Travel Time

Bob felt called to spend some time in Virginia with his parents while also helping them out with some more physically demanding chores.  With his car not being the greatest for traversing up and down large mountainous roads, I offered to drive him there one weekend then pick him back up in a couple weeks.  So that’s how I spent last weekend, with a two-day drive through the Appalachians.  Trip #1 complete!

On our way down there, I texted with my younger sister.  This sister (I have two, one younger, one older) is already living a big part of my dream.  She lives on a farm in southeast Ohio.  Usually they grow alfalfa hay and square bale them.  Bob says “Why do they call them square bales when they’re rectangle?”  Good question!  Anyway, we texted for a bit about what it would be like if we ended up moving near her.  It would make us rather central in terms of driving to both southwest Ohio where the rest of my side of the family is and equally central to driving to western Virginia where Bob’s side of the family lives.  Now we aren’t “ready” financially to make that move yet, but my sister told me of a land auction going on soon for a multitude of tracts, totaling over 400 acres, near her of course.  We mused about it, but that was about it.

On the way back from VA, I decided to stop by my sister’s house for dinner.  It’s not too far off the beaten path, but I do have to head there via a different route than I usually do.  Thankfully there’s the Waze navigation app on my phone.  Only… the route ended up having a “Road Closed Ahead” sign posted, and I had to take an alternate route.  At this point, I did not know how far this alternate route would overshoot my destination, so with one bar of signal on my phone, I tried calling my sister.  She didn’t answer. 😦  Within another mile, my cell phone ran out of service entirely… OF COURSE!  Out in the middle of nowhere and no cell service.  Thankfully Waze still had the route information and could triangulate by tower instead of satellite.

So I continued following this winding, hilly one lane road through the middle of nowhere, unable to call to report I may be late or ask for more specific directions, or question her why she didn’t tell me the road was closed when I spoke to her earlier! haha.  To top that off, Waze kept trying to route me back to the road that was closed at each next available turn – because it didn’t know the road was closed!  I was beginning to think I would end up lost.  I passed up each turn and Waze recalculated to the next one.  Eventually, I decided surely I must be beyond the road closure point now, right???  So I took the next turn Waze suggested even though the detour signs hadn’t told me to turn yet.

Down this lonely wooded road, I saw this set of signs along the side of the road.  When I realized what it might be, I screeched to halt, threw it in park in the middle of the road and jumped out the the car to grab a brochure!

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It was indeed the same land auction site my sister was texting me about the day before!  Now how likely is it that I would end up standing right in front of it while nearly lost in southeast Ohio?!?  It’s ridiculously succinct how the Universe leads us into seeming coincidences!  The novelty of it is very cool. 🙂

I took a look around at the land.  It was 100% wooded, and very remote in the sense that not even a cell phone signal is available.  It’s also going to be auctioned off before I will be ready to buy.  So, as novel as it was, it was kind of cool to end up there after that texting conversation the day before.  I got back into the car and drove off in the direction of my sister’s farm.  Eventually I made it, only 15 minutes later than expected.  Dinner was almost done… grilled venison with sauteed onions & mushrooms and fried zucchini, mmm!

Now, I didn’t get any pictures at the farm, but afterwards, my sister Jenny took me out to see how her watermelons had taken over her landscaping (the kids planted them there, I think).  My niece, who is in 8th grade, introduced me to her four golden comet chickens, telling me “they hate open umbrellas”. Haha  This is the same niece who recently took second place in her first attempt at a 4H county fair bunny contest.  (So proud of her!)  Then we walked over the stream and out to the barn to feed the horses.

They have 5 now, plus one donkey.  The pasture has been made larger and includes part  of where they used to farm their alfalfa.

After that I was back on the road again with a few hours left to drive.  I was glad I could take time out and catch up a bit with my sister and her family.  I’ll also be sleeping over one night on the way to pick Bob back up, just to break the drive up some.

It’s different around the house without Bob.  Kozar the dog keeps acting like he wants to tell or ask me something, following me around, being extra “lick-y” and demanding my attention more.  I think he’s worried why Bob is not around. There’s no way to tell him, he’ll be back soon.  And even though I have the whole bed to myself, I still find myself scrunched on my side of it, missing his presence next to me.  I can’t wait until he returns. But in the meantime, we feel good about the time he is spending with his family.  I just couldn’t take that much time off work. But, when I go pick him up, I will be staying a number of days.  I’m looking forward to that, plus fishing if the weather cooperates.  Fishing is so much better in Virginia!

Next blog: Back to gardening!

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Saving Seed

2018 seems to be my year of learning about seeds.  Have you seen this movie?


https://www.seedthemovie.com/

We watched it some time ago.  Here are some quotes from the movie’s website.

SEED: The Untold Story began with an article in National Geographic reported that up to 96% of the vegetable seeds available in 1903 have disappeared.

~*~*~*~*~

In our modern world, these precious gifts of nature are in grave danger. In less than a century of industrial agriculture, our once abundant seed diversity—painstakingly created by ancient farmers and gardeners over countless millennia—has been drastically winnowed down to a handful of mass-produced varieties. Under the spell of industrial “progress” and a lust for profit, our quaint family farmsteads have given way to mechanized agribusinesses sowing genetically identical crops on a monstrous scale.

When you couple the loss of seed variety on this scale with how much monoculture agriculture depletes soil health, reducing produce minerals, society seems to have clearly gone down the wrong path.  Not only are the veggies we eat less healthful than 100 years ago, they are produced in fragile ecosystems.

If you are interested in checking out some of the wilder varieties of heirloom seeds available, check out Seed Savers Exchange.  I love browsing their beans and squash.  The varieties are so colorful and unique!

Really, I could go on and on about how backwards our food system is, but that’s not the focus of this post.

Today I want to show you how I’ve been saving my seeds!  They may be common seeds, frequently planted seeds, varieties that are widely available, but a budding gardener must start somewhere.  And in the future -you know… when we get to our farm– we will have much more space to grow unique heirloom plants.  (I assume I need that much space so that I can isolate the varieties to prevent cross pollination.)

The last two previous summers I grew some yellow cherry tomatoes that I bought from a home improvement garden center.  They are sooo delicious, the sweetest round little “garden candy” I’ve ever had.  And before that, I really didn’t like cherry tomatoes at all.  Of course, the only cherry tomatoes I had had before then was grocery store varieties.  If you’ve ever compared the taste of a home grown tomato to one from your local big box grocery store, you can understand why I didn’t care for them.  So I bought some yellow cherry tomato seedlings a couple years back, hoping they tasted different, better.  They did!

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Cherry tomatoes on left, and my sunset “yellow” (orange) tomatoes on right

Actually, they don’t look very yellow.  They get darker than that and, shown beside some regular cherry tomatoes that I got from the CSA program I was in back in 2016, they look orange.  I’ve since learned that these orange looking cherry tomatoes are called Sunset tomatoes.

Unfortunately we could not find any of these delicious “yellow cherry tomatoes” at the store this spring!  I walked away from store after store, greatly saddened.  Our only hope was to rely on volunteers.  And sure enough, like some Cherokee tomato plants that popped up in the garden last year from the 2016 season, we had 11 little seedlings volunteer this year, all our favorite sweet orange Sunset Cherry Tomato variety!**  I told Bob, “We are saving these seeds!”

Not all those volunteers made it.  Some were crowded and we had no place allotted to thin them out, so they had to compete for space.  Most grew between a new variety of little tomatoes we planted this year (since we couldn’t find the ones we wanted). Those are yellow “grape” tomatoes, rather than cherry sized.  They’re actually larger than the cherry size, and move oval.  When almost over-ripe, they’re quite sweet as well.  But nothing compares to those little Sunsets!

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Sunset Cherry and Yellow Grape tomatoes, mixed (& not washed!)

All summer we have waited and waited for these little dudes to ripen up!

Usually they are what I like to call “garden candy”, because they rarely make it into the kitchen.  Each evening while we walk the garden, admiring or discussing plant health, I pick a few, eat some and hand others to Bob.

HOW TO SAVE TOMATO SEED

To save their seeds, cut each open and scoop out the watery, seedy pulp.

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Seeding the yellow grape tomatoes

Then use a strainer and wash off as much of the pulp as you can while running some cool water over it.

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Most of the pulp goes down the drain while the seeds can’t pass through the strainer.

After that, place the rinsed seeds in a little bowl and cover with some water.

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Make sure if you have more than one type of seed, that you label them.  Because if you’re like me, it’s guaranteed in a day or two you’ll come back and cannot remember which is which!

Set these bowls out of the way somewhere for a day or two and let them ferment a bit.  The fermenting further removes pulp residue which might make the seeds go bad in storage.

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After a day or two of fermenting (I waited just one day for some and three for another because, you know, out of sight, out of mind.  It’s not an exact science.)  Just rinse them again through the strainer, then set out on a paper towel to dry for another day or two.

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Make sure you spread them around as flat as you can on the paper towel. They’ll stick together for the most part, but the more you can separate them now, the less you’ll have to separate later.

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After they’re good and dry, it’s time to pull them off the paper towel (they’ll be stuck), separate them, then store in some container.  They’re best stored in a cool dark place over the winter.  I place mine in extra seed saving packets that Sow True Seed sends me with each order I’ve made from them.  Be sure to mark them with the year for future reference.

Here’s my latest order – for my fall garden!  Notice their little note and extra empty seed packets. 🙂  Love this company!

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Sow True Seed

And yes, we are going to grow more collards this fall. Mmm hmm!

Saving seeds is just what farmers do.  In days of old, honestly not too long ago, seed saving was just a part of the entire process.  Who would want the expense of buying seeds every single year?  That just didn’t make any sense.  Seed was always saved!  And this is how we intend to do it as well, like days of old.  And once we get to our farm land, I will probably go a little crazy with fancy varieties of squash and beans.  🙂

**Sorry for being confusing on the name of these little yellow cherry tomato plants.  The store sold them as “Yellow Cherry Tomato” and it turns out they’re actually called “Sunset Cherry Tomato”.

Scouting a Fishing Spot

I love our weekends. We get the most of them, no trying about it.

After some canning, seed saving, grocery and dinner, we drove across town at sunset to scope out a good fishing spot for tomorrow if the weather cooperates as predicted.

It’s been rainy lately and only dry today (and supposedly tomorrow), so we opted out of the steep hill river access site that is one of my favorites. Instead, we visited the other lake out where I caught poison ivy so bad earlier this year. This lake was quite a bit bigger, and most importantly, did not have poison ivy along its shores.

When we first heard about this place from some random fisherman that Bob struck up a conversation with, the man told us “park by the tunnel, walk the path about a 1/2 mile, then cut left through the woods.” That route was about as ’round-about a way as could be! BUT, it did bring us close, not once, but twice to deer feeding along the abandoned gravel road. There used to be houses along this bank of the river when I was a kid. Now the street is the only indicator. The houses flooded too much and were eventually razed. So this man told us to walk along the river for a 1/2 mile then cut through the woods to the left where the river sometimes overflows until we came to a set of gravel lakes. No matter how hard I tried that day, I came back with poison itchy something!

Since we had seen a parking lot at the lakes, on another day we tried to find the way to drive back there. Near the tunnel there was a road I’d never been down. Railroad tracks run parallel to it with the river on it’s other side. This land is wild yet protected by the metro park system. So I suppose the deer weren’t afraid of us due to seeing people frequently.

Anyway, the road led us right to an entrance to the tiny park. Between the two lakes (no bigger than a couple large ponds), was the parking lot, complete with a port-a-potty. Perfect. 🙂 No more poison ivy trying to fish the first lake we walked to that one day, and we have a toilet to boot!

This evening… (I really wish I had taken my camera with me) we walked over to the second, bigger lake and took it in from up on the hill. There were about 5 or 6 people around the lake, casting their lines over and over. Bob would explain to me why it was good to fish where some of them were fishing.

We walked closer, right up to the sandy dirt shoreline, strewn with gravel. That’s when I noticed a bunch of birds were flying and swooping above the lake. “Chimney Sweeps”, Bob said. “When the water is calm like this, they fly low, and if they see a bug, they skim their beaks along the surface of the water to eat the bug.”

I watched as a bird here or there dipped in the water for a split second, creating a skiing kind of wave cascading outward. It was then that I realized that the “fish” I thought I saw flipping at the surface a few moments ago were actually these birds instead. We watched them in quiet for a while.

Soon though, Bob was bending and pointing at minnows skirting the edge of the shore. “Where there’s little fish, there’s always something bigger to eat it.” Meaning, he was on the lookout for some bigger fish. “What kind of fish eat minnows,” I asked. “Blue gill and sun fish. Sun fish look like……” and on he went, answering my every fish question, many of which I’ve probably asked a few times before. He doesn’t mind repeating.

Sure enough, there were a few blue gills skirting about. We walked further along the shore using polarized sunglasses to help us see into lake a little further than without them. At an underwater log and plant life feature, we saw a very disguised larger fish, with just his little black eyes giving him away. Bob slowly stuck a long stick in the water and moved it towards the fish. Not until the stick was within inches did it give up its hiding spot. He was a nice sized bass!

After a good half hour of scouring the waterline, pointing out fish of various sizes, we declared this a “happening habitat” and decided we would be back tomorrow to fish. Then we wandered back towards the parking lot and headed home.

I love these excursions with him. There’s something regenerative about being in nature. I sat in the car wondering about why people like fishing so much. “It’s innate,” Bob said. Perhaps to him it is. He’s from a long line of fisherman in the hollers of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. For me, all I know is that I’ve spend a lifetime wishing somebody would go fishing with me, not knowing enough about it to go on my own, and besides, not wanting to go on my own.

Until now. Now I just say the word and he’s packing the car with gear. Fishing is as much “us” as gardening and stargazing are. ❤

Sweet Jalapeno!

Relish, that is.  And it is damn good! Mmm!

Well, I may be a tad biased, because it was my first batch ever.  We winged it (as usual) and it turned out quite tastey.  Beginner’s luck perhaps. 😉

Let me explain the “winging it” part.  We had a giant cucumber, and some smaller ones for backup just in case the big one was bitter.  But the goal was to use up the maybe-not-so-sweet-tasting cuke in a sweet and spicy relish.

My inspiration for this comes from a homemade version of it that I used to be able to buy through a friend of a friend.  I haven’t been running in those circles for a couple years so my source ran dry.  I did remember part of the name of the farm, knew it was local-ish, so I looked on my friend’s Facebook Liked Pages list and found it!  Yay!

Unfortunately, the lady who responded to my email told me her crop of cucumbers had been decimated by flea beetles this year and, sadly, there was no sweet jalapeno relish for sale.  She offered to put me on her email list when it did come available again.  I could have cried!  Her relish is so amazing!  I did not dare to ask her for her recipe.  I just resolved myself to making some, any kind I could.  Just to “get close” to her recipe would have to do, because I really wanted some.

After not having too much luck looking for a recipe on YouTube itself (other than for general relish-canning instructions), I finally found a recipe for it on this website.

Back to the “winging it” part…

We didn’t measure anything but the brine ingredients, just chopped and cut things up in loosely similar proportions.  Also we didn’t manage to communicate well enough about using, ahem, apple cider vinegar instead of canning vinegar, and canning vinegar was used instead. (not naming names here haha)  Then I forgot to chop up any garlic and so hurriedly did so and tossed it in last minute.  Oh yeah, the big cucumber?  It wasn’t bitter itself, but the skin was a bit, so we peeled it.

Bob is very orderly. lol  I am very NOT orderly.  My methods are a bit chaotic and while he’s just trying to make sure canning happens so that the jars actually seal and in a timely manner.  Well… let’s just say, I make it a little stressful for him.  But it was fun making it, especially because it turned out so well.

So here are my ingredients, sans the diced onions, garlic, and brine.

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Cucumber, Red Bell Pepper, Jalapeno, Onion, Garlic (not shown)

It looks yummy cooking.

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The brine was made ahead of time and kept hot.  It was simply Mrs. Wages bread and butter pickle brine, and we followed the package instructions for that.  In a separate pot we sauteed the onions in some brine before adding the remaining ingredients, and some more just to cover.  I think we cooked it about 15 minutes.  I’m a little unsure of the exactness of any of these steps because Bob was tending to the stove and I was the veggie chopper.

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After simmering, we scooped the relish into a couple of blue half-pint jars.  That left a quarter cup or so that didn’t fit.  So… we tasted it… and we ate that stuff up immediately! Mmm!

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Sweet Jalapeno Relish!

 

No Slowing Down on the Weekend

It’s full on harvest season, and this weekend we stayed busy processing produce from our garden. We also took time out on Friday evening for a little R&R in the form of a date night – dinner & strolling the Front Street Art Studios, which we sometimes like to do. Bob is rather creative himself, though lately he’s thrown his focus into the garden. After all, it’s what’s we signed up for this time of year.

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late bloomer bell pepper

First things first: We FINALLY have a bell pepper growing! Usually these dudes should have been prolific by now, but we suspect too much rain earlier this season stunted them. That, or it’s just the nature of a first year BTE (no-till) garden that some plants struggle, and for us, that has been the bell peppers. I’m really thinking about getting a soil test done. In general, things are going well in our BTE garden, but I’m super curious. It’s in my nature to want to compare and contrast. So soil testing is in the back of my mind and probably will make it to an official To Do List soon.

2018-08-04 Harvest

beans, cukes, and collards

Sunday Bob was up before me (he likes to let me sleep in on weekends if I can), and out in the garden harvesting another round of collards. After meandering into the kitchen all sleepy-eyed, I found him taking pictures of, among other things, his not-a-single-bug-bitten collards. He’s mighty proud of those collards, always. This year he used netting to keep the cabbage loopers off, which has worked quite well. Also pictured are some cukes, one of which must have been hiding because it got a pretty big. We’re not sure how that one will taste. The last big cuke we harvested was quite bitter and we composted it. The beans in this photo were harvested just before and just after we returned from Vacation.

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bean in jars

Bob received a fancy pressure canner for Christmas from his mother and father and finally gave it a try Saturday. We have a glass top stove, so he has been leery of putting that much weight on it. But turns out, it did just fine. I believe he said he did 7 quarts of beans. As with most gardening and homesteading tasks, there’s a learning curve. While waiting for the beans to seal (pop!), the lids buckled under pressure. After a call to his father, Bob learned he shouldn’t have tightened the rings down so hard. And it’s best not to pack too many beans in each quart because they swell a little as they take on water during processing, which could put pressure on the seals as well. BUT, when his father made the same mistake years ago, it turned out alright. His beans still stayed fresh in their jars for years. We will keep an occasional eye on them, though.

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pickle jars

Earlier this week, more bread and butter pickles were canned. If we have an apocalypse, we are going to be pickle eating survivors. lol

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jar cabinet

Speaking of stashes… we have a growing stash of canned veggies from this year alone. We have another shelf or two from previous years, which we are slowly eating up.

While Bob canned beans on Saturday, it was grocery shopping day for me. There was a trip to the Little Red Barn for eggs, Aldis for dairy/meat, Dollar Tree for zip lock bags, and Meijer for the balance. That just about does me in for the day!

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keto cookies

After sleeping in and watching Bob finish up freeze-packing the collards, I got to work in the kitchen making some low-carb treats for my daughter and I who are on Keto together. These are some almond flour based chocolate chip cookies, 1 net carb each. One batch I baked a little too long and they ended up looking a little toasty, but taste just like the 2nd batch which came out much nicer looking. The 2nd batch is pictured. Ashley said, “They’re good mom.” I like a Keto-win. 🙂

I also made some strawberry cheesecake fat bombs, but didn’t take a picture. However, after several hours in the freezer out the the garage, they still weren’t completely frozen, so I called over Bob to investigate the freezer situation. It turns out the freezer was all frozen up inside and he had move (STUFF) everything into the house freezer while defrosting the garage freezer. Fun. That is my worst fear about relying on freezers for preserving food. If it loses power, all those goodies that took a whole season to grow can go to waste! I’m so glad we caught it in time.

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chunked tomatoes

Don’t those look yummy?!?

Snacks weren’t the only thing on our To Do List yesterday. We also made our first attempt at homemade ketchup. I was aiming to make it keto-friendly, but that didn’t quite work out. It turns out Heinz does a better job at lower carb than we did, even though I used Swerve sugar replacement. Oh well. It was really fun working in the kitchen with Bob processing our home-grown Cherokee tomatoes. Several were splitting from too much rain and were ready enough anyway. So we cut them from their branches, weighed them (3 lbs) and made a half batch of Mrs. Wages Ketchup. The package did NOT say how to separate the seeds, so after blanching, we ran the smashed tomatoes through a strainer and that worked pretty well even though it was a bit labor intensive.

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ketchup jars, 2 are blue glass, so darker looking

Three pounds of tomatoes made 4 half pints of ketchup. We decided on half-pints because I didn’t want to have fresh ketchup last too long in the fridge and spoil. And since it came out as 5 carbs to Heinz’s 4 carbs per tablespoon… I am thinking about converting the half-pint I left uncanned into a BBQ sauce. I have not been able to find a low carb red BBQ sauce yet. A 5 carb BBQ sauce would be awesome. I just need to figure out how to spice it up into an acceptable BBQ flavor without adding any more carbs.

And that was our busy weekend! And although it was busy, it was very satisfying “work”, especially with my guy by my side. I love that guy so much! So bonus pic of today is: Bob in the kitchen, washing beans at the sink.

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Bob in kitchen

 

Full Life

This place… so full of life, it’s bursting at the seams.

Rose of Sharon in bloom

We have been away on a family vacation, and thus now the garden feels overgrown and producing quickly. The rain while we were away split many a tomato. It’s just been too wet. Maybe we should have picked them before we left and let them window sill ripen?Regardless, these should be darker when ripe.

Purple Cherokees… yet to ripen

The sweet banana peppers are abundant as usual, and being pickled. Although, neither Bob or I have ever pickled or eaten pickled banana peppers before. We’ll try some recipes and see, so recipes welcome. 🙂

This is one of six or more of these plants

It seems everything grew noticeably while we were away, but what was the biggest producer?

The Cukes…

Bread and Butter Spears to be!

The squash wasn’t too far behind…

Crookneck

For weeks I’ve been waiting for the bolted lettuces to produce seed I can harvest.

The lettuces are my babies. We each kind of have our gardens we tend. Mine is the little shed-side garden, a 12 x 3′ raised bed. His bed is a 20 x 30′ partially raised bed (there’s a dip we filled to level). But we both look in on each other’s handiwork daily.

Since the lettuce bolted, I planted some more. Some seeds didn’t come up, one packet of assorted lettuces didn’t have a single seed sprout. I’ll be tossing that package out. (Note to self: toss that out!) Out several varieties I planted that day, the basil is doing the best. And it smells soooo good.

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Basil, mmm…

While these pesto-wannabes start taking off, the bolted lettuces have one or two dried seed flowers that I could finally pick. This is my first time collecting lettuce seeds. I’m putting them in envelopes from Sow True Seed. They always seem to send some seed saving envelopes in the orders I’ve received from them; and, I’ve been saving up those envelopes.

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There’s not yet a lot, but I expect there soon will be, of this, and of buttercrunch.

Here’s the red leaf with plenty more closed-up flowers waiting to dry out and become seeds.

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And the buttercrunch in the same state…

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And as a silly aside…

Here’s one of Bob & I’s favorite places on earth…

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Our chair, our reclining double chair… for stargazing you see!