Monday, July 31, 2017

Garden tour part 1

I'm going to have to make the garden tour a two part thing because there is just so dang much going on.  And, ironically, not a ton being harvested.  Well, here goes:

Remember that my garden is divided into three parts?  Here's an OK picture of how it's laid out.  That picture was taken in the spring when everything was newly planted and the world was fresh and mulched and weed-free.

The third on the far right is the "spring" side, the center is a poultry run and the left side gets planted later.  Today we're going to visit the spring side.

How it looks today. Let's take a tour.

Stepping over the fence and into the garden you arrive at the potatoes.  Red Nolan and Yukon Gold.  They died back a few weeks ago and are ready to be harvested but I like to leave them in the ground for as long as possible.  I've been taking some here and there to fry with eggs for breakfast but that's about it.

On the other side of the bottle fence is a big volunteer winter squash.  This is where the lettuces were planted earlier.  Some kale peeking out and to the right is the asparagus bed. To the left of the asparagus is rhubarb.  The squash is starting to fruit and they look like this:

That sure looks like either a carving pumpkin or a sugar pie pumpkin.  I vaguely remember that we had some carving pumpkins last fall and I may have thrown the leftovers at the ducks  to the ducks at some point. So?

Past the mystery squash patch.  The green in the mid-ground is red onions that are ready to be harvested and dried.  The patch of straw past that is more potatoes.

Here they are.  Directly behind them are Brussel Sprouts.  Behind the Sprouts are two zucchini plants along with these:

Spaghetti squash.

I actually don't remember what this is.  Australian Butter?

Coming back up the left hand side are more Brussel Sprouts, more winter squash (no clue, a lot of volunteers), some cannas, some zinnias.

The Swiss chard hardly made any growth this season.  I did have fava beans, spinach and cooking greens over here too, earlier in the season.  Basil, cilantro and a mix of bush beans.  The brown stalks are garlic ready to be harvested. 

Bonus: poultry pasture in the middle of the garden.  This was re-seeded after the geese and ducks were moved but has not really made much progress. Some buckwheat is coming up, cannas and winter squash. Towards the back left I planted the top of a pineapple to see ehat would happen.  I think it's dead. I'm thinking of tilling this whole area, planting winter wheat and moving the geese back closer to the house for winter. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we see the left hand side of the garden and the back poultry run. Oh, the suspense!

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to my little man who turned two this weekend. Two. I can't believe it. Officially no longer my little baby. "Two" is an age that comes with responsibilities ("Please go turn on the air conditioner" and "Where are mama's glasses? Can you find them?" ) and unreasonable demands (Do NOT eat that after the cat has licked it!"). I was super excited for the day to start and so sad when it was over.  Being that he was all jacked up on homemade lemonade and cake, he didn't fall asleep until 11 that night.

The cake. It's a box mix that I fancied up (milk instead of water, butter instead of oil). Split into two layers, there was vanilla pudding, bananas and strawberries in the middle. Wrote his name on it after I took the picture. The little guy had five small pieces by the time the day was over. Five.

Let all of the balloons loose in the living room to greet him in the morning.

Bought a bunch of small toys for the yard and all the kids wanted to do was dig in the garden. Seriously. It was sweet.

Birthday tepee.

His favorite gifts seem to include a Peppa Pig dollhouse and baths toys, a drum kit and a dinosaur that lights up and makes a noise like Godzilla when you press a button.

We are so very lucky and grateful. These have been the best two years of my life.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A couple of neat insects

Since I'm currently avoiding cleaning for the little guy's party I thought to post a couple of pictures.

Remember the big Imperial moth I saw at the feed mill? I saw a different one there this week:

It's called a Regal Moth or Royal Walnut Moth.  It totally pooped on me.

The underside.

Wait until you see what the caterpillar for this thing looks like:

Wikipedia photo.  The caterpillar is called a Hickory Horned Devil.  Is it possible to have an insect bucket list?  I would LOVE to see one of these.

The Amish gentleman that was loading my chicken feed said that they get all sorts of interesting and unusual moths on the walls outside of the building and a lot of people take pictures of them. The mill is in the middle of farm land and usually smells delicious so this makes total sense. Like fresh grain and molasses. 

This is the other interesting insect from a place that was not so fresh smelling, in the weeds beside our trash bin.

An American Carrion Beetle.

When I was younger, like 12, my favorite book was an antique field guide to insects and insect behavior.  Wish I still had that book or remembered the title because I was obsessed with it.  

Does anyone collect insects?  Or pull out a field guide when they see something new?  I can see this being something the little guy and I get into when he's older.  We could mount them for a display or take a photo collection of our finds.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Freezer fail

Yesterday I vacuum sealed the duck and two of the chickens that were just butchered, then went downstairs to where we keep the chest freezer. The chest freezer is only used for overflow storage and since we barely eat meat in the summer we hardly open it. I just get in it whenever I have something to add to my winter stores.

I opened the lid. This is exactly what I remember thinking "huh. Something smells? That's odd. A freezer shouldn't... Why are those eggs that color? OHHOLYSHIT" Before slamming the lid shut.

The smell is.... Horrifying. I had it open for no more than three seconds and nearly was sick.  The freezer had been unplugged at some point. I'm thinking one of us unplugged in order to plug in the de-humidifier.  I get so absent minded some times I could see myself doing this.  And if I WAS the one who did it, well, that was like three weeks ago. It's July and we don't have central air.

I can't even wrap my head around how upsetting this is. The freezer was mostly empty but I probably lost a couple gallons of homemade stock,  the 12 dozen eggs stored for winter and 3 or 4 parted up chickens. That's a lot of time and work wasted. And there is no way to re-stock the lost eggs since the ducks all got killed so we are going to be without eggs.

We're not going to starve but it is just so, so sad. 

Then there's the physical mess of it. Hours later, when the stench had finally dissipated, I plugged the freezer back in. If refreezing all of the spoiled products doesn't take care of the smell we are going to rachet strap the freezer shut and call the garbage collection company to get it. 

As far as being self-sufficient goes, sometimes it just really feels like an exercise in getting my ass handed to me. Maybe I should just go shop for meat and vegetables and bread at Wal-Mart like everyone else.  Why not. There's nothing wrong with that and some times I wonder why I even bother. 

Maybe I'll go crazy and pick up some of this while I'm there.  Wal-Mart sent me this flier in the mail today. Pretty sure I CAN believe it's not butter. 

Has this happened to anyone else? I've read that the smell gets into the insulation of the freezer and just never comes out?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Here's to loving another week

It's been a busy week.  Again, tired and wanting to get some stuff in my notes.  Here is some of what happened:

Garden: I know, I was supposed to do a big tour of this but didn't have time and it was too hot to be outside.  Things keep growing and we got some much, much needed rain today, plus it has been high 80's all week.  Damn deer ate the tops off of the pepper plants AGAIN.  I sprayed an organic repellent around the entire perimeter of the garden and around the peppers and beans.  Any other ideas?  Normally at this point we would be eating summer squash (yes), beans (eaten by rabbits) and snow peas (stomped by geese).  Have re-planted the peas and beans.  Here's hoping. What we ARE going to have this year - winter squash - I planted tons and a bunch of random volunteers are growing too.  Can't wait to see what ripens.  Also being harvested: potatoes, blackberries, blueberries, mystery apples.

Eating an apple and checking out the vegetables.

Food Production:  I took birds to be butchered on Wednesday: that drake that had worn out his welcome along with three roosters, two of them were born here this spring - the mom a Red Ranger and the dad a Brahma.  At only 12 weeks old the carcasses were the same size as the rooster born a month earlier - a peep bought from the feed store - it quickly became apparent that they weren't Red Rangers as labeled but probably a production red breed.  Still tastes like chicken though.  Giblets are in the freezer - we love dirty rice and I'd like to try to make an authentic dish.

Took the picture at night so the colors are sketchy.  Sorry.

I am very, very, proud of those two homegrown birds in front. That mix of genes produced a nice (small) bird for the table. and quickly. This might sound odd to some people but I think others will understand perfectly - there is a feeling that I have while I am driving birds to the butcher that can only be described as intense contentment and pleasure.  I used to feel badly on that drive but now it is a quiet time of celebration of a job well done and birds well raised.

So far this year I have put the following in the freezer/table: 12 chickens, 23 quail, 1 duck,  Have also sold exactly $100 in birds.  Hope to double the "meat" numbers by season's end.

Personal life:

Most of the week was spent sorting through belongings and pricing the unwanted stuff because our family had a big garage sale this weekend. I Marie Kondo'd the hell out of the house for it.  Vans worth of junk left this place - no joke.  Absolutely made bank of Friday and could not be happier about it. Saturday morning was cut short when a storm rolled in. I do not feel badly about a single item that was discarded - in fact, felt like it was easier to breathe with each box that left the house.  I think if I do this one more time before summer's end we will all be very happy with our living space.

Let me stand upon my soapbox for a moment.  If you, a grown adult, ever go to a garage sale on a Saturday morning and a 5 year old  child with a lemonade stand gets up the courage to politely ask if you would like some 50 cent lemonade? - and you say "no" -  It is my greatest pleasure to tell you this:  you are an asshole.  You are the kind of person who also walks past the Salvation Army kettle around Christmas and ignores the charity box at McDonald's.  My nephew was turned down by 3/4 of the grown-ups he asked.  I cannot tell you how many cups of lemonade and Kool-Aid I have bought off of little kids over the years.  But I CAN tell you that it is not about the effin' drink and if you actually want it or not.  Maybe it's just about being nice.  Maybe as an adult you shouldn't need me to tell you this.  At least his feelings weren't hurt.  Possibly because I bought the remaining 2 gallons.

While I was cleaning the house out I found these which I received as a baby shower gift and never used.

It packages 4 ounce portions and seems like it should be good from food preservation somehow but the only thing I can come up with is freezing pesto.  Anyone have ideas?


Since we were getting together as a family, I finally thawed out some of  that turtle we trapped last summer and made soup.  My dad wanted a cream-based chowder and this is what I came up with:

Two out of four people surveyed were not blown away by it.  It was very rich and flavorful but also kinda smoky tasting and the texture of the bacon turned some people off.  The problem is that the majority of turtle recipes aren't cream but tomato based.  I need to go back to the drawing board. 

We also painted beautiful pictures today and then had a dance party to this song.  If the idea of a toddler dancing to Parliament Funkadelic doesn't warm your heart, I don't know what to tell you.  I've been blessed to see George Clinton live twice and he's absolutely amazing.  I didn't know this until right now - googling his age - TODAY IS GEORGE CLINTON'S BIRTHDAY!  He's 76 and still touring.  I must have seen him when he was 72 - 74 years old.  Both times he put on a helluva show.  As in, the stage show included dudes in roller skates and sequined chaps and I was a total embarrassment to myself and others .

Also, a tiny little bit of this happened this week. 

Next week's agenda:
  • A certain someone is turning 2 (!) and there is a party to prepare for. 
  • Unrelated to the party (promise): I need to find, shoot and process 3 or 4 ground hogs.  All I can say right now is that this task is related to a certain internet crush I have and all will be revealed in due time.  Also, that I am so damn excited to be a part of this project.
  • Photo tour of the garden?
Well, that's that.  Here's to living and loving another week.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What's this antique apple?

Can anyone tell me what kind of apple we have? Our house was build in the mid-1930's and this tree is part of a planted line of apple trees that also includes Transparents and McIntosh. It is starting to ripen and comes about a month earlier than anything else on the property. My son and I basically had them for dinner tonight while outside.

 Flavor is a bit tart now but will get more "Red Delicious-like" the more ripe they get. The yellow will get a little lighter but keep the pink/red stripes. Any ideas?

We live in a part of PA that Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) actually came through back in the day, isn't that neat? Not saying he had anything to do with my mystery apple but it's fun to dream.

Small, but we don't spray or prune.

More red/pink at the blossom end.

Ate part of this but it shows the colors well.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Big end of week post w pictures

It's been a busy last couple of days.  Time to write down some things that I want to remember.

In the garden:  have given up on weeding and got out the push mower this morning.  Looked much better immediately.  Who cares, as long as it gets done, right?  This is about 1/4 of the "summer" side of the garden.  Have eaten some tiny summer squashes - zucchini and patty pan.

Here's the progress on the garden tepee for the little man.  I've planted it with nasturtiums, morning glory, moon flowers and snow peas. 

I've also started seedlings for swiss chard and lettuces.  Stay tuned next week for a long walk-through post of what's growing.

Food Preservation:  Drying calendula, mint and chamomile.  Freezing blackberries and blueberries.  Canned 1 pt blueberries, 3.5 jelly jars of blueberry syrup for pancakes.

On the housewife/mom front:  Made the little man a cooking apron while he was sleeping.  Used a jumper for a rough "size/shape" pattern.  He's really into "choo-choos" right now.  Oh be still my heat.  It is so damn cute.

Jumper for size.  Finished apron below.

Been reading into the Montessori approach to childhood education, plus the fun Pinterest boards. Here we are learning to use a plastic knife to cut hard boiled eggs.  A knife?  He's not even 2? That's what I thought.  But given the chance to be a little grown up, with with real tools he did an excellent job.  We're working on cutting, transferring things to a bowl and using a masher.

We also re-did his room kinda Montessouri-style to make it really "his" - put his little sofa in there with books beside it, added a tiny rocking chair, put everything at his level including a floor bed. Minimized the toys. We call it his "little apartment" and he LOVES it.  Especially the floor bed -  he can, and DOES go crawl into it now when he is tired instead of having to wait for someone to figure it out and help him into his crib.  Doesn't mean he stays in it all night, but still - this is brilliant.

Started crafting a fabric scrap map, which has been tons of fun.  Requiring both a hot iron and sharp scissors, progress has been slow but the idea is to have a fabric map stretched over a frame to hang in the little guy's room. Happily chipping away at it.

Cooked a really excellent meal, leftovers really, and writing it down at the request of my husband. 

Meal #1. The first zucchini was picked along with a bunch of asparagus, these were sauteed with butter and lemon zest and set aside. The quinoa is from Aldi's. When the grains came off I added lemon juice and grated Parmesan.  The tilapia is just coated with flour and pan fried.

Meal #2 - the good one:  There was a grand total of maybe less than two cups of veg, grain and flaked fish left.  I combined that with a small handful of minced shrimp, more diced asparagus, lemon zest, pepper, Parmesan and an egg. A tiny bit of Old Bay. Worked a couple of spoons of flour in until I could form loose patties. Browned in butter they were crispy on the outside and tender when you bit through them, like a crab cake.  The vegetables gave a bit of crunch.  The sauce is just mayo, sriracha and worcestershire. These were damn good. Like, order it again at the restaurant good.

Poultry:  The quail are in the quail tractor.  
The duck that was attacked earlier in the week died two days later.
The fallout from this:
I've made an appointment to get that drake butchered next week. In addition to not protecting his ladies he has also, since then, STOMPED ON A NEST OF EGGS and injured my very last laying-aged female.  I've absolutely had it with him.  He's going along with a couple of roosters.  That leaves me with only two female ducks and a young drake. Having sold the Swedish two earlier in the spring the irony is not lost on me. BUT I am taking this as a sign to move to an all Pekin flock which will suit us more anyway.
I've been setting up the game camera every night trying to figure out what attacked us.  We are dealing with a minimum of two raccoons and one, possibly two foxes.

Yeah, you.  Asshole.

I still have a hard time believing that we weren't hit by loose dogs or coyotes.  I mean, ducks are kind of dumb but to hit FOUR in one night? I don't know.  You would think that whatever had a fun time/great meal would have come back for more and we would have gotten a picture by now.  Unless it was truly a raccoon/fox, who already hit us for one chicken earlier this summer. 

Called today and placed an order from Murry McMurry for the week of August 20th - including 12 Cornish Cross, 2 Speckled Sussex hens and 3 Wellsummers.  Now that I've lost all of my laying ducks I need to plan ahead for enough eggs for the family come spring.  Really wanted to get some heavier birds - Cochins or Brahmas - but they are sold out of damn near everything for the rest of the season.  Oh well.  At least we'll have eggs and more meat in the freezer. We do have the peeps that just hatched but I'm not willing to rely on them not getting killed too. 

Something good did come out of setting up the game camera:

Our three-legged doe is alive and well. I was worried about her when I didn't see her this spring but here she is.  She looks thin but this is her injured side and she's always looked like that. Maybe she had fawns somewhere else and is just coming around now, I don't know.  But it made me happy she's still with us. Here's a picture of her last fall, and some more game camera snaps.

Little guy just woke up so signing off.  Sorry for any typos.  Next week - garden tour, more canning.