that are this blue color in a post are links to either more information, where to buy something or another post that I have written on the subject. So be sure to go back and follow the links when you are finished reading the post!

14 November 2015

Oi-Sobagi- Korean Fermented Cucumber Kimchee

My last post was about eating fermented foods for health and to help reverse the affects of the Standard American Diet, (also known as S.A.D), so I thought I would share my tutorial  on making one of my favorite fermented foods, Oi-Sobagi.

I ran across a video on youtube.com last year, made by Maangchi, who specializes in Korean foods. Her video is very thorough and made it easy for me to give fermented cucumber kimchee a try, but her recipe isn't vegan, and she recommends eating it fresh, with just a side thought about fermenting it. So I have developed my vegan naturally fermented version of Oi Sobagi that I eat practically every day.

The initial process is a little time consuming, but the end result is well worth the effort!

7x11 inch Pyrex baking dish with tight fitting plastic lid or equivilent sized plastic food storage container with tight fitting lid.

2 lbs. cucumbers, (persian cukes or pickling cukes, but not the 8" smooth waxy skinned type, they will turn to sludge) 
Enough salt to rub on cukes, 1/4 cup or maybe more
1 cup buchu, (garlic chives I get from the oriental market), or bunch of green onions
4 cloves garlic, peeled 
1 large white onion, peeled, cut in half through the equator,1/2 slivered other put in reserve to be blended.
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup Korean hot pepper flakes, *note..regular red pepper flakes will not work with this!
1 tbsp. honey or maple syrup or agave
1 tbsp. tapioca flour, (unbleached white flour will do in a pinch, but is more starchy that tapioca flour which can be found at any Asian market Bob's Red Mill also carries it)
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp hot sesame oil, (found on the International food aisle in most grocery stores)
1 heaping tbsp. dried wakame and 1 heaping tsp. dried Hijiki, soaked for 15 minutes then drained, (found in Asian market or at links below)
1/2 daikon Radish, matchsticked
1 capsule probiotic (optional, this recipe will ferment on its own, but it ferments slower and in warm weather there is more risk of it molding so I add probiotic for a quick ferment).
2" piece of ginger, peeled
1/2 tsp. salt

Split cucumbers lengthwise, stopping 1/2" from the stem end of the cucumber.  Do half-turn and split again. the cuke should fall open slightly when stood on its end.

 Sprinkle salt over each of the spears, making sure to get it into the center. Note this technique makes for a very attractive presentation, but if you just want to slice them in forths lengthwise it will be less time consuming, you just have to handle the cukes more carefully when turning and rinsing.

 Set aside.  Turn the cukes in the bowl moving the ones on the bottom to the top, every half hour for 2 hours.

  Meanwhile, with a mandoline, Spirooli or a sharp knife cut carrot and daikon into matchsticks.

 I use the Spirooli for the daikon,it makes quick work of the daikon and then you can cut the spirals into smaller 1-2 inch long pieces. 

 Cut the Buchu into 1 1/2-2 inch lengths, if using green onions split lengthwise and then cut into 1 1/2-2 inch long pieces.

Heat water, dissolve tapioca power until thin paste is made.  Place tapioca water, chili oil, half of wakami, (make sure wakame and Hijiki are soaked and drained before using!!), half of chili pepper flakes, ginger, 1/2 of white onion, and the garlic in the blender.  Add 1/2 tsp. salt, the agave or maple syrup, then add the capsule of probiotic and blend until a smooth paste. 

Wearing gloves to protect your hands from the chili oils, work chili paste, reserved chili flakes and the remaining wakame and the hijiki into the other vegetables,(carrots, daikon, onions slivers, green onions or buchu),then Mix thoroughly to cover all the vegetables with the chili paste mixture, set aside. 

After 2 hours, rinse cucumbers thoroughly using 3 rinses; drain and pat dry gently. 

When cucumbers are rinsed and drained, stuff each with the paste/vegetable mix; press firmly to close cucumber around stuffing somewhat, or if you chose to just cut the cukes in lengthwise quarters, make a layer of the cukes in dish and cover with  the vegetable/chili mixture.

 Place snugly together in container that seals tightly. Cover the surface of the cucumbers with plastic wrap to seal out air and press lightly to remove any air bubbles trapped between the cucumbers. put lid on container, making sure it is completely closed. Leave sitting out on counter to ferment for 2-4 days ( depending on how sour you like it. I let mine go 3-4 days, tasting every day starting at day 2 to see when it is the right degree of sour...it depends a lot on the temperature and each environment is different), removing lid twice a day to press gently on plastic wrap lining to remove air bubbles. Do not remove plastic wrap.When pressed, liquid should start to rise around the edges of the container. At the end of two days the Oi-Sobagi should smell appealingly sour, they are ready to eat at this point, but you may leave it up to 4 days to achieve your desired degree of tart.. Place container in fridge. 

Oi-Sobagi is delicious served with a small bowl of jasmine rice, or chopped and added to a dinner salad of mixed greens and other vegetables. I find that with the Oi-Sobagi on the salad no dressing is required, so it makes for a very lo-cal salad. It lasts for weeks on end in the fridge after being fermented... unless you are at my house... then it's days are numbered, since I just can't get enough of it!

Please don't be intimidated by the ingredient list, the ingredients are easily obtained from an Asian market or online, (I have made a list of links for then ingredients below). 

The Road to Health is Paved with Dietary Changes, Part One- Fermented Foods

In a recent post on www.aprepperspantryjournal.blogspot.com I mentioned the importance of incorporating naturally fermented foods into the diet. I thought that the subject was important enough to discuss here at length, so here I go...

The Standard American Diet, also known as  S.A.D., is fraught with dietary hazards. Americans love their meat and potatoes, white bread, simple carb snacks and soda. In moderation, some of those choices aren't a bad thing, but moderation is the key word... Unfortunately, much of the American diet is made up of these foods. Drive-thru hamburger or chicken sandwich dinners with fries and a soft drink are standard fare, (as evidenced by the number of florishing fast food restaurants), and a frightening amount of chicken fingers, hamburger, pizza and hot dogs are fed to American children. Even meals consumed at home are often made up primarily of processed foods, high in salt, simple carbs, sugar and fats but short on nutrients, enzymes and roughage.

  Eating the S.A.D is a recipe for health suicide. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, a suppressed immune systems, digestive issues, kidney and gall bladder problems, metabolism issues and obesity, are common ailments that are directly related to the poor American diet. We are one of the best fed nations in the world and we are literally slowly starving to death. Processed foods like white bread, sugar, soda and fried foods, are comprised of mostly simple carbs or fat, with little nutritional value, little or no roughage and far more calories than are reasonable to consume for the nutrition they provide. But worse than that is what actually happens in the gut (digestive system), when food that contain white flour,(which is mostly simple carbs and water insoluble gluten), highly processed foods and fats are consumed on a regular basis. The villi in the intestine become coated with the cloying, paste-like combination of water insoluable gluten and fat, impeding the absorption of vital nutrients. Over time this coating builds up on the walls of the intestines, acting as a tooth for other intestinal debris to cling to, so less and less nutrition can be absorbed, putrification ensues and toxins build up in the intestines causing inflammation. The lack of nutrient absorption causes the body to go into "starvation mode". In starvation mode the brain tells the body it is hungry, so the person eats, but due to the goop in the gut, little nutrition makes it to the blood stream, and the signal that the body needs food continues to be sent out. The person eats more but the body is still starving... This toxic, inflamed, starved environment is the root cause of gastrointestinal disease, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, and a host of auto immune disorders that are running rampant among the U.S population, and not only in adults, but in children as well.

So what does any of this have to do with fermented foods? Well, the conversation is actually much larger than just the need for consuming naturally fermented foods. The conversation really needs to be about tossing the S.A.D and replacing it with a diet rich in fresh, living foods,complex carbohydrates and and clean proteins, as well as detoxing and cleansing the body, but fermented foods is a good place to start. The root of all illness is inflammation and the gastrointestinal tract, or the gut, is critical to overall health.  In order to reverse the life threatening effects of the S.A.D., beneficial bacteria must be introduced to the digestive tract. Naturally fermented foods are full of life. They are teeming with vital beneficial flora to help with digestion and gut health.  These bacteria promote health by stimulating the immune system, improving the digestion and absorption of nutrients, and inhibiting the growth of pathogens in the digestive tract, thus reducing disease causing inflammation. They create a hospitable environment for  the healing and restoration of the body's natural balance to begin.

Vegetable medley,  spiced beets, green cabbage sauerkraut
 with carrot, apple and caraway, sweet and hot daikon radishes,
and beet and red cabbage sauerkraut with allspice.
 These will provide our family with tasty, living foods, teeming
 with  vital probiotic bacteria.

While naturally fermented, unpasturized foods will by themselves not undo the all damage done by the S.A.D., it is a good place to start. There are many forms of fermented foods, raw
fermented sauerkraut, raw fermented vegetables, unpasteurized miso, and home made yogurt to name a few. Most store purchased versions of fermented foods are likely to be pasteurized which destroys the living bacteria thus defeating the purpose. If you want to make use of probiotic bacteria to improve your gastrointestinal health, you will probably need to make your own probiotic foods.

Why do I need to make my own fermented foods? Can't I just take a probiotic tablet and be done with it? Well...some is better than none. Probiotic capsules can help, but they are not able to stand up to the strength and strains of the real deal. While the numbers of bacteria in a probiotic capsule may sound dizzying, 50 billion+ living bacteria, it pales in comparison to the 10 Trillion bacteria in a serving of fermented sauerkraut. 1*Two oz.s of home fermented sauerkraut has more probiotics than a bottle of 100 count probiotic capsules. Translated this means 16 ounce of sauerkraut is equal to 8 bottles of probiotics."  It is not only the number of bacteria that counts though, it is also the kinds of bacteria that is important. Naturally fermented foods have as many as 28 different strains of beneficial bacteria, (numbering in the trillions per serving), depending on the kind of vegetable and the environment it was fermented in.  A medium grade probiotic cap will contain 5 strains of bacteria, while the top of the 2*line brands may contain 10 strains. Commercially produced yogurts are cultured with two strains of lacto bacilli.

  As with most things discussed on the internet, there are all kinds of numbers being bandied around and all kinds of discussions and debates on the web about the best way to introduce beneficial bacteria into the diet. I am not really interested in the arguments that float around the internet. I have tried to present substantiated info in what I write where it is possible, but what I live by and try to promote is to K.I.S.S, keep it simply sustainable. Creating your own fresh, wholesome fermented foods is both simple and sustainable. As long as you have fresh veggies, salt and a clean container you can ferment your own foods. As a bonus, fermented foods not only help populate your gut with a variety of beneficial bacteria to aid in gastrointestinal health, they will nourish your body with the nutrients, enzymes and fiber that are available in the vegetables themselves. You can't get nourishment or fiber from a probiotic capsule.

There is also the budgetary impact to consider, raw fermented foods are prohibitively expensive to buy in the store, if you can find them at all. Foods fermented at home cost no more than buying the ingredients for a side dish to a meal. The prep time for fermented foods are short, and once they have been through the fermentation process, will last for weeks (or months), in the fridge. At our home I keep a number of jars of fermented foods in the works, since we consume them daily and nothing is left in the fridge for long!

 If you are troubled by I.B.S., acid reflux, gas, bloating, diarrhea, obesity, metabolism issues, or any of a long list of auto immune disorders, like M.S., Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Crohn's, Fibromyalgia, Type 1 Diabetes and more, creating a healthy environment where beneficial bacteria can colonize is a good first step in restoring the body's natural balance and healing. If you are blessed with good health and have no physical issues, now is a good time to get ahead of the curve and establish the habit of eating fermented foods before you do have a problem.

If you are interested in learning how to make your own fermented sauerkraut, here are a couple of links to tutorials I have written on this blog.  Making Raw Sauerkraut and Red Cabbage Sauerkraut (scroll down some on the post to find the recipe). And here is my newest recipe, Oi-Sobagi, also known as cucumber kimchee.

  I will be writing a post a week for several weeks on The Road to Health. Moving away from the Standard American Diet, and beginning the journey to a diet designed to promote health. Please feel free to ask questions and comments are always welcome! Hope to see you again soon!

1*A quote from Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician and best selling author of books on health.

22 September 2015

Life at Heart's Ease Cottage, Living Outside

Well, yesterday was 26 years since Hurricane Hugo turned our lives upside down, (click here for that story). In ways our present situation is very similar... we are once again living outside while the interior of our house is in shambles. This time though we have power, the grocery stores have food and the hardware store shelves aren't bare, and we don't have an infant and  7 year old to try and shelter and feed. We are vastly better off than that! But still it is almost humorous, (I did say almost humorous...), that we are living in a tent in the garden on the anniversary of Hugo.

Why are we living in a tent in the garden you ask? Well, that is kind of a long story, but the short of it is, that the refrigerator was secretly leaking under the stove and cabinets. Over time the wet wood started to mold. I am severely allergic to mold, I started suffering from headaches, sniffles and a cough that wouldn't go away, but I couldn't figure out why. One day I stuck my head deep in a cabinet to get my large stock kettle and smelled mold. We immediately began to investigate and found the culprit. Now the floors are all torn up, the cabinets and my beloved ceramic counters will have to be demolished to get to the water damage underneath, sniffle... and since I can't be in the house with all the mold that is now open to the air, we are living in the back yard.

 I have a kitchen set up out on the deck under a canopy, we have a table to eat at and some Adirondack chairs to relax in out on our back deck. Our tent is set up on my yoga platform near the deck at the back of our vegetable garden. The weather has been kind and life is going on pretty much business as usual. I am hoping that fall is a little late this year and the cooler nights hold off for awhile, since it looks like we could be out here for at least several more weeks.

The offending fridge is serving in the outside kitchen until the repairs are done and then it is going to salvage even though it is only a couple years old. I am not taking any chances of it leaking again!

The work area may be a bit Spartan but it functions pretty well. 

Heart's Ease Cottage is still a source of joy and peace to me, even in her damaged state. I can't be inside but who really needs to be when it is so beautiful outside! Everything is so lush, the hummingbirds are battling it out for the feeders, (10 hummers in all I think, although it is very hard to count them), the bees are all over the flowers and blooming herbs, busily prepping for winter, there is a lovely breeze and the garden is still producing.We are turning over crops as things get tired, the tomatoes will soon be done and will give way to lettuce, oriental greens, kale and cabbages. The peppers are in full swing and will be so until frost takes them, mature kale and Swiss chard are providing loads of lovely green leafies for meals and juicing. I just planted more squash and cukes that will produce more slowly but will provide us with goodies until the frost gets them. I have peas in and a new bed of beets. There are new seedlings for 3 kinds of kale, turnips and oriental veggies ready for planting as soon as I can get to them in. Some beds are fallow, waiting for me to plant fava beans, which are winter hardy. They produce huge beans in early spring, and fix nitrogen on their roots that will feed the soil when they are turned in after we harvest the beans in late spring. We use fava beans as a cover crop, but like buckwheat, they feed the soil and as a bonus they feed us too!

Rather than just talk about it, let me take you on a stroll through the gardens...

The west side flower beds are 3 feet high and growing
The east side Veranda garden is lush too!
The "Watering Can Garden", as we call it, is full of herbs and flowers. Some are done for the season, others are getting ready to come on. Next up, the bright yellow flowers of tarragon and the scarlet cascading blooms of pineapple sage.

This side of the herb bed holds many culinary herbs like rosemary and pesto basil as well as medicinal herbs and flowers

Lil' Swiss Miss, our 1957 Swiss Colony Camper is all decked out in  pink flamingos, impatiens and fuschia
The pergola where Lil' Swiss Miss presides is a cool place to sit in the heat of the day and view the herb garden and frog pond .It is also a great place to watch the birds.

The gold fish in the frog pond are almost the size of koi. The frogs were shy and leaped into the water just as I took this photo 

One of two pepper beds is full of hot peppers. In this bed are habanero, jalapeno, serrano and Thai bird chiles. The other pepper bed has sweet peppers, like bell and banana peppers.
The last of the tomatoes are ripening and then I will clear the bed for cabbages.

We have still got pumpkins coming on and some large ones ripening

Beds of kale and Swiss chard have been producing since last fall. Some of the perpetual spinach and Swiss chard (a bed not shown) are three years old.
I will have to dig up my ginger and turmeric before the frost and let it over winter inside. I can harvest as needed from it's pot during the winter and then plant it out again in the spring to finish off.
There is much more going on, but I am sure you are tired of scrolling by now so I will say good bye for today and hope that you will come back for a visit again soon!

25 August 2015


Portions of this post were originally from a post I wrote almost 3 years ago on my other blog www.artofaletter.blogspot.com. Here is the original story and the conclusion:

I sometimes think that I like animals better than people, but as much as I love animals I never thought we would have an indoor dog. My youngest son inherited my weak lungs and struggled terribly with asthma as a small child. We had animals, but they didn't live indoors. Then at the age of 14, it had been two years since he'd had any trouble with his asthma, and he had expressed many times a desire for a dog, so we decided to get him one.

We home schooled our kids, so this seemed like a perfect research assignment for school. E.M. was to research which breeds of dogs met our criteria, no dander, no shedding, not high strung or yappy. His research  found several breeds that fit the bill. The breed that appealed the most was the West Highland Terrier. He also studied about crate and obedience training, animal first aid, and how to teach them tricks. So a few days before his 14th birthday, we set off to search the pets stores to find a Westy puppy.* (I know, I know... a pet store puppy, what about the whole "puppy mill" thing? For an answer to this question read the paragraph at the end of the post). We made a list of the stores that had a Westy pup for sale and began our exploration.

The store we went to had one Westy pup and someone was looking at it when we got there, so we just cruised around looking at the other animals while we waited for them to finish. The door to the service area of the puppy nursery was a dutch door and the top of the door was open, so as we walked by we caught sight of a puppy that was out on the floor getting a bit of exercise. The woman who was watching him while he was out of his cage was unpacking boxes and there was packing paper on the floor around her feet. The puppy raced by her, grabbed one of the pieces of paper and ran with it as fast as he could, until she caught up with him and took the paper. I turned and saw stars in my son's eyes... Oh dear,this was not the Westy puppy... it was a little buff Cocker Spaniel... Cockers shed... (the requirement for no shedding was mine, since I knew I would end up being the one to clean up the hair, and was the only household member who would care if the black pants they were wearing looked like the dog slept on them, etc.)
But I knew that look... so we asked if we could see him.

The woman opened the dutch door to let us in and the pup took the opportunity to snag a piece of the packing paper and dash out the open door. We turned to see the little stinker making his escape down one of the isles, the paper blocking his view as it flapped up over his head. E.M. took off after him, fearing that the front door of the store would open and he would get outside. Ever tried to catch a puppy out on a lark? It is not as easy as you think.... after a try or two at grabbing him, he decided to try another approach, he sat down, patted the floor in front of him and acted like he wanted to play. The pup stopped, looked at him, dropped his paper and ran towards him at top speed. When he got within range, the puppy bounded onto E.M.'s lap and tagged him on the chest with both feet. He then jumped off, avoiding capture, but stopped just out of reach, and turned to looked at him as if to say, "Tag! you're it!" Needless to say, the Westy puppy never had a chance... Tagg went home with us that day.

E.M. had educated himself well on puppy training, and Tagg was a champ. Crate training was a breeze, obedience training went well, "Sit", "Stay" and "No" were well understood and usually complied with, there was really only one problem... Tagg had a paper addiction, specifically toilet paper or tissues. He never touched books or magazine, and only chewed up the occasional school work, but he couldn't resist toilet paper. If you left the house and forgot to put the T.P. out of reach, I would come home to a toilet papered house. It would be everywhere, shredded into tiny pieces. If a friend came to visit and there was a tissue in her handbag, I would find Tagg up to his shoulders in her bag, helping himself to her tissue. I would shout his name and his head would snap up, one side of his lip tucked up and his mouth full of tissue, he would give me a sheepish look and spit out the soggy wad of kleenex. He knew he shouldn't do it but he just couldn't help himself. Even at the age of twelve, if someone forgot the close the bathroom door when we left the house, we would come home to find Tagg looking like "the cat who ate the canary", with a piece of T.P. stuck to his jowl and confetti trailing from the bathroom to the front door.

Tagg is the only dog I've ever met who smells flowers
He learned many tricks, that entertained us and others who came to the house. When I was struggling with mobility issues due to a Fibromyalgia relapse, I trained him to pick things up for me. If I dropped a piece of clothing that I was folding he would pick it up for me. If I knocked my reading glasses off the table, he would gently pick them up and drop them in my lap, smudged with slobber, but at least I didn't have to pick them up! One day long after my relapse, when I was feeling good again and didn't need Tagg's assistance anymore, I was sorting pieces of fabric, a pile to keep, a pile for Goodwill. The Goodwill pile was at my feet on the floor. I was looking at the stack of fabric in my lap when I felt Tagg's presence at my feet. I looked up to see what he wanted, and I saw him standing there, wagging his tail, with the pile of "Goodwill fabric" in his mouth. His eyes said "Here Mommy, you dropped these!"

"Momma Dawn" and Tagg in Costa Rica 2009
He wouldn't eat store bought dog treats and would looks at you like he was being punished if you gave him one. He was afraid of the Kong chew toy that I paid $15 for, (you know the one that has the hole in the middle that you can put peanut butter in...), and he left his heavy pointy ended, well gnawed beef bone strategically around the house where my bare feet will find it. He hogged the couch and snored so loud that I needed to turn the volume up on the movie I was watching.

 He would leave enough hair on the floor to produce a new Cocker Spaniel every three days if I didn't have his long beautiful coat clipped short. He had been banned from every groomer for 20 miles, for being "difficult" about having his feet clipped. I didn't know what I was going to do about getting him groomed, until I met Dawn,  Tagg's godmother and premier dog whisperer at "Furry Godmother's",(Dawn is the local pet groomer and dear friend, who has a gentle and effective way of helping animals deal with their fears and neurosis.) She even traveled down to Costa Rica when we lived there to groom him, (of course that was just one of her reasons for the visit, but bless her, she brought her clippers and she and her husband clipped him outdoors ... I still remember the winds catching balls of his fur and carrying them high into the rainforest...Sigh.)

Tagg was my protector. When my husband went off hiking and I was alone in the house, he would patrol the house, going from room to room periodically, and then settle down to sleep in the doorway to my bedroom until it is time to do the rounds again. If on the leash, he wouldn't let anyone within leash reach of me, anyone, friend or foe... No Fedex guy, phone line repairman, or neighbor checking their mail would ever go unwarned that he is on duty. He would alert me if I don't hear the oven timer going off, if the phone was ringing in my purse, if the washer was out of balance and was walking across the floor... he has even saved my life by warning me of a gas leak in the kitchen... A kettle of water I put on to boil sloshed over and put the flame out underneath the pot, gas had been pouring into the house for a long time while I was in the back room working. He ran to the family room and barked then ran away, when I didn't follow he came back and barked again, then went to the kitchen and barked and barked until I came and found him barking at the stove. The smell of gas was strong, if the space heater had been on the whole house could have gone up in flames! He was my hero...

Watching for the mail person to come

Tagg was also my comforter and councilor. He would lick away my tears and offers his upturned tummy to be rubbed when I felt sad. He looked at me with his soft brown eyes that spoke louder than words, and told me that he loved me no matter what and that everything will be alright. If I left the room, he would go with me. He kept my floor clean in the kitchen and spent half of his days dusted in flour or spotted with carrot juice, since he insisted on laying at my feet while I was working in the kitchen. He never judged me, never held a grudge or pointed out my faults.

When Tagg was 8 years old, I started seeing some wasting around his right hip and though it didn't seem to bother him I kept it in mind and worried that it there might be something wrong. But he had always been barrel chested and slim hipped so I let it go for the time being. Then one day when he and I were out for a walk on the greenway, he took a miss-step and his hind leg slipped off the walkway. He yelped and limped/ dragged his right leg. I checked to see if he had an injury, but there wasn't anything visible. I massaged his right hip and gave him a few minutes to shake it off. Then we tried to walk back to the car, but he couldn't walk more than a step or two without crying out, So I picked him up, which hurt too... It was at least a 1/2 mile back to the car so it was a long walk for both of us. It was hard for me to get my arms around him in a way that didn't hurt his hip, and carrying 40 pounds for that distance, meant I had to stop and put him down so that I could catch my breath. I think we were both wishing for a wagon at that moment.

I took Tagg to the vet, where my previous fears were confirmed; Hip Dysplasia. I was told there was little that could be done for him, except for surgery, which isn't always very successful. So I went home and did some research. I found that eating a diet of raw meat and vegetables can help to strengthen the connective tissues and increase synovial fluid production. So I started grinding chicken thighs up, added blueberries, carrots and peas and fed him that twice a day. I also found a product called Nzymes,which is used to improve synovial production in animals with joint issues. After a few weeks on the raw diet and the Nzyme tablets, Tagg began to walk normally again and showed little if any favoring of his hip unless it was stressed or moved wrong. So Tagg's life began to return to normal, but in the back of my mind I knew that this wouldn't always be the case.

Tagg has been so much a part of my life, a constant, loving and true companion. The dog that started
out as a birthday present for my son had become like one of my kids to me. What would I do for one of my kids? I would do anything within my power to take care of them, protect them, love them... Their pain is my pain... If Tagg needed me to carry him, to help him up and down, to feed him by hand, I would gladly do it. He has always been there for me, and if it was within his power, I know that he would do whatever I needed him to do, I would do no less. But I was then faced with a situation that every pet owner/ animal friend dreads... what if this hip issue doesn't get better enough to allow him a quality life? What if the rest of his life is spent in pain, unable to play or take a walk, having to bear the humiliation of diapers? When do I, as the person who is responsible for his care and accountable to God for his well being, say that it is time to end his suffering? When is his life no longer of any good to him? I couldn't ask him, I could only guess what he considers a good life, but I think he would say a good life is to be able to love and protect his family, to be an active part of our lives. So I prayed that God would give him healing and and allow both of us more time to be together.

  Fortunately, with God's healing touch and a continued dietary regimen, the Dysplasia symptoms disappeared. So, we got our old Tagg back. His mobility returned, his energy was appropriate for a 10 year old dog, and he appeared to be pain free. So I dodged the bullet on having to make a hard decision about his future. Two and a half years have passed since his last bout with his hips,and he has lived life to the fullest, but about 6 months ago he began to have a persistent cough. After much investigation we discovered Tagg had an enlarged heart due to congestive heart failure. He coughed and hacked a lot and was a little short of breath, even though he was on meds,, but kept going about his life, being his sweet, cheerful self. As the months passed his condition worsened, he couldn't get his breath, and had difficulty eating and sleeping. He could no longer play or go on long  walks, but he still had his zeal for life and a happy disposition, continuing the self assigned role in our family of protector, encourager and comedian.

  Then came the day when all he could do was lift his head off the floor and wag his tail when he saw us. He was obviously in pain and I knew it was time to step up and make the dreaded decision to have him put to sleep. Where I had questions in the past about what he would want me to do, this time I was certain I was doing the right thing. His eyes said he was ready to go. We are very fortunate, we have a vet that makes house calls. She came today to ease his passing. He went to his final sleep peacefully at home with his family around him.

  His passing leaves me with a heavy heart, an empty house, and too much quiet. I feel so strange, so lost, unable to think. I don't want to eat or sleep, I don't want to do my daily tasks. I just want to stop... to sit, to think of nothing, to feel nothing. I want to hide from the inevitable, fast approaching wave of grief. I know it will come, I have had much experience with grief... and I know I will be defenseless against it for a season. But I also know that there will be a day when the grief will recede, when my days will start to feel "normal" again and life will go on.

  I believe that God imbues His animals with His character so that while they are with us they can be a living example of how we should live our lives. As a way of honoring his memory and dealing with his absence, I will try hard to live by the example that he modeled for me every day of his life; to find joy in the simple things in life, to never stop trying and love unconditionally and without stint. I know that Tagg did his job here on earth very well and I will take solace in the knowledge that now he rests in the presence of his Creator.

  . Tagg 2003-2015
    Rest in peace my lovely boy.

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