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. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Another afternoon with the Rounders

I'm always amazed by how fast babies grow.  In less than a year, a puppy no bigger than a loaf pan can look crowded laying across the truck's backseat.  Chicks that were just wee little fuzzballs two months ago are now vying for attention with the adults.
I have to laugh about certain behaviors.  Amy, for example, is as friendly as her mom, Missy, and also does the head cock that her mom does when looking at something she finds interesting.  I am unsure of the parentage of the others however based on certain colors feel I may have a pretty good guess.  But, since I don't know what their grandparents looked like, it's only a guess.
Domino and Fred
All of Domino's behaviors are suggesting that she is a he, as is Pogo.  I frequently find those two going belly to belly to establish top dog, err, chick.  Domino is also now the largest of the group.  Buster and Fred are keeping a low profile, letting everyone work out their issues.  This is what their father did while the feathers flew among their male siblings.
Robin, Jet, and Amy were all buddies when little.  Everywhere one went, the others were soon on the scene.  When Amy went exploring up and down the roost, Jet and Robin were playing follow-the-leader right behind.  The three musketeers are still close and frequently can be found preening and dusting together.
Jet and Robin
The abundance of strawberries has allowed us to share some as a treat with our feathered friends.  Some clearly would rather have the green part, leaving the red fruit for someone else to enjoy.  The chicks all understand that they are to wait until the adults have their fill before they can step forward and have some tasties.  So no one is left out, I do my best to spread the leaves and berries across the yard.  The grownups then can enjoy their snacks in peace and the youngsters can tussle all they like.

Sidebar about boys and girls: much to my amusement, many experts have come forward to tell me how to tell the difference between the boys and girls.  The latest informed me that:
1.) boys hold their tails up.  Girls hold their tails down.  and 2.) boys have combs.  Girls do not.
Goldie, Inky, and Lil Miss
All I can say is don't tell my girls...