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"Every second is of infinite value..."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



All Washed Up

August 15th, 2010

Well it seems after a week I figured out how to post something from my phone… Silly I know but kind of neat when I’m sitting at a campsite. More importantly however… We’re enjoying the sights and even have clean clothes again! :-)
 

 



Flowers and Fungi

August 10th, 2010

The vegetables are slowing down and the flowers are too, but a host of yellow daisies still brighten the day. I’m not sure what this flower really is, but yellow daisy seemed fitting.  I’m glad they still bloom under the August sun.  I haven’t seen any bees or or insects on them.  I would love to find something the bees could use in late summer.

As we made the rounds last week with the yellow lab, we found various fungi that popped up rather quickly after the last rainfall. He was a curious pup, yet smart enough not to mess with them. 

This one was really cool looking… I love the split edges.   Since they are not morels however, I just enjoy them for pictures.

Not to be outdone, this one was reddish colored with yellow patches where the skin was open or perhaps chewed away. Maybe one day I’ll learn more about them. 




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!

*******

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!

Small Wonders and Big Smiles

August 4th, 2010

The other morning I awoke to a light fog… beautiful and mysterious. My hope soared that it would be a cool, cloudy day… but then I saw the blue sky through the mist- I knew the sun would be blazing.

It was very warm outside, and the humidity has reached so high that you start sweating as you stroll around the yard. Yesterday the temperature pushed a bit over 100 F… but there were cooler refuges in the house or basement thankfully.

Yesterday I finally finished the chicken nest boxes! I was mulling over various options- buying some online, or maybe using milk crates or something. I had this nagging feeling that I really needed to finish them because in a few weeks the chickens would be ready to lay eggs.

So with morning gusto and three cups of coffee I just dove in to what I’d been putting off, and started building something…. anything… boards flying everywhere, the circular saw zipping through wood (carefully!), and hammers sending nails flinging across the garage floor.

The boy helped hold things in place and gave his opinions… He doesn’t think he helps, but he does! He even put a few nails and screws in. I was on a roll, and scraps of osb (along with a few muttering sob’s), pieces of siding and 2×4’s came in handy.   Before lunch rolled around we came up with this:

I kind of like how it came out, at least I hope so for a chicken!  I’m not sure they’re deep enough, but it stands on four legs and we went out to put it in the coop.   Fit pretty well at the height I wanted for the outer door.  I fiddled around, moving the feeder to the middle of the coop and tweaking it a bit.

Wouldn’t you know after putting some bedding in the box, our little Brownie hen jumped right in there!  She seemed to like it…

I couldn’t resist adding a few golf balls to the nests to help the chickens get the right idea… they seemed quite interested and made funny little clucking sounds.    I walked outside to check the fit…

Looked pretty good, if not a bit silly with golf balls!  I’m still not sure the inside opening for the hens to get into the box is big enough, or if the nest is “deep” enough for them.   Then I thought “What if they don’t even use the nest boxes!”   Oh well.  Which probably will be true… they’ll lay eggs anywhere at times I’m sure.

It was a busy day though- and after the boy and I weeded the garden for a bit he kept peeking in the nest box door to see what was going on.   He found one of the red hybrid hens sitting in a nest and giggled.   It looked like another chicken or two had been poking in the boxes but we weren’t sure.   Later that afternoon the boy wanted to “go check for eggs” again (for the umpteeth time)… so there we go.

Guess what we found?

The boy opened the nest box door… and his eyes grew wide and we both stared… he was speechless! I was speechless!  Then he said, “Daddy look! It’s an egg!”

Yep.  Would you believe that in a few hours after I put the nest boxes in that coop that a chicken laid a magical, beautiful, hard little egg right in that middle nest box?!?!?!    Our first egg! I couldn’t believe it.  And it was a “shack”… bombing lingo for a bullseye.   I  looked around to see if the Easter Bunny was hiding in the bushes.

We took it in the house and marveled with excitement… our first egg!  So then of course we thought we better look for more… he had to call his Memaw too, and while she was on the phone, lo and behold he found another egg inside the coop on the floor!  “Okay ladies, who missed the nest boxes!?”

Well, maybe a good omen that our first egg ended up in the nest box?  I hope so… I’d rather not rummage around the coop.  The boy loves it for now- and I hope it lasts.   I’d sure love to keep watching an automatic-egg-gatherer in action :)

Two eggs on the very day I put the nest boxes in.   I love it when a plan comes together, and maybe that nagging feeling paid off…  or those golf balls worked really well!  Or maybe the girls just humored me.   ‘Course we haven’t had any other eggs in the past day or so, but the chickens are only going on 17 weeks now. A few weeks more and they should really start laying.

They seem to enjoy their coop and run.   I haven’t let them out running around as much lately, but each day we throw in weeds, grass and a mix of scratch with corn and millet.  They seem to be just fine- even with the heat.  They seek the shade, and stay in the coop until the afternoon shades the front a bit more.   After they get in a strong routine of laying eggs, I’ll let them outside more often.   We still have that extra rooster if you’re looking for one… :)

Yesterday morning I had the cutest, tiny poached egg… and the boy had one scrambled. Pretty darn good. Not a very good fiscal return on the money invested, but hey it’s a lifetime of lessons, right?  I’d say that’s a better return than anything else.

That’s the big news around here…  small wonders and big smiles.   I need a few more of those in my life :)

*******

After this week’s heat, I’m going to take a blogging break and spend a week or two roaming with the boy, perhaps up north (that’s why we had to get those nest boxes finished!).   Maybe we’ll up towards Michigan where the nights are cool… I’ll check in a time or two and wrote a couple posts that will publish automatically, but I hope everyone can find a little cool refuge this month too!

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.

*******

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!   :)




Life and Death on a Black-Eyed Susan

July 24th, 2010


The Praying Mantis finds its prey…




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.

*******

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!

Summer Downpour

July 10th, 2010

Isn’t it amazing how the first half of summer explodes with growth everywhere and its hard to keep up with everything?   As we head towards midsummer, the vivid green foliage slowly matures  and begins to dry out to darker colors and browns throughout the landscape.  We’re not there yet, but I’m ready for the grass to slow down a bit more!

Driving home the other day I took this picture just because the clouds looked interesting.  I love the depth of the clouds, and it reminds me of driving out west.  It foreshadowed the rain we’ve received over the past couple of days.  We needed it, and I’m glad it will keep the clover and other summer flowers blooming a little longer for the bees.

It began raining as I worked around the pond, trimming brush and weeds and enjoying the coolness.  But I called it a day after a half hour when I realized the rain wasn’t letting up…  I like seeing the rain around the watershed, and watching it fall on the pond in summer.  A few years ago it we barely received any rain for months and the pond dropped five feet very quickly.  Last year and this year however, the rain has topped it off every few weeks.

Last night there was an enormous rainstorm though, close to 2 inches of rainfall before it finished.  With that kind of rain I worry about erosion and the pond flows out the spillway.  I imagine a lot of insects and organic matter are washed into the pond, and it clouds up for a couple of days and then settles out.

The boy had just climbed in bed with the sound of falling rain outside his window, and then the intensity changed… it became heavier and heavier, drumming on the roof and the gutters began overflowing.   It was amazing really and he said, “I want to see the rain!”   To the kitchen we went, and turned on the outside lights… all the gutters looked like waterfalls, unable to keep up with the volume of water on the roof.

I said, “Do you want to go out there?”  half kidding, and wondering if he would, but he jumped at the chance!   No lightning or thunder, just a good ‘ole fashioned downpour.  He threw on a light windbreaker and went dancing barefoot through the storm…

I watched as he giggled and ran under the gutters, drenched from head to toe.  Just a few minutes of summer fun, and watching him I could remember playing in rainstorms myself as a child.  I almost went out there with him…  almost :)   He was back inside drying out with towels and asleep fifteen minutes later.

This morning the sun is shining and the air is cool… once again the landscape is refreshed, growing and bursting with life.  It’s time for me to head back out  and see what I can do about it!

Roosts and Berries

July 5th, 2010

It’s that time again where we could use some rain.  We received about 20 minutes worth yesterday which was really nice for a quick refresher.  The chickens hid out in their coop during the rain.   I had to laugh at them the other night.  At first I wondered if I would have to train them to go inside their coop.   Thus far it was a trick or treat affair of offering scratch, chasing them and catching them nearly by hand to get them back inside the other shed.   Now I’ve nearly got the run up and it was almost dark when I went out to close them up in the new coop… lo and behold they were inside on the roosts!

I just installed the roosts that day- removable 2×4’s, wide side up.   So there’s nine chickens on the top roost, and one lonely hen on that lower roost!   They’re packed side by side on a five foot roost… too funny.  I’ll probably put a third lower roost in there.  I imagine when they get even bigger they’ll need more room.

The one hen on that lower roost is Brownie… I think she’s at the very bottom of the chicken  pecking order.  I’ve noticed that not only the roosters, but all the other hens chase and peck at her, and she is a little smaller than the rest.  Probably gets pushed around at dinner time too.   But she’s also a smart one… when I let them out in the morning, she stays behind and finishes eating without being picked on.

The night after this picture, guess who was the first one inside the coop at dusk, and sitting right on that top roost?  Yep.  Brownie… she’s really thinking ahead of the rest :)    And yes, there were ten silly chickens on that top five foot roost, wedged together nice and cozy.

Looks like I may have to sink another post for the chicken run however.   For whatever reason, one of the end posts really warped over the past few weeks.  I tried to brace it, straighten it and think of how to use it effectively… but it’s supposed to be the hinge post for the gate.   I know it’s pretty common for posts to warp or twist slightly, but not enough to worry about.  This one went crazy and ended up bending about 4 inches from the bottom to the top.   We’ll see…   Heck, I may still use it if the hinges can reach.    If I do pull it out, I  should knock the cement off and take it back!

It’s also time to pick a few goodies, including the ripening blackberries.  We picked some of our own and the boy needed a container… so he borrowed my hat.  Now it has little purple stains inside :)

That morning we had blackberry pancakes! They were tasty… but these were mine.   Yes, that’s an egg in the middle!  I love my egg and pancakes together, even with a little hot sauce, maybe potatoes, sausage…   the boy thinks I’m gross.   Then again his preferred menu is basically white or yellow in color, without involving eggs… spaghetti, macaroni, pancakes, bagels, pizza.   Thankfully he does like a good salad and a few well-seasoned veggies.

Last week I cheated on the wild blackberries by taking the boy to a local farm whose berries are huge. A little sweeter too, and just the ticket for a pie. Don’t you just love summer?!

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