Monday, June 28, 2010

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

That song, sung by Nat King Cole, was always played on the radio station in my home town as I was growing up, as the 'official' start of summer.  It still means summer to me - and very appropriate these days - except maybe for the lazy part.

I'm beginning to harvest and dehydrate some of the crops in my garden, along with fruits and veggies I have purchased.   I've done onions, mushrooms, jalapenos, eggplant, strawberries, (Bing) cherries and plums.   It's amazing how a packed-full tray dehydrates down to nothing.  2 pounds of fresh cherries can fit easily in a pint jar when dehydrated.   Snap peas and garlic are done for the year, and will be used without dehydrating.   No sign of broccoli or brussels sprouts forming on the plants yet.  

I think you can 'biggify' these pictures.  This isn't a bad shot considering it was taken with a point-and-shoot camera with no macro lens.  

These are my yellow pear salad tomatoes.  They are a little farther along than my other tomatoes - paste type and beefsteak type, because I purchased a plant of these, and the others took 3 tries to get seeds going, so they went in a little later. 

My attempt to take an 'artsy' shot with a different cluster of tomatoes 
Some other shots of the mini-farm.  Basil, Lemon verbena surrounded by thyme, a pot of mixed flowers for pretty, Patty Pan squash, eggplant, and under the chair,  a sedum.  Peppermint and chard not shown - to the right.  

At the foot of the stairs, potato plants in a tall trash can, 3 pots of tomatoes (5 plants in all - some are 2 to a pot), on every other step, plus a pot of tarragon in there too.  I'm not sure its a good idea to plant 'nightshade' plants next to each other since they draw the same pests, but with tiny spaces, compromises must be made.   

Thyme and rosemary in the back, 1 Jalapeno, 2 yellow bell peppers, 3 plants of 'Greasy Grit' pole beans in buckets.  I may only get enough beans to save for seed this year.  If I get more, I'll make 'leather britches' for eating later.  
Lima beans in large pot, flowers in large planter, beets in small planter, shallots, onions, blueberry plant, flax in background and a few turnips behind the chair..
(note swimming pool on deck next door.  I wonder if they considered the weight of a pool full of water..........which is why I use ugly, but lightweight plastic containers instead of cool clay pots)

This is the only shot I took of the garden, showing more basil (can you ever get enough?) brussels sprouts, oregano and broccoli tucked around the edges.   Not shown, but elsewhere in this garden, more onions, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and 'extra' tomato plants.   

Also last weekend, I went to Ohio for this bee-yoo-tee-ful girl! 
Do I need another rabbit?  Like a hole in the head. I saw this breeder's Mini Rexes  ( Kelsey's )  at the first rabbit show I went to in Ohio, and when I saw this doe on her website, it was love at first sight.  Her color, Sable, is not 'legal' for showing in her breed, but she can be used in a Sable Pointed breeding program, should I choose to breed them.  I'm hoping I'll be able to cage her together with my lilac Mini Rex, but it's not likely.  Two un-spayed females would probably be too territorial, but I'm working on getting them used to each other, and it's worth a try.   She doesn't have a name yet, but I'm thinking of some possibilities. Her color is really a much richer brown than you see here, with almost black head, ears, feet and tail - like a Siamese cat, and she has a sweet, wonderful temperment.  I haven't forgotten my angoras.....more on them at another time. 

That's all today from Wren Cottage.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A New Tool for Preserving the Harvest

I started to title this "A New Toy," but I hope the dehydrator I ordered yesterday will be a hardworking tool, and not a toy that ends up collecting dust.
Nesco FD-75PR 700 watt Food dehydrator

In my quest to preserve as much of my 'urban farm' harvest as possible, I did a lot of internet research, and found that the Excalibur brand is hands down the best dehydrator....but it is also big - far more that just one person would need - and expensive.  So, my next search was for the best one under $100 - and this one was it.   I ordered it from Amazon. I  like to buy from there because it is a form of 'buying local,' since we have a big distribution center here.  The free shipping is nice too.  They had it for 44% off list price, so it was very reasonable. 

I have a water-bath canner for basic stuff.  I could have bought a pressure canner, but it would only be used a small portion of the year, and then have to be stored.  I don't like to freeze food much, because I only have the little freezer compartment at the top of the fridge, and besides, what happens to my carefully stored harvest if the power goes out?  (which it does frequently in the winter, due to ice storms)  I don't have a basement, much less a root cellar, but dehydrated food can be stored anywhere.

I can see me using this tool year round, not only for the things I grow, but to take advantage of purchases from the grocery or Farmer's markets.  I already use a good many dried and freeze-dried foods - and pay a premium price for them, too.  As everyone knows, cooking for one person can be a challenge.   Buy a package of mushrooms....and eat a lot of mushrooms for a week.  Now, I can make the one meal I want with them...and dehydrate the rest.  Neat and tidy.

One thing I found while doing my research is there are apparently lots of people are addicted to beef jerky!  Most of the people reviewing the dehydrators mentioned that is what they bought it for.  Well, jerky may not be high on my priority list (lamb jerky, Lisa?) but if I should ever want to try it, I know I have the right machine.    I think I will stick to tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, onions, summer sqash, broccoli, cherries, strawberries and fruit of all kinds..........

Update 6/23/10:  In the dehydrator right now....strawberries, cherries, plums, onions and mushrooms....and lots more in the fridge waiting their turn.  I think I'm going to like this.  No, the flavors won't mix, but the aroma while they are drying is a little weird.     

Friday, June 11, 2010

Minor Setbacks

I went to the nearest feed store after work (a Tractor Supply in the next town over) to buy bunny food.  They only had 50 pound bags, and I found that their supplier (they only carry one brand) is 'no longer making 25 pound bags available to [them].'    Bummer.  With only five rabbits, the feed is likely to go stale before they finish it, even in a closed plastic tub.  The other negative - 50 pounds is heavy!  I don't know how my friends with farms do it - lugging feed bags and tossing bales of hay.  A nice man helped me put it in the car (advancing age has some advantages), but I still have to get it out of the car and into the house.  I've wrestled those big bags in before, but it's a job.

When I got home, I found we must have had quite a storm here earlier today - with hail!   Lightweight things were tumbled over and there were leaves broken off all over the place.  My squash plants were shredded, the leaf stems broken, and they and the eggplants had big torn holes in the leaves.  No permanent damage anywhere - everything will recover.   Up side....I won't have to water for a few days, and at the price of water now, that is a blessing!! 

I just 'had' to stop last night and pick up a few marigolds to add to the potted tomatoes.  I had saved some seed last year, but couldn't find it.  (note to self: get organized!!!)  Since everything was on sale, I also picked up a Heuchera (Coral Bells - Bressingham Hybrid) for a bare spot in the front flower bed, and a purple sage plant, for wherever I can find a place for it.

On another note, today is my sister's birthday.  In case she reads this, Happy Birthday, Sis!  

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

No Photo Wednesday - food storage

No photos today, but plenty of things are growing at Wren Cottage.   I have blossoms on the peppers, snap peas, and potatoes.  The eggplant has 2 fruits that are about 4 inches long, several other 1 inchers, and more blooms.  The yellow pear salad tomato has clusters of little pear shaped fruit that are pretty, even when they are still green.

Everything was planted by June 1 and I tucked extras in wherever I could find some space.  The chard and mint are much happier since I moved them to a less-sunny place on the deck.  The beets aren't doing a thing.  They either hate the sun, the planter they are in, or the potting soil.  A few I put in dirt in the garden are doing much better, bt there is no room to move the rest.  The broccoli and brussels sprouts are growing very large leaves (albeit full of holes) but no signs of blossoms or fruit yet.  I pulled up most of the lettuce last week, since it had been so hot I figured it would bolt any time.  I left a few (butterhead) to see if they would develop heads (covered with hazy plastic milk jugs to break the intensity of the sun).  The turnips badly need to be thinned.

I found a new blog last week that I like, but isn't as extensive as I thought.     She blogs about emergency preparation, putting things by, and feeding your family a more nutritious diet.  There were a series of posts about the spiritual aspects of food storage, i.e. is it Biblical?  I can understand why she would feel compelled to blog about that, since so many people seem to think preparing for emergencies, hard times, etc. is extreme, and shows a 'lack of faith.'  It also occurred to me while reading her posts, how much we have changed in just a generation or two.   People used to fill pantries and larders simply to be prudent, or good stewards.  They didn't feel they had to justify their actions, or feel guilty that they might be 'hoarding.'   While I have not personally experienced negative comments from friends, I have read plenty of them on the internet.  I don't know that any of my friends make any serious preparations.  Do I feel concern for them?  Yes.  Do I feel compelled to 'strong-arm' them regarding my convictions? NO.  

Clearly I have neither the financial nor space resources to prepare for every situation or emergency, but I will continue to do what I can, in the spirit of Noah and Joseph, and trust the Lord for what I am lacking.  That's where the faith comes in.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Kitties

Here's (finally) the story of the last two of my four kitties.  The photos aren't great, but they don't like sitting for their portrait, and this may be the best I ever get. 

This is Fiona

Fiona is the cat I've had the longest.   11 years ago I think, I had taken the day off.  The insurance agency where I was working at the time called and asked me to come in.   They had found two kittens in the parking lot there, that someone had dumped.  Since I had been talking about getting a second cat, they thought I might want to take a look. One was a orange tabby and one was a tortoiseshell.  I picked up the torty and she promptly patted my nose with her little paw and stuck her toes up my nose. That was it - she went home with me.  The reason I took off that day was because it was my birthday - so little Fiona was my birthday present that year.   My grumpy old male cat never did take to her much, and over the years we also added a dog - who she didn't like much.  Both the dog and that cat are gone now, and Fiona is now the older, grumpy, grande dame of the household.  She loves her creature comforts (hence snuggling down in the wool, half asleep) and is always on my lap or sleeping next to me at night.  

This is Michu (mee-shoo)

Michu is my newest cat.  When I went to the shelter and picked out Yoshi, I also saw this pretty girl, and it was hard to decide between them.   They were having a "two-for-one" deal at the shelter..... adopt one cat, get one free.  (isn't that pathetic!?  But I understood their need to make room)    The idea of having four cats freaked me out though.  I thought I would end up 'the crazy old cat lady.'    Ha - ha, little did I know then.........  So, I went home with only Yoshi.   I just couldn't get this girl out of my mind though, and within a few days I had to go back and get her too.   She was brought into the shelter at Christmastime, with 3 kittens, even though she was hardly beyond kitten-age herself.  All 3 of the kittens were adopted, but no one wanted mom....... and she had been in that little cage for several months.   That made it even harder to leave her behind originally, and why I just had to go back for her, crazy or not. 

Michu is an odd duck.....for a cat.   She stayed in the kitchen for at least a week after coming home, and only gradually ventured out to the living room.  (open plan, the kitchen and living room are really only one room) It was a full year before she would come downstairs to the bedroom, and she still only does it when I am sleeping in and it gets so far past her normal breakfast time she is afraid I might not intend to feed her.  She will let me pick her up, but only for a few seconds, then she squiggles to get down.  She will NOT get up on the furniture or the bed, and kind of panics to get down when I put her up there with me.   She is not stand-offish though and is the sweetest thing in the world. She loves pets and ear rubs, as long as all four of her feet are solidly on the ground.  She has a loud purr  - like an engine, and all you have to do is look at her - especially if you call her a 'pretty girl,' that starts her motor running.  She has gained a lot of weight since I brought her home.  I think of her as the "Delta Burke of Catdom" (a fat girl with a pretty face)  With the other cats - none of whom have any weight problems - needing to have access to their food too, we haven't figured out a way to monitor her intake.   I'm pretty sure she has Persian behind her.  Her face isn't smooshed in, but her body type is VERY different from all the other cats - short legs, short neck,  heavy bone, body built like a shoebox and silky coat with a shorter, puffier tale - all Persian traits.

So now you have met all my 'kids.'   Sometimes I feel like the old woman who lived in a shoe, but I love each of them dearly, and wouldn't want to be without them.