Thursday, May 31, 2018

The start of summer; gardening, predators and other such

Bee takes a break to cool off and have a drink.

It's been wicked hot here the last week, in the middle 80's.  Which I guess is not too terrible but enough to keep us inside through the heat of the day. There's been a lot of playing in the wading pool and eating popsicles on the porch.  Any work I am doing in the garden is during the early and late hours of the day.

Patiently waiting.

Flowers cut from my mother's gardens.  These irises are my favorite and I'd like to transplant some of them over here.

The little man and I made the family famous Bicardi Rum Cake for my father's birthday today.  Little man was super confused about the bat on the Bicardi bottle: "Is bat juice?"  "No, honey, it's not."  I accidentally discovered that if you let the gaze set up a bit in the refrigerator it makes it much, much easier to glaze the cake. 

We finally had a nice, steady downpour today.  The ground really needed it; the soil in the garden was starting to crack.

Kale, fava beans, lettuces, snow peas.  Behind the fence is flowers and winter squash.  That green area is just being mown, not attempting to mulch the whole garden this year.

Poultry yard is filling in nicely.  The baby goslings sent through the mail are huge.  The only way I can tell the difference between the babies and my mature female is by the feathers; they are close to the same size now.  We've had a rash of raccoon attacks this month that I haven't been excited to talk about, it's been pretty horrible. Picture a raccoon dragging a full-grown goose around by the wing horrible, and me running out there pregnant to chase it off while screaming profanities.  I would have killed it with my bare hands if it hadn't run away. We've lost two ducks and had another duck and a goose attacked.  It's not been fun.  We're doing what we can.

Shelled out the money for one of those HUGE Havahart traps that you can fit a miniature goat in.  It was a considerable expense I should have invested in years ago, honestly.  Except that when we got it out of the box it was heavily damaged and had to be returned.  The company I ordered it (Home Depot) from said we can expect another one tomorrow and knocked $20 off the price of the replacement. In this day and age where crappy customer service is the norm, we were really pleased with that.

This is the back of the chicken coop.  My father and husband turned the space under the coop into a safe, predator-proof area for the ducks and geese to sleep.  I had been trying to rig something with an old A-frame coop and it was miserable.  The door has a barrel latch and the whole enclosure is 1/4 inch hardware cloth.  It's dry and shaded under there and tall enough that even the big male has plenty of room to stand.  It was a wonderful gift from people who love me.  Probably they were motivated by the fact that neither one of them wants me messing with possibly rabid raccoons. 

Also pictured; they made me a water barrel!  It hold about 40 gallons and has a handy spout on the other side.  Eventually it will be connected to a gutter and downspout on the coop.  For now, it saves me hauling water out there in buckets twice a day.  These two modifications have made the poultry yard a downright pleasure to be in.

Our beloved Alpine strawberries look horrible.  A google search of these rust spots leads me to several possible fungal culprits.  Which doesn't make sense because sources say that they're triggered by damp and wet - the exact opposite of the hot and dry weather we've been having.  So the berries are not being eaten by us, but picked off and fed to the quail.

Who have moved into their summer vacation home; the quail tractor butted up flush against the old duck coop.  It gives them about 10 times the square footage they are used to and they seem pretty happy with it, although they've spent most of the time hiding out in that old crock.  Quail are odd in that experience has shown me that they really do prefer to stay in a tight group in a smaller space.  There are also some logs to climb on and hollow logs to hide in.  They're just starting to use the old duck house during the day.

The garden is 99% planted except for these beauties.  Honestly, there's no room left so I'm not sure where they're going.  There's always an empty corner somewhere I guess.

Here's to summer, so glad it's here.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Reading, Second-hand Thursday

We love our books around this house and may own more than a reasonable amount. Probably  because we don't have television the little guy gets read about 8 to 10 books each day, mostly kid's books but he also has a soft spot for field guides, the vintage Little Golden Guides that I still love.  Sometimes it will be quiet in the living room and when I tiptoe in he'll be sitting there quietly absorbed in a book. I take that opportunity to sit down and read something of my own.

He's not quite old enough to where I trust him with books borrowed from the library so mostly I buy them at the local thrift store.

This is what I found today. For 25c each you can't beat it.  I remember when my sister and I were little and my mother had to take both of us grocery shopping,  her go-to bribe was that if we didn't act like asses in the store we could each pick out a new book before we left.  Thinking back on it that must have been a heck of an expense on the grocery budget but it paid off well, both my sister and I still love to read. 

Usually I don't pre-read the little guy's books but could not resist opening One Kitten Is Not Too Many, circa 1964.

Oh man.  So many truths in this one. 

We only have two cats but this is pretty much what our house looks like. 

They have totally done that.

And my husband has totally said that.  

Keeping with the second-hand theme, here's another treasure:

This didn't come from the thrift store but was something my dad found and gave to me today.  A new vintage milk box! I have a soft spot for old dairy collectables and the one on the right, while local, is a dairy I didn't know we once had.

Hooray for suprises.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The rural update

There's been so much going on here the last couple of weeks.  It feels great to be outside in the sunshine being productive again.  Taking it slowly but getting things done nonetheless.  What's new?

Part of the property. The right hand side of the garden (the "spring" side) is 90% planted and about 50% mulched.  This side contains garlic, potatoes, herbs, the strawberry bed, rhubarb and asparagus.  Plus some extra room where I planted canna, sunflowers and kale.  Really making an effort this season to use living mulches: nasturtiums in bare corners, dry beans between the tomato plants, that kind of thing.

Some herbs: oregano, thyme, lemongrass and sage.

Also new this year I collected praying mantis egg cases from around the property last month.  I've stuck about a dozen of them around the garden to hopefully hatch and help with organic pest control.  Plus, they're just neat to watch.  We planted two kinds of basil here.

The alpine strawberries I grew from seeds last year are huge and setting berries! So pleased with this.

Some volunteer squash.  Sure, they're probably cross-bred but I don't care.  There are lots of volunteer plants this year, for which I am beyond grateful.  Weeding is going to be impossible with a newborn and anything green and productive is more than welcomed. 

Except maybe this hot mess.  What you're looking at is mint gone wild in a corner of the garden.  So much mint.  I really need to deal with it.  It's taking over the snow pea trellis.  Also pictured are lots of volunteer sunflower plants which I'll weed around and encourage to grow.  They'll look beautiful in that corner.

My husband tilled up some rows on the summer side of the garden.  The little man got into the action with his excavator.  

This weekend we put in the rest of the greens, 16 pepper plants, 12 tomato plants, black beans and lots of flower seeds.  There are still many tomato plants to go in, along with the squash transplants.  My helper loves to water, mulch and plant.  There is no sweeter sound to my ears than a two year old saying "Mama. More plant, please!" after he tucks in each transplant. Oh, be still my heart.  Times like this make me miss my own mother even more.  She would have loved gardening with him.

We still need to construct the garden teepee.  That thing was awesome.  Also more bulbs and tubers to plant but what gets done gets done at this point.  The ornamental flower beds (all 2 of them) are planted already.  Thank God for perennials, I just had to fill in the gaps with dahlias.  I'm still well ahead of our last frost date and probably have another couple of good working weeks still ahead of me.  Honestly, mulching is probably the most pressing thing. 

Remember the incident with the clearance bantams at TSC?  They're all grown up now, sort of.  I'm afraid to let them range quite yet because they're literally the size of my quail.  These things are TINY.  They were moved into this pre-fab coop we bought a couple of months ago on sale.  Pre-fab coops get a bad rap but honestly, I am in love with this thing.  If you're planning on stuffing 8 full grown hens into it like the box claims you can it would be a nightmare.  But it's fantastic for what we needed.

That's our old Christmas tree in there for playing and cover.

Here they are!  Wow, did I luck out.  Not only are 5 of these the Millie Fleur chickens I was hoping for but there are 4 hens and a rooster! They're just starting to get their speckles, which I read can take a couple of months. They're so beautiful.  

I lost two of the Seabrights shortly after we got them (no idea why) and that game bantam is obviously a rooster that will have to be dealt with but I could not be more pleased with how this group turned out.  

The new goslings are nearly as big as my female goose.  The poultry yard always takes some time to fill back in in the spring but in another month will look like a green jungle. 

The planters on the porch look really sweet.

Sometimes we take breaks.  I have to swing in the hammock sideways or I can't get back out without help.  How embarrassing.  Here I'm on break from planting and Bee is on break from killing small critters.  The last couple of weeks have been full of sunshine, warm weather, naps and popsicles.  It's been wonderful.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Grandpa's Dandelion Brandy

I could not find this recipe anywhere when I wanted it, now that it's been found here it is for safe keeping. I never remember seeing my grandparents actually drink but it seems like there was a big crock of this going every spring

The most important part:

It is true that the longer it sits the better it gets; after a year it tastes like pure sunshine. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Rhubarb mocktail Monday

Last week I turned some of our rhubarb into a delicious honey shrub following Erica's directions over at Northwest Edible Life.  We had never tasted a shrub before in this house and it sounded interesting. One of the primary ingredients in a shrub is vinegar and I used some of the wonderful apple cider vinegar left from our cider pressing.

One batch made about 3/4 of this bottle. Aldi's sells imported lemonade in these bottles for about $3; I rinse them out and save them. They're really useful in the kitchen. I figured out that my plants are Victoria rhubarb so they don't have the typical bright pink color. The orangish color here probably comes from the cider vinegar and honey.

We are really pleased with how this turned out. It's a wonderfully addicting drink that is so, so much better than any soda. You just need a splash of it over ice and then fill the rest of the glass with carbonated water. The vinegar and sugars give it a bright sweet/sour flavor - almost like a very good quality tonic water but much better.  I'd imagine a splash of vodka or gin in here would be amazing too.

There have been a handful of times since my mother's death when I've felt her presence very strongly.  Strangely enough this was one of them; standing in the kitchen teaching my two year old how to make a (non-alcoholic) "fancy drink".  I could feel a third person in the room with us and I felt a bit happy and embarrassed at the same time. Mom had some pretty strong and somewhat comical ideas about drinking.  She would have been less than impressed with her grandson learning to stir a mocktail. "Yeah, I know." I said out loud.

The little man and I took our drinks out on the porch and sat together watching for my husband to come home from work.  We watched the cars go past and talked about the birds. We watched our cat Bee get "chased" by a bumble bee. It was wonderful quiet time.  "Happy hour" might just turn into a regular thing around here.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

All the mamas here

In honor of Mother's Day I wanted to introduce you to some of the mamas at our place.

Mama mouse and her family live under a flower pot in the garden. She is currently, God bless her, nursing 6 little ones nearly as big as herself.  Her nest is made with tons of chicken and duck feathers and looks really cozy. Occasionally we lift the flower pot and check on them. They're really cute.

Mama hen. My Red Ranger who hatched babies last year is on a nest again. She has about 10 eggs under her. At least that's what I'm guessing as she tried to rip my glove off when I was marking her eggs. I know there are at least 8 under her. She was super pissed and I gave up before she could decide to kill me.

I think we have a mama sparrow making a nest here. She and her mate have been coming and going regularly but we can't see eggs yet.

The little black and white duck is on a nest but it doesn't look promising for her. We lost the drake about a month ago so I really doubt the ladies are fertile anymore. Also, instead of making a nest in the back of the coop like ducks normally do she decided to park hers right in the doorway. Better view, sure, but it gets rained on and stepped on by everyone else. I'm going to sneak some eggs from her tonight and candle them to check if they're developing.  She's trying really hard though and if the eggs are duds we'll start looking on Craigslist for a couple of babies to give her. She and the Pekin hen have been fantastic Aunts to the ducklings and goslings.

And of course me and the little man at the beach. The three of us spent the day in Erie and had a wonderful time. Came home with some beach glass, driftwood and a really neat water tumbled bone for my curiosity cabinet.  It was a great day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

First harvest

Rhubarb, asparagus & shiitake mushrooms.

I had dinner out with a wonderful friend last night and we were talking about how we both enjoy the creative challenge of making a meal from what's available.  This is my first food harvest of the season. I think that it will be turned into a pasta carbonara with duck egg noodles, asparagus, mushrooms and dandelion greens. I am very lucky and grateful to have the land and skills to grow some of our own food; this will be a wonderful meal that costs pennies to make.

I'm looking for ideas for the rhubarb.  Erica over at Northwest Edible Life recently posted a recipe for rhubarb shrub. Shrubs are uncommon in this country; it seems to be a concentrated sweet/sour drink made with fruit, honey and vinegar and will be added to iced soda water.  It sounds fun. 

I really need to sow winter and summer squash seeds in pots today.  The spring side of the garden is nearly planted and two rows have been done on the summer side. The rest of the summer side needs tilled, hopefully tonight, so I can get the remaining the transplants in. We're well on our way.

Friday, May 4, 2018

A lovely day

I was gently reminded today (by my favorite co-worker of all time 😊) that there hadn't been a new post in almost two weeks.  Wow, time goes by quickly.  There's so much going on: getting a room prepped to be dry walled, shuffling bedrooms in preparation for the baby, trying to get all of the gardens in by mid-month.  Our last frost date isn't until May 31st here but I figure I only have maybe 5 more weeks of being able to work ahead of me and things always take longer than I think they will.  The weather here has broken (finally!).  It feels wonderful to be outside in the warm sunshine.

Today the little man and I went to the library in the morning for playgroup.  We were looking for something to do afterwards and ended up going to the lake.

We weren't planning on wading and I wasn't prepared with dry clothes or anything but it was fantastic fun and we both got some sun.  It was 80 degrees today - last weekend we needed winter coats - it felt amazing.

After dinner I went artifact hunting with my father.  Farmers around here are getting their fields ready for the season and our favorite field to hunt has been plowed, disced and rained on.  It was planted in oats this year which means our hunting time is very limited before the crop comes up.  We spent the evening talking and walking.  We covered about 1/3 of the field and found two complete points and two more that were broken.  A great evening.


Here's the second one as it was found:

And look at this sunset!

It looks like great weather again tomorrow and we are grateful for the sun and fresh air.  I know I've said that about 10 times but it's true, the cold just hung on forever this year and this is such a relief.  Things are growing like crazy.  I've taken lots of pictures over the last two weeks but nothing looks the same as it did last week or even two days ago.  Hopefully I'll get back into the writing routine here and share some pictures soon.