Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Using late summer bounty #mngarden #salsa #freshveggies #recipes

pico de gallo

It’s the same struggle every year: what to do with WAAAAY more veggies than I anticipated. One of the best parts about a veggie garden is that very bounty, if you have something to do with all those veggies. I’ve convinced my daughter to bring some of them to her work to share.

There’s something about home-grown tomatoes … I think there are a lot of people that only grow tomatoes because of the taste. Store-bought tomatoes can’t compete with the flavor of a sun-warmed, fresh-picked, red-ripe (or yellow or pink or whatever other color you have) tomato.

garden-fresh tomatoes

This is about the same time the pepper plants are starting to split and fall over because of the sheer weight of the peppers. And we won’t talk about the four (!!) jalapeno plants I have. I don’t know what I was thinking, except those were the plants that came up when I started the seeds this spring. A person doesn’t need more than one jalapeno plant unless they go all out making poppers. Sheesh!

red bell peppers and jalapeno peppers

We plant enough onions to last at least halfway through the winter (we use a LOT of onions), though this year when I planted my onion seeds (I’ve been starting my own onions in the house in, like, March), not as many of them came up as in years past, so I had to get sets from the local greenhouse. Those onions had a tendency to form multiple bulbs, almost like huge garlic. Which might have been okay if I’d pulled them before we got two inches of rain that collected in the pockets of those multibulb onions. So many started to rot! Sigh. We rescued what we could, but next year I’m thinking I’ll order onion plants again. At least I’ll get the variety we like, instead of generic “white” onion sets.

three onions

Have you ever heard someone say you only have to plant dill once? That’s because it reseeds like crazy, and you’ll get volunteers coming up for years. Cilantro is kinda the same way, though it works better if you plant some every couple of weeks so you always have some that isn’t going to seed.

cilantro

Every year when I have an abundance of tomatoes, I make pico de gallo. The first time I had it was when hubs and I were in Mexico with his sister. It was soooo good! And so simple. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, and a splash of lime juice.

My daughter will eat pico de gallo with tortilla chips and call that a meal. So, in case you are interested, here’s the “recipe”. It’s like when you ask your grandma for just about any recipe that isn’t a dessert: no exact measures. It’s all to taste:

Fresh tomatoes: enough so that when they are diced, you end up with maybe 3 to 4 cups.

Fresh sweet peppers: enough so that when they are chopped, they are about a third to a half of the volume of the tomatoes (so 4 c of diced tomatoes would need about 1 1/2 cup or so of peppers)

Fresh onions: again, enough so that when chopped they are about a third of the volume of the tomatoes. To taste, though, and depends on how strong your onions are (and some of ours are so strong they can make your eyes water from halfway across the kitchen).

Fresh jalapeno peppers: to taste, and it depends on how spicy the peppers are and how spicy you like it. We’ve had jalapenos that were OMG hot, and some that were meh. I’ve been using about three without the seeds and ribs (which is where most of the heat is).

Fresh cilantro: finely chopped, to taste. Some people think cilantro tastes like soap, I think it tastes great. I add about 1/4 c or so, again depending on volume of tomatoes.

This is my method. No, I haven’t combed through Pintrest or Allrecipes.com to find a recipe. It works, it’s unstructured (read: rebellious), and makes me feel good because everything is from the garden (except the lime juice).

Dice the tomatoes and put them in a strainer to drain (I put the strainer over a bowl to catch the juice, which Hubs uses to make soup or whatever (hey, he loves to cook!)). Trust me, there’s a lot of juice in them tomatoes. Stir in a bunch of salt, start with about 1 teaspoon for sure if you have about 3-4 cups of tomatoes (yes, THAT much, and no, I never measure 🙂 ). Mix it into the tomatoes. let them drain. The salt will pull more liquid from the tomatoes.

Chop the rest of the veggies and stir them into the tomatoes in the strainer. It’ll keep draining. Taste it now to make sure you have enough salt. Don’t be afraid to add more; it’s surprising how much it can take. Make sure the flavors balance and adjust as needed (that is, add more tomatoes or onions or whatever until it tastes good).

Put the salsa into the container you will serve or store it in, then add a splash of lime juice (try a capful if you need a measure). Mix well, taste again, add more juice if you think it needs it. And that’s it.

Note that after you put it in the fridge the flavors get muted; that’s the tomato, I think. Tomatoes always lose some flavor once they’re refrigerated.

Damn, now I’ve got the munchies. I’ll get back to my writing after a little snack 😀

Enjoy your weekend! Keep on Writing!

Nyx, Tibbers, and my son’s girlfriend’s cat, Stella


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Fall Harvesting #mngarden

onions curing on hardware cloth
Two-thirds of the onion harvest

It’s that time of year, when everything seems to ripen at the same time. And you realize just how many green beans you can get from a mere seven plants. Uff-da!

green beans

I forget every year just how many beans one plant can produce. This year was odd anyway. I always get a particular variety, Kentucky Blue Wonder bush bean. They are good beans, no strings like the old-fashioned string beans have.

So I had to replant a few times this year, and got more seeds from our local greenhouse, which gets them in bulk and lets you scoop out what you need. Of course, you never know what you’ll get until they come up.

I ended up with two bush string bean plants, three of the bush beans I expected to come up, and two of a variety that I totally wasn’t expecting and have never seen: pole beans with flat pods. BTW, pole beans grow into a big tangled bale if they don’t have anything to climb. I haven’t looked in my old seed catalogs to identify the variety. Last year I ended up with one string bean plant with my Kentucky Blue Wonders. I think next year I might order through the mail instead of getting them at the local greenhouse.

I have one cherry tomato plant, and that’s plenty. I can keep up with them (since I’m the only one who eats them, apparently). They are good, and ripen at a slow enough rate that I can use/eat all the ones I’ve picked before picking again. I usually don’t plant cherry tomatoes because some varieties have so many tomatoes that unless the whole family eats them, you get to a point where you don’t pick them anymore or they go bad and get tossed to the chickens.

That is one thing I really miss about not going into the office: no one to pawn off the extra harvest. I used to bring gallon Ziplock bags of green beans and cherry tomatoes (when I had them) to the office. One of my former co-workers even told me he misses my cucumbers that I would bring in. Now that I’m working from home for good, I’ll have to be careful how much I plant, or check if the local food bank takes fresh produce.

This year I’ve had more cucumber beetles than I’ve ever seen. I had no idea they liked green beans until I saw the laced leaves (they eat between the veins of the leaves so the leaves look like lace). And the poor cucumber! I’m getting some cukes, but the plant is dying. That’s the bad thing with pests like that, they will transmit diseases to the plant that kills the plant long after the bugs have, for the most part, disappeared.

cucumber plant wilting in the middle from disease
Poor cucumber

The peppers are going gangbusters! Stupid me, planting four(!) jalepeno plants. What was I thinking?! One jalapeno is more than enough for a year’s worth of salsa, chili, and whatever else most people use them for. Ugh. The sweet bell peppers are doing really well, too. I thought the variety was smaller, but no, the peppers are just as big as the usual California Bell.

cucumber plant, pepper plants
cukes on the left, peppers on the right, cheeseweed in the middle 🙂

I didn’t plant dill this year, but you’d never know it from the sheer number of volunteer dill plants that came up. The pumpkin is waning as usual about now.

dill on the left, pumpkin on the right

I grew them for my sister-in-law, who wants them for decoration, I think. When she gave me the seeds, I wonder if she realized how big the pumpkins were going to be. Variety? Jack-O’Lantern. Pumpkins twice as big as a basketball? Yep. And not just one or two. Try a dozen plus.

pumpkins

The beets are huge, the kale is recovering from cabbage worm attacks, and the tomatoes are coming in. I’ll be making another batch of pico de gallo today. Yum!

The last bit of color in the garden is blooming. I don’t particularly like how marigolds smell, but they are kinda pretty.

marigolds

Enjoy the upcoming autumn season. Apple cider, fall colors, pumpkins and the goodies that come with them. Cooler weather and fewer bugs!

Keep on writing!

Nyx (black cat) curled up for a nap
Warm Nyx-y, sleepy Nyx-y, purr purr purr


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YAGU (Yet Another Garden Update) #mngarden

Unicorn variety cherry tomatoes

It’s rolling into that time of the season, where everything seems ready to pick all at the same time, except for those things I really want to pick, like the tomatoes (c’mon, hurry up and get ripe!)

Two weeks ago things were buzzing–literally. The borage was three feet tall, I swear! And bees! Finally! Took them long enough to show up. This week the borage has died back. Yep, didn’t take long, but I think the rain we had last weekend helped it along. Borage has hollow stems, or at least they seem hollow, so after it makes its seeds, it has a tendency to rot at the base, especially when there’s rain to help it along. I ended up pulling out almost all the formerly-bushy plants when I got back from WI because they had collapsed on top of the onions.

There’s still a little still standing, though, and the bees appreciate it.

Bee on borage flower–those little buggers are hard to catch on “film”

The green beans are ready to harvest, but not quite enough at one sitting to cook up for a meal. The cilantro is flowering, but I did plant more, so that’s starting to come up.

The onions are starting to fall over, which is typically the indication they are done growing. The peppers are doing super, with jalapenos (and of course, enough to feed a village and the next village over) and a sweet pepper called “Chablis” that starts out pale and ripens to orange, then red. There aren’t any ripening yet, though.

My poor cucumber. Sigh. It’s struggling, and being innundated with striped cucumber beetles doesn’t help. Then again, I didn’t know cucumber beetles were so fond of green beans, either. I mean, they’re cucumber beetles, but when I checked the beans the other day, there were clouds of them. So I got out my trusty organic pyrethin-based bug spray (which has been sitting around for years cuz I haven’t felt the need to use it for a while), mixed some up, and let loose on those little buggers. Seems to have helped a bit, I think.

And pumpkins! You know how they kinda take over? Yeah, well, they have:

Pumpkin vines

This is fully one quarter of the garden, and they are draped over the fence and sprawling that direction. So, how many pumpkins does that much greenery get you? Not sure. Remember, these are the ones my sis-in-law asked me to plant for her. They are the Jack o’Lantern variety, so bigger than the pie pumpkins I planted last year, and thus there are fewer actual pumpkins (I think. I haven’t found very many at this point.).

I see you there, pumpkin

My marigolds are just starting to bloom. At least one of them is. I’m not a fan of the smell, but I have the seeds, and it’s nice to see a little color.

Marigold

At this point, I don’t bother to weed much, except to pull some stuff to toss to the chickens, who seem to appreciate it. They better, because I don’t think I’ll have enough cucumbers to give any of them to the chickens.

In other news, our reunion was great! It was so nice to see everyone in person again. Even though we had to Zoom one of our Sisters in because she was going through her last radiation treatment (breast cancer), the gang was back together! Next year is our tenth anniversary, so we’re hoping we can all gather in person for that one. It’ll be a blast!

My first week at my new job went, um, … Let’s just say it was interesting. Two companies merged last year to become the one company I work for, so they are still getting the computer systems and networks to talk to each other without choking on things. On the one hand, the IT dept is great! I’m getting really good at submitting tickets :). The people are great, including my manager and my team. I spent the week doing training (two days of learning the fundamentals of payroll … sheesh.), and I’ll spend this upcoming week doing more training.

On Monday I’ve got my first in-person book thing since the early spring of 2020, so I’m crossing my fingers that will be good. Never know these days, especially with the way things are going. I have another in-person event the beginning of Oct, so we’ll see if that sticks or if they switch it to virtual like they did last year.

Have a great writing week!

Nyx and Tibbers chillin’


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How does my garden grow? July 2021 edition #amgardening #mngarden

It’s about time for a garden update, as promised. So far, so good, though some things are a little behind because I had to replant them multiple times (I’m looking at you, cucumber!)

The tomatoes are looking good, and so far no signs of blight. I planted two resistant varieties, so we’ll see how they do. To hedge my bets, I planted a Brandywine in a big pot up by the house. Brandywine is an heirloom beefsteak-size tomato with incredible flavor. I haven’t planted them for years because those beefsteak tomatoes seem to split a lot, then those spotted black bugs move in and the tomatoes end up going to the chickens (who don’t complain about the bugs).

Experimenting with labels 🙂

The peppers are coming along, and the kale is looking good. The onions look really good, and the beets are beautiful. However, I’ve cursed at the beans. Generally, green beans are one of the easiest veggies to grow, and they germinate fast. There have been years I’ve had to replant them because we had so much rain the seeds never came up (I suspect they rotted). This year I had to replant them 4 times! The 4th time I finally planted them in a different spot. About two-thirds of them came up. Sigh.

One lonely cuke

I was all excited to plant more of the variety I grew last year, the one with the thin skin that wasn’t bitter. Diva. Last year the seed pack said it had a low germination rate, so plant extra. I did, they came up, and were delicious. This year I got fresh seeds, and planted the leftovers from last year plus some fresh ones. I waited. And waited. And after a week, I replanted. And another week. And replanted. In the photo you can see the stakes that marked the spots where I planted the hills. And another week. So then I planted in different spots along the pig panel. One cuke plant surfaced. And because I had to replant so many times (I’ve never had to replant cukes more than once), it’s a little behind. Ugh.

Onions with volunteer dill and borage. Pumpkins on the right, lamb’s quarters at the bottom (weeds, but tasty weeds 🙂 )

My mom always said you only need to plant dill once. It’s the plant that keeps on coming. Granted, I did plant dill last year because I made pickles, so there are a lot of dill volunteers coming up. Cilantro is the same way. And borage. I thought about planting borage this year; the bees love it. The local greenhouse didn’t have any seed and I had seen a few volunteer seedlings, so I figured I’d go with that.

Those plants are easily 2ft tall now, and bushy. Lots of pretty purple flowers, but the number of bees has been depressingly low in recent years. No thanks to the vast farm fields around us and whatever the heck they put on the fields.

Borage blue flowers

The pumpkins my sister-in-law asked me to grow for her are doing the usual pumpkin thing of taking over their corner of the garden. As long as they don’t encroach on the onions, I’m good with them.

I didn’t get any brussels sprouts plants this year; the greenhouse was out when I picked up the kale and Brandywine (that was the only tomato I didn’t start in the house this year). I did plant kohlrabi again, hoping again they lure the cabbage butterflies away from the kale. The jury’s still out on that.

I also planted marigolds again this year (since the seeds are so small, I have a LOT of seeds), but they aren’t anywhere close to blooming yet.

The potatoes and corn in hubs’ garden are doing well, but the weeds are also jockeying for position. He’s weeded once, I think. Oh well.

And that’s the garden saga so far.

In other news, three weeks until our Writing Sisters Reunion! In person this year! Woo-hoo! I miss seeing those gals in person. We chat via Zoom every other week, but it’s been what, almost two years since we were close enough to hug.

The job hunt is ongoing. I’ve had a lot of interviews over the past couple weeks, and multiple interviews with a few companies. No offers yet, but I’m still hoping a particular few come through.

On the writing front, I’m taking a break from Book 2 to focus on writing a short story. It’s not going as well as I’d hoped, but I keep thinking about it on my walks. I’ve been binge-reading a series for the third time because, well, I can’t help it. I think it’s the characters. If you are curious (@Marcia Meara, I blame you!), it’s the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. I’m planning to reread the Harry Dresden series at some point as well, but I have my writing teacher’s new book to consume, and Writing Sisters’ pages to read and critique.

Hope your summer is going well. Stay cool, those out on the West Coast. Stay dry, those on the East Coast.

Stay cool and Write on!

A special appearance by Tibbers


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YAG (Yet another garden), 2021 version #amgardening #mn #mngardening

As promised, I got my garden planted last weekend. Thank goodness there were no mosquitoes, decent temps, and not much wind. This year I thought I would share the play-by-play with you.

tilled garden, bare ground

First step: Till the garden. We have an old Ford utility tractor (4400 for you tractor geeks out there) with a tiller implement, which is a VAST improvement over the walk-behind, front-tine tiller I used the first few years we lived out here. We left the fences up again this year, but I think at the end of the season we’ll take them down and till it all. The creeping charlie is hiding between the fence and the chicken wire and invading my garden.

Stakes spaced using a tape measure.

Next, and I know this is going to sound somewhat, erm, weird, but I use a tape measure to space the rows. I try to keep the rows 4 ft apart, and at least that far from the fence. The tomatoes are on the north side this year, so I left an extra couple feet between the fence and the tomato row.

Once I get the stakes spaced out on both ends of the garden, I lay out the soaker hoses and put up the tomato fences. The past few years I’ve used hog panels to support the tomatoes. Last year I added cattle panels.

When we bought the place, it came with a lot of leftovers from the neighbors (whom we bought the property from), including hog panels, which are heavy-duty wire. The cattle panels are hella heavy cuz they are steel tubing. In the picture at the very top you can see the cattle panel, and you might be able to see the hog panel grid behind it.

Hog panel and cattle panels set up for cucumbers and tomatoes

Here you can see a hog panel. This is what I’m using to support the cucumbers this year. I used a hog panel last year, and that worked pretty well. At the other end you can see the cattle panels where I’ll plant the tomatoes.

And no, I did not plant pickling cucumbers this year, as promised. I went into the basement to get a jar of pickles, and stopped counting how many quarts I put up last year. Yep, not going to miss it this year.

soaker hoses laid out between the stakes on each row.

Next, I lay out the soaker hoses. The rows this year are about 44 feet long. Our hoses are either 75′ or 50′ long, so in the past, I’ve connected the 75′ hoses together and wove them up and down three rows. That didn’t work this year; I think I have a 50′ one I connected to the 75′ one, so that ended up covering three rows. I caved and used a 50′ one for each of the last two rows, so I have five rows total. Yeah, I didn’t realize how much room that was either until I started figuring out what to plant where.

Wow. Writing it out like that makes it seem a whole lot bigger than I thought. Sheesh. Someday I’ll learn how to plant a smaller garden. Maybe.

soaker hoses now covered with cut grass as mulch

Okay, this is the key. Mulch. Lots and lots of mulch. Underneath the grass is fabric mulch. So, on top of the hoses I lay down black fabric mulch. On top of the fabric I pile on cut grass. Which I mowed with the tractor (our other utility tractor is a Farmall 460 utility, for those tractor geeks) and the bush hog, which is a 5′ mower deck pulled behind the tractor and run off the tractor PTO.

So, I mowed a vast area of quackgrass and saw grass, then raked and collected the grass. By hand. It probably takes just as long to rake by hand as it does using the lawn tractor to collect it, when you figure stopping to empty the collection bins every fifteen minutes. And I use less gas. 🙂

rows--cucumbers and tomatoes, peppers in the next row.

I did get hubs to bring me some wood chips from the pile left a couple years ago by the power company guys when they cleared a part of our grove because the trees were within one storm of taking out the transformer on one of the poles. I used the wood chips to cover the last hose and had enough to line the fence on the south side. Take that, creeping charlie. (I’m sure it’ll laugh at me later when it breaches the chip pile.)

Once I get all the hoses covered, I can start planting. The peppers are closest on the right. You can see the tomatoes at the far end; I put old 1-gallon greenhouse pots with the bottoms cut off around the tomatoes to protect them until they get going. They seem to work better than the coffee cans we used when I was a kid. Not that you can get coffee cans much anymore.

row of tomatoes on either side of cattle panel

Here’s a better shot of the tomatoes. I have to remember not to start them so early; they were fine until a couple weeks ago when they started going a little wild in the house.

You can see the cattle panel here. It’s thin-walled steel, but most are from 16′ to 20′ long, and heavier than one person can manage. It takes two of us to move them. Except my husband moved the ones around his garden himself. He’s either trying to prove he can, or he’s tempting the back-injury gods.

Yeah. Note to self: Make sure young, strapping son comes home the weekend we put the gardens in.

garden planted

Finally, finished planting! I started onions in the house, because it’s cheaper than buying onion plants, and they don’t sell the variety in sets at the local greenhouse (for those who are curious, we like the Candy variety. Nice big onions!). However, hubs suggested I pick up some onion sets because the onions I started seemed sparse. So, I did.

Soooo, I now have three rows of onions. BTW, I count a row on either side of the hoses. Which means along one side of one row of mulch and along both sides of another row of mulch I planted onions. Hoo-boy. Good thing we cook with onions A LOT.

another angle of planted garden

And there you have it. I put the tomato cages around the peppers. The cages are worthless for tomatoes, but my peppers tend to fall over once they have fruit on them if I don’t support them somehow. The tomato cages work well for that.

Now to keep the weeds at bay. The more mulch, the merrier, so I try to collect the grass whenever we cut the areas south of the garden and over on the other side of the hog shed (that worn-looking building on the far side of the garden).

Now I can get back to … homework. Yeesh. I’m taking classes for a Technical Writing Certificate, so I’ve got one class this summer, and plan to take one class every semester until I manage all 24 required credits. It’s all online, which is nice, but still. Homework. My class lasts another two weeks, and the garden is in, so there is that.

I’ll get back to my revision. Eventually.

Happy Writing!