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 ...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Buying Local: May 10

  • Milk and eggs from Sunset View Pastures
  • Asparagus and cornmeal from Oxford Farm Market, an Amish farm cooperative dealing in bulk grains & spices, baked goods, and fresh produce. This week, very little of their produce was locally grown. We might have better luck with the weekly farmer's market, where local growers bring their goods into the town ... unfortunately it's held on Tuesday afternoons which isn't very convenient for us.

Spring Growth Spurt

The garden has suddenly taken off! After some rain this week, everything is growing:

About 2 weeks after sowing, the lettuce is just peeking out of the ground. And the potatoes are producing nice leafy bunches nestled between mounds of dirt , which stand at the ready to form hills around each plant when they get a bit larger:

We have some nice rows of peas, after about 5 weeks, although the snap peas have not done as well as the shelling peas. We think that side of the bed might not get as much sunlight.

The berries, which were planted a couple of years ago, are coming along quite nicely. The fence has made a world of difference by protecting the plants from the deer. We have both strawberries and raspberries blossoming:

And here's the best surprise of all !

Just when I had resigned myself to not having goslings this year, on Monday another pair of geese turned up with four goslings in tow. I have no idea where they nested, but then this is the "magic" that's occurred almost every year now. Yea!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Buying Local: May 3

  • Milk and eggs from Sunset View Pastures; now part of our weekly routine.
  • Lettuce, asparagus, and scallions, along with a jar of hot chili peppers, from nearby Maple Arch Farms. This Amish market has just opened for the season and the selection was somewhat limited but oh, the produce is gorgeous!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

No magic, after all

I promised goslings. Like magic, I said. Happens every year. Sadly, there will be no goslings in 2008.

This year followed the normal pattern at first: hundreds of geese in the winter, with a pair remaining through the spring. Unlike past years, the couple chose to nest in plain view. Mama started spending her days on the nest, which was right at the edge of the pond. Papa took up sentry duty, staking his claim to the entire pond and chasing off anything that came near. The poor ducks had to make do with a few nearby puddles.

Papa was just starting to relax and allow us to pass through the area when suddenly the pair disappeared, leaving behind a nest with visible signs of disturbance.

A closer look at the lower part of the nest reveals a damaged egg:

The couple returned the next day, but one of appears to have an injured leg. A fox, perhaps? We don't know, but I'll really miss watching them raise their young this spring.