Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sweet Sunshine Harvest

My first Apricots ~ A basket full of sunshine!

Isnt't that a beautiful basket full of sunny apricot lusciousness? I love it.

I planted my apricot tree 8 years ago in the winter of 2000. I carefully pruned it each year to help it have a good shape and be healthy. I watered it and protected it from all manner of critters that would like to eat it and destroy it. I gave it my love and my care. I had all but given up on it ever giving me back some delicious homegrown apricots. I had pretty much decided that I had a sterile apricot tree out there. Then, this year, (finally!) it surprised me with several fruits forming in early Spring. I was stunned and very pleased. I hoped that the fruit would have a chance to grow and ripen and that our late May rains this year didn't hurt it or knock it off the tree.

Jack and I covered the tree with bird netting to protect the ripening apricots from the bird predators. A few had peck holes in them anyway.

Healthy protected apricot tree ~ with apricots!

So yesterday I went down to my weed filled clearing back meadow where the tree grows and plucked every single apricot. All 22 of them! The first one went right into my mouth moments after being plucked. Still warm from the sun the tangy sweet flavors of nature exploded in my mouth. Juice ran down my chin. I was so excited and happy! I grew these. Nature really grew these, but I did help. A lot.

Last week, Bob's parents invited us over to pick the apricots from their very mature trees. This has become somewhat of a yearly tradition now. The 3 of us go climbing on ladders and wrestling a bit with the twiggy tree limbs, picking and shaking the fruit from the big old tree. There is usually several pounds of apricot bounty to reward our efforts. This year we harvested about 30 pounds of fruit from just one of their trees.

My share of the apricot harvest ~ 13 pounds!

They always give us several pounds of the fruit we pick as they cannot use it all themselves. I am thrilled to have the fresh homegrown fruit to eat fresh and to make jam and pies and fruit crisps with. One year I made apricot frozen yogurt. I may make some apricot ice cream this year. We talked Bob (our master pie maker) into using his share to make an apricot pie, (something he has not done before ~ a new challenge!), since he prefers to eat his fruit in baked goods rather than fresh from the tree. Me, I like it all.

So thank you, Mother Nature for my own personal homegrown apricot harvest. Thank you Bob's Mom & Dad for the huge amount of apricots from your tree. And thank you in advance Bob for the anticipated delicious apricot pie.

I am very grateful for my sweet sunshine harvest. Nature always impresses me with her beauty and her bounty.

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Peas on Earth

Fresh Snow Peas ~ 1 lb

Today I picked over one pound of fresh crisp snow peas from my garden. Even with my homemade twine trellis for the snow peas to climb, the heavy pea pods were making the tall plants fall over. I picked the peas that were ready and then spent some time securing the plants to the trellis with some of that stretchy green garden tape. I need to make sure I don't wait so long to pick more snow peas. I know that I need to pick them every few days to keep the peas producing more edible crunchy pods.

I like them raw, cold and crisp in salads or just directly out of the refrigerator as a snack. I also enjoy eating them in one of my quick stir fry dinners as I did tonight. See the photo below.

Dinner Stir Fry with Fresh Snow Peas

What are your favorite ways to eat snow peas? Any good snow pea recipes you'd like to share with me?

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bolting Greens

Beets, Carrots & Snow Peas ~ a field of green

The weather is hot and sunny, and my garden is growing like crazy. The greens have been keeping me busy tending them. I need to harvest their leaves every couple of days before they get too large or else they will start to taste bitter. Also, the hot weather signals the greens that their growing season is almost over (they prefer cooler weather) so the little green leafy plants start to send up tall flower stalks in an effort to reproduce and continue their life cycle. Smart little greens. The act of flowering like this when the hot weather hits is called bolting. A term that was unfamiliar to me until I started this vegetable garden here in the mountains about 10 years ago. I read about bolting in several of my gardening books.

Colorful Red Flower Stalk on Bolting Swiss Chard

Greens that bolt start to put all of their life energy and nutrients into the flower stalks and resulting seeds for the next generation of plants. Because of this, the green leafy parts start to become bitter tasting and usually are smaller, which is not good for those of us who like to eat the grean leafy parts of lettuce, mesclun, Swiss Chard, spinach, cabbage, bok choy etc.

Tall Stalks of White Flowers on the Arugula (part of the mesclun salad greens)

There are ways to slow this bolting process down a bit, but nature will always have her way eventually. You can provide more shade for the green plants, thus keeping them a bit cooler and tricking them into thinking that their growing season is extended. You can snip off the flower stalks as they form, forcing the plant to produce more stalks. This method works well with green leafy herbs, but doesn't delay the green veggies very long. They are quick to recover and send up more flower stalks.

Yellow Flowers on the China Choy Cabbage

So today, I harvested a bunch of greens from my garden. I did my usual snipping off of individual outer leaves and left the plant in the ground to produce more leaves, and I also thinned them out by pulling up whole plants by the roots. That gave them more air circulation to prevent rot and slugs and other creepy crawlies from making themselves at home in my salad greens.

I brought in 1 lb of Swiss Chard (a combination of the Bright Lights variety and Fordhook Green), 1 3/4 lb of mixed mesclun and baby lettuce, and 1 1/4 lb of China Choy (like baby bok choy). They are soaking in bowls of cool water rejuvenating their crispness as I type this.

I guess I will be eating fresh green salads and lots of stir fry dinners for awhile. Good and healthy.

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Monday, June 16, 2008

Berry Nice

Freshpicked Boysenberries

When I wasn't paying attention, my boysenberries started to ripen. This year's crop is small not only in the number but also the size of the berries. Probably in part due the fact that I haven't been watering them enough. (I told you I wasn't paying attention.)

There are only about 1/2 pint of berries sitting in the beautiful berry bowl (small collander) that was my Mom's. I gave her that berry bowl as a Christmas present, the last Christmas she was still here. I miss my Mom every day, and I cherish having her beloved berry bowl. I still remember how she squealed with delight as she unwrapped that gift that last Christmas. She had seen it while shopping with me at a craft faire here in the mountain area and fell in love with it. She didn't know that I had Jack distract her while I bought it for her to save for Christmas. That was over 11 years ago. I really miss her laughter and giggles. She had such joy & spirit inside of her.

Well Ma, I am putting your sweet berry bowl to good use by filling it with my home grown berries, and I think of you each time I use it.

More boysenberries are on the vine, with the blackberries to follow in a week or two. I did remember to water them tonight.

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fruit & Nut Breakfast/Snack Bars

Dried Fruit, Nuts & Seeds make these bars tasty & nutritious!

Well, late last night I finally gathered all of my ingredients and got around to making those wonderful fruit and nut breakfast bars that I read about in the January 2008 edition of Sunset magazine! It only took me 6 months to get around to making these. Sheesh! The mag has been sitting on my dining room table all of this time just waiting for me to make this recipe.

These tasty snack bars are chewy, moist and also crunchy. Not too sweet either. They are made with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, a little fruit juice and pinch of salt. That's all. No cereals or grains, although I suppose adding some oatmeal might make a nice taste variation, if not a drier texture.

The recipe called for dried apricots, dates and prunes, raw almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Some orange juice and a little salt. You mix it up in the food processor and then shape the bars and bake them for a few minutes. Bake them longer if you want a drier bar. An easy and quick recipe. I was pleased with the taste and texture of the snack bars.

Although I did have all of the ingredients on hand, including the prunes, I also had some very nice black mission figs that I had just purchased. So I used the figs instead of the prunes in the recipe. They tasted fine in there and the texture was similar. I think you could substitute dark or light raisins, dried cranberries, cherries or blueberries for the prunes and they would still be a very tasty treat with some flavor variation. Using raw walnuts or pecans in place of the raw almonds would also work, however I believe it would increase the fat content some.

The "sticky-ness" of the dried apricots and plump Medjool dates are what hold the bars together, so I probably wouldn't substitute anything else for them. Besides, I really like their taste!

These little bars are great with coffee or tea in the morning and I think they would work well as a hiking trail energy snack or in your lunchbag to satisfy those afternoon sugar cravings. Better for you than a candy bar from a vending machine. (Yes, I used to do that too when I worked in an office environment)

Check out the recipe. I think you'll like them.

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Light Lunch

Garden Salad with Shrimp & Blue Cheese Crumbles

As the weather has been warmer, I've been trying to eat lighter meals and especially meals that I can prepare using freshly picked homegrown veggies from my organic garden. Today's lunch was a light but satisfying green salad topped with some shrimp and blue cheese crumbles. It was very tasty. You'll also notice my favorite plastic tumbler full of ice tea in the photo above. It's my Lion King glass that I got at some fast food joint about a decade ago. I still love it!

The mixed salad greens were a combination of the spicy mesclun from my garden, some organic leaf lettuce from the grocery store and some organic spinach from our local farm store. I sliced up one of those huge homegrown radishes that I showed you awhile back and added a little tomato. The blue cheese and shrimp were purchased at Trader Joe's. As was the cocktail sauce adorning the shrimp. A squeeze of lime, some balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and a few spices added the finishing touches.

It's a good thing I enjoy fresh salads. I have a lot of salad greens in my garden!

Aren't these beautiful?

I just had to show off the velvety red roses that Bob gave me a few days ago.

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Friday, June 13, 2008

Green Garden Report

Upper Veggie Garden ~ June 6, 2008

It's been a busy week for me. Not sure what I did this week, but I haven't had time to post anything new in this blog. The garden photo above was taken a week ago. The garden has grown quite a bit since then. Especially the greens and the summer squash.

Summer Squash ~ June 6, 2008

The summer squash, (dark green zucchini, light green zuke, and yellow crookneck squash) shown in the photo above are almost twice that size today.

A few days ago I harvested 1lb of Swiss Chard, 1/2 lb of China Choy cabbage and 3/4 lb of mesclun salad greens. I have plenty more to harvest still in the garden. Our weather has been warming up, so the garden is growing much faster now. I must pick the green leafy things about every two days to keep up with the growth. The salad greens will get bitter if I let them get too big.

Hopefully, I will have plenty of greens for weeks to come, however, tonight I noticed my cabbage and broccoli had lots of holes in their leaves that weren't there yesterday. On closer examination with the light from the flashlight (yes, I was wandering around after dark watching my garden grow) I saw many earwigs and a few little green worms all happily munching on my beautiful leafy greens. I immediately went into the house and mixed up a concoction of soapy water and hot sauce in a spray bottle and came out and sprayed the hell heck out of the plants. I then watched the earwigs and worms try to bail out. I captured several and threw them out of my garden bed. I hope the hot sauce spray really works to warn them to stay away from my food. I'll check the garden again in the morning to see what they left for me to eat.

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cherry Picker

2 Pounds of freshpicked Bing Cherries

I didn' t get much accomplished over the weekend except for programming some websites and trying to catch up on my much needed sleep, but I did manage to harvest the rest of my beautiful ripe cherries before the wild critters got them.

The photo above shows over 2 lbs of big bright red juicy sweet cherries. This was the harvest off of the Bing side of the dual graft tree. Last week I harvested the Van side which produced 1lb of sweet dark red cherries. The Bings are bit larger and lighter colored than the Vans, but both are very good eaten fresh.

This is the best cherry harvest I have had since I planted the tree 9 years ago. The basket did have a few more cherries in it before I took the photo. I can't resist nibbling on them while I pick them. I got so enthused about the picking, that I forgot to spit out one of the cherry pits and then suddenly realized that I had swallowed it! Oh my. Now I will have a cherry tree growing inside of me. Oh my.

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Gathering Green

Lovely Fresh Greens in my Harvest Basket

Just a quick post to show you what I have been harvesting from my garden these past few days. Look at those fresh greens in my basket! From left to right in the basket are a few leaves of baby China Choy Cabbage, several ribs and leaves of Bright Lights Swiss Chard, and a whole mess (1/2 lb) of mixed spicy mesclun and delicate baby lettuces. To the far left on the table next to the basket are a few more radishes.

The baby cabbage is tender enough to eat raw in a green salad with the mixed salad greens or cooked in a nice fresh stir fry meal over rice. The chard is best lightly cooked as in a stir fry or perhaps steamed. Also good over rice. The mixed salad greens are great right out of the garden, but I like to bring all my garden greens in to rinse and refresh them in a bowl of water then drain and store in the fridge to keep them fresh and crisp.

So is your mouth watering yet? Good...

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Life is a Bowl of Cherries, and a Big Barrel of Compost

One Pound of Freshpicked Sweet Cherries

Some days are a wonderful, sunny bowl of cherries like the beautiful dark red Van variety of cherries shown in the photo above. There was exactly 1lb of them in the basket when I weighed them. This was, of course, after nibbling on a few as I harvested them from the tree. The Van cherry side of my double graft cherry tree has given me all of its cherries now. They ripened first. The other half of my cherry tree is loaded with almost ripe Bing cherries. Hopefully, they will ripen and I will pick them before the birds, squirrels and deer figure out how to get through the protective bird netting I have wrapped around the tree. Sometimes I wrap a fruit tree so well that I have trouble getting to the fruit when I want to harvest it! These cherries were picked yesterday. They are very tasty and sweet. They truly brightened my day.

Finished Compost in a 30 Gallon Trash Can Container

And then some days are more like a big barrel of compost!

Actually, this homemade compost is not as bad as it sounds. Compost is a very good thing. It smells like sweet clean earth and is full of life. It is soft to the touch and has many little buggies and earthworms living in it. I don't spend much time "turning" my compost piles. I usually just keep adding to them for a few months at a time, and then let them sit and decompose for a few more months. Then I sift the finished compost to remove the larger chunks of wood, fruit rinds, stems and pits that remain even after several months in a "working" pile. The compost that makes it through my homemade sifter (an old picture frame with 1 inch grid chicken wire stretched across it and stapled into place) goes from the wheelbarrow into the barrel container shown in the photo. I then spread it into the veggie garden as needed throughout the growing season. The compost piles and the finished compost are located right beside my main raised bed garden for my convenience. See my previous post about compost for more about my composting method of choice and a good book about composting.

Each day brings something new. I wonder what I will gather in my harvest basket tomorrow...

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket