The boys have watched some things grow slowly in their gardens: cabbage, eggplant, and carrots. And some plants ripen more slowly than the tomatoes, which are barely orange one day and red and ripe the next. Rex’s chili red peppers turn from green to red in incremental shades, looking almost gray sometimes.
So today was a day when the boys harvested some new vegetables, some that took a little longer to grow. But they were thrilled!
Here it is! 2 cabbages, 2 eggplant, 4 chili red peppers, 1 ear of corn, 3 play guns, and one curious cat, Cloud.
Morris could hardly believe it when I said, “Yes!” to his frequent question: “Can I pick my cabbage?” This was the plant he wanted to grow from the very beginning, the veggie he always claimed was his favorite in his garden. Today, he picked one of two!
Jude’s tomato plant is now producing a giant red one each day, and he loves it! He also picked and shucked his one-and-only ear of corn. He frequently exclaims that he can’t believe that plant grew from a small seed. And, today he picked his eggplant, which although it’s small, it’s ready.
Lots of proud smiles today!
I expected it. That’s why I measured my boys at the beginning of the summer, along with their plants. My growing boys grew! I measured them the last day of summer, and here are the results:
Rex grew three-fourths of an inch! — 57” to 57 ¾” (4 feet, 9 3/4 inches)
Jude grew one inch! — 53” to 54” (4 feet, 6 inches)
Morris grew one inch! — 42” to 43” (3 feet, 7 inches)
This explains the size up in back-to-school shoes. This explains the shorts that are shorter, and the empty boxes of crackers and granola bars left in our pantry.
Today is the last day of the boys’ summer, but not the last day for our gardens. There’s still more to do!
Today we made salsa!
We used tomatoes from everyone’s plants, and Rex’s onions and jalapenos. All other ingredients were from the store. I tried to involve a boy in each step of the process.
Morris helped me blanch and peel the skins off the tomatoes. He loved this job! He was diligent and focused, picking off every piece.
Rex was a little under the weather with a sinus infection, and cutting his onions would have been too much for his nose to handle. So, instead, I had him pose next to his contribution.
Jude sprinkled in cilantro, but I really needed his muscles to squeeze the limes and lemons. Perfect guy for the job!
I took care of all the hot stuff, knowing boiling tomatoes and water is no place for a boy. We canned three jars. There was a lot of work for three jars, but I’m hoping it’s worth it when we eat it.
I want to save it for a cold day, an inevitable Iowa day, when we all need a little taste of our summer salsa.
14 Tomatoes (blanched, skin peeled, chopped into pieces)
½ Green Pepper (chopped)
4 Small Onions (sliced)
1 Jalapeno (diced)
½ Cup Cilantro
½ Cup Lime/Lemon juice
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Directions: Boil ingredients. Distribute salsa into jars. Tighten lids and boil in large pot full of water for 5 minutes. Remove from water and listen for the lid to pop. (For more detailed canning directions and this recipe, see the new edition of the Ball Canning cookbook. Simple, with pictures for novices!)
Jude picked his first, red tomato tonight! His plant was a little slower than the others due to a cucumber plant and pole beans that hogged its sun. Now, the pole bean plants are gone, and the cucumber plant is withering. Time for Jude’s tomatoes!
Lately in the gardens…
Our green bean plants are basically done, so we’ve cleared some of them out. The pole beans spread and curled around everything they could reach – tomato cages, cucumber plant stands, stems of surrounding plants – so now it looks a little empty, or just tidier, with them gone.
This week, Morris blanched some green beans and put them in the freezer. Blanching is a simple process: boil the veggies, then throw them in an ice bath. They will be a winter treat. As will the bags of basil I’ve frozen and will use for soups and pasta.
The cucumber plants are starting to feel fall is coming; the leaves are drying and crispy, and the stems are turning yellow. Some cucumbers are still growing, and there are bright flowers that may still form cucumbers, but I remember they ended quite suddenly last summer, too.
There are still lots of green tomatoes that will ripen, eggplants that will grow, and cabbages whose heads are getting firm and almost ready to harvest. Rex’s chili reds are still reddening…
We had a black swallowtail resting in our garden this week. I remember seeing its striped caterpillar a few weeks earlier, and I’m amazed at how beautiful it became with its spots of orange and electric blue. Rex really wanted to hold it, but I wouldn’t let him.
The gardens are still full of surprises. Some of the vegetables are harvested a little later in the summer, such as carrots! Rex plucked a few this weekend, and although there was only one that was really big enough to eat, it was exciting to see that there’s more to come.
Jude notices an ear of corn is growing and will be edible before too long. His eggplant is about the size of a fist, and although it grows slowly, we have plans for it.
Morris loves pulling red tomatoes off his plant. He calls them “guys” too, as in, “This guy is ready. This guy is red.” He also loves his cabbages and knows there will soon be a day when they are ready to leave his garden.
It’s that time! Red tomatoes are everywhere in my boys’ gardens! Rex’s tomato plant has about eight red ones ready to harvest, Morris has taken two, and Daddy’s tiny treats plant has about 15 ready each day. My roma plant yields about six to eight a week. Jude’s plant needs a little more sunshine as his cucumber plant has invaded tomato turf. Yum!
Tonight we made Tomato Mozzarella Salad:
4 large tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized chunks
1 pkg of fresh mozzarella (although I have used string cheese before…)
5-6 basil leaves chopped
A drizzle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar/dressing
A sprinkle of pepper and garlic salt
It’s fresh and delicious! Here are the leftovers:
I also love to make Pico de Gallo and sprinkle it on salads, tacos, or eat it right out of the dish as a fresh salad:
1 chopped tomato
¼ finely sliced onion
Cilantro finely chopped (I like a lot!)
Tomatoes are a summer treat… like ice cream! …The boys might disagree with me on that one. 🙂
The boys found a home for their new wooden animals in their gardens (compliments of Art in the Garden night)! I will keep these safe in our basement when the winter comes and dig them out each spring when it’s time to plant our gardens again. I want each of the boys to have their own garden collection, so one day, when they plant their own gardens on their own land, they will have these pieces and memories for their new place.
The boys have never been to Rieman Gardens in Ames, and I placed it on our summer To-Do list. We ventured there with Aunt Sarah and Isla, and Aunt Lindsay, Calvin, and Harper. It was a toasty day, with temperatures around 93 degrees. But with school on the horizon, today was the day to do it.
We started in the Butterfly Garden, a truly magical place as electric blue, black and white striped, and orange butterflies flutter all around you. (Sorry – I don’t know their names, only colors!) Are we fairies? Jude desperately wanted to hold one – well, we all did – and Rex and Morris loved spotting them hanging in trees or drinking sweet water in a bird bath.
Lego peacock nicely fans Rex’s head.
We braved the heat as little boys need to get out and run, and they enjoyed searching for the Lego sculptures on display by artist Sean Kenney. The boys found the peacock, the bonsai tree, the bee, the gardeners, the hummingbird, and the best of all: the giant spider suspended from the roof in the Children’s Garden. They didn’t find them all, but they were thrilled when they did!
Shade for the boys.
The gardens are beautiful: a calming blend of winding paths along water and shaded resting spots. We wandered, then rested, then wandered, then had a drink of water, then wandered some more. Finally, it was time to leave with an ice cream treat.
My three boys love to wander through the Enabling Gardens in Altoona. These gardens are designed, planted, and maintained by Iowa State Master Gardeners. Our community is blessed to have such a beautiful space. Whenever we visit, the boys first check out the garden with the miniature furniture and ornery gnomes (because they’re always moving); it’s Jude’s mission to create such a garden next year. Then we make our way to the Children’s Garden where they play the conga drums and the marimbas, and they balance themselves on a path made of wooden blocks. There’s a sand pit to get dirty in, and a life-sized stick tee pee.
Tonight, the Master Gardeners sponsored a Children’s Art night. I invited two friends, Grandma, and my sister and her two kids to join us. We had a blast! There were so many amazing projects for the kids:
- Chia heads: The boys stuffed pantyhose with grass seed and dirt. Then they picked out googly eyes, and the gardeners tied a nose. Wild hairdos to come!
- Handmade flowers: Hands were traced, decorated, and cut out. The fingers were curled, and the hands were taped to a straw. These flowers are now in a vase on my kitchen table.
- Pressed flower sun catchers: Leaves of all shapes and textures, and red, orange, yellow, and pink petals were pressed onto a sheet of sticky paper. The boys made beautiful patterns before another clear sheet was placed on top. These will hang in their bedroom windows.
- Wildflower arranging: Each child selected a vase, decorated with a strip of fun patterned duct tape. Then they picked flowers and grasses from buckets. Master gardeners helped them arrange a masterpiece of natural beauty!
- Butterfly collage: Cut-outs of wings, heads, and bodies – with many colorful patterns – were pasted onto a page and matted. Presto! A work of art for a bedroom wall.
- Wooden animals: A master gardener made and donated playful, creative wood statues of animals and birdhouses for the kids to paint. Wow! Rex and Jude selected a cat with toothpick whiskers. Morris selected a bunny with a heart. These will decorate each boy’s garden.
We left with a wonderful collection of art, each piece special because they were handmade by the boys. Thank you Master Gardeners!