Friday, August 28, 2009

The Garden is Changing....Again.

This is a picture of a hole. It is the hole where my heirloom bush beans were. This is my first time growing beans, and I wasn't sure how it would work. I knew that I wanted to have dried beans for soup all winter, I didn't want to eat them fresh. The lima beans are still there, on the left. I think they still have a little bit to go before they are ready. The plants are still lush and green. I thought that the heirloom beans had bit the dust. One set of them was turning yellow and falling down on the ground, it looked very dead. I thought for sure that those would be no good. Imagine my surprise when I open a a yucky-looking pod and beautiful black and white beans fall out.

Excited, I starting pulling all the plants from those two rows. I hauled them all up to the back patio, where they sat in a giant pile until we came back later to pull the pods off of the bushes. I have a humongous pile for the compost tomorrow.

I was having flashbacks to the beginning of the summer, when I was pulling the pea bushes/vines straight out of the ground to make a monster pile. I think we will still have to dry the beans out some, but I am excited to shell them tomorrow and see how many of each kind I got. The two kinds I grew were painted pony and calypso.

Painted Pony


The kids thought they were beautiful, and wanted a few to keep. I have to agree that there is something enchanting about those shiny beans in the palm of your hand. I am not sure why, but I feel a little like a squirrel.

There are other signs of fall in my garden. One is that my giant ornamental grass is blooming. It sends up beautiful red fronds of blooms that bend and sway in the breeze. Also, everything is getting a little leggy and large, the greens are changing from the bright neon of spring and summer to the duller, bluer green of early fall. You know what I mean. The air is starting to feel different already. Part of that is this funky cool summer we had.

The sweet autumn clematis is blooming. I used to have more of this, but I lost some that didn't make it through the winter. The autumn joy sedum is turning pink. Things in the garden are turning yellow or brown and curling up. It is sad, to be losing summer, but in a way, I am getting to be ready. I love fall, too.

I love making dried flower arrangements...using garden stuff to decorate the yard for Halloween. I love picking apples, and gathering corn stalks to tie up in bunches around the yard. I love making pies and apple butter, and carving pumpkins, and making giant stacks of really cool gourds everywhere inside the house.

I really get into Halloween decorating. I even dress up usually. So, I am not sad when fall comes. I welcome it, even though I cringe at the frost warnings. I still hope we will have an indian summer, and it will stay warm and beautiful through October. I am not ready for the cold yet. I am just saying, when I see a big hole in my garden, it doesn't really bother me, because it's about that time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Making Salsa

The other day I needed to make salsa. I had about 10 of these white beauty tomatoes (they look yellow to me, but what do I know?) I also had baskets and baskets of grape tomatoes. These aren't your garden variety grape tomatoes either (that phrase loses its effectiveness when speaking to a bunch of gardeners). They are ginormous! (pronounced GI-nor-mus)

All summer I have been making pico de gallo, fresh salsa, cooked salsa, plus dozens eaten fresh of these grape tomatoes. It was simply a 1.99 4-pack from Hy-Vee. These plants saved me when the rest of my tomato plants were doing nothing most of the summer. I believe the rest of the plants think it is very humorous to start ripening up now that I am back to work and have little time to spend canning.

For example, I went to work today, stayed late, went to the grocery store, and then got home about 7. I had to decide between using my remaining daylight hours to go exercise, or to pick tomatoes and work in the garden. I had to choose the walk, because I knew I wouldn't get to walk again until at least Wednesday or Thursday. So now I am going to have to get up at 5 in the morning, so I have time to pick tomatoes before work in the morning. I'm sure the mud smears on my legs will go very nicely with my new skirt.

Thus far, I have been able to make two batches of my hot red salsa, plus a batch of salsa verde, plus an experimental yellow salsa. The white/yellow tomatoes were so big I didn't have to use very many to fill up the pot with chunks. I leave the skins and seeds in, they are healthy, and I don't mind seeing them in the salsa. I know some people go to a lot of trouble to peel the skins and remove the seeds, but I think that is too much work just to make it look fancier. I think it tastes just fine with them in. The yellow salsa looked very funny while I was cooking it down.

It looked like pineapple stew. I put in yellow bell peppers, plus white onions. I had to put in one red onion and some green hot peppers, but you can hardly tell. It turned out really good. Like the salsa verde, it is sweet, then hot. I even put some habanaros in the last two batches. I ended up getting quite a bit, considering it is mostly me that eats it. My son is starting to like salsa, so that may impact how fast it gets used up.

This last batch made 4 quarts of red salsa and 3 1/2 quarts of yellow salsa. I had so many tomatoes, I also made several pints of diced tomatoes with basil and oregano. I only wish I could make enough pasta sauce to last through the winter as well.

My little helper likes to pretend cook. He helped me scoop up all the cut tomato pieces and put them into the pot. He thought the yellow salsa was delicious. I will take that as the highest compliment.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

2nd Visit to the Iowa State Fair

Last Tuesday my guy and I made a second visit to the Iowa State Fair. We always try to have a fair date, so we can spend time doing things that we want to do, and move at grown-up pace, without the kids. We actually go to the fair 4 or 5 times every year, because we love it so much. A lot of people really don't understand why we like to spend so much time there. Even more people don't understand how we can afford to go so many times. If you know where to look, you really don't have to spend too much money to have a good time. Here are some of the ways we save money.

1. Buy Advance Tickets.

This is very important. It costs $10 per adult per visit if you pay at the gate. We plan out the days we are going to go ahead of time, and buy advance tickets at a cost of $7 per adult per visit. You can also get in for $5 a visit if you go after 5 PM or all day the last day of the fair. We can save $30-40 this way. Little kids under 6 are always free, so stroller kids are a bonus. Then you have someplace to set your drink.

2. Know Where to Park.

Parking in the State Fair lot is now $7! This is highway robbery. If you check out the local area, and make friends with a homeowner, you can get a better spot and save money. We know a guy that lets us park for $5, and we know our car is safe all day and in the shade. If you want to park farther away and take a shuttle in, you can save even more cash.

3. Know Where to Get Your Food and Drink

We keep our plastic fair cups and bring them back year after year. We go to Leiman's Pizzeria to get them refilled. They only charge 1.50 for a refill, which is a huge bargain as far as the fair goes. A new cup filled with soda costs 4.00. Or, if you know where the water fountains are at the fair, you can refill your cup with free water. Sometimes holding on the cups is a pain, especially without a stroller, but you save a lot of money this way.

We also keep a lookout for cheap eats at the fair. There are some things I will splurge on, such as lamb gyros ($7 for regular and $9 for large) but they are fantastic. There is even price variation between stands that sell the same items in different places. We know where to find the cheapest corn dog, burgers, or pork chops in the whole place. One of my favorite things is a lamb burger. It is only $4 and delicious. Plus you know you are getting locally raised meat. You can even get free samples in the agriculture building if you go at the right time. This day, I got a free hard-boiled egg, a free slice of Hawaiian pizza, and a free cup of organic toasted soy nuts. Who needs dinner after all that?

5. Know What to See

There are a lot of things that you have to pay to do at the fair. But we hardly ever do those things. Why would you need to, when there are so many free things? All the animal buildings are free, we spend a lot of time looking at the sheep, cows, pigs, horses, and various petting zoo creatures. There are also baby versions of almost all these, some of which you can pet.

Another cool thing to check out is the produce judging in the agriculture building.

Of course, I have an ultra-enthusiastic interest in looking at produce, but you can see tables and tables of beautiful edible fruit, vegetables, and herbs. They have contests for the best specimens, the biggest, and even the ugliest.

This lovely creature won the award for ugliest vegetable at the fair. Can you guess what it is? I feel like I should take a notepad and take notes when I am there, like a shopping list for the next planting season. This year I was especially interested in the heirloom varieties, since I have delved into that area.

The DNR has cool exhibits, as well as the art building. The varied industries building, in addition to being air conditioned, has vendors giving away lots of freebies to entice you inside. If you want to buy things, you can get really good deals during fair time. If not, you can take the freebies and enjoy the ac.

6. Check the Daily Schedule

There is a lot of free entertainment to be found if you know where to look. The fair has a grandstand with pay tickets (usually big names or races), but there are several free stages with lesser known or older acts. We saw two concerts, Blackstone Cherry (hard rock) and Jason Brown (country) in one day for free. There are also wandering acts that stroll the streets of the fairgrounds if you are lucky to be in the right place at the right time. For example, the goose-herding guy.

He has all these geese totally trained to stay together and walk where he wants them to go. They are also wearing cute little scarves and backpacks and toys.

7. Know When and Where to Splurge

Some things are just worth the money. For example, the giant slide for the kids.

Or the skyglider. That is definitely worth the cash.

The point is that you have to spend some time and look around, which is easy to do, when you spend 4 to 5 days there each year. We have two more trips planned this weekend, after which I will probably be all faired out. If that is possible.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chickens on the Loose!

There was quite a ruckus in our neighborhood today. Evidently, we now have community chickens. I was leaving to go to a work meeting this morning, and I saw this black and white fellow here taking a stroll through my yard. I squealed the tires slamming on the brakes. I rolled the window down and rubbed my eyes to confirm that this was not a mirage caused by getting up too early in the morning after having the entire summer off. Yes, there really was a chicken in my yard.

I had a few thoughts:

1. Wow....I knew Santa was real! He brought my chickens in the summertime, cause if he brought them at Christmas time they might freeze before I found them outside.

2. The power of positive thinking! I wished for chickens and now they are here. Okay, now think about winning the lottery.

3. Can I catch the chicken?

I looked at my watch.... ehhhhh.... no time. I cast another glance at the spotty rooster and decided if he was there when I got home from work, I would try to corral him. So, I head to my meeting, and I text my SO (significant other) to ask if my new chicken is still in the yard. He texts back, "Yeah, whatever, better not be." (He is not on board with the chicken idea yet, but I'll work on it). Later, as I sit in my really boring meeting, I receive a phone call. I missed it, but as I look at my phone, a text comes in. A frantic, "Call Me!" from my SO. I went outside to call him, and he informs me that he just spent the last several minutes trying to help a city employee try to corral five very large chickens in our back yard. He finally left because he had to go to work. The city guy also gave up, cause the chickens were way too fast and kept flying away. I would have paid money to watch these two guys chase the chickens around outside.

After I got home from work, and clearance plant shopping at Lowe's (SO says did you get anything? DUH>>>) I discovered that the chickens were in the back of the neighbors yard, clucking around some strange metal box. I took the camera and went over to inspect it. Did the neighbor put out some kind of trap? I discovered that the city person must have put out a RACCOON trap to catch a chicken. He must be some kind of idiot, because these birds are not nearly that stupid. He put corn, and I believe marshmallows in it. I didn't realize chickens were fond of marshmallows.

The chickens were also a good foot taller than the entrance to this trap. They did seem to be curious about the corn, but were snacking quite nicely on the bugs in the grass. All the neighbors came out at various intervals to look at the visitors and comment. This is some high excitement in this little town. The real fun began when a group of small boys, ranging in ages from 7 to about 12 decided to chase the chickens around the neighborhood. The birds ran very, very fast. I was surprised that the boys were no where near close to catching one. Then the boys decided to drag around a large piece of dog pen and try to trap the chicken in that. Again, the chicken outsmarted them.

He flew up into a tree, where they couldn't reach him. I was secretly glad, because I didn't like them harassing him, but I didn't want to be the spoilsport mean neighbor lady that ruins all the fun. I went over and looked up at the bird in the tree, who was clucking madly and sitting on a branch. "Sounds like he is laughing at you," I observed, and walked away. They decided to give up shortly after that.

I did some research, and as far as I can tell, our chickens are Plymouth Rock and New Hampshire Red, as well as one other kind. Here is a cool link to a site about various chicken breeds.

In other news, I have been a very busy canning mommy.

I have put away 20 lbs of green beans, 5 jars of hot peppers, a giant jar of dill pickles, and made a kick butt yellow squash lasagna. I am also going to have to make salsa again this week. At least two batches. I have hundreds of grape tomatoes plus many, many white beauty tomatoes.

I think I will make a batch of white/yellowish salsa. Any ideas what I can put in with that to make really cool colors? Yellow bell peppers maybe, and yellow onions? It will be really neat looking. My son says, please, don't put squash in it.

He really dislikes squash, I'm not sure why. Here is a picture of him poking through some cheese tortellini with yellow squash and shrimp. It was delish. As you can see, he is less than thrilled. But I keep trying. Because that is what moms do, besides follow wild chickens around with expensive cameras.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Our Visit to the Iowa State Fair

Today was our first visit to the Iowa State Fair this year. We usually go 4 or 5 times each year. Some of you may wonder if I am smoking crack. No, I assure you, I would be much skinnier if I smoked crack. We just LOVE the fair. This year, we only get to take the kids one time. This is both a good and a bad thing. Because....feeding kids at the fair is expensive, and slows you down, and you have to keep saying, stop that, get down from there, quit taunting that redneck...well, maybe not. And they whine a lot. "It's hot....I'm feet hurt." Blah, blah, blah. The state fair is not for weinies. We go for at least 9 hours each time. We have no room for complainers.

But on the other hand, we make so many memories. I have a picture of my son every year since he was one standing on the large scale in the varied industries building.

They print out a little card for you with the date and your weight that you can keep. It is fun to compare them year to year. I also weigh myself, to compare with the scale at home. I was pleased to see that the fair scale agreed with my home scale, that I had lost about 5-6 lbs so far.

Now here is the pic from the fair two years ago...

I notice I was considerably skinnier. But I hope i can get back to that with some work and patience. The fair is so much fun for us. We enjoy the food, the animals, the crafts, the gardens, and of course the people watching. It is almost a sport. Some young women decide that the fair is the perfect time to wear the most risque and almost illegal outfit they have. Guys wear shirts with the most ridiculous statements possible. Haircuts not seen since the late 80s suddenly surface. And of course many children walk around soaked to the skin.

Several fountains are located in the fairgrounds. Both boys got soaked to the skin. It is a great way to beat the heat, and of course it is free. The downside is spending the next hour or so in very wet clothes. This is also the first year my son didn't ride in a stroller. This was a bit of a nail-biting experience for us. Everyone was on guard. My son has a tendency to dart quickly away to look at some other thing, not even thinking about all the people around him. Next time I may take a cue from my guy and have my son hook my belt loop with his thumb, or hold my hand if he wants to go to the fair. He is not as docile as my guy's two kids though, and things that work for them don't always work for him.

The fair also boasts a lovely garden area completely designed by Master Gardeners. I didn't take many pictures yet, I will take more when I go again Tuesday. They had many different kinds of beautiful zinnias. I was impressed by the differing heights and colors. Hostas, water features, a children's area, and a tunnel completely covered by squash vines are located in this part of the fairgrounds.

My son and my friend's baby are checking out part of the children's garden area. My guy said absolutely not on a jeep planter in our front yard. LOL. The day before, we took our visitors to Reiman gardens in Ames. Check out my friend's blog post on her visit to Iowa and the butterfly gardens:

We always love to go there, so we knew they would enjoy it too. The baby was fascinated by the butterflies.

We had so much fun while they were visiting. He is a darling baby, and of course my friend and I have known each other since I moved into the dorms on my first day at college. We work hard to maintain our friendship over the distance. We have watched each other's jobs, apartments, houses, boyfriends, and even a husband change over the years. Now we get to watch each other's children grow. I know of few greater pleasures than sharing life with a dear friend.

"A friend is someone that knows the song in your heart,
and can sing it back to you when you forget the words..."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fresh Farm

My guy showed me a very awesome place the other day. It is informally named: "Fresh Farm". I have already been there twice in two I think you will get the idea that I am pretty impressed with the place. First, there are chickens everywhere.

We brought our out of town friends with us to visit today. The chickens are allowed to roam freely about the property, even venturing through the fence and down to the pond if they wish. They happily cluck to themselves and scratch through the grass and dirt for insects. Sometimes, they lay eggs in their nesting boxes, sometimes in nests out in the grass. These are obviously happy creatures.

Farmer Joe collects eggs about twice a day. In addition to the nesting boxes, he knows where the chickens hide their eggs in the high grasses. He estimates that the chickens lay from 6 to 10 dozen a day, and that he usually sells 6 dozen a day. So that means during a time like this, when the chickens are molting, he usually sells out of eggs. Molting causes chickens to lay less eggs because they are putting their energy into making feathers.

Farmer Joe feels that the ones that molt the most are generally the best layers. The chickens that do not lay well may end up being someone's meal, though he does not sell chickens already butchered. The fresh eggs he gets are washed and put into a fridge on his front porch. Anyone who wants to buy eggs can come and get them at any time. Joe sells eggs on the honor system...a sign of the trust we are lucky to have in Iowa. I had to get a dozen eggs right away the first day. I am really excited about this, hopefully I will never have to buy eggs from a grocery store again.

Copper, the farm's greeter and resident chicken herder comes in to check things out while we are sacking up some produce. He is extremely large, I'm glad he is a nice dog.

In addition to selling fantastic fresh eggs, Joe also keeps an extensive garden. He sells produce on the porch depending on what is in season. Right now, you could get potatoes, beets, cucumbers, green beans, and bok choy. I mentioned an interest in canning some green beans, and Joe would not let me get that day's green beans. He said that he was picking over 60 lbs the next day, and I should come get the fresh picked for the best canning flavor. I ended up buying 20 lbs today!

I was impressed with Joe's knowledge of both the animals and the produce. He told me the names of his many chicken varieties. He also raises turkeys, geese, ducks, goats, a horse, and a llama. A very large fence protects the garden from all the animals. If you want to, you can venture in and pick your own, or get it off the porch with everything else. You can even pick herbs and fresh cut flowers.

I have never seen knockout double zinnias like these before. Maybe at some point I can do updates on what is available at the farm. Joe would like to make food available to people where they can get it as fresh as possible. Perhaps I could say, green beans are coming ready this week, next week bok choy and potatoes. That sort of thing.

If you are interested in visiting this really cool place where real free range animals are being raised the right way...go to:

24 Hour Egg
Fresh Farm Market

2225 W. Main St. Rd.
Marshalltown, IA

or contact me to get directions.

Tomorrow's post will be me trying to can 20 lbs. of green beans. Wish me luck.
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