Well the fancy pumpkins were a bust.

I have cut open 3 of the fancy Galeux D’Eysines pumpkins.  Something has gone horribly wrong, and I do not know what it is.  Either way, I have no desire to eat them.

Galeux D'Eysines pumpkin
This is what I found when I cut it open.
Inside Galeux D'Eysines pumpkin

Inside Galeux D'Eysines pumpkin
The weirdest part is it is not moldy or soft.  That texture is crystalline and hard. My best descriptor: Creepy as fuck.  I can’t handle it.
Inside Galeux D'Eysines pumpkin
Smaller pumpkin was similar.  It’s more than I can handle.  Took me 3 trips to the compost pile to get them out of my kitchen too.  What a bummer!

An update on the pumpkin situation

So my fancy french pumpkins have cured.  I pulled out the vines the first Sunday of the month and have let them cure in the sun and then the rain for a couple of weeks.  They have cured as long as I could have feasibly done so.  Craig is out hunting for the next few days, so with my solitude, I hope to get some of them cooked.  I wanted to weigh the big one, so I used the highly scientific method of getting on the bathroom scale, weighing myself (not my finest moment), then grabbing the pumpkin and weighing myself again.  It came in at 45 pounds.  I imagine that the 2 other big ones are in at 20-30 pounds.  The remaining pumpkins are about the same size as (maybe a hair bigger than) a sugar pumpkin you’d get at the grocery store.  I don’t really have much to say about them, other than I will probably make a post about cooking them.  I hope to have a scintillating post about bras tomorrow, but no promises.

galeux d'eysines pumpkins

galeux d'eysines pumpkins

galeux d'eysines pumpkins

galeux d'eysines pumpkins

galeux d'eysines pumpkins

galeux d'eysines pumpkins

I won’t be curing olives this year.

I had high hopes earlier this year when my young olive tree had generated several small olives, roughly the size of the head of a pin.  Then when the weather heated up and stayed hot, I let myself get optimistic, thinking that this may help push them along, despite the tree theoretically being far too young to actually produce anything edible.  But I checked on them the other day.  I have olives,  I just don’t have enough to make it worth my while either try to extract oil from them, or to lye cure and try eating them.  All in all, I’d say my olive total is in the neighborhood of ten.

arbequina olives, second year

arbequina olives, second year

C’est la vie.

I grew some fancy pumpkins this year

A couple years ago, my friend Ivana got a fancy pumpkin at Trader Joes.  We called it the “Lumpy Pumpkin,” and I convinced her to save me some seeds. After doing some research, that is what I do best, I determined that it is called Galeux D’Eysines, a French heirloom variety.  Last spring, I planted some seeds, but they didn’t do well.  This spring, I planted some seeds in the part of the yard that always grows pumpkins beautifully, the front.  I’m not sure what it is there, except being relatively unmolested by the dogs, and having tons of room to spread out. We have had nothing but success with growing pumpkins as a sort of green mulch (pumpkins outcompete weeds, so I don’t have to fuss with the front yard much) with the added benefit of some gorgeous autumn lovelies when the vines start getting wonky at the end of the season.

A couple years ago, I had a pretty incredible bumper crop of pumpkins.  I planted random seeds from a mixed winter squash seed packet, not really caring what grew.

Winter squash assortment
October 2012

This year, I did something similar.  I was in a seed-planting frenzy, and I just ran out into the yard with a handful of old seed packets, planted a bunch, and then promptly forgot what went where.  Imagine my surprise when a single plant took off and began taking over the entire garden bed!  Even more, the yellowish immature fruit on the vine were confusing.  I just couldn’t identify anything that they looked even somewhat similar to.

a single galeaux d'eysines plant

galeaux d'eysines immature pumpkin

This vine was vigorous.   It tried climbing the tree, it has totally enveloped several sage, heather, lavender, and succulent plants.  I have had to cut it back from invading the lawn multiple times.  It doesn’t give up.   The other day, I collected all of the larger pumpkins from it, but haven’t yet pulled the entire vine out, so there are a handful of smaller, less-mature, and generally less exciting pumpkins still out there.  But here’s my main haul.  The biggest one ended up rotting, which is a bummer because it had the coolest lumps.

galeaux d'eysines pumpkins

OK, so the fancy thing with the Galeaux D’Eysines pumpkin, which is also commonly referred to as the sugar wart pumpkin, is that as they grow, they develop “warts” of sugar, that when left to their own devices (and not extinguished by autumn), look kind of peanut-like.  Mine just didn’t have a long enough season (or maybe it was too dry – I didn’t water them even once, despite not having rain for over a month), and their sugar warts were a great deal less over the top, or were entirely nonexistent.

galeaux d'eysines pumpkins

galeaux d'eysines pumpkins

The big one I am estimating is somewhere in the 20-40lb range, but I haven’t yet weighed it.  It’s quite large, and very heavy though.

galeaux d'eysines pumpkins

galeaux d'eysines pumpkins

The pumpkins are very pretty, and I love the pinky-salmon color they have.  But based on my research, they are incredible baking pumpkins.  The Internet  proclaims that the sugar wart pumpkin has a velvety smooth texture, which should make for a really nice soup, or the ultimate pumpkin pie.

I made a compost bin, and it cost me nothing!

I will be the first to say that there are many things that I hate, but one of the top contenders is people billing things as stuff they’re totally not.  “Totally FREE DIY Compost Bin!!! – All it took was 16 pallets, my contractor husband, several sets of hinges and 14 hours of backbreaking labor!”  This was closer to “I have minimal carpentry skills, and some scrap lumber that I’ve been trying to come up with an occasion to burn, plus some random lengths of wire fencing I had hanging out around the yard from previous compost bin experiments.

So when we got the house, my mother in law had an old compost bin sitting around her work that she gifted to me.  It was the type that’s basically big flexible sleeve with some holes in it, and then a round cap for the top and bottom.  Theoretically that type of compost bin may work OK, but in my experience, you can not adequately stir it, it doesn’t get much aeration, and it’s very difficult to get the actual compost OUT of it.  I’ve made cylinders out of 2×4″ welded wire mesh.  Those worked about as well as the big cylinder, however using more narrow ones resulted in them toppling over on the relatively light slope we have in the area of the yard that I choose to compost.  Forsaking all of the bin methods, I most recently switched over to a “pile” which has bee fine, however it looks very messy, and the dogs start going through it trying to find high-value kitchen scraps, like watermelon rinds and corn cobs.  It’s not a pretty situation.  With the recent education I’ve had on just how messy ducks are, I learned that I would be needing additional capacity to get all of the poo-soaked bedding rotten enough to safely use in my vegetable beds.

compost bin

Knowing that I’d need a 2-stage setup –  one stage for “maturing” compost, and the other to have an active pile that is being added to regularly, I figured I’d just build a sided bin.  So I did some figuring, and looked around at the random pieces of welded wire mesh I’ve had cluttering the back yard, and figured out my dimensions.  The bin would be 3x3x6′, with a divider in the middle.  And I got to planning it.  It’s certainly not the most elegant solution, but for the first time ever, I didn’t have to go to the store for ANYTHING to make this operational.  We have a pile of 2x4s leftover from the duck pen project and from removing the pantry a year and a half ago, so I just used those for my 3′ sections, and used the 6′ pressure treated 2x4s leftover from the first iteration of raised bed trellises.  Besides the wire and lumber, the only other things I needed were screws and staples.  Staples I had leftover from the duck pen, and screws I have hundreds of.  Every time I have a project, I buy a box or three, and now we have hundreds of mismatched wood screws.

After monkeying with the bin a little, I have decided that I probably will want to get some U-channel or something similar to make an easily removable wall for the front to hold up the compost (this will also help keep the dogs from collecting treasures out of the bin). This will require a trip to Lowes, and probably some money also, but the compost bin is currently fully functional as-is.

compost bin

Here’s the materials list
3x – 6ft 2×4
12x – 3x 2×4
3x – 3x3ft wire mesh
1x  – 3×6′ wire mesh
30-40ish hammer-in staples
25-30 outdoor wood screws

*I started by making squares out of the 3ft 2x4s.  I made 3 squares, and then stapled the wire mesh into each of them.
*When they were done, I stapled the wire mesh into each of them and then set one aside.
*I screwed the 6ft lengths to 3 corners of the squares, then measured and stuck the third piece in as a divider, and screwed that in. Then it was just a matter of stapling the last 6ft piece of wire mesh on, moving the bin to its final location, and filling it with what had been in my existing heap.

compost bin
Since each of the sides is 3x3x3 (aka a cubic yard), doing the math on just how much magical soil I have to use will be pretty simple!

Basil Pesto

Every year it is the same thing for me.  I get the garden planted and then constantly stress out about how nothing is growing.  Eventually I get so discouraged that I give up on the idea that anything will ever produce.  Then a week later, I am totally inundated with crop X and I and wholly unprepared to deal with the amount of food it’s producing.  This year has been no different.  Cool season crops grow so slowly (or so quickly) that you kind of keep tabs on them through spring, but as soon as the heat of summer hits, I always scramble to figure out what to do with them!  The kale is covered in aphids, but the ducks love both kale and aphids, so that’s been a pretty easy crop to “dispose” of.  The peas have done all the growing they’re going to, and in the face of a week of days topping 90 degrees have begun drying out.  The ducks have been greedily gobbling those down.  Anything that gets tossed into their pen is systematically defoliated and all I have to do is collect a bundle of dried out stems weekly.  They’re basically the cutest compost pile you’ve ever seen.  With my move to rid the beds of dying cool season crops, I’ve been doing little more than pinch prune the tomatoes and keep training them on their strings.  This morning, I looked outside and realized that I have 2 huge basil plants that are beginning to bolt (this means they’re blooming, and makes the basil take on a more anise-y flavor).  That means that I need to use them right away!  My favorite use for basil, besides caprese salad (and that’s still a month off as none of the tomatoes have ripened yet) is pesto.

Basil Pesto Ingredients

But let us discuss pesto just a little bit.  Typically, pesto is made with pine nuts.  Pine nuts are delicious, but if you’ve ever heard of Pine Mouth you’ll probably think twice about eating them.  Plus, they’re super expensive.  And for things like pesto where the nuts are there primarily for texture, it’s difficult to tell the difference between them and many other types of nuts.  So I always go with whatever nuts I have lying around the house.  This time, it was sliced almonds that I toasted.

Basil Pesto Ingredients

The trick with basil pesto is that it turns brown by oxidation so quickly.  The only way to effectively prevent this is to not allow the pesto to have any access to oxygen (difficult in a home environment) or to blanch the basil, which is very easy in a home environment.  I went with that.  You basically toss the basil in boiling water, count to 10, ensure that it’s turned a bright green color, then drain.  If you’re not worried about the pesto oxidizing (like you’re going to use it right away or don’t care if it turns brown – the flavor doesn’t degrade with the color), then don’t bother with blanching it.

Basil Pesto IngredientsIngredients:
6ish cups basil leaves, stems and flowers removed, blanched if you so desire.
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2-6 cloves garlic (depends on how much you like garlic)
1/2 cup toasted nuts
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
Salt to taste

Basil Pesto

Instructions:
*Put your cheese, garlic, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor, and twirl until they’re pretty fine (technical term here – maybe uncooked couscous sized?)
*Add your basil, either blanched or otherwise
*Whirr the pesto ingredients and stream in olive oil until the pesto loosens up enough evenly process.
*Taste, add salt, and enjoy.

Basil Pesto

This pesto freezes beautifully.  You can either freeze it as a solid block, or stick it in an ice cube tray, freeze, then stick the cubes of pesto into a resealable zip top bag and store in the freezer.  Or put it all on everything you see for an entire week and then go into withdrawals because you’re out and the basil hasn’t bounced back enough to make another batch.

Basil Pesto wreckage

Good News! I figured out a way to jam more tomatoes into my garden without giving up space to anything else!

Aren’t you relieved?  I thought you might be.  You see, our back yard is in a state of total disrepair.  We have focused so much of our gardening energy into relandscaping our front yard that we totally ignored the back, save for adding a few more raised vegetable beds and dogproofing what we have in the back.  As such, all of the areas that at one point contained 15 year old bark mulch have been overtaken by weeds and grass, and the lawn has experienced the opposite effect.  A couple years of neglect and lacking water, and there are areas that have nothing growing on them.  It’s a bad state of affairs in our back yard.  We have a big project this year, with some big decisions to be made in terms of whether we keep the lawn or try to make some sort of potager setup or orchardy thing.  I don’t want to totally destroy our resale value, but we never use the lawn, and it seems like it’d be much more enjoyable to get some incredible flowers, vegetables, and fruits out of the yard instead of (occasionally) mowing the lawn and pulling weeds in areas that we never go into.  Regardless, the purpose of that rant was to describe the deplorable state of our back yard.  It’s not looking good. We have a long and skinny garden bed along the front of the deck by our bedroom, which blocks off access to under the deck(dogproofing), and helps “finish off” the space a little (that is, when it looks nice). I have a wisteria vine that I put in a year or so ago (I have been warned), some honeysuckle, and I usually grow dahlias and piles of nasturtium in the bed.  And it’s very pretty.  You know, for the 8 weeks out of the year that the nasturtium looks nice.  Otherwise, It looks like a bit of a wasteland with wilting vines (nasturtium seems to be very heat intolerant in our yard’s baking hot full sun), unused dirt, or, every spring, shotweed, which is something that I can’t seem to get a handle on.

 photo IMAG0068.jpg

I have also made the conscious decision to scale back on dahlias in the future.  They’re such beautiful flowers, but I think they get too much sun in our yard and I don’t give them enough water (I’m on a drought-tolerant kick right now, I hate watering), and frankly, they’re just a little too fussy for me to concentrate on.  I want like 5 really good plants in one bed that I am likely to care for them in, and otherwise, none.  Anyway, I’m kicking them out of the long raised bed by our deck.  It is all the way full of shotweed…. like… the idea of trying to pull it gives me anxiety.  I figured I’ll just lay down a few layers of newspaper and top it with some good topsoil, then start growing veggies there.  But then I realized that the newspaper (at least for a few months) will prevent seeds from setting roots far enough down to survive, so I’ll need to plant actual plants, and I don’t usually grow actual plants except for tomatoes, and could I grow tomatoes in that bed, and oh man, how haven’t I seen this before?  The deck still has the supports from when we had corrugated plastic on it, and those would be perfect for stringing up tomatoes, and the elevated deck makes training them easier, and I could totally use the railing to make a tiny plastic tent for them til the weather warms up and oh man am I incredible or what?!  That happened in the shower, and I was so excited to get out of the shower and tell Craig about it that I nearly forgot to rinse the conditioner out of my hair.

long garden bed

So anyway, I will use the railing to make a small version of the plastic tent support, like I have in my bigger tomato bed, and then when they outgrow the small tent, I’ll use the pergola-type thing to run the strings up to support the tomatoes, and that’ll be that.  It’ll still look bad for 2/3 of the year, but at least we’ll nearly double our tomato capacity without removing anything that’ll bother me.