Alien Invasion

When I say aliens I'm not talking alien people. Nor even aliens from outer space. I'm talking about something much more frightening to a gardener. Cucumber beetles! Hoards, flocks, waves, masses of the yellow spotted devils. So many that just walking through the garden, I have them on me like flies. (Wonder if they'd eat me if I stood still?) hmmmm.

They arrived about a week ago, or actually, hatched out. They were already here, hiding in the soil like those pod people from the movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Just like the pod people, cucumber beetles have shown no emotion as they slashed and burned their way through my garden.

The cucumber beetles have attacked the okra, and in just 4 days have defoliated the plants and are finishing off the flowers and small okra pods.
And those beautiful loofahs on the gazebo I posted a week or so back? The beetles attacked the leaves and flowers first, now they're eating the baby loofahs.

The tomato vines are pretty well wiped out. The beetles bore into the tomatoes, too, ruining them as they ripen. Controlling these pests are a serious problem. If you want to know more, follow this link. There is no easy remedy to these pests, but ATTRA has some reasonable suggestions (including building bat houses, because bats are one of the several predators of cucumber beetles).

Remember those wonderful peaches I showed you about 10 days ago? That bountiful crop, the tree having to have limbs propped up to hold the heavy burden of peaches? They're not quite ripe yet, but here's why I won't get any. First, the beetles bite into the peaches.

Then, when the peach's sweet sap starts to ooze, everything in the insect kingdom moves in for a feast. You'd think I'd put up a sign, "Free Salad Bar, come on in." Notice the butterflies, a beneficial wasp, several of Matthew's bees, and lots of 12-spotted cucumber beetles.

So, we picked as many of the not yet ripe peaches that were mostly undamaged. I'll let them ripen indoors and they won't be as sweet and peachy as tree-ripened ones, but I want to salvage some of the crop at least. And to use some, I made a pie. It contains 4 not nearly ripe peaches and 3 Granny Smith apples. 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup tapioca and a bit of butter. I topped it with a thick, crumb crust, recipe below.
Funny, it looks scorched. It wasn't, it's just the photo. It was actually a tasty golden brown. No matter, it was really good! Crumb topping: 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, in a food processor and pulse process until the pecans are coarsely chopped. Pile it on top of the pie - it will be thick, that's good. Bake at 400 degrees F. about 45 minutes.

So, is there anything the cucumber beetles haven't eaten this week? They are tasting the Bellingrath  Gardens pepper, see that one hiding under the leaf at the tip of the arrow?

So far, they've left the lemongrass and the chives alone. Wish me luck, there may not be much of the garden left by next week!


Incredible Corn, WWOOFers and Bees

It's hard to read about the horrific flooding in Pakistan, with an estimated 20 million people without homes or even places to sleep. I'm so sorry for their pain and loss. I wish I could send them some of the drought that grips southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Some of the dry soil to soak up their wet. And they could send us some of their rain. We, here on Long Creek Herb Farm have not had rain in 7 weeks, and even that recent one was less than 1/2 inch. That puts us at over 2 months without rain. Combine that with our porous, rocky, quick draining soil, and you know the garden is struggling.

Ginny, who came from near Bloomington, Indiana as a WWOOFer, just left after her 2 weeks' WWOOFing experience with us. She had a wonderful attitude, an interest in every job and every plant, bug and animal on the farm. Much of what she had to do while here was weed, water and harvest. It takes up much of every day moving sprinklers and soaker hoses, but with temperatures hitting the 100 mark most afternoons, no one works outdoors in that kind of heat. Ginny is a poet, an artist and a chemical technician, and she felt working on a farm to be a delight. Thanks Ginny, we enjoyed your time here!

Every year for the past several, my favorite corn has been Incredible (follow that link to see where you can order it). It's a bi-color, super-sweet, 80 day corn that holds its flavor well after picking. In fact, I've kept it up to 3 weeks and it's still almost as good as fresh. I always eat at least one ear, fresh, before I get out of the garden with a handful of ears for supper. Everyone at our table has said, "This is the best tasting corn I've ever eaten." This year I planted my reliable Incredible Sweet Corn on the first of May, and we  had an excellent and bountiful crop by mid-July. As an experiment, I tried a new variety this year for my second and third plantings, one called, "Gotta Have It" (pictured above), from Gurney's Seed. It's a risk, playing around with corn varieties when you already have a favorite, but I tried this one anyway. And I'm not disappointed. It is nearly as good as Incredible, and miles above what you buy fresh at grocery store.

When I pick corn from the garden, the goats come up to the fence, hoping for a handout. This is Billy, who pushes all the nannies away while he eats his fill. Once he gets bored, the nannies get to eat.

The chickens, too, come up to the fence. They get the top and bottom slice of the ear of corn, when I cut the ears to take off the shucks.

Right over the chickens and goats heads is this peach tree. The peaches are nearing ripeness. Back earlier this spring, there were so many peaches that Adam tied up the branches so they wouldn't break. Occasionally a peach falls into the chicken yard and the hens eat it.

The little goat babies all stand and watch as the adults eat the corn trimmings. They nibble at a shuck now and then, but for the most part, they're not interested. Notice their horn "decorations?" The little ones, as they reach their teenage months (that's about 2 months' old), manage to get their little heads stuck in fences. They've not learned they have horns and so, anytime they see something interesting on the other side of the fence, they get stuck. Josh heard about this method on the 'net and it works well. It's just short lengths of lightweight plastic tubing with a hose clamp for each horn. They were all embarrassed and complained loudly for the first day, but got used to the horn hoses. They do look, well, unusual, don't they?

"Blondie" is the variety of okra we're growing this year and it has performed well. The plants get only about shoulder high and produce a continuous supply of okra for at least 2 months. My method for preserving okra usually is to slice it crosswise, dip in buttermilk, then cracker or corn meal, and freeze it on cookie sheets. But we've been enjoying it so much this year cooked a new way, I haven't frozen any. The method? Take whole, young okra pods, spray them all over with cooking oil, lay on a baking sheet and broil at 450 degrees F, rolling them around every 4 or 5 minutes. They're ready to eat when they are beginning to brown on the edges, about 15 minutes total cooking time. Give them a dusting of salt and they're ready to eat. The flavor is delicious and they're not slimy inside like you might imagine.

I've been wondering what Matthew's bees do in extreme dry, hot weather and a couple of mornings I found out. There were rows of bees lined up, upside down along the edge of my water garden, drinking water. Some were on the tops of lily pads, sticking their tongues under the leaves, some were flying around, waiting their turn. I'd never seen bees lined up to drink before!

It hardly looks like a drought when you look at the water pool in the garden. But everything is struggling to stay alive. The raspberries have lost their leaves, the blackberries that should be producing the late crop, are possibly dead. Trees are losing their leaves and the lawn is a crisp, unhappy brown.

 I just posted a recipe for Rose and Yogurt Dressing on my recipes blog. If you'd like to find new ways to use your summer roses, check out my recipes there. Happy gardening!


Missouri State Fair

Where else could you see all the interesting things people grow in their gardens, in one place? Or find a Madagascar hissing cockroach? The Missouri State Fair, of course!

Josh and I have been going to the State Fair together for the past 28 years, and I've been going, myself, since age 3. It is one of my traditions of the summer. (The Madagascar hissing cockroach is the most kept cockroach species for pets, and this was one of the ways the Missouri Extension Service drew people in to their good bug/bad bug booth, which was quite interesting and informative).

The Fair is about families, kids, animals, prizes, gardens, food and information. It's all about prize winning vegetables, new gadgets, farm implements, new tractors, and lots and lots of animals. There's a pig barn, a rabbit barn with prize-winning rabbits, a poultry house with well-groomed, fancy chickens of all kinds, sizes and breeds. The hog barn, sheep and beef barns, all have the entries from 4-H kids, and Future Farmers of America boys and girls, from all across the state.

 I like to check out what the state's largest pumpkin weighs (738.2 pounds this year, grown by Kirk Wilmsmeyer).

Seeing all of the prize-winning vegetables is interesting to me. I like to compare what I grow to what won prizes. Sometimes I say, Oh, I can do that! Other times, it's more likely to be, Wonder how they grew it that big?

AgriMissouri, a project of the Missouri State Extension Service, does a good job of promoting Missouri agriculture and agri-products. We bought several things from the AgriMissouri store while at the Fair.

The Midway is always a big attraction in the afternoon, but it's at its best at night, when the whole place lights up like downtown Las Vegas.

There are always what I call the "velcro kids," you know the ones, teens who take a date to the Fair and believe that some body part, usually a sweaty hand or arm, has to be touching the other at all times. I was that kid once, myself.

Sunday was Military Appreciation Day (actually it was called, "Homegrown Heroes Day" and sponsored by Sprint) and the Fair had lots of Army, Marine and Air Force there. Buses from Ft. Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base brought in a military band and busloads of troups, all there enjoying the day. Hopefully lots of folks were telling them how much we all appreciate their service. As a Veteran myself, I could have asked for a discount on Fair admission, but it didn't seem necessary.

There were lots of political booths, booths for Conservation, a booth explaining about feral hogs in Missouri and how to control the problem. (It has become a serious problem in 20 counties in Missouri; I've seen them just a mile away from home and I'm sure they can destroy a garden in just one night).

Winning prizes, especially if you're 15-20 yrs., and have a date, is especially important. The games are a big draw for the kids and teens.

And even for the 40-somethings, winning a tiger for the girlfriend is still part of the Fair!

Bravado, like taking a ride on a mechanical bull to prove you're a man, to your friends, hasn't been lost through the generations, either.

Over the years that I've gone to the Fair, it has always remained an event that celebrates families, kids, agriculture and the food we grow in Missouri. The Fair runs from Aug. 12-22, in Sedalia, MO. I may have to go one more time this year!


Royers Round Top Cafe and Festival Hill Gardens

The garden is always about the food it produces. From tomatoes for sauces to garlic for seasonings. We enjoy food when we travel, and of course, the gardens, too.

But no barbeque? That's what readers have been asking...how could we go to Texas and not have BBQ? Well, we did. A few years back I wrote about the big hullabaloo the bird seed companies were making about "squirrel-proofing" the birdseed by adding cayenne pepper. The theory was that birds can't taste cayenne, but squirrels do, and will leave the bird seed alone. Baloney! My proof?

About 3 years ago when I previously visited Austin, I was sitting outside on the patio of the Iron Works BBQ on Red River St, a long time favorite spot. It was mid afternoon and few people were eating outside. I noticed that the plastic tip of my bbq sauce bottle was whittled away, so looked around on other tables for one that didn't look like it had been shot with a shotgun, discovering every bottle had a ground away top. I squeezed out some of their "hot'n spicy" sauce on my ribs and while I ate, a squirrel climbed up the rock wall from the creek below, hopped up on a table and knocked over a bottle of hot sauce. Soon, other tables each had squirrels, and each squirrel would lay down, pull the bottle of hot sauce over, and nurse like a baby, often for 5 minutes or more, licking their lips in between. It was obvious they liked the hot sauce (they were ignoring the mild and sweet sauces). There is  no truth to squirrels not liking hot peppers, these were as addicted to the heat as I am. So we returned to the Iron Works, where their ribs are still really good, but now they keep the hot bbq sauce bottles indoors and you carry one out as you go. I'd wanted Josh to see the squirrels' antics.

We drove over to Festival Hill because Josh had never seen Madalene Hill's gardens. (To see her, and more of her gardens, follow this link to my previous posting). We got as far as Round Top, a town of 77 folks, and I stopped at a little cafe for directions. The owner, Mrs. Royer, was restocking the soda case out front. We went on our merry way to Festival Hill and in the 100+ degree heat, walked the gardens and grounds of this amazing place, created as a home for the late Madalene Hill's collection of herbs.

Madalene's garden looks like ruins of old buildings, what she asked for, for her extensive collection of herbs. One of the last times I saw Madalene I asked her if she had an index of her culinary and medicinal herbs and she said, "We were working on it but got stalled for other projects. At last count we had 2,167 herbs on the index." It was Madalene who gave me my first start of Green Pepper Basil, a rare basil from Oxaca, Mexico.

After about 2 hours we had completely wilted in the heat and headed back to Round Top. Royers, the little cafe we'd stopped at earlier, had cars parked around it, as well as on the square, everywhere. We thought we'd stop for some iced tea. As we walked onto the porch, I noticed articles from lots of national magazines and newspapers, most titled something like, "Royers Round Top Cafe, famous cafe, best place to eat in Texas." There were stacks of cigar butts, neatly arranged by year, on top of the soda case.

It didn't make sense, we didn't know who bud was, or why the butts. Josh pushed open the door and Bud, whose butts we'd just noticed, greeted him He's the owner, greeter, sometimes cook and overall seating arranger. "Here to eat?" he asked. By now, because it was Sunday noon, and we were in a notorious place, we said, Yes. "You'll have to sit at a table with someone, just look for a table with a vacancy." We did and introduced ourselves.

Our table mates had driven 2 hours from Austin, just for the fried chicken. As Josh and I looked over the menu (read it here), with lots of tempting items, our table hosts said, "It's the chicken people come for, and the pie." So we ordered fried chicken, which is served family style with real mashed potatoes, creamed corn and rolls. I have no idea how many chickens were on that plate for just the 4 of us, but there had to be 10 pieces left over after we'd all eaten our fill.

There are lots of things unique about Royers. First, it's in a tiny town, and yet has a huge following. Round Top and nearby Fredericksburg are in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, and the center of huge antique sales events. And I'm told that in antique festival times each year, you have to pay a fee in advance for a reservation to get into Royers. But this day, we got right in, but as we left, there was a long line of people waiting to get inside.
The Granny Smith apple pie (made with a dozen apples per pie, topped with about an inch of crunchy Texas pecan crisp), fresh peach and Texas pecan were only a few of the pie offerings. I chose apple, which was outstanding.

It's a family style place and you sit wherever there is space, allowing for meeting interesting people. Our table companions, from Austin, were lots of fun to visit with.

As we ate and visited, our dinner companion was telling about her work with kids, and was quietly folding a dollar bill. When we were all through eating, she had finished and had an beautiful origami heart, with a quarter tucked in the front. Very cool! we both said. She reached across the table and handed Josh the heart. "Here, a reminder of our meeting and your first meal in Royers," she said. Wow, you don't get that eating in a MikyDonalds!

If you can't read it, this is a painting done by a fan and says, "Remember the Ala Mode." As we left, passing Bud and  his stacks of cigar butts, all smoked while he sat on the front porch and visited with customers who are waiting on a table, the piles of cigar butts made sense. A lot of time visiting, making people feel welcome, and enjoying a cigar while he does.

It's not just the fried chicken  (soaked in minced garlic and buttermilk for 24 hours before pan-frying), nor just the pies, nor even the funky, quirky, colorful inside, but the people you meet while you enjoy your meal. I love finding unique, out of the way places like this - it's one of the reasons I love to travel! Thank you Bud, and to our delightful dinner companions for another great meal in Texas.

I received an email today from Bud Royers (aka the Pie Czar) and he said Southern Living magazine is featuring his Texas Pecan Pie in an upcoming issue of the magazine. He also said this: "
As many of you already are already aware the café has been HONORED to be one of the 20 finalists out of 1000s of customer submissions in the ABC NIGHTLINE PEOPLE’S PLATELIST CONTEST. bit.ly/cvxTgv.  

This is our 3-minute video about the café bit.ly/9nh6nK if you'd like to watch it." 

So, here's the video, for a real view of this quirky place, filled with food from other people's gardens.



Good Food and Chickens, too!

Let's see, how do I tell you about this next chapter of Austin? I'll have to delete a letter or two to not offend anyone, so here goes, Chapter 2 (with one more to come after this - Festival Hill Gardens and Royer's famous Chicken place).

I planned 2 surprises for Josh in Austin, arrangements I'd made in advance. One was a tour of downtown, the Capitol grounds, ghosts in a hotel, and the Mexican bats seen from the Congress Ave. Bridge via a Segway. The other was, Chicken S#!t Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon. Lucinda insisted a trip to Austin without Chicken S#!t Bingo, was no trip at all. (And how does all this relate to my garden, you may wonder? Just wait, it will).

It was hotter than blue blazes (100 degrees F.) in Austin and I admit I was having second thoughts about spending 2 1/2 hours standing on a Segway. But I was determined and Josh was excited at the idea. We arrived just before at Segway Nation on Lavaca St., just a block from the Capitol building (which, by the way, is the biggest capitol building in the nation...gotta love those Texans, they have to have everything the biggest, and tallest).

Chris Clary, General Manager, met us at the door and said there would be 8 or 9 in our group. As soon as the group was all assembled, Chris and his sidekick (Ryan, I believe), began giving everyone lessons on how to stand, move, turn and stop. About 5 minutes was long enough, then we had about 15 minutes of practice and made our first journey across a street to practice (driving?, weeling? Segwaying?) around the Capitol.

Then we were off, heading toward downtown via the sidewalks. At every stop light, Chris would halt the group, give some history of the spot and Ryan would block traffic when the light changed. We were like a flock of little ducklings, following our leader. I realize these guys do several of these tours a day with different groups, but they made it feel like it was the first time they'd done it, and seemed to enjoy it as much as we were. I highly recommend Segway Nation! It's the most fun I've had in years.

Sixth St. in Austin is the party street. It's lined with bars, restaurants and music venues. (Branson may want to be the music capitol of America, but Austin can prove it is). The sidewalks were crowded, the streets, as well. Lots of people park in lots many blocks away and take cabs or buses to spend the evening on 6th St. But we didn't hit a single pedestrian, nor did we ever have to get off the Segway. It was amazing how easy the Segway is to maneuver around people - and people who didn't know we were there because the Segway makes no noise, at all.

I quickly learned that a Segway is an amazing way to tour a city, visit a garden or go just about anywhere. Chris said the Segway can go up to 70 miles before it has to be recharged. It's balanced so you don't feel like you're always tipping over. In fact, it feels like the machine knows before you know what your mind wants it to do. (Walking, afterward, felt awkward and crude simply because riding the Segway felt like a vast improvement in feet and legs). We whizzed past restaurants, heard music, did a little obstacle course (that was great!) and made it in time to see the bats emerge, just at dark. There are an estimated one and a half million Mexican bats that live under the Congress St. Bridge, and they all emerge in one giant spiraling mass, delighting the lines of people already on the bridge, watching. So would I do the Segway again? In a heartbeat. If you go to Austin, it is absolutely the best way to see the city. That was Saturday night.

Sunday we drove over to Round Top, TX, and that story is in the next chapter, but first, Sunday afternoon and Chicken S*it Bingo at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon. Imagine a tiny Austin bar that's meant to hold about 50 people. Now fill it up with about 250 people. Then throw in a good band, and for toppers, put a table with a large chicken coop in the middle. And if you're thinking this is a drunken bunch of questionable people, it's not. It's families with kids, old folks, friends and neighbors, all gathered for the weekly Chicken Sh*t Bingo. And a lot of people just having weekend fun.

There was the band, whose name I've forgotten, but they were really good. Checking around the walls, I soon learned that a lot of well known bands and entertainers show up to play for Chicken Sh*t Bingo. Photos, autographs and band posters line the walls. This place is famous!

Lucinda danced, not with me, I have 3 left feet and no sense of rhythm. Her motto, "life is a fiesta" shows in her dancing.

But the main attraction was getting in line to nab a ticket for Bingo and that was no easy matter. The line was long, the ticket seller was in no hurry and neither Josh, Lucinda nor me, got a ticket. The goal is to buy a ticket with a number on it.

The number on your ticket corresponds to a square with a number on the floor of the chicken coop.

At the appointed hour, 4:00 p.m. I think, Ginny brings in the chicken. This is no ordinary chicken, this is a pet, a hen that has everything a hen could want. The lady could hardly get through the crowd because everyone was taking pictures of the chicken.

See the numbers in the blocks? And the floor of the cage is dusted with cracked corn. As I said, this is one well cared for hen. So the band plays, a few people dance, it's loud, hot and the music is excellent. Judges keep an eye on the hen and as soon as she poops, the crowd grows quiet while the number is determined, and announced. The winner takes home the purse from the sale of the tickets, usually about $250.

Our chickens, while certainly as well cared for as the hen at the Little Longhorn Saloon, can only wish for such fame and notoriety. They have to be satisfied with whiling away the afternoons in their own chicken pen. Our chickens play an important part in our garden. Their litter goes into the compost pile where it's processed into rich soil. The weedings from the beds, the vegetables that didn't get eaten, the left over bread or apples or fruit, all get added to the chicken yard where they happily gobble up every last morsel. (Their favorites are tomatoes and watermelon rinds). But happy chickens they are and it was fun to see how city chickens live in Austin.

And our best meal in Austin? Without a question, it was shrimp tacos and sprouted quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) Latin salad at the Snack Bar, 1224 S. Congress, next door to the Austin Motel (sorry, I don't have a clue how the salad was made, wish I did). The Snack Bar looks like a 1950s diner inside, and there's (very) casual outdoor seating where you can watch the people go by and enjoy some outstanding food. We passed it by for the locally famous Magnolia Cafe the first 2 nights, then tried Snack Bar. It's as good and fun as Magnolia's.

More food, great gardens to come!