Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chicken Population Growth

The population of our chicken coop has grown.

The three original ladies (back to front: Clueless, Lady Lazarus ["Lazzie"], and Princess) have some new housemates (coop-mates?).

Lazzie is a Silver-Laced Wyandotte, which means tan eggs. The white ones are Leghorns. White eggs, but lots of them; possibly as many as the other three combined.

The new girls (Duchess and Lady, left and right) are Barred Rocks, a variation of Plymouth Rocks. They'll give us plenty of brown eggs. In fact, someone has said that most brown eggs available commercially come from Barred Rocks.

We have some room for growth in the "Welcoming our guests" category.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Smudge Pot for Skeeters

I'm a writer, so (not surprisingly), I spend a fair bit of time writing.

I'm also an outdoorsman, so (also not surprisingly), I spend a fair bit of time outdoors.

And I often combine the two: I spend quite a lot of time outdoors, writing. The picnic table is an ideal place for writing. Except for one detail.

There is a drainage pond not far away, and therefore, when the sun goes down, the mosquitoes come roaring out of the shadows, intent on blood.

I've noticed that when I have my pipe lit up, the mosquitoes are kept at bay. But that's not the reason I want to smoke a pipe, and frankly, I don't want to smoke a pipe every time I'm writing at the picnic table.

So I created a little gizmo to smoke the pipe for me. Deep in a hanging planter pot is an oil lamp (with citronella oil). Above it is a small grille with a tiny metal pot, and I load the pot with pipe tobacco.

It's not a magic wand. And it works better when it's on the table nearby, rather than hanging over there from the ceiling. But it certainly is interesting. And it certainly does help!

Newspaper in the Garden

I've found the perfect use for the Sunday newspaper.

I'm killing grass between the raised beds. Several layers of newspaper, with garden dirt on top.

I'll cover it with cedar chips when things calm down a little.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Awesome Rhubarb Sauce and Syrup

Ridiculously good. Ridiculously easy. And a really good way to make use of all that rhubarb! We've harvested ours three times so far this year, and I expect two or three more before it's done.

Ingredients for a modest batch of either the syrup or the sauce:

3 or 4 cups of chopped fresh (or frozen) rhubarb
1 cup filtered water
¾ cup sugar 

This makes a pretty tart final product, which is good over homemade vanilla ice cream or as an ingredient in barbecue sauce.
For a sweeter version, use 1 cup sugar. This one is great as a snack by itself or over granola and such as a breakfast.

Load it into a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then lower it to a simmer, and let it go for a while. You can get by with as little as 20 minutes: just enough to break down the rhubarb into a very nice sauce. 

I prefer to let it simmer for another half an hour or more: it breaks down even more, of course, but more importantly, it reduces the mixture and the flavor is deeper and richer. If you turn up the heat a little and let it caramelize, it's another world of flavor.

If you're looking for rhubarb sauce, then you're done. Serve it hot over ice cream, or cool it in the fridge for use on granola, yogurt, or cottage cheese. Or just eat it by itself (you'll want the sweet one for this!)

If you're looking for rhubarb syrup, then strain the hot sauce through a fine strainer. After it's sat and drained (it's not fast), the resulting pulp will still be wet: this is also yummy. I might try swirling some of that residue, perhaps with some crushed Nilla Wafers, in freshly homemade ice cream for a new & different treat.

I'll be using the syrup in barbecue sauces, cocktails, maybe over ice cream. Mm mmm.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Second Crop of Peas

Pulled all the peas out today.

I'm told that we can grow a second crop. I planted some sugar snap-type goodies.

In the meantime, the pattypan squash and the cucumbers nearby will get some good sunshine.

We'll see how this goes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Guests in the Garden

This dragonfly was making a fine lunch of some of the bugs in the garden.

Dragonflies are my favorite bugs.
And this guy - a Scrub Jay - was overseeing the day's activities.

Jays are my favorite birds.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Experiments in Hanging Stuff

Experiment 1: Catnip at the Picnic Table.
We've had more mosquitoes than we like. Catnip is rumored to scare bugs off, so I've hung catnip near the table.
We'll see how it works.
Experiment 2: Hanging Tomato.
We have quite a number of tomatoes in regular pots, some of which are suspended from above.
I've been told that if you want to hang tomatoes, you really need to do it this way: with the plant itself upside down, hanging from the bottom of the pot.
It looks weird. But it looks like it might work.
This tomato is actually just a weed. It started growing as a volunteer among the Onion starts in the greenhouse. I didn't want to throw it away, so we built it into this.
They say it's good to plant a "shallow root" plat on top; herbs are a good choice. We were out of cilantro, so that's what went in the top.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mid July Artsy Shots

Nasturtiums growing as weeds among the squash. This is actually over the path between the beds. They're going nuts.
These are here to attract bees and butterflies. Don't remember their names, but they work. Bee Balm?
I think this is a kind of chrysanthemum. It's being taken over by a Japanese pumpkin.
This is my very first head of cauliflower. I think I harvested it too soon. But it's yummy.
The chickens live here. They're very amusing.
This is a clematis. It, too, is trying to take over the world. Heaven help us when it meets the pumpkins.
Day Lillies.
More Day Lillies.
I think Dill is beautiful. And yummy.
The neighbor's big tree came down, and now the squirrels have had to find another home.
This is the first time we've actually had hazelnuts ripen on our hazelnut tree.
Huckleberries. Yumm.
Jalapeno peppers.
I think Kale is beautiful.
This is the biggest bell pepper I've ever grown. Certainly one of the biggest I've ever seen.
Got a couple of sweet peas in with the edible peas.
Patty Pan. With more wild sweet peas.

This is a "red" sunflower. It's actually orange, but it's really pretty.

This is an awesome sunflower.
Some of my sweetheart's roses. They're beautiful. Like she is.
These tomatoes started as a weed. But they appear to be SunSugar tomatoes: her favorites.
They're keeping watch over the worm bin.
The Japanese pumpkins - the seeds of which came from Germany - are taking over the world.
And apparently they're taking over the neighbor's garden, too. Or at least his fence.
"You can't grow sweet potatoes in western Washington." Pfaugh.
The zucchini may take over the world by sheer population growth. Harvested five just today.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Update on the Ladies

The ladies in early July:

They're nearly full grown, and they're sassy.

They're beginning to learn how to eat scraps and leftovers. And they've learned how to escape their pen. Good thing we lock them up at night.

And don't let anybody convince you otherwise: chickens are not very intelligent. (They're just dumb!)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Garden in Early July, with Lessons Learned

 Some lessons:
  • Waaaay too much nitrogen this year: everything's shooting up and going to seed. Dig the manure into the ground next time. 
  • More space between squashes. Probably need to make something for the Japanese Pumpkins to climb.
  • Plant lettuce under tomatoes: better shade for the shade plants. 
  • Don't expect so much from the brassicas in the heat of summer. Focus on spring and fall. 
  • More calcium in the soils. Too much Blossom End Rot this year.
  • Onions & Garlic: Woot! But concentrate on the cooler species in the future. No need to spend a lot of garden space on the cheap stuff. 
  • Make sure the peas are Sugar Snaps. Much better.
  • It's much easier to stay ahead of the weeds than to play catch-up.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Making Peppermint tea

I've been hoarding peppermint plants for just this occasion. It's time to make peppermint tea.

I learned (with some surprise) how well my hoarding had gone. I had two pots of peppermint from seed, three more from transplanting, and of course, the great mass of it in the ground.

Step one: Pick a lot of leaves.

Yeah, I know this is spearmint. But the process is the same.Step two: Dry the leaves in a dehydrator. I've decided that I like the passive dehydrators for delicate things like peppermint leaves. The active one is still best for bigger things like apples, bananas and tomatoes.

Step three: grind the dried leaves to small flakes. I use a cheap ($5.00) food processor. It works fine for flakes, but wouldn't make powder.

Step four: put it in a baggie and deliver to someone who loves peppermint tea. Convince them that No, this is not a recently-semi-legalized recreational substance. This one has always been legal.

Step five: add to boiling water, and enjoy the best peppermint tea you've ever had.

The end.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Harvesting Garlic & Onions

I've never actually harvested garlic before. I'm kind of impressed. Last fall, I bought a handful of cloves at the grocery store & stuck them in the ground. Look at what came out of that!

I may have to be more intentional this year.

And my beloved brought some onion starts back from a garden show. The sweet onion starts were smaller than a single, good-sized onion in the harvest. This is about 80% of them. Some wanted to grow a bit longer.

Need to not plant them quite so tightly next year.

I had some green onions started in another part of the garden, all bunched together. So I transplanted them and spaced them better.

I think these will be white onions.

The red onions don't appear to be as ready for harvest, though I may need to do something to keep the squashes from overtaking them.

I'm going to guess another month for these guys, even though they were planted the same day as the sweet onions.

And of course, the cycle starts all over again.