Friday, February 12, 2016

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Since setting out our Christmas bird feeders a few weeks ago, the first two have been demolished. At first we thought that they blew away in a snow storm, but upon closer inspection we realized that one was on the ground, halfway eaten. The other was completely gone, but the string remained, so something pulled it down.

It’s entirely possible that something was a deer; Kirk found fresh tracks one morning when he went out to shovel: 


But there have also been lots of visitors to the one left one the ground. I interrupted a small flock of sparrows pecking away when I went to look, so I figured I’d go ahead and replace one of the feeders. 

It only took a few minutes for several little birds to figure out that the black seeds are the good ones:


The chickadees (as you see here) are the most interested, and they manage to hang on to the feeder to get the seeds. They’re also fairly acrobatic when it comes to getting what they want:


It’s too bad the window screen is blocking the view in the photo — in real life, it was a lot of fun to sit just inches away from these guys. 

One sparrow tried to figure out how to hop its way up the trellis, but mostly they were content to forage on the ground, as they do. We also had a few birds I couldn’t identify, plus a pretty pair of cardinals:


These guys mostly stuck to the seeds on the ground as well, so I couldn’t get a photo up close. You can see the male front and center, and his wife is actually in the photo also (though I didn’t notice until just now, or I would have centered it better). She’s the smear of pinkish-brown on the upper right edge of the picture.

This couple was fun to watch because they always took turns eating. One would stay on the lookout while the other came to grab some seeds; then they’d switch places. (It reminds me of dinnertime when the kids were babies, actually.) They’ve been back every day, and it’s been fun to see their bright feathers in an otherwise all-white landscape.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Honey in Coffee

Though we haven’t quite committed to a No Sugar Buying Challenge (yet), we have discovered that it’s probably totally possible for us to accomplish. This is due mostly to the fact that honey is delicious in a cup of coffee:


I am, admittedly, addicted to my morning cup of coffee, and I do tend to drink it fairly light and sweet. Committing to using honey and maple syrup in my coffee felt like a big stumbling block at first, in the event that we try to rely on only our own sugar production. 

But really, honey in coffee is very, very good. It doesn’t have that sharp, metallic ping of cane sugar. Instead, it’s got a mellow flavor that plays well with coffee. It kind of disappears and lets you taste more complexity in the coffee, so honey works best with medium roasts.

I’m a convert! And it reminds me that maybe we should lay down the rules for a No Buying Sugar Challenge as we head in to maple sugaring season again. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Winter Cilantro

The kitchen renovation that made it so difficult to take care of canning and cooking this fall did have an upside for the garden (you know, in addition to looking so much better):


We replaced our exterior kitchen door with a much better one, which leaves the old storm door available for cold frame duty. While it’s not a perfect fit, it’s pretty close. It’s also a major upgrade, since it’s so much heavier than the old windows we had been using (as is the old window on the far end, which is also from the kitchen reno). This thing holds in much more heat, and it’s not about to be blown away by the wind anytime soon.  


And because it’s so much better insulated now, we still have cilantro. This photo isn’t great because it’s reflecting the sky above, but you can see lots of green cilantro in there.

This gave Jonas some fresh ingredients for a very carefully crafted tray of nachos:


Since it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow, it may be a while until we can dig out the cilantro for more bespoke nachos by our youngest chef — but it should still be there waiting until we get outside again.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016 Master Plan: The Driveway Quadrant

The final quadrant of our planning for the upcoming growing season is the one nearest to the driveway:


Along the top is a long trellis of peas, which is on the northern end of the bed so as not to shade the zucchini and annual herbs grown in the rest of the area (basil, fennel, parsley, and celery). To the right is another 27-foot trellis of peas. We don't usually orient them this way, but since it's to the east, we are confident that the Roma tomatoes behind it will get enough afternoon sun. The peas will also be gone by July, well before we expect to harvest any tomatoes anyway.

Along the bottom are crops that can handle a bit of shade from the house as fall comes. Here we have another zucchini plant, summer carrots, beets, mesclun lettuce for the summer, and a short trellis of snap peas. We also have a block marked out for something new: cauliflower. I have never been a big fan, though my distaste has probably always had more to do with the whiteness of the whale than cauliflower's actual flavor. I've recently had some really delicious (fried, sauced) cauliflower, so we shall see.

To the left are our other Roma-style tomatoes: heirloom Amish paste, which really do make the best sauce and sun-dried tomatoes. 

In the center C are some other heirloom tomatoes that will be staked — these are the ones we use for salsa and salads. This section gets good sun even in the winter, so it will be filled with crops that are stored in place under a greenhouse tunnel: kale, parsnips, winter carrots, and Swiss chard. We have given up planting carrots and parsnips in long rows for good, since the blocks are much easier to manage (once they're thinned) and cover for winter. We're also trying to get some earlier carrots going for summer and fall eating in addition to another block of carrots to winter over. We've not yet managed early carrots due to cutworm and winter moth issues, but we'll make a more concerted effort this year.