Doing things a bit half-assed

Apparently, I never got around to posting my dead crewmate pattern even though I made it well over a year ago (oops!) I did some trial and error with a crocheted bone (including a kind of cool-looking convertible one with a removable top) but then hit on the idea of using a pipe cleaner. I also used a couple of pony beads to make it the right shape and I think that worked out pretty well.

I finally collected the photos and finished the pattern, even putting it up on Ravelry!

Obligatory Disclaimer: The characters in this pattern are the property of Innersloth and/or the artists Marcus Bromander & Amy Liu (I do not know how the intellectual property thing works from a legal standpoint, but I am 100% sure they do not belong to me). This pattern is provided for free with the understanding that it might be shady to sell something that includes characters for which I do not have the license or permission (neither explicit nor implicit) from the copyright holder.

Size: About 2” tall or so, depending on how you measure

Yarn: Worsted Weight, 1 skein each of dark gray, and color(s) of choice.  It will vary by yarn but 1 skein will most likely make multiple toys

I used Red Heart Super Saver, although cotton would be nicer than acrylic, I found the acrylic colors to be more vibrant and plentiful, choice-wise.

For a full set of Dead Crewmates, I used leftovers from my first Crewmate project, which was almost a full skein each of:

  • Inside: Charcoal
  • Body Colors: Red – Cherry Red
  • Blue – Royal
  • Yellow – Lemon
  • Green – Paddy Green
  • Orange – Pumpkin
  • Purple – Amethyst
  • Black – Black
  • White – Soft White
  • Pink – Shocking Pink
  • Lime – Spring Green
  • Cyan – Aruba Sea
  • Brown – Coffee

Tools / Notions: Size E (3.5 mm) crochet hook, yarn needle, Poly-fil stuffing, white pipe cleaners / chenille stems, white pony beads (9mm x 6mm)

Gauge: I did not measure, they are toys, so it does not really matter although it should be tight enough that the stuffing does not show through.

Note: In the game, the insides of Crewmate bodies are a darker / greyed version of their body color but I both did not like the idea of buying an additional skein for every one of these and doubted that I could find quite what I needed anyway, so I decided to just make all of the insides dark gray.

Abbreviations / Notes 

  • Ch – Chain stitch 
  • SC – Single Crochet 
  • st(s) – stitch(es)
  • DC – Double Crochet
  • SS – Slip Stitch
  • TBL – Through Back Loop only
  • PM – Place Marker 
  • RS – Right Side
  • WS – Wrong Side
  • SC2Tog – Single Crochet 2 stitches Together (draw up a single loop from each of  2 adjacent stitches then draw a loop through them both) 
  • (#) – number of stitches in round after completion 
  • I like to use a piece of scrap yarn as a marker, weaving it in/out every row, that way, I do not have to move my marker up each row then, when I am done, I just pull it out.
  • When joining a new color (as for the goggles) do not finish the last stitch of the original color, instead, pull up the final loop in the new color.

Instructions

Bone:

  1. Fold pipe cleaner (also known as a chenille stem) in half
  2. Thread one bead onto the pipe cleaner and slide it down to the center bend
  3. Wrap end of pipe cleaner around and insert end into hole in bead
  4. Pull taut so that pipe clear is wrapped around outside of bead
  5. Repeat #3 & #4 4x more
  6. Adjust the wraps so that they lie next to each other, covering one side of the bead
  7. Thread the second bead onto the other half of the pipe cleaner, sliding it down to almost the center bend.
  8. Repeat #3 – #6 on the second bead
  9. Fold pipe cleaner so that naked sides of beads are pressed against each other and pipe cleaner-wrapped sides are on the outside.
  10. Twist pipe cleaner ends together tightly for about ¾” (NOTE: do not worry if the ends are not quite even, they will be hidden inside anyway)

Body Inside:

  1. With Dark Gray yarn, Ch 4 sts
  2. Turn, SC 3 sts in chain, SC 1 st in side, SC 3, SC 1 st in side (8)
  3. [SC 3, SC 3 in next st] 2x (12)
  4. [SC 1, SC 2 in next st] 6x (18)
  5. [SC 2 in next st, SC 2] 6x (24)
  6. Cut yarn, leaving a short tail, and finish off.
  7. Construction:
    • Put one pipe cleaner end of the bone through each of the holes next to the very center with the bone part on the RS of the work
    • Pull the pipe cleaner ends so that the bottom of the twisted section sits flush against the top
    • Twist the ends together on the WS of the work a few times then spread them out flush to work
    • Use tail from center of work to help secure pipe cleaner in place

Leg 1: 

  1. With Body Color yarn, make a loop and SS in it
  2. SC 6 sts in loop
  3. Pull end taut to close loop
  4. PM for beginning of round
  5. SC 2 in each st around
  6. SC in each st around (12)
  7. Repeat #6 4x more
  8. Turn, Ch 1, SC in first 3 sts
  9. Repeat #8
  10. Cut yarn, leaving 6 – 12” for sewing up and pull through loop to finish stitch
  11. Remove marker

Leg 2 / Body Bottom:

  1. Work as for Leg 1 through #7 then stop – do not turn or cut
  2. Place Leg 1 next to Leg 2 with the tab between them
  3. SC 3 sts in side of tab
  4. SC 9 sts around Leg 1
  5. SC 3 sts in other side of tab
  6. Skipping 3 sts from the last st done on Leg 2, SC 9 sts around Leg 2
  7. PM for beginning of round
  8. SC in each st around (24)
  9. Repeat # 8 4x more
  10. Use yarn tail from Leg 1 tab to sew up the gap between the legs.
  11. Position Body Inside (with bone facing out) on top of the Body Bottom
  12. SC around, working each st through a Body Bottom st and TBL of a Body Inside st
  13. After working about halfway around, stuff body and legs firmly.
  14. Finish working around.
  15. Cut yarn, finish off, and bury yarn end

Backpack:

  1. With Body Color yarn, Ch 9 sts
  2. Turn, SC 8 sts in chain 
  3. Turn, Ch 1, SC 8 sts in chain
  4. Ch 3, DC 2 in side, DC 8 TBL, DC 2 in side, DC 7 TBL, join with SS to top of Ch3
  5. Ch 3, DC 19, join with SS to top of Ch3
  6. Repeat #5 1x
  7. Turn, Ch 3, DC TFL in same st and next 7
  8. Cut yarn, leaving 12” – 18” for sewing up and pull through loop to finish stitch
  9. Stuff backpack lightly
  10. Sew up top of backpack along 3 sides of top flap using tail
  11. Use the same tail to sew Backpack onto the back of the Body Bottom along all four sides then bury yarn end

Christmas Cards

It is that time of year again, the time when I finally tackle the cleaning of my craft room, at least to the point that I can use it to make another mess. I decided to make ornaments to go in my Christmas cards again this year but wanted to try sewing some instead of doing crochet snowflakes as I have before. I was inspired by this tutorial I found online but decided to make the triangles differently because (1) there would still be raw edges if I did it that way and (2) all that thickness would make my Christmas cards weigh too much to be sent with a single stamp. When I sent masks to everybody a couple of years ago, I learned what an expensive pain in the butt it was to get dozens of cards weighed and metered at the post office.

Okay, to be honest, I did not really use the tutorial at all except for the photo that acted as a jumping off point. I got out some scrap muslin and started fiddling. I knew I wanted all of the edges finished but there were probably better ways to do it. Still, this worked out in a sort of patchwork-looking way.

I started with a rectangle 3 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ and folded it to make a right triangle with flaps on each side. After ironing those flaps down, I tucked the raw edges under and pressed the triangle flat. I then snipped off the bits overhanging the corners and sewed around the perimeter of the triangle. The one thing I did not love about this was that there was no “right” side since no matter which way I turned it, the triangle had a visible folded edge. I determined that this could not be fixed without either making a thicker triangle or cutting an awkward shape instead of a neat rectangle, so I decided I could live with it! After making three triangles in this manner, I stacked them up into a star and used a button to sew them together. I decided I was pleased enough with the look that I could go ahead with the project.In retrospect, I should have sandwiched the cross-triangle between the two others but eh, hindsight is 20/20 and I guess these just have an obvious backside.

My next task was to select fabric. I thought about buying some new stuff but I figured I should use up what I had leftover from my mask project first. I dove into cutting, ironing, and sewing triangles even as I waited for the buttons I ordered from Amazon to arrive. I was excited to have found a five-pointed snowflake button even though that feels wrong as it really should have six, it works with my project.

Once I had at least 150 triangles, the next step was to start assembling the stars. I did my best to spread out the patterns although I am sure that there are more than a few identical groupings in the bunch. Then, while watching television over the next week or so, I messily sewed the button in place. Additionally, I sewed together the overlapping triangle tips at the top of the star to give me a place to loop the ornament hook through.

In the meantime, I wrote personal messages in each of the 47 cards that I addressed with my fancy calligraphy pen and added a photo to each one (I have a reasonably nice one with the boyfriend taken in front of a Christmas tree on Thanksgiving) along with a party invitation for our local friends. Finally, I stuffed an ornament into each envelope and weighed a sample to make sure they were under 1 oz and a single stamp would be sufficient postage. Most envelopes weighed 0.92 oz and the ones with party invites weighed 0.95 oz. Just made it!

Now they are all in the mail and some [local] people have gotten theirs already. Now I just have to wait to see what people think.

Summer Summation

Overall, I had a pretty good summer with my garden. I almost forgot about my root vegetables until I went outside on Saturday to clean up the area for winter and realized they had not been harvested yet. Nor had they been watered in nearly two months, oops! The radishes and beets both seemed kind of pruney and dinky but the carrots seem to have done okay. I just have to figure out what to do with them now!

I tore out the last plants I had in my raised bed. The peas I had planted late in the season then neglected produced two little pods that were still edible. The beans (probably Cherokee Wax beans but honestly, I cannot be sure) had a couple of dried up pods left and I considered saving those for seed next year but then decided to just plant from a seed packet, especially since I was not sure which beans they even were! I filled my compost tumbler with carrot tops and failed broccoli plants and did not have room for any straw, which is too bad because that compost is in desperate need of “browns” to be properly balanced. Once the “greens” break down, I will probably add some. So, I piled all of my straw bales on top of the raised bed and hope for rapid decomposition to give me good compost for next year’s garden!

Throughout the summer, I think I tended my garden pretty well until it stopped producing much in September, then I basically neglected it until this past weekend.

Overall, I think my harvests were pretty good although I have a very limited basis for comparison. Still, I am happy with the yield and definitely plan to garden again next year.

In other news, I totally failed to grow fenugreek microgreens last month. I wanted to use them for Indian food that I was making on the 29th but I did not get around to planting them until the 20th which is closer to time for sprouts than microgreens (depending on the seed, I guess). Anyway, I used a Micro-Mat in a tray and spread the seeds out on top of it. I soaked the mat well and put a weight on top. By the first day, I could see that I had overseeded the tray once the seeds swelled up and it only became more evident from there. Some of the roots tried to grow upwards and before I was even ready to take the microgreens out of blackout, there was evidence of mold. I tried to fight it with hydrogen peroxide and removal of the offending plants but it was an uphill battle and I lost it, finally giving up a couple of days after I had planned to harvest them anyway. I did let the tray sit for several days after that, being too lazy to take it outside to compost immediately (my bad). I will just have to sow another tray of microgreens seeds and try to be more careful next time, I guess!

Playing Catch-Up

I have actually had a fairly eventful month. I successfully got through a couple of audits at work although I have a big one coming up in just two weeks now that I am not sure I am totally prepared for! It is an initial certification audit, and my first of that kind, so I am a bit nervous about it even though I like to think I am good at my job; I cannot control everything!

Anyway, September marked the end of the outdoor growing season here in Michigan. I went on a vacation the first month of October so right before leaving, I harvested everything that I could. This includes four partially gnawed-on butternut squash, two small pumpkins, and a super tiny watermelon. Also, I grabbed the second of my red hot peppers and all the ripe tomatoes that I saw. There were several green tomatoes remaining on both my Black Krim and Sweet 100 plants but given that there was bound to be a cold snap, I did not have high hopes for those being ready upon my return. I put the squash and watermelon in the basement and the tomatoes in the fridge and then left town.

My vacation was great! I went on a seven-day Disney cruise with my brother’s family, which includes my two favorite miniature humans, and my boyfriend who gets motion sick. The trip was not perfect for him but he did like it enough that he is now talking about getting his family to do one so it must have been a positive experience, at least. With the exception of one day that was bad for him, we actually had a pretty awesome time overall and would heartily recommend a Disney cruise to anybody who can afford it (they are not cheap).

Upon coming home, we found that my boyfriend’s parents had been over and taken care of not only the flowers which were done for the year but also my garden. They tore out all of the old plants and picked the remaining Sweet 100 tomatoes, both red and green. I kept the non-squishy ones and composted the rest. I do not know yet what I will be doing with the green ones; maybe pickling? Speaking of pickles, I forgot about my fermented dill pickles in the basement. Those have been fermenting way too long at this point, I am pretty sure. I need to spend some time and process them correctly but I just keep putting it off.

My boyfriend’s mom got rid of most of my herbs in outdoor pots but for some reason not all of them. I do not fully understand her logic but I suspect she left either the better looking ones or the most cold-tolerant. Anyway, she also left my root vegetables which are in grow bags so I need to harvest my onions, radishes, beets, and carrots before it gets too cold for them. I hope they are doing okay still! I want to have herbs during the winter so I finally cleaned and re-set-up my off-brand Aerogarden. This time, I did not even put lettuce in it. I hope to get enough microgreens going to make that unnecessary. I plan to start with fenugreek (because I am making Indian food in two weeks) and hopefully get a batch started about every week or so. I am not optimistic about my chances of sticking to that but I guess only time will tell. Even though I have a silly number of microgreens seeds, I placed another order with True Leaf Market anyway because I just cannot help myself. I got a quarter pound of basil seeds because I want to try basil microgreens even though that may not work out well. I would have gotten a pound but between putting it in my cart and checking out, they went out of stock on that volume. Many of the basil seeds are too expensive to buy in bulk (like $200 per pound or so) but I only paid around $10 for four ounces of Genovese Basil. It is too bad they were out of the pound bags, those were priced at something like $25, which seemed quite reasonable. Anyway, I got the smaller one plus a pound of lettuce seeds and five kinds of Hamama seed quilts to give to my father. I got him a kit for those earlier this year and I think he has been using it. If not, maybe this will encourage him. He definitely likes the IDEA of growing his own food, at least.

Just days after returning from my trip, I got minor surgery to remove my tongue tie. The procedure is called a “frenectomy” and is supposed to help me breathe better or something but for now all it is doing is making my mouth hurt and giving me a very slight lisp. Overall, I really like my dentist, which is why I drive an hour to keep seeing her instead of finding someplace new, so I let her cut on my tongue with minimal explanation. I am also trying to do my tongue stretches so that I get the full intended benefit of the procedure. Also in health news, I sliced a bit of flesh off of my left thumb. It is the most at risk when I am chopping vegetables and I got it pretty good, I cut off several layers of skin and it was bleeding pretty badly. When checking through my chopped bok choy for the disc of skin (which I found) I also discovered a nice crescent of nail that I had apparently sliced right off. When my boyfriend saw it and heard about the bleeding, he seemed pretty alarmed and wanted to know if he should take me to the ER for stitches. “What would they even sew together?” I asked, amused at his alarm. When my physician father saw a photo the next day, his assessment was “you’ll live,” so I am hardly worried.

I have not knit anything in like a year at this point. It is actually kind of weird. I did start a crochet project back in February that I am nowhere near finished with. I made all of the motifs but then ran out of steam when it came time to sew hundreds of tiny squares together. It is like I forget between projects how very much I hate doing that. Anyway, I figured I would need a project for my cruise. I had just started a new audiobook (The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik) and needed something to keep my hands busy while listening since I would hardly be driving that week. I love shopping for yarn but determined that I had enough already and so found a lace scarf pattern that would use some of my stash. The pattern name is a little old-fashioned (racist?) but I like the look of it so I cast on the Oriental Impressions Scarf and took it with me. I made a few changes but it is mostly faithful to the pattern. I don’t know if I will get it done by Christmas, it depends on whether I put it down like my last project but if I do, I plan to give it to my boyfriend’s mother. I like to think she will appreciate a handmade gift.

The last thing that has been happening to me recently is some fairly significant weight loss. Near the beginning of the year, my doctor started me on a new medication for my diabetes, an injectable (non-insulin) drug called Ozempic. At the time, I weighed about 205 lbs although my weight tended to fluctuate a few pounds in each direction from there. Anyway, I am almost down to my [interim] goal weight of 185 lbs. I know that still sounds like a lot but it hits the milestone of a 30 BMI which is the cutoff for obesity. It is ridiculous that I even care about that number since I know that BMI is kind of bunk but it seems like some sort of thing to be celebrated. I do feel in some ways that I should not be able to be proud of this weight loss though because I did not really make an effort, I just took my medication as directed. It is the drug that delayed my gastric emptying and therefore decreased my appetite. It is actually ridiculous how much my appetite has shrunk, sometimes I don’t feel like eating anything at all. For some reason, chicken especially has become less appealing to me. Anyway, 20 lbs (well, almost) does look like a big weight loss but it has been something like 8 months since I started the medication, so it is not really too drastic overall. I have a lot of complicated feelings about this weight loss but in the big picture, I think it is a good thing for my health and therefore I am [mostly] happy about it.

Stupid Bugs!

I am currently angry at Squash Bugs and/or Squash Vine Borers since they have ruined my plants! At least most of them set fruit before that happened and it seems to be doing okay, as minimal as it is. I lost my Sugar Pie Pumpkins and my Hale’s Best Cantaloupe vines before they so much as blossomed but the others managed to survive long enough to produce a little, at least. I tried to get rid of any leaves with eggs on them but of course, it was too late for the worst-hit plants.

When it comes to my watermelon, a Sugar Bush Baby, it produced very little; a single tiny melon, smaller than the fruit expected from such a plant. I have tried to water it plenty and leave it on the vine for as long as possible but I think its time is up and I should just cut it open and see how much of it is rind. At least that one did not get eaten by critters.

My squash did not all survive unscathed. First, one of my pumpkins had a hole in it. I worried that it was a goner but my farmer friend assured me that the damage would scar over and I could still harvest it. The attack occurred when it was still green and I did not have a lot of faith but it turns out that she was right, it grew a little more and oranged up nicely. Like the watermelon, it is much smaller than expected. Jack O’Lantern Pumpkins are supposed to be pretty sizeable but the two that my plant put out are more Sugar Pie sized, it seems to me.

I have (or had, now, I suppose) one Table Queen Squash vine (also known as Acorn Squash) and it actually gave me three fruits but I cut one too early when aggressively pruning. I was sad but I saved it and it actually seems to have ended up okay. I used that squash and the one that was the most damaged to make a pretty good roasted squash soup last weekend. The damaged squash made me particularly frustrated because after the first critter got to it, I sprayed it with a mix of apple cider vinegar and dish soap (per advice from the aforementioned farmer friend) but something else (or possibly the same jerk of a wild animal) got to it later and made a fresh dent. Still, the seeds were intact, which is good because they might be my favorite part of squash! I roasted them with olive oil and garlic salt and had to exercise amazing self-control to give a small handful to my grandmother (to go with the soup) because I just wanted to gobble them all down. They are like everything that is great about pumpkin seeds but less excessively fibrous.

My most plentiful squash (by a narrow margin) is the Butternut Squash. I have two vines of that one and four fruits total. I do not know if there are two on each or what but while all of them have been nibbled on at least a little, they seem to be doing okay overall, at least when it comes to ripening slowly but surely.

The vines, at this point, are obviously a total loss, no more fruit will set and they just look awful. Once I harvest the last of the squash, I will tear them out and put them in my compost bin. I guess it does not really matter if I tear them out because the substrate they are growing in (straw bales) will become compost as well although I do not have anywhere close to a big enough bin to contain five bales of decomposing straw. My current plan is to lay them over my raised bed after the tomatoes and green beans are done and let them break down there over the winter. Of course, I have delayed this possibility a bit by planting a new set of Sugar Snap Peas but time will tell whether that did any good anyway.

Pickles & Squash

My garden has been growing nicely of late. I get a few handfuls of Sweet 100 Tomatoes every time I harvest and my non-tiny tomatoes have finally started to blush. Even the Yellow Pear Tomatoes in the front (which gets less sun) have started to change color a bit. There are not a ton of those but I am really excited about eating them! My harvests have overall been pretty good, I pick stuff every few days and it seems reasonably plentiful. Sometimes I get surprises like giant cucumbers or way too mature beans that have been hiding in the foliage for a bit too long.

I have been collecting cucumbers, along with green beans in a large zip-top bag in the fridge until I get an idea of what to do with them and I finally decided – I shall make fermented pickles! I have made pickles a few times before, with cucumbers and green beans and sugar snap peas, for the refrigerator and properly canned, but I have never made them without vinegar and now seemed as good a time as any to give it a try. I have a lot of jars at home, pint and half pint mostly, all of them “regular mouth”. I did not realize this was a problem until I started looking into buying fermentation lids. Silicone “pickle pipes” seemed to be a good idea but I could not find any that were not made for wide mouth jars. Okay, I don’t want more jars but I can get them if necessary, so when I stopped by Meijer to buy some distilled water (also for this pickle endeavor) I took a look at their canning section. They had exactly one size of wide mouth jar: a half pint. In order to make the mouth of that wider, the jar was, of course, shorter than the standard jelly jars of the same volume, meaning most of my cucumbers would not even fit into one. Annoyingly, they actually carry the silicone pickle pipes I was looking at online, but only in wide mouth format! It is like a conspiracy to keep us from fermenting pickles.

Anyway, instead of investing in new jars, which would be more expensive ordered online since I could not get them in store, I decided to get a kimchi-style fermenting crock. Of course, this is 2022, so such crocks are not necessarily actual crocks, and I ended up buying a half-gallon plastic tub (which is smaller than I realized) for the purpose. It arrived yesterday and I promptly washed it, excited to start my pickling journey.

After doing some research online, I decided to start by soaking my cucumbers in ice water although first I cut off the blossom ends and quartered them, I want pickle spears like at the deli. I let that sit for a couple of hours then drained them and set about preparing my spices. I used a head of garlic and some dill gifted by my boyfriend’s mother (her garden is so much better than mine, it is frankly aspirational) along with peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander, allspice, and bay leaf. I also collected a few grape leaves from the wild vine in our backyard in order to add tannins and hopefully keep the pickles crisp.

After putting in the flavorings and packing in the cucumber spears, I found that I had more than a few left over. Unfortunately, there was no way to make them fit so at first I thought I might just vinegar-pickle them but then I decided to use them for an experiment instead. I used a little of the garlic and some dill (ignoring the other spices because I had already put them away in the basement) and packed the rest of the cucumbers into a pint jar, where they just fit. I settled one of the grape leaves on top, both to add tannins and to keep the cucumbers submerged, I do not know how well that will work. I mixed up some brine using distilled water and canning salt (with no additives) at a ratio of 2 cups to a tablespoon and poured it into each container. The kimchi container has an insert that seals it, so of course I used that but I had to think differently for my pint jar. I ended up using a paper towel held on by the band. It may be a terrible idea, only time will tell. I plan to move both containers to the basement today after I check on them.

My grandmother is very into the idea of consuming more fermented foods and so I should definitely take some of these pickles to her (should they work out as planned) but I understand that the canning process basically kills the “good” bacteria and so if I want to give her probiotic pickles with live cultures, they will have to be the refrigerator kind only. I guess I am getting ahead of myself here anyway, the pickles have not even started fermenting yet, so I can put off even thinking about preservation procedures for a while yet.

In the meantime, I have been paying a bit more attention to my squash plants. My watermelon is over there too but it is just minding its own business and not spreading too far, so I don’t really think about it that much. The Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin has two fruits on it now, one of which is actually starting to turn a bit orange even though I do not think it is done growing yet. The Table Queen / Acorn Squash has put out three fruits although one of them, unfortunately, fell victim to my overzealous pruning earlier this week. I was trying to remove extraneous vines and because some were a bit tangled, I cut the wrong one and that means the most mature fruit from that plant is done for the season. I have heard conflicting things about whether I can ripen it off-vine or not. I guess I will just put it in a sunny place and hope for now!

I actually have two Butternut Squash plants and while they were the last to start fruiting, they do seem to be reasonably productive. I even got rid of a few female blossoms when cutting back the vines. There are maybe three or four squash that are definitely growing but at least as many more blossoms that may turn into fruit. I put tiles underneath all of my squash (and the one melon) to prevent the bottoms from getting rotten or whatever else happens to them sitting in a moist environment.

I had also planted a Sugar Pie Pumpkin, which died fairly early in the season thanks to the little jerks that are Squash Vine Borers. It was in a straw bale of its own and I initially thought I might plant peas there after I took it out but then I blinked and vines from the neighboring bales were already covering it up. I also lost a Hale’s Best Jumbo Cantaloupe to the same pests. It used to share a bale with the Acorn Squash but now there is just a sad hole where it used to be.

Time Away

I left my plant babies all alone (well, my boyfriend watered them, but I doubt he talked to them like I do!) for almost five days while I took a little vacation. On Thursday, before leaving town, I had a small pumpkin that had just started growing and a baby watermelon that may or may not have been fertilized yet. Also, since we had leftovers and I was working late last week, I did not get around to using the vegetables that I harvested so I took a bunch with me to visit my parents in Georgia. I did not take either of the two Sweet 100 Tomatoes that I picked because they went immediately into my belly! I did take a handful of Cherokee Wax Beans, most of a head of Buttercrunch Lettuce, one good-sized zucchini, a green cayenne, three smallish beets with their greens, a couple of cucumbers and a few sugar snap peas.

My mother ate the peas raw. Like my best friend, she hates peas generally and refuses to eat them cooked whether from frozen or canned. I disagree and think that frozen peas are pretty good but whatever, I don’t like bacon, so to each their own. Anyway, both my mom and BFF enjoy eating fresh raw peas out of the pod and I agree that they are delicious. It is too bad that buying fresh peas has a very limited season. Anyway, we ate most of the vegetables although when I came home, they still had the beets and cayenne, the former of which my mother did promise to cook eventually. We had the lettuce and cucumber chopped up in a salad for dinner one night and the zucchini and beans for dinner another. My six-year-old niece insisted on helping and so sliced up the zucchini and trimmed the ends off of the beans. Despite her efforts, she still refused to try the latter, which I sautéed in butter with seasoning salt and I think turned out pretty well! (Unrelated, that same adorable niece demanded that I make a pillow and blanket for her tiny “stuffie” and I cannot say no to her, so I whipped up a tiny set with some scrap yarn and a crochet hook.) The zucchini was cooked in olive oil with onions, salt, and pepper and they were both served with salmon and cornbread. Also at my parents’ house, my sister-in-law and I made ramen noodles, to be served cold with hot broth for dipping. I did not get to use any of my produce for it but I did make crispy tofu, mushrooms, ramen eggs, and sautéed corn to add to the chicken and cucumber prepared by my SIL.

When I got home (a few hours late thanks to a flight delay) I went out to visit my plants. The bed was even more overgrown than when I left. Based on a photo he sent me, I think my BF only harvested one zucchini and one tiny tomato during my absence and he definitely did not prune (nor did I expect him to). I did some pruning, taking care of the dead zucchini leaves and overgrown pea vines but I did not want to cut back the Kentucky Wonder Bean vines since those just started to flower. The pumpkin vine has gotten huge although there is really only the one pumpkin on it, or at least one that is fertilized. There are a couple of female blossoms that I suppose still have a chance. I really should prune the vine. So far, I have just done a little bit to prevent dragging the hose over it too much. The [butternut & acorn] squash plants seem healthy although I could not find any fruit growing on them. One did have a badly split vine at one point, so I cut it off there to [hopefully] prevent the squash borer (or whatever) from spreading further. Another one looks really bad at the base so I suspect it is infected (infested?) but the rest of the plant looks good so I am ignoring it for now and just crossing my proverbial fingers. The female watermelon blossom I saw last week has been pollenated and appears to be growing into an actual fruit, which is exciting but my cantaloupe plant is probably a goner, it has lots of dead leaves and is just not growing much at all. Sitting near my sprawling pumpkin was the biggest moth I have ever seen. I do not know enough about insects to even try to name the species.

There are some more ripening tomatoes but I deemed that only three (two and a half, really, one was extra tiny) were ready to be picked. Fortunately, those are easier to spot due to their contrasting color, unlike cucumbers which can easily hide and get too big. I harvested several cucumbers, one of which was shaped more like a mango. I think I will pickle them but I have not decided yet how to cut them to do it. There were a good-sized handful of yellow beans to pick and just a couple of peas plus a few more pods that will hopefully fill out some more before I harvest them. I think I will cook the beans for dinner tomorrow night. The tomatoes were immediately eaten! The radishes are getting a bit overgrown and the carrots need to be thinned more, most of them are crowded into just a small area and I know they will not grow that way. After pruning back the zucchini leaves, I noticed that the fruit I thought was growing appeared to be dying and I could not see any more female blossoms, meaning that the plant might be done for the year. The Black Krim and Genuwine Beefsteak Tomatoes are still growing but showing absolutely no signs of ripening yet.

First Harvest

I have been picking little bits from my garden so far this year but had not yet gotten enough that I might refer to it as a “harvest” until last weekend. I have been excited to watch the little white flowers on my pea plants turn into pods that gradually fatten up and the little purple flowers on my yellow wax beans just start to turn into beans. Then, when I started looking a little deeper inside the forest of my plants, I discovered that there were full-grown beans in there! I guess I was not looking quite hard enough before. So, on Saturday, I took a pair of shears outside and started snipping off the stuff that looked ready. I ended up with a good sized cucumber, a few beans, and a handful of peas.

Additionally, I did some pruning. I was not particularly aggressive with my tomatoes as I really did not want to lose any fruit but I did remove several leaves from the zucchini and in the process I found three fruits growing on that plant. Two could probably be harvested already but I am letting them grow a bit more first. I also decided to officially give up on my sugar pie pumpkin that definitely fell victim to a squash bug or vine borer so now I have an empty straw bale. Perhaps I will plant more peas there for the late summer season. Speaking of pumpkins, my jack o’lantern pumpkin manifested its first female blooms last week. A few days later, I was sad to see one had fallen off the vine but I think another was pollinated, at least it seems to be getting a little bigger already.

Once I brought my bounty indoors, I decided to pickle it. My cucumbers are coming slowly enough that I think I cannot wait for enough to pickle and can properly so I decided on refrigerator pickles. With the small number of wax beans, it also felt pointless to cook those so I broke off the ends and threw them into the brine along with a couple of sugar snap peas. I also like to eat the peas raw and took some to my grandmother on Sunday for her to try. The problem was that I turned out to be almost out of vinegar. I used both the white vinegar and apple cider vinegar that I had in the pantry but even after mixing it 50/50 with water, it was only enough to half fill the jar I had. Still, after dissolving in some salt and sugar, I threw in some peppercorns, coriander seeds, and the dill from my hydroponic setup. I was out of garlic too, so that did not get added until the next day! Also on Saturday, I cleaned out the hydroponics. The green shiso was getting unwieldy and too big for its pod so I moved that and the chervil outdoors and reseeded eight herbs in the hopes that at least some will come up.

On Sunday, I picked some more of the same vegetables including a cucumber that is weirdly narrow at the end and huge at the top. I quartered that one before putting it into the brine, now topped up with fresh vinegar and a few garlic cloves. I also harvested a head of buttercrunch lettuce which will go toward my boyfriend’s lunch sandwiches this week.

My carrots are germinating okay, I probably need to thin them out. I should have thinned the radishes but it is too late for that now. The second seeding of those is coming up nicely as well. I should probably pick some of the earlier ones soon, maybe before going out of town this weekend. They can go in the pickle brine as well. I will be out of town for five days and while I totally trust my boyfriend to properly water my babies while I am gone, I am not sure he will harvest anything that is ready. I am pretty sure the tomatoes will not be ripe that soon but there are a lot of sweet 100s that just need to turn red and that sort of thing can happen practically overnight. The yellow pear tomatoes are just starting to appear although that plant is likely to be the least productive, it will also probably be the healthiest; my boyfriend’s mother pruned it fairly aggressively a couple of weeks ago. I have pruned my other plants pretty sparingly and only in the last few days. The genuwine beefsteak tomatoes are looking good but are still a very light green and my black krims, particularly the ones planted out front, look to be producing a lot of fruit, I am excited and getting impatient for those to ripen! I have more cucumbers that seem to be coming in funny shaped, which is fine although they might also get kind of lost in the leaves and go overripe, which does worry me. The vines of my kentucky wonder beans are growing great and getting all entwined with each other and nearby plants but do not appear to have any actual beans growing yet. I hope that changes by the time I get home!

Snacks & Lost Causes

A lot has been going on in my garden the past couple of weeks and not all of it good! I have a bunch of photos in chronological order and hopefully I can remember what I have to say to go with them.

Last month, I started growing little 5×5 crops of microgreens on grow mats. I put the popcorn in my closet, since it is to be grown in the dark, and promptly forgot about it. It seemed to grow okay though, so I will try it again sometime when I am actually paying attention. I harvested some sunflower seeds and buckwheat for a salad but then neglected them and can see a little mold now so I think it is time to cut my losses there. Overall, I am less motivated to grow and care for microgreens in the summer when I can be giving care to my outdoor garden, I guess. The wheatgrass appears to be growing strong. I have not harvested any of that yet but I keep meaning to make a smoothie. I did get an individual blender that even comes with a mug so I have very little excuse to not try it. I am thinking wheatgrass/mint/apple maybe.

My hydroponic herbs are doing okay. Some are more than okay, particularly the green shiso, from which I have cut a couple of huge leaves which were shading the plants below them. I put them in the fridge wrapped in a damp paper towel but I think they have wilted too much to use now. I was thinking of julienning them to serve on ramen or making a pesto, maybe with a little basil in it. My purple shiso, lavender, and cilantro have not germinated at all. A ton of oregano sprouts came up so I thinned them but could not bring myself to take the number all the way down to one. Now little white spots (mold?) are showing up on the sponge. I will apply some hydrogen peroxide and hope for the best.

Outdoors, of course, is where the real magic is happening! I tried planting [rainbow blend] carrots from seed and after several weeks, not a single one germinated but hope springs eternal, so I determined to try again. This time I put a “gourmet blend” of radishes in the grow bag of failed carrots and sprinkled some more carrot seeds into a new bag, filled with soil and compost. The radish sprouts popped up almost immediately but the carrots took the better part of a week to germinate. Clearly, I washed the seeds off to the side when first watering them so I have added some seeds to the centers of both bags in the hope of getting a more full crop. I am just excited that my rainbow carrots were not a complete waste!

I have been cooking a little bit with my garden produce although most of what I have harvested is lettuce, which does not need to be cooked, it still makes for good salads! Last weekend, I did harvest some swiss chard which I added to a lentil soup. I chopped up the stem fairly finely and added it to the carrots and onions like a part of a mirepoix then added the roughly chopped leaves at the end of the cooking process just to have some wilted greens in the soup. Swiss chard is not really my favorite green but I think the soup turned out alright. I also took some of the young buttercrunch lettuce from my hanging basket to my great aunt. She has gastroparesis, which makes digesting roughage a bit difficult. Apparently she really misses salads and eating some lettuce is okay if she avoids the crunchy rib. Since this sort of baby lettuce does not have much in the way of a rib, I am hopeful that it will work for her!

I am having a complicated relationship with my squash plants. I have a yellow straight neck squash and a zucchini in my raised bed and several winter squash in my straw bales. The yellow squash is not flowering yet due to a late start but the zucchini has been looking pretty good. I hand pollinated a couple of female blossoms early on but those do not appear to be doing particularly well, looking squishy and yellow, so I do not think it took. There may be one healthy baby in there but it is kind of early to tell for sure. The leaves on that zucchini plant are huge and shading out my basil and pak choi so I did my best to prune some of them off, which may not have been a great idea since now the hollow stalks are probably a super fun place for bugs to hang out.

My farmer friend pointed out to me that I had mixed up the labels of my watermelon and sugar pie pumpkin. I guess that does not really matter but it is good to know what is what especially since the sugar pie pumpkin is looking super sad these days. The jack o’lantern pumpkin plant next to it appears to be doing well but that poor sugar pie seems to be infested with squash bugs and/or squash vine borers. I removed leaves and a blossom that had eggs on them and watered it super thoroughly and it appeared to be bouncing back after the first day I noticed the problem but by the next day, it was extremely wilted again, which does not give me high hopes. I had planned to make a spray to deter the pests out of castile soap and neem oil but kept not getting around to it then, my boyfriend recommended an insecticidal soap he uses before bringing plants indoors for the winter. Apparently, it is safe for vegetables and even suitable for organic gardens (which mine is not) so I thought I would give it a try. I applied it only to the sad squash although I should probably use it as a prophylactic measure on all of them. That poor sugar pie pumpkin may just be a lost cause at this point anyway.

In the backyard with his parents, my boyfriend discovered grapes (yay!) and poison ivy (boo!). I was really excited about the grapes; possibly wild, possibly left over from a previous resident’s garden until he pointed out that when he sprays the poison ivy, it will probably get all over them, or at least their vines. I am sad about that but I guess it is worth it to not have poison ivy in the backyard.

Overall, I am fairly pleased with how my garden is going, I think. I have sugar snap peas ripening slowly but surely. I picked one and ate the peas inside yesterday, they tasted amazing! Even my mother and best friend, who both hate cooked peas, will happily eat raw peas just out of the shell. Amazingly, when I mentioned this to my grandmother, she said she has never eaten peas that way. So, obviously, I will have to control myself and not eat all of the delicious peas before I go see her next week and take her at least one pod of them.

I planted two types of cucumbers and forgot which was which but I think it is the picklebush that is doing particularly well. It is near the corner and its vines are escaping out of the chicken wire. I see lots of female blooms but I am not sure how many of them are being properly pollinated. I did pick one cucumber that looked ripe based on yellowing at its tip but with only one, I can hardly make a batch of pickles! It seems to be continuing to ripen off the vine as well so I should probably get it into brine as quickly as possible. I am thinking of making refrigerator pickles so that I can just add cucumbers as they seem ready to pick. I know if I eat it raw, I will be disappointed since it looks like a pickle but will not taste like one!

I have tomatoes in both the front and back yards. In the front are all plants I started from seed and none of them are fruiting yet although the black krim and yellow pear varieties have started to bloom. The rutgers tomato is small and stunted (likely due to inadequate sun) and does not seem anywhere near ready to even put out blossoms so it may be a lost cause this year. In the back, I have a black krim and rutgers tomato as well. I am honestly not sure how well those are doing because of how extremely full that raised bed is and they are located right in the center along with my bell pepper of whose progress I am also unsure. I can see that both my sweet 100 and genuwine beefsteak are setting fruit although the former shows no sign yet of so much as blushing and the latter remain quite tiny. Both of these plants were bought from the hardware store in June after some tomato plants I grew did not survive transplantation. I am getting unreasonably excited for them to be ready to eat, especially the cherry tomatoes, I can eat those like candy!

In other news, my hot peppers (I honestly do not recall if they are jalapeno or cayenne and I keep forgetting to look at the label) are doing okay, in that a few of them seem to be growing while some blossoms have fallen off, unpollinated. It is not like I need or want many of those anyway, I guess! Also, my kentucky wonder beans have very twisty vines but no evidence of fruiting yet while my cherokee wax beans have just started blossoming with cute little purple things that look kind of like beans in their own right.

Leaves of Success

My vegetable garden is not fruiting yet but I do have some leafy greens that are ready to eat!

On Friday evening, we had some friends over for movie night and I grilled tandoori chicken for them. Normally, I would make a vegetable curry to go with it but it was stupid hot outside and I did not want to turn on the stove if it could be avoided so I decided to make a salad. I am not sure if I have ever had an “Indian” salad so I decided to make it up. The greens were easy; my BF’s mother had given us some red leaf lettuce that she grew in her garden. I added to that baby buttercrunch I grew in a hanging basket and curled cress microgreens I grew hydroponically indoors. I also threw in some sliced green onions and tomatoes (store bought, unfortunately, mine are not nearly ready yet).

For a dressing, I decided to go tamarind-based but I made the mistake of also adding apple cider vinegar so I think it was too tart overall. Still okay though. I also added olive oil, jaggery, coriander, salt, and pepper. For crunchy bits, instead of croutons, I added sev which made it kind of like salad chaat. Overall, it was okay, but I think I would make a more tamarind chutney-like dressing in the future.

On Saturday mornings, I cook for old ladies. On Sundays, I visit my grandma and stop to see her sister along the way. My grandma prefers vegetarian fare, which is not exactly popular among her age group and therefore is rarely served in the dining hall of her retirement community. Therefore, I try to provide something meatless and relatively unique each week. This week, because I had mature bok choy, I decided to make gyoza (Japanese dumplings). I chose this mostly because I made a stir fry just last week and did not want to do the same thing two weeks in a row!

The first thing to do was harvest the bok choy (or, as the seed packet calls it, pak choi, although I understand that those are alternate spellings for the exact same plant). I had two plants which had already bolted to seed, so I took those in their entirety, and one more that, while huge, was not flowering yet. I only took the outermost stalks from that one although in retrospect, I probably should have taken it all as well. I forgot how tiny cabbage can get when cooked!

After washing the bok choy, I chopped it up and salted it to draw out additional water. In the meantime, I sautéed tofu with sesame oil and a splash of soy sauce. When I added the bok choy, I also threw in the white parts of scallions, shredded carrot, and ginger-garlic paste. After it was all cooked, I added the scallion tops along with some chopped basil from my little pot out front then folded it all up into packets with store-bought dumpling wrappers. Unfortunately, after freezing the wrappers, they got dry all around the edges but that just means my pleats were neither plentiful nor particularly neat. For the most part, they worked fine. Anyway, I pan fried the dumplings in sesame oil then steamed them until they were done and made a simple dipping sauce (soy sauce, black vinegar, & ginger-garlic paste) to go along with them. I think they turned out pretty well.

All in all, I am pleased with how the first foods made from my garden turned out 🙂