Saturday, November 10, 2012

Strawberries, garlics, and walking onions

 Couldn't ask for better weather!

 We're about to take off to put in a strawberry patch in at one of the other gardens we work. The area has already been prepped. Lots of compost turned in to fluff up the soil and add nutrients, stones that have surfaced have been removed.. all set and ready to go!

 We're relocating some everbearing strawberries. Dug up so that we could retain as much of the root system as possible.. even keeping the runners attached. Keeping a rootball on it makes it easier for me to transplant. Strawberries do best when planted at the proper depth. They also just love a surge in nutrients that well made compost provides, which results in larger more robust plants producing larger more robust berries.

 Also going in is garlic and some perennial onion sets. I was hoping to get several heads of some locally grown hardneck strains, but I didn't get there in time and it was sold out. So softnecks and the few hardnecks I have from the farmer's market are going in. No doubt I'll wish we planted more! (Isn't that always the case every year?)

 The bed that is getting garlic is also heavily amended with compost but will get a little extra by way of bone meal. Cold temperatures triggers garlic to break dormancy. The first thing it does is start laying down the root structure. In areas with really wet, really cold winters.. heaving is an issue. Waterlogged soil that freezes hard can break the roots and basically eject the garlic. Putting in a lot of well aged compost helps provide drainage but some areas may need to go a step further and mulch. We're not mulching. We're about as rebellious as Captain Kangaroo. Oh yeah. Gardening on the wild side.

 What I am also excited about (and it's making me wish spring was already here!!) is that I get to do some guerilla grafting. The apples we gleaned this fall we kept track of to figure out what we liked about them, early/mid/late production, size, storage qualities, uses. The owners of several exceptional apple trees have said I can collect some scions (cuttings) this coming spring so I can do some grafting. I'll be spreading it out quite a bit (with luck).. by grafting them on to some wild apple and crabapple trees.

 Well, time is flying by and days are so short. Good luck to you all!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Murphy's law and the tasty cableboy

 Not long after the last post.. Murphy's law activated.

 The sewer line is old terra cotta pipe that tree roots have been invading. A problem we have been having to deal with repeatedly. Add to that water weeping in after a decent rain. YAY!  So the house settled just enough that the sewer line was utterly kaput in several locations.

 Hundreds of pounds of produce in my house..... and no plumbing!!!!!!

 Our neighbors came to the rescue and for the next 2 weeks they opened their homes to us.

 Luck is that during this time our one elderly neighbor threw out his back and my husband found him not long after he was incapacitated. My husband carried our neighbor down the stairs and all the way to the car... then off to the doctor. I cooked for him and as well other neighbors would check in to make sure he was ok. A week of rest, several more trips to the doctor, and some industrial strength pain meds he was good to go.

 The concrete guys who came to redo the line were wonderful. I sent them off with tomatoes, eggs, melons, peppers, squash, apples, and an assortment of my jars. It was better to give away what I could than let it spoil. They accidently hit the water main and flooded the yard.. which created a massive mudslide that covered the neighbor's driveway as he is downhill from us. Then nailed the cable line which was barely 2 inches underground when they refilled the 8 foot deep trench. They kept the work site clean, even cleaning up the sidewalk and our neighbor's driveway. They also neatly piled the old copper pipes and solid lead pipe in the basement. This was particularly lovely of them. Often if you don't specify you want that metal.. it has a way of magically disappearing from a site. 

 The cable life  line snapped and I rather enjoyed it. I ended up meeting yet another neighbor (Julie) while I was raking leaves. She's also into gardening (flowers).. but is working 3 jobs so she can't get to it like she wants. Even better.. she is as well a seed thief.. with connections! She needed a hand moving, so I helped her. She's just outside of town at a place that she can garden as much as she wants. The hitch.. cattle. There is no fence keeping the bovine away from the house. The house is in a pasture. Come this spring.. we'll be helping her put in some fencing. Until then, we get to hear tales about the cow that was on the patio.. and calling in late to work as 3 young bulls were between her and getting to her car. Clanging pots & pans no longer scary enough to convince them to move.

 The cable line was finally replaced... yesterday. They've dinked around in my house trying everything, except fixing the obvious cable wires sticking out from the middle of the lawn like a pulled thread. (The cute cable guy is in his early 20's.. and many years ago when I was single.. I'd be inviting a few girl friends over and breaking the cable darn near daily. Although back in those days.. it was a fireman in his boxers.. but that is another tale.) The dog loves Cableboy. As he busily swaps equipment and types on his laptop.. our dog stares adoringly and randomly licks. The first time.. the guy was wedged behind the entertainment center as he was stretching to get at the cords. The dog licked his arm..the flailing was just 1 indicator that he was caught off guard. I don't know what it is about this kid.. but my dog finds him tasty.

 Things are finally in working order.

 Some of the construction guys are friends with Buddy across the street. They were wondering if I have a farmstand and hoping to get more jarred goods. Next year... hopefully.

 Next year is going to be insanely busy. Right now is still super busy. I'm actually looking forward to when things slow down... Just not yet. Not until I finish planting more garlic, moving these strawberry plants and dividing the hostas.     

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Apples & Organization

 New shelves of the first section are up and getting filled.

 I have 2 binders that I am using to try and keep my recipes organized. The lids are labeled with batch numbers, content, and date. I'm doing this because I have a lot of different variations and I'm trying to hone it down to the ones we like best.

 The binders will let me rearrange the recipes later so that I can have them divided up by the primary ingredient. One I will keep in the kitchen, and the other will stay by the jars. The one downstairs has additional pages so I can keep track of how much I have made, so I know how much I have used.

 Having an idea of what we consume will help me gauge my garden plantings. I'll know what types we like best and how much I need to plant. It will also help me with some things like jam combinations. I know that next year I need to have at least 4 pounds of raspberries and black raspberries frozen to make my daughter's favorite jam combo later. 

 All of these butternut squash, came off of 2 hills that combined had a total of 5 plants. We'll be eating it at least once a week for a year. By "we" I mean my family and my birds. The lowest level is a bench that spans the wall which is roughly 18 feet and it's almost completely full.

 I finally cried "Uncle" and said we have enough apples. We're using king size pillow cases for them. Each holds over 50 pounds of apples. Just as I tackle 1 bag, my husband would wander home with more. That void in the shelf of quarts will be filled just as soon as the latest jars of applesauce have cooled. I will finally be under 400 pounds of apples today. We've been snacking on apples constantly.. the birds get some every day.. even the dog gets a cored apple. (One of the apples is everyone's favorite.. it's yellow with a red blush at the stem end. Crisp wonderful texture and tastes like a really sweet pear! An old lost tree that no one knows what kind it is. I HAVE to get scions!!)

 This is my apple crumb cake..

  To those that let us glean apples from their trees, I made them one of these, fresh warm rolls, a pint of applebutter, and also some quarts of applesauce as a thank you. They've all offered up an open invite so we can pick next year too. The assortment is nice because I have different kinds that can be used different ways.

 None of these trees are sprayed, pruned, or bothered with in any way. The spring flowers are nice, but the apples are seen more of as a nuisance that have to pick up each fall before they mow the lawn. It makes me smile when they say "Oh wow! You made this from my apples?" 

 I did... now appreciate that damn tree ya lucky bastard!  
 We have more apple trees planted, but they need a few years yet to produce. The old orchard at the big farm seems to be nailed by a blight. It's hard to tell as it has been swallowed up by the encroaching forest and now is almost impossible to get to on foot. All the more reason to plant more.. and more varieties!

 Maybe I should gather a few more just in case..  


Friday, September 28, 2012

When frost leaves you in a pickle..

  If frost is forecasted and you're stuck having to put the garden to bed earlier than expected, it's time to buckle down an maximize your harvest.

 If I have a few days warning, I start pulling tomatoes that have a decent blush on them to finish ripening on the counter. When tomatoes have a blush of color, it is called the breaker stage. Many of the "vine ripe" tomatoes at the store are actually harvested at this stage. Picking these gives the plants a chance to reroute their energy towards the younger fruit and the breaker tomatoes will still taste fine.

 I pick all of the really immature winter squash. When they are very small they can be used like a summer squash. They are very delicate at this stage, so a fast wash and into the fridge. I use these up in the next few days. Care must be taken that they don't get dinged up as they are so fragile, and damage will make them spoil more quickly. 

 I also pick all of the squash flowers over the next few days. I have 2 containers that I keep in the fridge. One that is a filling for stuffed squash blossoms and another that is the batter that I dip them into. This way I can quickly wash the blossoms, stuff and fry them. Then off to the freezer they go on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Once frozen, I transfer them into a freezer container. They'll keep for 6 months.

 Very immature melons are also picked. These fuzzy darlings I pickle. I've pickled quite a few of them this year already as the deer liked to play in the melon patch and obliterated many vines. When they are really young you don't need to peel them or do anything like that as the skins are tender. I make refrigerator pickles with them. The immature melons are very bland and not sweet, so they pick up the flavor of the pickling liquid very well. 

 If left to their own devices, my husband and daughter would eat pickles constantly. This year, they did. The entire middle shelf in my fridge is just pickles and I am constantly reloading the jars. Assorted veggies can be tossed into this like carrots cut into sticks, onions, radishes, peppers (needs at least 2 small slits so the liquid penetrates them), sugar snap peas (ends cut off.. also so liquid goes through), purslane stems, tiny green beans, kohlrabi.. pretty much anything.

 More than a few zucchini were the size of my arm this year. These huge ones I process rather fast as the longer they sit, the tougher the seeds inside become. If the seeds are tender, I make zucchini parmesan and freeze them. Thick round are sliced, put into seasoned flour, then dipped into egg, and coated in seasoned breadcrumbs. A quick fry in a little olive oil to make them golden, on to a rack to cool, then on to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in a single row and into the freezer. Once frozen, they get put into freezer containers. I do the same with eggplant. It's a fast dinner later. Just pull out how many you need, lay them in a dish, top with tomato sauce, parmesan, and mozzarella, then bake.

 Itty bitty green tomatoes are yet another thing I will pick. There's no hope for them to get of size, but they do have their uses! I've swapped these out in recipes that call for green tomatillos. I just made a green tomato relish (which is like a rather tasty sour salsa), the recipe I got from Farmgirl FareI left it chunky. (The flash is making it look rather pale too. This works out well for us as in my sauce making frenzy, I didn't jar up enough salsa. The recipe is super mild for our taste, so the next batches I will be using more jalapenos.)

 We have yet to try them, but I also put up 28 quarts of 4 different pickled green tomatoes. The recipes for them are from Garden Betty.

 For now fridge pickles remain the favorite. They are this simple to make.. (per quart)

  1.  load up a clean jar with spices and an assortment of veggies to your liking (skip leafy greens. Cut slits in any small whole veggies -like peppers, beans, snap peas,etc. Cut the veggies so they are easy to handle, but also so the pickling liquid can permeate it well.)
  2. in a saucepot heat up to boiling 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  3. pour pickling liquid over veggies and close up the jar. Once cooled, store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. (VERY helpful to write the date on them!)

  The favorite here is garlic dill. I just pop in 6 whole black pepper corns, 4 cloves of peeled halved garlic and dill seeds or fronds. My husband likes them a little spicy, so I add 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes to his. To go the sweet route.. you can add sugar to the saucepot.

 Ideally you want to use whole spices, or slightly crushed ones. If you use powdered ones it looks like sediment (see pickled 1/2 tomatoes above. I ran out of garlic heads!)

 DV doesn't much care for pickles, so his 1/2 gallon jar lasts him several months. We got as far as 4 weeks before they found the jar I hid in the back. 

 If you like it more sour.. use more vinegar. Roughly each quart jar you are looking to add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of spices. What kind is up to what you like. I suggest experimenting with different ones in jelly jars. Just make sure you tape the recipe to each jar (otherwise.. you'll have my mess!) 

 Best of luck to you all. I'm headed back to the kitchen!  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hunting Black Walnuts, Wild Apples, and Barbie's approval

  In the forests, the trees have a thick layer of duff. Duff is decaying plant matter. Essentially the forest self mulches every fall. Despite the drought, it offered a bounty for the wildlife and for those that know where to look. The forests just happen to be really close to good disc golfing areas.

 My husband and Buddy (my husband's clone across the street) have used "going out to get a look" as an excuse often. Amazing how their sight is dependent on how much disc golfing gear they bring with them. We "disc golf widows" tolerate it so long as they bring something back. 

 Buddy's interest in foraging has increased in direct relation to his carb crazed 4 year old daughter's (aka Pip) love of playing Barbies. 

 One of the boys' finds is a crisp, sweet and tart wild crabapple/ apple with pink flesh.
   It is a smaller apple that cooks down to make a wonderful applesauce that needs no sweetening. As it is small, and a shade of pink her Barbie approves, Pip will eat it. 

 Yeah, you heard me. Barbie approved. Thankfully, Pip's Barbie is easily duped.
 Some crazy lady may have told this youngster that fairies come out at night and look through the garden for flowers and leaves. (Barbie Fairytopia = fairies are cool. If You've not experience Fairytopia, consider yourself blessed.) Fairies are in Pip's garden. Flowers that they like get turned into dresses, put in their hair, and used in their houses. That when she finds a flower or a leaf she likes, she takes it and gives the plant a little magic so it can grow more. The magic can even be tasted as it makes things a little sweeter.

 That one tale has spinned off into a lot more. She also thinks the wild fruit is coming from the fairy forest.The little pink fleshed apple is proof of fairy magic as no apple she's ever seen before was pink inside.

 It gets worse. The kid is going to hate me when she grows up and figures it out. For now she thinks she has magic apples because the fairies are proud she's potty trained and didn't have any accidents at nursery school. 

 Bad Anne. Bad. (Although is it really any worse than Santa or the Easter bunny? At least my fairies pimp produce.)

 Meanwhile.. black walnuts are dropping. I had gotten some from DV's stash and added them to zucchini bread and apple crisp. My husband loves them. So he's gathering them everyday on his way home from work. He stops off at the big farm and gets what he can.

 Hulling them is difficult when they are green. Some run over them with their cars. If you find ones that have dark spots where the husk is soft.. get ready for maggots. There is a fly that lays it's eggs on the husk. The maggots eat the husk, but do not get past the shell of the nut. Totally disgusting if you have to hull a bunch that has this pest.

 Gloves, dark towels, and crappy dark clothes are needed when dealing with these suckers. They stain the bejeebus out of whatever they touch. Good thick rubber gloves required! Go for those flimsy latex ones and you'll find out it takes weeks for it to all come off your hands. Even scrubbing your hands like crazy.. wiping them dry is a death sentence for any light colored towels you have. My husband has managed to ruin every single one of my light colored towels. (No surprise they used it as hair dye long ago!)

 Once hulled, we toss them into a big plastic bucket with water and use a drill with a paddle attachment to finish cleaning them up. You want to get as much of the fleshy bits off as you can.

 We toss ours into a milk crate and the next day they are out in the sun to dry. The drying process is otherwise known as "how to make squirrels really fricken happy." They will steal you blind if you don't keep an eye on the walnuts. Ours are set out for just one day and then placed into onion bags. We hang the bags so they can continue to cure for a few weeks.

 If you're lucky to have black walnuts around and want to give them a try, this is a good link for more information.

  We'll get some sleep at some point. Hopefully. Until then, the sound of power tools can be heard eminating from our basement at 2am.         

Monday, September 24, 2012

Harvesting- a ton of fun

  The garden this year was a ton of fun. Hard work made even more challenging with the drought, but we still managed to grow a lot. We also managed to forage a lot of wonderful things. We managed to harvest over 2,000 pounds.

 With a forecast of frost (which they then said would be a freeze), we scrambled on Friday and Saturday to pick as much as we could of the warm season crops. Every bowl, bin, bucket, bag, tote, and pot was filled. In desperation, folded laundry was dumped to use those baskets and total panic... a dozen pillowcases repurposed. (Lemme tell ya... I was really irked when it didn't really frost!! It was more of a glancing blow. Just enough to barely tinge a few super sensitive plants, but not enough to stop them.) 

 All surface areas are claimed save a 2 foot section in the kitchen where I prepare meals and do my canning.

 Even the couch was not safe from the overflow. I'm amazed we got any zucchini and squash as the squash vine borers blew out the stems of everything except the butternuts. Squash bugs, and cucumber beetles in particular, were covering all the plants.

 We still got some squash, melons, and cucumbers. Enough to share with neighbors, make pickles, and feed my almost featherless diva poultry (bad roosters!)

 Due to the drought, we had to drag water in 5 gallon buckets to irrigate the plants every other day. The water source is a spring fed pond, so we had to perch on a stone to fill the buckets and then haul them all the way to the garden. I'd grab handfuls of Japanese beetles on the return trip to the pond to feed the fish. Feeding the fish was the fun part.

  The water from the pond is like a mild fertilizer due to the nitrates from the fish. With a late start, it meant many of the plants went into happy fun over obnoxious primarily foliar growth. Yellow pear tomatoes get overwhelming when exposed to this. They grew up and over the tomato cages, back down to the ground (where they set more roots), and did their best Kudzu impersonation. Rows vanished. The deer snacked away and barely made a dent. The chickens got 3 pounds everyday.. and I set out bowls for the chipmunks on the patio. One day, DV picked from just 1 yellow pear plant and had enough to make 8 quarts of venison chili. 

 He's now requested a limit on the yellow pears for next year's planting. lol I'll do a few less, but I like making sauce out of them.

 Today I'm trying to reclaim surface space. Tomatoes are roasting to make sauce, the second batch of applebutter is cooking away, some chili peppers are in the dehydrator, and I'm waiting to hear the pings of the just pickled green tomatoes.

Part of an average day's harvest once the gardens got going.

Just out of the waterbath canner. Spicy garlic & dill pickled green tomatoes.

  We yanked these pepper plants and hung them in the basement (ran out of time picking.) It'll buy me a little more time to process the other ripe veggies that can't wait. The same can be done to tomatoes and the fruit will get a little more time to ripen on the vine.

 Suggestions of good canning recipes would be very appreciated. Especially for hot peppers (of which I have 100 pounds), green tomatoes, and apples!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

A gadget to get

This is something I'd like to get..  the homestove version, but so far I only see the camp stove available. Thought Pioneer Preppy would be interested in it too..

It is a BioLite (camp/home) stove. Small, light, portable..    Frankly I'd love the homestove version as canning in this weather.. or just cooking anything is horrible with this heat and no AC.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Amquel kool-aid

  You know what they say when you assume..

 More than a few times I encounter situations, posts, concepts where the misguided thought seems to be that products produced for animals and pets are also automatically safe for people.

 It's not.

 They are not tested the same, there is less regard to quality, safety, allergic reaction, etc. An example is dog food, where cancerous and diseased meat not fit for human consumption is deemed just fine for Rover's dinner.

 If the FDA declares something as "non-toxic" to people and as well says it is "not under their jurisdiction" when it comes to that compound's use on animals meant for consumption, that's not a declaration of support. That's saying a bit won't kill you, but no info on additional effects when misused.

 The less subtle translation: Put down the farking water conditioner meant for use on fish.

 It seems ridiculous to be all worried about chlorine and chloramine in your water.. and then add drops of Amquel into your soon to be fermenting batch of homemade fizzy fruit soda while touting how healthy it is.

 Boil the water.. surprise, that will also get rid of chloramine. Vitamin C will also do the same trick. Option 3 is use distilled water. Need a multi-tasker just in case you also have to deal with a tear gas assault while you try to control quality of your brew? Grab some Campden tablets. (Why.. with all of those options.. would someone look for a solution in the pet aisle?)

 Products on the market that are sold for use on non-humans are tested differently. Species react differently to the same substance. So while 1 product may not cause issues for Fido, it may be toxic to fish, amphibians, birds. Many companies may hide their formulas under proprietary laws. So while some ingredients are listed, rarely are all ingredients declared. Artistic licence in animal goods goes as far as announcing that cancerous mass derived from Bessie to be listed as a beef product.

 If a product is not marketed for human use, and one uses/ consumes it with ill effects, the company producing this item is not liable. The FDA does not have your back as it is "out of their jurisdiction."  The FDA can't keep up with lofty goals of inspecting major processing plants ONCE every FIVE years just for food intended for human consumption.

 Roughly 2 months ago.. representatives for the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers recently spoke at a local meeting on water quality... and they declared the Atrazine in the underground water to be at safe levels. Less than 1/2 of "safe" dosages of Atrazine have been known to cause birth defects and act as endocrine disruptors. Yay. Although this kool-aid is within "safe" Atrazine range, please limit yourself to 1 as higher doses are linked to prostate and breast cancer. By the way.. if you live in a location where they send you annual water quality reports..... Atrazine, among several other contaminants, is something they don't even check to see if it is present. Our water, deemed "safe" for for drinking.. yet Europe's standards forced Atrazine to be banned from use and considered the water as contaminated several years ago.

 Still think the regulations are the same? Only a week ago Maryland became the first state to ban arsenic in chicken feed. It is marketed as 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) and one of the first FDA approved arsenic based animal feeds (aka.. medicated feed. The arsenic is to help prevent coccidiosis, improve weight gain, feed efficiency, etc. Except this is the INorganic arsenic.. which IS the carcinogenic and more toxic form of arsenic.)


"How does FDA regulate carcinogenic compounds used in food-producing animals?

Under the Delaney Clause for new animal drugs of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, FDA cannot approve any compound for use in food-producing animals where the drug or its metabolites has been found to induce cancer. There is an exception, commonly referred to as the DES proviso. The DES proviso carves out an exception to the Delaney Clause allowing cancer-causing compounds (or compounds with cancer-causing metabolites) to be used in food-producing animals if 1) the drug does not harm the animal and 2) tests approved by FDA do not detect residues of the drug in any food from the animal. The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act governs the withdrawal of approval of a new animal drug application, after due notice and an opportunity for hearing, where new evidence shows that the Delaney Clause applies."
 Whew! Well thank the lucky stars that the FDA finally completed testing in Dec. 2010 of something they have allowed to be used routinely since 1940, on an animal the average American consumes almost 60 pounds worth annually! The FDA has our back (sarcasm).. which is why they allowed the maker, AlPharma (subsidiary of Pfizer), to volunteer their assistance on hammering out a compromise. A reward for big AlPharma came not only in FDA praise, but as they opted to suspended sales of 3-Nitro all by themselves, the FDA let them continue selling other arsenic based medications meant for animals to be consumed by people. (feel free to wander the FDA site.)

 Blind faith in an under-funded agency that panders to the mega-buck companies might not be the best idea (especially since they somehow find the funding to launch what amounts to repeated swat team style assaults on super small scale operations. I mean really.. I wonder what the price comparison is to set up safety protocol and means of pathogen testing raw milk vs the cost of these over the top raids.)

 I don't think an individual has the time to research and vet out all the sources of health hazards we are now commonly exposed to even if they dedicate their entire life to it, but still, a bit of caution can go a long way.

If Pfizer seems a bit shady to you... it may just be because you know it's agricultural division.. Monsanto.

Caped crusaders

My birds are nekked. I had to sew them some clothes. I'm not kidding. I can honestly say that my hens are equipped with a cloaking device (aka.. chicken saddles/ aprons.)

Too many boys makes for so much trouble and the last straw was when one of the little Ava's (the smallest Barred Rock hen... that's kinda like saying "the slender hippo") had her side completely ripped open by Dave (aka Tank.) With a lot of care, Ava amazingly healed up completely. It was a bad gash and there was not much hope she would survive at first.

We tried finding the boys homes, but had no luck. So, 4 more roosters were sent to freezer camp. It is a horrible thing, but we are not vegetarians. The process from start to finish, went as I wished it would go for the animals that are raised for meat.

Right now, we only have 2 guineas. We had sent 2 guinea cocks to freezer camp last fall. Earl Gray passed a few weeks ago. Frankly not something I can relay at the moment. Keep in mind my Mom is in her mid 70's and it was an accident.

Josette (guinea hen)... she got broody. The first night she was gone it was raining and we tromped through the fields and the woods for hours looking. She showed up in the morning to our relief. Dine and dash, she would eat really fast and disappear. I marked it on the calendar. It took almost 3 weeks of trying to follow them to see where she was hidden.. along a barbedwire fence in the neighbor's field. We set up the brooder for her, ran out and bought a cat carrier, grabbed egg cartons (hot water bottle in a cooler for the move).. and raced to the nest. We found Grace on the nest. Josette was nowhere to be found. The area was untrampled save for the little path the birds had carved to the nest (with the grass being so tall.. it was more of a tunnel.) Grace rejected the new nest that night. 40 eggs lost. They were so close. (The neighbor had adopted several new barn cats. His old one stayed close to home but these new ones wander over.. right up to the house! It is possible one of them may have gotten Josette. It is hard to tell as there was no mess at all.)

Zippy, the Rhode Island Red hen, thought the nest was amazing. She wants to be broody.. but then promptly forgets the moment she hears one of the roosters announce he has found a treat. All gluttony and no glory. She moves the eggs constantly. The clutch migrates around the brooder like little nomads. We just removed most of the guinea eggs a few days ago. Most.. as some seem to have rolled off into the sunset.

With the brooder open the girls have ditched the nestboxes completely. 5 of them at a time will occupy the brooder and have a laying party. I suppose this could be a good thing should any of them want to give Mommy-hood a go. Collecting the eggs is a little more difficult, but they are really enjoying the brooder.

To some this endeavor may seem silly, but even my birds' worst day is better than a typical broiler's best day. (Except maybe for Roy.. who still keeps trying to shag Keet. Keet liberated Roy of his tail as a result.)

So as I make my way out to the coop on sunny mornings.. and slather bullfrog sunblock on my rooster's butt so it doesn't get sunburned.. I am in awe at just how ridiculous life got while trying to regain control of what we eat.
Do the guineas help with ticks? Well, so far I have had only 1 tick this year. While mine are constantly bickering with the chickens, another farm (mainly raising grass fed beef) closer to our house in town has dozens of them that live peacefully with chickens, ducks, and turkey. It is mostly just Roy causing instigating trouble. (Hoping he figures this out at some point. More hens would keep him busy enough to leave the guineas alone.)

There is always feed available to them, which they nibble on, but all of the birds prefer to forage. Plain yogurt is one of their favorite treats. It is the one treat at the moment that the guineas go nuts about. We get little bowls.. my husband holds 2 and my daughter holds 2. I dispense the yogurt as the birds start literally jump at the bowls and loudly make their demand that we hurry. Stop.. drop.. and run. Delay for just a second and you'll be covered in yogurt. Hold the bowls too long... Izzy will hop on to your arm to help herself while unabashedly using you as a napkin to wipe off her beak.

I like their quirks. I like that my daughter has goofy childhood memories because of it. (While running away from a wasp.. the birds thought she had to have hit the big bug score. I looked up from my weeding and smiled.. at my daughter running around like a lunatic waving her arms and yelling.. a dozen birds chasing her in curiosity.)

Rain has thwarted by plans of planting today. So I'm digging around for light colored fabric to sew summer frocks for my hens. I really will be happy when they molt and get their feathers back.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm not Martha

Sorry for the silence! With a loud *POP* my computer declared it's decision to move on to the land of giant paperweights.

We've kept busy and there never seems to be enough time, but there always seems to be just 1 more thing to add to the list. I'm STILL potting up tomatoes for transplanting. Clearly there is such a thing as "too many", but not a concept I was embracing a few months ago as I was starting seeds in March. I have a lovely large addition of mystery tomatoes & peppers this year as our crazed canine tested the aerodynamics of tomato seeds. I was attempting to channel Martha Stewart's organizational prowess while watching TV. Last year's crazy weather weighing heavily on my mind, it seemed only logical to plant just a few extra of each.. just in case. I set out a cookie sheet with little ramikins that held the labels for the pots and the seeds ready to be dispensed. I remember looking at the tray and thinking "Finally! A use for these ramikins!" So orderly, so neat, so precise and measured! My folly to be realized minutes later..

Martha does not watch tv while planting.
Martha would never consider the coffee table in the living room a good stand-in for a potting shed.
Martha... is not a moron.

Our dog has been getting a lot of eggs in his diet, the result is this old man is acting like he's 2 years old again. (The membrane in eggs is a source of glucosamine, which seems to have helped his hips A LOT.) Across the street lives the most recent object of his adoration, a 3 year old girl ( I'll call her Pip) who loves to throw things. She calls for him, he lets out a loud AAAAAARRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOO, and then madly bounces around to be let out. The glorious tray didn't stand a chance.

2 hours of tweezing seeds out of the carpet, my daughter casually commented "Too bad they aren't different colors so you could tell the difference." *Blink Dye the seeds!!!!!! That's brilliant!! It would be only 1 additional step when I process seeds! After fermenting and rinsing the seeds, a quick dip in food coloring before setting out to dry would put a potential end to my disorganizational gardening Anne-tics! 2013 already is looking even better!

We've planted some tomatoes and peppers, but not enough to make decent dent in my transplant stock. 36 eggplants that looked absolutely amazing this year. Seriously, the best I have ever grown, so robust and beautiful! They are currently lacy skeletons of what could have been. Flea beetles suck. Without floating row covers, this is one crop I have to give up. I gave half of them away and everyone is having the same troubles. Coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth, hot pepper wax, mild soapy spray.. nothing has stopped them or even slowed them down. I may just use eggplant as a trap crop.

Currently what is flowering and setting seed is parsley, kohlrabi, and turnips. Winter was very mild. These are biennial crops, so they flower and go to seed the second year. We didn't dig them up, but over-wintered them by mulching them heavily with shredded leaves. The trick is you have to get the leaves off as soon as possible in the spring and hope moles aren't an issue.

Pip's dad (I'll call him Buddy) and DV (small farm neighbor with the underground house) have doubled their garden size this year! Fantastic timing as we happily have been helping to fill them, the crop swapping continues! It was a bad year for morels, but we got a pound from DV. Our hens have been laying a lot more than we can ever consume. So far they are supplying not just us but DV and 4 other families. We've also been sharing bags of our lettuce, scallions, spinach, snow peas, and herbs (chives, oregano, basil, parsley.) We'll be picking shelling peas this week. Pip, much to her parents' joy, discovered that while she hates cooked peas, she loves them raw. Mulberries are almost ready!

Strawberries are doing great.... as chicken treats. We expanded the patch last fall into an area we amended well with compost made from weeds and coop contributions (the plants are huge and lush.. obviously appreciating the new area.) 4 of the girls will go into the garden with us.. braving my Mom's 2 wack-a-doodle dogs' terrifying excitement through the fence. They make working in the garden challenging. Bug crazy grub gluttons.. grabbing the tools creates an instant parade as they follow us. We spent loooooong days turning the soil by hand mixing in compost and pulling weeds. The girls constantly inspecting disturbed soil for treats. Planting the transplants took ages. Dig a hole and 4 hens are trying to get into it, dirt starts flying. Often they can refill the hole faster than you can dig it with a trowel. I put down newspaper weighed down with clumps of clay as a weed barrier. My husband.. bless that man... wanted to make it look nicer and put down mulch. I have no doubt it looked lovely, just he used straw and essentially created a chicken Disneyland. The big "ta-da" reveal looked less like garden paradise and a lot more like the crater pocked moon. That's when the strawberries, or rather the enjoyment of eating strawberries, was discovered by the girls. It is impossible to get mad about it.. even when they are doing their Godzilla impression while stomping through the snow peas. The transplants (so far) are unharmed, just the garden bears a similar post-apocalyptic flare as my daughter's room.

I'm a lot less stressed about the gardens this year. We've tabled the farmer's market idea for now which lets me focus more on building the soil. Some locals are in the process of trying to get a co-op going!

Many around here have gardens and it is for a reason.. Even though this is an agricultural driven location, we have quite possibly the worst quality produce ever offered in the grocery stores. The farmer's market and your own garden is really the only good sources of produce around. Out of need, pride, stubbornness we grew or traded for most of what we ate last summer and fall. My husband found work, so now we can continue because we WANT to and that change in perspective is a relief. This year is shaping up so far to be quite a bit more productive than last. Friends help lighten the load. DV declared he needs to can "more tomatoes than you can shake a stick at".. I'll be there to help! (Especially as I'm planting cukes, beans, squashes, 4 dozen tomatoes and 2 dozen peppers at his place tomorrow for the first of a couple planting sessions!)

Back to work. I need to get these plants separated and out of my light unit. I'm hoping I have enough planted to make regular contributions to the local food pantry this year. I hope everyone else has a good bounty as well!