Category Archives: garden

Signs of spring

We’ve had an unusually warm winter down here in Southern Indiana.  The warmest recorded in 140 years!  Very little snow but plenty of rain.  The past week saw temperatures in the 50s and 60s.  All of this warm weather has given a real push to spring.  Today I took a little walk around the yard and this is what I saw.

Crocuses all over the yard, appearing in the most unusual places, courtesy of children planting them where they wish.

First, several different kinds of crocuses.  Over the years I’ve purchased bags of these in the fall and let the kids and now grand kids plant them.  It is always a surprise to see where they come up.  And some of them seem to travel from where I planted them many years ago.  I really don’t know how they do that.

Daffodils emerging with day lilies in the background.

The early daffodils are always a welcome harbinger of spring.  It seems the singles come out earliest, especially the ones that were already naturalized in this old homestead.  We have doubles and other colors but they come out a bit later.  Another “walking” plant as they seem to come up in the strangest places, not where I have planted them at all.

Forsythia jungle. This will be a golden mountain in another week or two.

The forsythia jungle has grown from the three small plants that I bought end of season at the tractor supply center many years ago.  About fifteen years ago, I had one of my sons dig up the resets and plant them along the road.  The past few years they have made quite a showing.  I hope the travelers enjoy them.  He replanted some lilac starts, too, but they’re a bit slower.

Flowering quince, ready to pop.

This is a flowering quince bush ready to pop.  I’m sure the sun and 60 degree temps will lead to an explosion of blooms real soon.  The start came from my mother’s garden so I always think of her when I pass by.

Twenty tons of rock delivered this week to repair the winter damage.

After all the rain and mud this winter, we just had twenty tons of rock delivered for the drive.  It seems that we’re always trying to keep up here on the farm, man against nature…and nature is winning.

Down at the creek. The peepers are creating a cacophony of noise!

The peepers are going to town down at the creek.  I love this early sound of spring.  Sometimes the beaver have dammed the stream so I can see a one acre pond through the trees.  Fortunately, not this year.

Hazelnut bushes with catkins.

I also spotted a lot of hazelnut bushes coming into bloom.  They’re not real showy but they make a nice addition to a spring bouquet.  I cut some forsythia branches last week and forced them into bloom.  It only took about three days for them to come out and brings a needed touch of spring indoors.  Check out this previous post for how to do this.

Runaway daffodils. I really don’t know how they got here.

Some call this vinca an invasive species but I really like their periwinkle flowers. Yes, I have to pull out tons of vines in the spring, but I think they’re worth it.

Tulips and flowering trees will be out soon as will the spring beauties and violets. And my husband prepped the cold frame for sowing some lettuce soon.  Can’t wait.

Anyway, that’s the spring update from this part of my world.  I hope you are seeing signs of spring in your neck of the woods, too.

September garden update

Cherry tomatoes from just two bushes, picked mid September.

Normally this time of year, the garden starts slowing down. Not this year.  Despite the record-breaking temperatures and drought, our garden is still producing.

Dried cherry tomatoes. A jar of yummy deliciousness.

While most of the regular tomatoes have slowed down, the cherry tomatoes are still coming on strong.  We have a debate whether the best ones are Sweet 100s or Sweet One Million.  They’re both delicious.  I have been drying plenty of them in the dehydrator.  I found the best and quickest way to dry them is to cut them in half and then gently squeeze out the seeds.  They will dry much faster.  We love to put them in bread or just eat them straight for snacks.  Yummm.

Fresh green beans from the second crop planted in mid-July.

And the green beans which I replanted in July have been coming in.  Amazingly, they’re better than the first batch we planted last spring.  Big and juicy and practically bug free.  I love green beans!

A multitude of peppers. Jalapenos, Anaheim, and sweet yellow peppers.

The peppers haven’t given up either.  We have jalapeno, Anaheim and sweet peppers.  A few of the hot peppers go a long way so we’re always glad to share them with the neighbors.

Sweet potatoes cluster, all from one slip. Variety Puerto Rican vining.

My husband loves sweet potatoes.  This clump is from just one slip!  And he planted fifty slips!  And they’re still growing (the vines haven’t died back yet).

Although the squirrels are harvesting most of our walnuts, I always feel a kinship as I “squirrel” away our garden produce.  Apologies for the bad pun.

A walk through the yard

After weeks of oppressive heat and no rain, we finally had a few storms blow through here earlier this week.  Not only did the yard and garden receive a beneficial watering, but the temperatures have dropped to actually pleasant for late August.  The windows are flung open and I can’t help but want to play outside.

Chicken in the Woods fungi. Such a beautiful color and shape. This is supposed to be edible but I’m not too fond of wild mushrooms.

This evening the dog and I took a walk around the yard to see what was going on.  The first thing to catch my eye was a spectacular Chicken of the Woods mushroom.  It grows in about the same place every year.  It’s supposed to be edible and is highly sought after, but I’m not much for wild fungi.

Garden sunflowers about a week ago. Some of these beauties were over twelve feet tall!

Sunflowers down after the big storm blew through here earlier this week.

This sunflower seed head is already being harvested by the little critters.

And here are two photos of my giant sunflowers.  One from a week ago.  And the other from a few days ago, after the storm knocked them down. Well, all is not wasted.  Apparently the critters are already feasting on the seeds.  Enough flowers are still standing for the hummingbirds and finches, too.

Wild Joe Pye weed is a perennial which grows throughout the Midwest. The butterflies love it and it’s supposed to have been valued for its medicinal properties by the pioneers.

Our yard is surrounded by fields and woods.  There are banks of Joe Pye weed and Jewel-weed.  So pretty for summer bouquets.

We planted this peach tree over thirty years ago. It blew over many years ago but has managed to survive and even provide some of the sweetest peaches I’ve ever eaten….if I can get to them before the animals do.

And here is an old survivor, a thirty year old peach tree which still produces.

Damage to cedar bench from wood bees (Carpenter bees), and the wood peckers who went after their larvae.

As a little sidebar, I am showing you the damage to the cedar benches we refinished a couple of years ago.  The wood bees (Carpenter bee), digs a hole into the wood and lays her eggs.  This only causes a little round hole but the inside is eaten out like a honeycomb which weakens the wood.  The real damage you see are from the pileated woodpeckers who are going after the larvae.  Gggggggggggrrrrrr.

The last lily of the season. I’ve drawn and painted this one many times.

Here is a photo of the last lily of the summer.  It is a beautiful peach color with a yellow interior.  I’m not sure what variety this is but I have painted it several times over the years.

Beautiful large hosta blooming in late August. Variety Plantaginea Aphrodite.

Finally, these large white hostas (Plantaginea Aphrodite) are just coming out.  They’re the last of my hostas to bloom in the garden.  They have large white bell-shaped flowers and a heavenly perfume.  I especially like the whorls of flowers.  They’re very hardy and need little care.

So, this is just a walk though my little corner of the world.  I hope that you have someplace where you can enjoy a bit of the outdoors, to reflect and just admire.

In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks.

  John Muir

Thick Kale Soup with Smoked Sausage

Thick Kale Soup served with crusty multi-grain bread. Great any time of year.

We often think of soup as being a cold weather food but actually soup is great any time of year.  You can just go “shopping” in your fridge or garden and come up with a variety of tasty and healthy options.  After my recent post of my Corn Chowder recipe, I had a request for the Kale soup recipe.  So here goes.

This soup has been a family favorite for years and we’re likely to make it any time of year.  It is often a little thicker than soup (stewp?) but it is hardy any way you make it.

Ingredients:

·         3 tablespoons olive oil ·         1 large bunch of kale, deveined, chopped
·         1 pound smoked sausage, cut up ·         2 quarts chicken broth
·         1 large onion, chopped ·         2 cans white beans (northern, cannelloni )
·         4-8 cloves of garlic,diced ·         Cracked pepper
·         4 large potatoes, cubed ·         Salt to taste

 

Heat the olive oil in a 6 – 8 quart soup pot.  Add the chopped smoked sausage.  You can use any kind of smoked sausage – regular, light, turkey, or even Polish kielbasa. Stir and brown.

Add the chopped onion and stir until clear.  Add the minced garlic.  Keep stirring so they don’t burn.

Kale soup – Step 1. Brown the cut up sausage, add the onions and garlic.

Meanwhile, wash and strip the tough veins out of the kale.  Rough chop and add to the mixture, stirring until wilted.  Add the chicken broth and cover. Bring to simmer.

Step 2. Add the chopped kale and wilt in pan.

Wash and dice the potatoes.  Sometimes I leave the peel on just for added texture. Add to the pot after it comes to a slow boil.  Cover and bring back to simmer.

Step 3. Add the chicken broth, bring to simmer. Add the cubed potatoes and cover. Cook for 20 minutes.

When the potatoes are cooked (about 15-20 minutes), use an old fashioned potato masher and rough mash them in the pot.  This just helps the soup to thicken.

Then add the two cans of beans (drained).  Frankly, I just use whatever white beans I have available.  I’ve even added butter beans and it works fine.

Add the cracked pepper to taste.  You probably won’t need any salt as the sausage is pretty salty, but suit yourself.

Serve with crusty bread for a filling lunch or dinner.

Corn chowder

Sweet corn, bi-color. Peaches and cream variety.

It’s that time of year for those of us who grow gardens.  The produce is coming in and we have to scurry like squirrels to put it all away.  Fresh green beans and new potatoes.  Juicy sliced tomatoes or sweet cherry tomatoes popping in your mouth.  With the vagaries of the weather this summer – buckets of rain in June and the beginnings of a drought now – I feel lucky to be able to pluck anything at all from the garden.  But we always say that.  Some years it’s too many zucchinis.  This year, none.  I even had to replant the green beans. We can never quite predict what the bounty will be.

With all of these fresh veggies, we’re making soups -vegetable, minestrone, and fresh tomato.  Sometimes Thick Kale soup with smoked sausage. But this morning I picked the first batch of sweet corn.  I think this variety is peaches and cream and it’s so so good.  We’ll put most in the freezer but I made a triple batch of one of our favorite soups, Corn Chowder. I thought I’d share this family favorite recipe with you.  You can use canned corn but fresh is better.

Ingredients

·         ½ pound bacon cut up fine ·         2 cups milk
·         1 small onion, cut fine ·         3 tablespoons cornstarch
·         1 – 2 potatoes, cubed ·         1 ½ teaspoons salt
·         1 cup water or chicken broth (or both) ·         ¼ teaspoon fresh grated black pepper
·         1 ½ cups corn cut fresh off the cob (or canned) ·         Couple of dashes of garlic powder

In a large soup pot (6 -8 quarts or larger if you increase the recipe), saute bacon until soft and half cooked.  Drain the fat. Add chopped onion and stir. Cook until soft.  Add cubed potatoes and stir.  Partially cook (about 5 minutes).  Add water or broth, corn, spices and bring to low boil. Stir in milk.  Bring back to simmer.  Make a slurry of the cornstarch (mix it with a little water), then slowly pour in while stirring.  This will thicken the soup.  Simmer until potatoes are done, adding additional milk or broth to thin. Serves 6 -8.

That’s pretty much it.  You will want to double or triple this recipe because it is sooooo good.  Serve with fresh hearty bread or cornbread.

Mangia!

Summer garden

Giant tomato, Park Whopper My husband ate the entire tomato for lunch. Yummmm.

 

You haven’t heard me bragging about the garden this summer because, well, in a word, it’s been awful.  We usually plant a big garden (25 x 40) and a small spring garden which holds spring crops, such as, lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, etc.

Tomatoes ready for canning.

Everything was looking good before we went out west last month on vacation.  Although we enjoyed wonderful weather on our trip, apparently the Midwest received buckets of rain the entire time.  We returned to a garden full of weeds, at least, that which was not drowned.  I could watch them grow on the deer cam.

Multi-stemmed sunflowers just came out this week. They’re already being eyed by the goldfinches.

Red sunflower being strangled with a morning glory. The bees are loving this.

Then with a couple of weeks of extreme heat, there were some crops that we just gave up on.  The peas blew past, the kale, lettuce and spinach bolted.  The beans, corn, and squash in the big garden looked anemic.

New bean crop. The red line gives you an indication of location.

This past month we have spent hoeing and weeding, feeding and trimming.  Some things we’ve just given up on.  I planted new beans a couple of weeks ago and they’re up now, doing nicely.  The sweet corn has recovered but we’re trying to keep the varmints out of it until we can pick it.  The raccoons have already cleaned out the apple trees and devastated my seckle pear.

Swallowtail on some volunteer flowers.

Butterfly and zinnias

A bouquet of zinnias just for me. I love cut flowers in the garden.

The sunflowers are out, the butterflies are loving the zinnias, and we’ll still probably end up with way too many tomatoes.

Anyway, that’s life in the country.

Do plants move?

This is a follow-up to my post last Wednesday about some spring flowers.  As you can see, more flowers are blooming.

Red Trillium. This lovely wildflower just popped up next to my studio this year. This is the first time in three decades that we have seen this plant here and have no idea how it got there.

Today I had a surprise. As I was doing some mushroom hunting – right next to the house is the best place actually – I discovered this beautiful red trillium.  This is the first time that I’ve ever seen this trillium in this place.  Yes, up in the big woods which is half mile away, but never close to the house.

So my question is this, how did the flower get here?  Were the roots in the ground for decades?  Did some animal move it there?  Sometimes it’s easy to see how plants move from one place to another. (I’ll rant about the Russian Olives that the DNR planted over at the lake which is two miles away and which are now establishing themselves here, but that’s a story for another day.)

From one little patch of flowers, these delicate Virginia Bluebells have now established themselves all over. And I plan to move them into the woods very soon. They die back after blooming to totally disappear until next year.

Here are the Virginia bluebells.  When we moved here, there was only one small patch in front of the house, over fifty yards away. Now they spring up in the most unusual places.  This patch is behind the dog house.  However, they’re so beautiful with their pinky turning to sky blue flowers.  And they totally disappear after blooming until next year.

Columbine is a beautiful, delicate flower which self-propagates through prolific seed production.

These columbine are very prolific.  I planted one plant fifteen years ago.  They have now established in many areas.  Their seed pods practically explode but I really don’t mind these flowers as they are so pretty and delicate.

These beautiful old-stock lilacs were here when we arrived. They were probably shared from someone else’s garden, as we have since shared them with others. That is how old plants moved.

Finally, this is a beautiful old lilac.  I have a few bushes around the yard but have often dug up starts to replant elsewhere.  Today, I noticed one that I had my son plant along the road ten years ago is now blooming next to the mailbox. My son has some starts from the same bush at his home.

Not in bloom now is some golden sedum which has popped up in the most unusual places.  Or the jungle of forsythia bushes which are now also planted along the road. They’ll get a hard pruning when they finish blooming.

So, how do plants move?  Well, obviously humans have some influence, and birds dropping seeds.  But otherwise, I’d like to believe that it’s magic, maybe faeries or garden elves who are just having fun with us.  Hey, it could be true.

Yearning for Spring

Yearning for Spring, framed, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas, Kit Miracle, contemporary impressionist

I am just so ready for spring.  Living here in southern Indiana, the winters are usually rather mild, at least compared to my years in Michigan.  We will often get a little snow but not much to worry about.  I think winter here is really like a long fall.

However, this year Mother Nature seems to have taken a fit.  Warm one week just enough to tease the early bulbs out of the ground.  Then the next week, temperatures diving for the bottom of the thermometer.  Last week we saw lows of 10 degrees which meant our wood furnace (The Beast) was doing its best to keep up.  Yesterday we saw a high of 62 with some 70s predicted for next week.  Last evening the peepers could be heard in chorus in the bottoms.  Did I mention that I am really ready for spring?

I felt an irresistible urge to paint some spring flowers. With few early flowers out yet except a couple of bedraggled crocuses and some hardy daffodils, I turned to my photos of some spring bouquets.  And to step outside my usual style.  Same old, same old, gets boring in my opinion.

Yearning for Spring, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, contemporary impressionist, Kit Miracle

The first bouquet consists of forsythia, double fancy daffodils and some branches of flowering quince.  I like the subtle colors here and aimed at coordinating the background to the flowers but to subjugate it to the foreground.

Dancing Tulips, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, contemporary impressionist, Kit Miracle

The second flower painting took me in a different direction.  I aimed for bold colors and lively strokes.  This painting certainly accomplished that.  It almost looks as if the tulips are dancing.  To see the step by step for this painting, click here or go the Artworks tab and click on Dancing Tulips.

With the warming temps coming this week, my real tulips might be blooming. They’re already up several inches and it will just need old Sol to entice them out.  I’m ready!

Of course, both paintings are for sale at my Etsy shop.

Thanks for stopping by.

Spring is Nature’s way of saying, “Let’s Party!”       Robin Williams

Yearning for Spring, detail 1

Yearning for Spring, detail 2

Dancing Tulips, detail 1, Kit Miracle

Dancing Tulips, framed, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Afternoon Shadows – another painting beyond the photograph

Afternoon Shadows, acrylic, original painting, 14 x 18, contemporary impressionism, Kit Miracle

I thought I’d post another painting created from a photograph for my class. This photo was taken of our patio and arbor with the fire pit on sunny autumn afternoon.  I like outdoor scenes with a human element.  This will often include at least some kind of man-made item whether a building, fence post, road or path.  In this case, the setting gives the feeling of comfort and ease.  The chairs, the smoke from the fire, the dappled sun and shade all contribute to the atmosphere.  The turtle sandbox adds a touch of whimsy.

When using a photo as inspiration for a painting, it’s important to remember that it is a tool and a road map.  Take inspiration but don’t be afraid to change things.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 1. Click and enlarge the photos to see the brush strokes. Notice the background tree is just painted with a few strokes. And the smoke is just a glaze on top of the background. See the indication of the sun and shadows on the chair.

In this painting, I was trying to capture the feel of the afternoon sun. The smoke and fire indicates that there could be a chill in the air with a slight breeze.  The location and setting are inviting; it looks as if someone has just left the area.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 2. Zoom in on the vines and leaves to see just how loosely they were painted. The sandbox turtle adds a note of whimsy.

My style is not photo-realist but contemporary impressionist which works well for conveying the feeling of this scene.  The chairs beckon the viewer to sit in the sun or warm themselves by the fire.  Will a child come walking into the area to play in the sandbox? I love paintings that tell a story.

Afternoon shadows, detail 3. Zoom in on the posts and the background trees to see the brushstrokes.

As you can see by the detail images, I use loose strokes to indicate the branches and leaves.  From a distance, the painting appears to be much more detailed than it actually is.  It takes some practice and confidence to make just the right stroke to indicate a branch.  Or, if you make a mistake, just scrape it off and try again.

Afternoon Shadows, original photo. If you compare this photo to the painting, you can see areas that I have emphasized, changed or deemphasized.

Normally I would have painted a scene like this in plein air but I was busy that afternoon and only had time to capture the view with my camera.  That is one of the benefits of using photographs as inspiration.

Afternoon Shadows for sale

Peace is the beauty of life.  It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.  Menachem Begin

Baby it’s cold outside. Let’s make soup!

Homemade beef vegetable soup and homemade bread slathered with butter. Perfect meal for a chilly day.

A nasty weather front barreled down on us yesterday.  Rain for several hours.  Then a drastic drop in temperatures, the winds picked up and came at us from the northeast, and all that rain turned to ice and snow.  What to do?

Let’s make soup!

It should be no great secret that in this house with two cooks, we make a lot of soup.  It was my turn today and I decided to make a hearty beef vegetable soup.  There is a big difference between soups and stews.  Stews are thicker with larger pieces and fewer vegetable varieties.  Minestrone soup is a whole different thing; usually two kinds of meats, different vegetables, and cooked in a different manner.

Today’s beef vegetable soup started with a shopping trip to the freezer,  We plant a large garden and put up a quantity of vegetables.  This trip netted diced tomatoes, green beans, ground beef and homemade beef broth.

Shopping basket from the freezer. Ground beef, homemade beef broth, diced tomatoes, green beans.

Homemade vegetable soup can have many varieties and even mine are not exactly the same each time.; it depends upon what I have on hand. I usually chop the vegetables pretty small so they are similar in size and will cook the same.  I used a six quart pot but we often use a very large soup pot, 10 -12 quarts. This is what I put in today’s special.

  • Ground beef, 1 ½ pounds
  • Chopped onion
  • Chopped carrots (five)
  • Beef broth
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • A couple handfuls each of quinoa, lentils, and orzo pasta. I would have used alphabet pasta but was out.  Any kind of tiny pasta or even broken spaghetti or noodles will work.
  • Corn, one can
  • Potatoes, three
  • Finely chopped kale (I was out of cabbage)
  • Spices and seasonings – salt, coarse ground pepper, garlic powder, beef cubes

Step 1:  Brown the beef in a couple of tablespoons of oil, breaking it up as you go.  Then drain any fat off.

Step 1:  Add the chopped onions and carrots.  Carrots take a long time to cook so they get added near the beginning.  Stir until softened.

Step two. (Step one is just browning the beef in a couple of tablespoons of oil. Drain any fat off after the beef is cooked.) Carrots and onions are added at the beginning as they take longer to cook.

Step 3:  Add the beef broth and beef cubes.  Add diced tomatoes, bring to simmer.

Step 4:  Add a few handfuls of lentils, quinoa, and tiny pasta.  Don’t use larger beans unless they’re canned or pre-cooked.  They won’t cook in time and no one likes crunchy beans.

Step 5:  Simmer and stir.

Step 6:  Add green beans and corn.  Cabbage or in this case, kale.  Bring back to simmer.

Step three. After the diced tomatoes and handsful of dried goods (lentils, quinoa, tiny pasta) have come to a boil and simmered, then add the chopped green beans, corn and finally the potatoes. Let it all simmer until done.

Step 7:  Add chopped potatoes and then let simmer until all the vegetables are done.

Serve with some homemade bread.  Yummm!

Beef vegetable soup, final. It is thick but not thickened like stew. Very hearty!

This freezes well but I don’t think we’ll have much left over.  And I’ll have to keep my husband from giving it all away as he is apt to do. He’s a very generous person.

We’re hunkered down and holding our own against the storm.

What’s on your menu these days?