Late August means Orb Weaver Season, Back to Routine, and Plans for the Winter Garden

Forgive my lack of writing this week; the kids and I are moving back in to a school year routine, and it takes some getting used to. It's great to have the summer off, but it makes the end of August difficult. Adam's in 8th grade now, Kate in 7th, and I'm working more and different hours at the school for differently-abled kids. It makes mornings hurried; I'm up before the chickens, trying to get chores done and lunches packed and breakfasts eaten and dog walked before we all have to leave shortly before 8. I know millions of people do this every day, but in the past I've been lucky to have jobs that allowed me to take the kids to school, then get my chores done, before I rolled in at work around 9:30-10. So this is new for me, and it just means that more needs to get done after work rather than before.

And, as always, just as school begins, the weather heats up again. It's been over 100 here at Poppy Corners for several days now. I think you can safely say that we are trying our hand at dry gardening whether we meant to or not. Everything looks spent and wilted, but the plants just keep producing, and everything they produce has extra flavor. Tomatoes are smaller than usual, as are peppers, but the improved taste makes up for it. Every extra ounce of water from the house goes out somewhere in the garden. The drips are running twice a day at the moment, but it's still not nearly enough water. I had a neighbor/horticulture expert come look at my sad-leaved tomatoes - his diagnosis was they were just plain old too dry. But I suppose those roots are 10 feet down, sucking out every drop of moisture they can, because the tomatoes just keep coming.

Next year I'll have plenty of soiled chicken bedding to use as a thick mulch, and that should help things mightily. Meanwhile maybe we'll actually get the El Nino event we're all hoping for and winter will be very wet.

The rise and hold in higher temperatures means it's Orb Weaver season, and I've started to see their webs everywhere. Once in a while I'll catch the actual spider, if I'm out late deadheading or picking produce.

The webs are truly beautiful, and I hear that they consume them every night, then rest for an hour, and make an entirely new one before morning. Completely different from the other spider webs I see most often in our yard, that of the Black Widow. Their webs are messy and dirty and thoroughly un-enchanting.

Some flowers are finally giving up the ghost and going to seed, such as this variety of Nicotiana  Four O'Clocks - I've collected quite a few to save for spring, meanwhile leaving some to re-seed where they stand.

the black things are the seeds

Other flowers are just pumping out blossom after blossom, and the bees and butterflies continue to feed and collect, which is a joy to watch.

I harvested the last of the watermelon.

yummy, but seedy

We've had an abundant crop, and the plant is putting out more blossoms, but I think I want to pull up the vines this weekend and get a cover crop in. This variety, Moon and Stars, was not our favorite, so I didn't save any of the abundant seed from our harvest. I'll try a different variety next year.

Peppers have been ripening fast, and we tried a new recipe which we all just loved. I had to use frozen corn because our corn harvest is over, but if you still have corn and peppers in the garden, you must try it.

Broil about 1/2 pound of peppers. I used both green and red Jimmy Nardello (sweet), plus a couple of Sweet Sunrise, plus some Red Marconi that were still green. Take off the stems and seed them, and arrange them on an oiled baking sheet. Broil them about 2 inches from the heating element until softened. Cut into strips and add kernels of corn (I used about a cup and a half), uncooked. Toss. Add 3T balsamic vinegar, 3T olive oil, 2T chopped fresh basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the salad stand at room temp for at least an hour. This was unbelievably delicious. (Thank you, Full Belly Farm, for the recipe idea!) The leftovers were even better the next day.

peppers ready for roasting
We've discovered that our favorite potato recipe, using our homegrown Yukon Golds, is hash browns. (Kate had never even heard of hash browns before this, but now she is a total convert.) I grate the potatoes using a box grater into a colander. Then I rinse the potatoes off and press out the excess water. I then drain them on to several thicknesses of paper towels (if you get plain white paper towels, these can go in to the compost after, and you don't have to feel quite so wasteful) and press out any extra water. Then I fry them like one big potato pancake with plenty of butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper, until crispy. Flip in sections (or whole if you're a better flipper than I) so both sides get well done.

We have all decided that the flavor of our potatoes is superior, thank you very much, to anything we could buy in the store. It's just a whole different taste. Usually potatoes are just a vehicle for the fat or seasonings, but these have a distinct flavor that is totally delicious. I'm definitely going to plant potatoes over the winter, too.

hello, lovelies

ready to fry

world's smallest potato
I've been working on my winter garden plan, and I think I've got it all figured out. Here's my design:

No room for hard red winter wheat this year.

Tom and I have talked a lot about the last, lone patch of dead grass near the South Garden. I think we've decided to make it a combination orchard and herb garden. First, instead of sheet mulching, we'll build a small chicken 'playpen' - something to keep them in just during the day. We'll have the chickens work for us at ripping up the last of that grass and turning the soil and eating the bugs. And adding manure! And then we'll move them to another section and let them keep going, all through the  autumn. Then, come winter rains, we'll plant some citrus - a couple kinds of small lemons, a lime or two, and maybe a mandarin or clementine - and make them fruit tree guilds, somewhat like a permaculture idea, with all kinds of herbs surrounding the trees, and lots of mulch because there must be mulch. Paths will wend gently through, oh yes, birds will sing - in my imagination it's a wonderful little copse of trees. We'll see how that actually goes and share all the details with you.

It always seems strange to plan winter veg while still harvesting summer veg, but that's the way it rolls if you want fresh produce all winter long. I must say I'm starting to have a hankering again for fresh spinach, and along about May I thought I'd never say that again. :)