Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer's Here!

In case the high humidity and hot days (followed by warm, stormy nights) hadn't clued you in yet, here's my favorite TV culinary guru with the news:  Summer's Here!

Guess what I'll be watching in the evenings for while?  Yippee!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Errands

Today, I am off to the big city to pick up some things.  One stop is a favorite:

I plan to stock up on booze and frozen Indian meals.  You know, the essentials for when you're going to be all gymped up and unable to stand in the kitchen and chop things.  I don't usually go for frozen food, but sometimes, you gotta compromise.

Besides, it's Indian.  Tikka masala chicken, here I come!

After that, I'm hoping to head to a used book store AND a yarn shop.  I may be considerably poorer, but an afternoon spent gadding about town with a good friend or two is absolutely necessary!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Doo Wee Doo

It's a bit of a family affair, this fascination with Dr. Who.  It all started when my older brother and I were kids in the late 1970s, and the only TV stations we got were two PBS stations, NHPTV from Durham, New Hampshire, and WGBH out of Boston.  Sometimes, we could get the ABC affiliate out of Boston, but not consistently.  Needless to say, we got our fill of Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company.  We also got to watch a lot of NOVA and National Geographic specials, which were pretty cool.  I may have been the only five year old who could converse about Carl Sagan and Ernie...anyway, back to Dr. Who.  It was the age of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, and he has such an impressively long scarf and a pocket full of jelly babies (I did wonder what the heck ginger beer was, though.)

With the revamped "modern" Dr. Who series alive and well on BBC, it's little wonder that my nephews and nieces are all aware of the madman in his blue box, flying around the universe having wild adventures with his human companions.  So, to celebrate the continuing afficionados in the family, I've collected a whole host of nifty knitting patterns to work on in the next few weeks.  I'll soon be stuck hanging about with a cast and crutches, and having some new patterns to try out will hopefully prove a welcome distraction from being away from the garden.  I've found a hat or two, and a wall hanging and a nifty scarf.  If they don't work out, there are plenty of non-Whovian patterns to choose from on Ravelry.

Now, to find a pattern to make one of these...
This, my friends, is an Ood.  He's holding his brain ball.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Going to Seed

I was lucky this spring to find that a couple of red onions and a couple of Scarlet Nantes carrots managed to overwinter themselves in the raised garden beds in the front garden.  They happily resumed growing once the weather warmed up, and are setting flowers.  It is fascinating to see them go though the seed-setting cycle; usually, I only get to see the first year growth habits of these biennial vegetables!

The onions are setting flower stalks which should soon burst open into a round bloom, very attractive to bees and butterflies.

As for the carrots, they are simply amazing!  First, they've set a series of thick leafy stalks looking much like celery.

On top of the largest central stalk, there is a large flower head opening:

It's like a large, greenish version of Queen Anne's lace, isn't it?  I can hardly wait to harvest the seeds for next year's crops!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Community Gardening

Even though I have many garden spaces on my 1/4 acre lot, it is incredibly wonderful to be able to rent a 16 x 30 foot plot at the Community Garden just around the corner from me.  In it, I can grow all kinds of things that I just don't have the space for in the home gardens.

For instance, under the pallet a-frame I've planted several Sugar Baby watermelon plants.  They are growing quite nicely, now that they are over transplant shock.

I can also grow one of my most favorite tomatoes, Pink Brandywine.  They are so happy in their sunny space, setting blossoms already!

I can grow beans, to be harvested when dry and used in delicious fall & winter soups.

There's also space for some pretty & edible flowers, a mixture of heirloom sunflowers and spicy nasturtiums.

With any luck, I'll have plenty for my own use with a little left spare to donate to the local food pantry.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chickens on the Range

Summer weather is here, and the Red Ranger broiler chickens are soaking it up in style.  They've been out on pasture in their nifty moveable tractors for a few weeks, nibbling the grass, and bugs, and whatever else they find on their daily moves to new grass.

They get so excited when it is dinner time, because not only do they get their daily ration of organic grains, but they get moved to fresh grass, too.  Win-win, chickies!  They are such lucky chickens, living the good life within the lovely fields and flowers surrounding the country home of good friends.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Orchard Success

This may be a little premature, but check it out:
After five years of waiting, my MacIntosh apple tree has set fruit!
Here's hoping they make it through the summer until harvest time.  I may have enough to make a pie.  Yippee!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

To Make A Farm

This is a lovely little documentary film, about three farms in the making in Canada.  It follows a year in the life of the young farmers, who are all just starting out and working through the trials and tribulations of farm life in the raw.  It is available either as a rental through Amazon Instant Videos, or on DVD through Netflix.  Two thumbs up!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

Perennial Veg

In a corner of the back garden, pretty useless for annual vegetable growing, I've started a perennial vegetable garden.  With any luck, these plants should establish themselves and, year after year, prosper and grow and provide some great staple vegetables to the table.  I planted the Jerusalem artichokes (pictured above) a couple weeks ago, and already they look quite happy with their warm spot against the fence.  I also planted some horseradish roots.  Actually, I was supposed to plant them last year.  They got lost in a drawer...and then I found them again, and soaked them for a couple of days, and then planted them.  So far, they haven't come up but I am holding out hope that they will.  Horseradish is fairly invincible, right?

 Last spring, I planted some Martha Washington asparagus crowns, which I managed to not kill over last season's crummy dry spell and which look quite happy and frond-like this year.  I was very surprised to see them, as they had vanished amongst the weeds late last July and I was sure they were gone for good.  But here they are, looking like fragile ferns.
In a couple more years, I should be able to harvest many spears of this delicious perennial delight.

In addition to the sunchokes and asparagus, I have sectioned off an area for a perpetual garlic bed that will be planted in the fall.  Right now, it is busily solarizing under a double thick sheet of black plastic held down with landscaping pins and dirt on the edges.

If the rain holds off another day or two, and the soil dries out enough to allow seed planting, I have plans to sow Good King Henry, an herb that tastes and cooks just like spinach, but is perennial and will establish itself nicely.  My other plans are to dig out the Egyptian walking onions and lovage from their too-crowded location in the herb bed, and relocate them to the more appropriate space in the perennial garden bed.  After that, I need to do a little more reading and see what other plants I might be able to add, that will work with the space and with this climate.  One resource I plan to check out is this one, from Chelsea Publishing:
Looks appropriate, doesn't it?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Little Ladies

My little Buff Orpington ladies are growing and have moved to the Little Coop.  It took them a few days to settle in, and they are still a bit skittish, but they are having a grand time scratching about, chasing moths, and exploring the nooks and crannies of their new abode.  Given that this breed originated in the United Kingdom, I have decided to give them classic British female names.
They are, from left to right, Blossom, Easter, Queenie, Tuesday, and Maida.  It's a bit hard to tell them apart in person, as well as in the photo, but Maida has a naked bum currently.  Poor thing, her fuzz fell out and the new feathers haven't come in yet.  Good thing they sleep in a pile on the straw-covered floor or she'd be rather chilly in the night.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Upcoming Attraction

photo by Kathryn Pasternak

Meet Gail of Deauville Farm, the queen chicken whisperer of an upcoming documentary film Doeville the movie: The Fight to Know and Grow Our Food.  I can hardly wait until the final film is completed and wings its way to me as a digital copy!  One of the neatest things about this film is that viewers can show support for the film and Gail's work educating people about the importance of knowing and growing good food.  You can do this by connecting with the filmaker through an indigogo project (find out more information and see the trailer for the movie by clicking on this link).  There's a variety of cool perks you can choose from, if you opt to show your support by sending a donation.

While we've never met, I think Gail and I are destined to be friends.  After all, she's a Chicken Lady, too!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Potato Update

The potatoes took a long, long time to poke up any plant above their developing roots, but now that it has warmed up a little they are shooting up and looking great.  I was worried about my container plantings, what with all the rain we've been having, but while they took as long as the ones in the bed to grow any green leaves, they are certainly happy now.  In fact, they are nearly tall enough to need to be mulched with some additional compost and straw!

As for the potato bed, they are also growing well, now that they got started.  Unfortunately, the flea beetles have found them and are busy making little tiny holes in the leaves.  A Colorado potato beetle was spotted yesterday, but I can't find any larvae or other adult beetles...yet.  I have my coffee can with gas in it, already to frizzle their nasty selves on the daily scraping of the leaves, and I have a stash of BT powder and Pyola spray to duo-treat with.  There usually is a low level infestation in my potato beds all summer, but the trick is to keep it managed so the plant doesn't get completely denuded and stop growing.
It's a bit of work, and there is always the fear of blight wiping out the whole crop, but I do love growing potatoes in the garden anyway.  In a few weeks, they will flower and it will be time to harvest the new potatoes--which are excellent grilled and served with chive-spiked sour cream.  I can hardly wait!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Simple Fix

Courtesy of

This funny looking fabric is called "shade cloth", and is essential, apparently, to keeping things slightly cooler in the hoophouse.  Since early spring, I've been tracking the daily high and low temperature in the hoop house via a remote thermometer sensor.  On a sunny day in late winter/early spring, it can peak about 130 degrees Farenheit.  In the summer, it is even higher. (Last year, the regular outdoor thermometer I had out there melted and fused itself, stuck above 150 degrees.)  On a cloudy day, unless it is very dark and overcast, it still reaches about 95 degrees.  Add some moisture, and you've got yourself a recipe for roasted plants and misery.

So, what's a gardener to do?  Well, I could plant some trees, but that would defeat the goal of providing a warm environment with southern exposure.  Luckily, someone somewhere had this same problem at some time, and developed a woven product that drapes over the hoophouse covering and blocks out 50% of the light--hence reducing the heat by a few degrees.  Today, a sunny warm day with a slight breeze, at 2 PM it is only 92 degrees in there.  Last week, on a similar day, it was 140!  So far, so good--but the true test will come in July, if we ever get one of those classic, 100+ degree days with no wind in this cool, damp season we are having.  The hoophouse looks interesting to have the cloth on there, but not too shabby.

Plus, I decided to plant peppers in there, and peppers looooooooooove the heat.  I may not be able to handle the resultant heat in my salsas, but they should grow very happily all summer long.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Breakfast of Champions

Most mornings, I have eggs and toast.  (I have chickens, after all.)  But some mornings, I feel like something a bit more involved--and that usually means pancakes.  So when I thought: Hey, I feel like pancakes today! the other morning, I took a look through the cupboards and made up a version that hit the spot.

Banana Nut Pancakes

You'll need: one banana, mashed; one egg; about a cup or so of milk; 1 1/2 cups organic flour; 1/4 cup brown sugar; 1/2 cup chopped pecans; 1/2 teaspoon each salt, baking powder, and baking soda, plus 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl.

Add the mashed banana, egg and milk--blend until mixed and somewhat smooth batter.  Fold in the pecans.

Spoon out about 1/4 cup worth onto a preheated griddle per pancake, allow to cook until the "open hole" stage, then flip and brown on the other side.  Goes great with maple syrup and butter!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Food Quality

I've been thinking a lot about my meat rabbits, and what they eat.  Right now, it's a lot of hay and a good quantity of Purina Rabbit Chow pellets.  But as I do eventually harvest a rabbit or two for the freezer, I'd like to get away from the commercial feed if I can...but there's the problem.  There are no organic pellet formulae out there that is affordably obtainable.  I've found some on the internet, but it would cost hundreds of dollars to buy a pallet's worth of bags, and to have shipped here from wherever it is at (Pennsylvania and North Carolina, mostly).

So I've been watching videos and reading little articles online.  The conflicting discussions are just hilarious--some people apparently cook meat to feed to their vegetarian rabbits!--and some are just completely unaffordable.  I'd need a third job just to feed them, seriously now that is just a bit too much.  Certainly I want them to eat well and be healthy, but I am not buying a 50 pound sack of expensive goji berries to mix with various dried grains and herbs.  I liked this video, as the videographer seems reasonable and sensible and gosh, I think I could see this happening on my little Farmlette.  The greens get challenging in the winter, but there's always the delicious hay that I usually have on hand to get them through. 

Now, to track down sacks of organic barley and oats...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Creeping Vines

It may never look quite so lovely as this building, located at Selwyn College in Cambridge, UK, but I have high hopes for my new planting of Virginia Creeper.  With any luck, it will start climbing up the trellised walls in the next few days.  And then, it should creep and creep on, climbing and covering the walls.

It should, perhaps, give the rabbits a little more shade in the late afternoons when the sun streams in from the west, and it may even help keep Max the Wonderdoodle from going into hysterics every time the poor bunnies move an inch.  He can't keep himself from barking, poor thing, but it sure is irritating to everything else in the vicinity.  Woof woof woof.

I am really looking forward to seeing it in the fall, when it should turn a lovely bright red, such as this:
Isn' it pretty?  Oh, I really hope it doesn't do poorly!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I Have a Dream...

and it is to go to this farm.

I want to live this farm.

Really, I want peafowl.  But, my neighbors would probably come by with pitchforks and waving torches and drive me out of the Farmlette.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

They're Alive! (Or, One of My Favorite Things)

The tomatoes are finally planted, not a moment too soon--they were about to give up the ghost and turn themselves to compost, what with too much wet and not enough soil to sustain their little roots in the peat pot starters they were trapped in while hardening off.  This has been the slowest warm-up to summer that I have experienced since moving to the Farmlette seven years ago, and it is seriously throwing off my gardening mojo.

Anyway, they are in the ground now:  Orange Jubilee, Stupice, Hilly Billy, Silvery Fir, and San Marzano No.2, all happily ensconced in the dark rich soil of the back garden.  While I trust in the power of rabbit poo compost to grow everything and anything, for my tomatoes I add a little something extra:  Tomatoes Alive! Plus fertilizer. Now, don't hate me for sounding a little like a commercial, but really, this is amazing stuff! It's a wonderful mix of all sorts of good things, like ground oyster shells, bone meal, blood meal, kelp.  I put a small handful in the bottom of the hole before planting my tomato plant, and the newly planted vine takes off like a rocket.  When flowers start appearing, I scratch another handful into the soil around the roots--it helps ward off blight and blossom end rot beautifully.  As both of these tomato diseases are very common here, particularly in wet, cool summers, it's handy to have a little trick up my sleeve to perhaps get a head start at warding them off.

We all love a fresh, homegrown tomato--but they can be surprisingly challenging to grow.  I swear by this stuff, as in the four years I've been using it, I've had good luck with tomatoes which never succumb to blight, ever.  (Aside from last year, when I picked the wrong ones to grow in a very humid and hot hoophouse, and wound up with a jungle of vines and no fruit--silly me.)  If you've been struggling, consider giving Tomatoes Alive! Plus a try--it's not too expensive, and there always seems to be a coupon available to take a bit of the edge off of shipping, at least. 

Check out the all natural products available at Gardens Alive.    Right now, there's a coupon for $25 off!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wild Chickens

The last of the Red Ranger Broilers are hitting the fields, not a moment too soon.  While they aren't big enough to carry off a small child, they were getting bitey and mean--apparently, they were staging a revolt against the hand that feeds them in protest over their boring digs in the brooder.  (I have the bite marks to testify to their tempers.)

Hopefully, being out on the green grass, in the fresh air and sunshine, will help them shake the last remnants of their viral ailment.  It's been a depressing state of affairs.  I started with 75 chicks, and in the space of two weeks, I lost nearly 40 birds.  One by one, they drooped, developed bloody scars and had raging watery bowel movements.  If they would drink water, they might live--or they might not.  Because it was a virus, there was nothing to be done but wait and try to make them as comfortable as possible.  And as they all got sick, there was a lot of waiting and comfort-making going on.

The survivors who are already in the field are looking very hale and hearty--they have such vibrant combs and bright eyes--so I have every hope that they will continue on for the summer, and not keel over to some other opportunistic disease.

Hopefully, they will lose their taste for human flesh and focus on more flavorful things, like bugs and grass and worms!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bread in a Can

One of my favorite food memories is B&M Baked Beans Company's New England Brown Bread.  Sealed in a can, it was a little log of molasses, raisins, and deliciousness.  First, you took the lid of one end, and then you took it off the other, and used the circle of tin to push the loaf out.  Slice it into rounds along the ridge lines left by the can, toast it in some butter in a frying pan, and top with savory baked beans.  There you have it, a classic New England supper.

Living in the northern reaches of the Midwest, my beloved bread in a can is hard to find.  I found it once, but then the little cheese shop stopped carrying it.  That was a very sad day...but today, I found a recipe online here and I felt renewed hope: perhaps I could have my brown bread, and eat it, too!  I had a handy coffee can and tinfoil, so I gave it a whirl. 

Just look at it!

Two and a half hours in a boiling water bath, and it is steamed lusciousness.  It even has the handy indentations to show you where to slice.

All it needed was a pot of homemade "stovetop" baked beans, and a fried tomato, and there you have it: the perfect dinner for a rainy Sunday evening, or whenever the weather feels like New England.

"Stovetop" Baked Beans

You'll need: 2 cans canellini beans, or navy beans, drained and rinsed; 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B dark; 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses; two tablespoons brown spicy mustard or country dijon mustard; two tablespoons tomato ketchup, preferably homemade or organic; pinch of salt.

Combine the maple syrup, molasses, mustard, ketchup and salt in a heavy bottomed pan, or dutch oven.  Stir in the beans, cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, then remove lid and stir well, until heated through and the sauce is thickened to how you prefer it.  Serve over toast, with a side of sliced, fried tomato slices.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Early in the Morning

After a restless night's sleep broken by the sounds of a whining dog (intermittent fireworks = scared pup) and the alarm going off at 3:45 AM, it was out the door and on the road to the Small Animal Swap!  This was the scene, around 7:15 AM: it was a good crowd of shoppers and vendors, lots of people catching up and chatting.  I spent most of my morning standing next to the truck petting bunnies.

I only sold one little doe, to a nice family who is starting a rabbitry in their backyard.  And I had a nice chat with a guy from Altoona, who was selling his meat rabbit kits directly across from me--he may be in the market for a little buck in the fall, and hopefully will give me a call when he is ready.  (I am pretty sure I'll have rabbits available then--you know what they say about rabbits, right? Wink wink)

My wonderful friend, who was game for an early morning road trip, was very nice and held down the fort...err, back of the truck?...and let me go wandering to chat with some pigeon people who were selling extra birds.  A lot were there, but no one really had pairs for sale, until I found these beauties.

Meet Edith and Archie.

Edith is slightly smaller, and more "dark" shaded with a lovely bit of plum-purple on her breast.

The lovely Edith.

Archie, on the other hand, is a little larger and more "bright" shaded--with incredible, rich rusty-red banding on his back.

This is Archie.

According to the gentleman selling them, these two are a pair of red-banded racing homer pigeons.  Because they are new to this particular home, they'll be staying inside their little coop for a few weeks until they recognize it as the Place of Food & Safety.  Otherwise, they'll fly back to their native home-land, never to be seen again in the wilds of Prairie Farm.  I think they'll like it here--they've got a nice little house all to themselves to set up domesticated blissful life in, they are getting fed some posh food (I made my own mix from various dried organic seeds and peas), and there's no competition from a larger flock or avian predators.

They've been silent so far, but very very interested in what is going on around them.  It's too early to tell if Archie will call his Edith "dingbat", or if they'll produce a Gloria...or a Meat Head.  I think I'll start calling their little home "The Bunker Residence"--it seems fitting somehow, don't you think?

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Remember a few years ago, when David Attenborough hosted a wonderful series called  The Life of Birds?  Well, it is now available on Netflix streaming--and I am addicted.  (You must have realized my fascination with birds by now, haven't you?)

I mean, just look at this:

How awesome would it be to have this bird in the woods by your house?  Admittedly, the chainsaw would get a bit irritating, but still...what amazing creatures birds are!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Music from the Man

Oh, I love Mr. Rogers.  I think the world could really use him right now.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Hay.  Scarcer than hen's teeth this year.

The hay hut is bare, as the last half bale succumbed to mold.  It's time to restock, but finding small bales of hay under $7 is very challenging.  I've called in a few favors from folks who have the occasional spare bit of hay, but I hate to keep asking from the same sources.  Besides, everyone is short of hay--at least, short of good quality hay.  It's been wet enough to have luxurious growing green fields, but too wet to cut and cure it and make more bales of lovely fresh hay.  All that is left is the last dusty stuff from last year's meager harvest, and even that is priced at a king's ransom.

I love my bunnies, but holey crow, I can't afford $7 bales of dusty hay.  Besides, they don't really enjoy eating dusty hay anyway.  Hopefully, the weather will clear and hay can be cut, and maybe I can talk someone into selling me some fresh small bales of hay.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Confession

I cannot grow radishes.

It is sad, but true.  The easiest things to grow, so simple a toddler can do it, and me?  I cannot.  I try every year, and each year, they immediately bolt.

The saddest part is, I really like radishes.

Maybe I've been cursed.  It certainly feels like the gardening gods are mocking me.

This year, I'm not even trying.  I'll spend my time encouraging my tomatoes and squashes to grow, and buy my radishes at the Farmers Market.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Monday, June 3, 2013

The Next Adventure

courtesy of


Oh yes, they will be mine.

I love pigeons.  Oh, I know people refer to them as "rats of the air", but I can't help it.  I've always liked pigeons.  The idea of having a little flock of pigeons wheeling across the skies, coming home to roost in a dove cote of my very own, is intoxicating.

Yeah, maybe I do need to get out more. 

But still, I heart pigeons.  I love their sounds.  I love their colors, their intelligent eyes, the way they move through the air.  (They also are pretty tasty, when it comes down to it.)

This week, I hope to get a couple of things in place so that come Saturday, if I have any small amount of luck, I can head to a local small animal swap with some spare baby rabbits and come home with a few pigeons.  Its been a fun couple of months, reading about pigeons, watching YouTube instructional videos, attempting to contact the local reps for pigeon fanciers groups.  I feel ready to jump into a new project...maybe.  Well, yes, yes I am ready.  OH, I do love a new grand adventure in the making!

Cooing, lovely, iridescent colored pigeons.  I can't wait to try my hand at keeping a small flock!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Moving Day

Later this afternoon, I'll be moving some things out.
That's right.  The chicken campers are moving outta here!  First, I move their mobile tractor-houses, then, I move these:
Okay, so they aren't small and fuzzy like this anymore.  Now they are giant, and crabby, and biting me when I'm not fast enough handing the feed over.


They seem to have recovered from their virus for the most part--I still lose one every other day or so, but I think the rest will get better on fresh grass and fresh air and sunshine. 

Or not.  I'm thinking this may just be a very pitiful chicken harvest year.  I've lost nearly half of my meat birds due to the virus...sigh.  Well, its not the end of the world, just depressing.  So it is time for the survivors to go out and enjoy the wilds of pasturing in their summer housing.  Hopefully, they'll perk up and not be quite so grumpy come feeding time.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

At The Swap

Another Plant Swap has come and gone, and many happy gardeners left with new plants to try out this summer.  We had a host of different, interesting things:

Some flowers, lots of eggplants, and heirloom tomatoes!

We even had oodles of seed potatoes.
No Swap is complete without some coffee and snacks, is it?
Best of all, new and old friends came to visit and catch up on the spring time happenings.  It was a lovely day to spend some time in the park!

Now it is gently raining, with another evening of storms and rainshowers predicted.  Hopefully things will dry up in the morning, so I can put some of my weary plants into the ground.  Of course, there's another chance of FROST, so maybe I'll wait on those tomatoes going in just yet.  2013: The Spring that never was.