In the Garden July

By P.C. Zick @PCZick

It’s beginning to look a lot like summer and the living is not quite as easy as you might think! Despite our lack of rain, the garden is still doing its thing. We’re watering about twice a week and hoping for the best. Here’s a glimpse for today, July 7.Who’s that lurking in the garden behind the tomato stakes?It’s the man responsible for all this! He’s picking beans.Tomatoes getting ready to explode!It’s very odd that we’re getting peas now in this hot weather. They just started producing in the past two weeks. We’re eating them every night. I’ve frozen a few bags (nothing like last year), and I hope to put up a little bit more before they say, “Wait, a second. . .we’re not supposed to like the dry, hot weather.”I thought this was a banana pepper plant, but it’s not turning yellow. Anyone know what it might be?This is the first year for our raspberry plants. I don’t think we’ll get many on this round. Also they don’t taste very sweet. A couple of the plants may produce in the fall. My husband assures me next year they’ll taste like the raspberries of my childhood!

That’s it from here, reporting live from Raccoon Township, PA. How’s your garden growing?

Don’t Try this at Home

Subtitle: I must be nuts.

It began as a cloudy rainy Saturday. The crisper overflowed with vegetables we couldn’t possibly eat this weekend. And another kit of home brew (American pale ale) awaited brewing. For a few sane moments, I thought about breaking the tasks into a two-day event.

But it was the Siamese love squash that changed my mind. When I found this beautiful double summer squash in the garden this morning, I decided I could do everything and anything. I blanched broccoli and green beans and put up several bags of each. I began making zucchini relish and then decided the beer would be a breeze in the middle of all this.

As the beer threatened to boil over, I discovered the zucchini relish made more than I anticipated so I quickly found another jar and did a speedy sterilization process burning my hand in boiling water in the process. My husband came running from the garden to assist, but the wort for the beer was already boiling over.

It’s now calm, and I have put up 7 pints of relish, 5 gallons of beer sits cooling in the sink. We’ll put it in the fermenter in fifteen minutes.And I need to start scrubbing the stove top.

I am so much in the mood to do nothing! But now it’s time to pack up a picnic and head down to the boat for the evening’s fireworks on the Ohio and Beaver rivers. Here’s hoping I can stay awake for the festivities.

Life in the garden here in Raccoon Township may seem dull until you live it.


Update on the Ducks

Today when I went for the mail, I noticed the female mallard still sitting on her nest, but a pit bull came into the yard (not sure from where) and disturbed the nesting mother. She came out of the nest and began her quacking and marching around the nest area. She seemed to have it under control so I went to the mailbox. That’s when the dog starting barking and the duck starting flying and off they went. For the rest of the day, the mother never returned to the nest.

When my husband came home from work, I told him about my exciting day here in Raccoon Township (there was also an incident with a rabbit, but I’ll save that for another post). I know he wanted to sit on the patio and drink our newly uncapped Belgian Ale after a hard day’s work, but he humored me and walked to the front yard to check on our little family. The mother still hadn’t returned but the eggs remained.

“Wait, there’s something happening in there,” my husband said as I turned to walk back to the patio. “One of them is hatching.”

Sure enough. I took a few pictures as one emerged and a second one began its entry into the rural world of western Pennsylvania. Then we decided it was time to leave them alone so their mother could return. We turned around and there she was patrolling the yard, looking for pit bull.

My husband and I, married only for two years, are past child-bearing and -rearing days.

“You always wanted to have a child together, now we’ll have seven,” I said as we walked back to our comfortable chairs overlooking the garden.

“That’s it?” my husband. “That was pretty easy.”

I smiled and took a sip of my ale. Easiest labor I ever had.

An Almost All Homegrown Dinner!

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

Last night we managed to eat a meal, mostly provided by our garden, with a table graced with flowers from plants and herbs gone to seed, along with a very few wild irises growing at the edge of the woods in our backyard.The tall purple flowers are radishes; the long drooping yellow flowers come from our oregano plant leftover from last year; look very closely to see the basil leave peeking out from the front of the vase. Beauty graces our home and our plates.

A zucchini greeted me yesterday morning when I did my daily walk around the perimeter of the garden. At eight-inches, this lovely vegetable was the perfect size for grilling. I found one small cucumber to provide a little bit of crispness to our meal.Preparing the bounty

We picked enough beans for a small serving each. The onions are just popping up out of the ground so I decided some of the sweet “Vidalia” type would be great on the grill. And in the big sink, I soaked the last of the leaves of spinach for this year.

The spinach and beans I put on the stove to steam and then prepared the zucchini and onions for grilling (I did use one sweet red pepper with these purchased from Giant Eagle – it will be more than a month before peppers are ready for eating). As a marinade, I used olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, tarragon and thyme. Next, I prepared the salmon for grilling. No, I didn’t catch it from the ocean out in the backyard. I purchased this salmon on sale in the Strip District in downtown Pittsburgh. I used the last of our zucchini relish from last year as a marinade and then plopped a few springs of our parsley on top before loosely wrapping in aluminum foil and grilling along with the vegetables for about 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees. After the grilled items cooked for 15 minutes, I turned the burners on the other vegetables. And then I prepared our cute little cucumber – a delicacy at this point in the season.I presented our “almost all homegrown dinner” to my husband as a thanks to all his hard work for growing this bounty. I forgot to mention (and forgot to take a picture), for an appetizer, we ate the first peas from the garden. We were probably a little premature, but they are very close and very sweet. We managed about ten peas each as a preview to our coming attractions.

What are you eating from either your own garden or from the farmer’s market right now?

The Real Mallards of Raccoon Township

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

My own backyard as the setting of the next biggest reality show to hit the airwaves since Love in the Wild, I imagined. Since there’s a reality show for everything and anything, why not follow the antics of those wild and crazy mallards wandering in our yard and garden in recent weeks?

It started innocently enough. One day a couple, obviously in the mating stage of love, showed up in the backyard. The male held his neck high in the air exposing his shiny green neck to the wind while she kept her beak in the dirt. Their actions represented their respective appearances very well. His beauty acts as a decoy to her undistinguished brown, black, and white feathers as she searches for food in the dirt.

One morning when I came outside to take a few pictures of the wandering couple, the male had disappeared and the female continued her beak-in-the-soil pursuits. That’s when I decided to learn a little more about this duck strutting in our space.

The name mallard comes from the Latin word for “male” and refers to the male mallard’s habit of not hanging around to help raise the ducklings. So when the male disappeared, I assumed the female had laid the eggs somewhere on the property, and Mr. Mallard decided it was time to get out of the territory.

That’s not exactly what happened. I learned it was a little early for the nesting process. She’s just getting her fill of food in order to do the job of incubating the eggs when she does sit on the nest, sometime in early May. The male returned within a day, but he came with a surprise. He was now following another female and kept her close to his “first wife” as he continued the ritual of standing guard as the two soon-to-be mothers dabbled in the dirt.

My husband and I laughed at the spectacle and that’s when I thought of the reality show idea. If the not-so-real housewives of New York and Atlanta can parade as “real” anything, then why wouldn’t the antics of three mallards in Pennsylvania stand a shot? If a show called, Lady or a Tramp, can make it to TV, why not a show about wildlife gone truly wild in a place called Raccoon Township?

However, this morning my hopes were dashed when my husband appeared in the door of my office as I began writing this blog.

“Those ducks have got to go. They just think they can rule the roost,” he said. “Now one of them has made a bed in my onions. We let them get away with it, and now they think they can do anything.”

So I went back to my search on mallards, this time inputting the phrase “How to get rid of mallards in backyards and gardens.” The suggestions I found offered humane solutions: stand plastic wildlife, such as owls and swans, or even a blow-up alligator, next to the pool or garden. To honor my past Florida life, I do have two plastic flamingos in the herb garden. I realized the ducks never go over there so I offered to let my husband borrow them. He wasn’t keen on the idea of pink birds guarding his precious vegetables.

I also told him that spraying water at them would let them know this wasn’t the Holiday Inn.

“The hose,” he said. “That’s a great idea.”

The best comment I saw on some of the sites offering solutions to the mallard problem was the one I often thought about residents who complained about wildlife when I worked for Florida’s wildlife agency: “If you don’t want wildlife in your yard, perhaps you shouldn’t live in the country.”

Living in peace with wildlife, even the polygamists, is possible. But I think my idea for a reality TV show was just hosed.