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!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Come on, Spring!

Spring is coming slowly to Northwestern PA this year. Usually, there are a few days between February and April that warm up into the 60’s and 70’s, but that has not really happened this year. It has been wet and cold.

Surprisingly, the damage from the winter has not been too great, considering we had almost two feet of snow the week before Halloween. I had some carrots which ended up over wintering in the garden. Most of them were not really storage carrots so they were no good, but some Bolero carrots went just fine with a pot roast just a couple weeks ago. I’m planting those for sure again. Also, I never got my strawberries mulched, and it seems they are not going to make it this year. that is also fine, because I never like the location they were in. they were a permanent feature of my lower vegetable garden that had started on the edge but had somehow gotten into the middle after a couple garden expansions. My neighbors are nice kids, but they use herbicide between the little row of arborvitae they have planted as a property line marker, and my strawberries suffered mightily from deformations cause by herbicide blow off. Not sorry to see them go, though I still have not decided where a new strawberry patch should be placed.

Seed starting season is here. I have a good selection of really fun sounding plants this year. I ordered from a lot of different sources. One of the seed companies I order from sent the order really late along with a note of apology. It seems they needed to hire a bunch more people because so many people were ordering garden seeds this year. I feel like my orders were really conservative, actually, about equivalent to last year, though I also ordered a fancy potted plant which was a splurge. I’m working full time. I should have a fancy dwarf pomegranate, right?

Right now, all I have started is my onion plants and some slow to germinate herbs and flowers. I’ve never started onion plants indoors before, but that is how they sell them at the farm coop, in big clumps of pre started plants. You can get sets, too of just really normal types of plants, but for specialty things like sweet onions, they sell plants. My onion plants are for red onions which are also supposedly good storage onions. I am a little tired of never having red onions for summer salads, so this is plan C 2.0.

We are getting into some landscaping plans this year. I have a raised bed I’ve never been happy about, and this is the year it gets new sides, a fresh load of topsoil and compost and hopefully a new lease on life. Right now, it’s full of stove ash, and the cats have been using it as a littler box. Except for the one kitten my old dog Zora chomped, we still have all of last year’s kittens. The girls Bili and Boots have been moved into the house and spayed. Our regular vet has turned out to be a great advocate of kitties and is willing to accept the wild cats from the garage for spaying a neutering as long as we can get them in. One of the cats has already been spayed. We kept it in the house right after the surgery to keep it clean, but it appears to be a combination of very scared and very stupid, and hasn’t gone back outside yet. I’ll be going downstairs in the middle of the night to take care of the fire and I’ll see it crawl up into the ceiling of the semi finished basement room or it will fall out of a closet when I go to hang up clothes. We keep leaving the basement door open for it, but no luck.

Speaking of pets, I took the plunge after saving up money all winter for another Weimarnaner puppy. I had a couple of kennel visits lined up and more cash than I needed to get my truck last year. By chance, I was at the bank and one of the neighbor girls who just moved to a house down the road from me mentioned she was getting a puppy, and I said I wanted a puppy, and the other bank lady said her son just got puppies, and I said I wanted a Weimaraner, and she said, these were Weims, at least their mom was, and there were a lot of them, and they were cute.

So a couple days later, I went down to see some half Weimaraner and half chocolate lab puppies. Interestingly enough, some of them were female and dark brown but most of them were black with a little really dark brown on the ears and male. One of the little brown females was still there and, she was really pretty. According the the lady we got them from, the last of the little brown females was actually going to some relatives in Texas.

One of the males, a kind of chunky labby-looking boy crawled right into my mom’s arms the second she knelt down by the puppies, so I had to get that one for sure. Then, I picked the prettiest one I could find who looked most like a Weimaraner despite being almost black! That was also a male, so I’ve spent the last month and a half having my house torn up and laughing my rear end off at these crazy boys!

Spencer is the little goofball on the left, and Bruce is the handsome “angel” on the right!
I wish one as the good one and one was the bad one, but mostly, they just take turns! It’s good having young dogs again! I actually use my back yard now to make the dogs run around. I barely walked back there for months!

Other than puppies, not a lot going on right now. We went to the outdoor show up in Erie a few weeks ago, and that was nice. you can always visit with land management people, but I missed the retriever demonstrations. My mom chatted up a guy who sells deer plot who recommended clover and chicory as a good seed for our wet back field. I found yet another taxidermy person, but this time we were actually able to get my uncle’s tiny bear skin to him. I personally love fur and would probably trap or shoot something for fur except it grosses out my mom, so I only get to indulge myself at things like outdoor shows or fur trapper re-enactors. There’s this newer arts festival they’ve had out in Russell the last few years which I consider like a “man” craft show with lots of furs and blacksmithing and things like that. Possibly an idea for a future entry!

Also, I can’t keep my mouth shut about a couple of issues in the news I’ve seen recently. One was under the headline: “Alternative energy quest threatens birds” and was about how domestic energy production like growing crops for fuel and windfarms threaten birds’ lives and habitats. Lumping in with this, bafflingly, was mountaintop removal coal mining. Now, logically, you can look at a toll of birds randomly hitting obstructions at wind farms, or habitat displacement due to more corn farming for ethanol as a change that will have a toll on birds, but none of these could possibly compare to the complete destruction of mountaintops in WV and KY and the filling in of miles of streams in the valleys in terms of habitat loss. And when did coal mining become alternative energy anyway? I’m not against even strip mining in a lot of cases. You can fix that once you get the coal off the top layer, but the tops of mountains can’t be put be back on and no one but no one is going to do the work to restore the streams once they’ve been filled in. And I know the Obama administration’s EPA has recently put on hold a lot of these permits to do his mountaintop mining, but it was also the Obama administration’s EPA that grouped mountaintop removal mining with wind farming as a threat to habitat.

From the EPA to the FDA: There is no stopping a proposal that has been floating around the FDA and the Agriculture department to have all farm animals marked with microchips and RFD tags. People who keep livestock, eventually at any scale, ae going to be required to report on the location and condition of the livestock using electronic monitoring and questionnaires on the internet. All of this is going to be done at the owners’ expense, which will be considerable for small “homestead” type farmers and basically only benefits big producers. The idea is the keep the food supply safer by tracking livestock from the farm to the slaughterhouse. It’s of course vastly counter-intuitive since most of the contamination takes place in the slaughter house after the individually monitored animals have been mixed with hundreds if not thousands of others. This is basically expensive window dressing to relieve factory farms of liability for who knows what, but it is also looking to add significant costs in money and time to small farmers who possibly only produce meat for their own consumption.

No time today for links to either of these issues, but google both of them, and you can see that it is real, AP news type outlets which are reporting on these and not just conspiracy theory people, sitting in little houses, in the middle of nowhere, trying to decide how many tomato plants to start this year because we’re getting lulled into sheep-like complacency by government agencies which dictate the sugar content of processed food to guarantee a certain amount of sleepiness, obesity, and disease in an increasingly failing effort to distract and occupy the rich, vital energy of our people!