Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Smarter? .......redux

Just now in the cafeteria lunch line at the hospital where I work:

visitor:  Succotash?   What is succotash?   I don't even know what that is!

me:   It's a mixture of corn and lima beans 

visitor:  Oh.  I thought it was some kind of vegetable.

me:  It is.  Corn.......and ......lima beans 

visitor:  Oh.  I meant a vegetable that grows on a plant or something.    

I had to walk away.........

Not kidding.  Verbatim.  Again, middle-aged, well-dressed woman.

Humor aside, WHEN did the American public become SO disconnected from their food supply?

It is heartening that many are waking up, and backyard gardens / urban farming are booming.  For most people though, they seem perfectly content to feed themselves and their children an increasingly narrow choice of chemical-laden, GMO foods that are shipped from who-knows-where.  AND they never consider those foods may not always be there, in any variety, at any time they want them.  (pale, hard 'fresh' tomatoes in winter? Ick)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Smarter than a Chicken?

Musing on the intelligence of human versus chicken ..... (a no photo Monday)

My 'girls' (the chickens) like (love) to get out of their coops and sit on a perch and look out the window.  They are content to stay there for hours. They've gone outside a few times, but the jury is still out on that.  They like the deck (but I don't like the poo there) but they are having trouble adjusting to the grass.  They scratch in their coops all the time, but haven't gotten the hang of scratching in the grass.  Maybe it's a texture thing.

Not that they're dumb. 

They have been showing more interest in each other.   If one is out on the perch, that one will be agitated until I get the other one out too.  If I leave their coop doors open, they like that too (Abigail never comes out on her own, but I have to watch Dolley).  More and more they were craning their necks to see each other, seeming to want to be near each other, and Dolley has been in Abigail's coop (door open) with no fireworks. So, I put Dolley in with Abigail on purpose, and closed the door so I could putter around the house without having to watch them. They were fine like that without a peep for an hour or more. 

Then - I went down the stairs to put in a load of laundry, and no sooner had my foot hit the bottom than I heard SQUAWK!  BWAK! BWAK! BWAK!    I ran back upstairs and found Dolley cowering in a corner under the roosting pole.   That Abigail!!!  She heard me on the stairs and immediately took the opportunity to peck Dolley.  I know that establishing the pecking order is normal behavior, but I found it amazing that Abigail held off until the instant Mom wasn't around, knew the sound of me on the stairs, then tore into Dolley.  She was a bad girl, but smart.

Humans on the other hand ........

Last week I was at Walmart, in front of the canning supplies, when a Mom came by with her little boy, about 3 years old.  He was talking about wanting to " keep [his] whitnin' bugs," and it was too cute!  Mom said "I don't know, I don't think you can buy just one...."  I thought she was putting him off, until she turned to me and said," what do you think?   "Can you just buy just one (canning jar)?"    Now, this was not a teen mom, or a woman who appeared to be lacking in means or education.  Trying not to let my mouth hang open, I sputtered, "if it were me, I'd just buy a jar of applesauce or something, and use that when it's empty."   "What a good idea!" She said.  "I would never have thought of that."    Really?

Twice I have been by the spices at Krogers and had women ask me where the cinnamon sugar is.   Is it just me?   Does it seem stupid unnecessary to anyone else to buy cinnamon sugar?   You  - uh  - just take a cup or so of sugar, stir in a couple of teapoons of voila'!     

Is it any wonder this world is going to you-know-where in a handbasket? 

Just some thoughts for the day ........from Wren Cottage.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Today I harvested an armload of oregano (my 2nd harvest of that) and of basil (1st harvest of that).

oregano (this is a pretty big basket)

basil before......

.....and after.  
Still plenty to eat fresh, and  what I cut today will be dried.   I prefer to dry my herbs naturally, but ended up today having more green stuff than places to hang or lay it out to dry.   So, out came the dehydrator for a wash, then I fired it up for the first time this season and have the oregano drying in there now. 

OOPS!   That ruffled green 'spaceship' tells me that I got my seedlings mixed up.  I have 2 Patty Pan squash (aka scalloped squash - is there a difference?)  and 0 zucchini.  Oh well, as prolific as that is, I'm sure someone will have some they want to give away.  If not.....Farmer's Market! 

I have green tomatoes on the Roma plants, but the German Pink got a later start, and as I remember last year, they were late-season producers. 

All the Angora bunnies have had their Spring/Summer haircuts and mani/pedis now. 

Niko enjoying his new 'do,' while playing with Mom in her bedroom.  He can hold his ears up if he wants to, but one is lazy. I think it's adorable.
He's much lighter than he appears in this photo.  His body wool is very white with taupe points. 

And Abigail is laying like clockwork again.  Nothing from Dolley yet, but I'm thinking it could be soon.  I'm not sure how old she was when I got her, but I think it was 10-12 weeks, and that was three months ago.    

Breakfast last week.  As soon as this photo was taken, I broke those yolks and thoroughly cooked them.  I don't like runny yolks.  They're raw!  Ick.  

It's great getting food, seasonings/medicine and fiber that can be made into garments from your own home! 

Until next time, from Wren Cottage...    

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June is Bustin' Out All Over.......

Overall, I am very pleased with my garden so far this year.   We got about an inch of much-needed rain today.  As wet as the Spring was, it had been weeks without a drop, and that meant brown, crispy lawns and having to water the garden.

As promised, I worked on a way to water more efficiently. I punched holes in the bottom of several plastic juice bottles and placed them next to the plant I wanted to water. My first attempt was a total failure. The holes were small, but there were way too many, and I watched my bottles empty in seconds, when they were supposed to seep water to the roots of the plants. That a pot could swallow 1/2 gallon of water that quickly told me how much I was pouring on my plants, too. I'm saving up more bottles and next time will only put one or two small holes in each.  In extremis, I could also save 'gray water,' (stopper up the tub while showering, then scoop it out with a bucket) and use that to water.  I've done it in the past, but it hasn't come to that.  

There are those who will tell you not to water your plants at night, due to the risk of fungal diseases. They have a point of course, but I compromise.  I go out about 7-ish, when the heat of the day is past its peak, and the sun has dipped lower, and water then.  I water at the base of the plant, and try to avoid wetting the leaves.  That way the plants have a while to dry off if they did get wet, and all night to soak up the water, minimizing evaporation loss.  If  you water during the day it will 'burn' off much of your water through evaporation, and droplets on leaves can act as a prism, allowing the sun to burn holes in your foliage!

True, water soaker hoses are a good solution, but pricey, and not very do-able in pots.

I've been harvesting all Spring, mostly herbs.

But some of the bigger stuff is coming on now too. 

 I have 2 yellow squash plants in this pot, and two squash that will be ready to eat this weekend.   As the plant grows, I hope to use the deck railing as a trellis.  (we'll see how that goes :)

I also have 1 zucchini in a pot and 1  Patty Pan Squash that was in a third pot, but got transplanted into the garden under the pole bean tee-pee.  I finally gave up in the battle with the robins pulling up all my seedlings, and put a more grown-up plant there. The advantage of having the potted ones "up close and personal" on the deck is maybe I can keep a closer eye on them and avoid baseball-bat sized zucchini. 

I had Kale with dinner last night

and Chard the night before.  I am not one for 'long-cooked with a ham hock, pot liquor and cornbread' style greens - although I love the cornbread part.  Just not slimey greens.  (It must be my Yankee genes)  I gave them a quick saute - long  enough to wilt them, season and eat.  Yum!  

The Roma tomatoes (from purchased plants) are well up and setting fruit

The 'German Pink' tomatoes, started from saved seed well after the Romas, are coming along - interplanted with Opal Basil, Nasturtium (said to repel Tomato Hornworm - we'll see) and Marigold - to repel nematodes.

My 'potatoes-in-a-pot' are huge.  A few blossoms, but not the real thing yet.  These are the white potatoes, and I have a pot of reds at the top of the steps.  If I had something to go around those plants, and then added soil or straw, I cold have potatoes growing the whole length of those stems :(   I didn't get one potato last year though, so I guess I should wait to see if I get any before I complain.     

The Basil is ready to be cut and preserved!  

Last year I bought a dehydrator, and preserved lots of things that way, besides freezing a few more in my tiny above-the-fridge freezer space.  It's hard to remember to use them though!  I could blame it on being  someone who doesn't cook all that much at home, but I've read a bunch of  'family' blogs this season that are saying the same thing.   

Earier this week I pulled out a jar of store-bought baby Portobello mushrooms that I dehydrated and saved last year.  I put some warm water on them to rehydrate them, and they were great - but there was an unexpected bonus..... 

This lovely bit of mushroom broth that could be added to stock. 

I'm going to use it tonight to make Mediterranean Couscous .  I got the recipe from Homestead Revival,  and I make it a lot. It is one of those go-to recipes that can be added to or altered, depending what you have on hand.   I sub canned white or cannelonni beans for the garbanzos, because I like them better, and use regular, not whole wheat couscous.  She calls it a side, but with added veggies, mushrooms or greens, I eat it as a vegetarian main dish.  

The animals are fine, Abigail is back to an egg-every-other-day laying schedule, and Ivy now has solid black peachfuzz-fur on her backside.  Niko is the only one who still needs his summer haircut, and if I would ever get up from this computer.........

Until next time from Wren Cottage.... 


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Don't Hate Me Because .......

I've gone "commercial."  I've added a widget on the bottom of the right column, linking to Amazon, recommending books having to do with urban farming / sustainable living, etc. I am a reader.  I love information, and 'read up' on things (usually) before I begin a new venture. I own and have read each one of the books shown on the list. (Amazon does not have free rein to show anything they want)  I have liked some more than others, but like all of them well enough to recommend them.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  If someone links to a book through my blog, then buys it, I get a small 'finder's fee' from Amazon.  I use Amazon, have recommended Amazon here on this blog, and we have a large distribution center here, so for me, it is form of 'buying local' and keeping local people employed.

There.  Done.  Unless I add something new and especially want to recommend it, I hope that is the last you hear from me about it.

If my 'hit' counter is to be believed, a LOT of people read this blog - or have at least taken a look at it once. (But don't leave comments?  Go figure)  That tells me a lot of folks are interested in some of the same things I am.  Yesterday, Mike at Backyard Farming displayed this graphic:

I don't think it will enlarge by clicking (I don't know how to do that) but if you click on the link, it should  take you there. It is interesting in many ways - the most grown foods, the financial return, a 7 million person increase in gardening in one year, but most of all that its women over 45 leading the way for home gardening!  Woo-hoo!  

Next time from Wren Cottage - water conservation.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


There have been a few breakthroughs here in the last few days.  First, Abigail laid an egg yesterday!  Finally!  I was wondering if she would ever lay again.  For all I know, she could be a 'golden girl' chicken.  I don't know how old she is.  Last fall I got an egg every other day, so I'll hope for that again.

I've taken the chickens outside a couple of times, but they would just stand still, and not move.  They would look around, and seemed to like it, but were rooted to the spot.  I was going out to work in the garden this evening, and picked up Abigail to take out with me.  It took a while,  but she finally waded into the garden a little bit, ate some dirt, scarfed up some grit, and had a good time being a real chicken.  I know Dolley has never been out or on grass except the couple of times I took her.  Maybe Abigail has the same history - bantams are often cooped.

just like a kid on the the edge of a pool.....

" I don't know about this....."

wading into the shallow end.....

"Hey! This is all right!"  
Abigail being a real chicken...

"why can't we come outside to play?"  
(l to r:  Yoshi - Michu - Ciaran)        

Second, Michu got up on the bed!  "Huh?" you may be asking yourself.   My two newest kitties both have some strange quirks.  Michu loooooves to be petted, but only when she is standing on the ground.  She doesn't like to be picked up, and has never gotten up on the couch or bed with me, no matter what I did to encourage her.  Last weekend she came into my room one morning because she wanted me to get up and feed her ... well, that day she responded to me calling her up, and for the first time gave in to the niceness she found there!  She gets pets, ear rubs, belly rubs...and she's been getting up with me ever since.  Sweet girl!  I've only had her for two years.  Patience finally won.

On the bunny front, Ivy doesn't have any fuzz on her bare spot yet, but she is getting some dark patches of 5 o'clock shadow under her skin.  I think it's going to be OK.  The boys are going to get haircuts this weekend.  They have both slowed down on eating - not completely off - but that's my sign they've had enough, and want it OFF!  They are all so relieved when they get clipped down, even though they look funny.

In the garden, the beans, eggplant, tomatoes and more herb seedlings are in!   I might stick a few more seedlings in here and there, but overall, it's in for the summer!  Hooray! So far I'm seeing a definite improvement in my crops through companion planting, except the eggplant.  I put them in the planting bed this year instead of a big pot, and some kind of bugs are eating them to pieces.  I can't find a companion to ward them off.

These are some mighty happy looking strawberries - berries, blossoms and buds all over the plants.  These are the everbearing plants.  The June-bearing plants are looking very healthy, but no blossoms yet.     

That's the latest from Wren Cottage.  Until next time....

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Herbs in the Garden

Amy over at Homestead Revival chose as her topic for today's Preparedness Challenge - medicinal herbs.   Herbs in my garden is just what I was going to post about today!  Interest in herbs and all their uses is booming.  Those who are farming, 'homesteading' or even trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle are suddenly interested in herbs.


I have grown herbs most of my adult life, and have studied a number of books about them, but never got serious about doing something with them - except drying some basil and oregano, maybe peppermint  - until this year.  I decided to take an inventory of the herbs and useful plants grown here at Wren Cottage.  I will also show a key, to give you an idea of the wide variety of uses these plants have:

C - culinary
M - medicinal - can include external (salves, lotions, etc) and internal (tinctures, teas, etc.  I have decided NOT to get specific about these for the most part, since I am no expert, and don't want someone  suing me because they got sick.
B - beauty, i.e. cosmetic (creams, lotions, waters, etc)
P - pest control - this goes along with my new study of companion planting, plants that can repel certain     bugs, blights, and other crop damage , or attract favorable insects.
O - ornamental - pretty, as well as useful
There are other uses, like potpourris and drying for wreaths and things, that I'm not getting into.

Here's what I have, in no particular order:
Basil - Mammoth variety, C, M
        - Opal, C, M, P 
Cilantro,  C
Parsley - curley, C,           
            - flat leaf, C, M          
Sage, C, M
Rosemary, C, M, P, B 
Thyme,  C, M
(I couldn't resist putting those together)
Marigold - French, P, O
               - Calendula (Pot Marigold) , C, M, O
Nasturtium, P, C, O
Dill, C, P
Chervil, C
Lavender, C, M, O, P
Sweet Marjoram, C
Sweet Woodruff, C
Tarragon, C, P
Feverfew, M, O
Borage, C, M, O
Flax, C, M, P
Lemon Verbena, M, O 
Lemon Balm, M
Rose, O, M
Oregano, C,M
Garlic, C, M   - not an herb technically, but found in every Herbal due to it's medicinal properties 
Mint - peppermint C, M
        - apple mint, C

Dandelion - I don't pull out my dandelions.  Although I haven't gotten into jelly, medicinal tinctures, or wine with these, they are worth their weight in gold for the digestive assistance they give my rabbits!
Plantain  - The mowers here at the townhouse neighborhood would plow these down, so when I see one, I dig it up and pot it.  Again for bunnies (the chickens love it too) and medicinal use.

I'm sure readers will come up with lots more uses, and things I missed, or that didn't fit into my key:
Take the Borage photo above, for example.  It's not a very attractive plant, big, awkward, with prickly leaves, but those leaves have medicinal use, the plant is supposed to be a bee magnet, when planted with strawberries it's supposed to increase size, yield, health and sweetness, and the sweet sky-blue flowers (very unusual color in the plant world) can be frozen into ice cubes for pretty summer cold drinks, or candied to decorate baked goods.

Who thinks of Flax as anything but the basis for linen?  Besides it's commercial properties (linseed oil)  it has medicinal use, can be baked into bread, and when planted with potatoes, is supposed to repel potato bugs!

My list may seem like a lot for a townhouse, but in many cases it is just one plant - depending on the plant, some actually do better in a pot than in the garden, and vice versa. Depending on the herb, one plant can often produce as much as you need for the year. Except Basil - can never get enough basil :) and those plants that I can't grow here due to space limitations, climate, etc.  I can buy  from places like  Mountain Rose Herbs. I just bought some Comfrey (until mine grows up), Chickweed and Nettle from them this week. 

As for books to study the subject, my two favorites are The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness, and The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal, by David Hoffman.  Used together, they are great - what one doesn't cover, the other one does.  Mine are many years old.  Amazon has the first one (used) but the second one is out of stock. 

I also have The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook, by James Green, which I didn't like.  It gets into the chemistry of it all (my mind doesn't work like that) and his writing - let us say, is so full of 'whimsy' that I found it very hard to follow.      

Until next time, from Wren Cottage ......