30 August 2012


One of the over-ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse had burst on the edge of the raised bed last night and was proving to be a magnet for flies and wasps. I was surprised to see a spider nibbling on some of the fragments of tomato: vegetarian spiders aren't exactly common (there is one, apparently, out of 40,000 species!).

A closer look reveals the truth of the matter: it's really a fly cleverly disguised as a spider.

After a bit of internet-delving I think it's a member of the family Tephritidae (fruit flies); a species with the rather unattractive name of Walnut Husk Maggot (Rhagoletis suavis). According to Wikipedia, the genus name is partially derived from Ancient Greek rhago "a kind of spider". The BugGuide site also notes that some members of this fruit fly family "mimic jumping spiders. The wing-waving apparently deters the approach of jumping spiders, important predators of the flies."

21 August 2012

Pumpkin seed granola

Remember the spaghetti squash I used on Sunday? I confess that I usually just put the seeds in the compost, as my one earlier attempt at roasting pumpkin seeds failed for some reason. This time, though, I was determined to make it work. I'd been meaning to make some granola, too and somehow these two intentions ended up being merged into one. Mainly because I didn't have a huge amount of granola ingredients, if I'm honest.

Making granola is so easy that I'm always amazed that I didn't work it out sooner. Here's what I threw together yesterday, once the cleaned squash seeds had been drying for 24 hours.

Recipe (makes around 5 servings)

2 cups rolled oats
Cleaned and dried seeds from two spaghetti squashes
Handful of flax seeds
2 tablespoons of peanut oil
¼ cup of water
¼ cup of maple syrup
¼ cup of brown sugar

Mix all the ingredients together, then spread out on a baking sheet and bake at 300°F/150°C for about 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so until the mix is a uniform golden brown. The ingredients are very flexible: I would have added cashews, almonds or peanuts if I'd had any.

19 August 2012

Baked beans and spaghetti squash

I'm reading Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy at the moment, which features a lot of cowboys. Perhaps that was why I thought of baked beans as a meal for today. I'm not fond of commercially-canned baked beans, but home-made ones are a different proposition entirely and they're something we eat fairly regularly in the colder months. I use dry haricot beans (called navy beans here) and soak them overnight. Then you boil them for an hour or so in fresh water.

Usually I add onions, ketchup, molasses, mustard powder, salt and pepper (in unscientific quantities) to the cooked beans  and the water they've been boiling in. Today I had a batch of rather battered tomatoes which I had to do something with in a hurry, so instead of using ketchup I cut out the good parts, whizzed them in the food processor then boiled the tomatoes down into a thick sauce (while the beans were boiling). I added a splash of vinegar to the tomatoes to get roughly the same effect as making ketchup.

Here's how the mixture looked before it went into the oven:

It's quite runny at this stage, which is what you want, as it then bakes for two to three hours at 325°F/160°C and a lot of the water is absorbed or steamed off. You can leave the lid off the pot towards the end of cooking to make sure that the texture of the sauce is the way you want it. I'd recommend stirring the beans every half-hour, too, so that they don't stick to the bottom.

After baking, the beans looked like this:

You can see from the line on the side of the pot how much the liquid level has dropped.

While I had the oven on, I also baked a couple of our Small Wonder spaghetti squash. I've been picking these for two weeks now and on Thursday I harvested the first of the New England Sugar Pie pumpkins, too:

In the past I've always cut spaghetti squash open (usually rather nervously, with a big knife and a conviction that I am about to lose a finger), scooped out the seeds and then baked them in the oven for about an hour. This week I discovered that you can also microwave the fruit, with much more speedy results. I also found out that you can cook them whole and remove the seeds after cooking them, which makes them a lot easier to deal with. The important point to remember if you cook them whole, whether in the microwave or in the oven, is to pierce the skin in several places with a knife. Otherwise you'll have an exploding squash on your hands. And all over your oven...

I tried this new method out today. It was a great improvement: once cooked, the skin was easy to cut through and the seeds came out with no bother at all, leaving the soft yellow flesh to fall away from the outer shells. This is definitely the best way of cooking them: no more near-accidents with big sharp knives and smooth-skinned squashes for me!

Spaghetti squash is a versatile vegetable - you can serve it as a side dish with some butter or oil and pepper, or use the strands in the place of pasta as part of a low-carbohydrate main course. With these ones I'm planning to stir in some parmesan and seasoning and then form them into cakes, coat them in flour and shallow fry them for supper. Rather like rösti or hash browns. Hm, the thought of that's making me hungry already and I've only just eaten the baked beans...

UPDATE: I mixed some crushed garlic, parmesan, salt, pepper and flour into the cooled squash, then coated them in more flour, egg, and breadcrumbs and shallow fried them in a mix of oil and butter:

They tasted great and, for once, everyone agreed with me. This is quite an achievement when you consider that Child#2 has recently taken to supervising me at mealtimes to make sure that I haven't sneakily inserted any zucchini into his food.

16 August 2012


Another crop that I thought had been completely done-for by the dry spell were the runner beans. They've been gamely flowering all summer but without setting any fruit. I think it's just been too hot and dry for them this year.

Today I noticed that one of the flowers appeared to have a yellow centre. How strange, I thought, a bi-coloured bean. A closer look showed me that I was wrong about that. But underneath the flower with the Goldenrod spider* was something even stranger: yes, a young runner bean! So maybe this is another back-from-the dead vegetable.

*"The Goldenrod Spider is a member of the crab spider family. It is best known for its ability to change its color from white to yellow in order to camouflage among flowers. Goldenrod Spiders are found wherever there are yellow and white flowers." Clearly this particular specimen is colour-blind...

15 August 2012

Seasonal confusion

This morning was very autumnal - lots of heavy dew and spiders' webs losing their effectiveness everywhere.

But in amongst all the signs of the end of summer were some completely contradictory ones. Some of the trees which suffered so much in the dry spell are now putting forth leaves of a decidedly Spring green. Here's a mature European buckthorn with new leaves alongside this year's fruit:

And these are very young ash trees, showing new leaves next to the ones damaged in July:

This renewed growth is very similar to what's happening with my cabbage plants. This is the first year I've seen it happen.

11 August 2012

Brassica massacre II

Yes! My first ever sequel post! And it's about brassicas! I can see you now, hunched forward on the edge of your seat with anticipation.

The July Dry left the cabbages, sprouts and swedes looking... well, looking pretty much like this, if the truth must be strictly adhered to.

The bed is in an elevated part of the garden and even with regular watering there seemed to be no way of saving these plants from the baking heat and unrelenting rainlessness of July. Consequently, I left it alone, leaving the weeds to have their way and giving it an occasional sad sideways glance as I walked past. If I had needed the space I would have got Mike to plough it over, but I didn't, so I just left it to get overgrown.

Last night I noticed that the sprout plants were somehow looking fairly good, in amongst the weeds and I decided perhaps I'd better weed at least that part of the bed.

Then I noticed new growth coming on some of the broccoli, swede and cabbage plants, too:

So perhaps this bed will not be a complete write-off, after all, this summer. Of course the downside of these discoveries is that I've had to spend the last hour getting rid of all those weeds...

06 August 2012

Pumpkins' progress

In late May, the pumpkin patch was just a newly-ploughed part of the hay field:

After a dry July, the plants were just about getting going but there were still a fair few bald spots to be seen in between them when I took this photo on July 19th:

Now we've had some reasonable rainfall, the plants have really taken off and there's hardly any earth visible. It's well-nigh impossible to tell where one plant starts and another finishes.

The only clues are in the fruit growing on each vine. This one is Crown (I think):

And I'm not sure what this one is (there are a few candidates), but it's a lovely buttery colour:

And this one (possibly New England Sugar Pie?) is just beginning to turn orange:

Maybe I read Cinderella too often as a child, but I always think there's something magical about pumpkins and I love watching them grow. Pumpkin is a great word, too - originally (the OED tells me) it was 'pumpion', but it turned into 'kin' somewhere along the way.

03 August 2012

Indoor corn

I nearly didn't grow corn this year as I seem to have spent the last few years growing it exclusively for the consumption of the neighbourhood raccoons. Then in early June I read somewhere about a person eating early corn that had been grown in a hoop house and it occurred to me that this might be a solution to my raccoon problem.

With the dry spell in July, the corn in the fields around here is looking stunted - by now it is usually towering above my head. But my greenhouse-sown and regularly-watered corn is looking stately:

Silks are forming on some of the plants now. I love the wanton way they unfurl and cascade down the stem of the plant: like Rapunzel letting down her hair.

There will be less wind in there than there would be outside, which means I might need to give the plants a bit of extra help with pollination. And of course it remains to be seen whether the greenhouse will offer the corn enough protection to prevent the raccoons from having their annual corn-feast. They are devious little beasts, after all. But I'm hopeful...

02 August 2012

Second chance

The dim robins who built the ill-fated nest on the barnyard fence in May had another attempt at rearing a brood in July when they constructed a new nest on a joist inside the barn itself. This nest I needed a ladder to see into, so I was more hopeful that its contents might survive. On 22 July their one chick looked like this:

More beak than anything else...

It has been growing fast and today the chick left its nest and is now exploring the (rather cobwebby) delights of the barn. I've kept the cat indoors while the new robin gets used to its wings.