Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What's going to market: winter squash and peppers

After patiently waiting for the weather to cool and patiently waiting for the ripening bloom, we have finally been rewarded with red peppers that previously we could only dream about.
The largest of the red bells harvested this year are only slightly smaller than the Sugar Pie pumpkins we also brought in.  These peppers are almost too big to stuff however may be fine if cut in half and made into two servings rather than just one.
As an experiment, we also had planted butternut squash and nestegg gourds.  The squash is finally starting to ripen.  These will be excellent in creamed squash soup or baked with a bit butter.  The nestegg gourds are destined for the back of the barn where they will rest undisturbed to dry until ready for next year's fun.
For those wondering what a Sugar Pie pumpkin is, the Sugar Pie is one of the smaller pumpkins that was bred to stay meaty and sweet.  One small pumpkin produces enough mash to make a pie or two (read more here).  High in vitamin A and loaded with fiber, pumpkins can be used for making breads, soups, even as a filling to ravioli.  Pie continues to be the favorite around here with soup a distant second place.  (perfectly wonderful pie recipe can be found at Libby's)

Sidebar:  Although 1/2 cup is equal to one serving of squash and your average pumpkin pie has approximately 2 cups of pumpkin, this is not to say that by eating a quarter of a pie is like only eating a single serving of squash...although this is not wrong headed, the other lovely gooey may not be all together that good for you in the end.  Just sayin'...

For those who are wondering: although you can keep winter squashes quite a long time in a cool, dark (dry) place, many people will freeze or can them instead.  If canning winter squash, including pumpkins, remember to can the cubes and not mash the pulp.  Even the best home pressure canner cannot guarentee that a densely packed pumpkin mash will evenly heat.  Therefore the FDA as well as the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends that these vegetables be canned as cubes then pressure sealed.  (Read more here.)  As a general rule of thumb, figure one pint per pound of raw winter squash.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Octoberfest: apple time in New York

September swept by with never a moment's peace to sit quiet and tell you the news!  The first week we were busy making peach jam from the bounty presented from our neighbor's orchard.  All the while, we did our best to stay ahead of the tide of tomatoes that were now presenting themselves.  Bushels and buckets of these red beauties were harvested as quickly as possible but I would be the first to admit that it was had to stay ahead. 
The Beefsteak tomatoes all ripened within the first two weeks of September.  It was hard to resist the temptation to pick them early.  By leaving these to ripen on the plant, the beefsteak develops an indescribable rich full flavor that compliments nearly any food it's paired with.  It was a perfect summer for growing tomatoes: hot enough to encourage growth, wet enough to make luscious fruit,  steady weather without too many extremes which cause the fruit to split or get yucky in other ways.
After one of the more severe late summer storms, we found that many of the plum tomatoes had literally been blown from their attachments.  Plum tomatoes were scattered clear to the garden fence line!  Fortunately this is a type of tomato that will continue to ripen and keep its flavor after being removed from the plant.
Apricots, peaches, then plums all ripened and were ready by the early weeks in September.  The first apples, mostly the yellow varieties, began making their appearances at the market by the second week.  The area orchards are now busy picking the crops that will appear in supermarkets within the next week or so.  What doesn't end up in a pie today, is being prepared and froze for later this winter when a cortland tart or turnover is just the treat to warm up with.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wee critters

got a note the other day from someone asking how big the little red newt was.  Sorry about not including something for a sense of scale.  The one pictured in the previous post was about four inches.

On the other hand, from time-to-time one does see smaller ones...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Something pretty I wanted to share, Part 8

Sunrise before the storm
Some heavy rainstorms came blowing through here not too long ago.  After clearing away the limbs and branches that came down, we had time to notice that the pastures had come into bloom.  Some of the flowers are easily recognizable.  Others are a little more challenging.  The most common of the purple flowers is purple loosestrife.  Like so many other invasives, this was introduced a number of years ago as an ornamental.  Now it is found all over the state, taking over wetlands where allowed to proliferate.
Roadside Bouquet
spotted touch-me-not
The spotted touch-me-not is a tiny, orange flowered ornimental.  One has to look close to see the details of this delicate little gem.  Although there are many, many flowers on each plant, the flower itself is only about the size of a fingernail.  This plant gets its name from the explosive quality of its seedpods.  One only has to barely touch the pod and seeds come blowing out every where!
The cool weather has also brought out some of the critters that usually stay hidden.  While out on our morning walk we were joined by this little guy.  The red spotted Newt is very common where the water is clean and there's lots of wormy snacks to enjoy.  This one is just a baby or elft.  When the newt becomes an adult, it loses its bright orange color and becomes a rather dull olive green.
This has been a summer without  butterflies.  You can count the number I've seen on one hand.  This tiger swallowtail is showing signs of its age.  Its wings are tattered.  It was slow to respond as I approached to take its picture.  I hope that this is just an off year and not signs of things to come.
end of the day

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Random Musings, part 1

"What are you doing?"
How many times have people asked me this question?  I usually hear it when I'm doing something that they themselves hadn't thought of.

The Scoop: I needed a scoop to help transfer chicken feed.  The quick answer was to take an empty heavy duty vinegar bottle (one gallon), cut the jug at a diagonial for an instant scoop with a handle.  I did something similar years ago when I needed a funnel to fill a tube shaped birdfeeder.  Using a quart sized bleach bottle, the scoop made it easy to ladle the birdseed from the bag, then by removing the cap, the seed would easily flow into the tube, filling it. 
One just has to be extra careful when cutting it out (use scissors and go slow).

Yummy stuff: This year has been a good year for pickles.  Although we have put up around four gallons of various types of canned pickles (hot water bath, sealed in the jar), we also have some lovely refrigerator pickles.  These are so quick and easy to do.   They can provide a low calorie, cool treat on a hot day.  
As you look at this picture you'll note all space below the floating pickles.  Hard to believe that this jar was absolutely jam packed with cucumbers just a couple of weeks ago.  As the pickles cured, the salt and vinegar drew the moisture from them, causing them to shrink and shrivel.  There's a product on the market called 'Pickle crisp' which will prevent the pickles from looking quite so wrinkly.  These taste wonderful.  They just don't look quite as pretty as they might.

Bedbye: As the rounders have gotten older, they are acting more and more like the grown ups.  They have learned:
When I come by, knock on the door, and announce, 'Housekeeping' that means for them to go out into the yard and not get under foot while I try to clean chickenland.
A steady call from me at the gate, 'back back back' means to move away from the gateway to the yard, cause I have some treats to share.  (And anyone who ducks under the gate and heads for the pasture will find himself without his buddies.  Fortunately, Mom is there to the rescue, to gently scoop up the lost lamb and return him to the fold.  And, yes, I'm talking about you Buster...).
At the end of the day, when it's time for little chickies to be tucked in for bed, there's always two or three (usually Amy,  Dusty, and Jet) that just want to play outside a little longer.
 "Bed-bye!" is the signal for all little chickies to head inside.  Usually, they're pretty good about it with only a minimal amount of whining.  My husband just shakes his head and laughs.

So what did you find today that made you pause, smile, and laugh?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

little surprises

While preparing dinner, an ear of corn had a little surprise inside: moma corn and baby...

What to do with it all

So here's the scenario: after a long winter, huddled up with your seed catalogs, dreaming of warmer days, you suffered from a combination cabin fever/garden withdrawal.  The desire for those lovely fresh vegetables cause your brain to derail and suddenly boxes of seeds are arriving at your doorstep. 

As the ground warms, you hurry to push those little promises into the soil, enticed by those lusty images of large moist vegetables pictured on each package.  Dutifully you weed and water and nurse each precious spout.
Then one morning it happens: you walk out to discover that the garden has transformed itself into a jungle.  Delicate cucumbers and zuchinis  now look more like sporting equipment and billy clubs.  Instead of two or three lovely tomatoes, you are counting the buckets as you haul gallon after gallon into the kitchen.  Freezing and canning can help preverve the summer.
Remember you don't have to freeze whole fruits.  You can also prepare sauces or make whole dishes to freeze and enjoy later.
The following are a few favorites:
Zuchini Latkes
Chocolate Zuchini Cake
Cauliflower pickles

If you have some favorites, please feel free to forward them on to me!  We're always on the look out for new taste treats!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Last of the summer beans

Production from the yellow beans peaked a couple of weeks ago and has been on a steady decline since.  We've gone from picking eight quarts every three days to picking only two quarts every five to seven days.  It is close to time to put that part of the garden to sleep.

On the other hand, tomatoes are rapidly ripening.  Unlike many of the store bought tomatoes that are picked green and ripen on their way to the grocery (which, incidentally, leaves them tasteless by comparison), the slow ripened on the vine tomatoes retain their sun kissed flavor.  Beefsteak, Big Boy, and Roma are all local favorites.
Also, the garlic, harvested a few short weeks ago, has now dried to the point that it is ready to be enjoyed.  Fresh garlic adds a delicious pungency to pickles, tomato sauce, or steeped in olive oil to add a little kick to pasta dishes.
The following is a favorite cold pasta dish that is easy and delicious:

1 cup dry Orzo pasta (rice shaped pasta)
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
3 cloves of fresh garlic, chopped (a little more or less to taste)
4 Tbsp capers (non-pareil or small capers taste best)
1/4 cup finely crumbled feta cheese
three large tomatoes sliced and lightly salted

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  As pot begins to simmer, measure your olive oil into a glass measuring cup and add the sliced/chopped garlic.  Set this aside for later.  When the pot begins to boil, add the pasta yet only allow it to cook for about nine minutes to reach the al dente texture, then remove from the heat, drain and rinse in cold water to cool to stop the cooking process.  Once completely drained, transfer into a bowl.  Stir in the sliced/chopped garlic oil and let sit for about five minutes.

Add the capers, feta, and tomatoes, gently stirring to coat with olive oil and orzo.  cover and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving.  We spoon this over fresh romaine lettuce with a small drizzle of balsamic vinegar dressing.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Enjoying the summer's bounty

Not everyone has the good fortune of a florishing garden or local orchards producing lushious peaches and apricots.  Whenever possible support your local farmers by shopping farmers' markets and buying direct.

It's blackberry time at My Happy Acres.  We have both seeded and seedless varieties.  Large, full of juice, and as sweet as summer, blackberries are delicous in cobblers, served over ice cream, or just by the handful.  Our favorite way to save the taste of summer, is to either freeze the berries for later use or to make jam.  The house was filled with the mouth watering aromas of both apricot (from a local orchard) and blackberry jams.
Of course when out picking the wild berries, some helpers are more help than others (as the puppy helps himself to another mouthful of ripe low growing berries).  Remember: those thorns can be small and hard to remove.  Showing a little caution and reserve can be rewarded with buckets of berries!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Planning and planting the fall garden

Let me begin by saying that it's hard to think about planning for a fall harvest when one hasn't gleaned at least one ripe tomato from the summer garden.  The summer garden was planted later than I had hoped.  Although we have lots and lots of beans to enjoy and share, the cucumbers are just now picking up steam, and the other vegetables are slowly catching up.

What to plant?  The heat of the summer is now starting its transition toward cooler nights.  This is perfect for many root vegetables such as carrots and rutabaga.  this is also good news for leafy greens such as spinach.  If you do decide to plant a few leafies however, do keep to mind that when cool turns to cold, take care to cover the plants with sheets or row covers to protect them from the frost.  when do correctly, the ground heat will keep the plants warm while the cover will hold the warmth close to the plants like a welcoming blanket.
baby pumpkin
A few plants welcome the cooler weather.  Among them are those in the cabbage family such as cauliflower and broccoli.  Kohlrabi and rutabagas are some others that thrive in the cooler temps.  Although you may need to protect them from the frost, leafy greens such as spinach is also works well if planted for a fall harvest.
As much as we would like to plant some winter squash, some varieties can take over 100 days to mature and produce.  Unless you live in an area that is prone to a late freeze date, it may be too late for that thought (but there is always next year!).  Read the information tag on the seed or seedling's package for maturity dates.  For a little extra help, visit Mother Earth News and check out their planning guide

Don't forget the summer garden.  As I was taking care of other business, I missed picking a few cucumbers only to discover a few days later that they had transitioned from gherkins to footballs.  Fortunately these are a variety to stay tender no matter how large they are.
 Life outside is not without a few surprises.  While adding a bit more to the compost pile, I noted that we have a volunteer coming up.  I don't know yet what kind of squash this may be.  Since we feed our girls all sorts of vegetables, it's anyone's guess what this will be.  All I can say with certainity is that it is growing strong with its feet deep in the warm nutritious compost at the bottom of the pile.

first Monarch of the summer

Sorry no picture.  At long last, I saw my first Monarch butterfly for the summer earlier this morning.  Usually we see them in June or at least around the Fourth of July.  The weather has been hard on them this year.  Perhaps we'll see more later.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Something pretty I wanted to share, part 7

The weather has finally cooled down again with much needed rains pushed by the fronts.  I've noticed that we have not had very many butterflies this year.  When going back through my pictures and daily notes, I've only found a handful this year as compared to previous years.
Swallowtails live for about a year.  Once the caterpillar has filled her belly one last time, she finds a quiet spot to make her winter chrysalis.  This will keep the swallowtail safe until she emerges in the Spring.  Monarchs, on the other hand, can go through as many as three generations before the fourth generation is born to migrate.  Although we have a great deal of milkweed growing in our western pasture, I have not seen any Monarchs this year.  I suspect the combination of the late frost in May and the never ending rains, may have taken on toll on everyone.

Late July is when the fields of black eyed susans come to bloom.  Later these nodding seed heads will feed many birds such as cardinals and waxwings.  These seeds are also a favorite to the field mice and chipmunks which provide food for hawks, owls, and foxes.  Being aware of the interconnectedness of things doesn't diminish the appreciation of how pretty these flowers are.
Although most of the garlic scrapes were trimmed earlier in the season, this one was left and allowed to bloom.  Looks rather other worldly doesn't it?
I love hydrangias.  I'm hoping that I can make a trade with one of my neighbors.  Perhaps some fresh lovely green beans for a few cuttings of his hydrangia?  We'll see.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Out in the garden, July update

Holy cow!  With all the rain and now the sun, you couldn't ask for better as the garden grows and thrives.  In just a few weeks, the cucumbers went from wee little seedlings to already producing cucumbers large enough to harvest for salads. 
 The tomatoes are also doing remarkably well.  Using the string trellis, which has proved to be both economical and practical, the tomatoes are heavy with lots of green globes slowly swelling in the sun.  As an experiment, we are using one of the cattle panels to train a couple of plum tomato plants.  So far, they haven't been very cooperative so we may need to find another method to get their faces out of the dirt.
The green beans are doing so well that we gleaned eight generous quarts in our first harvest this last Tuesday.  When inspecting the plants this morning, I noted that I will need to get out there an do another harvest Friday morning.  The yellow beans are coming along.  I hope to see them ready soon.

Side note about yellow beans: Some people call the yellow snap beans 'Wax beans'.  This is not to say that they taste waxy or have an oily texture.  'Wax' refers to the color.  Some of the old timers may refer to this type bean as a 'Butter bean', again because of color.  In the South, a large Lima bean is called a 'Butter bean' and you don't eat the pod.  I guess what I'm getting at is always ask if you're unsure what something is.  You might learn something.

Speaking of perfect weather: The squash, gourds, and pumpkins are all growing like mad!  It never ceases to amaze me at how fast these plants grow when planted in a place that makes them happy.  To keep the powdery mildew in check, I've continued to spray their leaves with diluted milk.  They reward me with lots of flowers and vine growth.
Nest Egg gourd
It will be interesting to see what kind of harvest we get this year.   The pictured nest egg gourd is supposed to be about the size of a chicken's egg however is currently the size of a goose egg and is still growing!!  Maybe this plant didn't read the seed catalog.  Or maybe it's from a place with some mighty big chickens...
Despite the late frost, the wild grapes are doing very well.  A couple of years ago, the wild grapes were so heavy and full we harvested 15 gallons, making pint after pint of wild grape jam.  Perhaps we'll be fortunate again this year.  We'll know more in late Fall, after the first hard freeze. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New words and the questioning mind

 I love listening to questions from people who really want to know the answer.  These are the folks that once the question is asked, will explore and read and question until they have a satisfactory answer.  Then they ask again. 

While walking the other day, I wondered why certain things are considered more beautiful that others.  I also wondered why there seemed to be a lot of spirals found in nature.  Think about it: rose petals attach to the flower's center in a spiral pattern.  Even something as mundane as a head of lettuce has leaves that attach to the core following a spiral.
Brace yourself.  We're going into the deep end of the pool.

First: the word of the day: fibonacci. The short version: Back around 1200 AD, an Italian mathematician named Leonardo Pisano discovered a sequence that begins with 0 and 1 which is thought of as the 'golden arrangement' found in nature.  Each successive number is made from the sum of the last 2 numbers, like in the sequence, e.g. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 etc.  As the numbers go up, the space between the last number also increases forming a spiral.  oh, and Fibonacci?  That was his nickname.  It's actually Italian for Son of Bonacci (his dad).
For of those of you who love math or would like to know how all this works out, there are articles published online that work it all out.
So, obviously, human beings don't look much like seashells, but the Fibonacci also applies to us.  Look at your hand.  Think of the fingernail as a unit = 1.  The bone making up the tip of your finger (distal phalanx) would be equal to 2.  The part next to it (middle phalanx) would be equal to 3.  The part nearest the palm (proximal phalanx) is equal to 5.  and so on.  It is the proportions and balance that contribute to what we describe as beautiful.  To read more, I like Boston University's Fibonacci Sequence site.  Always nice to have a little fun when learning something new.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Playing with your vegetables

Now that the weather has warmed, the cucumbers are taking off, sending their feelers and tendrils off in all directions.  Rather than pulling cucumbers out of the nearby tomato plants, I train them to grow up a piece of fence panel set upright where they are planted.
There are two ways to do this:
The Easy way: gently pick up the vine and weave it in and out of the fence panel gaps, wrapping the curling tendrils about the cross wires.  The tendrils are those little thin curly bits that shoot off the stem.
The fun way:
Cucumber tendrils are thigmonastic.  Like a Venus flytrap, although not as fast, they move when touched or disturbed.  (To read more, check out Wikipedia.)

First choose a vine to be trained with a nice long tendril.
Lay the tendril across the wire it is to wrap itself to and gently tap it so that the tendril softly bounces against the wire.  Within a minute or two the tendril will start to bend, then wrap itself around the support.
There are small hairs on the tendril that will hold it in place while it gets a firmer grip.  In about an hour, provided that it remains undisturbed, the plant will have a sound hold.
Pretty cool stuff, huh?  Squash, cucumbers, and all sorts of other closely related plants can be trained in this fashion.  Sometimes gardening is more than just grubbing about in the mud.  Have a little quiet fun.  Enjoy those little discoveries.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Berries of summer

Like many folks around here, My Happy Acres has a wide variety of berries available in their due season. 
Strawberry season was essentially done by the fourth of July however blueberry and raspberry seasons are just now gearing up.  We lost a number of our blueberry bushes to the cottontail rabbits so this next week we'll be taking a little time out to put the remaining ones into protective enclosures.  These baskets will need to be positioned far enough away from the main plant that the bunnies can't reach it and tall enough to also discourage the deer from nibbling. 
The raspberries are looking very good this year.  We did a little bit of pruning last year and have been rewarded with lovely red clusters this year.  Unlike some varieties, our raspberries have a full, sweet flavor that go nicely in salads, desserts, or consumed right off the bush.  Think about getting a little extra this summer and freeze them up to enjoy while the cold winter winds blow.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

With a little rain and sunshine

It has rained nearly every day for the last few months.  Fortunately it has not rained constantly and, fortunately, we're on high enough ground that most has drained away from the orchards and gardens.  The hay fields and parts of the pastures are still quite wet so once again, we continue to wait and hope to dry these out long enough to rescue a few bales from them.

Meanwhile out in the garden, last spring we did a small experiment but putting in a few raised beds.  These have turned out to be a blessing in many ways.  The vegetables are protected from too much rain and standing water. 
 In the last week the bean box has exploded to life.  Although the rows were planted about 18" apart, you would never guess it by how thick and bushy these have become.  Provided that conditions don't suddenly make an unexpected u-turn, we should be harvesting beans by next friday.
yellow beans
There are two different types of snaps growing: bush green beans and yellow snaps.  They have a similar flavor yet add a little splash of color to the summer table.
The cucumbers are growing slowly however with the warmer days, little cukes are appearing.  Other pleasant surprises include the peppers: red bell, cherry bombs (hot), and poblano peppers (med hot to very hot) are all doing well.

Toward the back of the garden, the squash, gourds, and pumpkins are going vigorously.  This year, we planted these in one of the raised beds.  Since they are going in close proximity to each other, we will probably not save the seeds.  These plants will cross pollenate with each other and with the cucumbers resulting in some unexpected off spring.

Sidebar: with all the rain, powdery mildew has become a big worry for many farmers.  Rather than spraying with poisons, I'm trying another remedy: milk.  By spraying the leaves and stems with a solution made with 1 part milk to 9 parts water, one raises the pH on the surfaces just enough to kill the mold spores.  One has to reapply after the rains however after just a few applications, the powdery mildew goes away.  This can be used on a variety of different plants and your garden stays safe for all the little beasties (dogs, chickens, children, husbands, etc) who may come and go.
Just remember to take care of it promptly.  This disease can rapidly wipe out a garden if left to spread.  To read more see Organic Gardening dot com

Friday, July 5, 2013

Something pretty I wanted to share, part 6

Early in the morning, just after sun up and before everyone else starts to shake the sleep from his eyes, you can find me out walking the pastures or down in the wood looking for treasure.  The chickens have all been fed and watered and are out doing their chicky business, looking for bugs or squabbling over some choice clover bit.
I love the colors and textures I find as I walk along.  This yellow flowered ground cover, has a blossom shaped similar to a cover but is a deep buttercup gold.  Along the edge of the wood, wild lilies are coming into bloom.
There are also a wide variety of daisy-like flowers.  I have no idea what the actual names are of these plants, but I keep looking and hoping to learn something new.

It continues to be too wet to mow and bale hay.  I fear that means that hay will be especially expensive this year and the quality will be way down.  On top of that, many of the grain growers have also had trouble getting into their fields this spring.  That means that bread, feeds, and meats are going to be expensive this fall and winter.  (side note to those who enjoy only grass fed meats: cattle and pigs can be very hard on pastures that are soft from too much rain.  Their feet punch holes in the sod making it difficult for grasses to continue grow.  Wet soils can also lead to other unhealthy conditions in the animals themselves.  Ranchers must stay continuously aware of their animals special health concerns under these circumstances.)
As the grass seed heads ripen, other plants also put out their long stalks to dry.
Down in the cool, damp regions the ferns continue to thrive.  One needs to be a little careful when going down to take a look, for the poison ivy is also flourishing these days.
 I'm on the look out for more orchids however the poison ivy has made me a bit of a coward to go in too deep into the unpathed areas within the wood.