Wednesday, August 24, 2011


As I was taking my daily stroll to open up the Hen House last Sunday morning, I was welcomed with an unexpected greeting.  For the first time as a new chicken mother, I heard the unmistakable sound of a rooster's crow.  I opened the first set of shutters and said, "Which one of you is it?  Give it to me again."   And sure enough, Roberta Redford sat up tall and belted out another, "Err-err-err-err-ooooo!"  Dammit.  I was so sure that we were rooster-free.  Ben claims to have known it, deep down in his heart, all along, that Roberta was really Robert.  She He is just slightly larger than the rest, but he sure had me fooled.

Oh.  NOW I see it.

I have to say that of all the chickens, I'm glad to call him our rooster.  He is a gorgeous Ameraucana, covered with rainbow feathers and looks like half of his DNA is from a wild turkey.  Robert is also very sweet and has a great personality (roosterality?).  I hope puberty doesn't bring out the worst in him.

I think that Robert's new-found crow is a harbinger for better times to come in the egg-laying department.  Our babies are now four and five months old, and I'm ready for a quiche.  Robert's new crow is like a 14-year-old boy's  trash stache (in my mind, at least).  So, if he's got a trash stache, then the girls have to be getting their first periods soon, right?  Menstruation happens after ovulation, so our hens best be laying soon.  Just plain logic.

I never wanted a rooster, but this is his home, and I'm happy to have him.  On the down side, that knocks our number of pastel-egg-laying hens down to three.  However, no one is laying eggs yet, so whatever.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feel My Pain

Crabgrass.  Need I say more?  The garden is in transition right now.  It's time to think about fall crops, but before we plant them we must rid the place of its summer weeds.  The crabgrass is out of control, and I have to tame it.  It's slow tedious work, but who else is gonna do it?

The rest of the day in the garden wasn't so bad.  Take a look around.

 The Black Plum Paste tomatoes are looking quite nice.

Although the flea beetles have reappeared, we're still getting a lot of eggplants.  See that crabgrass?

 My beloved Orange Bell peppers.

 I'll be planting these Wisconsin Lakes peppers again next year.  The yield has been great, and they are oh so sweet.

 We only got one artichoke this year, so I'm letting it just stick around.

Pepper forest. 

 The Dakota Black popcorn is standing tall.

 We're majorly in transition right now.

We had a happy harvest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yes, We Can!

Anyone up for a hot water bath?

We also freeze and dehydrate.  This week has been very busy in the food preservation department.  I put up several pints of pickled Hot Portugal peppers in hopes of making hot sauce in the future.  My earlier attempt didn't turn out so well, so I plan to convert these gorgeous pickled peppers into hot sauce as needed.

Hot Portugal peppers with a few renegade Ancho Giganteas. 

Pickled peppers, flavored with garlic.

Yesterday, I made sweet pumpkin pickles.  It was a great season for our tiny pumpkin patch, and we've decided to do a huge patch next year.  These pickles are flavored with cloves, allspice, and cinnamon.  I think they'll go well in butternut squash soup, vegetarian chili, and as a little side treat for Thanksgiving dinner.

 Young's Beauty pumpkins, all chopped up.

Sweet pumpkin pickles.

Now, on to the dehydrating.  I have peppers hanging all over the kitchen.  I'm drying Hot Portugals and Ancho Giganteas.  This method isn't exactly fast, and some of the peppers are a bit moldy.  So, I dried a few pounds of Ancho Giganteas in the oven.  It took all day at 125 degrees to get them crispy, but it worked well.  I ground them up in the coffee grinder, and now I have ancho chili powder.  I'm as pleased as punch.

 Ancho Gigantea

Same peppers after a day in the oven.

 Homemade chili powder

I plan on drying the next big harvest of anchos in the oven, also.  If you had a taste of this magical powder, you would too!

This summer has been a true learning experience.  I've been canning something almost every week lately.  I've never done it before, and I think my technique is improving (That's what she said).  Right now, in the basement we have blueberry jam, blackberry jam, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, Italian herbed tomatoes, quartered tomatoes, pickled peppers, sweet pumpkin pickles, and bruschetta.

In addition to the canned foods, I've dried basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, lavender, and sage.  The freezers are packed with roasted red peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, snap peas, blackberries, Amish melon, carrots, beets, and pumpkin puree.  

My fingers are crossed for some late tomatoes.  If they do well, there's a chance I can put up some salsa and roasted tomatoes.

As the season winds down, I'm looking forward to having my fall garden up and running.  I've been so busy with a million other things that I've found it difficult to focus on planting more seeds.  I've got the beets, carrots, lettuce, and broccoli started so far.  I need to clean up a lot of the vegetable beds and put in some greens.  Summer is going to be over before we know it, but the garden goes on!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Old Reliable

Zinnias are about the only thing blooming in the kitchen garden right now.  I almost didn't plant any this year, but  I couldn't resist the reliability of their long-lived blooms, and neither can the butterflies.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The First

We've got hops!  This is the second season we've been growing these rhizomes and the first year we've seen any sign of flowers.  The Willamette hops were the first to flower.

They seem to be enjoying life in the greenhouse.  We were considering moving them once we build a nice arbor, but I'm not so sure now.  I'd hate to mess up a good thing.  We'll probably just plant new rhizomes instead of digging these up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

On the Rebound

There is hope.  Even after the Great Tomato Debacle.  
We got hit by late blight.  But, because we had planted our tomatoes so early, we had time to plant another crop.  I started about a dozen Black Plum Paste tomatoes in the greenhouse and transplanted them into the garden several weeks ago along with three volunteer compost pile tomatoes. 

Mystery Compost Pile Tomatoes

The very first fruits had an ugly case of blossom end rot, but I think I've nipped that in the bud.  I applied some epsom salts to treat the end rot, and I've been spraying them with copper to protect them from the blight.  So far, so good.  No blight and no more rot.

Black Plum Paste Tomatoes

Fortunately, approximately 90% of all the green tomatoes I salvaged from the blighted plants have matured beautifully.  I ate the last one yesterday.  However, the blight really messed up my canning plans.  I was going to make salsa and a few other things that require both tomatoes and peppers.  Well, when my peppers began to ripen in large numbers, I had no tomatoes to accompany them.  Major bummer.  Whatever, I guess I'm over it.

Just for the hell of it, I planted some super-late tomatoes.  I started some Wisconsin 55 and Red Brandywines a few weeks ago and transplanted them this week.  I don't know that they'll have enough time to mature, but there's no harm in trying.

I just realized that I've been growing tomatoes for the last six months already.  I think I started the first plants in February, and it's been nonstop since.  Can we take it into October?  Wild.  I didn't realize that I'd be playing tomato nursemaid nine months out of the year.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

RIP, My Little Precious

I didn't want to write this post.  
Last Friday morning, when I went to say good morning to the ladies, I was confronted by a tragic sight.  One of our Preciouses was lying dead in the corner.  No blood, no mess of feathers.  Just slightly contorted and extremely dead.

But, even more tragically, it was not just any Precious that I found dead.  It was the Precious that I had nursed  for weeks through a broken wing.  It was the Precious that I had gently bandaged and that I fed special treats as she rested safely in our little chicken infirmary. 

Precious in the infirmary

This Precious was the runt.  She was not only smaller, but she was also way less developed than the other Australorps.  After a few weeks in the infirmary, she seemed much improved.  She even began using her broken wing again, flying out of the coop in the morning.  But she never made what seemed to be a full recovery.  Although she had never lost her appetite after her injury and during recovery, and the others never kept her away from meals or treats afterwards, Precious continued to struggle.  She never made it back up on the roost and spent her nights huddled up in the corner.  Poor thing.

I feel bad about this, but had we lost any other Australorp, I don't think I'd feel as extremely sad as I do now.  I can tell all of the Wyandottes and Ameraucanas apart, and I am very attached to each and every one of them.  I could also pick Precious the Runt out of the crowd, so I'm really upset about the whole thing. 

I read somewhere that chickens try to hide any sickness or weakness at all costs.  They don't want to appear weak to predators or to their peers.  So, who knows how much she was really suffering all along?

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire Chapters One-Eleven, has now become Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire Chapters One-Ten, and our original group of nineteen is now down to seventeen.  But, one thing has remained the same: we still have no eggs!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Keeping Up With it All

Summer's bounty is upon us, and I've been busy.  I'm trying my best to keep up with all the harvesting, canning, and freezing.  And lucky me, I've ben learning a lot while doing it all.

Along with the poblanos below, this was yesterday's harvest.  Sugar Baby watermelon, Pie pumpkins, Waltham Butternut squash, Wisconsin Lakes peppers, Pintung Long eggplants, Snow's Fancy Pickling cucumbers, Hot Portugal peppers, and Australian Butter squash.

Ancho Gigantea 

Yesterday, I hung the poblanos up to dry and made hot sauce with the Hot Portugals.  To make the hot sauce, I made  a mash of the peppers in the blender and added some salt.  The mash will ferment in a ceramic crock for about a month, and my hands will be on fire for at least a day.  I didn't have any latex gloves handy.

 Hot Portugal

 Hot Portugal mash.  Just look at that color!

I harvested several pumpkins yesterday.  Altogether, I deseeded, roasted, peeled, mashed, and froze five pumpkins.  They were all perfectly plump, fleshy, and aromatic.  The chickens got to eat all the insides, and the worms are eating the baked skins.  The ladies went nuts over the seeds and all.  

All of the Pie pumpkins have now been harvested, and the Young's Beauty pumpkins will soon be ripe.  We will have plenty of pumpkins to put up.

 Pie pumpkin, all scooped out.

Pumpkin ready for the freezer.

I also froze twelve pounds of tomatoes and started a batch of nine-day sweet pickles yesterday.  It's my first time making pickles, and my fingers are crossed.  There have been a lot of "firsts" for me this season.  I've taught myself to can, ferment, and freeze foods in a way that will preserve as much fresh flavor, color, and texture as possible. There's so much post-harvest work to do, but I'm having  a great time doing it all.

Monday, August 1, 2011


In a previous post, I had misidentified a melon in my kitchen garden.  I called what was really an Amish melon, a casaba melon.

 The real casaba

Amish Melon

This is my first time growing so many melons.  Please forgive me.