Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Nice weather

 Seems like summer these last two days with temperatures in the high 70’s. I took a walk to the creek to see what was going on. The creek is low. We were supposed to have rain this afternoon, but it went around us. We are still hoping to get some tonight. Every time we see an updated forecast, the chance of rain goes down, though. It has been very dry, which means that Terry is griping about having to water his trees, and I have to listen to it.

Not much water in the creek

Most of my transplants are not sprouting yet. The ramps are up. They are not spreading the way I hoped they would. Perhaps I’ll plant more one of these days.

Ramps by the creek

The scilla, on the other hand, are propagating. Each one I planted last spring has several new plants around it. I know it’s not native, but my plan is to replace the garlic mustard with something that at least has a prettier flower.

Scilla

The peas in the high tunnel are leafing out. Terry has turned on the outside hoses, so watering the high tunnel is a breeze. Also, I don’t have to haul water to the coop from the kitchen.

Pea sprouts

One morning, four deer walked across the field in the dawnzerlee light. I think it was Beverly Cleary’s character, Ramona the Pest, who thought that was how the national anthem began and wondered if it was some kind of lamp. Cleary died last week at 104. I loved her books and also that we shared our first name.

Deer at sunrise

The ground squirrels have ended their hibernation. I shouldn’t speak for all of them. I’ve only seen one at a time, and I do not have the kind of intimate relationship with them that would enable me to tell one from another.

13-striped ground squirrel taking in the view

What are YOU looking at?

The Asian ladybugs are out in force. There’s one crawling all over my laptop even as I type this. Terry keeps vacuuming them off the walls and floor, but there’s always more. He says they will figure out soon that there is more food outside, and then they will leave us alone. I say, “Ha ha, good one.” I am of the opinion that they will pester us until the soybeans are up, and that will not be any time soon.

 

 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Buds and sprouts

 It sure has been windy the last few days. Terry complains that he can’t get his outdoor work done. Still, the grass is getting greener, and it does not take much imagination to see the buds swelling on the trees.

The peach and cherry trees in the high tunnel are showing bud development, answer the question one always has when planting bare root stock—are the trees alive? Thankfully, we’re two for two.

Swelling buds on the apple tree

Peach buds

Of the seeds that I recently planted in the high tunnel, the radishes are developing quickly with the lettuce not far behind.

Radish sprouts


Lettuce sprouts

The thyme, oregano, and chive that overwintered in the high tunnel are showing many new leaves. Nothing can kill chive, and it is looking particularly robust.

Oregano

Thyme

Chive
In the outside world, I noticed that the garlic is up. I removed the row cover. We are supposed to have cold nighttime temperatures at the end of the week. I hope I have not been too eager. I think garlic can take a mild frost.
Garlic

The tiny speedwells are blooming. It seemed like the first time I’ve noticed these tiny flowers (about 2 mm across), but when I looked them up, the name seemed familiar. I don’t know which species this is. My flower book says there are 20 species in North American, and it only included 10. I don’t think our speedwell was one of them.

Tiny speedwell flowers

The rhubarb is coming up!

Rhubarb

The hens are so silly. Last year, they learned to stick their heads through the fence to eat the greener grass on the other side. The old hens taught this to the new hens, and now I suppose the process will repeat for all subsequent generations.

The grass is always greener...

Every morning, I change the water in the nipple waterer in the coop. Until the hoses go on in mid-April, I haul a bucket of water from the kitchen. I empty the old water into another bucket and fill the waterer with clean water. Then I take the old water to the run, rinse the mud and leaves (kicked in by the hens during the previous day) out of the water bowl, and fill it with cleaner water. Invariably, the hens are more interested in the muddy puddles than the clean water.

Hens prefer mud puddles to clean water

The male goldfinches are going through their molt to breeding plumage. In this picture, the goldfinch on the bottom left is having a little altercation with a house finch.

Molting goldfinches

Here’s a house finch and a nuthatch. Check out the nuthatch’s little feet. It looks like the left foot isn’t holding the perch at all.

House finch and nuthatch

It’s good to hear the birds and chorus frogs again. As one day follows another, we become more confident that winter is over. Spring and early summer are my favorite times of year!


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

High tunnel gardening

 March continues to tease us with warm weather and dash our hopes with cold, blustery rain. Hey, it’s not snow! The chorus frogs are singing in the vernal puddles in the field. There were earthworms all over the driveway this morning. Terry remarked that the robins ought to be lying on the ground, moaning that they couldn’t eat another worm. The hens were pretty excited too!

The onions are big enough that I put them out in the glass greenhouse.

Onions in the glass house

I’ve been working in the high tunnel. The lettuce, spinach, and mâche are really taking off. I think when we are done with this last head of store-bought lettuce, we should be able to have salads from the high tunnel, especially if I supplement with sprouts from my new sprouter.

Lettuce and mâche

Spinach

The Johnny Jump-Ups survived the winter and have started blooming again.

I love Johnny Jump-Ups! So cheerful.

I planted radishes, lettuce, peas, and cucumbers. I put up a trellis made of rabbit-guard fence by the peas and cucumbers. In the garden, I put the fence on both sides in a probably futile attempt at keeping out ground squirrels. I have this idea that the high tunnel will be varmint-free, but I’m sure when the weather is hot, we’ll have to leave the sides up. We’ll cross that road when we come to it.

Pea trellis

The final exciting high tunnel news is that Terry has planted a dwarf peach and dwarf cherry tree.

Peach tree and cherry tree

The idea is to protect them from polar vortex damage. They will take a few degrees below zero, but not 20 below. This is one of the ironies of climate change—the overall average temperature is creeping up, but with less of a temperature gradient between the arctic and the rest of the world, the jet stream gets all whacky, sometimes bringing us colder winter temperatures than normal. This is why the term “global warming” is misleading and has largely been replaced by “climate destabilization.” Nothing is like it used to be.

It’s been good to get outside again, good to have dirt under my nails. Now I have to remember to water everything. Rain does not give the high tunnel gardener a free pass.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Back to winter

 Although winter storm Xylia hit with windy fury about 1:00, it didn’t amount to much here.  We might get a little more snow tonight. It is disheartening to see the ground turn white again, but it’s not really a bad thing. We don’t want the fruit trees to get any big ideas about blooming when we have a good 8 weeks before the frost-free date in May. I was glad I didn’t have to go anywhere or be outside long in such a cold, fierce wind. Brrr. A good day to sit inside under a lap blanket and drink tea.

Wind-blown snow of winter storm Xylia

I filled my bird feeder and am enjoying the visitors. I saw this downy woodpecker today.

Downy woodpecker

Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal stopped by this morning. A house finch hopped around the periphery trying to get a chance at the birdseed on the ground.

A pair of cardinals and house finch interloper

A robin and a mourning dove were having a tiff about who got the optimal foraging spot directly under the feeder when a flock of about two dozen brown-headed cowbirds descended and scared them away. Unlike the redwing blackbirds, which are all males right now, the cowbirds seemed evenly split between males and females. The blackbird males arrive before the females to establish their territories and get ready for the ladies to arrive. Cowbirds, being nest parasites, have no need of territories and nesting sites. I do think their arrival is premature. There won’t be any nests to parasitize for a couple of weeks yet.

A flock of male and female brown-headed cowbirds

Over the weekend, I tried a new recipe for orecchiette (“little ears”). The recipe came from a celebrity chef featured in a general-interest magazine. Danger, danger, Will Robinson! I have made pasta enough to know that a recipe calling for 4 cups of flour will make enough to feed the threshers (to borrow a metaphor from my grandmother). My usual pasta takes one cup of flour, one egg, and a bit of water, and makes enough for two meals. (The egg is the limiting factor. Who wants to make something with half an egg? Not me.) This recipe was just flour and water. I made a ¼ batch. In addition to picking a probably-not-rigorously-tested recipe, I didn’t read the recipe carefully prior to starting the recipe at 4:15 p.m. Imagine my surprise when I found that the dough was supposed to rest an hour. That didn’t happen. The chef selected orecchiette because this form of pasta can be made without any specialized equipment. It is an awful lot of hand work, however. Each “ear” needed to be squished in the palm of one hand using the thumb of the other hand. If a person made a full recipe, it would definitely require either a team effort or all day.

So many orecchiette--and only 1/4 of the recipe!

I swapped out broccoli rabe in favor of spinach that I had on hand. I used our homemade pork sausage instead of making chicken sausage. I followed the recipe’s white wine/chicken stock reduction, and it tasted fine. The orecchiette were more like dough balls than pasta. I’ll be sticking to my specialized pasta machine in the future. No more dough balls for me.

Orecchiette with sausage and spinach

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Spring for real

Yes, indeed—we have a pretty low threshold for grilling weather. When it got to 48°F last Thursday, Terry fired up the charcoal. I suspect we were not the only ones—as luck would have it, Jewel had T-bones on sale just in time. And when Jewel has T-bones on sale, the savvy consumer rifles through the stack to find the hidden porterhouses. Hee hee hee.

A porterhouse with foil-pack potatoes on the grill

We finally had a night that didn’t freeze, and a lot of the snow melted. The birds have returned with a vengeance. Yesterday I counted 16 robins on the lawn. The ground can’t possibly be thawed far enough down for worms. What can they be eating?

One of 16 robins a-bob-bob-bobbin' along

I saw a huge flock of sandhill cranes last Wednesday when I was at Jane’s house. As I was headed to town yesterday, two cranes flew low over my car just after I pulled out of the driveway. I also saw a killdeer.

This morning, the air was filled with the raucous calls of hundreds of redwing blackbirds. I took a picture of them with the big lens and was thrilled to see that their red and yellow epaulets showed up in the image! I certainly couldn’t see that with my naked eyes. The flock moved from place to place on the back field. What were they looking for? Water? Food?

A flock of male red-wing blackbirds, epaulets showing

At lunch time, Terry reported that the ground was alive with insects. They must have overwintered as pupae and hatched instantly when the top of the soil warmed. I went out and saw not only flying insects but also spiders. The mystery of what the birds are eating is solved.

I’ve started getting the high tunnel ready for planting. That left little time for my continued experiments with sourdough. I made sourdough crackers on Sunday afternoon. The recipe called for quite a bit of butter. What’s not to like? It said to add 2 tablespoons of dried herb(s) of my choice. I put in dill. I made dill crackers before, and with every intention of tweaking the recipe for a better result, I dried quite a lot of dill last year.  After rolling the dough thin on parchment, I brushed the crackers with oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt.

Sourdough dill crackers ready for bakiing

During baking, some of them bubbled up, which was awesome. If I make these again, I would let the dough rise a bit before baking. The crackers improved with age. The ones that weren’t crisp at first got that way as they cooled. Today, I could hardly leave them alone. The dill was okay, but I cannot help but feel that the best herb for these crackers would be cheese.

The final product--the blistered crackers are the best

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Spring, sort of

 We had a string of spring-like weather this week. Patches of bare ground appeared where the wind had blown the snow away and under the trees.

The first glimpse of the grass beneath the snow

In the middle of supper on Wednesday, I saw a possum in the orchard. “North America’s only marsupial!” Terry said. He loves possums. The possum went from tree to tree until it found a withered apple, which it commenced to eat. I put on my Wellies and grabbed my camera. The snow was deeper than I thought it would be after days of above-freezing temperatures. My Wellies were not tall enough to keep the snow out. Amazing that it was still more than a foot deep. Because it was in the last bit of daylight, I didn’t get a good picture. The exposure time was too long without the flash, and obviously I can’t stand still enough for a clear picture. I tried with the flash but the autofocus decided that I wanted a picture of the deer fence around the orchard rather than the possum inside it. Bah.

Bad photo of a possum eating an apple (right). Its little pink toes must be freezing!

My seed orders arrived along with new sprouting trays. I ordered the trays so I could grow sprouts for the hens to give them a little excitement to break up the boredom of winter. I started with the alfalfa seeds that came with the kit. The rest of the sprouting seeds were ordered from a cheaper source. The sprouter is ingenious. The trays have ridges, and there are holes in the outermost ridge. The water drips down through the holes leaving behind a layer of water the depth of the outer ridge. All I have to do is empty the catch tray and pour 2 cups of water in the top twice a day.

Water dripping between the layers

After four days, the sprouts looked like this.

4-day-old alfalfa sprouts

Now that it’s been a week, they are ready to eat. Whatever we don’t use will go to the girls.

1 week and ready to eat! (Poor innocent sprouts!)

I know the hens are bored by their scruffy appearance. They are pecking at each other. The Australorps are the prime suspects, as they look less scruffy than the rest. The poor Wyandottes, which are supposed to have (as you may recall) lovely white feathers with black edges, look uniformly gray and downy on their backs. I can only hope their regular feathers will grow back once we get them back in the summer pasture.

Bedraggled Wyandottes

I took a deep breath and slogged through the drifts to check on the high tunnel. After two weeks of below-zero temperatures, I had few expectations. Indeed, there were no survivors in the herb bed. The chives will grow back. As far as I know, it is impossible to kill chives. The rest will need to be planted again.

Not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead (except the chives, upper right)

The lettuce may or may not still be alive. The mâche looks great! The radishes are definitely dead.

Questionable lettuce, left; apparently alive mache, right; dead radishes in the middle

And look at the spinach! It remains to be seen if these apparent survivors will start putting out new leaves.

Hale and hardy spinach

In other excitement, we got the onions planted last Friday.

Four flats for four varieties of onions, planted Feb. 25

They are starting to sprout. Note that as the shoot develops, it raises the seed coat out of the ground. We call this “epigeal” development in the business.

Cute little onion sprouts, today. Note black seed coat at the end of the shoot

Even with all this excitement, I did not forget my sourdough experiments. This week I made cinnamon-raisin sourdough. It wasn’t clear what the starter was for. It did not seem to impart any sourness to the final bread, and there was plenty of yeast for it to rise on that alone. Still, it was a nice soft loaf and made excellent French toast. I suspect, however, that the result would be the same if one left the sourdough starter out.

Cinnamon-raisin sourdough bread

It was 11° this morning, which took the wind out of our spring-is-coming sails. The snow will never melt like this! We are hoping the forecasts for warmer temperatures for the rest of the week come true.