Thursday, September 28, 2017

A new front porch

I guess I'm one of those people who has to have a project or two to do every year, and on this house, there is no shortage of projects that badly need to be undertaken.  This year it's the front porch and walkway to the drive.  The walkway was a wood affair.  Not only was it dangerously slick in the winter, so slick that I've had a number of close calls, but the wood frame in contact with the ground was rotting away.  I'm sure the builder saved a little money by using wood instead of concrete.

Then there's the porch deck itself.  I shouldn't get started on the litany of transgressions against good, or even barely acceptable, workmanship, but here goes.  And I realize, it may not have been the builder who did this, because many builders subcontract their decks.   First off, the deckbuilder, I'll just call him Hack, put on the back posts next to the house by setting them on the floorboards, then toenailing them to the house through the siding.  Then they stained the deck with a sprayer without bothering to shield the siding. 

I should be used to this because they did the same thing on the back deck, which I replaced a few years ago, but it still amazes me:  Hack couldn't bother to remove the siding where the 2x8 ledger board goes on the house, he put it on top of the siding, so more nails through the siding.  But that wasn't even Hack's greatest feat of hack carpentry:  Instead of using lag screws or bolts, he used 16 penny nails to fasten the ledger board to the house.  Let's see, that nail has to go through a 1 1/2 inch thick ledger board, 1/2 inch of siding, 1/2 inch of foam, and 1/2 inch of plywood to reach the sill joist inside the house.  It never did, and the ledger board was literally falling off the house.

I've been replacing everything except the roof of the porch, which I added on myself in 2010.  The trick is keeping the roof in place while the deck is removed and replaced.  The inside posts were replaced first, after some diagonal braces were put in from the outside posts.  Once the inside posts were finished, the concrete walk was put in.  I'll never do another concrete walk, it's too much like work.  Now the outside posts are being replaced, and the braces are fastened to the inside posts.

Digging out a post set in concrete is a lot of work.  With the posts buried 30 inches in concrete, you have to dig a cone to get it out of there, which is a lot of dirt to remove.  After putting in a 10 inch thick concrete pad at the bottom, the cardboard tubes are set into the wet concrete, leveled and filled, and an anchor bolt is set into the wet concrete.  The tubes let you bring concrete to a few inches above ground level without having to fill the entire hole.  That's a makeshift plumb bob dangling over the anchor bolt at the top of the pier.  The beauty of this system is that it keeps the wood post from touching soil or concrete.  A metal bracket is attached to the anchor bolt and the post attaches to the bracket, which holds the post an inch away from the concrete.
Looks like I"ll be replacing some plants next year.

Later the same day the piles of dirt were pulled back into the holes and the area raked out and  smoothed.  The damaged siding was removed and the joints on the foam were taped.

The worst of the work - the digging, post removal, and concrete work is over.  I'll give the new concrete piers a few more days to set up and put in the new posts.  It's great to be retired and in no hurry, because the only urgency is to get this finished before foul weather arrives, and being in no hurry means the job is done right and will last a long time.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Monday September 25

At this point there's not much left of the vegetable garden.   Last weekend I removed the two cages of Mountain Magic tomatoes, but not before picking any that were ripe or at least orange.  That is the end of the indeterminate tomatoes for the year.

The tomato plants were thrown into the woods.  I don't like putting them in the compost bin because it may not get hot enough to kill the pathogens inside the plants. 

This picture shows some of the raised beds.  Two of the beds have a young cover crop of field peas and oats.  The bed on the right has a couple rows of bush beans.  It will be planted in spinach and garlic in October, for overwintering.  The bed on the left had the tomato plants and still has peppers.  Before planting the oats and peas, I had to come up with a rough plan for next year's garden so I knew which bed would get the overwintered plants.

Speaking of beans, after several weeks of no beans, since the pole beans are long gone, those 2 rows of August planted Provider bush beans gave me the first picking of beans.  It's sure nice to have fresh beans again!

Except for a few vines on the trellis, the winter squash are mostly done.  It's been a difficult year for winter squash here.  All of the first plantings died from wilt, as did many of the second plantings.  Finally, the seeds that were planted in late June survived and set squash, better late than never I guess.  Everything looked good until about two weeks ago when another disease overtook them.  The Butternuts growing near the trellis have a shot at maturing, but the ones left on the ground will probably not ripen, since the rest of the plant has died.

The Buttercup squash set earlier and produced some mature squash.  I picked them and a few ripe Butternut squash and put them on the screen to cure.  At least I'll get something but it certainly won't be like the 140 pounds of squash from last year.

There's still 2 cages of Plum Regal tomatoes hanging in there.  There's not enough to can, but I could probably make a couple of pints of refrigerator marinara, if I could find the motivation.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Paw paw harvest

About a year ago I wrote a post about a patch of small pawpaw trees I found growing at the edge of the yard.  To help them along, I removed other saplings, wild raspberry vines, and invasive multiflora rose bushes that were competing with them.  Well this year they have rewarded me with a nice crop of pawpaw fruits. I've been picking one or two a day and having them for desert.

For those of you who have never tried a pawpaw, it's a nondescript looking fruit on the outside that has a custard-like yellow interior that tastes better than anything I've ever tried.  Here's a picture of a small, bruised specimen.  The seeds are like large watermelon seeds, designed to pass through an animal to be dispersed elsewhere.

An article in Serious Eats describes the flavor better than I can:  "A pawpaw's flavor is sunny, electric, and downright tropical: a riot of mango-banana-citrus that's incongruous with its temperate, deciduous forest origins. They also have a subtle kick of a yeasty, floral aftertaste a bit like unfiltered wheat beer."  Yeh, that pretty well somes them up.  The flavor is downright intoxicating, and one of them sitting on the counter will fill the kitchen with a heady aroma.  

People have been breeding domestic cultivars of the pawpaw for awhile.  Even though it has a wonderful flavor, there are a few impediments to it's commercial success.  Like a peach, you know it's ripe when it's flesh gives a little under gentle pressure from a finger.  Unlike a peach, it won't ripen if picked when it is very firm.  Also, the fruits on any tree tend to ripen over a period of several weeks, so they can't be picked all at once.  Once they ripen and are ready to eat, they fall off the tree in short order, bruising them.  The fruits will keep a day or two on the counter, 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.  Apparently, if the fruit is picked just short of being fully ripe, it will keep several weeks in the refrigerator and will ripen once removed.  The challenge is in knowing when they are just ripe enough, because if they are picked too green they won't ripen at all.

I've learned to check the trees every morning and evening for dropped fruit.  I made the mistake of mowing near them last week with the brush cutter, not realizing that the low hanging branches had a number of fruits.  That destroyed about half a dozen pawpaws.  I've picked about that many so far.  Maybe it's possible to eat them until I'm tired of them, but I haven't reached that point yet.  

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday September 11

Production is slowing way down here, which is not a bad thing really, as I don't need to freeze any more beans or can any more salsa, there's plenty in the pantry.  I'm getting just enough to put into meals.  Having said that, the peppers are still producing and, if the weather is favorable, continue to produce for several more weeks.  This picking a week ago went into a batch of harissa, described in the previous post.

This is about a pound of pole beans, Fortex and Musica.  Later in the week I got 2 more small pickings of beans.

Sunday I removed the pole beans to the compost bin.  They were full of rust, some sort of bug was eating on the pods and pitting them, and they just looked bad overall.  It was about 9 feet of trellis.
It only took a few minutes to remove them.  I cut the strings at the top and bottom, snipped the beans at the base and pulled the whole affair away.  It made a big pile of greens that were chopped up with the machete.  Since the string is jute it will decompose with the plants.

I've been getting mostly Mountain Magic tomatoes now, although the Pink Girl plant looks like it's going to make some more slicers.  Shade is a real factor now, as the tree line to the southwest comes into play and shortens the plant's day length.  This picking includes the last summer squash.  I pulled the plant out after harvesting it.  And there's one Jimmy Nardello pepper in there, which has started producing again.

It looks like the Plum Regal plants may give me another batch of tomatoes.  I don't think it will be large enough to make a batch of salsa or marinara, but maybe enough to can diced tomatoes, which don't have to be boiled down.  I'm not sure I want to do any more canning, though. 

So far this year I've harvested 250 pounds of vegetables.  I don't know if the final harvest will be any more than other years, but it's been a balanced harvest where nothing has totally failed and no vegetable has given me a glut.  I've picked 100 pounds of tomatoes so far, better than in past years, but that is what I would expect from 8 cages.  Beans are a bit better than average, at 33 pounds, cucumbers were average at 22 pounds.  Eggplant and cole crops all gave decent yields, while okra and summer squash were a bit less than usual.  The only vegetable that disappointed was lettuce, and that was due to the potting mix that was used.  After a rocky start, it looks like winter squash will be OK. All in all, a very good year.

To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Harissa redux

Tunisian pepper paste.  I love this stuff, especially on eggs.  Actually I made a post on this last year when I had my first go at making it.  This time I want to go into a little more detail on how I make harissa, since the last post was a little sketchy.  If you look up recipes online you'll find many different ways to make it.  I'm sure that, like hummus, every town in the region has its own variation on harissa. 

From the preparations that I've seen, ancho chilis are usually the base, hot peppers provide heat, and cumin and caraway, and maybe cilantro add spice.  There may be 2 camps of harissa makers - those who put tomato in it and those who don't.  I fall in the latter group, believing that this is a condiment where the pepper rules, and adding tomato makes it something else, like a salsa of sorts, but not a real harissa. 

Monday I picked these peppers, all of which went into making harissa.  Starting at the top left, there are 2 Bastan anchos, a Mosquitero ancho, and the mystery sweet pepper.  The yellow peppers are Mama Mia Giallo.  At the bottom left are 3 paprika peppers, and the small peppers are ripe Fish peppers - the heat.  I would have rather seen all the large peppers be anchos, but this is what the plants gave me, and I'll take it.

The preparation can be separated into 3 tasks.  The first part is roasting or grilling the large, mild peppers.  I say mild because anchos have some heat, while the sweet peppers have none.  If fresh anchos are not available and you want the flavor of the ancho in the paste, buy dried anchos at the supermarket and rehydrate in water.  I highly recommend using at least some anchos because they have a complex flavor profile that a sweet pepper can't duplicate - the taste of raisins, black currant, a sweet tang, a bit of heat - sublime really.

The second part is toasting the spices.  I used 2 tsp coriander, 4 tsp caraway, and 3 TB cumin.  Cumin especially is improved by toasting.  Raw cumin has an unpleasant raw 'bite' to it that toasting removes, replacing the rawness with a mellow, more rounded flavor.  And it smokes in the grinder!  I toasted the spices in a dry ceramic pan at medium heat.

How do you tell when the spices are toasted but not burnt?  I don't know, except I just know when it's time.  The seeds do look a bit browner in the after picture, and they were becoming fragrant.  After toasting, the seeds were ground, an operation that will clear the sinuses.

The third part is preparing the hot peppers.  I diced a medium onion and, after removing the seeds, cut all the Fish peppers at a fine dice.  The Fish peppers are related to serrano peppers and are about the same heat level, maybe a bit hotter, and they made the final product plenty hot for my taste anyway.  The peppers and onions were sauteed in some olive oil at medium-low heat until the onions wilted, then 5 chopped garlic cloves were added and the heat continued a few more minutes.

Then everything - the roasted peppers, the spices, and the onion/hot pepper mix - was put in the blender and blended together.  That's it.  The most labor intensive part is cutting up the hot peppers at a fine dice.  I intended to add a habanero to the mix but it had been in the refrigerator over a week and had gone bad.  Good thing it went bad because the paste is more than hot enough for my tastes.  It's a wonderful condiment and can spice up a lot of dishes.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day, September 4 2017

Back when I was a wee lad at St. Paul's Lutheran school in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, Labor Day marked the end of summer, a weekend to go to the lake for one last swim, and, with summer's end, the start of school shortly after, the end of freedom.  Most schools did not have air-conditioning then, and it made perfect sense to wait until cooler weather was at least a short time away.  Now school starts in mid-August.  Guess I really am getting old.

The garden is definitely winding down.  Okra is nearly finished, summer squash may or may not be done, and the beans have slowed down, which is fine because I don't need to freeze any more. Some tomato plants have been removed and the ones that are left aren't doing that much.  Right now I'm making what is probably the last batch of marinara, and this will be a short batch at that, as there's not enough tomatoes to fill the 7 pints the canner will hold.

So here's what I got for the week.  First, a mix of beans, about a pound, nothing like the 3 or 4 pound pickings that I was getting earlier.  The Musica beans have slowed down, while the Fortex beans have picked up the slack.  There's one last patch of Provider bush beans almost ready that will help finish out the year and keep me in beans.

Tomatoes, a mix of Mountain Magic, Black Plum, Better Boys that were picked before the plant was removed, and a few Plum Regal sauce tomatoes.

More beans,

Plum Regal tomatoes,

And this morning, more Plum Regals.  Combined with the earlier pickings, enough to make some marinara, which is boiling down right now.

No peppers this week, but they are certainly not finished.  I'll pick some anchos and Giallo peppers later today and roast them for harissa.  To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.