At Home, July 2018


Ah the garden. So far we’ve had 30 ears of American Dream corn, ready on July 6th. It is done and we are waiting for silver queen, which should be ready when we get back from vacation. It was used up in corn chowder, corn salad, and plenty of salted and buttered corn on and off the cob. This variety germinated well, was ready in 67 days, and after harvesting the big ears, each stalk sent out one or two smaller ears that were short but still filled out. I was so happy with this variety.


If you have ever tried to grow corn, you know what it feels like to pull back the husk and see this!  Pure joy.


Tomatoes are going nuts, and cherry tomatoes have been demoted to chicken feed. We pick and toss them to them daily. There are maybe 50 a day coming in and that is just not okay. I need maybe 20 a week.  Next year, two plants, max.

I tried a new variety of jalapeño: Primo Jalapeño from Gurney’s, and I am very happy with it. They are the biggest ones I’ve ever gotten. I’ve made poppers twice and canned pickled jalapeño rings.  I am also pleased with Gurney’s Giant Belll, after many disappointing years of growing California Wonder.  Cherry peppers are doing very well too.


(Caperino Cherry Peppers from Johnny’s)


(Primo Jalapeño from Gurney’s)


(Cosmos Bush Bean from Johnny’s.)

Flowers for every room, every hallway, every bathroom counter. Not a problem.

My dahlias have been a literal flop.  I put them in with the rest of the garden where the soil is rich and gets irrigated, and they are doing awful.  Huge, green, bending over, very few flowers.  Last year I planted them in unamended clay and I was bringing in buckets every evening.  Now I know.  More room in the actual garden for something else next year.




Oh dear I really need to iron that.

Dining room is painted and my tablecloth arrived. My next project will be painting the porch and getting porch furniture, probably four Adirondack chairs. I will not be personally painting the porch. No I will not. I think this will be put off until October, when it is cool and soccer is over.




We’ve been on a serious ice cream making kick, having made it now four weeks in a row.  I’ll share the recipes once we try it with a few more flavor variations.  So far we’ve done chocolate, cookies and cream, strawberry, and vanilla.  I want to try something with a caramel swirl, and blackberry or peach.


We leave soon to visit Matt’s parents in California. They live on a beautiful ranch with a huge garden, horses to ride, and no humidity. Sounds like heaven.  And his mother is a genius who does not plant any cherry tomatoes.



Back to school and activities soon. ☹️

Why Canning? And Our Favorite Canning Recipes

Marie Antoinette had a dairy cow at one of her country houses so that she and her friends could play milkmaid for fun. I try to remember that when I think that perhaps I am being a bit ridiculous.

Canning is one of those things that make me wonder what I am doing. It is hot, time consuming, and messy. But the real problem I have with it is that I am not poor, I am not dependent on my garden for subsistence, and if I didnt have home canned produce I would fork out the dollar for a can of crushed tomatoes and get some at the store. It feels pretentious, in the the truest sense of the word. That I am just pretending.


Here is where i could insert some silliness about treading lightly upon the earth and being self sufficient.  The truth is, I don’t believe that.  I don’t think canning peppers and tomatoes has any positive effect on the earth, nor will they save me in the event of economic collapse.  I don’t even think self sufficiency is a noble goal.

I can extra produce because I have the time and the materials, and because I like it.  Why canning?  Why sunflowers, or dogs, or golf?  I find it satisfying, and the end result gives me joy.  It is a natural extension of the garden.   There is no way around having too much produce to eat fresh.  When gardening is your hobby, every summer evening you are bringing in a basket that looks like this.   You can either give it away, preserve it in some manner, or throw it out.



So maybe doing this is a waste of time. But not doing it would also be a complete waste–of tomatoes.


Enough talk. Now some links!

Here are some of my favorite recipes.

They are all ones we actually use up, and have made over and over.  None require a pressure canner.

Crushed Tomatoes from Ball

Smooth Pizza Sauce (I do this in half pint jars, which is enough for two large pizzas, but the recipe calls for full pints)

Pickled Jalapeno Slices from the Survival Gardener

Annie’s Salsa

Whole Pickled Pepperocini or Cherry Peppers

Dill Relish

Refrigerator Pickles

Peach Raspberry Jam

America’s Test Kitchen has the best strawberry jam recipe, but it is only available to subscribers.




At Home, June 2018


No painting or purchases this month. I am being indecisive about the dining room color and the beige-gray looks nice in the summer light.  I did paint a yellow sofa table with leftover cream paint, but It is still kind of ugly and pointless. At least it no longer clashes with the wall.  We really need some furniture for our huge, empty deck, but have yet to get any.  Cheap outdoor furniture is soooo bad, and the nice stuff is way out of our budget ($6000 for a loveseat, sofa, and table set. Made out of plastic wicker. From Costco!) Do you know of any good places to look?


(Enjoying the last rays of sun on the longest day of the year.)

DSC03033 (2).jpg

Some garden sage added to the wreath.

We’ve had a lot of rain which has led to some cozy meals, like penne vodka with Italian braided bread.



Hot weather has returned with a vengeance so that’s over.

At least I finished my Fourth of July decorating yesterday.


Yep.  That’s it.


We have cut the first few dozen zinnias and sunflowers. I planted White Nite to harvest first and they were ready in a little over 60 days. My zinnias are tequila lime, senora, and a Benarys giant mix. Dahlias are coming in too. I was hoping to have a ripe tomato by July 1, but it didn’t happen. Well I had cherry tomatoes, but that doesn’t count. And two early girls, which are barely full sized. I want a real one! Late tomatoes are in, and I am planning my fall garden.


(See all the roots that grow in a jar of water in a week or two?



(Red Norland potatoes and the first batch of one million cherry tomatoes.)


The kids are out of school and had a week of vacation bible school, which is now over as well. I like having them home and not doing the daily school rush. I also like to fulfill my homeschooler fantasies. Maddie, at 6, loves workbooks and has been working through Singapore Math. Camilla does not like workbooks or reading. She turned five last month. We do no workbooks and are gently working on the reading. I would love to have her reading by kindergarten. But maybe that is not realistic and I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good.

Afternoons have settled into a comfortable pattern. We eat lunch around noon and then Ellie goes down for a nap. The kids and I head down to the yard off the back deck for some pool time.  (The pool is a nine ft wide water trough and is sort of perfect of their age.  It is chlorinated and they can swim in it but still stand comfortably.)  It is not near the garden or barn or anything that requires any work. I am forced sit and watch them to make sure they are safe. So all I can do is sit and read, getting in the pool to cool off as needed. It is delightful. After the pool time, we have wet hair and are tired.


Looking forward to July!

Our First Year Growing Onions

I have never grown onions before, as they are widely considered to be difficult to grow.  They are cheap in the store, and not something that is much better fresh, like tomatoes or corn.  But for some reason I decided to give it a try this year, and I will grow them every year from now on because I liked it so much.

Planning and Ordering 

Onions are day length sensitive.  The plant starts out growing a green leafy top that just look like big scallions.  At some point a switch is flipped in the onion’s brain that tells it start forming a bulb.  That switch is flipped based on the length of the days.  You have to get enough leaves in before bulb formation starts to get a good sized onion.  So the variety you can grow is determined by your latitude, not the heat of your climate.  We are in Central Virginia, and can grow either “intermediate day” or some “long day” varieties.  “Short day” onions are grown in the south where the days are shorter in the summer.  As a rule, longer day onions are less sweet but keep better, but there are exceptions.

Since it was my first year I wanted to do just intermediate day as they are supposed to be the best for our area.  I ordered from Dixondale Farms, which gets good reviews from everyone.  I ordered the Intermediate Day Sampler.  They sell the plants in “bundles” of 50-75.  It is around $12 for your first bundle and then $5 for each additional.  I ordered two of the sampler, for an expected total of 100-150 plants.  The sampler is a mix of “Candy”, “Red Candy”, and “Superstar”, a yellow, red, and white, respectively, all three are supposed to be sweet and relatively long keeping.


They arrived in a small box, with little plants that looked a little dry, which is apparently normal.  I wish I had taken a picture.  I planted them within a few days of getting them.


I was able to pick the date I wanted them shipped, and picked mid March.  They typically go in with your other early stuff like peas and potatoes, as they can take a frost.  I think they could have gone in even earlier.  We had an unusually cold March, with some hard freezes and they didn’t seem to mind.

The directions said to plant them in 2 rows that were 18 inches apart.  The plants needed to be only 4 inches apart.  That is amazing.  That meant that this skinny little row, carved out of a few feet of space next to this weird rock wall, was PLENTY of room for my 140 onion plants that I ended up receiving.  It was a forty foot double row.   I had space to put 10 feet of red new potatoes at the end.


In the beginning you are focusing on getting the tops big, green, and leafy.  Each leaf equals one ring (a perfect onion has thirteen).  Big leaf equals big ring.  So to get big tops, and big bulbs, you need a lot of water and a lot of nitrogen.  You can buy nitrogen heavy fertilizer (the first number on the fertilizer bag tells you how much nitrogen).  Chicken manure is also high in nitrogen.  I didn’t do any of that.  I just wanted to see how they would do without any special treatment or spending a lot of money.  I mixed in a balanced fertilizer at planting, and that’s it, aside from whatever the compost has offered the garden.  This picture was taken April 27th, and you can see they are still very small, but clearly alive and growing a little:


Quite a bit bigger on May 9th:


See them on the right on May 27th?

(Do you like the old dryer in front of the barn?  Don’t worry, its now in a different spot.  The yard.)

DSC02928 (1).jpg

Since the onions are greedy for nitrogen and water, it is important to keep them weed free.  So this…. is a no no:


(Taken on June 21st.)

As the bulbs form, the tops die.  No more water or nitrogen needed or wanted.


And on June 25th, the day arrived!

They were all pulled, and we brushed the dirt off, and laid them on newspaper on the porch to dry, five piles in all.


Here’s Candy (only half of them, there were about 60 total):

DSC03037 (1).jpg

Half of Superstar (about 60 total here as well):


And the much smaller harvest of Red Candy (9 total):


I brushed, Camilla sorted, and Maddie counted.


You can see some are big and some are small, except for the red which are all sad looking.  They might need the true onion VIP treatment of nitrogen and weeding.

We have sliced up one of each to taste test.  They are very sweet and mild tasting without the super strong onion smell that burns your eyes.


This remains to be seen, but I will update!  I hope to go a long time without buying onions.  I would love to make it all year, and if they keep, it is possible.  I don’t think I use more than 2 a week on average.

After a few days of drying on the porch, they will need to finish drying inside.  After a few more weeks, I will either braid them or trim the tops and put them in mesh bags.  We’ll keep them in the basement, which is cool and dry.  MAYBE if I feel motivated I will chop and freeze some. Probably not, since I don’t need more mysterious things in the freezer.

Next year I will also try one of the long-day varieties, which are supposed to store very well.


I loved the first year of onion growing!  Nothing bothered them in terms of pests or disease.  Since I wasn’t concerned about growing enormous bulbs I didn’t do any of the special things that they want.  Next year maybe I will do some high nitrogen fertilizing, just to compare.  I was really happy with the survival rate of my plants, too.  Out of 140 received, I harvested about 130 onions.  The ones that didn’t make it probably got stepped on.

They do, however, look ridiculous on my front porch and next year they need a better home, even if it’s just for a few days.

Happy Summer!





Second Summer Gardening

Timing the garden is hard. Planting out tomatoes and peppers has to be done when the nights are no longer cold and all danger of frost has passed. You start getting excited when the first warm days of April come, but it’s still too early. Around here it is late April to early May, but some people still wait until Mothers Day. And then, all of the sudden, it is June, and the weather is a steady dose of “hazy, hot, and humid”, and the time for planting is over.

Well… not really.


Here in Virginia, zone 7, we can have two plantings of summer vegetables. A second planting of tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, to keep you in hot weather veggies up until frost. Yes, technically a tomato plant will bear until frost. But one planted in late April will just be done by early September. For me at least, it will either be overtaken by blight, knocked over in a severe thunderstorm, or just be tired and have given up on life. You can do multiple plantings of corn and beans of course, too.

The time to be planting the late summer garden is now. Late June and early July is ideal because the plants need to be a good size before the days shorten and growth slows down. So even though you have yet to harvest a tomato or cucumber, it is time to plant another batch.

Where to put all this? Peas, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and onions should be finishing up so when those get pulled, some people put in new summer planting’s. I do not. I need that space to replant all those things for the fall garden in late July! That means that to get your second summer veggies in, you have to have empty space ready now. Maybe you could fit something super quick in early in the season like radishes. But I just have space waiting in the same area. My row of tomatoes has four spots waiting, my melon patch has a full empty row, etc.


Now for a little crop by crop overview of vegetables that are a good candidate for a second summer

Tomatoes- They need to begin by the fourth of July for our area.  They can be direct sown in late June, or you could go through the whole seed starting in tray process in early June.  OR, you could do the easy thing and root some cuttings in a cup of water and then plant in the moist soil as soon as roots appear.  People may wonder what in the world you are doing with tomato branches cut like they are flowers, but oh well.

A smart person would probably grow MORE tomatoes as their fall crop so that they can they do their canning when it is a little cooler.  I have never done this, and get too excited in the spring to hold back. (Actually, a smart person would probably buy canned tomatoes.)


Who needs sunflowers when you have tomato leaves?  Me!   Speaking of…

Sunflowers- Branching sunflowers, despite being inferior to single stem sunflowers in most ways, have the distinct advantage of putting out many flowers over the course of the summer.  They don’t do so forever, though, and a second planting is beneficial.  They should be direct sown, and you may want to plant darker, more autumnal colors.  I like Chianti, Autumn Beauty, and Soraya for late summer and fall.    (Do some more zinnias too!  White, red, yellow, no pink.)


Melons- Full size watermelons are around 100 days to maturity, so planting them mid June will give you late September melons.  Plenty of time.  Smaller ones (Little Darling is THE BEST), are more like 70 days and will bear in late August.  They take up so much room, so make sure you have left a good amount of space.  They are direct sown also.

Cucumbers- They will get huge too, and can actually benefit from three plantings over the summer as they mature so quickly.  You will want to space out pickling cucumbers too, because refrigerator pickles are the only acceptable pickle and you will want them for as long a time as possible.


And two plants that are a month behind:


Corn- Corn is a bit trickier because two different types cannot be maturing at the same time as the seeds will cross and affect the taste.  (This is because you are eating the seed part, unlike with other vegetables).  So you can either plant one kind and stagger it, or be sure that your other varieties will be at least 2 weeks apart in maturity.  A simple plan would be to plant twice, two different varieties each time.  For example:

May 1st, plant American Dream (75 days, matures July 15th) and Silver Queen (93 days, matures August 4th)

June 20th, plant American Dream (matures September 5th) and Silver Queen (matures September 23rd) again

Remember it must be planted in blocks, so this will take a lot of room.


Pumpkins- Not a second planting, just the only planting.  A May 1st planted pumpkin will mature in August.  No thanks.


And one month from now it will be time to put in the fall garden!  Yes, this is a whole different thing.

It is really not that much work to put these things in a second time, and you will be SO glad you did in September.  Just think of it as one more chance to get it right.

Have a good weekend!