Sunday, May 31, 2009

I'm Freeezing!

I tell ya, sometimes ya just feel like ya oughta pack up and move south!

We loaded up the truck and trailer this morning with our trusty old Gravely garden tractor with plow attached and headed to our daughter's to start breaking ground on a patch that is going to be her garden. (I think she's most likely posting pictures and further details of the adventure.) The day was overcast and rain had been forecast, but we felt sure we could beat the raindrops.

Warnings of frost were out for last night, but we dodged the bullet and had a low temp of 38 degrees this morning. (Hee-hee-hee.) It had been 45 when we went to bed so I didn't cover any plants nor did I bring in the seedlings I've got on the front deck hardening off. (Probably wasn't the wisest move I've ever made . . . but I snookered by, didn't I?)

Meanwhile, back up on Swamp River Ridge . . . we finished what work on the garden plot we could and went inside for coffee-and before heading home. As we were lounging in the livingroom involved in pleasant chit-chat, Roy looked out over the valley and remarked that it looked just like snow was headed our way. Well, you can guess what happened next. Yup, those lovely, little, white flakes that we welcome with such eager anticipation in October and November started falling upon us. What the . . . ? Come on, folks, this is May 31st! Enough of this stuff.

By the time we got home here, just short of an hour's drive later, it had turned to rain and has continued all afternoon and evening. The word is we should watch for frost again tonight, and since the thermometer is already reading 38 now at 8 o'clock, we've just covered plants and hauled all the seedlings on the deck into a covered area. I'm sure I used up my "anti-frost-luck" last night.

About an hour ago, I started a fire in the wood stove ('twas feeling chilly and damp in the house) and got ready for bed (it's that kind of a night) putting on my red plaid flannel nightgown and heavy quilted bathrobe. It's freeeezing back here where my desk is but it's warm and delightful in the livingroom by the stove. Guess where I'm headed? Bye.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Weird Day

I was draggin' my wagon today. Lots of hard physical work outside all week, and then last night after I woke at 2 a.m. for a potty stop, I couldn't go back to sleep. Tossed and turned until 3 when I turned on my book light and read until 3:40 when the book hit me in the face. But then when I took off my glasses, put the book on the nightstand, snuggled down and tried to sleep, I was wide awake again. My antics were causing my bed partner to toss and turn, too, of course. I don't know why I don't just get up in those circumstances and go into my quilt room and quilt. Don't know when I finally dozed off into real sleep. When Roy woke this morning and half sat up to see the clock, he collapsed back down letting out a prolonged groan. I said, "Did we miss breakfast?" He said, "Yeah, and lunch, too." Well, it was only 8:15 but that was much later than we usually rise and shine.

When I sat up to put my feet on the floor, I got a shooting pain up the right side of my rib cage. No worry. I knew exactly what I had done out in the garden yesterday that caused it. Nothing that a small surgery, a week of bed rest, three months of physical therapy and some morphine won't cure.

Dear Daughter stopped in for a short visit last night and I gave her a nice bunch of my rhubarb, the first I'd picked this year. It looked so good that I went out first thing this morning and picked enough for a baked goodie of our own.

Came in and used the rhubarb to make a dish of Rhubarb Crunch . . . the best Crunch, Crisp, Crumble, Crackle, Crungle, whatever . . . I've come up with. Good thing I had it because the fella who put in our solar energy system (who's become a friend) stopped by this afternoon with his seventeen year old apprentice son to say hello. They sat at the kitchen table and chatted while sampling the Rhubarb Crunch. The son, who usually doesn't have too much to say, was working his spoon pretty hard in his bowl to get every last little morsel cleaned up. Finally, he pushed his bowl away and said, "That was the best rhubarb dessert I've ever had!" High praise, I felt. (If anybody's interested in the recipe --- it's really not my intent to subject you all to too many recipes --- let me know.)

Other than picking the rhubarb this morning and watering my sprouted seeds in the garden and the seedlings I'm hardening off on the deck in preparation for planting them, I didn't make it back outside to work all day. That's okay though 'cause, as I say, my energy level was lagging and I maybe needed a non-physical rest day.

That blankety-blank Agnes (my maid) didn't show up again today. Haven't seen her all week and her list just gets longer and longer. Boy, the help you get these days. I'd better get to bed. Somebody's got to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning.

Blueberry Bushes

This post with pictures of our blueberry bushes is a bit over-due. A blog reader asked a while ago if I would post some pictures of our bushes so he could compare them with some neglected ones that he's trying to reclaim on property he purchased.

Problem is there's not much to see right now. The bushes are just barely starting to leaf out and with my heavy mulch of peat moss for a background, the nearly bare branches of the bushes don't show up very well.

We bought about twenty bushes of a mixed variety ten years ago and they are all ones that should do well in our northern climate. They're a cross between low bush and high bush blueberries. I think we may have stunted their growth in the beginning because it seems to me they're not nearly as large or robust as they should be.

As homesteaders eager to get our plantings going on a new piece of land, we were a wee bit premature in ordering them. The spring they came, we had already noticed the abundance of deer we had on the property. Until we could get our garden area fenced (a necessity), we planted them in large plastic buckets and put them in a chain link dog kennel enclosure for protection. Then (blast and dang) circumstances prevented us from getting them planted in the ground the next spring, too. So they ended up spending their first two years with us in the buckets. In the dog kennel. Not good.

When we finally got them planted in the ground, I truly believe for the next two years, they got smaller. (Couldn't be, could it?) We wondered if they were perhaps not getting enough sun as the woods on the east prevented the morning sun from getting to them for the first several hours of each day. I thought we had done enough to make the ground adequately acidic, but that could have been a problem, too. (Gosh, this is sounding like a long, sad story, isn't it?)

The books say you should take any forming berries off the bushes for the first three or four years to give the bush time to develop. Then when the bushes are about five years old, they should start to produce a good harvest. Ours have now had eight years of growing in the ground (I'm discounting the two years in the cramped buckets) and last year was the first year that we had what I would call a really good harvest.

About a week ago we visited an acquaintance 100 miles south of us who makes her living selling raspberries and blueberries. She must have a couple hundred blueberry bushes (crosses like ours) and they were tall (about four feet high) and a good three feet across. Wow. Lovely. I just stood with my mouth open in awe of her blueberry bushes. I don't know how old hers are (I should have asked), but it made me want to give up on ours. Small, puny, under-developed . . . but starting to bear. I think. I hope.

And . . . hey, I can grow great raspberries! Anybody wanna see my raspberries? Look how tall they are. Have you ever seen such tall raspberries? No, please, don't look at my blueberries. Please.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mom's Pancakes

My dad didn't like what most people recognize as your basic pancake. You know, about 4" round, maybe 1/2" thick. He called them "saddle pads" because he though they were dry, tough and tasteless. Being raised in an orphanage, it could well be that the ones he had there were pretty bad. At any rate, he refused to eat regular pancakes, but sure did love my mom's "pancakes.”

I suppose you could probably describe her recipe as being more like a crepe, but we didn't even know what the word "crepe" meant in our house when I was growing up. To us, what Mom made were . . . well, just what we knew as pancakes. Here's her recipe.


Put 3 eggs, 1-1/2 cups milk, 1-1/4 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl. Beat with a hand-held rotary beater or electric mixer until the batter is smooth.

Heat a small amount of oil (just to grease the pan bottom) in a large skillet. Pour in about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter (depending on size of your skillet) and tip skillet to spread batter over entire surface. Cook over medium heat until bottom of pancake is nicely browned.

Flip pancake with spatula and brown until golden spots appear on the second side. Remove to hungry person's plate. Makes enough batter for 3-4 people.

Now, for the uninitiated, you have to know what to do with the pancake once you have one on your plate.

First, slather on some butter. Then at home we either added my mom's homemade grape jelly (my personal favorite) or syrup. This wasn't pure maple syrup (we didn't know what that was either) but rather Log Cabin brand syrup which was most likely high fructose corn syrup, water and some caramel coloring. (Oh, well, what we didn't know didn't hurt us.)

Then you hook a tine of your fork in an edge and start rolling. (I went with grape jelly on this one . . . even though it wasn't Mom's grape jelly.)

Slip your fork out and cut into bite-sized pieces.

After our daughter was an adult and had been "out in the world," she introduced us to a new topping: butter as usual, then a sprinkling of brown sugar, and the juice from a lemon wedge. Oh, my. Now that could almost replace Mom's grape jelly as my favorite.

I've made these pancakes for as many as nine people sitting at the table and believe you me, it kept me busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger trying to keep 'em coming fast enough. (To serve a group like that, you must have three or four skillets going at once or you will experience mass rebellion.)

In the many, many years since leaving my parents' home, I have learned to make several different kinds of more "normal" pancakes, but I suppose mostly because I was raised on Mom's pancakes, hers will always be my very favorite. But I do prefer real maple syrup these days.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Blog Header Photo

I want to give credit for my new blog header photo to my daughter. Beautiful, huh?

Pluggin' Along

Something strange seems to be affecting our garden soil this spring. Not something really bad like a fungus or disease of any sort. But as I'm trying to work it up before planting it's much . . . much . . . much "harder" is the only way I can think of to describe it. The field garden is so much like cement that I asked Roy to get out the "big" garden tractor and run the cultivator over it so it would be easier for me to work up with my little rototiller as I plant each individual crop.

This shot is of him a couple of days ago going over all the soil in the field garden except the 16' x 16' strawberry patch which is (finally) all set and ready for the season. One would think with all the moisture we've had this spring, the soil would be much more friable. Even the garden beds, in which the soil is really full of humus and better than the soil in the field garden, don't feel just right to me and I'm not getting as nice a seed bed as I usually do. It will be interesting to see if we get any significantly different harvest results this year.

The raised beds are getting gradually planted out. Not a lot to see yet but I'm hoping some seeds are doing their little sprouty thing down under the dirt.

The pumpkin patch in the foreground is ready and waiting to be planted. The last two pictures above were taken just a few minutes ago . . . in the rain. Yes, it's raining again. And the temp is only 49 degrees so I won't be planting any pumpkins or squash out there until it gets significantly warmer. That's the field garden including strawberry patch out beyond the bare pumpkin patch.

One more cold, wet spring when I started my tomato plants too early. Sigh. They're not yet as gangly and anemic looking as the ones last year ended up being before I could get them out, but I sure wish I had waited two weeks later than I did before starting them this year. I'm tempted to put them out under a cold frame and hope for the best. Gee-golly-whiz, I wish our temperatures would warm up! Unfortunately, the forecast is for more of this current weather all week long. Patience, Mama Pea, patience.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

No Big Deal?

It may not be a big deal to most of you, but seeing a Baltimore Oriole IS a big deal for us. It's rare that we get to have the pleasure of this colorful guy's company.

Doesn't he look for all the world like a huge, exotically colored hummingbird in the above picture? He turned up first thing this morning and found the hummingbird feeder but had a bit of trouble figuring out how to get at the food in it.

Ahhh, success at last!

At least he was nice enough to share with this little hummer . . . especially since it's the hummer's feeder.

We actually do have a Baltimore Oriole feeder which Roy immediately dug out of storage, dumped in some sugar water from another hummingbird feeder and hung outside near the feeder the oriole found.

He's continued to hang around the yard all day, but seems intent on only using the hummingbird feeder and ignoring the one put out especially for him.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

But He Wasn't Hurt . . . Much

Recently my brother, who is a regular reader of this blog, mentioned to me that he especially enjoys reading the posts I've written having to do with growing up and early married years. The following tells of a couple of incidences from way back when that I happened to relate to my daughter a while ago. At that time she commented that I should write what I had just told her in my blog because she thought her Uncle J would get a kick out of reading it.

So, dear brother, this is for you. But I'm betting you won't even remember these happenings because you were so young when they took place. (Or else they were so horrifically damaging to your young psyche that you've blotted them from your memory.) But I remember them because I got in a lot of trouble. (Just more proof that Mom always liked you best.)

I'm four years older than my brother. Even though you might think it would be otherwise because of our age difference, as long as I can remember I heard relatives and friends of my parents comment on never having seen a brother and sister get along so well, fight so little growing up, while always playing so nicely together. (It obviously had everything to do with my easy-going personality, giving nature and ability to charm everyone including a bothersome little brother.) Already you may be realizing that I was totally blameless and not at fault in the events I'm about to describe.

When J was first learning to walk (which would make me about five years old) we had a big, enclosed sun porch across the front of our house which was set on a little hill up from the street in front. It was summertime and I was playing there when our mom brought J out, set him in his walker/stroller, and told me to keep an eye on him while she did some work back inside the house proper.

Shortly thereafter, I saw a little friend who lived nearby out in front of our house. I opened the door to the outside and left the sun porch to visit with her on the sidewalk. Problem was I didn't shut the door behind me. J proceeded to maneuver his walker out the door and onto the cement stoop. Nothing really bad would have happened if he had stopped there. Unfortunately, after the stoop there were three cement steps, another small landing, and three more steps down to the sidewalk. Do you see what's coming? Yeah. Boy, once he hit those first three steps he really built up momentum. Because he didn't suffer anything more serious than some ugly road rash, I didn't feel I had done anything grievously wrong . My mom failed to see it that way.

I was aware I hadn't shut the door, but I wasn't going far and who knew he'd be able to use his chubby little legs to propel that walker contraption over the threshold and out through the doorway? Oh, the responsibility heaped upon me. I was not in my mother's good graces for quite a while.

Fast forward now to when J was three or four years old. There were several of us children in the neighborhood that got together nearly every day to play outside. J was the youngest of the bunch so often got the least desirable role in many of the games we conjured up. This particular day we decided it would be a good idea to tie someone to one of the big trees in our side yard. It took a while but we finally convinced J it would be fun to be the one tied up so he willingly (more or less) let us tie him to the tree.

Having accomplished that, the rest of us decided to go off to find another interesting adventure. I wasn't too long before my mother received a phone call from the neighbor who lived next door saying she was concerned that she heard my brother crying, and he seemed to be tied to the large elm tree in the yard between the two houses. Whooee, did I get in trouble for that one. But . . . but . . . we didn't hurt him. He was in the shade. And we would have come back to untie him soon. Probably.

Then there was the time my dad, J and I were playing ball in our back yard and somehow J's face made solid contact with the metal clothes pole. But I swear I had absolutely nothing to do with that. Well, except perhaps . . .

Friday, May 22, 2009

One Bed Done

Woohoo! Yippee! I planted out one bed today! What did I plant? Lettuce? Spinach? Radishes? Nope. Geraniums and petunias. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Man does not live by bread alone. (Or veggies alone, I should say.)

Actually, it's not the first garden bed ready for the season. A couple days ago I weeded and mulched our permanent bed of comfrey. So with this one today that's two down and 22 to go. (Ugh, I shouldn't think of it that way.) Truth to tell, we have 27 garden beds but because we're not doing any market gardening this year, I have room to spare both in the beds and the field garden. Roy is going to use three of the raised beds in which to make compost so that leaves me 24 to work with.

I did accomplish a few other things besides planting the flowers. One was to get the strawberry patch re-weeded (that's right, for the second time this spring), paths tilled up and all set for mulching which I'm planning on getting done tomorrow. By hook or by crook. Come he!! or high water.

So even though it may have been smarter to use my planting time to get some veggie seeds stuck in the ground instead of the flowers, it sure does give me something purdy to look out on.

I'm thinking of it as food for my soul.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Love/Hate Relationship

I'm pedaling as fast as I can (puff-puff), but I don't think I'm gaining anything. What an invigorating and renewing time of year, but so frustrating and tiring at the same time because everything needs to be done at once . . . and my crew of six apprentices failed to show up again this year. Sigh.

While I have 251 individual started plants in the house (flowers and veggies), I have yet to plant one single thing outside in any of the twenty-seven 4' x 8' raised beds, or in the field garden, or in the pumpkin patch.

I can't chalk it all up to laziness either. We're experiencing another spring like last year's. Cold, wet, cold, windy . . . did I say cold? Just no sense setting plants out or even putting seeds in the cold, wet ground. Last spring we saw June 1st pop up on the calendar and said, "Well, phooey, we can't wait any longer than this!" Come June 15th, I wasn't the only gardener around who was replanting rotted seeds and searching for started plants to replace those that caught pneumonia and keeled over.

But I do have the raspberry patch in good shape, including having planted (with my husband's help) six new Honey Queen canes (a yellow raspberry, supposedly unbelievably sweet). Monday night I staggered inside covered from head to toe with peat moss after having gotten the whole blueberry patch in tip-top shape. Still have the strawberries to finish but am hoping it will be dry enough to get out there this afternoon. We had another terrific thunderstorm last night dropping 1/2" of rain on us. It's 53 degrees right now around noontime, but there's a dampish breeze blowing, and I just had to shut the window over my desk. Br-r-r.

The above picture is all I have to offer with this post. (And not a very good one at that!) We've seen one male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak and two females at once so we're pretty sure we may have two pair of them hanging around. Hope you can find this guy perched in one of our apple trees. (Look at the left middle.) And, no the tree isn't dead. There aren't any leaves showing yet, although the fruit trees are starting to bud out. (Told you it's been cold.)

I think I'll go put on my mud boots, longjohns, down work jacket, plop a hat on my head and go play in the strawberries. The fresh air will feel wonderful (there's even some sun peeking through) and maybe if I stay close enough to the ground, the wind won't hit me and I'll avoid getting chilblains.