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.