Saturday, October 31, 2009

Starting a Vegetable Garden

After many years of living in the mountains, my husband and I moved back to the place of our birth and the home of our hearts – The Great State of Kansas!! It was late summer when the move was completed and once everything was unpacked and put away; the next order of business was planning a garden – a real vegetable garden – which we had missed so much in the past several years.

So, I surveyed my little estate, picked the side of the yard where it was protected from the wind, but got a lot of sun and declared “This will be my garden!”

With the help of my husband and grandson and an entire winter of working (no, it doesn’t always snow every day and it isn’t always cold in Kansas in the winter) we dug out shrubs and found 18” of lava rock on the ground underneath – now I do not know who created lava rock, but there is absolutely no space in my vegetable garden for them. I started with the lofty goal of picking up 20 pieces per day in the most Queenly of manner. It soon became apparent that this method was netting me zero progress! So, we scooped, we put 3 trugs in the dumpster each week, we scooped some more, we took giant boxes full to my step-mother on the other end of the State, we scooped some more. We offered it to local landscapers who offered to trade what they wanted to get rid of to us for ours. We swore that it was giving birth to little pieces each night while we slept. One week I got carried away with what I put in the dumpster and was presented with a note the morning after pick-up that said “Too heavy to lift” and all my lava rock left in the dumpster. Seemed we would never get to the end, and since Spring was right around the corner by then, we borrowed my Godson’s pickup and after three trips to the landfill with the pickup loaded to the max, we were finished with the lava rock. The landfill is an experience no Queen should ever have and fuel for another story, but believe me it doesn’t take many minutes there before I was a real “Prickly Pear” and pretty well finished for the rest of that week – poor little muscles!

Next step – prepare the soil. Sounds easy, doesn’t it, well, let me tell you that is not for the weak at heart! You beg, borrow, rent, or buy a rototiller – and once the gas and oil are full, a mystery never totally solved by me, you start it and away you go – this is the most muscle-building experience known to woman-kind – unless you are training for Miss Universe – and this one doesn’t involve oiling your body, just the machine! There is a rope, there is a little rubber handle and there is a lot of yanking, many invoked blessings, and finally it sputters – this is when you are supposed to keep one hand on one part, another hand on another part adjusting it, and use your foot to hold the whole thing together until the adjustments are made and you are once again upright and composed.

After three trips over the designated area it was time to pick up the grass clumps and rake – carefully judging the weight of each clump to avoid the “Too heavy to lift” note, we filled in all the bare spots that we could find in the yard and tossed the rest in the dumpster, which by then was my most important garden tool. Of course before you can toss any into the dumpster, you must do the “shake, shake, shake” with it to remove any precious soil from the roots.

Time to amend the soil – a Queenly brew of peat moss, horse manure, compost, and staying as organic as possible, no chemicals on the garden. Again, the rototiller, if there is any doubt in your mind what part of your body is flabby, I recommend about three minutes behind a rototiller, anything that is not firmly affixed to bone will shake and rattle, and roll!! So, strolling behind it like a drunken sailor that job was finished.

Finally it was time to do the final raking and sit down with a long tall glass of tea and a stack of seed catalogs that would have killed me if it had fallen on me. What to plant and where to plant it, so many ideas and so little space and room – although I was reminded the space was 27 feet long and 20 feet wide – it seemed so huge when it was being prepared and so small when it came to the planning stage.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Plant's Prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray my leaves the Deer don’t eat
And when in spring, shoots I make
I pray they get a tummy ache
The End

As much as we all love our gardens, it is time to put them to sleep. Sleepless gardens are a pitiful sight.

And besides we have other Queenly duties to perform now, what with the holidays and all.

These are the things we do to ensure they have sweet dreams and gain strength for the coming spring.

1. We wash everything down with: 1cup mouthwash, *1cup chewing tobacco juice, I cup dawn.

Put into a sprayer and work from top to bottom on all perennials. *We buy 1 pk. Of chewing tobacco in the spring, put it in a half gallon container and fill with water. It lasts all season and is a good alternative for organic bug control.

2. We spray with dormant oil and weather protection like “Wilt proof”. Again from top to bottom. Wilt proof is also good to protect your plants from sunburn in the heat of summer.

3. Final feeding for all our beds, bone meal and Epson salts, spread according to directions. Mulch well, we like shredded cedar bark for bug control.

Say “Nite, Nite! Sleep well, don’t let the bugs bite!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Prickly Pear Queens Guide to Gardening

Welcome to our new blog mostly about the adventures and misadventures of gardening outside the box. All of us self-proclaimed queens and domestic goddesses owe at least a debt of gratitude to the mother of all Queens, “The Sweet Potato Queen” who taught us how to have fun.
Now you may be asking yourself “Who in the world are the Prickly Pear Queens?” and “Why in the world would anyone want to be a Prickly Pear Queen?”
I am here to tell you that we are not Prickly Pear Queens because we are Prickly (most of the time unless unduly provoked - in which case a little sugar solves that problem) and we are certainly not pear-shaped (more like those little yellow tomatoes some of you grow that are just a little bigger on the bottom) but we are most definitely Queens and since we both have deeeeep roots to the Southwest and a love for all growing things – what an honor to be known as “The Prickly Pear Queens”.
We will be growing our court by adding new queens. We urge you to share with us your unique and creative adventures in gardening. So ….. if you wish to become a part of this august body, you might want to pick your favorite fruit or veggie to be Queen of now while the picking is good. You know something like “The Hot Tomato Queen”.
Each month we will hold a ceremony on-line and award a prize for the funniest adventure in gardening.
Not to say that this is not going to be a site that values serious gardening and gives (mostly) good advice and tips. Just not in a serious way. All of us know that for every hot, sweaty way to accomplish something in our garden there is a hilarious alternative.
As my wonderful ole Granny used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a Chipmunk.”
(And since they are the sworn enemies of mountain gardeners, I’ve tried most of them.)
Now, let me show you what I mean about funny stories that contain useful information:
The Rock Garden
Half of my gardening life is spent at 9000 feet. Here the soil is 90% rock and the growing season is the blink of a gnat’s eye. Ten years ago I got my heart set on a rock garden on the hillside opposite our home. To say this is a work in progress is an understatement. It is now 50 feet long. That’s 5 feet a year. Do you know what it takes to dig a hole for a 5 gallon shrub in a hillside that’s 90% rock?
Like all gardeners, I can’t resist the end of the season sales. 75% off! My heart races – my mind goes numb. That is until I get the 14-5 gallon shrubs home. My numb mind comes back with a thud. It’s late October and I have about an hour and a half to plant them all before it freezes. So, armed with a rock breaker, a hammer, my husband’s new screwdriver set and a spade, I embark. Twenty minutes later I have a 6 oz. cup size hole. Three days and many “Son of ……..” later, the pieces of the screwdriver set are buried under a pile of rocks my husband will never notice ad I’m stumped and pissed. “Think you bit off more than you can chew?” from my husband was the last straw.
Then it came to me!! I ran to the garage and grabbed the high pressure nozzle and 50 foot of hose. Then, still dressed in my go to town clothes, I let it fly! Whoa Gussie, it was a sight. Red clay, mud, and rock of all sizes were flying everywhere. No telling how many chipmunks packed up and left for good that day.
I can say in retrospect, this is probably better done in a “Hazmat” suit with a visor. Never had so much fun gardening. 14 holes in six hours!! That’s a record in this part of the country. If you’re my kind of gardener you have a hundred of these stories.
. It grows in the desert regions of North America. The fruits are used for the juice and the pads are used as a vegetable.
OK, Enough of that.
And, I want to share the official Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly Recipe with you:
1 ½ cup Prickly Pear Juice
3 Tablespoons of lemon or lice juice
1 Package Powdered Pectin
3 ½ cups of Sugar
How to get that juice – first you pick a quart of the prickly pear fruit and that should make 2 ½ cups of juice. Which brings about another problem – How to pick the fruit. Use a pair of long-handled tongs, or a fork, or for the more brave at heart, you can try leather gloves.
Wash the fruit under running water, then use a brush to clean (any spines left on the fruit will soften during cooking and should come off after the fruit is strained (notice that word ”should”), if they don’t you will need to use your tongs or a fork to get them out.
Steam the fruit until it is tender and soft. Mash and strain it using a jelly bag or a fine sieve. Do not add water. Set aside to allow juice to settle. For clear jelly, do not use the portion containing sediment.
In a saucepan, measure out 1 ½ cups of juice, add 1 package of powdered pectin and bring mixture to a fast boil, stirring constantly. Add lemon or lime juice and sugar. Bring to a hard boil (one that cannot be stirred down with a spoon) and let bowl for 3 more minutes. The timing is very important to get the mixture to set up properly.
Remove from the heat, skim off the foam on top, and pour into hot canning jars, leaving ¼ inch space per jar. Wipe jar rims and put on flats and rings.
Process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath.
This makes 6 one-half pints of jelly.

Now that your jelly is setting on the counter and looking so pretty, it’s time for a little break for you!
Prickly Pear Margaritas
1 oz. Tequila
¾ oz fresh lime juice
¼ oz fresh orange juice
½ oz Prickly Pear juice
¼ oz Cointreau
1 hot chili pepper – fresh or dried
Ice and Kosher Salt
The pepper for this recipe should be seeded and diced, then combined with the other ingredients in a shaker. Once combined, allow the ingredients to sit for 15 minutes, then add ice and strain out the pepper and the ice before serving. Moisten glass rims with lime juice and dip in kosher salt. Pour into margarita glass, garnish with lime slice and enjoy!
Until next time, warm days and starry nights to you –
The Prickly Pear Queens