The Summer of Rain

I have a postage stamp flower garden out by the mailbox. (It cost more than 49 cents to put in…)

It’s filled with new perennials that decided to be first year bloomers –salvia, rudbeckia, daisies, and a bush honeysuckle. The cosmos self-seeded from last year and is blooming more profusely than ever. A caryopteris I planted last fall is just starting to get little blue fuzzy flowers; the monarda and the echinacea haven’t bloomed — they are just looking green and healthy.

Salvia with the “weeds” — backyard daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace

The daisies were just growing wild in the back yard. I transplanted them so red, yellow, pink, purple, and white flowers will bloom together in one little garden. These are the first flowers I’ve planted since we’ve been here at the cottage; the fruit trees and the berries and the grapes and the vegetables have taken precedence.

Rudbeckia Hirta or Black-eyed Susan

I take so much pleasure from this small triangle of color out my window. Only easy-grow flowers that are on the Deer Don’t Like Me list are planted there; though a rabbit chewed on the coneflower leaves last night.

Diervilla lonicera or Bush Honeysuckle

I’ve been keeping blood meal around the flowers to keep the critters out; perhaps that’s why they are so happy. Or it could be all the rain. The flowers love it; the vegetables do not. That’s why I am writing about the flowers instead of the sad unripe tomatoes; or the peppers with no blossoms and no fruit; or the squash with lots of blossoms but no fruit. Sigh.

The flowers are splendid though, and they cheer my heart when I start to whine about the vegetable garden.

And, this year we have pears! More about that in two weeks or so…

(You will note that the sky in this photo is not blue. Blue skies have been few and far between this summer.)

Just in case you would like to see my “Deer Don’t Like Me” list of deer-resistant plants, shrubs, and flowers, here is the one I’ve compiled:

the beautiful Cosmos bipinnatus…you can never grow too many.

Perennials:
Artemisia Silver Mound, Lamium, Sweet Woodruff, Rocket ligularia, Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Wood Fern, Oenothera, Lemon Balm, Poppies, Monarda, Peonies, Achillea, Echinacea, Hyssop (Agastache), Iris, Coreopsis, Balloon flower (Platycodon), Daffodils, Lambs Ears, Asparagus, most herbs.

Annuals:
Snapdragons, Zinnias, Cleome, Lantana, Marigolds, Globe Amaranth, Ageratum, Dusty Miller, Larkspur, Nicotiana, Annual Vinca.

 

And the cheerful volunteer daisies, genus and species unknown…

Shrubs and Small Trees:
Spirea,  Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris clandonensis), Potentilla, Buddleia, Inkberry, Lilac, Korean Boxwood, Northern Bayberry (Myrica Pennsylvanica),  Pieris Japonica, Mountain Pieris (Pieris Floribundas), Summersweet (Clethra Alnifolia), Leatherleaf Mahonia, Red Elderberry (Sambuca racemosa), Russian cypress, Daphne (Carol Mackie), Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus), Hazelnut (Corylus Americana).

This is just my list of what I like and might thrive here in Zone 6A. You might want to check out this site for a more compete list.

But every list will add the disclaimer –Nothing is completely deer proof. Holly is on most every list of plants that deer won’t eat; yet the deer ate my two holly bushes down to almost nothing last winter — and we had a mild winter with almost no snow cover.

Gardeners around Western Pennsylvania are hoping for a sunny August…

The Accidental Orchid Reblooms

Last March I wrote about my accidental orchid, and how astonished I was that this delicate hothouse flower would bloom (seventeen blooms actually) in my humble cottage under my humble and inexperienced care.

Allow me to extol her virtues further. The last of her white flowers dropped off sometime in June. (If I had known that she would be reblooming soon, I would have kept better statistics…) That is a four month period  of spectacular white flowers on my kitchen windowsill. I let her rest for a couple of weeks, and then cut back her two flower stems.

Can you believe that within a week a third stem began to grow, and now, the first day of August, a mere forty days after her last blooms dropped off, this amazing orchid has opened again. This time she has twenty three buds on three different flower stems.

I have come to love her serene beauty so much, that I’m thinking of buying another one to keep her company. I haven’t found the exact right color yet — perhaps a pale pink beauty — a bridesmaid to the Summer Bride.

Pickle juice

Originally posted in July, 2015. 

It’s very satisfying to be gardening again.

I haven’t had a real vegetable garden in many years. Oh, we grew tomatoes and peppers and herbs (and an occasional zucchini) at the city house, but the deer there ruined my gardening efforts too. We were near a wild-ish park and had an apple tree in the side yard. The deer flocked to it.

But a real fenced in garden? Where I have to open the gate? Well I’ve never had one of those!

tomatoes and peppers in garden

The tomatoes are a jungle and we have only had cherry tomatoes so far. It’s been so rainy, they just aren’t ripening. We’ve had a few peppers; the squash are growing inches overnight; the beans are climbing on the corn; and the cucumbers! Oh my.

It’s a wet summer so far, and cucumbers love water, so we have an abundance. I just planted too many plants because… because…. I’m not sure why. But I think it might have to do with the pickle recipe I’m about to give you.

cucumbers in basket

So what do I do with this many cucumbers? Too few to make a giant batch of pickles and too many to eat all at once.

Get ready, cucumber recipes coming at you…

I am not a veteran pickle maker. I’ve made a few jars back in my old hippie homesteading days but, quite honestly, they tasted like salty cooked cucumbers. No crunch. And if you apply science to this, Of Course. I’ve cooked the cucumbers in boiling water, how could they be crisp? So… I did some research.

Lithuanian Half-Sour Dill Pickles, by the jar.

Those delicious Klaussen pickles? They are Lithuanian Half-Sours. But I had no clue how many jars the above photo of cucumbers would make. So I washed and sterilized several jars of different sizes, and started cutting. Before I give you the recipe, here are some tips:

  • Cut off the tip of the blossom end of the cucumber, or scrape it off with your fingernail or a peeler. Every recipe I’ve read says that if you don’t get rid of the blossom enzymes, the pickles will be more apt to get soggy.
  • Wash the cucumbers gently, but don’t scrub or scour them.
  • If you are using dill (are there other kinds of pickles?) use the flower of the dill plant — the bigger the better.

Slice the cucumbers in your favorite pickle style — slices, chunks, halves, quarters or leave those little ones whole.  

Make them jar by jar. To a quart jar, add a blossom of dill, two or three cloves of garlic, and some pickling spices. I put in some mustard seeds, whole allspice, coriander seeds, and a few shakes of crushed red pepper. I would have added celery seed, if I’d had any. I also had some baby onions, so I threw a few of those in too. Add some cucumbers — I filled about half the jar, and then I put in another dill flower and filled the jar with the rest of the cucumbers and a few more baby onions. (The onions are strictly optional, but I had them and thought they would be good. I was right.)

To each jar add 1/2 cup vinegar, a cup of water, and 4 t. kosher salt. I mixed up this solution first and stirred it around until the salt was dissolved, then poured into the jars. If it doesn’t cover the cucumbers, top off the jar with water until the cucumbers are completely covered. Put a sterilized lid on the jars and refrigerate. You can open the pickles in a week. Cloudy brine is ok. Fizziness is ok. Neither of my jars got fizzy… though I’ve read that is a problem. These are refrigerator pickles. And my basket of cucumbers (about 20 cukes — sized from small to medium) made two quart jars, with three little cucumbers left over. (And if you would like to make up a larger batch of brine, I’ve done the math for you —  1/4 c. salt, 1 and 1/2 c. vinegar, and 3 c. water. This makes enough for 4 pints or 2 quarts of pickles.)

Lithuanian half-sour pickles by the jar

In The Dill Crock (1984), John Thorne describes half-sours as “cucumbers still, not pickles — little cucumbers who [have] died and gone to heaven.”  One can find as many recipes for these as there are cooks, but all the recipes that I tried to conglomerate and follow said the little heavenly cucumbers would be ready in a week. I’ve been opening the jar every day and testing them. On Day 2, they simply tasted like the cucumbers in vinegar we used to have as a kid every summer for dinner. But today is Day 5 and I got them out to put on Mr. H.C.’s lunch sandwich, so I tried one for breakfast. They are delicious. Like Mr. Thorne says, not pickles, not quite cucumbers. Heavenly.

I’m editing this post in July of 2017: Last year these refrigerator half-sours were the only pickles I made — 2 dozen quarts. They kept in the fridge all year. I still have 3 jars left and they are still delicious– crisp and clear.  I’ve given away several jars, and everyone I’ve given them to has asked me for the recipe. So I’m reposting this now because it’s another wet summer — and there are more cucumbers coming every day. The only drawback to these pickles is that you need refrigerator space. I’m thinking of getting a small dorm-room type fridge just for 24 jars of these pickles…

And so with three cucumbers left over, and more ripe in the garden today, I’ve got another simple recipe for you as well. I can’t take any credit for this one either. It is from Foodie with Family — my favorite food blog — although like any recipe, I added and took away.

Asian Cucumber Salad

This salad is so easy and so delicious, you won’t believe you’ve ever lived without it. It’s great with any summer grilled food, or any Oriental themed meal. And though it’s fine in the winter with store-bought cucumbers, it is really a summer recipe made with the freshest cucumbers you can find. We keep a bowl of these in the fridge during cucumber season so we can have it with every meal.

Asian cucumber salad

If you have a mandoline, use it for this recipe. If you don’t have one, use your sharpest knife and slice one large or two or three medium cucumbers into Very Thin Slices. Also slice a quarter to a half of a sweet onion — depending on how much you like sweet onions.  Again, slice them as thinly as you can without getting blood in the salad. (I have sometimes used scallions instead of a sweet onion.) Stir together in a small bowl:

  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 T. toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 T. minced fresh dill
  • 1/2 to 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 to 1 t. sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 t. toasted sesame oil
  • a few grinds of red pepper flakes (This is the only optional ingredient. Just recently I put my never-used red pepper flakes into a grinder, and now I’m discovering that I use them all the time. And Mr. H.C. — a guy who likes his hot pepper rating at 0 — hasn’t complained yet.)

Stir gently. You can eat it now, or you can eat it later, but I guarantee that it won’t sit in your fridge for very long. Ten minutes to make, five minutes to eat. Yum. Try it on pulled pork. Or with a stir-fry. Or with anything.

cucumber blossoms

And we’ve discovered lots of honeybees on the cucumber flowers. Go bees! More cucumbers! Yay for summer.