Sunday, July 31, 2016

Full-Blown Summer Time

We have the sprinkler going in the garden this morning.  All the heat has made the garden grow like it's on steroids this summer, but presently we're in a rain-less period and everything really needs moisture.

The ripening blueberry bushes got a good watering close to sundown last night.  We haven't made our first picking yet, but soon.

The strawberries are done except for the Everbearers which should give us another (small?) crop late in the season.  I can't tell the flavor of them has improved much over this first harvest period, but Papa Pea picked the last couple of cups of them yesterday and reported (from sampling in the patch) that he thought they tasted more like "real" strawberries now.

Raspberries are coming in, but I think our patch is trying to tell us all the canes are contemplating moving into a retirement home, and we should start some replacements.  Very soon.  We've had excellent harvests from these plants which have to be at least 15 years old and a new patch has been on the list for a couple of years now.  Maybe it will (had better) actually happen next spring.

A week or so ago my old (and I do mean old), but faithful Bee Beyer dehydrator stopped putting out heat.  Wouldn't you know it would happen right in the midst of harvest season?  ('Course, when else would it happen other than when you were using it?  Duh.)

Thankfully (and, yes, I am lucky), my dear husband has the know-how to tear into it . . . and get it up and running again.

Turns out the way the unit is designed, there is an old-fashioned glow-coil (circa 1950s or 60s, he says) with a standard bulb-type electrical base.  The glow-coil is screwed into and held in place by a small plastic bulb holder which after years of use and heat fatigue burned out at it's bottom (don't cha hate it when that happens?) creating a short which disconnected the heating element from the power.  (Got that?)  Papa Pea had a new plastic base in his spare parts inventory.  (How does he do that?)  He added an insulating ceramic screw-in adaptor between the glow-coil and plastic socket base so we shouldn't have the problem again.

I was back in business so I could get another batch of parsley dehydrated.

I harvested the last of the shell peas yesterday, came in and processed them for the freezer and then went back out and pulled up all the spent pea vines . . . with copious quantities of sweat dripping off me.  (That's good for detoxing the whole body, right?)  I ended up with five more servings of peas in the freezer than last year which is better than I expected to get since the peas matured in our hot, hot weather.

With the area where the peas grew cleared, the pumpkins will have more room to spread out.

If I can coerce them into traveling that way.  Which may be a challenge and involve chains and stakes.  And possibly whips.

My beans are about 2" long so perhaps by the end of the week (?), I'll start harvesting them.

A gaggle of geese to say hello this morning.

Then heading to the pond for a swim.

The day has dawned a little overcast so we have the sprinkler going in the garden again.  If things go as they usually seem to, a thorough watering of the berry patches, new fruit trees, raised beds and field garden should bring on a natural rainfall . . . which would still be very welcomed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kale, Kale, Beautiful Kale

I don't remember exactly when I first was introduced to kale, but I certainly didn't grow up eating it.  And what a shame, because it's an easy-to-grow, powerhouse of a green vegetable that we love.  I grow it every year in our garden.

 Fresh in from the garden, washed
and ready to use.

Kale contains high levels of vitamins, minerals and brain-boosting (can't go wrong there) phytonutrients. 

It's touted as being good for your heart health, detoxification (a great source of antioxidants), bone and skin health, and cancer and diabetes prevention.

The bigger, older leaves will take on a strong, kinda bitter flavor so I use only "baby" or the smaller leaves for our table.  The occasional leaves that get away from me get tossed into the poultry yard where one or more of our feathered friend varieties enjoy them.

It's been my experience that kale is rarely bothered by any insects.

You can use it in so many ways.  Chop a bit and saute in some bacon fat with onions.  Adding cooked bacon pieces and/or mushrooms adds a bit of the fancy-schmancy.  Steam a big batch of it, add salt, pepper and a little butter, spread out in a shallow baking pan, cover with grated cheese and put in your oven until the cheese is melted.

It's easy to dehydrate.  Then during the winter months, you can toss some into many different soups to add to the nutritional value.

Chop and put in scrambled eggs.  The baby leaves add a nice touch and texture to a tossed salad.  You can find any number of recipes for using kale on the Internet.

 So, are you a kale lover, too?  How do you enjoy preparing it?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Written at 4:45 A.M.

These busy summer days, I'm always tired at night.  Sometimes I'm not even sure I will make it into bed before falling sound asleep.  If I let myself stretch out in a horizontal position during the day (just to "rest" for a couple of minutes), I fall asleep -- klunk, just like that -- usually waking 10-20 minutes later feeling totally disorientated.

But getting an hour or so of (probably) needed sleep in these mornings seems an impossibility.  Even with the blinds closed on the one window in our bedroom, the slightest beginning of daylight signals my body that sleep time is over.

Am I simply being in tune with the seasons?  Sleeping when it's dark, being active when it's light?  Sounds good in theory and when living with the cycles of nature.  I just hope I can survive until winter arrives, and I can go into a sleepy, snuggly, plenty-of-dark-hours of rest, relaxation and restorative sleep mode.

As active as I may appear, I've always said there is a very lazy person inside me longing to get out.  And when she does, I know she'll make a comfy nest of cozy quilts and act like a big, ol' hibernating bear.

In the meantime, I'm gonna go get started on my ridiculously large list for the day.  But it's all good.  There's nothing I'd rather be doing, nowhere I'd rather be.

Now, can I have a second latte, please?

Saturday, July 23, 2016


HOT!  We've been experiencing temperatures very unusual for us.  The thermometer in the shade has been hitting the high 80s which means it's got to be well into the 90s anywhere in the sun.

HOT!  We had roof work planned for yesterday, but it didn't feel even safe to be on a sizzling roof in these temperatures.

HOT!  I was out early yesterday morning harvesting the first of the shell peas.  With these abnormally high temps, I'm crossing my fingers it won't be detrimental to the whole pea crop.

HOT!  There was an early morning heavy dew on the strawberries so I waited as long as I could to pick them.  (Supposedly handling the plants when wet can cause mold.)  Processing the berries and peas in the (relatively) cool house wasn't too bad.

HOT!  The garden, although growing by leaps and bounds, looks wilty.  No amount of watering with the hose does much good right now.

HOT!  My main freezer desperately needs to be defrosted and organized before I add more of this year's harvest to it.  Why-oh-why wasn't I bright enough to get this done before this heat hit us?

HOT!  I stripped the bed, washed sheets and the light summer blanket, got them out on the lines . . . and they dried in about 8-1/2 minutes!

HOT!  My body doesn't sweat easily.  In this weather I have been positively dripping.  Both Papa Pea and I have been trying to work as much as we can outside, but reach a point about mid-afternoon when we have to say "uncle" and give it up except for the animal chores such as watering, again and again, that must be done.

HOT!  Just too hot for us when we're used to a "hot spell" of maybe three or four days that might reach 80 degrees each summer!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Haskap Berry Frustration

The haskap or honeyberry is presently not well known in the U.S.  If you're interested, I wrote a blog post last year (you can find it here) on their origin and desirable qualities.  Papa Pea and I are always eager to pursue any edible product we can grow right here on our own little homestead that offers us high nutritional value so when we came across the haskap berry plant which is purported to have a higher antioxidant value than the blueberry (which we already grow and enjoy), we decided to try them.  Besides that, we're always ready to try a fruit that can be grown in our short-season location.

This is the first year our four-year old haskap berry plants have produced enough berries to constitute a real harvest.  The bushes are lush, beautiful and healthy.  However, our enthusiasm for the berries is . . . waning.

The berries need about ten days more to fully mature after they turn a dark blue color.  An indication of the ripeness of the berry is when you see a few under the bush which have fallen off.  I think we waited at least three weeks, rather than ten days, before this happened.  We kept taste testing a berry here and there to see if the flavor was changing.  Nope.  Just as terribly sour (picture ugly face here) as when first sampled.

Supposedly they mature before strawberries grown in the same location.  Not ours.  Our strawberries came in about four weeks ago and our haskap berries were harvested just this week.

The information we keep trying to gather seems conflicting.  One source says they bear over a 2-3 week period.  Another says a desirable characteristic of the berries is that they all ripen at once making harvest much easier.  How's that for creating confusion?

Picking the haskap berries is not clean and easy.  The berries are mostly "hidden" down inside the leafy bushes, and it's a game of hunt and seek to find them all.  They are very wet and juicy (no, the bushes weren't wet when we picked them) resulting in fingers and hands stained with juice after picking.

The cleaning task is much more difficult than with blueberries.  Removing any remaining stems (of which there were many) results in half the insides of the berry being pulled out with the stem.  The juice stains any cloth with which it comes into contact.  Really stains.  Even commercial stain remover didn't begin to remove the stain.  Fortunately, the stain did come off my hands!

The final taste test:  Still sour and unpleasant.  I could never eat a bowl of haskaps the way I do a bowl of blueberries.  

We got somewhere between two and three quarts of the little undesirable sour pods of poison gems from our three bushes.  I froze them for use this winter.  Would they make a delightfully delectable jam?  Perhaps.  Our daughter who has made some wonder cordials with fruit in the past wants to take them for that use or possibly to try a small batch of wine.  In some of the information I've seen, they are touted as making excellent wine.  Could be, but I'm reserving judgment on that until I can see (or taste) the proof in the pudding.

Well, as they say, there are no failures in gardening, only experiments.  To date that's all I have to report on our experiment in growing haskap berries!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Chit-Chat on a Summer Evening

We have a niece and nephew visiting from California so our daily schedule is obviously different than usual.  But it's a good thing as we're doing some fun type things that we don't always seem to make the time for otherwise.

This isn't to say we haven't taken them up on their kind and very willing offers of "help" on projects that wait for no man . . . or visiting relatives.  Harvests from the garden, mowing and such can't be put off this time of year.  At least not for very long anyway.

Today I harvested and dehydrated a quart jar full of peppermint from the garden.  Yesterday we socked away a quart of parsley for winter use.  Tomorrow I know strawberries will have to be picked again and I think this batch will be made into more jam.  Most of the berries from last week were smooshed and frozen (without sugar), and we're hoping to try making some wine this winter with them.  Homemade strawberry wine?  That could become addicting.  (Or not . . . depending on our beginner's luck at wine making.)

We picked some of the haskap berries about a week ago.  We stopped after harvesting only about two cups of them because despite the fact that all berries on a bush are supposed to ripen at the same time, in our taste testing as we picked we found some of them were still much too sour! tarter than others.  But now we see they're starting to fall on the ground so methinks tomorrow they should be harvested.

Tomorrow dear daughter, niece and I will be meeting with an old friend.

When we first moved up here we lived in a leaky, cold, old, tin can of a mobile trailer which we moved from Illinois to our (empty) eighty acres.  One of our first construction jobs was a building we could use as a workshop for the gazillion building projects we had ahead of us.

Then dear daughter started to going to a Montessori school in town a couple of days a week when she was three years old because there were no other children near her age in the boonies where we lived and we wanted to provide some socialization for her.  The young gal who was an assistant at the school found herself in a position of desperately needing a place to live so we ended up remodeling our "workshop" into a cozy cabin for her.  She lived with us on the property for a couple of years before packing up her car and heading for new adventures on the East Coast where she ended up settling.  We've kept in touch over the years -- 40-some now -- and on the occasions when she makes the trek back to our area to visit we try to get together.

The other happy circumstance is that our niece, who came to spend several weeks with us the summer she was sixteen, and who formed a special bond with our friend, is here now also.  The two of them have not seen each other in those 40-some years, but will meet again tomorrow.  I have a feeling a lot of memories will be shared and old times relived.  It should be fun.  (And I hope not too embarrassing for me, the cranky, old, spoil-sport mother figure who probably, during that time long ago, may have been a little "hard" occasionally on her three girls!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

It's Been a Wild and Wooly Summer

I probably should substitute "feathery" for "wooly" in my title as we have no wool on the hoof but a lot of feathers on the feet!

Mama Cayuga duck is sitting on a nest of eggs . . . on the chicken house floor.  Oh, well.  It obviously struck her as a good place.  Do we need any more ducklings at this point?  No, nuh-uh, we sure don't.  On the other hand, we may learn something as to whether she's going to be a good breeder (and earn a spot as breeding stock) and if she'll be a good mother.

Our weather has been . . . maybe weird is a good word for it.  We've had hotter than usual temps, and they started in June.  Normally we get about a week of what is really high temps for us.  This comes at perhaps the end of July.  Or beginning of August.  We've also had lots (and lots) of rain.  Yesterday morning the rain gauge topped off at 2-1/10th inches.  (Just a little sprinkle overnight.)

The rain combined with the hot weather has caused a near explosion in the garden.  The appearance of it looks to be about a month ahead of normal.  The harvests aren't much different than usual though.

I'm still picking and processing strawberries by the dump truck full.  I got these three pounds of the everbearing Seascape variety yesterday.  Beautiful, huh?  How's the taste?  Still watery, flavorless and sour.  Ugh.  Is it our soil?  Too much rain?  If so, why are the three different varieties of June bearers wonderful?  Will I tough it out and let these everbearers go for one more year to see if there is any improvement in them?  Not decided yet.

Our summer project list is not looking good.  Well, the list itself looks great.  It's the progress on it that is frustrating.  Honestly, we're both working hard, not fluffing off too much.  But our summer season is so short and we're trying to do so much.  The two don't seem to mesh.

We haven't started on firewood.  We have enough two-year old wood high, dry and under cover for this upcoming heating season, but that would leave us no back-up for the year after that.  Not something that makes us feel comfortable.

I'd have to deem our poultry project (new chicks, ducks and geese) a rousing success.  They're all fat and sassy and very healthy enjoying the good life on our little homestead.  (When I went out this morning to photograph the assorted flock, the chickens and ducks were already nestled down in the shade of the little woods in their pasture.  These geese came over to say hello see if I had food.)

The honey bees are doing great at this point.  Will we be able to take any honey this year?  Dunno yet.  We're in the process of rebuilding our hives and inhabitants thereof.   If we can just over-winter this good group we've got going, that alone will qualify as a booming success for us.

Geesh, hope this post hasn't come off as being penned by a Debbie Downer.   We have SO many good things going and SO much to be thankful for and I am SO grateful and appreciative of where we live and what we're doing.  I think I've just hit a mid-summer slump and could use a week on a beach somewhere.  With my best friend and husband.  (No, not my best friend and my husband.  They are one and the same.)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Look at Some of the Raised Beds

I grow slicing cucumbers and peppers in a raised bed covered with a cold frame because of our frequent "cool" nights.

The cucumbers are just starting to trail off wanting to escape their "cage."  As you can see, it will still be a while before we're eating crispy, crunchy sliced cukes.  (Darn.  I'm always so eager for them!)

This is a new Italian sweet pepper I'm trying this year.  I was surprised to find three nice peppers already formed on this plant (obviously an early achiever), but they have to turn yellow, orange or red before they're ripe.

In my book, a bed of red and green lettuce is beautiful.  Yummy, too!  (Whenever I look at red/bronze colored lettuce, I remember when we had the restaurant and  a new assistant cook [a college student] was accepting an order of produce.  She nearly refused a case of red lettuce because she thought it was green lettuce gone bad!)

I always grow two zucchini plants in a hill in the center of a raised bed with nasturtiums on either side.  It's too soon yet for any zucchinis to appear or the nasturtiums to blossom.  (Did you know you can eat nasturtium blossoms?  Beautiful in a tossed salad.)

Kinda curious . . . my sugar snap peas (edible podded) each year blossom and bear a couple of weeks before my shell peas.  This year the shell peas are covered with blossoms, but the sugar snap peas have yet to produce one single blossom.  Hmmmmm . . . ?

A whole 4' x 8' raised bed was planted to borage because it's supposed to be a good plant for honey bees.  This area is not farm country (understatement of the day) so we don't have fields of blossoms from which our bees can collect nectar.  They have to make do with any wild flowers or cultivated blossoming plants they can find.  These borage plants should grow 18" to 30" tall so even though they're looking good they have a ways to go before producing their showy blue flowers.

Although these everbearing strawberries I'm experimenting with aren't grown in a raised bed, I've slipped them in with this post.

The plants are healthy and they are just now starting to bear well.  (Even though they're touted as bearing before the June bearing plants.  Hrumpf.)  I picked a bowlful weighing three pounds of them yesterday.  Nice big berries, but they still don't have much of any strawberry flavor . . . and are a titch on the sour side.  Papa Pea suggested I make jam with them this year, and tear them out at the end of the season.

The June bearing strawberries (all three varieties) are producing well.  (And are flavorful!)  As of yesterday's harvest, I've gotten a total of 59 pounds and 14 ounces from them.  Not too shabby! 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

General Homestead Happenings

I sure am happy with the strawberry harvest that has been coming in.

I ran out to the garden early this morning (protected by a head net against those awful no-see'ums) and picked these so I could take some to a friend and have some for our smoothies for lunch.    That's a regular sized egg in the bowl with the berries for comparison.  The biggest berries always appear first, and they'll decrease in size as the season goes on.

This is for you, Tami.  The first zinnia bloomed today!  Not the showiest one you'll see, but at least it's blooming.  May many more follow.

These are our five youngest goslings . . . the toddlers . . . who don't look much like toddlers anymore.  (Three males and two females.)  A little more size on them and they'll be integrated with the adults and teenagers in the big poultry pasture.  Not the greatest picture.  If you don't have food, they're not interested in posing.

Our sixteen assorted Muscovy ducklings are five weeks old today and doing just fine.  They've been outside on grass for a little over a week now and seem to love it.  Watching them chase insects and fall all over themselves is high entertainment for us.

It's supposed to start raining tonight around 8 p.m. and continue for the day tomorrow so sounds like any work in the garden will be put off for a day or two.  That's fine as I'll have no problem staying busy inside!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Coulda' Been Worse!

Late last night I made a double batch of strawberry jam.  First time in a couple of years we've had enough of a strawberry crop to make jam!

It was at the end of a hot day, and heating up the kitchen (and what seemed like the whole house) wasn't a pleasant thing to do right before bedtime.  (Phew!)  But the bounty was worth it.

Just as I was filling the very last pint jar . . . POP!

The whole bottom of the jar cracked off.  The boiling hot jam could have done real damage if it had gone on the floor and splattered my bare legs.  Or it could have exploded in the canner.  As it was, not a bad mess to clean up!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tour of Some of the Field Garden

This ferny forest is my asparagus plants.  I can't believe how tall they are.  Some are over 6' tall.  Does this mean there will be a bumper crop next year?  Or are the roots putting every bit of energy they have into the ferns and will be weak as kittens next season?  Gadzooks, I hope not.

This is a line of zinnias along the north end of the field garden that will soon grow into bushy bushes of riotous color.  I hope.

I plant pickling cucumbers and make pickles only every other year.  This is not a pickle year, but my dear husband wanted some to experiment with in making some old-fashioned pickles in a crock so I planted eight feet of them for him.  They're only about 2-3" high as we speak.

Our three rows of potatoes have been hilled for the second, and last, time.  The plants are so tall I really can't get any more soil to stay up around them.  Only the one variety, the Burbank Russets, are blossoming at this point.  (Those four little scraggly plants in the foreground are volunteer nasturtiums from last year that I can't bring myself to yoink out.)

The shell peas never seem to grow up their trellises as fast as I think they should.

But I did spot the very first blossom on them yesterday.

This is my planting of pumpkins (with the rather pitiful pot of geraniums in the middle) I just barely managed to squeeze in this year.  I'm going to leave only one plant per each of the four hills and baby along each pumpkin it produces.

My row of bush beans germinated 100% this year compared to last year when I had to replant bare spots twice.  They're lookin' good.

This is a shot of one end of my double row of Brussels sprouts.  I find them such a pain in the patoot to harvest, clean, blanch and freeze that every year I say I'm not going to grow them again.  And every winter we enjoy eating them so much that I do it all over again.

Oh, I do love to garden!  And I consider the dividends it pays in wonderful food for us are well worth any time and trouble on my part.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Baking An Empty Pie Shell

Now if that isn't a blog post title to rev your engine and start your day off with a bang, I don't know what is!  Therefore, I won't keep you waiting in suspense any longer.

Often when making a pie with a cold filling (which, of course, is especially nice in the summer time), the recipe calls for a baked pie shell.  

Recently a friend commented she couldn't turn out a decent looking baked pie shell for love nor money.  

I told her it was many years before I managed to do the same.

It wasn't until I came upon the method used in this book.  I made a couple of adjustments to my liking and now it's easy as pie.  (So sorry, that just slipped out.)

In our house, one of our favorite summer pies is Strawberry Cream and since our strawberries are starting to come in, I've been chomping at the bit to make it.  Yep, it requires a pre-baked pie shell so here's how I do it.

Roll out your crust and form it into your pie plate as usual.  Using a fork, make lots of prick marks all over the bottom and sides of the unbaked shell.  (Just an aside -- I've found using a glass pie pan works much better than a metal one.  Dunno why, it just does.)

Next, take a sheet of aluminum foil and gently press it on the bottom and up the sides of the unbaked shell, shiny side down.

Weigh the foil down with some dried beans.  You can buy special pie weights for this purpose, but I've been using these dried lima beans for years (yep, same ones over and over), and they work just fine.

Place in a preheated 425 degree for just 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and carefully (you don't want to spill the beans . . . haha!) lift the foil holding the beans out of the pie pan.  Your shell will be about half done now and needs to finish baking without the foil and beans. 

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake the shell for about 10 minutes (or more) depending on how browned you wish the pie shell to be.  (I like to keep an eye on these last minutes of baking because I have had "poofs" want to form in the crust even at this point.  If you see this happening, just gently prick the area with a fork to release the air underneath the crust.)

Remove the shell from the oven and cool on a rack before adding the desired filling.  

And here's my end product made with those luscious, fresh strawberries.

This pie is so light and fresh tasting that I do believe I could eat the whole pie without even suffering any digestive distress!

Recipe for this pie is here if you're interested.