03 January 2013

A Look Back at Summer 2012

   Summer began in April this year...  Spring began in late January... It was an odd weather year. It was very warm very early, which caused all the fruits to bloom too early. The weather was warm all the way up to a few days after the last frost date, then we had a cold snap. Most everything fared well, but the blueberries suffered. Any of the blossoms that were open when the cold snap came were burned and no fruit formed behind those blossoms. We lost about 1/4 of our blueberry crop, but even so we harvested 35 lbs. of blueberries. We ate blueberries by the handfuls, made smoothies, froze them for later and shared them, so we really didn't suffer much from the lost production, but I hate that we had less to share than we normally do.

   One of my goals for the summer was to renovate my herb garden. During our year in Costa Rica the herb garden went to weeds, an obnoxious weed that invades everything. I had to dig out my surviving herbs, sift all of the soil to eliminate the network of fleshy roots that went a foot deep, and then amend and replant the herb bed. I will make a blog post that shows the process, but for now I am just posting some mid-summer photos of the herb garden, which you will find further down in the post.

Raw Jalapeno Poppers with Cashew "cheese"
   By this point Da and I have been eating vegan/raw for a couple of months. I spent a lot of time researching and developing recipes to convert some of our favorite recipes to a no cook version. I came up with several recipes that we have been very happy with, but I still haven't come up with a no cook pizza that I like. For the most part we have been eating simple meals, but for Shabbat and other special occasions, it is nice to have delicious and beautiful food to serve. I will be posting more about vegan food preps and recipes in the future and leave you with a photo of a finished product for now.

Trail view of the Cascades
   As part of our "take our health back" plan we have been walking and hiking as much as time will allow. We have traveled on many day trips around the North Carolina and a few over night trips a little further away. One trip was to the Cascades outside of Pembroke, Virginia. I lived in Blacksburg in my high school years, which is close by, so I used to go to the Cascades a couple of times a year. It is a beautiful place. Even more so since they repaired flood damage a couple of years ago and did a beautiful job of improving the trails and restoring the river trail. We met a couple at the top, near the falls and I took their photo, so in turn they took ours. It is rare that we have a photo with the both of us in it, so that was a real treat!

   Due to the fact that we are eating as much raw food as we can manage, we didn't do much canning this year. But we did do some canning of things that we need to keep on hand for our emergency pantry and some things like bread and butter pickles, pickled beets and salsa that we just like to have on hand. I have plans for a once a week blog entry on Pantry Keeping. I will discuss maintaining a regular working pantry, but also I want to talk about a 3 month and Long Term Storage (LTS) pantry. I won't call myself a "Prepper", since I am not planning for any particular scenario, but I will say that I don't like being caught unprepared to take care of my family when life happens.

   Finally, I just wanted to share some of the beauty that surrounds us here at Heart's Ease Cottage. We have tried to encourage both flora and fauna to live here in abundance. We live with the windows and doors open when we have to be inside and for much of our life during good weather, we are living outside. So having Flowers, birds, butterflies, and bees to add color to our life is a real pleasure.

 This little bunny fountain is planted with seasonal flowers to cheer a spot near the front door. Impatiens always makes me think about Costa Rica, where they grow wild. My outdoor laundry sink had them growing out of the cement, it made me smile every time I did the laundry.

 Sweet juicy blueberries and strawberries were on the breakfast menu daily. With organic berries costing $6 a pint we were very grateful for the abundance of berries we have growing in our garden!

Zucchini and cucumbers must be planted on the last frost date here in North Carolina, in order to bear fruit before the insects that plague them emerge and ruin them. There are few organic solutions to cucumber beetles and zucchini vine borers, so knowing their life cycles and timing planting dates to harvest before the insect adults emerge is the best solution that I have found.

This Russian Red Mustard was planted in the fall and used all winter and spring as greens. A few plants were left to bolt so that we can collect the seed. Seed collection is an integral part of self sufficiency, but our limited space doesn't permit us to collect seed for everything we grow.

We have an herb garden outside our kitchen door that is planted with a variety of herbs that I can run out and snip and pinch while preparing meals.

Basil and zinnias mingle in the main garden. We reserve a 20 foot bed in the vegetable garden for bulk plantings of larger herbs like basil, dill, tarragon, oregano, which can occupy a lot of space.

Encouraging bees to visit our garden is only one reason that we plant flowers in the vegetable garden. The paint box colors of zinnias and nasturtiums also add cheer and beauty to the garden.

We grow a variety of tomatoes, some for fresh eating, some for preserving. This basket is filled with heirloom slicing tomatoes like Cherokee Black, Mortgage Lifters and German Pink and a tasty little currant tomato that packs a lot of flavor into its diminutive size.

Wherever we can pack them in, we plant flowers and bushes that draw butterflies. By mid-summer the Buddleia bushes and Lantana are covered with 15 varieties of butterflies and skippers. This Tiger Swallowtail is a frequent visitor to the Dark Night Buddleia that is planted below our deck.

This tiny little female hummingbird is smaller than a D-ring on my clothes line. She uses the clothesline as a perch to rest on between visits to the nectar feeder on our front porch.

The Graham Thomas rose, better known around here as Patrick's Rose.

The Graham Thomas bloomed early this year, as did most of the perennial flowers in our garden. Its citrus/rose aroma blended deliciously with the night scented jasmine that grows near by.

Foxgloves are one of my favorite early summer flowers. They grow in great spires in front of the rosemary in May and are completely gone by the time the Rudbekia blooms in July.

Da took me for a visit to my hometown, Blacksburg, Virginia. While we were there we made a day trip to The Cascades in nearby Pembroke, Virginia. It was a great way to end the summer!

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