Friday, June 28, 2013

Something pretty I wanted to share part 5

While walking about the farm, I noticed that the delicate flowers of Spring have all faded away, yielding to the showier Summer flowers.  All of these flowers have come up on their own without any intervention on our part.  Perhaps many years ago, someone discarded a dried up pot or an animal or bird deposited a seed.  Who knows?  Regardless, they're nice to find like little treasures along the path...
reminds me of a morning glory blossom

This is really one of those times I wish my camera would pick up the colors more accurately than it does.  The pink of the Morning Glory type blossom is a vivid deep pink yet the little bells are a dark purple (not as dark as the clematis however).
As I watch the bees buzzing about, it got me wondering about what they see.  A human has very limited vision and can only see within a tiny portion of the light spectrum.  I found an article online that included some pictures.  The simple dandelion has taken on a whole new meaning.

Watch your feet!  Sometimes the prettiest ones are easy to miss.  Each of these clusters are about the size of a nickle. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More Strawberries!

Strawberries are ready and the area You Picks are doing door busting business!  Many small farms in central New York have their roadside stands filled with these luscious gems.  As a firm believer in supporting local businesses whenever possible, fresh strawberries provide a positive incentive.

Although there are only five or six different wild strawberry species, there are hundreds of different domesticate varieties.  Some are small and dark, others are monstrous, though a bid bland.  I've heard some people claim that the smaller the berry the more likely it is to be tart.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Many of the smaller varieties are top picks by chefs when making jams and desserts.  To read more, see Strawberry Varieties.
So here's a couple of ideas to help extend Strawberry time at your house:

Strawberry freezer jam -- this is good for all sorts of things: on top of ice cream (or blended in), spread on bread & biscuits, served over waffles, etc. etc.

Sliced and served over a bit of cake  -- oh, did I say 'Cake?'
A remarkably easy, tasty recipe which is relative low in calories and did I mention?  Really good.  You need 1 box of pudding in the mix cake mix (chocolate or lemon compliment strawberries nicely) eight ounces (1 cup) of Greek yogurt, and 3/4 cup water.  Follow the directions for blending, pan prep, and baking from the cake mix box.  I used a couple of loaf pans.  The cake didn't rise very much but it did have a fine silky texture that was a nice compliment with the fresh strawberries. 
Freeze and save for another time -- This is where some people get this notion that they need to freeze their berries in a sugar bath.  This is really unnecessary.  Just rinse the berries, remove the stems & caps if desired, spread out on a cookie sheet, and freeze.  Once frozen, transfer the berries to vacuum sealed bag or a press and seal bag where the air has been removed.  These are a nice surprise when the weather is cold and evil or a lovely addition blended into lemonade.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Out and about walking the hayfields

Been quite a week.  The weather cleared for awhile, just long enough to walk the fields and check the drainage.  With all the rain we've had lately many of the farms have lost their first crops, leaving fields still too wet to replant and try again.  We've been lucky but continue to be watchful.
Some prolonged dry weather would be helpful right now so that we could get the hay mowed and baled.  Those long waving blades are pretty in the morning light but in order to have enough feed for the winter, most farms need at least two cuttings. 

Multiflora Rose is becoming problematic for many farms and orchards in the East.  Introduced a number of years ago by the Department of the Environment as a natural fencing material to divide pastures, Multiflora has taken a toe hold and has spread to many undesirable areas.

 If you look carefully in this photo, you will see the Multiflora growing up and covering the trees.  In no time at all, this plant can completely take over and smother out any competing plant life.  It's not uncommon to see great cushions of roses growing in pastures or along roadsides.  On the upside, there is so much growing in our area that the morning air is lightly rose scented.
Although there are many toxic solutions that will kill these plants.   One of the best solutions that New York is experimenting with is allowing controlled goat grazing.  Goats love these plants and in no time will eat them to oblivion.  Two or three passes over the area where the roses are growing and the Multiflora is done.  What's more, any rose hips or seed that is consumed is rendered sterile in the goat's gut, not just pass through like it does when eaten by deer or birds.  Goat droppings add nutrients back into the soil and unlike cow or horse manures, breakdown quickly and don't burn the soil.
Sidebar: as promised, I finally saw one of the tulip poplars in bloom.  The flower was deep in the leaf cover.  Unlike those showy tulip trees at the nursery, these have only a few flowers and you really have to look for them.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Something pretty I wanted to share, #4

Guess this is becoming a habit, a lovely habit, but still...

It's been raining a lot lately so the blossoms that I so love to find and share with you are only around for a brief, fleeting moment.  Then the rain comes and it all washes away.
Alongside a sunny stretch of a tributary that runs along our propertyline, these white flowers suddenly appeared.  Each blossom was about the size of the palm of your hand.  They reminded me of the wild roses that grew near my grandmother's house when I was little.  I'm unsure just what these are but soon as I find out, will pass it on to you.
Remember the tulip poplar's seed pod that I found last fall?  While walking in the wood, just after one of the storms, we found where some blossoms had blown down.  I don't know if this variety of tree has blossoms all over or if they only appear high in the branches beyond my line of sight.  So finding this was a special treat.

If you look very close you'll see that the pistil (the female part of the flower) looks like a tiny yellow seedpod.  Reminded me of those pine tree flowers that looked like tiny red pinecones. 

One of the roses we rescued last year is still waiting to be transplanted.  Although it had struggled where it had previously lived, it's thriving in its temporary pot.  Still wondering where it's final home will be.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Strawberry time

Yes, it's true.  I never met a berry I didn't like.  Here on the East coast, we're on the cusp of strawberry harvest time.  Some of the local fields are all ready setting up their roadside stands and spreading out box upon box of these luchious morsels. 
We have many varieties, both cultivated and wild, growing at My Happy Acres.  The Virginia variety is the most common.  This small wild berry has a delicate flavor and is a welcome addition to salads and fresh fruit dishes where a spark of color helps brighten things up. 

Want to make something that is as easy as it is delicious?  Try some strawberry freezer jam:
 You will need: Equipment: a large & a small bowl, a potato masher, refrigerator safe covered containers to store the jam in.  Ingredients: Strawberries (depending on size, about a quart), granulated sugar, Instant pectin.
  • Using a potato masher, squish up enough berries in the large bowl to make 1 2/3 cups of prepared fruit (remember: no big lumps.  You want the flavor going into the spread not stay in the fruit).
  • In the smaller bowl, blend together 2/3 cup  sugar (or Splenda for a sugar free alternative) and 2 tablespoons of Instant pectin.  Please note: Instant Pectin and traditional pectin are not the same.  Instant pectin is intended for no cook jams and will give much better results.  
  • Gradually add the sugar mix to the fruit, stirring gently to combine and dissolve into the fruit.  Spoon into containers and let stand about 30 minutes.  
  • Since this is not cooked, place the unused portion into the refrigerator.  It will keep for about a week, provided that the family hasn't yummed it up by then!

This is now ready to serve on biscuits or spooned over ice cream.  Delicious!!!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Life a little sweeter

Earlier in the week I went freezer diving and pulled out six (!) large Ziplocks filled with frozen blackberries.  Last year was a perfect year for wild blackberries.  While many other plants suffered in the heat and dryness, the blackberries thrived.
After enjoying bowl after bowlful, it was time to rinse the bounty and stock it away for another time.  Unlike the berries one buys at the store, our berries were not soaked in sugar before being put away.  Rather, the berries were rinsed then spread out on a cookie sheet prior to freezing.  This allowed each fruit to freeze separately, maintaining it's shape and juice.  The frozen berries are then vacuum sealed before being returned to the freezer until ready to use.

My general rule of thumb when preparing fruits or vegetables is less is more.  When making jam, focus on the fruit.  Our Blackberry jam has only three ingredients: Blackberries, sugar, and pectin (to aide in setting the jell).  One of my favorite recipes can be found at  The only change in this recipe is whenever making jam I use a 1 to 2/3rds ratio fruit to sugar.  This creates more of a fruit flavor to the jam however feel free to adjust it to suit your pallet.


What slows people down from making their own jams are the seeds.  No one really likes to have the smooth creamy texture of good jam interrupted by a stony seed pellet.  This is easy to remedy.  First of all, put away the food processor.  All this does is grind up the seeds to the consistency of sand making them harder to remove. 
By first mashing the heated fruit with a potato masher, then later mashing and sieving the hot pulp through a food mill, one will render out more of that delicious pulp and filter out the pebbly seeds.  For those that start with seedless fruit (a time saver), after processing through the food mill, set aside the remaining pulp in the refrigerator for an interesting fruit spread.  It won't keep as long as the processed jam (unless, of course, you freeze it), but it's a pure fruit change from sugared spreads.

Like fruit pies, feel free to mix and match fruit combinations when making your jam.  Concord and blackberry blend very nicely as does strawberry with blackberry.  Whatever your favorite, I'm sure you'll find that your store bought jam will pale by comparison to that lovely fresh taste from garden to kitchen.

For some special Tips on Jam making, (click here)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How does your garden grow?

In a little less than a week, the seeds that were put in the ground are now bursting forth!  This year we've planted both yellow and green beans in the same plot that had been used for squash last year.

After hoeing in some compost to add rich organic matter to the soil, and, of course, removing as much rock as we could, the plot was leveled out and planted.  Just a reminder: those silly Popsicle sticks and string to mark your rows with be a godsend to you when starting to weed or til.  Whereas beans are fairly easy to discern from weed seeds, other seedlings, such as carrots, are not.
Over in the orchard, the apple trees continue to bloom.  It appears that the late frost may have effected the Jonnagolds, however the late blooming Honey Crisp are still going strong.
The sweet cherry trees are also doing well this year.  We may see a small crop from the trees planted just last year!  Provided, of course, that we can keep the birds off.  Never a dull moment.  Further adventures to come!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Rounders: Boys and Girls

I had to smile a little the other day when I heard a very knowledgable grade schooler explain how to tell the difference between boy and girl chickens.
"Boys make lots of noise and girls wear aprons."
Mr Bossypants

Buster and Robin
What I've learned is that sexing chickens is sometimes a little more complicated than that.  So far we've been lucky in that our chickens are, mostly, of a variety that has feather sexlink at hatching.  In other words, the pattern of the down, i.e. stripes or solids, can give you a good idea of if you have a boy or girl.  Of course periodically you have an odd ball or one whose stripes are so faint as to go unnoticed.

The chicks are now a month old and in many cases, their sexual characteristics are starting to present themselves.  Fred, Twister, and, of course, Buster are all developing combs.  The girls, particularly Robin, Jet, and Amy, are all developing a more rounded look of a hen. 

So how do the Pro's do it?  Some of the more expensive hatcheries actually sex their chicks.  That's right: they peek under the day old chick's butt down and check the vent (cloaca) for a pair of bumps.  At best this is about 95% accurate.  (To read more, check out the online article at Mother Earth News.)  We just let nature take its course, all the while hoping for girls.

waking up from nappytime

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Rounders: Amy

Amy was one of the first to hatch.  What I find surprising is that she was a soft grey as a chick however as she has gotten older, has become creamy white with toasty accents.  So much for my ability to predict what they will look like (LOL!).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Rounders grow up

The Rounders have all left the nursery and moved into the main house out in Chickenland.  Like other kindergartners they need guidance.  While some of the older hens lose patience with the babies from time-to-time, others appear to enjoy taking on the roll of the doting Aunties.
It's hard to imagine that only a month ago they were tumbling out of their shells ready to greet the world. As the days pass, each of their personalities becomes more apparent.  Domino looks more and more like her mother, Inky, yet her sister, Jet, is more likely to get into mischief.
Domino being groomed by Dusty will Ida looks on
Jet is getting more of the cinnamon color of her father, with the black background.  The brindle coloration make it difficult to find her sometimes.  At the end of the day, we have to be extra careful that no one gets locked out for the night.

Amy continues to be the sweetest in the lot.  Like her mom, Missy, she's calm and self assured. She and Buster are already trying out the roost, much to Pip's anxiety as he's still a bit too small to jump quite that high.  Fortunately, Dingy is there to comfort Pip and tuck him under her wing.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Something Pretty I wanted to share, part 3

What does Spring smell like to you?  When I was growing up, we had a large lilac bush growing outside my bedroom window.  In the Spring it would produce a profusion of large purple blossom heads.  In the early morning I would glide my window open just to enjoy the scent on the breeze that would fill my room.  There I would sit and watch little birds flitting among the branches until the rest of the family stirred and it was time for breakfast.

When I grew up, I traveled to all different parts of the US.  Each town, city, and green space had it's own character.  One place in central Wisconsin even smelled a bit like cows.  It made me smile when my host commented on how much he loved the smell of Spring.  No complaints.  I like cows.

Honey Locust
Each week as I take my morning walk, I notice what is blooming and what has faded.  As the breeze shifts, a new fragrance wafts my way.  The winds turn and I'm caught in a flurry of small petals.  So what does Spring smell like to you?  Wet grass after a cool rain?  A special flower that only blooms for a short while?  Enjoy these moments.  Summer will be here soon.