Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rewards of volunteering

I'm now working 2 Sundays per month at the bird rescue, whose mission is "rehabilitation of injured, orphaned, and oiled native wild birds, with the goal of returning healthy birds to their natural environment". Note the word, wild. And yet, occasionally a domestic bird is brought into the center, and the staff work to find a home for it when it's ready for release. This is just what happened on my first shift, and that very day I brought home two domestic ducks. They have assimilated well into our little flock.

Much to my delight, last Sunday I was once again in the right place at the right time. Same supervisor on duty, too. In reviewing the caseload, she mentioned two adult domestic geese, who came to the center after someone released them, and they were struck by a car on a busy road. The supervisor said they were looking to place the geese when they were ready, and she cast a glance my way. How could I resist? I went to see them in their enclosure, and even snapped a photo on my phone to show the family. And today they were ready to come home.

I think I'm developing a reputation there as "the volunteer who will adopt domestic waterfowl" ... and I have no problem with that!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Garden Ups and Downs: a Season in Review

For the second weekend in a row, my gardening efforts have been thwarted. I really need to do some preparations for winter, but it's been too rainy. So today I find myself ruminating on my first year of gardening which, as expected, had its ups and downs:

The Ups:
  • Strawberries: This is where it all started, as last year I had really let the strawberries go and vowed that 2008 would be different. This year I stayed on top of the weeds, and at their peak I was harvesting 2-3 quarts a day. Much of this went into the freezer, and I've really enjoyed using those berries to make jam and ice cream, not to mention the occasional strawberry shortcake.
  • Potatoes: all things considered, these did well. I think we had some beginner's luck here, and I'm not sure we mastered the art of hilling but we did make an effort. The spuds turned out a bit smaller than expected, and I don't really know why, but we did manage to put a nice quantity away in our "new" root cellar.
  • Green Beans: I was thrilled with the yield and the duration of my little harvest. We enjoyed them fresh, and froze about 5 lbs to use throughout the winter.
  • Zucchini: Like the green beans, these were plentiful and we planted just about the right number of plants.
  • Tomatoes: the Brandywines were delicious fresh, so much better than store-bought. The Marianas had excellent yield and I enjoyed trying my hand at canning.

The Downs:

  • Tomatoes: Yes, there was a downside, too. We planted too many Brandywines, which don't preserve well. So I had to sacrifice an awful lot of them. And our trellises didn't hold them well enough either.
  • Raspberries: I don't know what happened, but I only saw about 3 berries this year.
  • Peas: They were delicious, but we didn't plant enough of these and the harvest was used up far too quickly.
  • Lettuce & Spinach: I planted these too late in the season. The spinach didn't germinate at all, and the lettuce "bolted" early so only saw a few measly leaves.
  • Carrots, Parsnips, and Leeks: we never got around to planting these. Oops.

There's Always Next Year ...

I've learned so much from gardening that I can channel into the next season. It's probably always that way, isn't it? Now I can spend the off season thinking about what I'll do differently next year. I have a few ideas already:

  • Plant lettuce earlier, and try a different variety. The Amish markets near here all carry buttercrunch, which was deliciously sweet. Maybe I'll try it, too.
  • Look into potato varieties and see if there are others more suited to our climate. Consider trying something new, but probably only two varieties, not three as we did this year.
  • Plant root vegetables!
  • Try onions.
  • Try a different variety of plum tomato, just to compare flavors.
  • Improve trellises and other supports.
  • Be more diligent with compost.
  • Keep on having fun!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ten-month pupdate: the art of chewing

I haven't posted a "pupdate" since month 7. Woody is the same crazy dog, just a bit larger. His favorite activity is chewing, which he has evolved into an art form. This skill emerged early, back in month 4, when he took a chunk out of a rug. At least he hasn't destroyed anything really valuable, like money or anything ... His long-time favorite was this pink towel, which was removed from the premises when we found he was not just chewing it, but eating it. And it didn't agree with him ...

This was once Lily's bed. Woody pulled it out of Lily's crate, chewed the seams, and proceeded to deposit piles of cotton batting all around the house:
While he seems to prefer textiles, really anything will do. Occasionally Woody gets into the recycling bin; cat litter jugs are a special favorite:

On a positive note, he has become much more interactive with us and loves to play tug, especially with Lily!

While he can be a handful sometimes, for the most part he is a loyal companion and I'm sure will become even more so as he matures and calms down!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weekend avian visitors ...

I've been doing an abysmal job maintaining my Birdstack Dashboard (follow the link, or see my sidebar). I know I've seen some interesting birds, but I've neglected to record the observations. I've tried to make up for it by recording this weekend's visitors:
  • A pair of green herons, which chased each other around the pond on Saturday evening. I'm not sure, but I think one of them might have been trying to get the other to vacate the premises. The attempt was not successful.
  • A sharp-shinned hawk, first heard early Sunday morning in some kind of fracas with some crows. Later, I saw the hawk in a tree and it disappeared after swooping in on its prey.
  • A ruby-throated hummingbird, which made numerous visits to the hummingbird feeder today. Sometimes he even stopped to sit on the hook holding the feeder. We only put up the feeder last weekend, and have missed most of hummingbird season. So it's nice to have this visitor before they migrate.

Now I just wish I had a super-duper camera to capture photos of all these! Sigh.

Preservation & Preparation

The growing season is coming to an end, so my attention has turned to preserving what we've grown this year, and preparing the garden for next season. At this point, all of our garden beds have been cleared except for the tomatoes. Several pounds of strawberries and green beans are tucked away in the freezer, and I've been canning tomatoes and salsa.

We've also created a root cellar. This old spring house sits on the edge of our property:
A ladder leads down below ground, where the potatoes are now stored:

It's a good start, but there are still some areas that need to be sealed up before winter!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Are you "following" me?

Do you follow this blog either by visiting the site directly, or via an RSS feed ? I'd love to know about it! Our friends at Blogger have recently rollout out a "Followers" feature, which you can now find on this blog's sidebar. Following this blog lets me know you're out there (you can follow anonymously if you wish). And, by following, you can also read updates to this blog right in your Blogger Dashboard.

Try it out ... I'd love to see the "followers" counter go from zero to, well, anything greater than that. Thanks!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

More adventures in canning

I picked ten more pounds of tomatoes this week. Watch the magic:

Tomatoes, red onion, jalapenos, dried red pepper, cilantro, garlic. Any guesses?

first step: blanch and peel, of course

after much chopping, mix all that stuff in a pot along with red wine vinegar and some spices

bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes

can it!

enjoy the leftovers immediately!

This recipe for "SpicyTomato Salsa" can be found in The Ball Blue Book of Preserving. It's delicious!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Pleasant thoughts" on tomatoes

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato. ~ Lewis Grizzard

As expected, our first Brandywine tomato was just the beginning. Last week I picked more Brandywines and over 13 pounds of Marianas.
We're enjoying the Brandywines fresh off the vine. And the Marianas? Well, here's what happened to them:

blanched and peeled

We had a nice assembly line going from the stove to the sink that made short work of this task.

Then, I halved the tomatoes, stuffed them into jars, and processed in the canner for 1.5 hours. It was time-consuming, but so many of our favorite dishes call for tomatoes; it will be worth the effort come winter.

halved, in juice, ready to eat ... later!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The first tomato

Just half of the massive Brandywine Tomato I picked yesterday.

With dinner simmering on the stove, I went out to the garden to quickly pick some beans before the approaching rain hit. I grabbed a few zucchini too, of course (I think we have a lifetime supply going now) and, just as the first fat raindrops began to fall I spotted our first ripe tomato. It was huge, about 8" long and oddly crescent-shaped. But oh, was it ever delicious. We had some fresh mozzarella and basil on hand, so we made a very nice Insalate Caprese . The sweet, ripe flavor of the Brandywine Tomato was quite simply to die for.

In my hunger and enthusiasm I neglected to snap a picture right away. The kids, who think I'm nuts to take pictures of produce, encouraged me with thoughts that the camera angle might hide the fact the tomato had been cut. Well of course it didn't, so you have to imagine the other half of this; it was actually quite symmetrical.

I expect by the end of the weekend we'll be drowing in both Brandywines and plum tomatoes. I'm looking forward to doing some canning !

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Produce Aplenty

July turned out to be a busy month, so it's been quite a while since I posted here. But of course the garden keeps right on growing, and has prospered even though I've not been able to give it the attention it deserves.

We harvested our first potatoes on Saturday. These are Maris Pipers (white, on the left) and Desirees (red, on the right). It was fun digging them up, a bit like hunting for Easter Eggs or buried treasure, filled with nervous anticipation of what lies beneath the ground. Once again, I was amazed that nature actually works, even under the care of a novice like myself. Many of the potatoes are smaller than we'd like, so I want to research possible causes and make some improvements next year.

Zucchini, which just started producing a month ago, have continued to pump out squash large and small. The green beans have done very well, indeed. I've been pretty vigilant about picking beans regularly. I usually cook some right away, and then blanch and freeze the rest. So far I have put away 3.5 lbs of frozen green beans we can use in the coming months.

The tomatoes are large and plentiful, but have been slow to ripen, which is apparently happening to everyone in our area this year. Well, everyone except, thankfully, the Amish family that runs Briar Hollow Farm Market. I bought some lovely tomatoes there today and am glad they can keep me supplied while I wait not-so-patiently for my own green Brandywines and Marianas to turn a beautiful red.

Sunday dinner will be a curry using home-grown potatoes, peas, and green beans. Now that's what this gardening thing is all about!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Duck, duck, duck ...

Since their arrival 4 weeks ago, the ducklings have transitioned from a safe, contained area to the wide-open pond. They seem to get on well with the other ducks, and their fluffy down has turned into full-fledged feathers. I present below, a Pekin and what we think is an Indian Runner crossed with ... something:

On another note, last week we added a new duck species to our life list; here are some family members celebrating the event:

Mid-Season Garden Progress Report

There's been a lot happening in the garden! Overall I'm pleased with the results, and am keeping detailed notes to guide next year's planting: more of this, less of that, change the bed layout, rotate, and on and on ...
I met my personal commitment to berries, made last year. The strawberry harvest was great, yielding 3 quarts a day at its peak. It was much more than we could eat, but I now have several bags of berries in the freezer so they will not go to waste. Unfortunately our raspberries haven't done so well; we have a couple of bushes yielding pretty berries but several where the berries are tiny and dry.

We planted about 8 rows of peas this year, and the yield was OK. But we will plant more next year, because fresh peas are wonderful, and even with decent yields it takes a lot of plants to enjoy the peas for more than one meal. We harvested the dried pods to save as seeds, tilled the bed, and this is what we're left with. I'm trying to decide whether we want to plant something else this season -- carrots, perhaps?

The lettuce hasn't done so well; I think we planted too late. And then, just as some harvest-ready leaves appeared, we went on vacation. Bunnies enjoyed them during our absence.

Zucchini is known the world over for huge yields that send you searching through your cookbooks. Being new to gardening, I was sure I'd kill half the plants, so I've probably overdone it. Of course we're experiencing the yield that gives zucchini its reputation. Take a look at this guy, standing at attention! I just took two loaves of zucchini bread from the oven ... tasty! Surplus squash will undoubtedly be cooked in many forms, and foisted on unsuspecting neighbors and office colleagues.

Tomatoes are in flower. Like zucchini, these are relatively easy to grow so we may end up with much more than we could possibly consume. But with tomatoes, that's by design: I cook a lot of dishes that call for tomatoes, so I'd like to try my hand at canning and enjoy the abundance all year 'round.

It looks like we'll have beans soon as well; I'm seeing lots of pretty flowers like these on the more mature plants. I've tried seeding these rows in succession to stagger the yield.

And last but not least, the potatoes are growing like mad above ground; I only hope they are prospering below! This is a bit like waiting for Christmas, knowing full well I mustn't peek. In any case, we have about 35 plants which may or may not deliver more potatoes than we can handle. Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Seven-month pupdate: Big Boy

Woody is taller than Lily now ... and leggier, with a more wiry build.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Make way for ducklings!

I recently signed on as a volunteer at Tri-State Bird Rescue, "a non-profit organization whose mission is to achieve excellence in the rehabilitation of injured, orphaned, and oiled native wild birds, with the goal of returning healthy birds to their natural environment." Today was my first hands-on working session. This morning's caseload included 214 birds and at this time, many of these are babies: birds who have become orphaned or otherwise separated from nest and parents. During my shift I took care of four groups of baby birds, mostly robins and bluejays, feeding them on a regular schedule and cleaning their pens about halfway through my shift.

During the morning meeting, the supervisor mentioned they had two domestic ducks who were ready for a home. I made her an offer she couldn't refuse: large pond, 8 domestic ducks already on premises, experience raising ducks from day-old, etc. etc. Yep, they came home with me. They're about 3 weeks old, very cute and fluffy. After a few minutes by the pond, we decided they weren't quite ready for the big wide world yet. We set up their habitat in an enclosed, shady area on the property. They have water, shelter, and about 100 square feet to wander around in.
Oh yes ... they also have a guard dog.

Buying Local: June 7

  • Milk and eggs from Sunset View Pastures, as usual
  • Broccoli, buttercrunch lettuce, and peas from Briar Hollow Farms. This Amish farm market is only about a mile from home. They have the best corn on the planet, usually available by early July. Because I tend to associate them only with corn, I'd almost forgotten about their potential for other veggies! I'm glad I stopped by.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Six-month pupdate: the effect of puppy teeth on a tug toy

Once upon a time, a family had a chocolate lab who turned five years old and received a large, sturdy "tug toy" to commemorate the occasion. A few days later, a puppy joined the family and assumed the tug toy belonged to him.

The puppy grew, and the tug "grew" with him ... sort of:

The five-year-old lab immediately placed herself directly in front of the camera lens, and asked me to make it clear that she has not lost her talent for chewing, either:

P.S. The lower-left corner of that last photo features some of Woody's earlier work ...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Home-grown: First Strawberries!

While tending the garden last weekend, I saw two almost-ripe berries. I snitched a couple during the week, and this morning we harvested our first batch. There's well over a quart in that basket. Strawberry shortcake for dessert tonight!

Buying Local: May 31

  • Milk, eggs, and asparagus from Sunset View Pastures.
  • Scallions, broccoli, buttercrunch lettuce, and spinach from Maple Arch Farms. Spinach was very plentiful and only $0.75/head!

I was grumbling a bit to myself this morning, because Maple Arch Farms is really quite out of the way from my normal routine. But then their produce is plentiful and very high quality, so as I drove away I thought, "maybe it's worth it ... " Then, at Sunset View Pastures, I met a couple spending more than $300 on milk and eggs alone! They come about once a month and buy enough for themselves and their daughter's family. And they come all the way from the Jersey Shore -- about 2.5 hours' drive!

I'll stop grumbling now. We're really lucky to have such abundance just a few miles from home.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Garden Progress Report

Tiny apple

There's so much happening in the garden right now ... time for a progress report. First, let's start with the big picture. On the left is a full map of the orchard and on the right, vegetable garden detail (click to enlarge):

Apples are just starting to take shape. We removed the fence surrounding each individual tree, and the fence around the veggies, and put a single high fence around the entire orchard / garden area. The fence is critical to protect from deer, but the trees had outgrown their original fences. One big fence also makes it a lot easier to access everything. The fence has really made a difference with the strawberries this year ... In fact, just this morning I found two nearly-ripe berries so we should be picking by next weekend !!
Berries forming

The potatoes, planted just over a month ago, are coming along nicely. The mounds of dirt, left over from digging trenches for planting, were used for "hilling" this weekend. The extra dirt around each plant provides lots of room for potatoes to form. We'll need to hill once or twice more during the season.
Potatoes @ 5 weeks, after hilling
The snap peas are a little sparse:

Snap peas

But the shelling peas are thriving:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Peas in bloom ... nice full rows

We also have raspberries, lettuce, tomatoes and zucchini all moving along, but nothing photo-worthy yet! Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bombay Hook Migratory Bird Festival

Raymond Pool from Observation Tower

May 17 was International Migratory Bird Day. Chris and I rose earlier than usual for a Saturday, and headed for Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. It's hard to believe we've lived in this area for over 20 years and never visited Bombay Hook, but then again this was also the first time we made a road trip for the sole purpose of birding. We arrived early, but the serious birders were already out and about. We followed the auto tour route, stopping at points along the way to follow a trail or climb an observation tower.

At first, most of the birds we observed were ones we commonly find at home, like red-winged blackbirds and swallows. Then we came to Shearness Pool, an area of salt- and freshwater marshes. The shorebirds were out in abundance! Most were new to us; many were migrating, so we felt lucky to be there before they moved on. Our observations included: Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis), Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), Red Knot (Calidris canutus), American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), and Great Egret (Ardea alba).

My tiny point-and-shoot digital camera can be handy, but proved useless in capturing everything we saw that day. More experienced wildlife photographers wisely came equipped with giant lenses and tripods. We enjoyed the sights and the trails anyway. Returning to the visitor center, we found a raptor exhibit underway, where I could get up close and personal with this cute screech owl!
By the time we returned home, the kids had only just started their day. They failed to appreciate what they'd missed! Well, back in the old days we used to go on "dinner and a movie" dates. Or maybe we'd see a concert. More and more I suspect our "dates" will involve being out in nature, early in the morning. And that's a good thing ...