Popcorn Picking

I picked the popcorn today. Last time I planted popcorn, two years ago, I picked it on the 22nd of September, but this was ready to go. It was nicely dried and the stalks were starting to fall over. I planted the same variety as last time–Tom Thumb, a miniature variety with four foot tall stalks–but the weather was just not the same this year.  With the help of my daughter I picked 69 small ears.

Popcorn off the Stalk

Both my kids helped me shuck it. My daughter noted several times that the ear she just revealed would the be the perfect size for a doll, although it would have been less tasty than the corn we purchased from the Conant farm (whose last day was today, and we missed it). After peeling back the husks, we ended up with a pile of golden ears.

Each Ear Equals One Batch of Popcorn

Last time I bagged the ears in a mesh bag and left it to dry for a bunch of weeks. The children were so excited to start collecting it in a bowl, however, that I totally forgot in my own excitement. So we took it off the ears and we marveled at the bowl of kernals. It will need to dry more, indeed, but in a mesh bag that is hanging in the right spot, that should happen easily.

This Will Warm Us on a Winter Day

It was easy to grow. The hardest part was keeping the birds away long enough for it to sprout. They love to yank it out just as it pushes green from the soil. The first time I grew it I had to totally replant it. The second time I tried to grow it I did not have enough time to try again. This time I hung reflectors just as the first shots appeared. That scared the crows and turkeys away and I had plants. After that it was just water, weed and wait. I planted melons in between the plants and that worked out well for both plants.

In a few weeks I will test the popcorn to see if it pops well. Once it is I will jar it up to keep the moisture content right and we will have healthy snacks for the winter. And plenty of it.

Garden Chores

I got out to the garden today (too rainy to paint, although I did bust out the pressure washer to clean the porch deck) and took care of some business. First check out this bounty I picked, including tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and onions:

Basket o' Tastiness

The popcorn is growing well, with tendrils melon plants creeping up the stalks:

Happy Corn Plants

And speaking of melons, I just may be successful this year. I don’t want to speak before I actually pick and eat a ripe melon, but we are close. I saved seeds from a chanterais we got from our farm share last summer. They started off well, they blossomed and a couple of fruits started growing. Now, a couple of them are close to ripe, good sized, and healthy. Seeking carefully under the corn plants, I found ten of them in various stages of growth. There are still more blossoms but those late bloomers will likely not make it at this point. If we eat one or two tasty melons I will be a happy camper gardener.

Check Out That Melon, if You Know What I'm Saying

And I did finally pull the garlic. I could have yanked it all sooner, but today was the day I got around to it. I harvested 19 remaining bulbs. I already used one of them to make some pesto–OK, a lot of pesto–and I will need to save maybe five of them to plant this fall for next year, but that leaves 13. Not bad, considering how much I already used.

More Than Ready for Harvest

Drying in the Sun

So it was a good day for fresh food. We ate pesto pasta for dinner with tomatoes, cucumbers on the side. I need to dig up potatoes next. They are ready to make it to the table now as well. Right now I plan to have another slice of zucchini blueberry bread. It is still warm.

Grow, Baby, Grow

I planted potatoes for the first time this spring. This is what they looked like last weekend, six days ago:

Potatoes, May 30

I was pretty excited that they were growing at all. I mean, I’ve never grown these tubers before. Here is what they looked like today:

Potatoes, June 5

The popcorn appeared today. This morning the green shoots were popping out of the dirt.

Popcorn Reaching for the Sky

I knew I had to get something to scare the birds or they would pull it all as it sprouts. When I first planted popcorn, the birds ate every kernal. So I replanted and hung some reflectors. That did the trick. I wanted to wait this time until the shoots were just coming up so the birds would not get accustomed to my little scare tactic. So late in the morning I rigged my reflectors. Between the time I discovered the seeds sprouting and the time I carried stakes and string out to the garden beds, one of those flying bastards had pulled half a dozen seeds. I hope that is all they manage to get.

I save CD’s over the year so I have a few to hang to keep the birds away. That they are reflective, and that they spin in even a slight breeze, seems to be enough of a deterrent. I add some flagging tape in there just to make things really wiggy. I need the birds to stay away long enough so they no longer want the just-bursting seeds. In past years, once the plants have become established they have done fine, and I am looking to repeat that pattern this year.

Better Than a Scarecrow

And that’s how things are growing these days. Most everything is coming up, although lettuce seems to be slow. I’m thinking it has been too hot. That is what you get for waiting. We have had some hot days and some rain so growing conditions are right on for most things. Although the basil isn’t doing well, which surprises me. But you can’t have everything. If the cucumber beetles are less of a nuisance this year then I will be happy. Cucumbers and melons instead of basil. Not ideal, but not a bad trade.

And speaking of nuisances, I haven’t seen the damn bunnies in a few days now. Maybe my chasing them around in old clogs was enough to scare them? Or maybe my wife watching me chase them, through the upstairs window, and laughing through the screen, was what really made them flee. Either way, I am glad they have decided to snack on more wild fare for the time being.

Too many critters to deal with, I tell you. Too many critters.

Learning Personal Finance

We went to the farmer’s market in Hinesburg yesterday. I emptied my wallet. I didn’t even get all I could have gotten, but our bag was full and the kids were antsy. Next time I’ll bring two bags. And make the kids carry one.

This market was great. I arrived with my two children right when it opened, at 9:00. It was held in the Hinesburg Town Hall. There is a summer farmers market weekly but once the fall hits it whittles down to once per month. We missed the one in October so I was eager to be there for this one.

I purchased leeks, onions, potatoes, garlic, spinach and other stuff. I was happy enough. I was looking for food. My daughter, however, was looking to spend some money.

I had told her I would give her some money so she could buy some things herself. The space is small and I figured it wouldn’t be crowded first thing. So I gave her five bucks and told her she buy whatever she wanted. We did a lap to start us off, to see who was there selling what. We tasted a purple carrot and looped back around. At the first vendor she bought a delicata squash, a tiny one, but cute and just right for her. A couple of tables down she bought some popcorn. It was purple, still on the cob but dried, four ears for a dollar. She bought four. Then she bought some of those purple carrots. She considered a stone charm, but it was five dollars and she didn’t want to blow it all in one shot.

This was great for both of us. She felt a sense of responsibility and I felt safe with her learning some lessons in how to spend money. I really don’t think I could have said no to anything there she may have said she wanted to buy. It was a farmers market.  She wants to buy carrots and mini squash? I’m good with that. She wants to but some jewelry made by someone here in town?  I’m good with that.  She wants to buy honey, jam, hand spun yarn, fresh bread, eggs? How can I say no? It was ideal.

She is now the eager one, asking when the next market will be. There is one every Saturday somewhere around here. The next one is in Burlington, then Winooski, Shelburne, and back in Hinesburg again. And there are  others well into the winter. My daughter would gets the shakes if she saw all the vendors in Burlington compared to little old Hinesburg. I’m thinking we may have to take advantage of that. I can give up five bucks for this endeavor for several weekends if she is still into it. I have been wanting to go to these this fall and winter anyway. Fresh local food this late in the year? I can go out of my way for that.

The eggs we bought yesterday and way good, and I turned cauliflower, spinach, garlic and leeks into a fine dinner tonight. And the popcorn? Pops white, tastes great. And that was just one ear. That popcorn may have been the best deal of the lot.

Fall Arrival and Some Harvesting

Yesterday I pulled the few onions we had growing in our garden.  Most of the seedlings didn’t make it but a few managed to grow.  We ate a couple of them not long ago.  They are some strong onions.  Tasty, however.  These will need to dry a little so they can last long enough to use them all.  Too bad rain is in the forecast for the next couple of weeks.

Onions Out of the Dirt

Onions Out of the Dirt

I also picked a bunch of leeks.  I made a big batch of potato leek soup.  We had a slew of potatoes to use up and all those leeks in the ground.  It tasted pretty good last night for dinner with some buttered toast.  It tasted even better for lunch today.

A Fine Row of Fine Leeks

A Fine Row of Fine Leeks

The peppers are almost red as well.  We have been picking them and eating them but they are so much sweeter when they are fully ripe.  Plus the seeds will sprout easier if the peppers are fully ready when they are picked.  And they are beautiful.

Peppers Almost Ripe

Peppers Almost Ripe

The popcorn is still growing, trying to ripen before the cold sets in. Problem is, the cold kind of has set in. It’s not winter yet or anything but it has been in the 40’s in the morning.  I can’t imagine we will get mature ears out of these plants, but who knows?  I’m willing to wait it out.

Popcorn Still Making a Go of It

Popcorn Still Making a Go of It

The blueberries, on the other hand, have long given up the idea of producing fruit.  Their leaves are turning.  They are redder than the peppers.  They too are beautiful.

Fall Has Arrived for Certain

Fall Has Arrived for Certain

Garden Woes

Ready for Planting

Ready for Planting

We started our garden at the house in which we now live in 2007.  That garden was limited.  We dug up some lawn and gathered some compost and got going.  We planted tomatoes and carrots and lettuce, pumpkins and strawberries.  Last year we expanded, adding more compost and digging more beds.  This is year three.  That first summer we had no problems at all.  Everything grew like gangbusters.  Now the troubles have started.

One mistake was getting compost from a new source last year.  It was filled with weeds and contained the larvae of cucumber beetles.  Cucumber beetles eat the roots of young plants and then, after they hatch, eat the leaves of the same plants.  I have had to replant zucchini and yellow squash and cucumbers, and the melons are pretty much bumming.  I have done nothing yet to get rid of them this spring so our problems persist.  I thought turning the soil late in the fall would help.  I turned it all again early in the spring.  No dice with that simple plan.

I planted peas for the first time this year.  They started off well but now the rabbit that hangs out in the woods has discovered the plants.  It keeps whittling them down to nubbins.  The pea plants are no taller than they were six weeks ago.  Then our cuddly friend discovered the carrots and the lettuce.  The little pecker is nibbling down our salads.  And a squirrel is eating our strawberries.  These critters are killing me.

I planted popcorn today.  Last year I had to plant corn three times.  The first time the turkeys ate the sprouts just as they emerged.  Then the crows did the same after I put up a scarecrow (can you say misnomer?).  Finally I hung a string across the bed with old CD’s hanging from it.  Those spinning reflectors kept the birds away.  I hope that this trick will keep them away again.  The popcorn was one of our best crops last year.

At this point the onions, at least the ten out of 26 that survived (no idea what was up with that) are healthy.  The leeks (except for the handful some crazy bird yanked out but left on the soil) are shooting up, and the pumpkins are spreading.  The tomatoes and peppers (planted a few days ago) are still alive but my optimism is wavering.  We will have some food out of this endeavor but not as much as we might.

I’m not all that upset, really.  I am disappointed, of course, but not upset.  This gardening adventure is about persistence over the long term.  I planted red zebra tomatoes the first summer.  They grew well but were not the sweetest.  I may plant them again as sauce tomatoes, or I might consider trying to grow them over a few years to breed sweeter fruit, but I learned that another variety might be better.  I also have not had much luck with melons.  They need warm weather and lots of it.  The beetles snacking on them don’t exactly help.  So melons will require much more trial and error (hopefully with diminishing error).

I have had luck with seeds I saved for peppers and pumpkins.  I will try more of that this year.  I like the idea of keeping the cycle going–planting seeds from plants that grew the previous year, then doing that again.  It is amazing that it works at all.  Plant a few seeds and they grow into plants that provide food?  That is plain old miraculous, really.

So I do what I can to keep things growing.  I weed and water and hang old computer discs.  I need to get on the cucumber beetles.  They haven’t hatched yet, but I know they won’t wait for an invitation to sit down to dinner on my cucumbers.  Their social graces, it seems, are less than refined.

Harry Potter and Popcorn

If I had a Twitter account this might be a good one for that forum.   The grown-ups in the house watched the first half of the fourth Harry Potter film last night.  It got too late to watch the rest.  It is in the works, queued up for part two.

My wife makes popcorn.  Usually that task falls to me.  But she is giving me time to write this.  So I write this because I am not making popcorn.  And I am not making popcorn because I am writing this.

OK Harry Potter.  I think I’m ready.

What’s Up, Winter?

It was so in the twenties today.  And windier than a room full of bean eaters.  Except it was a cold wind.  It was like way too January.  What happened to Thanksgiving?  We haven’t gotten there yet and it feels like Christmas is long past.

My grandmother used to talk about ice skating on Thanksgiving when she was a kid.  Granted that was in the 1920’s, not exactly a long time ago in geologic time, but most people alive today were not around then.  It is pretty much never that cold at Thanksgiving here in Vermont.  And she lived in Connecticut.  Is this a freak year?  Or are we on the way to another “mini ice age?”

I have been reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower.  He mentions how the first winter that the Pilgrims spent in North America was relatively mild, even though most of the winters they would experience in their new home would be much colder than they are now.  And they didn’t have central heating.  Or, really, enough food.

What do I have to complain about?  Winter seems to be here already, but we wood stacked and beans in the pantry.  Plus popcorn ready for melted butter.  The only corn the Pilgrims had was what they stole during their first week ashore.  And that weren’t for popping.

The ground is frozen.  Up the road someone plowed the field today.  I’m not sure what that is about.  Frozen chunks of earth are splayed in a line up once and back.  I’m no farmer, clearly.  I just want to get the strawberries mulched, but they are now covered in snow.

We are headed down to Connecticut for Thanksgiving.  Maybe we will get a chance to go ice skating.  Or maybe we will have to be content to hang out inside, with central heating, enjoying a fine meal and, later, maybe lounging on the couch relaxing and listening to the wind.

Popcorn Ready at Last

Back in June I planted some popcorn. I planted it later than I wanted but the turkeys, and then the crows, had pulled up all of the sweet corn. I was playing it safe. I hung some old CD’s to blow in the wind and that kept the fowl away. At the end of September (the 22nd) my daughter and I picked it and shucked it. It has been hanging to dry since then.

I tried to pop some last month but it did not work well. It was not dry enough. Today I tried again, heating about ten kernels in hot oil. Every one popped. My son helped me peel the seeds from the cobs. He stripped a few of the mini cobs before declaring “I think I’m done doing this now.” I love his honesty.  I picked up the ones he scattered across the counter.

We did not get too much, just over half a jarful, but it is enough for several batches this fall and (if it lasts) winter.  Here are some visuals of the process this afternoon:

What they looked like before removing the kernels

What they looked like before removing the kernels

Naked cobs

Naked cobs

Off the cob

Off the cob

Storage vessel until time for popping arrives

Storage vessel until time for popping arrives