But What Would Hank Say?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hank Williams Jr.

One thing's for sure
We're all just passin' through
No we're not gonna live forever
Not me and you

But Lord, I've had a good time
Yes Lord I've had a good good life
I've just got one thing to say
This is all that matters anyway

Good friends, good whiskey, and good lovin'
I want to thank you Lord For givin' me all of them To get me by
Take my money, take my rings
I'd trade it all for just three things
Good friends, my good whiskey, and good lovin'

I suppose there's a little bit of a redneck in all of us.

For me -- when it comes to hearing that particular Hank Williams Jr. song -- at just the particularly the right moment in time (say -- a Friday afternoon after work?) -- well -- the garden "wild side" comes out.

Suddenly - the garden possibilities are unlimited.

In this case -- after turning up the stereo to full blast mode -- I was in the mood for a little something special. And I knew I had just about every ingredient in the backyard garden -- with the exception of fine gin -- of course.

The Peachtini: You May Drool
And no -- I am not talking about the finest gin that you can find in a plastic bottle. No -- this special drink would require something not often found anywhere near the Bird Household Bar: fine liquor.

The special drink I am referring too is pictured in all its wonderful glory to the immediate left. My gardening friends, I give you, the PEACHTINI!

Fortunately, there is a BevMo (Disneyland for Drunks) in the North Natomas neighborhood. And -- after picking up that special jug of Bombay Sapphire, it was off to raid the backyard farm of some very special ingredients.

I would need peaches -- yes PEACHES! Not just any peaches mind you either -- but peaches from the June Pride peach tree. It's one of the few trees in the local area offering true tree-ripened peaches during this particular time of year -- and this little concoction required juicy, sweet, lip-smacking, tree-ripened peaches and lots of them.

June Pride Peach Tree: Bird Back 40
Fortunately -- the June Pride is the ONE peach tree in the Bird Back 40 that managed to bounce back and bounce back well from a terrible case of peach-leaf-curl this spring. The O'Henry got hit just as hard, perhaps even a tad harder. But it produced a small crop that will come ripe later this summer (if my fine feathered friends don't get to them first). The June Pride, however, managed to fruit a fairly nice crop.

Although this crop was primarily located on one side of the tree and took quite a bit of propping (peach trees are weird) -- the peaches were warm from Sacramento sunshine, slightly soft to the touch, and bubble-gum sweet good.

Important Ingredients Required
Next? Off to the basil crop to raid a few different types of basil that are growing quite well in the raised beds dotting the backyard. Sweet basil always seems to do well this year. And, surprise-surprise, if we didn't get a good showing out of Thai basil as well this season. I know it grows like a weed around here because you see it in every Southeast Asian restaurant worth its salt.

But I've had a hard time growing it -- until this year.

The garden would supply another important ingredient in the form of fresh Meyer Lemons, which I've had to camouflage carefully lest by meyer-lovin' brother find it. He's worse than the feathered birds raiding the Bird fruit tree offerings with abandon this summer. At least the birds leave something behind. When it comes to Meyer Lemons, Andrew Bird shows no such mercy.

Mixing a peachtini creation like this isn't easy because peach juices can be rather thick and hard to strain. But after a few fits, stops and starts, Bill and the wife that is Venus managed to produce the first ever PEACHTINI!

Was it good? What if I told you we immediately produced five more? Of course they were good! Tree ripened peaches with sweet basil and sweet meyer lemons are a taste sizzle sensation! Who needs the fine gin?

I didn't mean that, because we also used the fine gin.

Based upon the tomato crops now starting to come right -- Venus and I know that fresh martini season is just getting started. There is a place at the table for the always-famous and always-in-demand Heirloom Tomato Martini. What good is watermelon and cantaloupe if you can't pour it into a martini glass? Corn? Squash? Peppers? The possibilities are endless.

I know that Hank likes a fine belt of whiskey every once in awhile.

But I think even he would approve.

Stupice is as Stupice Does

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bird Tomato Garden-One of Three Beds
Greetings from the Frankensteinish North Natomas tomato farm that is the Bird Back 40 -- a place we lovingly refer to as "Disneyland for Drunks." Things are right fine in the hood as you can attest from the photo to your immediate right. Our heirloom plantings are now approaching a height of six feet and are green -- lush -- healthy and productive.

A quick check of the garden reveals the following tomato count: Campbell's 1327? LOADED. Eva Purple Ball? LOADED. Black Krim? LOADED! The notoriously cranky and sometimes unproductive Marianna's Peace? LOADED FOR BEAR!

Celebrity and Eva Purple Ball Production
Getting old yet? You know things are going well when you spot a bit of color behind a green tomato leaf -- and pulling that leaf aside reveals the wonder that is a ripening Azoychka. You know things are going REALLY WELL when you pull aside said leaf and are struck with the sight of five ripe Azoychka tomatoes.

Where in Hades did they come from and how come I didn't notice this before? Did someone put those there?

Safe to say -- the wife that is Venus and I are somewhat blessed with tomato production this year. We're off to a rather outstanding start. I've never experienced a year in the garden where there wasn't at least one loser among the bunch. Usually? There's more than one.

But not this year. Not yet anyway.

Ripening Stupice Tomatoes
The big heirloom tomato winner so far this year? No doubt in my mind. It's the heirloom offering known as Stupice. And despite my rather "stupice" play on words in the title of this blog posting -- Stupice isn't pronounced "Stoo-Piss."

This variety, one of four sent to the United States from Czechoslovakia by Milan Sodomka (source: Seed Savers), is actually pronounced "Stoo-Pee-Chay" from what I've been told. Still others have related the pronunciation of "Stu-Pick."

Pick your poison -- because this variety is anything but (poison).

Stupice is one of those rare potato-leaf tomato plants that does not produce beefsteak tomatoes. In my short experience with growing heirlooms? If you're growing out a potato leaf -- it usually means you're growing out any version of Brandywine (there are several), Marianna's Peace or numerous others that feature large and crazy looking tomatoes.

Stupice here, Stupice there, Stupice everywhere!
But not Stupice. This one is different. And that makes it special.

The first clue that I'd decided to grow something special is when every seed I planted not only germinated -- but was the first to germinate. It was the fastest growing tomato starter in the Bird bedroom-converted-tomato-nursery. It's one of several varieties that received a "haircut" before plant out. Every cutting from that plant would yield new plants that I eagerly gave away to family and friends at work.

Since I had not grown this variety before -- I did not know what to expect. I had heard from many tomato growers on the Yahoo Forum TomatoMania that Stupice was an absolute winner in many a backyard garden. But what does well back east in New England or somewhere in the Midwest doesn't necessarily transfer into great success on the Left Coast.

Crazy Stupice Production
However -- the Stupice is one of those plants that ignores all rules. It appears to do well in just about every region it's been planted -- and I can personally attest that list includes Zone 9A -- the Sacramento Territory. Although the raised bed that holds the Stupice also holds seven other tomato plants -- the Stupice has grown up and through nearly the entire bed. I'm discovering new branches that are anywhere from four to six feet away from the main stem -- held aloft by other plants in the bed (which are also doing well I might add).

My first indication that this plant was going to be a winner in the garden is when it unfurled a blossom set normally reserved for cherry tomatoes like SunGold or Sweet 100. When each blossom set resulted in a setting of four to seven young tomatoes? I knew I had something special. Stupice continues to proliferate throughout its garden setting -- putting out blossoms in every square corner of the 4X8 foot raised bed. It was also the first to ripen in abundance, beating early producers like Bloody Butcher and Early Girl.

Stupice tomatoes with cucumber and basil anyone?
There will come a time -- not all that far away I might add -- when a singular harvest of Stupice will result in a bowl of 30-40 ripe tomatoes -- with hundreds more yet to ripen. Consider Stupice to be your classic garden tomato -- in that it will produce enough tomatoes to fill every salad bowl with a bounty of production or will serve as your "snacking" tomato while you harvest others from the yard during the peak season of production.

As far as the taste is concerned -- rank Stupice with some of the best tasting heirloom tomatoes. It still can't hold a candle to the taste explosion and surprise that is a vine-ripened Cherokee Purple, Brandywine or Kelloggs' Breakfast -- but a bowl full of Stupice is a bowl full of summer heaven just the same. The one and only knock against Stupice? It's not a good processing tomato. It's about the size of a golf ball or a bit larger. That makes it a tad larger than a large cherry tomato, but it's still not large enough to be canned as a whole tomato.

But that shouldn't stop you from making a gallon or ten of fresh Stupice tomato sauce!

The New Me

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Custom Blog Templates by Madeline
It's the old me, actually. Same bad writing. Same bad advice. Some things never do change.

By now, you may have noticed some changes to the blog that is Sacramento Vegetable Gardening. Yep, Bill and Venus Bird have gone mainstream. They plumb went out and hired a graphic designer to clean up the clutter and make things look neat n' tidy. What's next? Ads promoting Viagra?

I suppose a little explanation is in order. Or, in my case, I blame it all on "Maddy."

"Maddy" is actually a fine and inventive young lady by the name of Madeline Miller. I can't remember exactly how I ran across her -- she may have left a comment on the blog at one point -- I'm not sure. But I was instantly impressed with her blog and her blog designs. Each one was fresh and unique. For me? They jumped right off the page and screamed TALENT!!!

I know about this because I have so precious little of it.

At any rate -- I had been thinking about some design changes to the blog but was also a little hesitant. Let me explain. I'm old. I didn't grow up with computers. The words "Bill Bird" and "computer savvy" would represent a classic oxymoron if used in the same sentence. One minor and wrong keystroke had me pulling out what precious little hair I had left.

I also have very little clue when it comes to basic colors. The wife that is Venus will attest to this. The woman won't let me near a washing machine because that's usually when disaster strikes. No matter how hard I try to do well, left on my own, I usually wind up wearing something that's a rather Christmassy shade of green and red.

Hey, it works for December. But July?

Madeline Miller
At any rate, I picked the wrong time to bother Madeline Miller. Big surprise there. I've been doing that for most of my 48 years on God's Green Earth. As it turns out -- Madeline was dealing with some other issues more important than my blog when I reached out to her. Her family was about to expand with a new addition.

"See you in six months and that's a promise," she wrote.

Fast forward nearly eleven months -- and voilĂ !!! The new template is now in place. There are some other changes that I've been dragging my feet on, and at the same time, testing Madeline's patience to absolutely no end.

"How about a listing for recipes," she asked. "Uh, sure" was my reply -- usually followed by a "how do I do that?"

"You would need to add labels," she would patiently reply. Which was usually followed by an, "oh, OK. What?"

In the end, I annoyed a resident of Roseville to absolutely no end -- and got a nice blog design out of the deal. Not a bad exchange in my opinion.

The pictures used in the new template are all from the Bird Back 40 -- promise. We didn't buy those melons -- nor the tomatoes -- nor did I steal anything.

This time...

My hope is -- that as time goes by and people visit -- they will see the outdoor adventure that is Northern California. Short and sweet -- it doesn't matter what you put in the ground out this way. We're blessed. We're blessed with some of the greatest soil -- some of the greatest weather -- the most wonderful of growing conditions.

California living at its finest.

If you're impressed by Madeline's work -- you can reach out to her here.

Just don't make the mistake of telling her that you know me.

The Muse

Seignac Guillame: The Muse
It's no secret that bloggers sometimes get tired of blogging. The blog becomes a drag, man. When the wife starts referring to herself as a "Blog Widow," to a newspaper reporter no less? Houston, we have a problem!

Sometimes, we just plain run out of ideas. I mean, how many times can I write about the subject of garlic before it gets a little plain and a little dull? I've written so much about heirloom tomatoes that nothing comes as a surprise anymore. Suddenly, blogging becomes a chore.

That's when things go south. While most bloggers try to make it work with advertising, and some do a pretty good job at making a living, most of us do this for the joy of "putting pen to paper." This is nothing more than our journal -- a cyber journal at that. "Dear Diary, today that little girl with red hair threw a tomato at me..."

For some bloggers, even the good writers, the stress is just too much. They up and quit. They don't come back. The blogging landscape is littered with "dead blogs" that haven't been updated for years. One of the latest bloggers to put down the pen is Prudence Pennywise, a wonderful writer with a sharp wit.

Prudence Pennywise
Guess what? She got tired. I don't hear from Prudy anymore. I miss hearing from her. Prudy came up with some fantastic recipes and the blog earned her a spot on a local cooking show. It earned awards. It earned a faithful readership. It earned well-deserved attention. But not anymore.

Does this mean Bill Bird is going away? Hah! Fat chance Fredo! Dream on dude! This is still a lot of fun for me, although I don't have the time I once had to pay attention to it. I don't update it as often as I would like. Sometimes I lose focus. Sometimes I run out of ideas -- or I don't know how to frame a particular subject or post. Call it "Blogger Block." It's like writer's block. Yes, we get it too.

And then -- that "moment" comes. It always does. It's a seminal moment. Something happens -- somewhere -- and you are literally struck with inspiration. The block that frustrated you time and again is suddenly gone. You can't type fast enough.

Artichoke in Bloom
Sometimes that inspiration will come from the wife that is Venus. Sometimes? It comes from a different blog posting -- perhaps something that Farmer Fred Hoffman wrote about earlier in his blog. In this particular case -- my inspiration stemmed from one, simple, solitary line: BLOOMING ARTICHOKES: BEE CRACK.

It's the title of a post written by Sacramento garden blogger Carri Stokes and it brought a smile to my face as soon as I read it. Carri has a rather unique and wonderful way of communication in her blog. Not only is the posting true -- it's laugh out loud funny. And -- I may not have been the only blogger inspired by this posting. Some days later, Farmer Fred would write about "following a friend in the garden."

Hello Kitty Hive
The posting also made me think about what my colony has been feeding on this spring and summer. The bees inside that neon-pink Hello Kitty hive have been literally humming with activity. The numbers inside that hive have increased exponentially and the hive is now back to pre-swarm levels. I have once again been blessed with a strong queen. A strong queen means a strong hive.

But a strong hive also requires a strong food or pollen source. The Bird Back 40 will never contain enough blooming plants to fill that need -- but I've come to discover (happily I might add) that the colony has found numerous and abundant pollen sources in the yards and parks that dot North Natomas. In other words, they're doing just fine.

If there is one side benefit to budget cutbacks in the Sacramento City Parks and Recreation Program, it would have to be the state of numerous parks in North Natomas. The acres of grass set aside for family fun and gatherings are no longer bright green and tightly manicured as they once were. Although this might sound bad, it's actually been a benefit to all things bee.

Typical North Natomas Park: Covered in Clover
Without the constant maintenance and upkeep, clover has proliferated throughout park settings. Clover does not react well to many modern lawn fertilizers. In many cases, clover has been classified as a "nuisance weed," and the lawn fertilizers are specially formulated to knock it out. This is especially vexing to bee colonies. For if blooming artichokes are indeed "bee crack," then clover would represent the Surf n' Turf restaurant special. Bees can't get enough of it.

No matter how hard I try -- I haven't been able to track colony flights out of the Bird Back 40. I can tell which general direction they're heading. But once a bee picks up speed, it's very easy to lose sight of them. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that they found nearby parks inviting. A close check of those fields of clover revealed hundreds if not thousands of them, collecting as much pollen as possible before flying back home.

Honeybee Raiding Clover: North Natomas
Were they bees that belonged to the Hello Kitty Hive? That's somewhat impossible to tell. But the nice thing about pollen sources is this: they are plentiful and usually multiply in abundance. Plants that produce the kinds of pollen that bees can't resist are often the cheapest forms of landscaping found anywhere. And the new subdivisions that have sprouted out near Sacramento International Airport are planted with acres of pollen producers. There is no shortage of pollen out north.

Intentional? I think not. Cost is usually the determining factor in the growth of new subdivisions -- that and housing demand (which there hasn't been much of lately). But some how, some way, it works. Nature has found a way.

Bee Crack indeed.