Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anti-bacterial Alert

I hate to be right all the time about these things, but I just read recently that the FDA is reviewing the safety of Triclosan which is an ingredient in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers and things like that for safety. I have been anti-antibacterial for years. I remember my first job after getting out of school, all the deli/bakery ladies were all abuzz about this controversial expose on 20/20 about how antibacterial soaps don’t clean any more than regular soaps, and at that point I was already saying “to thanks” to antibacterial. It’s common sense, really that if you spread around all that stuff, it just makes stronger bugs.

There is another aspect to antibacterial agents that doesn’t get addressed very often, and it, of course, is way scarier than creating superbugs. A lot of these chemicals, including the preservative Methylchloroisothiazolinone which I have found in some pretty expensive shampoos that were also touted as natural, are in products that are designed to be flushed and washed down the drain. All this stuff bioaccumulates, and most of it has been found to create mutation in developing cells. Usually non-mammalian cells but still not so much fun for fans of the food chain as the first things that will get hit with concentrations of disinfectants and preservatives in the water will be frogs and fish and that good stuff.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone first came to my attention about five years ago when I read an article about research that was being done at the University of Pittsburgh about possible fetal deformities in actual human beings who were coming in contact with the chemical. I was not able to find a link to this article, but I assure you the research exists.

At my “new” job that I’ve had since December, I just had the safety tour and also a lecture about how to be safe walking out to my car since that girl got kidnapped on her way out of the building. I was not impressed. I have my own safety plan in every situation: know where the exits are and take off if things start sounding funny, looking funny, or smelling funny. If you can't get out, hide, preferably in something that will stop a bullet. I know there are evacuation plans, etc. and rules for these things, but I seriously believe that in a crisis situation no one is actually going to follow those plans, and I am not willing ot put my personal safety in the hands of other people’s evacuation plans.

I feel the exact same way about the ingredients in products I buy. I never go in with the idea that the FDA or some chemist or corporate executive is going to step in and protect the public. Look at the microwave popcorn thing. Look at the horrifying scary stuff that is in processed food and also the horrifying scary side effects of supposedly safe food like obesity and pop sucking the calcium and phosphorus out of your bones and kids getting rickets from eating too much fast food and never going outside. Really, in matters like this, you need to be on your own side. (And also on the side of the fish.)

There are a lot of products that you can buy that are not that terrible, and there are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself. The range of products available on the market is mindboggling, and that is before you look to small cottage industries and do-it-yourself things. It’s all about how much time you are willing to put into defending yourself and your life from people who just don’t care about you and who are neglecting what is in the best interest of the people to the detriment of everyone.

I’m going to get all technical, but Marxist theory says that in a post industrial society, there is a point where there is so much specialization and brand diversity demanded by the population that mass production bascially gets rolled back in favor of craftspeople and small manufacturing. If the major companies are poisoning us (and the frogs) maybe that day needs to come a little sooner. The major companies and the government are not going to change things until there is irrefutable proof that these ingredients are harmful, and by that point it will be too late: everything is going to be contaminated and mutated. I’m going to stay on the side of the fish. I think they would be on my side, too!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Two women and three dogs looking for a tree to drill -- It's Spring!

Hello, all.

The snow is still deep on the ground here in NW PA, but you can feel that things are starting change. the air is still cold, down into the low teens each night, but up into the 30’s and even the 40’s during the day. The sun feels hot, and the roads are losing the coating of ice and snow and patches of bare ground are starting to spread. We have two. One right by the house and one near the pond where a tree broke up the wind and didn’t let a drift form. It’s exciting.

The other week, we made soup for lunch, and I dug last year’s bolero carrots out of the mulch and used them for the soup and also for a snack. It worked really well. Note to self: a flag or a stake to mark the carrots still in the ground would help a lot, especially as we have a bout two and a half feet of snow on the ground still, and the garden was difficult to locate!

Also, it is seed time again. I am working a different silly job now which pays a lot more than my previous silly job, even though with this silly job I’m going to be laid off soon. My previous silly job was in a call center, and this is in an office, but definitely the lowest man on the totem pole type stuff where I literally spend about eight hours a day pulling the staples out of packets of paper, scanning them into a computer, and stapling them back up again. Needless to say, I have been spending inordinate amounts of time thinking up seeds. Unfortunately, my mom who was supposed to be my voice of reason, is not my partner in crime and has been requesting that I add certain seeds to the list. I have a lot of things to plant.

So far, it is a little too early to start many things. I did start a flat of lemon grass the other day, and there are always things that need cold treated. I have hellebore, santolina, inula elcampine (which the dye worthiness of I have never yet been able to determine, as the natural plant dye lady had never heard of it and it was not in any dying books at all, though supposedly the flowers will yield yellow dye and the roots blue) and angelica. There are a few things I am excited to try, but will hold off until they actually sprout.

Started a new venture today! Maple syrup. I may or may not have mentioned that my sister took a family visit to Vermont over the fall and returned with a sap bucket as a present. Last fall, I combed the hillside for a likely sugar maple, and found exactly one within easy walking distance of the house. All our back area has been planted with evergreens, and the majority of the rest of the area is overgrown cow pasture. There is one wooded stand, though, with older trees. There is a fantastic oak, a majestic ash, and a mostly dead sugar maple. So, this morning, my mom, the dog, and I took a little hike and I hopped the barbed wire fence to hand the sap bucket.

I have made maple syrup one time before. My grandfather made a spile out of an elderberry stick split halfways up and hollowed out, and we boiled down the sap, but I remember it being a big pain in the butt and also kind of sugared. Hopefully this time, I will have more patience and do a better job!

I just read an article in the paper about collecting sap. and the gentleman in the article said the hold does not have to be more than an inch to an inch and a half deep. The sap bucket that we have comes in four pieces: a little metal spile, a hook, the bucket and a lid. The spile goes in the hole, the hook fits around it, the bucket hangs and leans against the tree and the lid makes a little tent on top. To make the hole I also followed the cue of the article in the paper and brought along one of the my cordless drills and a fat drill bit.

After almost getting barbed wire in a place that barbed wire should not be, losing (and finding) the hook, and getting the rubber mallet away from the dogs, the hole was drilled, the spile was pounded, the hook was on backwards, the spile was removed, the hook corrected, the spile replaced, the bucket hung, and the lid installed. Now, all we do is wait and check back in a day or so to see if any sap is running.

By the way, this is the perfect weather for maple tree tapping. The temperatures during the day need to be about freezing but it needs to get below freezing at night. This makes the sap run faster due tot eh fact that sap, like water, expands when it freezes. As the upper parts of the tree thaw, the moister within the tree contracts, creating almost alike a vacuum within the tree which brings more sap up into the tree. Then that freezes and thaws and the sap runs more and more. Eventually, they trees bud, and the sap is not good for syrup any longer. According to the newspaper, there will be a short season this year because it took so long for the temperatures to get above freezing.

Over the next few weeks, as the snow melts off, I’ll get a chance ot assess how the gardens did for the winter. I put in a variety of bulbs, and also my mom added perennials to the “hitching post” area and made a new rock garden near the pond that we’ll need to do some more work on. Then there was the new raised bed we added last year. The rock siding on the house will be finished, which will allow the herb gardens to get a little better back there. It’s so hard to wait, but at least seed starting's just around the corner!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010



It's hard to believe but this is about the easiest winter that we have had in a few years. We've had a lot of show since Christmas, but up until then , there was just about nothing and we're getting into a patch of clear weather that should make things a lot easier. Needless to say, our house a smidge buried right now under about three and a half feet of snow, and some of the places down in Crawford County had between four and five feet of snow just since New Years.

It's seed catalog time again, and I am looking to get back on the horse and get a good garden growing. One of the only bright spots from last year was that I had a patch that I grew melons and pumpkins that I used black plastic mulch, and the ground is actually now weed free, which will create a new vegetable garden up closer to the house. I anticipate fewer bunny problems this year, however, because of lots of cats, young energetic dogs and my dad gave me a gun that belonged to my grandmother for my birthday if all else fails. Is that too northwest PA that I got a gun for my birthday or is it the fact that is not the first time I have gotten a gun for my birthday?

Got a different job which is horrifyingly boring, but still better than my job in the call center. At least now while I am doing mindless office tasks, I don't have to actually deal with the public and I can listen to music, which just highlights how little new music I have purchased in the last few years. I went looking for some CD's to throw on my ipod. and I found out the '90's are not gone, they are still alive and well and in the bottom of my closet!

Speaking of music, I caught a few songs from the "War of the Worlds -- Live!" on PBS the other night. I'm a borderline PBS hater anyway, mostly because the PBS station in Erie sucks, and now I'm totally against it. People are so passionate about PBS, both pro and con, and it's such a political football, and people write letters and give money and campaign and fight for PBS, and what do we get: The prog rock extravaganza "War of the Worlds -- Live!" I mean, who is the target market for this? People who think that Transiberian Orchestra was a little too modern but that Lawrence Welk could be edgier? I'm thinking of flying a decent antenna and giving up on American TV altogether. Except for Glee.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happenings, Dealings with Bugs, and Some Nut Recipes


Well, here it is all the way at the end of November and we are finally getting some snow. It’s coming in waves over the hills from the north and west and beginning to coat the grass and the mud on the road.  Yesterday, we had our usual Sunday thing with my aunt and my grandmother and the leftovers from Thanksgiving. The weather was beautiful, low 50’s sunny and breezy. My uncle and one of my cousins and her little boy came up and we cut three Christmas trees and pulled them up to the house from the bottom where the nicer spruce trees are. Last year, we ended up just cutting trees from the verge of the frog pond as there was about thigh deep snow on the ground and it was too hard to get them from down below.

It’s the first day of deer, and I’ve been stuck keeping the dogs on lead. There are a lot of people out hunting, and even on our little spatch of land out back, I wouldn’t recommend going down below to avoid any hunters.

A couple of weeks ago, my mother took the dogs out just before sunrise and got into a tangle with a very large, very aggressive raccoon. She got bit right through her tall rubber boot and the dogs all got bit. Luckily, our oldest dog Sally pinned it down while mom brought the rest of the dogs back to the house, got a feed sack and the go-devil, hiked back out the field, pinned down the raccoon and drowned it in a puddle and brought it back to the house. My sister is a respectable career woman who usually gets a lot of milage out of the stuff we get into down here. She had this whole story published as a “You know you’re a redneck, if...” joke on her facebook page before I had the mud off the dogs. My mom of course had ot go to the emergency room for tetanus and rabies shots, but because she managed to find it and bring it back, I was able to take it up to the health department vet in Erie where they determined it was not rabid and she was able to not get the rest of the shots which would have been about 8 shots every week for the next four weeks. Then, the dogs all needed shots, too but our vet is great and whisked us right on and only charged a regular office call for all three dogs.

Bruce (who tipped the scales at 99.5 lbs. during his last vet visit) has been limping off and on for the last few weeks, He seemed to have a sore shoulder a couple weeks ago and it got better for a few days, but he seems to have reinjured it. Hopefully a few days on lead during hunting season will help him heal up a little. The boys are very energetic and Spencer is also pushing 90. Little Sally is so tiny compared to them and she is still over 50 pounds!

I am getting 2010 seed catalogs and already eagerly planning next year’s garden, which could hardly be worse than this year’s garden which is cause for optimism. I should hardly complain, though, since I am still getting yummy carrots from the garden and had snow peas through the end of October and my calendulas and bachelors buttons are just now spent.

I have my houseplants inside including some herbs that I am trying to winter over, but I am in the middle of battling more (!) bugs. I believe they are thrips and they have eaten up my thyme and my French Tarragon. I checked a whole bunch of books out of the library about healthy houseplants, blah, blah, blah in addition to my four thousand books on gardening. I like the whole organic philosophy that you just leave things as they are until there is a problem, but I have problems! So, the first thing I noticed is that things in a rich soft container garden mix were just infested, including my wandering jew and my herbs, and things that were in the sandier, packier potting mix were okay. Also citrusy things were okay. I tried sprinkling leaves from lemon coleus on infested plants, diatomaceous earth, laundry soap, and then a truly hellacious mixture of fels-naphtha and garlic infused olive oil. The pineapple sage seemed to stage a quick recovery, but the thyme and the tarragon were eaten to the dirt level.

Right when I was about to give up, I came across an idea in the houseplants books which said to dip the plants, pot and all, in hot water (about 140 degrees but I’ve read higher, too). I went one step beyond and prepared a pot with the sandy dirt that the bugs don’t seem tot like as much and completely washed the plant, roots and all with hot water and repotted into a clean pot that had been sitting in the garage for a few months. So far, the plant seems to be sprouting back up and no bugs have bitten it, but I am also misting it and dusting with DE regularly.

Speaking of bugs, I found a very nice old paper back called “The Bug Book” by Helen and John Philbrick with lots of old fashioned anti bug advice. Just out of curiosity, I looked up pill bugs (also called woodlice or sow bugs accourding to the Philbricks). My melon patch was absolutely devastated by these little guys this year, and to that point I’d hardly seen then as pests at all, more like little visitors in the wood pile. Accourding to the bug book, however, they are drawn to goat manure, which of course, I had packed into each hill of melons. So, hopefully next year if I switch to compost or kife some cow manure from the neighbor’s field, I’ll get more than masses of swarming pill bugs in my melon patch.

What with being stuck inside and the chilly damp weather and all, I’m baking. I made two loaves of white bread and three of multi-multi which smell very nice, but always fall in the oven and have a very unsatisfying crumb, and while grain breads are fun to concoct, it’s very difficult to have a good result. White breads are so much more pleasing!

Anyway, I have some fun recipes. These first two are from this little fundraising book called “Gifts from the Kitchen” which was a fundraising thing that my sister’s kids’ daycare sold a few years ago. They are these little fliptop books with nice little recipes for things like cookie and soup mixes in jars. This one has pickle and jelly recipes and even soap making with lye. The first recipe is very easy and will spoil you for ever paying too much for those fancy almonds at the fair:

Glazed Almonds (tho’ recipe originally called for pecans)

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Dash of salt
3 cups almonds (or pecan halves)

In large saucepan, combine ingredients. Boil 3-5 min, tossing and stirring. (Boil dry)
Spread on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet to cool. Store airtight.

Spiced Vanilla Pecans (more work - 1-2 days to prepare)

1 lb pecan halves not broken or chopped
6 c. water
1/2 c. superfine sugar
3. Tblsp. melted butter
1 Tblsp. corn syrup
1 Tblsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. each: salt, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper

Boil pecans in the water for a minute. Drain well. Mix butter, syrup, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl. Add hot pecans and stir to coat. Cover and sit for 12-24 hours. Next day:
heat oven to 325. Put nuts and sauce on a rimmed cookie sheet. Cook 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Mix together spices in another large bowl. After nuts are cooked, toss in the bowl with spices. Cool in single layer on a cookie sheet. Store air tight.

And this is a recipe I tried because I recently raided the outdated section at the grocery store and lucked into a few bags of slivered, blanched almonds. I also made ghee with the butter sticks that were softening for cookies and the dogs bit them, but I couldn’t bear to feed all the butter to the dogs and I couldn’t actually throw it away either! (Is that too much information?)

Samsa (Tunesian almond pastry, from Countryside magazine March/April 2008)

1 1/2 cups blanched almonds (you can do this at home or buy blanched, but you will pay for them! Unless you buy bags of outdated nuts at the local store. Which I recommend, because blanching almonds is a pain in the behind!)
1 1/2 cups white sesame seeds (the dark unhulled ones won’t cream up, don’t try them!)
1 1/2 cups clarified butter (ghee) (do this at home or buy already made from the specialty shop, very expensive!)
1 package (1lb) filo dough (let thaw at room temp accourding to directions)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cups water
2 Tblsp. lemon juice (bottled is fine)
2 Tblsp. orange blossom water (come on, now, just use OJ)

In a 350 oven spread almonds and sesame seeds in a shallow pan. Stir occasionally until just browned. Pulverize the almonds and seeds in a blender (handy chopper, magic bullet, or a really clean electric coffee grinder all do well) and set aside. Butter 9x13 cake pan. lay down the filo 1 sheet at a time, brush with the clarified butter. Lay down 1/3 of the sheets, buttering each layer. Spread out half of the nuts and seeds. Lay down another third of the sheets. Put on th e rest of the nuts and seeds. Put on the last of the filo (butter every sheet, the whole way through!). Brush top with remaining butter. Cut into diamond or square shapes. Bake in 400 oven 5 minutes. Lower to 300 and bake about 30 minutes more until sides are light brown. While the pastry cooks, make sugar and water in pot for ten minutes, stirring over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, add lemon juice. Place back on the heat, boil. Take off heat and add OJ, keep warm. Put the pastry under the broiler in the oven a few minutes right before removing to brown up the top. Turn to keep even. Broil until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Pour hot syrup evenly over the top. Cool and serve.

So there it is, a selection of easy to medium to downright complicated recipes that use lovely nuts just in time for the holidays!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fall's Here, Here's a Fall Jam Recipe!


Well, the year is winding down, and I’ve been working full time while everything else suffers. I suppose that I can’t complain because with two incomes, we’ve actually been able to have some fun and make some much needed improvements around the house. Our flooded basement problem which had been ongoing for about a year and a half has been resolved by a nice, actual plumber who came and blew out all the drains in the basement with a high pressure hose. A large pile of dire, junk and wood chips popped down in the swamp, and the basement is not only well-drained, it isn’t even damp any more!

When the basement was so easily resolved, we got really bold and got a new roof on the house, too. Both of these have been great decisions, as we were starting to get concerned about the number of shingles we were finding the yard after every wind storm, and it does get windy up here. In each case, we had people who gave us estimates for the work that were very drastic. People wanted to jackhammer the basement. We dug a six foot deep hole in the yard. A Lowes contractor gave us an estimate for doing the roof that was about $1700 more than we actually had it done for. I advise going local, working with a bank for loans, using family and friends as a contact for finding people to do work around the house. Our roofing team was made up of one of my aunt’s nephews from her side of the family, a grandson of a guy my mom graduated high school with and one of their friends. They were actual contractors, but it seemed like people we didn’t know were more expensive and less reliable.

With the basement nice and dry, I could get some work done on the wood stove which had been mightily abused since it’s been wet down there. I tipped it on its side and sanded off all the rust and mud and splashes of hydraulic cement and caulk from my failed attempts to patch the floor. I repainted with Rustoleum high temperature paint. I don’t recommend it. There are other stove black paints that seem to stick to the metal better, but when I refired the store after using the Rustoleum, there were a lot fewer fumes than with other paint brands, so it wasn’t all bad. So I have a nice, clear freshly painted stove and lots of hickory wood to burn in it, too!

This year was just a terrible year for the garden, but there were some nice things. I have actually planted fall peas, and they are actually doing better than the ones from the spring. Even though you can’t save the seeds (even from supposedly non-hybrid seeds!) I recommend Burpee’s snowbird snow peas because you don’t have to stake them, and you get edible peas very soon. If I had been thinking, I would have also put in more lettuces so we could have a late fall salad of greens and peas. Carrots were good, but I have decided that Nelson-type carrots have a strong, soapy taste that I don’t care for. Luckily, they grew really well. It was also a great year for all kinds of berries even though I believe that my blackberry patch may be on the way out. The Caroline Raspberries that my sister got me as a present my first birthday here are still producing, and the berries are as big as blackberries and taste like koolaide they are so sweet! Not enough for jam, though, and it seems like every time I have a day off it’s either Sunday or raining, so I have not been to pick raspberries this year.

I also have a little patch of groundcherries that are still producing. Now, these are little tomatoes which grow in husks and look like little yellow tomatillos or those orange Chinese lantern plants. They are all related, part of the nightshade family, actually. Groundcherries have this lovely golden color and tiny seeds and a taste that is part citrus and part butterscotch (I think.) they will produce up to the frost, and the book that I read a while ago called “Little Heathens” about this family growing up during the Great Depression has a lot about them, actually. Apparently, they used to pick a lot of them still unripe to save them from the frost. Then, they would lay them out even just on the floor of the upstairs rooms that were buttoned up and closed for the winter. They would keep and also ripen slowly and could be used for pies and snacks until they were gone.

I don’t have a lot of places to lay things out like that in this house. (Though I grew up in a house that was large enough that we did close up one bedroom and one living room every winter so we did not have to heat them.) And every single recipe that I have for ground cherry jam takes about six cups of them. That is a lot of space in the garden to get that much fruit, and usually goatastrophe strikes at least a couple of times a year, reducing the amount of groundcherries I have on hand. (Goats love them!)

I did find out good recipe that used ground cherries that I tried this year, though. It’s from the Farm Journal Freezing and Canning Cookbook, and despite the warnings of the nice Home Extension ladies that taught a canning course I attended this year to never use canning recipes from before 1994, I tried it, and I’m going to share it.

Autumn Cherry Conserve:

3/4 cup ripe ground cherries
1 13.5 oz can crushed pineapple (1 2/3 cup)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Grated peel and Juice of one orange
5 medium apples, finely diced
1 cup cranberries
1 pack powdered fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar

Hull, wash and prick ground cherries. Combine with Pineapple, lemon juice, grated orange rind and juice and apples, add cranberries.

Bring to a boil, add pectin and stir while bringing to a boil.

Add sugar, stirring constantly. Bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, boil hard one minute, stirring constantly.

Removed from heat. Skim and stir alternately for 5 minutes.

Pour into hot jars, seal. Makes 5-6 half pints.

Okay, when I made this one, I got closer to 7 jelly jars and one little ittybitty. I also put all the juices into the pan and then chopped at added the apples so they didn’t get brown.
I also followed with 5 minutes in a boiling water bath and used the “modern” method of just getting the jars hot instead of sterilizing them ahead of time. You’ll want the apples very fine, because with just a little boil at the beginning and a minute long boil at the ned, I didn’t feel they got smooshy enough. Also, pop the cranberries as soon as they get juicy and hot because they will not burst on their own, and a whole cranberry on toast is a bit tart. Substitute 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for the juice of a half lemon.

This recipe smells like Christmas in a jar, and it was a good one, too, because it uses just odds and ends. My mom goes to the next town over to do med checks for people and usually hands out fruit as a “thank you for coming to your appointment” present. I only had to buy cranberries and a can of pineapple special since I could use up all her leftovers from her patients for the rest of the fruit in the recipe.

One last thing:

You heard it here first. OK, this is the official weather prediction for the year. Remember last year when all the bees and hornets were building their nests up in the high branches of the trees, and didn’t we get going on 250 inches of snow, including our first 18 inches about a year ago this week? This year, we had our neighbor brushog the little acre field at the back of the lot, and he had to stop to get out two nests of ground bees. This is just unheard of in a year that is this wet, because ground bees will get downed out with all the heavy rain. And then, we also had remove a nest from right inside the basement. The easiest winder we ever had up here, there were little nests in the scrub hawthorns and one under the lowest branches of the spruce tree were use for our Christmas tree every year. This year I haven’t seen any up high nests and the bees are actually nesting the the ground. I have a good feeling about this, except for the whole thing where we had a giant fricking yellowjacket nest in the basement next to the washing machine!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pleasant Surprises!


It’s been a while, and that is basically because nothing really interesting has been happening. August has been rather nice, however. The temperatures are warm, the rain has been almost normal instead of the constant cold and floods about every other day that we seemed to have in June and July. There have only been a few flash floods in August and not even one federally declared disaster.

At the beginning of the month, I attended a workshop on safe canning. I’ve been making jam and jelly for years and my dad got me a giant pressure canner for my Christmas/birthday present. One of the great disappointments of the poor harvest this year is that I don’t have a thing to can! All is well though, because Pleasant surprise #1 was that I was not wrong when I switch back tot eh “Easy Pick” variety of beans that was my first successful plant when I moved out here and finally got my garden growing. I have been experimenting with other varieties and been not as happy with the results, and switched back to Easy Pick. They are tasty and live up to their name with nice rows of beans that fall right off the bush into the bowl, practically on their own. I also tried another variety called “Strike”, and they are a paler green and prettier to look at. They also hold better in the field, staying round and not looking as bulgy around the seeds as the Easy Pick if they get skipped picking for a few days, but they taste dry and starchy if they get older, even if they look nice and fresh and round. Go, Easy Pick, go!

Anyway, armed with the knowledge that a pressure canner does not really explode if you look at it sideways and that botulism sucks, I canned my first pints of beans the other day, and they seem to be okay. It was a little depressing to see my nice green beans turn into darker green canned beans, but I froze some also, and the canned ones will be great for soup in the middle of winter.

The canning ladies from the county extension office recommended a site from the University of Georgia:
which is the National CEnter for Home Food Preservation, the best canning site on the web, and they have a nice book that you can get from them too. I was stuck in a seat next to the wall with Ma and Pa open kettle canning, whom I had much more in common with than the average attendee. Pa Kettle uses the same kind of set up that I have for my canner, which is the burner from a garage sale turkey fryer instead of trying to haul the canner up onto the stove. Apparently canning on a glass top stove is a no-no which will void the warranty which mine probably already voided due to already having canned and having had my sister get my stove at a yard sale for me in the first place.

Speaking of my sister, now I have to touch on the subject of my lovely niece. That girl never ceases to amaze me with her fantabulous green thumb. She is like the anti-me. Here’s an older picture of her planting marigolds with me in the side garden.

The best flowerbed I ever had until I turned her and my mom loose in the newly laid garden on the pond bank with a pack of sampler seeds that I got free in the mail and just stuck in with my seed orders. I try and I try, what do I get? She throws seeds and she gets this:

And it’s the first year that has even been used as a garden, too!

Speaking of gardens, Pleasant Surprise #3 (or is is 4) is the little Mexican Gherkin cucumber seeds I picked up, I believe from the John Scheeper’s catalog. I actually wanted them last year, but never got around to ordering them. They are fantastic, miniature cucumber vines which make cukes about as big as the end of my thumb that are tart and crispy and lovely. A keeper for sure. I believe they may actually be heirlooms, too which makes seed saving a possibility except that I only planted a sampler pack and none of them have made it out of the garden, I just eat them right up!

I was reading through a garden book and found out why my Diva’s and other seedless types of cukes always got weird and deformy last year, and the year before that, and .... They are cross pollinating! I have a stand of Summer Dance cukes planted a few rows away from the Mexican Gherkins, but they seem to be straight and uncrossed with the other cukes.

Pleasant Surprise (not so surprising): I have once again found myself the proud pillow for the chins of, yes, the best dogs in the world. Again! How does this keep on happening?

Spence is the closer one, about 70 pounds that last time we had him weighed. Bruce in the background looks about the same size, but don’t be fooled. He is gentle giant of about 90 pounds and still growing. They both have this lovely Weimaraner strut but seem to be a little less inclined to get up the the night and bark at the bending of a blade of grass.

The last Pleasant Surprise:

Not sure that things really show up in the picture, but the BEES ARE BACK!!! My terrible neglected gardens from last year have yielded a lot of herbs that just went to seed, and I looked at the flowers on the oregano and found there were so many pollinators they were bumping into each other! Now, my belated pumpkins which will never bear fruit as they were planted late in June and we had a few weeks of 60 degree temperatures in July are full of rich, lovely smelling flowers and the flowers are full of both native bumbles and the furrin honeybees that have been having such a rough time. I’ll tell you, I’m not the only one that has a smile on their face about some good news for once!

Now, I am off to the Fair! (August may be my new favorite month.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ah, to be in NW Pennsylvania, in the Springtime...with goats!


It’s spring, and everything is bursting with life, kind of. It’s actually been very cold and wet and here we are a few weeks before when the gardens are supposed to go in, and I haven’t planted most of the stuff that says “plant in spring, as soon as you can work the soil”. The soil has been constantly wet, and with the high content of clay we have in the soil, it’s better not to touch it. I did rent a rototiller for a day and got the main gardens turned over. I wanted to break up some sod to add a wildflower patch, but it rained the second day I had the tiller and that was that.

I like having the truck, because I never would have been able to just on a whim decide to throw a tiller in the back of the car. Also, we bought a load of bulk mulch which was so cheap it was practically free, but again with the car, you need prebagged and they won’t just dump a yard of topsoil in the back of the car with a front loader.

A properly concealed garden border

We had just enough nice weather to complete a new garden project. When we moved in, there was this decorative rail fence right next to the driveway. There were some rose bushes and a few flowers there, but mostly it had been overrun with some angelica that had been used as some kind of ground cover. I’ve been fighting with that darn stuff, but also the garden was too close to the drive, and gravel was wandering in and and topsoil was wandering out. I’m fairly shy of garden edging, because I’ve seen too many gardens where the edging was not place into the ground deeply enough and was there, just flopping around on the surface. I gave in, though and we placed some garden edging around what we now call the “hitching post” to keep it straight from the snake rail fence that we put in on the other side of the yard. A lot of the plants, like tulips and daffodils were kept in place. Last year, I reduced the among of angelica and pulled up a lot of roots, but I need to get going on that. So, right now, we have a mix of mostly bulbs and the garden is probably going to keeps it’s role as an overflow for any annuals that don’t fit in with the strictly annual garden at the side of the house.

My plants are doing quite terribly. The cold weather kept them indoors much longer than usual, and when I finally got the greenhouse pitched, we of course had a patch of the only warm weather we’ve had since last September. We had 80 and 90 degree temperatures and high winds which caused the plants to tip over because they were all spindly and weak from not enough light inside, and then the sun baked them. The biggest loss was some red onion plants which ha been damping off and the polygonum which luckily had enough seeds in the pan that had not sprouted that have sprouted since then that I will have plenty to dress up the rail fence garden with this year.

Since then, the weather has been quite awful. Cold and windy. Last Saturday my greenhouse actually blew down with a lot of plants inside. Only a few things were a total loss, but some of the peppers were scrambled and the cabbages that I replanted after the hot weather killed them were also smashed. Ah well, maybe this fall. I need a permanent green house, but I’ll have to get it someone impractical, possibly in the same area we are clearing for the orchard, mostly because I don’t want to block the view from the upper yard.

We’ve had an ongoing battle with some kind of upper respiratory infection with our cats this year. The poor things are so inbred they don’t have good immune systems and the four new kittens are all suffering. One of last year’s cats died, but everyone else seems to be suffering from the snuffles and that’s it, except one of our house cats Boots who has been sick off and on. But the puppies are healthy and big and getting better behaved all the time. My sister swears little Spencer is my old dog Zora reincarnated, but think that Weimaraners have a distinctive personality, and even though he’s a mix he has that great prance and that not so great constant hypervigilant thing going on where every noise is something he needs to either chase after or stare at, poor little guy.

We also got the goats sheared, which is always a task. Here’s Matty with his new short coat. He's a little knicked up, but the spots on him are red kote and not blood, which is like industrial strength Bactine plus dye for livestock. The goats are usually pretty easy to take care of except for shearing. They weigh about 120 pounds apiece and they do not want to get sheared. My sister’s husband’s cousins just got some goats and asked if I would shear them, and I said I would loan them the shears and cheerlead. I talk to goat people all the time, and they make it seem like shearing angoras is not a big deal, but I’ve also discovered that my goats are a smidge bigger than average. I have runty cats and giant goats.

A lot of people get into goats kind of by accident. I know that we did. The idea was to get some to eat down the brush in our friend’s horse pasture. You’d need a lot of goats to eat down that much brush, though, and the goats like landscaping a lot better. They are little escape artists, too. Mostly you just have to feed them, but they also need to have their hooves trimmed, ideally about once a month. Unlike horses, goat hooves can be done without calling in a professional. you can even do them with a good pair of garden trimmers, though we also keep a set of hoof nippers.

if a goat’s toes get too long, the stress on their joints can give them arthritis You can also control foot problems by giving the goats some rocks to stand on an walk on in the pasture to grind down the hooves a little. Other than catching and holding the goats down, the hoof trimming is not that much more than trimming your own toenails.

Around here, it’s so wet the goats constantly battle hoof rot. In the case of hoof rot, trim away as much of the rotten and damaged hoof as possible, even to the point where the hoof may start to bleed. There are a lot of hoof rot products on the market, you just need something with a drying agent and a little antiseptic. The stuff we use comes in a bottle with a little spout you can shoot right up into the hoof. If possible keep the goat in a dry, clear area for a while after treating the foot, and do it daily until there’s improvement. After the foot is trimmed back, I usually give the goats sa snack on the driveway and just shoot hoof rot treatment on their feet while they’re standing around and don’t bother to try and throw them down.

Goats are nice little creatures with lots of personality. They can do some damage to your favorite trees and flowers and the plants in your garden and your house plants and your car. they also live a long time, about 10-15 years. I would much rather someone get a cat or dog on a whim than a goat because of the difficulty of getting hooved animal rescue, but I do like the goats, and they are a great pets because they are low maintenance in the main and getting an ill advised goat is loads better than getting an ill advised horse!