Showing posts from May, 2013

Flower Friday: May 31, 2013

This week marks the last of the bulbs in the cutting garden. It might be a little thin in June until some annuals start to fill in, but there are some interesting shapes and colors right now, if nothing very big. 

Tulip, daffodil, Jacob's ladder "Bresingham purple," and columbine "Nora Barlow."

This is an updated version of the previous bouquet, swapping out the faded tulip for a yellow "New Moon" globeflower. 

Delphinium and Baptista "Starlight Prairie Blues."

Peony and hosta.

Blanketflower "Moxie" and salvia "Merleau Blue."

A closeup of the blanketflower shows how interesting its shape and colors are. 

I thought the salvia needed a closeup too, since the color wasn't really coming through in the first photo.

Oven Drying Herbs

This year I'm trying to be a little more focused on herb harvesting and preserving. Last season I just mowed a bunch of each kind down before frost and hung them to dry on the porch. And there they stayed for the winter. It's not at all convenient to go out into the freezing cold when you run out of herbs, and being exposed to extreme temperatures hasn't exactly helped to preserve their flavor.
I have read that herbs are at their best flavor just before they flower, so I'm keeping an eye on them this year to harvest them at their peak. So far, so good: horehound, comfrey, and sage were all ready to cut this past weekend. 
Sage is easy to preserve because it's pretty tough — just hang and let dry. But horehound and comfrey have very thick, hairy leaves that take a long time to dry on their own. I decided to try a new (to me) technique: oven drying.

According to the National Center for Food Preservation, the secret weapon in oven drying is a roll of paper towels. To…

Protecting Baby Fruit

In the orchard, nine out of ten of our older trees blossomed this spring and look to be setting fruit this season. (The new fig tree we planted at the end of April is still just a stick, albeit one with two small green buds on it.)
Our apricot is the farthest along, and although it's not a bumper crop, we have a bunch of small fruits:

And, as you can see, I spent some time this weekend rigging up a new anti-squirrel system on the apricot tree. I first saw this idea over at and was able to give it a try thanks to lots of friends who saved up their plastic fruit containers over the winter. Grocery store berry boxes are perfect for this, since they are ventilated, and often snap shut. All I had to do was close them around our baby apricots (which I learned to do gently, since I knocked one off its branch by mistake). Hopefully these boxes will confound the squirrels, and we won't lose our whole harvest to them again this year. 

Here you can see a section of our ne…

Tomatoes on Eggshells

After a weekend away and a week of terrible weather, we started this weekend well behind schedule for getting our plants in the ground. When the rain stopped yesterday we donned fleece and hats (in May!) and braved the temperatures in the forties to get things going. Today we were finally rewarded with an absolutely beautiful day to finish out our Memorial Day weekend, and one of the things we accomplished was getting all of our tomatoes in the ground. 
Before planting, though, we added an extra step to our soil prep. Here's a spring's worth of eggshells we've been saving up:

We crushed them and added them to the blender to pulverize them quickly. For the blender to do the job, we had to add water to the mix, making an eggshell slurry:

Then Kirk sprinkled it over our tomato beds:

The reason for all of this is to add calcium to the soil to prevent blossom end rot on our tomatoes. Last year our earliest tomatoes had some issues with this, so we're hoping the eggshells w…

Flower Friday: May 24, 2013

The bulbs are in a fairly shady spot of the cutting garden, so they are late bloomers. Not sure if they will get enough sunlight to return next year or not, so I am enjoying them while they are here!

Tulips. Keeping the leaves on make a pretty decent frog for holding them upright and in place.

Tulips, daffodils, Jacob's ladder, and allium. The Jacob's ladder ("Bressingham purple") smells wonderful!

A small vase for Tiegan: tulips and daffodils.

More tulips.

Even more tulips. This shows the evolution of the plain tulip bouquet in the previous photo. As some older blooms faded over the course of the week, I removed them, cut the remaining stems a bit shorter, and added some hosta leaves around the edges to fill in the gaps and push them closer together so the whole thing looks like it's still full of flowers.

And ... tulips. We are having a week of heavy downpours each night, and I wanted to bring these inside before they got beaten down by the rain. They should l…

Quick Chicken Coop Upgrade

Before we left for our trip last weekend, Kirk spent a little time in the workshop to fix a major weakness of the water fount

Unlike the handle of the feeder shown above, the handle of the fount lacks the clever notch to keep it balanced as at hangs from its chain, even though it is specifically designed to hang. Stupid. Without that notch, the chickens are completely capable of knocking the fount off center in their greedy guzzling, and then all the water spills on the ground. 
And that would be a problem, since we didn't bother to ask our neighbors to check on the birdies while we were away, since it was just for a couple days.
So Kirk came up with this solution from some scrap blocks of wood:

Two pieces of wood just slightly narrower than the width of the metal handle were notched to fit around the handle, then glued together around it.

The top of the block has a hole drilled in it for the chain to go through. When it's hanging, it looks like this: 

This is the short end…


This past weekend we traveled to Pennsylvania to visit family (and so Kirk could run another triathlon). Kirk's sister's family lives in Lancaster County (which you should really learn to pronounce correctly if you are not a PA native) on an old Mennonite farm. It's hard not to be jealous of something like 30 acres of farmland and woods that even has a small creek. They have a vegetable garden, a flock of chickens, and have also started keeping bees. And sheep.

And the kids sure loved the sheep. Above, Jonas is feeding grain to Apple, a Dorset ewe. You can see that he is kind of crouched, bracing himself against her head. This was so he could keep his feet — the sheep are all over their new best friends with food!

Here Jonas is (literally) taking a sheep by the horn to keep from getting knocked over. If you are familiar with Jonas at all, you know that this is an absolutely enormous step into being confident around animals. He jumped right into feeding the sheep, and was …

Flower Friday: May 17, 2013

Here are the bouquets of the past week. We still have lots of bulbs and lilacs here, but I think peonies are on the way for next week!

Orange tulip, Fortissimo daffodil, and a white tulip (barely visible).

Red ranunculus, red-striped tulips, and double white daffodil.

The opposite side of the same arrangement.

Yellow tulip.


Cutting Garden Inventory

The cutting garden looks different every week, and I am enjoying having flowers available to bring into the house. Before I forget, here's what I have planted in these beds.

In the bed along the screened-in porch are all the bulbs. I was lazy and didn't record the varieties other than to write down "bulbs" on the plan of this whole section. According to a previous blog post, I should expect tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths here. I have so far had just a few white, double daffodils, orange, golden, salmon, yellow, and red-and-white tulips. There are no hyacinths in sight as far as I can tell, and there is a bit of an empty space where they might have been. I'm really wishing I had kept better track of specific varieties to know what to reorder when they (inevitably, eventually) peter out. And what to avoid.
Anyway, the shadier side of the bed has pink and white astilbe, toad lilies, and hosta, all of which have come up nicely.

In the bed along the fence, I plante…

Flower Friday: May 10, 2013

Now that the cutting garden is up and running, we have lots of flowers throughout the house. I cut them when something outside looks nice (or when a vase inside is looking ratty enough to need replacing), but I'll collect a week's worth of bouquet photos to share on Fridays. Here's what I had this week:

Mixed tulips.


Mini bouquet of Fortissimo daffodil, red and orange ranunculus, white tulip, and white Jacob's ladder.

The opposite side of the above bouquet, where you can also see the golden yellow coreopsis.

Salmon tulips (with a carved mask and limestone/coral from Mexico).

Attack of the Cutworms!

Last weekend I transplanted three tomatillo plants to the garden. They were looking really good: big, strong plants ready to take off out in the sunshine. Here's what we have left:

Only the one on the right remains, and that one has been damaged pretty severely. The culprit? Cutworms. Their tell-tale destruction looks like this:

Cutworms are the larvae of various moths. They overwinter in soil, and in the spring evenings they feed on the stems of new garden plants. They basically shear off the stem, eating a little bit near the ground and leaving the rest of the plant to die. I think I hate them most because they are so wasteful. At least a groundhog or turkey has the decency to enjoy the whole vegetable.
Some quick internet research revealed that there is such a thing as a turnip cutworm, and since we had turnips in this bed previously, I'm guessing that this is our particular pest. I noticed that some of the carrots we overwintered in this bed were chewed on, but didn't …