Doing its job

My pollinator garden is just beginning, and already it’s doing its job.

Monarch caterpillar on my butterfly weed

This was my discovery when I was in the garden this morning. I am hoping birds don’t pick it off, of course. Fingers crossed I will soon have a monarch pupa!

When life gives you tomatoes, make freezer tomato soup

The first of what will likely be several batches before tomato season is over

It’s that joyous time of summer when the tomatoes are ripening. Even with one plant, I have more tomatoes than I can possibly eat on my own. And since we’re still working from home, I can’t take them to the office.

I decided to use up some of the tomatoes by making tomato soup. Don’t even speak to me of canning. I spent a day five years ago with my stepdad while he canned tomatoes, and it was tedious. I prefer to freeze my harvest.

I didn’t really follow a recipe for this. One of my special skills is throwing things together randomly and coming up with something delicious. Why I’m not a recipe developer, I will never know. That would have been a really fun career.

Anyway, I grabbed my Instant Pot and got to work. First, I set it on the sauté function. Once it was ready, I added a little olive oil and some minced garlic — two cloves — and sauteed. Once that was done, I added 1 cup of veggie stock. Then I added in 7 rough chopped tomatoes and their juices (I had 6 medium to large and 1 small). I splashed in some Worcestershire, then added some cracked sea salt and pepper. (You see a pattern here, right? I literally never measure anything unless I’m following a recipe.)

I sealed the lid and set the Instant Pot on manual high pressure for 6 minutes.

Once the 6 minutes was done, I did a quick release.

Then I got out my immersion blender. Once I took off the Instant Pot lid, I sprinkled in 2 tablespoons of sugar. Then I got to blending until it was mostly smooth. (The immersion blender can’t get all the seeds and skin — for that, a regular blender is needed — but I do the best I can with the tools I have, and I don’t mind the odd seed or sliver of skin.)

I finished with a generous sprinkling of Flavorgod Italian Zest seasoning.

I’m pleased with how it turned out. I am freezing 4 cups, and I saved the remaining (which was maybe 1.5 cups?) for lunch tomorrow.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to collapse. I spent the better part of three hours today cleaning, peeling, slicing and blanching all the carrots I picked, which are now in the freezer. Between that, making the soup, and all the cleaning I had to do because of these activities, I’m wiped out.

SO. MANY. CARROTS. And this wasn’t even all of them.

Garden Update

A crab spider peeks out from an African marigold in my garden

I mentioned in a recent post that I was converting my vegetable garden into a pollinator garden. It was my intention to do the bulk of that work next year.

Well, I’m ahead of schedule. I realized rather quickly that it was a huge mistake to grow crookneck squash. I had THREE plants (because I’m ridiculous), and even one was insanely prolific. I pulled two of the plants out, chopped them up, and composted them. I thought I would just stick with one, but even that was producing more than I could handle. I got sick of eating squash, and I don’t have time to chop, blanch, and freeze every single time I picked it. I was leaving bags full of squash in the park behind our house for people to take.

It was more trouble than it was worth.

So I pulled up the remaining squash. Kroger is selling late summer perennials for a great deal: 5 for $10. So I bought coneflowers and coreopsis to plant where the squash was growing. I was at Kroger again a couple days ago and got more coneflowers and some Shasta daisies. (Not native, of course, but I love them.)

I already have sweet alyssum growing (from a 25 cent seed packet I bought at Dollar Tree), which is an annual but often reseeds. Same with the giant African marigolds I planted from seed next to my tomatoes. I hope those come back next year.

I am leaving room for these plants to spread out, as they will inevitably do. Since we’re going to have a mild weekend, I can do some serious weeding and mulching out there.

I am still growing vegetables, by the way. My Better Boy tomatoes (I know, a fruit) are prolific and starting to ripen. I just ate the first one yesterday and I have another ripe one on my kitchen counter. The bell peppers have been coming in. All the onions have been harvested. And the carrots are progressing.

I will miss tomatoes. I can do container tomatoes going forward, I suppose, though I like the bigger, slicing tomatoes. But otherwise, I am happy to do my part to help out our pollinator friends, and it means significantly less work for me once the plants are established.

Garden Transformation

A honeybee on a wild sunflower
Late summer 2020 at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

I decided to convert my vegetable patch into a pollinator garden next year. I wish I had thought to do it sooner.

In a household of two, I’m the only one who eats fresh vegetables. So everything I grow, I either have to eat or give away (especially if I plant something prolific, which the crookneck squash looks to be this year).

Additionally, the weeds are a massive problem despite all my attempts to control them. Planting native perennials will help control the weeds, and they’re low maintenance.

I have a few spots already where I can start planting ahead of next year. The lettuce and spinach are done for the season. I have an entire section where bush beans have refused to grow. I could start with Bee Balm and Black-Eyed Susan. Milkweed is definitely on the list for next year.

I’m actually pretty excited for this project. I already have a lot of plants in my flower gardens that attract pollinators — though they are not all natives. And I get a lot of pleasure watching the bumblebees and honeybees at work.