Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cherries


When we bought this place we were lucky enough to inherit three cherry trees. They ripened the week we moved here, and we snacked on a few and donated the rest to the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

This year we watched the ripening cherries closely. We lost a lot to wildlife and picked what we could. We learned we had to pick them before they were fully ripe, because the second they begin to sweeten the birds and chipmunks will take one bite out of them before moving on to the next one. Pesky.

Cherries don't continue to ripen once picked, so we picked them and immediately pitted them and made cherry pie filling, which we froze. We followed the cherry pie filling recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

We had to reduce the quantities, and we ended up with two pints of pie filling with a little left over. We plan to make amaretto-cherry-vanilla ice cream milkshakes with the "little left over."


Cherry Pie Filling
  • 8 cups tart cherries
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 Tbsp cornstarch
Wash cherries; drain. Pit cherries. Combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in cherries; let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 minutes. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken. Ladle pie filling into can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer boxes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Cool at room temperature, not to exceed 2 hours. Seal, label and freeze.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Garden Pests

I was gone out of town from Friday mid-day until Sunday night. In that time, it rained almost non-stop at Palazzo Rospo. When I came back, I had two lovely broccoli florets beginning to flower (waaahhh! - we cooked them and ate them for dinner anyway). I had tomatoes beaten down by the rain, which I tied up. I have peas ready to pick, and I have PESTS. So much can happen in just under three days.
These are the larva of Colorado Potato Beetles. They were all over a few plants on one end of my potato bed. I pulled them off (yes, I touched them - a little sticky but not too gross) and dumped them in a bucket of soapy water. They're colorful and interesting, it's a shame they do so much damage. The above photo is worth a click to view large. The ones that follow are already pretty much full sized already.


I'm pretty sure this is an imported cabbage worm. I think I had some cabbage loopers too, which are very similar. I will pay better attention next time. These guys were on the underside of my broccoli leaves. It's easy to miss them because they match the color of the plant so well. Plus they're small, about half an inch long. They went into the soapy water bucket, too.


This attractive guy is some type of webworm. He looks a lot like a garden webworm but he doesn't have a stripe down the middle of his back. He was also on the back side of my broccoli plants. The larger ones did have some kind of webby substance on them that wasn't very noticable until I pulled the worm off of the leaf. These guys took a bubble bath, too. It's a shame, because they're quite pretty. They were quite small, from .25" to .75" I'd guess.

I'm very proud of myself for touching icky things with my bare hands.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Chickens at 3.5 Weeks

Romunov, Emily, and Bev recently asked about the chicks. They are in the chicken house now and have become pretty well acquainted with their new digs. Their combs are becoming more pronounced, they are pretty well feathered on their bodies, though their tails are still stubby. They are just getting pin feathers on their heads. If you catch them at the right angle they look like little punk teenagers sporting a rebellious 'do. They have huge clown feet.

They're learning to use the roost. I don't think they sleep up there at night yet, they just use it for cat naps and a place to hang out when it gets too crazy on the floor. They're growing so fast, I really need to get their outdoor run redone. The old one has rotten posts and welded wire rusted to the point of breaking in some places. I figure I'll let them explore the run for a couple of weeks, and then when they're about six weeks old I'll let them out into the big world to free range during the days, and see how they do. I'm anxious about predators and I fear some may wander off and get lost, but that's the price you pay for free ranging your chickens. I'm eagerly anticipating a reduction in the tick population around here!
They still have naked little backs from all the pecking they did to one another before I moved them out of the brooder and into the chicken house, but pin feathers are coming in and there aren't any scabs. Cannibalism and feather plucking can result from a variety of things, and I was experiencing several of them.
- Bright lighting. I switched from incandescent lamps in the cardboard brooder to red heat lamps in the chicken house.
- Shortage of food and/or water (usually food). I had been feeding them in the bottom half of an egg carton. Worked great for a while but when they got bigger they'd flip it over and spill out all their food. Now they have commercial feeders that seem to be working well.
- Not enough protein in the diet. I don't know if this is a contributing factor in my case, but I occasionally scramble an egg for them. Can't hurt.
- Boredom. They have been really busy inspecting their new quarters. When they get bored with that, I'll hang a small cabbage or an apple at chicken height for them to peck at and play tetherball with. I hung half a small cabbage when I moved them to the chicken house but they were too busy exploring to bother with the cabbage much.
- Overcrowding. They definitely got overcrowded in the cardboard box brooder. They're getting a little crowded and agressive now in the chicken house. They grow fast! So improving their fenced run is high on my list of things to get done.

I also sprayed their little back with Blue-Kote. It helps the skin to heal and makes the pecked places less desirable to the other chicks.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tomatoes

I've learned a lot about growing tomatoes from seed this year. I'd not ever tried it before, and in the end I think I'll be able to declare it a success. A couple of touch-and-go moments provided me with some great learning opportunities.My first problem was yellowed curling leaves and stunted growth. I transplanted them from their little germination packs into 3" cups made of newspaper, thinking the problems were due to being rootbound. That seemed to help a little, but not much. Turns out I was over watering the poor dears. The healthy looking one in the back right is a cherry tomato and they're more tolerant of varying water conditions than other varieties. The above photo was taken about five weeks after planting seeds and a week after transplanting to 3" pots. They should have been a lot bigger.After I quit watering so much, the tomatoes grew but their leaves again turned pale and the veins got a purple cast to them. I knew that purple coloring is indicative of a phosphorus deficiency, so I began fertilizing my seedlings. Some folks will tell you that you don't need to fertilize seedlings until you pu them in the ground, but my experience indicates some type of feeding is necessary. My tomatoes were in a commercial seed starting mix. If I'd mixed in composted manure when I put them into the 3" pots I probably wouldn't have had this problem. The above photo was taken a month after the first one.I planted the tomatoes in the garden and into each hole I put a trowel or two of composted manure and a handful of powdered milk (for calcium). I have them growing against a cattle panel and they seem really happy. They are planted with peppers and a couple of borage plants. I've mulched about half of them with newspaper and still need to mulch the rest as newspaper becomes available.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Borage

I planted a couple of borage plants this year. I've never grown borage, and never known anyone who did. I read that it was a good herb for arthritis sufferers, and a good companion plant for tomatoes. I started my borage from seed in the greenhouse. It is also called star flower, because of the star shaped flowers, surprisingly enough. The blossoms droop down toward the ground so I had to point my camera up at the sky to photograph them.

Since deciding to grow borage, I've learned that it's borage seed oil that's good for arthritis. Not the leaves, blossoms, or roots. But it's still a good companion for my tomatoes and some even say that borage improves the taste of tomatoes which grow nearby.

I read that some folks like to take the flowers and freeze them in an ice cube tray, and then serve iced tea with flowers in the ice cubes. I think I'll do that. It sounds lovely.

The leaves are also supposed to be good with cabbage. You cook one part borage to two or more parts cabbage. I've not tried this yet but I plan to.
Right now my borage is a big single stalk with large leaves on it. It's going to get bushier; the side branches have already started growing and they have flower buds, too, so it looks like I'll get a lot of pretty blooms from my two borage plants. Judging by the cattle panel behind this plant, it's a little over two feet tall right now.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Happy Birthday Louie!

Louie is six years old today. He's a Briard, a sheep herding breed which hails from the same region of France as Brie cheese.

Louie is the most affectionate, loving dog I've ever known. He loves to give hugs by walking up to you and leaning against you. He weighs around 90 or 100 lbs so when he hugs you, you know you've been hugged.

Louie has a versatile voice and enjoys a good conversation.

Louie has to be told to "Take a break" when drinking water because he gets into the rhythm of it all and will drink and drink and drink until he throws up. Not a pretty sight.

Louie loves to hide. He will hide with his head under the kitchen table (he has to stoop) and the rest of his body hanging out. When you see a Louie body hanging out from under the table, that is your queue to say "Where is Louie? Has anyone seen Louie?" and the rest of the family joins in: "He was here a minute ago, I scratched his ears...." "He was over there sniffing at his dog dish...." and then Louie will spring forth from beneath the table all excited and happy, wagging his tail and laughing at the good joke he just pulled over on everyone. So of course we all exclaim happily "Oh, Louie, there you are! You were hiding!"

Louie also hides behind tall thin weeds or new saplings less than 1/2" diameter and "peeks" at us from behind them. He's soooo sneaky.

So today at my house we are singing happy birthday and marvelling at how smart and grown up Louie is. He's six.

I can't believe it's been a week since I posted here. I'll blog that another day, because today is just for LOUIE.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Growing Chicks

Yesterday we'd had our chicks for exactly one week. These little monsters grow FAST! The photo above shows our "mystery chick" in the center back - Murray McMurray will send you a free mystery chick with your order if you want them to, and I thought it would be interesting. This one was chipmunk-marked like the others but lighter and without the dark tip on its bill. The chicks' wing tips are feathered out and they're getting little "shoulder pads" where more wing feathers are coming in.
They're getting stubby little tail feathers, too! Not the best photo but they get all excited when anything is happening and they move around a LOT. Two of them flew out of the box brooder when I took their pictures this morning. We usually have some window screens lying on top of their box now, to prevent escapes and injuries.
Here's a view from inside their box. I just lowered my camera and pressed the button. They all ran to the far side of the box. You can see the window screens up on top of the box and the egg carton bottom that I feed them in. They're looking more like small chickens in their posture and behaviors now, and less like cute little puffballs. They eye potential food with a cold sideways tilt of the head. They LOVE to scratch in the wood shavings. They toss it up like little snow blowers.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Deer in my garden


I went out to do my morning garden walk-through and saw these DEER footprints down my newly sown bean bed. I think Florida Cracker at Pure Florida sent these beasts to visit me under cover of darkest night.

I wish I could report that the beans are the bright beautiful green things on either side of the bed but alas those are weeds. The beans are barely sprouted and show way at the other end of the bed.

I know they are deer prints because there were some clear prints in the more solid mud between the beds.


This is looking sort of across a bed instead of down teh bed. They stepped on a teeny corn plant. I'm really lucky that nothing got eaten (that I've found). I think they got freaked out when they sank so deeply into the beds, and ran off. Or maybe the dogs scared them away.

The garden is fenced on three sides and we let other projects take precedence once all sides were completed except for the side nearest the house. That side is getting fenced TODAY if I can possibly manage it. I can't believe my lovely garden escaped being eaten to the ground. I am so lucky!

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Black Rat Snake?

The kids found a pretty large black snake by the back of the house today and called me to come see. Then they saw another peeking out from under the back porch. Then they saw two more hiding behind an old non-working gas heater that's under the eaves of the house and against the wall while we figure out how to get rid of it. I had to explain that bit about the heater in the yard, lest anyone think we are trashy junky people. We just don't want to have to drive over an hour to the nearest dump. Anyway, we saw four snakes and they were all pretty big. All the images can be clicked on for a larger view.
Above is a closeup of his body. He's not solid black but has some yellowish speckling on him. It looked random, not strongly patterned.
This shows a teeny bit of his belly near his head. It looks like it is yellowish.This shot shows the shape of his head better. He doesn't have the wide "jowls" that many venomous snakes have.

I think, after Googling some images, that these guys are black rat snakes. I'd welcome confirmation or correction. I told the kids he's probably perfectly safe to pick up but I'd prefer they leave the snakes alone until we get a positive ID. If he *is* a rat snake, I'm glad to have him and his pals around.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rabbits


We picked up three New Zealand White does yesterday evening. They are quite young, just weaned. About 3 or 4 weeks old. When they're big enough they are going to live outdoors in a rabbit colony rather than the traditional rabbit hutch. The colony is a fenced in area about 15' x 20'? Maybe bigger.

My research indicates that rabbits in a colony fight less, have less problems with parasites and disease, are less likely to kill/eat their kits, and are more fertile because they can go underground to cool off when it's too hot.

We're keeping these does in a large dog crate for the time being (Rolf's old crate) and when they get bigger we'll take them out to the colony area and put the crate out there so they can explore and get used to the area while still having their familar hidey-hole and feeding area available to them.

When they get old enough to breed we'll get a Callifornian buck, maybe two. We don't want the bucks to fight or wear out the does but we don't want to be reliant on only one buck, in case he's not fertile or gets killed.

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