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Showing posts from October, 2012

All the Single Ladies...

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...are now laying!
In all the quasi-excitement of Hurricane Sandy yesterday, I forgot to mention it, but when I went out to gather eggs, there were four:

We knew for a few days that Abigail was laying now, but yesterday was the first time we've had all four chickens lay on the same day. Maybe the howling winds scared the eggs right out of them?
Anyway, our flock is small enough that we know which eggs belong to which chicken. Dolley lays the dark brown ones, and Sally lays the light brown, sometimes pinkish ones. The green ones are from Martha and Abigail. Abigail's eggs are ever-so-slightly more tan than Martha's (it's the one toward the top of the photo), and hers are more likely to be under the nesting box rather than inside it. 
So there you have it: 6 months and 11 days after arriving at our door, our chicks are all grown up and laying lovely eggs for us. Success!

Hurricane Snacks

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No school today for me or for the kids thanks to Hurricane Sandy, so we settled into a Monopoly marathon (which I won) and some snacks. We (so far) have managed to keep our electricity, so we took advantage and had Tiegan's popcorn:

This is all we ended up with from Tiegan's corn planting, and it was picked early to save it from the squirrels — the rest of it was eaten. These kernel are small, but we thought we'd give it a try anyway. We put the cobs in a brown paper bag in the microwave to pop:

Tiny kernels, tiny popcorn. It mostly tasted good, except for the burnt pieces. I hate making popcorn in the microwave because it burns so easily, and then all you taste is the burnt. This popcorn would obviously have been better if it were up to size, but it was ok.
Tiegan said she wanted to give it another go next year and is hopeful that Fletch can keep away the worst of the squirrels. If we have popcorn in next year's harvest, I'll definitely take the time to remove th…

Hurricane Prep

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Yesterday was a beautiful day — sunny and warm. Perfect day to batten down the hatches, right?


By afternoon the fog rolled in, but we picked up all of our tools, stakes, and brought in the outdoor furniture and other loose things. As you can see above, we also took down all the plastic sheeting covering our fall veggies. That stuff flaps around in far less windy conditions than we are expecting, so we just went ahead and took it down. We left the PVC stakes in place, but may have to gather them up from other places in the yard if the wind pulls them out. 

By mid-morning today, it was already misting, and Kirk took advantage of our last chance before the real rain to clear out the gutters. Most of the leaves are off our big maple tree now, so this was good timing anyway. We skipped the raking, hoping to get lucky and have the wind corral all the leaves in a corner of the yard — preferably next to the compost bins!

Fletch is one nervous cat today! He is lurking about all the doors, meo…

Halloween Flowers

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Happy Halloween! I know I'm early, but I wanted to get a picture of our chrysanthemums before they are potentially crushed by Frankenstorm Sandy, or whatever they're calling it now. 

I know these don't look like those compact balls of flowers that we usually think of when we talk about fall mums. These are more like their giant, naturalized selves, obviously happy in their spot. 

The bumble bees love them. They don't smell like much, but they're the only game in town right now if you're a bee, so every bee in Newburyport makes its way over here, I think. We've had a really nice week of sunny, warm weather, and they've been covered in bees. Good thing the kids mostly use the back door.
As for Hurricane Sandy, the latest headlines are still full of hype, but this latest rain forecast from the Weather Channel doesn't seem so devastating:

1-3 inches I can totally live with. Still, I'm going to postpone planting my fall bulbs until next weekend to a…

Peter Piper Lives Here

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A little over a week ago we had our first light frost, and I had to bring in all of our peppers. There were tons! (Okay, there were many pounds.) Instead of eating them green, we kept waiting for the them to ripen into their pretty colors. But when frost beat us to it, I had to bring in a lot all at once. Many of them have ripened to yellow and red on the counter, and we've been eating then just as fast as we can. Best use so far:

Kirk made these excellent stuffed peppers in the crock pot. They are filled with rice, spicy Italian sausage, a bit of egg to hold it all together, and (of course) some more peppers. They were cooked in plain tomato sauce in the crock pot for several hours, and the result was really delicious. I think Kirk scooped up the remaining roasted pepper-flavored sauce to use later on some other Italian delight.
Another major portion of the pepper harvest was our jalapeños and serranos:

Kirk spent the evening last night slicing and dicing to pickle these hot pep…

Bay Laurel

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Back in the spring, one of the perennial herbs we chose for the garden was a small bay laurel plant from The Herb Farmacy. I think it had about three or four leaves on it when I planted it outside. It's been pretty much forgotten all summer as everything around it got bigger, but before frost we remembered we had to bring it inside:

Bay laurel is a Mediterranean plant that just won't make it through freezing temperatures, so it will spend the winter in the southwestern exposure of the living room window. We can plant it back outside in the spring when it warms up, or we can just keep it as a container plant for the patio. 
As you can see, bay is a pretty slow growing plant. I think it put on maybe four inches of height this growing season. We haven't harvested any bay leaves from it at all yet because of its small size. Maybe in the spring, if we prune it to encourage some branching, we can have some leaves to dry and use for cooking. 
I have read that we need to give this…

Technicolor Dream Eggs

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Another chicken is laying! That brings our total to three laying hens, each with a unique type of egg:

We have figured out that Dolley lays the dark brown eggs (and still refuses to do so in the nesting boxes, although she is now laying them in a corner underneath the boxes instead of in the middle of the coop). She was the first to start laying, and she lays just about every day. She sometimes has double yolks, too.
The light brown, slightly pink egg is from Sally, who was the second to start laying. She is also very consistent, and lays them right in the nesting box. Last Sunday Kirk and I caught her in the nesting box and watched her (through the window) lay an egg. She then knocked it on the floor of the coop while trying to push it deeper into the straw in the nesting box, and spent the next several minutes trying to figure out where it went. But she does always lay in the nesting box.
The green egg is (we're pretty sure) Martha's. I've seen her poking around the nes…

Earthquake!

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In case you haven't heard, we had a New England earthquake last night. The epicenter was near Hollis Center, Maine, which is about 60 miles north of Newburyport. According to local news, the granite ridge beneath Newburyport (just up the hill from our house) makes us more likely to feel seismic activity when it occurs.
And feel it we did!
I realize that any West Coast readers are probably laughing at our reaction to a 4.0 quake, but this is the first time that this East Coaster has ever felt one. So here's what it was like, as experienced by terremoto neophytes.
We were in the dining room having dinner (a little later than usual, since it was after 7:00, but Tuesdays are always a crazy day for us schedule-wise). We felt a small rumble, and figured it was a truck going down the street. But when there was no truck, and when the rumbling got bigger and louder, everyone froze. We all stared at each other, wide-eyed, as everything around was rattling and shaking. Since we were in …

Lots of Leeks!

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Our leeks have been ready to go for several weeks now:

We just haven't started picking them until recently. Since they will hold up through the winter as long as the soil doesn't freeze them in place, we were waiting to save them for as long into the winter as possible. We've still got a ton outside, but we've been pulling a few here and there. They are pretty much perfect:

So what to do with a leek? Well, it's pretty much like a giant green onion, but a little garlicky. And kind of milder. Here's a few dishes it ended up in:

This is apple sage chicken with green beans and leeky Swiss chard. This is super easy — just chop up the leeks, sauté them, and add the Swiss chard until it cooks down, just like you'd cook spinach.

This is green beans (again, we have a ton of them), this time with slices of bell pepper (we have lots of those, too!). Also in the mix are leeks and a few jalapeños. This started out as a way to use up some of our most plentiful veggies s…

Sharing Heirloom Seeds

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This weekend we went to the New Hampshire Fall Festival at Strawbery Banke. We bought a membership this year, in no small part for the express purpose of watching their gardens change throughout the season. This time we got to see border collies herding sheep and goats (which was totally awesome), a team of oxen pulling a cart on skids, and several other animals (Tiegan may want an angora rabbit to pet and for fiber crafts — we'll see if she can sneak that past Kirk, who has his own interest in eating rabbit). 
Another table we spent a good deal of time at was the heirloom seed table, sponsored by Slow Food Seacoast. They staff the table with expert gardeners who grow and save seeds from many heirloom varieties, and they'll give you a packet of seeds of whatever you ask for. They're loaded with information and advice. We picked up several:

I snagged angelica seeds (an herb I have been reading about as for old fashioned sweets, but haven't been able to find — score!) a…

Harvest Home

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Come, ye thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest home! All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin...
~Henry Alford
The forecast for tonight is for temperatures to drop down to 30 degrees, and the National Weather Service issued its official freeze warning. That meant that I spent about an hour and a half bringing in the last of our summer harvest. I picked all the tender things that just won't make it through any bit of frost: beans, peppers, eggplant, okra, and a last few lavender buds. Here's why it took so long:

That is a whole lot of peppers! We didn't realize we had so many bell peppers because they're hard to see when they are still green, and we were kind of waiting for them to turn. But now we're out of time, and I guess smarter farmers would have been enjoying them all along as green peppers instead of waiting for them to turn yellow, orange, and red. We've had a few very sweet, colorful ones, but It's just not hot enough here for…

Green Tomato Pie

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One of the best things about this time of year? Green tomato pie: 

Our tomatoes bit the dust before frost this year (which is expected tomorrow night, by the way). When we pulled the vines, we saved a big bowl of unripe, green tomatoes. Lots of people make fried green tomatoes, or maybe use them for pickling — both tasty ideas. My favorite, though, is green tomato pie. 
Our recipe is from Martha Stewart — we came across it in a cookbook years ago when we were trying to find a recipe for fried green tomatoes. We gave it a try, and now it's a fall tradition for us. I can't find that recipe posted anywhere online, but this one is similar. It just needs some golden raisins added to round it out. They make a big difference by adding little sweet bites to the tart and nutmeggy tomatoes.
I know it doesn't sound like it would be good, but if you have a garden and tomatoes that aren't going to make it long enough to ripen indoors, give it a try. (And for my money, I think this…

Herbal Apothecary: Soap-Free Facial Scrub

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In addition to all the edible stuff we've been growing all summer, I've also been slowly building up an herbal apothecary:

From left to right, we have dried lavender, dried rose petals, dry face scrub, face scrub moistened into a paste, dried chamomile, and comfrey oil. The dried flowers have all kinds of uses, both edible and not. Here I've used it for an all-natural face scrub. 
You can see it in its dry form in the jar above — the white stuff in the center. This is from a recipe by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. You can check it out here, or read the whole book, which has lots of cosmetics as well as medicinal recipes. This face scrub is called "miracle grains," and is actually a substitute for soap. It uses a bunch of kaolin clay (that's the white stuff that you see in the jar), plus ground almonds and oatmeal, and chopped up dried rose petal and lavender. The clay draws impurities out of the skin, and the other ingredients are for gentle exfoliation. 
I s…

Watermelon Tally 2012

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Over the weekend, we pulled and composted a lot of summer fruits and veggies that died back in the cooler weather and shorter days — standard operating procedure here for Columbus Day weekend. That included our watermelon vines. The vines were dead, and we brought in these remaining melons: 

They are yellow-side up to dry out before we put them on the porch for cool storage. We've had great luck this year with our watermelon lasting a long time. We had last for several weeks in the fridge, even after it had been cut open. We're not in a huge rush to finish these, then, but if it comes down to it, we figured we could also process and freeze for a sorbet and/or drink base to enjoy in the winter.
Anyway, these five watermelons, plus one in the house waiting to be eaten, plus two we gave away, plus one we served at Tiegan's birthday party equals a 2012 total of nine watermelons. If you count the one we harvested too early; that's 10 watermelons for the year. Not bad for o…

Columbus Day Flowers

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Happy Columbus Day! It's starting to feel like fall here for real, so the flowers have slowed down. Here's what's left: 

Our climbing roses are still at it, and when the squirrels don't shred them, they look great! 

These are the seedheads of our echinacea. I think they look kind of architectural and interesting for fall.

The perennial border is kind of in-between right now. There are some of the roses and a tiny bit of white phlox toward the back — and lots of green. We're just on the cusp of having more blooms for fall. The red daylilies on the far left are puffing out for a repeat showing, and the giant mums along the path to the right are almost ready to open. When they do, most of the brick path leading to the front door while be lined with pinkish-white daisies from October through December.

Finally, out back in the vegetable garden, the nasturtiums are still going strong. These colors look even better now than they did in the summer, and they are quite frag…

Winter Rye

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Now that fall is here, we are slowly clearing our garden beds of plants that have died back. Gone now are the potatoes, corn, onions, pole beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and all but one pumpkin vine. That opens up quite a bit of bare soil, and this year we decided to experiment with a cover crop.
I chose to use winter rye because it is supposed to be able to sprout and get established even through the end of October, and that seemed a wise choice for our New England garden. From what I have read, the trickier part will be making sure that we get outside to turn it back into the soil a month before we want to plant in those spots. Still, we are hoping that the winter rye can protect our soil during the winter and add some nitrogen while we sit inside our cozy house.   
I sowed some spots last week, just before the rain. In just a few days, the seeds (which are quite big, and also tempting to the chickens) were already sprouting:

By the end of our rainy week, we had shoots every…

Garlic: Full Circle

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Today, just shy of one year after our first garlic planting, I set out the garlic cloves for next year's garlic patch:

This is a milestone for us, because it's the first food that we've grown on a closed, self-sustaining cycle. Last year we bought our starter garlic bulbs, but this year I set aside the five biggest bulbs of each variety after curing and cleaning the harvest. Those were for seed for next year's garlic, and today I set them out (as last year, in 6-inch grids) and pushed them down into the earth. So next year's garlic, from seed to compost amendments to the eating, is all grown from what we have right here. 
We'd like eventually for that to be the case with all of the veggies we grow, but seed saving for each of the dozen of varieties of things we grow is kind of hard to wrap my head around. This year I've stuck to the easy things — garlic cloves, dill, cilantro, and mustard. I think each year we'll try to add to our repertoire.
As for th…

The End of the Tomatoes

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And just like that, they're gone:


To be fair, "just like that" actually took place over a week of rain and cool temps. It just felt like it was fast because the last time I was out the garden they were still green, and today they are dead. And it isn't pretty:

Gross. At least I don't feel bad about pulling these out and tossing them into the compost. We've had literally hundreds of pounds of tomatoes this year, and what's left is not worth crying about. Not super-psyched to pick up those mushy, moldy ones, though.
So here it is, the last basket of tomatoes of 2012:

As you can tell from their color, not all of these are even all that ripe, but I picked the unblemished ones anyway. They can ripen up in the sun on a windowsill in a few days. Maybe a week for some. 
On the Roma vines, we do have quite a few really nice, green tomatoes left:

With the vines on their way out and low temperatures way down into the 40s this week, these need to be harvested green.…

New Row Cover Design

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Although this summer was been mild and hurricane-free, we often do get a good deal of wind here. Our old row cover fabric from the spring took a beating because of it, so we picked up some new to protect our broccoli bed from cabbage loopers:

This fabric is of much better quality than the stuff we used before, and it comes in rolls 13 feet wide. We got a 16-foot length, which (as you can see) is too big for our 4x8 broccoli patch. Turns our we based our measurements on our older, taller PVC hoops. Better too big than too small, though. We folded up the ends and used bricks to hold them in place:

Another upgrade to help hold the row covers in place are these pvc clips:

I read about these in The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, by Niki Jabbour. All it takes is a bit of PVC a size up in diameter from the ones you use for hoops. Kirk cut them into these short pieces, then cut a slice out the long way, leaving the black PVC in a C-shaped piece. Then you just snap them on over the fabric to …

Aerial View: October 1, 2012

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We're into fall now, and you can see that things are starting to die back. Big tomato plants have broken off their stakes and are sprawled across the ground; melon and squash vines have died back almost completely; the potatoes and corn are long gone. The cold frames and cool season rows have filled out, though, and there's still quite a bit of summer food left to eat. Click the links to compare to the original planting plans.

The swingset quadrant.

The patio quadrant.

The garage quadrant.

The workshop quadrant.