Backyard Blunders to Backyard Bliss

Summer’s midway!  While we’ve been busy doing some favorite summer activities, sometimes things don’t turn out as planned.  Stopped at a light the other day, I noticed a bumper sticker, about the sport of golf.  It read, “I hate golf, I hate golf, nice shot… I love golf!”  Gardening can kinda be that way sometimes, too.

I love my backyard, especially in summer.  This year however, it’s been challenging.  If weeds counted, I’d be a “Master Gardener”!  They’ve kept me busy pulling!

I put in a “cutting garden” many years back. I used naturally occurring rock as my border.  Filled with my favorite flowers, it has to be weeded frequently.

There’s my veggie garden.  Last year, we had so many tomatoes, we ate them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I  recently read on the City Farmgirl’s blog that she has an overabundance of yellow tomatoes.  Wish I had that problem!  I have tomatoes, but they won’t turn red.  I water, weed, pull off the “suckers”, but so far, not a single ripe tomato on the vine has greeted me.  Thought I’d have “killer tomatoes” because the plants are full and flowering.  So much so, they’ve caused me bodily harm. One evening, in the garden, I bent down to pick something up, and poked myself square in the eye with one of the tomato stakes.  It hurt like…well, a poker in the eye.  Leave it to me to make gardening dangerous!  (Had to go to the eye doctor, but I’m okay).  My friend Ken MacKenzie gave me some bright orange marker tape to put on the tops of the stakes, to make sure I don’t do that again!

I do love Fried Green Tomatoes, but want some vine-ripened, warm from the sun red ones, too!

Then there’s the squash dilemma.  My friend, Valerie, took one look at my veggie garden and declared it Fort Knox.  Although it seems I need tighter security.  Last year, we had so much yellow squash, we dubbed the biggest plant “Squashzilla”.   This year, our area had a population explosion of chipmunks.  They’re everywhere.  I think they’re cute, with their fat little bodies, tiny ears, and chubby cheeks.  They run to and fro in the yard, and happily chase each other.  But I could not figure out what was happening with my squash.  Blossoms would bloom, and then disappear.  Something was munching them!  I knew it couldn’t be deer, they can’t get past the cyclone fencing.  Then I witnessed Chip (or maybe Dale) run right through the fencing with… you guessed it, a squash blossom.  Sending out an SOS (Save Our Squash) on the Farmgirl Connection, I was given advice such as spray the perimeter with predator urine,  spray the blossoms with dish soap and water, and place dog hair around the plants.  I did all three.  When I went to check them today, I saw chew marks on the plants again, right next to the very large garter snake that slithered within inches of my feet.  Aaah…the joys of gardening!  Aside from a few weird looking (but still tasty) cucumbers, if we were living off my garden, this year, we would surely starve.

We can’t get caught up in just the work of the yard, we must enjoy it, too.  It should be a place of rest and reprieve as well.  Inspired by my brother, a Houston policeman, I created an outdoor oasis.  He has one of the most stressful careers I can imagine!  Yet I’m in awe of how relaxed and calm he is.  He owes it to his backyard.  It’s filled with plants he loves, a bird feeder to watch the birds, and a comfy place to sit.  While smack dab in one of the biggest cities in the U.S, under his covered patio, even a thunderstorm becomes relaxing!  He makes a point of enjoying it, even if it is to have a cup of coffee or glass of iced tea.  So, I took our partially covered deck, placed an old outdoor table against the wall as a side table, and in the corner placed a wicker chair from a bedroom.  On the table, I re-purposed favorite objects, such as candles and shells.  In the middle, I covered our old  patio table with a bright oilcloth tablecloth, and some beautiful silk flowers I bought for $2.00 at a local business sadly going under.  The result is a relaxing place to eat, knit, and read.

My “Comfy Spot”. Everything is re-purposed.

The chandelier is about 15 years old, rusty but charming.  The tablecloth I picked up inexpensively at Walmart.  The pitcher is an old water pitcher, with silk flowers I picked up for about $2.00 at a local store going out of business.  I can change to a fall color cloth in the autumn.

The point is, you don’t need a huge space, just a spot where you can be comfortable and relax, even if it is a lawn chair under a shady tree.

Now, we’ve been grilling and eating outside almost every night.  Our favorite: beef, chicken, or ribs, with “veggie packs”.  Take chunks of any kind of favorite veggie, and place in foil “boats”.  Add  several tablespoons of  olive oil, and some herbs and salt. Seal them shut and place directly on the grill for twenty minutes, and you have a no mess dinner! (When using potatoes, you do not have to parboil them with this method, just make sure the seal on the foil boats is tight).

Use any kind of cut up veggie you wish.  They all work: Broccoli, peppers, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, yams…here we try “blue potatoes” and carrots.

Make sure the foil “boats” are tightly sealed, and do not open them until ready to serve. 

My garden has not kept me without squash, thanks to the organic farmers market. (Although they’ve complained about this year’s growing season, too).  So, until next time, l leave you with a favorite recipe, Squash Casserole, another great side dish.  Now, where did I put those seed catalogs? Here’s to backyard bliss!

Yellow Squash Casserole
  • 1 lb. yellow squash, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 14 crackers (saltine or buttery, I like to use Late July Organic Crackers)
  • 1 tsp.  sugar
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

Boil squash with onion and salt.  Drain.  Add remaining ingredients, reserving a fourth of the cracker crumbs for the top.  Pour into a 1-1/2 quart, well-buttered dish.  Sprinkle top with remaining crumbs.  Bake at 400 degrees for one hour or until set.  Enjoy!

  1. Janice K. says:

    Here’s an idea that I caught on a cooking show a few days back! Slice summer squash and/or zuc in thin slices and toss in a bag with flour. Brown on each side in oil. Cook some pasta reserving some of the cooking water. Toss together pasta, romano (or similar cheese), grated garlic, fried squash, some cooking water, season to tast. Yummo…Thanks for the veggie packet idea!
    By the way, my garden eater is a small baby rabbit that lives adjacent to my beans. One row gone down to the stems but I retaliated by starting some seeds in a raised bed, complete with plastic screening material..I just love my rabbits…

    Janice, that recipe sounds delish!  Thanks for sharing!  Good luck with your raised bed.  Yesterday I had a small bird in my garden, as well.  She slipped through the fencing.  I was able to free her unharmed.  Thanks for reading! -Nicole

  2. Joan says:

    Thanks for the wonderful visit – love the bumper sticker – will use it as a fun thing at our upcoming Garden Club brunch – it really speaks to most in our area this year – we had late freeze and then hail. Today it is only 55,foggy,cloudy,breezy and unless this all goes away – to ripening today. Still oh how beautiful the flower gardens look swaying in the breeze,with droplets of fog dripping from them – something different – something beautiful.

    Joan, wow, 55 degrees!  Today we are at 80 but have gotten so much rain this week.  Then down in Texas is a drought!  What a strange summer it is!  I was at the Organic Farmers Market here in town yesterday.  They said they are all having late ripening veggies too – made me feel somewhat better!  Enjoy your Garden Club brunch – sounds fun!  -Nicole

  3. Patricia says:

    I’m really getting the "hang" of this! Let me say that your site inspires me, I get done reading & get off my "duff" and get busy doing SOMETHING. I appreciate you, please keep up the excellent posts…

    Wow!  Patricia, thank you so very much!  It means a lot to me!  -Nicole

  4. Susan says:

    Thanks for all the ideas. I guess it just takes something simple and you can relax, eat and be happy. By the way,, I can’t wait to try that casserole.

    Farmgirl Sister #2555

    Let me know what you think when you make it!  I just picked up some more squash myself….-Nicole

  5. Ali says:

    Great post, Nicole. I can’t wait to have my own backyard someday so I can have a veggie garden and flowers. Thanks for the recipe, too – looking forward to trying it, as well as Janice’s recipe!

  6. Jeannie says:

    Strange gardening season all across the country it seems. We are just now getting ripe tomatos which is a bit late for our Soutwest Colorado climate. My pests in the garden have been squash bugs. Bad as I hate to I grab those buggers and squash em. My gourds are absoultely beautiful?? Go figure.
    Will try your recipe too. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Laurie Dimino says:

    Nicole- As always your blog is a pleasure to read…I look forward to reading it just as much as I look forward to receiving my latest issue of MJF! Thank you for sharing a glimpse into your "suburban" farmgirl life. Living in suburbia across the sound on Long Island I can totally relate to your stories. Enjoy the rest of your summer my friend!
    Farmgirl Sister#1403

    Thank you, Laurie, enjoy your summer, too!  -Nicole

  8. Sarah says:

    Nicole –

    Love your posts! It’s so great knowing that I’m not the only one with an abundance of green tomatoes :/ But I’m learning so much in this, my first, year of gardening. I have used your recipe for treating powdery mildew on my plants, and it saved our summer squash (yay!) but I think we may have gotten to the pumpkin and spaghetti squash too late (boo!).

    Great to see your little porch-sanctuary 🙂 I have a back porch area that helps wash all my gardening woes away (or at least relax while I plan my attack for next year…like planting my first cut-flower garden:)

    Thanks again – Blessings to you and your garden!

  9. China says:

    Great stuff, you helped me out so much!

  10. Rose Plated says:

    Congratulations on the little corner of heaven that you have there! I really enjoyed your post!

  11. Suryanah says:

    Have you tried tomato leaf tea? Soak tomato leaves in water over night, drain out leaves, use as spray on garden. It is good for most soft bodied bugs like afids. Diatrimatious Earth, made of powdered sea creature skeletons, found in the pool section. Lightly puff on vegetable garden for most exoskeleton bugs, like ants, fire-ants, and crickets. Gets in their joints and dehydrates them to death. Must reapply after rain. Completely harmless for humans and pets to touch, although avoid inhaling the dust. I did notice the application on the plants needs to be a dust, if you apply to heavily, it seemed to dehydrate the plants.Great Blog. Thanks.

    Hi Barry,
    I have only recently heard of the tomato leaf tea, but have not tried it, and have never heard of the other method.  Thanks so much for the recommendation – I will keep it for next year and try.  Always good to get new suggestions.  Thanks for reading and commenting.  -Nicole

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