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Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

March of the Seasons and Halloween Fun

October 30th, 2010

The days come and go…  I seem to remember one of my grandmothers, while visiting her in a nursing home more than a decade ago.   She kept repeating, “Time and tide waits for no man…”   

And she would smile when I asked how she was.   “About as fine as could be I suppose…  Time and tide waits for no man…” and she would laugh a little.  She was 99 years old, and passed away a few months later.  She had a remarkable memory for verse, poem and song.  One of these days I’ll share some of them.

 We decorated around the house the other night… it was fun.  Putting up spider webs and lights.  I don’t remember such festivities for Halloween while growing up, but that’s okay. 

It was also the first “freeze” of the fall season the other night.  I went around getting the house and a few other things ready this week, and then picking green tomatoes and bell peppers… sad to see the garden fade away, and there’s even some lettuce and beans still growing.   The chickens are having a great time pecking through the litter- they’ll be great to keep the garden area mulched.   A few of the plants were hit pretty hard by the frost. 

Everything changes…   but it looks like the week ahead will be nice still, so we’ve had a gentle transition to colder weather this year.

It’s fun to wander around to see how different the landscape looks.  The leaf colors have given way to browns and yellows.   A lot of leaves on the ground, but the majority are hanging on.  The boy loves to play and the dog is more than willing to accomodate his spirit…

I’m still working on a few things at home that have focused my attention elsewhere this year.   I just haven’t had time to get around and visit, or even get outside as much as I would like.   That will change too eventually!  I hope you are all doing well.   Enjoy the season and have a Happy Halloween…

And late entry,  isn’t this great!?  I strung one of the webs where he wanted it in front of his room. The spider theme was his own idea…  makes for an interesting hallway at night! :)




Welcome September!

September 1st, 2010

Rain!  A nice day or two drizzle to give us some much needed moisture.  Hopefully it won’t really storm… and I hope too that all you folks on the Eastern seaboard are well prepared before Earl makes an appearance.   That’s going to be a lot of rain… I can’t remember the last time a hurricane came up the east coast?  Hopefully it stays far enough offshore to lessen the winds.

Hard to believe it’s already September, but I’ve been watering the garden to keep everything from totally wilting…  it’s a pretty sad affair.  This was about a week ago, and it just became drier.

Today’s rain should help a little, but the weeds have taken over and there’s very little growing at this point.   What should I be planting now?  Peas? Beans?    I may skip the fall season for planting and go right into spring planning :)

What I do know is that bell peppers grow really well in big containers!   And quite a few other plants I’m sure.  This is a grouping of three pepper plants I picked up for .99 cents each back in late June.

They have grown so well and given back about a dozen green peppers with more coming!  It doesn’t get any easier- and the peppers in the garden didn’t do nearly as well.   Containers do so much better, but I really love the garden rows.  Maybe I should make some really long “row containers” with landscape block or something?

Last week we ran down the road a good bit for some trout fishing.  Just a nice cool morning and a good mess of pan-sized rainbow trout.   This one is actually a pound and a half!   Fun times and so delicious…

We also have critter news!   Meet the new addition… a Calico mouser that looks like she stuck her nose in a coal bin.   Isn’t she a cutie?

She’s 7 weeks old with a great disposition.  Let’s hope it stays that way… and she becomes an expert rodent hunter.  With the chickens around this year I suspect we’ll have a few more mice.    Watch out little rodents, this kitty will grow up quickly.

And the other big news… the chickens gave us 8 eggs today!  One from each of the 8 hens which is very cool.  Usually it has been around 4-5 a day but now they’re all laying.   Now just when I’m getting excited they’ll probably slow down as fall continues.   I don’t think I’ll keep lights on in the coop for winter however, so we’ll just see how the chickens do on their own.

Otherwise you can really see the fall season approaching.  The barn swallows have disappeared I think… perhaps starting their migration south.  I did see a larger flock of nighthawks meandering around the sky and they will continue heading south.  The cicadas are growing quieter, and the fall flowers are in bloom.  I’m glad the rain will promote a little more flowering for the bees as well.    Have a good day!



Zesty Black Bean Garden Soup or Salsa

August 7th, 2010

I think I’m a foodie…  not only do I enjoy eating food from around the world, but it’s really fun creating new experiences, especially from the garden!

There are few things as rewarding as creating food for the table from vegetables you’ve grown.  With this recipe you can include many garden favorites, and make enough to have year ’round.

After a particularly bountiful summer in 2009 full of ripe garden tomatoes,  I came up with a new recipe for a soup or salsa dipping relish that includes black beans, corn and jalapeno and green peppers.   I’m not sure how I stumbled my way  there, but it’s really good!

Better yet it was pretty simple to make- just dice and blend up a bunch of veggies and can them. Not difficult really-the most cumbersome aspect is making room for some large pots, and boiling the sealed jars for a while.  If you’re not into canning for the pantry shelf, you can still use this recipe by letting it cool and putting in the fridge, or freezing for storage.

Personally, I love looking at jars of canned veggies and other treats from the garden- especially during those long winter months!  Nothing like thinking about the garden to perk you up on a snowy day.

Here’s the garden vegetable ingredients I used for this recipe:   20-25 ripe medium tomatoes, or the equivalent, blended up, 5 half-ripe red, green and orange tomatoes- diced, 3 jalapeno peppers and 4 green bell peppers- all diced, one cucumber diced up (without the seeds), one or two diced medium onions, two ears of cut corn (or 2 cans of corn), and two cans of black beans (rinse and pour the water off).

Ingredients for the sauce: 1 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of vinegar, a half cup of sugar, up to 1/4 cup of garlic powder depending on your taste, and then healthy dashes of salt, white  and black pepper, cayenne pepper, parsley flakes, sage, oregano, cumin, ancho chili powder,  paprika, tumeric, two tablespoons of yellow mustard, a half cup of molasses, two tablespoons of BBQ sauce(!) of your flavor, a quarter cup of soy sauce, and a little dash of extra seasoning or spices of whatever you like to taste.

And what’s a dash anyway?!  Maybe a teaspoon to a tablespoon?

Here’s how I put it together: I chopped the 25 tomatoes and blended with half the jalapeno, green peppers and onions as a thick foundation.   I don’t peel the tomatoes- some folks might want to.  I find that when chopped and blended, there isn’t much skin- and it doesn’t bother me if it’s there.   Same with the other veggies.

Bring the foundation base slowly to a low boil, mixing the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, barbecue sauce and mustard, molasses and soy, and then reduce and simmer for 20-30 minutes while adding the remaining spices and seasonings. Let that simmer for a while to really mix the flavors, and use the time to prepare any other veggies you haven’t got to yet.

Then add the rest of the diced tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans and corn.   Let it simmer for another 30-40 minutes, cooking down the veggies. Then right before pouring into the jars and canning, add 2-3 more diced tomatoes and 2-3 more diced green, orange or red peppers for color. These will remain a little less cooked and give the garden salsa/soup a firmer texture.

Remove from the heat and and ladle into jars… carefully, it’s hot!

Process for 40 minutes in a water bath or pressure canner for safe long-term storage (or not if you’re going to put in the fridge and eat sooner).

It made 11 pints and came out as a zesty garden soup or salsa… delicious warm or cold and not too spicy.   I call it zesty to keep the “taste temperature” down a bit so more folks can enjoy it.

For a delicious meal, throw some tortilla chips in bowl and pour your Zesty Garden Soup over the top, cover with a favorite cheese… yum!   The 9-year old boy loved it so much he had two bowls… it’s already a family favorite with his grandma, aunts and uncles, and they remember it at all the holidays with chips for dipping!

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The tomato plants are on the decline now, but I hope we still have another round of tomatoes for sauce and more cooking adventures. Just what you need to do in the August heat, right?! :)

Speaking of cooking, another blackberry pie made the rounds… I really love pie, and surprisingly I really enjoy making them!

This time I used a “pie bird” for the first time.  Saw it at a local farm store and thought I’d give it a try.   Pretty cool… you just stick it inside the pie when you fill it, and pull the top crust gently down the top. The ceramic bird helps vent the steam and keeps the pie filling from bubbling over.

Have a great week!

Thankful for Goodness Around the Garden

July 29th, 2010

Where has July gone already!?    I’m thankful our garden and other activities are coming along nicely, and I hope our harvest keeps on coming.  Or at least progressing… like my weekly battle with squash bugs and tomato wilt (I’m losing!).  

I will say our tomatoes have produced their largest harvest this summer as compared to others ( The boy loves tomatoes!), but the plants look so ragged and are really struggling. Such is life in an organic garden in the midwest.  So much still to learn… but we’ve had enough tomatoes to make a good bit of salsa and more coming for sauce.

Each year I want to plant more and more… you can never have enough tomatoes! 

And what is the deal with pickles anyway?  Why do we like canning them?   You can buy a huge jar of pickles at the store for a few bucks.  Or you can take time to plant cucumbers, weed the garden, grow and pick them,  buy the jars and ingredients, and then take time to can your own…   Granted their is some raw satisfaction in doing it yourself. And it’s fun to share with kids… somehow pickles have a universal appeal.

These are the home-canned variety with dill mix and garden grown dill and other ingredients inside… like garlic and jalapeno peppers. Then processed for 20-30 minutes in boiling water to keep for long-term storage. 

They are very different from the fermented pickles I made last year… those were pretty tasty and I still have a few in the fridge that are still really good.  But it was hard to achieve consistent, firm pickles when I fermented them naturally.  

And do you have a good cucumber and tomato salad recipe in summer? They go so well together, but there’s so many cucumbers!… so maybe pickles just come from trying to figure out what to do with all the extra ones.  I guess it’s fun trying different recipes too… what’s yours?!

I did come up with a natural concoction to help combat tomato wilt/fungus and for discouraging squash bugs and other critters. Here’s my recipe: In a plastic bottle sprayer, combine 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup hot/spicy sesame oil, 1 tablespoon tea tree oil soap or shampoo, 1/2 teaspoon dishwashing soap, and the rest with water… shake well and spray away!

It seems to work pretty well, although I found if you put the milk and oil in a blender first with a few drops of dishwasing soap it mixes a lot better. When I spray it the bugs skedaddle away quickly. It may or may not kill them, and is probably just a temporary protectant.  But hey, it doesn’t cost much!  Do you have a special mix or recipe that works?

The carrots are doing pretty well this year, but we came out a few days ago to find a dozen or more caterpillars happily munching away on the leaf tops.   These look like the caterpillar larva of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. The boy loves them, and we kept a few to grow into butterflies- it worked out well, and we released them back outside after they emerged!

There’s no free lunch in this garden, so out the rest went!    Well okay, there are lots of free lunches…  I’m just trying to get the crowd to leave!   But I threw the extra caterpillars up into the grass and weeds at the fenceline, so maybe they’ll still become butterflies too.  

I did find a really neat plant this month.   Kind of funny too because I was the one who planted it.   A fellow beekeeper gave me a small mint plant a couple of years go, supposedly as an aid to natural beekeeping.   I’m all for that, even though I didn’t know what it was, and planted it at the base of an oak tree near my hives…  this year it finally flowered.   This is a Pycnanthemum species of some kind… try saying that five times really fast!  I love the white bracts that look like leaves at the top of the plant, with a little crown of flowers.

How did I find out what it was?   Well, I was enjoying the beautiful sights at Edifice Rex a couple of weeks ago, and Annie shared some photos including a plant called Mountain Mint…   I had never heard of it and thought it was neat.   Lo and behold when this one bloomed I realized it was the same plant!  Pretty neat way to find out something new- thanks Annie!   I’m not sure which species of Pycnanthemum it is, but it looks like albescens

I’ve also found that a particluar species of wasp really loves these little flowers.   The Double-Banded Scoliid wasp (Scolia bicincta) has covered this plant over the past week, with as many as 18 wasps on the tiny flower heads.   I’ve also seen some tiny flies and other insects, but no other bees, moths or butterflies.   It’s fascinating to see how the wasps really love the nectar from these tiny flowers.   These are commonly known as digger wasps.  They burrow into the ground and parasitize grubs and other insects.  I’ve never seen this species except on this plant.

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The bees are doing well and still building up their hive populations. About a month ago I took five frames from a really strong hive, and placed them in a small “nuc” hive.  Here’s a picture of that little nuc hive sitting on top of an empty full-size hive at right in this picture.

The little old boat with flowers is our “Burt Dow Boat”… do you remember the story? I wrote about it here a few years ago.   I love to fill it with petunias each year, and planted a wispy river birch behind it…

Anyway, I checked on that small nuc hive yesterday and it was doing so well that I put those bees right into that full-size hive that it was sitting on!  I was excited because the nuc was a “walk-away split” and the bees raised their own queen.   When I opened it up they had two full frames of brood and newly capped larvae… cool beans!    It looks like they’re in the shade, but the hive gets full sun from the middle of the day until sunset.

I wondered a little about moving their entrance lower from that little nuc to the bigger hive… if you move a bee hive any appreciable distance, the bees don’t know where to find it.   Supposedly if you need to, you either move them 6 inches a day, or two miles away!   Moving a good distance away is  fine, as long as you wait until all the bees get home in the evening, and then close them up.   But I only moved my bees down a couple of feet, and they quickly figured out how to get into their new home.

Now that I placed them into a new hive, they have five empty frames to draw out with wax, so I mixed up 10 pounds of cane sugar as a syrup, and put that in a hive-top feeder for them.  They won’t draw wax unless their is a good bloom and nectar-flow going on, or if you feed them to stimulate production of wax and additional bees.

With luck that hive population will increase over the next few months and be strong enough to carry right through winter.  I’m thankful they’re doing well and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll have four hives next spring.

Our other visitors lately include a couple of Great Blue Herons who visit the pond a few times each week.   I don’t begrudge them a meal or two, but they never tire of an easy catch at the expense of our little fish.    When I see them I usually clap my hands or try to sneak up on them…   then they “Croawwwk!” loudly and fly away.

 

July is coming to an end.  It has been a really warm and humid month, but we also enjoyed a good bit of rain.    Hard to believe how fast summer is going by, but we’re not quite to midsummer’s eve yet!  

The evenings are so beautiful however, and the other night was a pretty one…  the boy just marvels at sunsets and the light on the clouds.

 

I hope your summer is going well too. What are you thankful for today?  See you next time!   :)




July Ramblings

July 20th, 2010

A few days ago the chickens were hanging out in the shade with temperatures in the coop over 100 degrees.   And then rain, sweet rain.   And then more rain.    Two days ago I began to write, “a passing storm and raging winds, and then a gentle breeze, drizzle and clouds.  Just what the garden needs, and a respite from the heat…”

I saw this early before dawn… it was quiet and a beautiful orange light was all around.   I just had to walk further.

Then I saw this, slowly building to the southwest…

The clouds billowed upward and outward, forming a classic thunderstorm, with the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Soon it became this…

The barn swallows have another nest full of three more fledglings, and a dry perch to watch the rain pour over the gutters.  Methinks there’s a clog somewhere down the line… I cleaned the gutters out not long ago, yet heavy rain pours over.

So yesterday it was another huge storm of wind, rain and hail, and then today more heavy rain!  The clouds are nice in terms of cooling things off, but we’ve had quite enough water for the time being thank you very much.

I remember years ago being surprised to realize that a lot of folks have not experienced heavy thunderstorms before.   Of course that’s what I’ve always remembered about Missouri summers.    Brief storms  with thunder, lightning, showers and blessedly cooling weather.   Then back to the humid and hot.

With a little cooler daytime temperatures we  seized the opportunity to catch up on weeding and pruning.

This was a shrub rose gone wild that I’ve been meaning to cut out for weeks.  It had several more branches just like this one,  spreading out more than twenty feet in all directions!   It’ll come back unless I put something on the stump to kill it.  And the flowers?  Inconspicuous little white things.  I’m not sure where this rose came from, but it doesn’t have a place here anymore.

The young boy is really a great help around the place.   Now I understand why farmers of old had such big families…

Later the boy enjoyed a break with his Shiba.  Although that little dog likes to think he owns everything around here…  he’s a funny little guy, and a good watch dog.  He lets us know when anything out of the ordinary happens or someone comes down the gravel drive.  They are cute together…

Here’s a picture of the shiba when he was a puppy…    A few years ago I described how he adopted us from a little Japanese pet store in 2002.   We call him Kuma, which is short for Kuma no nuigurumi  or Teddy Bear in Japanese.

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This week it was also time to check on the bees.  I’ve got just three hives and a small nuc (nucleus hive) going. Earlier in the spring I had a hive with a drone-laying queen, and she eventually disappeared. Before the hive was queenless too long I solved that problem with the help of another local beekeeper.

We combined that hive with a nuc and a new queen, using a screened divider between them for a week. That gave the failing hive time to become acquainted with the new queen and other bees, and then after removing the screened divider, the hive became one, joining forces to work together.   Since that time they’ve steadily increased their population and look great now.

Alas I have another hive with a failing queen. This hive started out strong, but then simply languished. I have found no disease or other external problems, but the queen is simply not laying enough eggs to keep the population strong.   I will probably order a new queen to replace her soon, and allow the bees to strengthen the hive before winter.

With all the beekeeping challenges this is not a year for gathering much honey.  That’s okay because I’m really trying to build them up going into winter.  But that middle hive is very strong and may yield a small super of honey, so we’ll see.   Here’s a picture of bees fanning at the top opening on the inner cover.

One reason they fan their wings is as a signal for other bees, blowing scent pheromones from a hive entrance or other location so their hive mates know where to go.  But they also fan to cool and circulate the air through the hive on hot days .  Most importantly, the bees will fan to increase the evaporative cooling effects within the hive to remove moisture from the nectar/honey stored within.

After the bees gather nectar from flowers, it is carried in their honey stomach back to the hive, then often passed to another worker bee to process and store within the hive.  During this process the nectar is converted to various sugars by enzymatic action and deposited into the waxy cells within the hive.  But it is very runny and full of moisture at this point… not even close to being honey yet.   Beekeepers call honey which is too runny green.   It doesn’t really become honey until the moisture level is lowered to about 17%-18%.   Then the bees put a waxy cap on the cell and the honey is stored until needed as food.

Because the bees have lowered the water content of the honey, it is very hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb water moisture from the air.   Good quality honey has a very low water content which is one of the reasons it can be stored almost indefinitely without spoiling.    If you’ve ever had honey ferment at home, it’s either because the container wasn’t sealed tightly over time and it absorbed a lot of moisture, or it was too green or allowed to sit open before it was purchased and fermented later.  Of course you could always make mead or use it for baking!  Runny honey just needs to be used a little more quickly.

Everything else is coming along too.  I harvested around 15 pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers out of the garden this morning.  I think pickles are in our future… and tomato sauce!     Seems like the tomatoes are ripening all at once, and I need them to keep going.

Last week I found this lucky titmouse enjoying a feast on a ripened sunflower.

I also planted more squash, and some beets in the garden- hoping they mature in time for a good harvest.  It was the perfect time too with all the rain.    I also planted collard greens which supposedly improve in taste after the first frost.   I don’t know about that, but I enjoy them when cooked and mixed with seasoning.  Does anybody have good ideas for how to use collard greens in the kitchen?  Well I love greens, but I never made them very often.  Maybe in soup?

The sun is back out this afternoon… 96 degrees and hot! Hard to motivate anyone to do anything, even myself it seems. One small step…

Summer Gardening, Picking Blackberries and Eating Weeds!

July 14th, 2010

Sometimes it seems difficult to keep up with everything, not to mention writing and sharing pictures.   The days pass with so many changes and it’s hard to share them all.   So rather than several shorter posts, I’ll catch up today with a long one!   Yesterday I started making a “to-do” list… that was a mistake! Think I need to make a “Would like to do” list” and a “Whenever I get around to it” list.  Come to think of it, I’ll throw in a “Definitely should not do” list as well!  Somehow my brain keeps these lists as thoughts floating around, crossing some off, adding others.

Some days my thoughts are efficient and organized, stepping with vigor from one to another.  Other days it’s simply managed chaos, flecks of needs interspersed with wants, smiles and muttering and usually enough desire and concentration to get the job accomplished.

Then I take a break, have a cup of coffee or three glasses of water (sometimes both…) and sit out by the barn.  Maybe a Coke now and then!  I might look towards the water and see the wind blowing on the pond, letting thoughts and cares take form and move around like the little waves… and  looking closer I can almost see shapes and movement.   Light dances across the water and the wind makes the waves look like chocolate and reminds me of the richness of my coffee… it looks inviting.

Then I begin again, but not without taking a few pictures along the way.    Near the bee hives I see what looks like the underside of a Black Swallowtail butterfly hanging on a poke plant.   I try to get closer and it flies away…

Later it’s time to make the rounds in the garden.  This is a strange year- the potatoes wilted early and died, but not before yielding a nice bounty of fresh young tubers for the summer.   The tomatoes are all suffering from wilt and black-spot, so I need to cut off the diseased leaves and try to save the plants.  If that wasn’t enough we’ve taken over 20 tomato worms off the plants!  They appear like magic… you pick off a few one day, and the next day there’s more.   They are kind of pretty looking…

Don’t be fooled however, that green worm is a monster!  These little guys can really chomp a tomato plant back in a matter of hours it seems.  Well sometimes they’re little- yesterday I took one off a plant as thick as my thumb and as long as a finger!   Since I really love tomatoes, they’ve just got to go.  I don’t till the garden soil, but that may be something I’ll start next year as a strategy for disrupting the life stages.   This site has a nice description of the life cycle of the tomato hornworm moth and larva.  The moths are beautiful, and even look like hummingbirds when in flight around flowers.   But the green worms are not long for the garden.  Fortunately the chickens really love them… bleck!

Otherwise the garden is coming along okay.  The beans are not as prolific this year- something is munching their leaves too.   We’re trying to keep things natural and organic, but I haven’t stayed ahead of the critters.   How sad is that- beans are a no-brainer!  I may plant some more.    The boy did plant some sweet corn a couple of weeks ago and it’s coming up nicely.  Hopefully we’ll have some for the table in late Septemember…

The cucumbers are doing great however, and they taste wonderful as a fresh salad, especially with tomatoes, and a little vinegar and oil for seasoning.   I saw a recipe I’m going to try that had chopped mint leaves in a cucumber salad… maybe tonight!   And carrots… they look kind of like weeds sometimes (meaning they get picked inadvertently!).  But we packed so many in the row when planting seeds that we’ve been pulling a few to make room for their growth.

After the garden it’s back to work, or a different kind of work anyway.   Cutting and trimming the grass and weeds!   A weekly cycle in the warm season.

Do you use a weedeater or trimmer?   It’s a wonderful invention and a great help around the property,  but they sure are noisy, smelly and finicky.   I know… bad for the environment, they use gas and oil, blah, blah, blah.  I do care about the environment and do the best I can.  It’s often a tradeoff… and unless you know of some really fast automatic scissors to trim acres of weeds that don’t use a mower,  there’s not many options.

Oh, I have a small electric trimmer too.  Works great for about 10 minutes in very light grass- the boy uses that to help out, and goes through several NiCad batteries very quickly, which over the years lose their charge and are also an environmental problem in terms of disposal.   I have a half-dozen cordless electric tools that I love, but they are not for long-term heavy-duty use.   Good for quick, light work and for a city or suburban yard, but not for hours of trimming on a rural property.  It  can literally takes a few days to trim the places that need it around here.

Often I just let the grass and weeds grow in many areas, and then trim them once or twice a season.  The pond’s dam is one example, which is nearly an acre of tall grass and weeds  such as queen anne’s lace right now.  That’s a tradeoff too because the landscape will soon turn to woody shrubs and then trees.

Leaving the grass uncut also fosters erosion in many places because it shades out turf at the lower levels.    A good carpet of grassy turf keeps water from tearing up the ground when running downhill… and we have a lot of hills leading down to the pond.   Like many things in life, unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes for a bit, putting thoughts and good intentions into practice is not so simple.

I’ve had a half-dozen different makes and models through the years, and there are few things more frustrating than trying to pull-start a weed trimmer that simply won’t run.    Or getting new line put on the spool… sometimes the line feeds out, and sometimes it’s a mess.  How does it tie itself in knots?!

But they really get the job done pretty well if you need to trim a lot of grass.  One of my favorites in terms of reliability is an inexpensive Bolens brand from Lowe’s.   I found it quite by accident after one that I had for two decades finally stopped working.  Well, the fuel lines are all messed up and I can’t find a part to fit it yet.

That favorite old weed trimmer was an IDC model 500 Supreme (tan casing at left in pictures), and I was never able to find another one like it.  Until last fall.  Turns out that IDC was bought by Ryan… and then Ryan/IDC was bought by Ryobi, which was later bought by TTI out of Asia, and apparently some aspects of the design now have a Bolens brand on them.    Consolidation in the business world, go figure.

The particular design that I like has a combination of light weight and motor/line strength that works very well for most grass and weeds.  And it just keeps on running.   My old IDC model ran for almost twenty years… on the same spark plug!   The funny part is that I remember paying $69 for that IDC model way back in 1989.

How much did I pay for this Bolens model last summer?   Yup…  $69.    From an inflation perspective, the new trimmer is far less expensive.   The build quality is still pretty decent- and as you can see in the pictures, it is nearly the same exact design.   The new one handles about the same and seems just as light and reliable.    Heck, I may even get another one as a spare since I really like this model.

If money were no object, a trimmer with the Stihl brand would be awesome.  I have a Stihl chainsaw that is amazing, but their products are pretty steep in cost.  For the chainsaw, safety is a big factor so I wanted something the industry uses and that would last.   I don’t think you can go wrong with a reliable inexpensive weed trimmer however.   And let’s just say I don’t recommend the brand whose name is synonymous with its purpose of being a weedeater.   I’ve got three of those in the barn that have been finicky and problematic for a lot of folks, not to mention heavy!

Our other activities over the past week included picking more blackberries!  Hooray!  The boy loves to pick them, but isn’t too thrilled with the stickers.  I think you get used to moving around in a briar patch if you take your time.   He’s not convinced… but he likes to eat them!

They are really good though- as long as you get the sweet ones.   I kind of like a mix of sweet and tart, so I don’t mind picking some that aren’t quite ripe yet.  The pinkish one’s will fill our buckets another day…

After a good hour we had nearly two quarts of berries.   We had some fresh for ice cream and the rest go into the freezer.

I have learned that there are cake people, and pie people.  Sure we all eat some of both at times, but honestly?  I’m a pie person… I just love pies of all kinds, especially berry pies.   Something about the juicy, sweet and tart flavors all combined.   We finished this one off last week, but I’m going to make another!

In a month or so we’ll have some grapes maturing, and this year I’d like to make a Concord grape pie.   I’ve made jelly and jam from the grapes, but never a pie, so that’s on the “to do” list.   I did plant some wild plum on the property, and I hope I get to see them bear fruit … I’m always looking for other wild edibles.   Some folks have wild grape or muscadine on their property.  We have them but I’ve never seen any substantial berries, or perhaps the birds get to them first.

So here’s a large muscadine vine I pulled down from a walnut tree this week.  They grow so vigorously that they can tangle a tree in a season or two, and eventually the tree’s growth is impacted.  This one was close to thirty feet up the tree, and had grown for the last few years- so I cut the vines at their base, and towed it en masse across the pond dam to the burn pile.   I looked reeeally closely to make sure there was no poison ivy in the mix!  I keep a pile of branches and dead woody vegetation for burning during the wetter seasons.  Maybe I should plant and cultivate a muscadine vine.

One of those “whenever I get around to it” items on my list is cutting the pond’s dam.   I hope to cut it soon, and as the grass dries out in the summer heat it will become lighter and easier to cut.  It’s not a job I really enjoy because of how steep it is, but it really does help keep the dam in good shape.    We did clear off some cattails near the base of the dam yesterday…  they look nice, but you really don’t want them growing abundantly.

The ground can become too wet and marshy if you let these types of plants grow, and then they attract the types of animals that start burrowing in places you don’t want them too (like a dam!).   Each year we have a few of them, but make sure to take them out.  Water seeps from down from the land bordering the dam, and a little bit near the base.    It’s been that way for at least twenty-five years, but I like to keep it trimmed each year.  Stay tuned…

So this week’s project included spending a few days with weed and brush cutters going around the perimeter of the pond.    First I went around cutting the woody plants and trees that always try to grow, and then I use that weed trimmer to cut down the taller grass and pond weeds.   It helps to keep the banks relatively clean, or else those shrubs and trees really get a foothold.  It’s a lot more work to cut down trees and brush, and I’m not letting a single cattail take root!   Perhaps I just like a more open look… it just seems more relaxing :)

One of these days I’d love to get a used sickle mower… it would hang off the tractor about seven feet or more with a long row of teeth, and then simply cut around anything you wanted it to (like the pond!), or under fence rows, etc.    Of course the only problem with more tools, motors and gadgets is that you have to store them and maintain them… and more junk is not what I need right now :)   Well this was a little longer than I planned… thanks for coming by especially if you’ve read this far.   Now it’s time to head out and fix something.  Have a good week!

May Garden Roundup

May 31st, 2010

Looks like our heat and humidity are here to stay.  Our normally cool May ended up as a preview of the dog days of summer.  I even picked green beans today!  Go figure… but the heat has some advantages.  Most of the vegetables seem to really be taking off now, with the presumed advantage of not having as many insects around yet to bother them while they were just starting out.  Kind of  like a head start before the critters appear in earnest.   We’ve already got squash and cucumber blooming now, with nary a beetle in sight. 

Of course the sugar snap peas may have a much shorter season if the heat remains.  But this week they’ve really come into their own and are producing about a pint of sweet pea pods each day.  They practically grow overnight, and are so delicious that you can eat them right off the vine.  And what is it about picking them… no matter how many times you go up and down the rows, you always find another big one or two that you missed seeing before!

Ah, fresh, crispy organic lettuce! The heat shortens the season for lettuce too, but we’re enjoying some nice romaine now. I hope it grows for a few weeks more- I really like the tall, stiff and crunchy leaves for salads and sandwiches.  I’ll bet I could make a nice container area in the shade and plant some throughout the season?

Last year the cherries on our Northstar var. didn’t ripen until the end of June, but they were ready this week! The birds began to feast on them, so we picked the few remaining.   I look forward to the day when we have enough for a pie or two…

The summer squash have even begun blooming already too.  I don’t expect them to set and produce quite yet, and these are actually male blossoms.   I haven’t tried them, but they say you can collect these and fry them up for a tasty treat.   Of course if you did that too much you might not get any squash!   I’ll keep looking for the female blossoms that should come soon.

It’s fun seeing the garden come along. This year I’ve taken to layering straw throughout the garden, and up against the rows. It really helps keep down the weeds, and to retain the moisture in the upper soil.  Maybe that’s basic gardening, but I didn’t expect to use so much.   I’m also pleasantly surprised that I like having it around all over the walking areas.   Is there a downside to using straw? I don’t know, but it’s less expensive than most other options, and anything that helps with weed control is a plus, especially since I’m trying the organic approach without using chemicals in the garden.  We don’t have a hay barn or a good place to store the bales however, so if the straw gets wet before using it starts sprouting grass and such. A project for another day…

Oh, and see my gardening pal?  The boy has been a tremendous help lately.  Do you know he’s even beat me outside early in the morning on several days? ;) He likes to be the first one out there to pick the peas and help with weeding. It’s a little game we play. And he has help too!

The chickens follow us around, and like to see what we’re pulling up when weeding.  Of course I have learned that kids love picking vegetables, but weeds?  Not so much. A little cajoling helps, and this patch is all cleaned up and covered with straw again now. I’m trying to set an example with the caretaking, and to help him learn how our actions and diligence can lead to good things… it’s hard to compete with so many other things that are a lot more fun than weeding though, and I still want to keep it fun. So far the chickens have been happy scratching around digging for worms and eating little weeds themselves. I imagine when they’re bigger they would decimate the garden!



Flowers After the Rain

May 21st, 2010

It has been a wet spring with all the changing weather. I must admit that I’m getting a little tired of the rain… even though I may regret those words at some point this summer. At any rate, we’re going to see 90 F/ 31 C degree temperatures over the next week, so that will be a nice, warm change.

We did have a couple of sunny days this week, and the flowers have been beautiful from all the rain.  The irises were wonderful this year, and I really enjoy the light lavender color of this variety.

 

The roses have been gorgeous this year too, and we’ve had more blooms than ever it seems.    This is Carefree Beauty…  

I walked out into the garden the other morning and all the sugar snap peas were wilted!  Sure enough a mole had gone right under the roots in the row, because the garden was so wet everywhere else.   I managed to squish the dirt back down and most of the plants have recovered pretty well.   Thankfully the added rainfall helped keep them growing again.

The chicken coop is coming along, slowly.  It’s very muddy all around the coop so it’s quite the mess to work on it when it’s raining.  I’ve insulated both sides, and measured and placed the siding, with caulk at the seams.  I’ll paint it when finished, so this is just the rough look.   

The chickens are 6 weeks old now and getting huge.  I need to get another picture, but suffice it to say they are ready to be outside all the time.

I do let them out for a bit each day, and when they roam around I have to lock up the little Shiba Inu below.  He’s a nice dog, as long as you’re not a bird or a small mammal…   if he senses something wild to hunt or eat, he then becomes a fierce little beast, so I don’t think the chickens would have a chance.   I watched him chase down a rabbit once!    Fortunately the yellow lab doesn’t seem very interested in them, he lays down and just watches as they roam around.   Of course he might decide to bring me one…

With the warmer weather coming, it’s time for the garden to really take off. And it’s time to do a lot of weeding, cutting and pruning that I have put off for several weeks. I’m just amazed at how fast the season has gone by!



Getting Cooped Up with Stormy Weather

May 13th, 2010

I have this problem.  It has to do with trying to make things better, and wanting to do things right.  Okay, that’s not usually a problem.  Except when you’re not a carpenter and you’re building something, the learning curve is very steep.  And you keep getting these insights and ideas… “Oh! Well then I can just…” or, “Aha! Now it shouldn’t be too hard if I…”     It’s easy to underestimate a lot of things when you’re still filling your knowledge basket.

Okay, so building a chicken coop isn’t rocket science.   Maybe it’s garden science or something.  I’m making progress, although we’ve had torrential rain the last few days.    This morning is no different, although I did get the flooring painted yesterday between the rain.

I started framing up the sides last weekend…  I like framing.  You measure the length you need (I hear my Dad’s voice in my head, “Measure twice, cut once!”).  Then you go measure the space you need… then you go get the wood you need, and then you forget if that’s really the measurement, so you go back and do it again.  Then you write it down so you don’t forget this time.

Then you make a straight line on your 2×4 (nothing is really straight you know… it just looks like it until you get ready to put it up or use it).   Then you go over to the saw, and then you reach for the 2×4, and then cut it and then go hold it in place to check and wonder why in the hell it’s too short!  And you realize you measured a couple of feet lower and there’s a slight curve to the post there, so you go do it all again…

Ah, but hammering nails is rewarding, and simple.  Blam, blam, blam!  The satisfying thunk of nails going in is just awesome.  Until you realize you weren’t ready to nail it there.  Da@#! Getting nails back out is no fun.

Of course, instead of just putting wood or siding on the outside, I decided to insulate the coop with a double wall.  As long as I was building something, I figured I would make it protected for winter weather.   Do the chickens need it?  Depends on how cold it gets, but I won’t have a heater out there.  Maybe a light bulb.  I don’t think I’ll run electric, and face permit issues and such.  I can run an extension cord out there and put a small bulb in for them.

I can even give the coop a green badge for recycling! I’ve re-used quite a few materials lying around, including wood that came from old benches and about a hundred nails that I took out from twenty year old planting bed frames.   These were galvanized spiral nails and worked really well (boy are they strong!).

I even dug up some older hardware cloth and cut it to fit the coop windows.    This window faces south, with the opposite smaller one on the north side.  I imagine the chickens could use another window in the front for ventilation.

The bigger space below the south window will be for the nest boxes when I figure out if they’ll go on the inside or the outside…  I would like a to have a door to open up (or down) and get to the eggs, but I’m not sure if making it flush with the siding would be better or if I should build a whole nest box extension off the side?

I got a little creative with a couple roof supports- these are joined at the other end on the front trim along with two end joists connected from the shed to the posts.  I crawled all around up there for a good while, so it’s a pretty strong roof.

Last Sunday I stayed out until after 9:30 pm in the dark finishing putting on the roof.    Heavy rain was coming and I couldn’t wait…   it wasn’t much fun on my knees with a flashlight in my mouth lining up shingles.   I was lucky I didn’t smash my thumb with a hammer, but a few nails went “Bing!” off in the driveway somewhere.

Fortunately I had help… the boy was out chasing fireflies (he was smarter than me that night…) and he would bring me piles of shingles as I needed them.   Then imagining that those nails would end up in tires and feet I said I would pay him a dollar if he could find them in the gravel somewhere.   Dang if he didn’t find them pretty quickly!

The chicken coop roof is a shallow angle and perhaps not optimal for shingles with just under a 2:12 slope, but both ends are protected from heavy winds with the bigger shed on one side and the house/garage about 50 feet away to the east.    The shingles are also glued down with roofing sealer.    I would like to box in the corners somehow under the eaves of the bigger shed just to protect them.

The good news is the roof works just fine…  rain comes right off as it should with drip edge all around.    Of course lots of chicken coops tilt the other way to keep the rain off the front, but that didn’t fit the plans for mine.   Gutters on the shed and coop would be nice… maybe to divert the rain into a barrel for the garden?

Now it’s time for insulation and siding.   Solid wood for the outside just costs too much, so I picked up three sheets of inexpensive siding.  I’ll have to keep it sealed and painted, but it should work just fine.

All things being equal, a taller chicken coop would be best.  I really liked this location however, and our coop is only about 4.5 feet tall at the front.  It will involve bending over to clean things up so I’m trying to build a good-sized door (or two) up front.   I could make swing out panels, but I would still like to insulate with an inner wall.   Maybe just insulate half the front?   Or will a door around 3’x3′ work okay?

I think I could have looked around a bit more for some real plans, and maybe I would have had some better ideas.  There’s some free plans available out there, but I guess the challenge of putting up my own chicken coop design was part of the fun…  But for specific chicken coop ideas, I really like the plans at ChickenCoopGuides.com .  If I had planned ahead a little, I would have kept careful plans of my own chicken coop design and provided that here… but instead, I’ve put some affiliate links at a sight with a really good product, and maybe it will help someone.   I’m kind of an intuitive do-it-your-selfer, and that’s how I approached my chicken coop.  Kind of like with cooking. I’ve never met a recipe I didn’t like to fiddle with!  Often it turns out great, but sometimes? Well, maybe not so good!

I do like the window in the bigger shed…  It will be like an observation window to the chickens!   I haven’t even got to the run yet, but it will probably be buried posts with 1×4 galvanized wire.   And I may still put linoleum down in the coop to protect the floor and make cleanup a little easier.   Then there’s windows, doors, nest boxes…  :0   Thanks for all the ideas and comments…. keep ’em coming!

The rain is with us for a few more days, but next week is supposed to be dry and sunny.  I’m going to get this thing finished… :)

 

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Chookie Home Near the Garden

May 2nd, 2010

In between the rain it’s time to catch up with everything, and everything is growing!   It’s amazing how fast the grass, vegetables and even the weeds can spring up with a good bit of spring rain.  But it’s that wonderful time when everything starts, and we dream of what the garden may become. The roses are blooming too- are they early?   I’m not sure, but in a month or so they will struggle under the assault of beetles, so it’s nice to enjoy their blooms now.

This is Blanc de Coubert, or the White Rose of York… actually one of the two of the famed Wars of the Roses. 

There are so many other flowers…   which is a good thing for the bees.  We’re now into the peak month of May for the spring nectar or “honeyflow” for the bees.  They will use that abundance of nectar and pollen to grow the hive and store honey, and I’ll layer extra supers or boxes to hold frames for them as they expand.    I’ve been amazed at the number of bumblebees around this year too, which is especially good for plants such as tomatoes and squash.

The garden is doing well- I got seeds and starts in the ground almost a month earlier than previous years, hooray!   It’s not very big compared to those of you who put up tons of vegetables for winter, but with luck and a good season it will produce a lot of fresh food and enough to carry us into the winter months with peas, beans, potatoes and tomatoes.    

The sugar peas are growing very well and love the cooler weather…   but the beans have made a slow start since I planted them early.

The bean plants are the “Bush” snap variety that will produce months of fresh and tender string-style beans.  I haven’t planted pole beans yet, but I do provide supports for these and it helps them. They cook up so nicely with butter and garlic, and freeze really well for storage after blanching.   Like the cucumbers however, the beans  didn’t take off in the cool weather, but now are coming along nicely.   I’ll plant some more beans in June and see how they take us through summer. 

I planted one good row and a separate patch of potatoes.   In this loamy corner I put in a good dozen red pontiac seed potatoes that I carried over in a brown bag from last year.  But don’t these potato tops look different?  Look at the two types of foliage in the picture:  One is shorter, with greener stems and smoother leaves.  The leaves in the background have shot up much taller with reddish stems and rough, crinkly leaves.  

They have looked that way for a couple weeks, but I thought came from the same potatoes, although they sure don’t look like it.  Maybe I mixed a different seed potato in there?

I planted a good dozen tomato plants of differing varieties, and a dozen pepper plants as well.   I’m really hoping the tomato plants do better than last year… we had some type of wilt fungus that held back growth and turned leaves spotted and yellow.   I changed their placement and will fertilize more this year and see how they do.  I’m always searching for that perfect variety, but honestly my tomato adventures are more like experiments each year.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

Speaking of experiments, it’s nearly time for our chickens to move outside.  Except they really have no where to go yet!  Look at these monsters… they’re growing like crazy.   They’re now four weeks old, and everytime I feed and water them they jump on my arms giving me a chicken stare that says, “Hey! We’re not house pets you know!”  

I know, I know…   I’m getting there.   I tell them its been really rainy and muddy out there, and just to be patient (I don’t just talk to the yellow lab anymore, now I’m talking to chickens).    And now I’m really in a mess, because two of them even have names.   Anyway, the white leghorn mix at top left is “Snowy” and the Barred Rock at top right is “Pepper.”   Have to wait for more feathers on the other ones…

So I’ve been busy gathering some lumber and other materials, and leveling a spot for their new coop.   We are challenged to find level ground closer to the house, so I finally realized that there was room near the garden if I built the coop off the side of a small garden shed.   We weren’t really using the space, and I just removed a couple of rose bushes while packing down a soil base.  It’s not far from the house really, and has the advantage of nearby water and electricity.

The little shed is a quarter century old, but standing up very strong.   I’ll build on to the east side of it, and the chickens will have both afternoon shade in the summer heat and a break from the prevalent western winds throughout the year.   So in between rain storms I’ve been “playing in the mud” for several days, and it was time to sink a couple posts for support.   At least the wet ground was easy to dig, and after setting a gravel base and pouring concrete, I used stakes to level and stabilize the posts while the cement dries.  

There’s not much more than dirt and two posts to see, but if you can imagine a slightly lower roofline extending from the left under the eave of the shed at a downward angle for about six+ feet, taking the shape of a coop with 5 foot tall sloping sides and an 8 foot end/front?  Overall it should make for a coop dimension of about 40 square feet. 

I can’t imagine having more than ten chickens right now, which gives them about the recommended four square feet of space per bird.    Not quite sure where to put the nest boxes either, e.g. inside versus hanging outside, but maybe I could cut a rectangular box extending into the little shed? Enough to fit four nest boxes?  Then you could walk inside the shed to get the eggs…   of course we need a new door on that shed.  It’s a tiny door at less than two feet wide by five and half feet tall…

Perhaps I’ll build the coop off the ground a foot or two, and then will extend a run of fifteen feet to the right.   I’m also trying to decide what to put down on top of the dirt for the chickens, if anything.  It’s just so muddy when wet, but eventually I could get some gravel for a base?  Mulch?   I don’t know, but the next few days are going to be filled with cutting, nailing and generally trying to put something together.  If you’ve got some tips to share, don’t be shy,  any ideas are welcome!

 

After setting the posts in concrete late yesterday, another series of storms rolled in overnight.   I like to mound the top of the concrete around the posts for drainage, so to prevent any damage from the rain I took two plastic garbage bags and set them over the posts, staking them with large nails like a tent.

In the picture below you can see the left side of the old garden shed, and behind the fence you can see the “little red barn” or new shed that is finally (mostly) finished.  It holds the beekeeping equipment and related tools and is a relief to keep things “high and dry” in their own place.  Should I paint the garden shed and chicken coop to match?

Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals and nature, looks over the garden.   He is set among plantings of salvia, blue fescue grass, lemon balm and even pumpkins, tomatoes and squash.   If the pumpkins do well, they’ll take over the patch…  I’d love to see that!  

Soon there may be chickens in the garden… well, near the garden is more like it, if I let them out of the run while supervised. I don’t want them tearing up the vegetables, but would like to see them chasing bugs and critters.

Otherwise, the remaining little dwarf Northstar sour cherry tree is coming along fine this year.   One of the two little cherry trees died over the winter, but this one is doing fine with few dozen cherries developing.   If it continues doing this well we might just have a basket of cherries in a few years. 

Everything takes time. I planted a little apple and pear orchard across the pond a few years ago, but the trees are still too small to produce anything. Years of growth, one after the other. I don’t know how long we’ll be here, but I’d love to look around in twenty years and see how things have changed…



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