Photo Friday: Something Warm and Fuzzy

For anyone who might be in need of looking at some warm and fuzzy animal photos, today’s the day! It’s been a while since I shared photos of our cats, so here’s a few from my collection. I hope you enjoy them.

Ace busy bird watching

Ace busy bird watching

Our four year old Ace is a big fan of bird watching. Both our cats are indoor kitties, so this is one way they like to keep in touch with nature. The birds mostly ignore the Ace, or do they come to see him? I mean, who is the watcher and who is the watched here, anyway. The house finch in the above photo wouldn’t tell me, but it sure looks curious!

Puddin snoozing

Puddin snoozing

Puddin is our 10 year old Queen cat. She leaves most of the bird watching to Ace, and instead spends a lot of time perfecting her napping skills. Here she is with her play buddy Mr Turtle.

Ace sleeping

Ace sleeping

All that bird watching makes Ace sleepy too. Here he is in my wife’s Woman Cave, guarding the TV remote.

Puddin and Ace

Puddin and Ace

Sometimes they sleep together in the chair. You never know what position they will take.

Puddin getting a leg up on Ace

Puddin getting a leg up on Ace

Puddin sometimes seems to be asserting her dominance. In the above photo she is surely getting a leg up on the situation!

Puddin with a leg out

Puddin with a leg out

And speaking of legs, Puddin always seems to have a leg sticking out whenever she is in one of her beds. No matter how big the bed, there’s always one leg that just won’t fit.

I hope you have enjoyed today’s kitty pics! I’ll be back soon with more happenings from HA.

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Posted in Cats, Photo Friday | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The 2017 All-America Selections Winners

The full lineup of 2017 AAS Winners has been announced, and in the edibles category it includes five national winners and three regional winners. For those who might not be familiar with it, All-America Selections (AAS) is an independent, non-profit organization that tests new varieties of flowers and edibles in trial grounds all over the U.S. and Canada. The AAS Winners give gardeners a chance to grow varieties that have proven themselves to perform well when compared to existing cultivars, and usually offer superior flavor, disease resistance and growth habits. I grow several AAS Winners in my garden every year, and I always look forward to trying the new winners here at Happy Acres.

There are two tomatoes on the list of 2017 AAS Winners. First up is Chef’s Choice Yellow F1, a Southeast Regional winner and the fourth member of the popular Chef’s Choice series of tomatoes. This one produces 10 ounce yellow-fleshed fruits on 5 foot indeterminate vines that are resistant to a number of common diseases. Chef’s Choice Orange (a 2014 AAS Winner) has been a standout performer for me here since it came out, so I look forward to trying the new addition to the series.

Tomato Chef's Choice Yellow

Tomato Chef’s Choice Yellow

The Patio Choice Yellow F1 tomato is a compact determinate hybrid that produces 1/2 inch yellow cherry tomatoes on plants that only grow 18 inches tall. It’s loaded with the mild flavored fruits, and the short vines make it perfect for containers and hanging baskets. I’d say it’s decorative enough to be used in mixed plantings too.

Tomato Patio Choice Yellow

Tomato Patio Choice Yellow

Pepper Mad Hatter F1 is a hybrid pepper with mild heat and a citrusy sweet taste. It’s a member of the Capsicum baccatum species from South America, and related to the open-pollinated Bishop’s Crown (sometimes called Bishop’s Hat) baccatum pepper. The peppers grow on tall, bushy plants that can reach 3-4 feet in height. I’ve grown Bishop’s Crown before, and it would be interesting to see how this one compares.

Pepper Mad Hatter

Pepper Mad Hatter

Watermelon Mini Love F1 is an ‘icebox’ sized watermelon that grows on compact, space-saving vines. The melons weigh in the 7-9 pound range, and the vines set up to 6 fruit per plant. Mini Love has a high sugar content, and thin but strong rinds that are split and crack resistant.

Watermelon Mini Love

Watermelon Mini Love

The next winner is a ‘First in Class’, since the AAS has never before declared a fennel an AAS Winner. Fennel Antares F1 is a Florence type fennel with an edible bulb and decorative edible fronds. This is a multi-purpose plant, also useful as a seed producer and as a host plant for swallowtail caterpillars. The AAS judges found Antares to produce uniform, pure white bulbs with a sweet licorice/anise flavor. I look forward to growing this one in our Wild Garden, where it can feed us as well as the pollinators and butterflies.

Fennel Antares F1

Fennel Antares F1

Okra Candle Fire F1 is the first AAS okra winner since Cajun Delight won back in 1997. Candle Fire has bright red pods that are round instead of ribbed, and it won high marks from the judges for productivity, taste texture and tenderness. It’s also very ornamental, with the red pods setting on red-stemmed plants that reach 4 feet in height.

Okra Candle Fire F1

Okra Candle Fire F1

Winter Squash Honeybaby F1 produces personal sized butternut squash on compact 2 to 3 foot vines. Each plant produces 8 to 9 fruits that weigh up to a half pound each and have a sweet, nutty flavor. This Heartland Regional winner also has powdery-mildew resistant vines, which should make it more productive in gardens where mildew is a problem.

Winter Squash Honeybaby F1

Winter Squash Honeybaby F1

And last but not least we have Pea Patio Pride, which is a Southeast Regional winner that produces in just 40 days. The peas can be picked young and eaten pod and all, or left to mature as a shelling pea. The compact vines grow 18 to 24 inches tall if supported, or shorter if left to sprawl. This makes it ideal for containers and tubs, where the cool season flowers and peas will make a decorative as well as edible showing.

Pea Patio Pride

Pea Patio Pride

I hope you have enjoyed this review of the 2017 AAS vegetables winners. For a full list of both present and past winners, visit All-America Selections Winners. Their website also has information on where to Buy AAS Winners.

All photos courtesy of All-America Selections.

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Planning the 2017 Garden

In years past, I would eagerly await the arrival of the new seed catalogs. Then I would sit down with my notepad, and come up with a list of things I wanted to grow in the coming year. These days by the time the catalogs arrive I already have a good start on my growout list. I get a lot of great ideas by reading about my fellow garden bloggers growing experiences. For instance, this year I plan on growing the Gingaku melon that did so well for Phuong (Kentucky Fried Garden) last year. I also want to try the Mellow Star shishito pepper that Will (Eight Gate Farm) has grown the last couple of years. I’m planning to grow Win-Win choi, thanks to Norma’s (Garden to Wok) experiments with growing it in a container. And the Portugese kale Tronchuda Beira is coming back, after seeing it show up often in Michelle’s (From Seed To Table) harvest basket.

Tronchuda Beira from 2012

Tronchuda Beira from 2012

Other ideas come from my own growing and eating experiences. After buying some Korean gochugaru pepper flakes, I went looking for pepper seed so I can grow it myself this year. I found a couple of candidates, Korean Hot (Refining Fire Chiles) and Lady Choi (Kitazawa). And dismal experiences recently with growing heirloom beefsteak tomatoes has led me to try the hybrid Heirloom Marriage tomatoes Cherokee Carbon, Genuwine and Big Brandy. These are hybrids created by crossing two different heirloom tomatoes, so hopefully the offspring will have not only hybrid vigor but also the good flavor of their parents. And I’m looking forward to growing more of the Artisan Seeds unreleased test varieties of tomatoes. I had a lot of fun (and ate a lot of good tomatoes) last year with the test tomatoes, as well as the other Artisan Seeds tomatoes that have already been released.

Artisan Seeds tomatoes

Artisan Seeds tomatoes

I always like to grow a lot of different squashes, both summer and winter kinds. This year I want to try the yellow striped zucchini called Sunstripe. And I found several winter squash to trial, including a moschata type called Tahitian Melon and an heirloom acorn type originally from Missouri called Thelma Sanders. I also want to try the Japanese hybrid Tetsukabuto that did so well for Mike (Mike’s Bean Patch). And I want to try the Dickinson Pumpkin and see how it does for me here. I plan to grow my old standbys too like White Scallop, Striata d’Italia, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck (aka neck pumpkin) and Seminole.

Striata d'Italia zucchini and White Scallop Squash

Striata d’Italia zucchini and White Scallop Squash

I love to experiment with growing new things, so my growing list is always long. There are always last-minute changes to my list, but this is my current list as to what I plan on growing this year. I’ve already received a few seeds, and I will work on getting the rest ordered in the next month or so. It will be time to start seeds before you know it!

Mei Qing pac choi

Mei Qing pac choi

Varieties I am growing for the first time are marked with an *.

Asian Greens: Carlton komatsuna, Koji tatsoi*, Mizspoona Salad Select, Mei Qing Pak Choi, Red Kingdom mustard*, Red Pac Choi, Vivid Choi, Win-Win Choi*

Beans (bush): Derby

Beans (pole):  Early Riser*, Fortex, Gold Marie, Musica, Robe Mountain, NT Half Runner*,  Trionfo Violetto, Withners White Cornfield*

Broccoli: Apollo, Artwork, Bay Meadows, Blue Wind*, Diplomat, Green Magic, Gypsy, Imperial, Packman, Santee (PSB)*

Cabbage: Farao, KY Cross, Kaitlin*, Katarina, Little Jade (napa), Melissa Savoy, Minuet (napa), Pixie, Primo Vantage, Soloist (napa), Tendersweet, Tiara*, Tronchuda Beira

Cucumber: Corinto, Diva, Green Fingers, Manny, Socrates*, Summer Dance, Tasty Jade

Eggplant: Dancer, Fairy Tale, Galine, Nadia

Garlic: Basque*, German Red, Godfather’s Italian*, Idaho Silver, Killarney Red, Lorz Italian, Maiskij, Nootka Rose, Red Janice, Red Toch, Russian Red, Shilla, Siciliano, Silver White, Simonetti, Spanish Roja, Uzbek, Xian

Greens: Adagio arugula, Apollo arugula, Golden Corn Salad, Granon Corn Salad, Speedy arugula

Kale: Beedy’s Camden, Dazzling Blue, Improved Siberian, Madeley, Meadowlark, Nash’s Green*, Prizm, Purple Peacock, Red Ursa, Western Front, White Russian, Wild Garden Mix

Kohlrabi: Kolibri, Konan, Kossak, Superschmeltz

Lettuce: Anuenue, Black Seeded Simpson, Cardinale, Hanson, Jester, Oak Leaf, Outstanding, Pele, Radichetta, Red Sails, Sierra, Simpson Elite, Slobolt, Smile, Three Heart, Total Clown, Unicum, Tango, Winter Density

Onion: Candy, I’itoi, Red Torpedo Tropea, Sierra Blanca, Yellow Potato*

Peas: Avalanche, Oregon Sugar Pod 2, Sugar Ann

Pepper(hot): Aji Angelo, Aji Golden, Aji Panca, Anaheim, Ancho 211, Biggie Chili, Cayenneta, Criolla Sella Chili, Emerald Fire*, Farmers Market Jalapeno*, Flaming Flare, Guajillo, Highlander*, Hot Happy Yummy, Holy Mole, Kaleidoscope, Korean Hot*, Lady Choi*, Malawi Piquante, Minero, Numex Garnet*, Numex Primavera Jalapeno*, Numex R Naky*, Senorita Jalapeno

Pepper (sweet): Cece*, Cornito Giallo, Cornito Rosso*, Doux Des Landes*, Dulce Rojo, Escamillo, Glow, Jimmy Nardello’s, Mellow Star*, Numex Sweet*, Orange Blaze, Pritavit, Sweet Happy Yummy, Topepo Rosso

Pumpkin: Dickinson*, Pepitas, Winter Luxury*

Radish: Alpine,  April Cross, Summer Cross #3*, Shunkyo

Shallots: Conservor*, Dutch Yellow*

Spinach: Gigante Inverno (Giant Winter), Space, Verdil*, Viroflay

Squash(summer): Astia, Bossa Nova, Clarimore, Daize*, Enterprise, Romanesco, Sunstripe*, Striato d’Italia, Tatume, White Scallop

Squash(winter):  Buffy*, Butternut Rugosa, Butterscotch, Cornell’s Bush Delicata, Early Butternut, Honeybaby*, Honeyboat Delicata, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, Pinata*, Seminole, Tahitian Melon*, Tetsukabuto*, Thelma Sanders*, Tromba d’Albenga

Sweet Potatoes: Beauregard, Bonita, Indiana Gold, Korean Purple, Purple, Red Japanese, Redmar

Tomatoes: Better Boy, Big Brandy*, Black Cherry, Blush, Captain Lucky, Celebrity, Champagne, Chef’s Choice Green, Chef’s Choice Orange, Chef’s Choice Pink*, Chef’s Choice Yellow*, Cherokee Carbon*, Garden Gem, Garden Treasure, Genuwine*, Golden Rave, Green Tiger, Health Kick, Jetsetter, Juliet, Lucky Tiger, Marzano Fire, Marzinera*, Mexico Midget, Orange Jazz, Purple Bumblebee, Sun Gold, Sunpeach*, Sun Sugar, Sunrise Bumblebee, Super Sweet 100, Vinson Watts, Viva Italia

Turnips: Hakurei, Nozawana, Oasis, Royal Crown, Scarlet Ohno Revival, Tsugaru Scarlet

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Stars of the Garden in 2016

It’s time for my annual review of what did well in the garden, and what didn’t. In my 2015 review I called it the Year of Too Much Rain, since we had 37 inches of rain during the main garden growing season from March to August. To put things in perspective, our average annual rainfall is around 45 inches. In 2016 we had 28 inches of rain during the same period, which is a bit above average but better than last year. Many of the veggies thrived in those growing conditions, but none did any better than the peppers. I harvested a whopping 76 pounds of them, 43 pounds of the hot ones and 33 pounds of the sweet. So I am calling 2016 the Year of the Pepper.

Escamilllo, Carmen and Cornito Giallo peppers

Escamilllo, Carmen and Cornito Giallo peppers

2016 AAS Winners Escamillo and Cornito Giallo made frequent appearances on our plates throughout the growing season. I only had one plant of each, along with one plant of their red relative Carmen, but they pumped out lots of peppers. I plan to set out twice as many plants of them this year, and add the red Cornito Rosso to the mix.

Minero peppers

Minero peppers

The hot peppers were a varied group including NuMex types like Anaheim and Biggie Chili, ancho/poblanos like Mosquetero and Bastan, and baccatums like Aji Angelo, Aji Golden and Malawi Piquante. I did a lot of different things with all the hot ones, including drying them for chile powder, smoking them and turning them into various hot sauces. Minero is a hrbrid guajillo type pepper that did especially well, and made a great chile powder with a mild heat. Some of the other hot peppers even got their 4 minutes of fame when they appeared on WEHT Local Lifestyles back in October.

Nadia, Galine and Dancer eggplant

Nadia, Galine and Dancer eggplant

The eggplants also did well last year. I am guessing they liked the growing conditions much like the peppers did. The Italian varieties Nadia, Galine and Dancer did great, and the small striped Fairy Tale also gave us lots to eat all summer long.

Natchez and Apache blackberries

Natchez and Apache blackberries

After a couple of years of very small harvests, the blackberries came back last year. I harvested 44 pounds of them, enough to last us for quite some time I am guessing! We decided to put bird netting around the plants, not so much to keep birds out but rather to keep the hungry deer away. It must have worked, though I think the spring growing conditions were favorable as well. This year we need to net the gooseberries too, since the deer ate every one of them in 2016.

Pele lettuce

Pele lettuce

The lettuce and other greens loved the rain for sure. Pele and Jester were two standout varieties, and Red Sails, Simpson Elite and the Tall Oaks Mix also wound up in many a salad bowl.

Three Heart lettuce

Three Heart lettuce

The butterhead Three Heart lettuce also did quite well, and this year I hope to plant even more of it. I do like the smooth texture of a good butterhead lettuce, and Three Heart suited me perfectly.

Dazzling Blue kale

Dazzling Blue kale

The fall planted Dazzling Blue kale made an impressive first showing here. It was supposed to be more hardy than the typical Lacinato type, and I have to say it has proven to be true here this year. The plants are still alive, after low temperatures near 0°F during the month of December. The leaves are variable in color, but consistently tasty. This Wild Garden Seed introduction is a keeper in my garden for sure!

broccoli Artwork

broccoli Artwork

It was my first time growing the 2015 AAS winner Artwork Broccoli. It’s a brockali (or stem broccoli) type that did well here both in spring and fall plantings. It doesn’t make a real big main head, but once you cut that first one then the side shoots really start coming on. I’ll be growing it again too.

slices of Captain Lucky tomato

slices of Captain Lucky tomato

Growing open-pollinated beefsteak tomatoes here is always dicey. Sometimes they do well, but more often they don’t. In 2016, Captain Lucky was the best performer in that category by far. These green when ripe tomatoes are not only colorful to look at, but the meaty flesh is tasty and flavorful too. It starred on many a sandwich here last year.

Garden Treasure tomatoes

Garden Treasure tomatoes

I usually depend on hybrid slicing tomatoes to give us a steady supply of tomatoes for sandwiches. Garden Treasure was developed by University of Florida tomato breeding program, and was derived from the heirloom beefsteak German Queen tomato. The large tomatoes have a nice balance of sweet and acid, and the firm flesh holds up well on a sandwich.  Currently, the seeds are only available through a $10 donation to the UF Tomato Research Fund, which gets you seeds to both Garden Treasure and one called Garden Gem, which is a bit smaller but just as tasty. They both did well here in 2016, and I plan on growing these two beauties again in 2017.

Marzano Fire tomatoes

Marzano Fire tomatoes

I’ve had mixed results with open pollinated paste tomatoes here too. Marzano Fire is an o/p tomato from Artisan Seeds that really did well last year. The tomatoes are nice sized, and the meaty flesh makes a great sauce. I’ve saved a spot for it in the garden again this year.

Xian garlic

Xian garlic

It was a good year for garlic here, by any metric my best year ever. Out of 196 cloves planted, I harvested 195 bulbs, losing only 1 along the way. Counting the scapes and what I harvested as green garlic, I hauled in 24 pounds of it last year. Xian is a turban type that came in right in the middle in terms of average weight and size. It’s pretty to look at, but more importantly it is tasty, early and dependable.

Red Toch garlic

Red Toch garlic

The largest bulbs of 2016 came from a cultivar called Red Toch, an artichoke type that made big bulbs with giant cloves.

homegrown asparagus

homegrown asparagus

Every spring my wife and I eagerly await the first signs of the emerging asparagus spears. We harvested the first spears on March 17, and by the time we cut the last ones in late May we had harvested 30 pounds of it. Actually my wife does most of the harvesting, which she does pretty much on a daily basis during asparagus season. We eat most of it fresh, though we do freeze a little for later use in soups or other dishes.

harvest of neck pumpkins

harvest of neck pumpkins

It wasn’t a great year for everything I grew though. The winter squash in particular struggled, and I lost many of them to rot before they matured. The ones that grew up off the ground, like the neck pumpkins (Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash) did better, and were less prone to rotting issues. I plan on trying to trellis more of them in 2017 to see if that helps. The cucumbers I planted in the main garden also did not do well, though the ones in the greenhouse kept us well-supplied with cukes through most of the spring and summer. The summer squash did okay, but it’s safe to say it just wasn’t a great year for any of the cucurbits here.

Corinto and Picolino cucumbers

Corinto and Picolino greenhouse cucumbers

I hope you have enjoyed this review of some of the veggies and fruit we grew here in 2016. And I hope 2017 is a great year for all of you out there! I’ll be back soon with more adventures from HA.

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