Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Harvest Totals: July 2012

I knew July was going to be our biggest month this year--but it wasn't until I saw the spreadsheet that I realized JUST how big a month it was.

We harvested 180lbs of produce, 70 eggs, and it all had an estimated value of $789 (based on local farmers market prices).  That's 6x's the poundage of any other month this year!

Our big producers were the tomatoes. We got 100lbs of Rutgers tomatoes, and over 20lbs of Sungold tomatoes.  We also harvested half of our potatoes at the beginning of July (25lbs).  The shitakes, while not huge in poundage, made a big contribution to July's value (with over 7lbs).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Holy Shitakes!

My husband and I were outside harvesting crops and tending to the garden (as we do every day).  And while harvesting some tomatoes, I decided to take a peak under our rain barrels to see how our shitake logs were doing (the answer has always been 'nothing' before).
Me: 'Holy Shitake!!!'
Husband: 'What??'
Me: 'You've got to see this!'
Husband: 'Is there a shitake?'
Me: 'Seriously, you've got to see this!'
Husband [peaking head to see logs]: 'Holy Shitake!!!'
This is what we were seeing:

Shitakes on oak logs--finally producing!
Shitakes on oak logs!
We harvested the ones in the bowl below the first night, and were pleased to see this amount was about a pound.  We spent about $60 on the supplies to inoculate our shitake oak logs last year.  Shitakes in our local grocery stores are in the $12-14 a pound range.  So far, we've harvested over 7lbs: so it looks like they have paid for themselves in their first flush!
1 lb harvested shitakes.
Now we are enjoying shitake egg scrambles, shitake omelettes, shitake and rice, shitake EVERYTHING.

We have more than I can eat, so I'm also drying some to use later: more on that to come!!!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This week in the garden: 7/22/2012

Now that we are in the heat of summer, the garden has really taken off! Here are some pictures.

We finally decided to harvest all of the beets.
We got 3lbs and have already eaten them all.

This praying mantis has been guarding the
eggplants for weeks.

Long purple eggplant --we are FINALLY having the
eggplants start to produce, we still haven't harvested
any yet.

Tobago seasoning pepper. These plants are
covered with peppers!

Chickens are laying well.

Cucumber Drink! Click to see a post on how to make it.

Rutgers and Sungold tomatoes. We've harvested
over 50lbs of tomatoes this
month already!
How does  your garden grow!?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A way to use cucumbers: Cucumber Drink!

Last year, we found ourselves with an overabundance of cucumbers.  So we had to start trying some creative ways to use them. 
Cucumber Drink
We started making this drink, which we creatively named 'Cucumber Drink', and it soon became our favorite way to use cucumbers.  

I love it because it takes me about 2 minutes to whip up. And because it has lemon juice in it, it is like a refreshing lemonade! This drink tastes best when the cucumbers are picked when they are small and not bitter.

 Cucumber Drink (makes 6 cups)

  • 3 small cucumbers, ends chopped off (roughly 0.5 lb)
  • 5 cups cold filtered water
  • Lemon juice to taste (I add about 2 tbsp)
  • Sugar or Honey to taste (I add about 1 tbsp)
  • Thinly sliced cucumbers as garnish (optional)

Directions: Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend on high until smooth. Serve over ice, and garnish with cucumber slices (if using).

Note: We have a Vitamix blender which is able to blend even the skin to a smooth consistency.  If you aren't sure if your blender can do this, you can just peel the cucumbers before adding them to your blender!

Do you have any creative uses for cucumbers? I'd love to hear!

For more fun posts, check out the Monday Homestead Barn Hop!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Squash Vine Borers: I declare war!

Picture Credit

About 6-8 weeks ago, upon discovering a bug that looks like the one pictured above, my husband and I had a conversation that went something like this:

       Me: Hey, check out this cool bug! I wonder what it is?

       Husband: That’s cool! I think it looks like a bee or wasp.

       Me: So, you think it’s a beneficial insect?

       Husband: Yeah. Look how CUTE it is!

Fast forward to present day:

Not cute. NOT CUTE AT ALL!!!!!!

If only we had known then. This little bug is single-handedly responsible for the loss of my ENTIRE squash crop.  It’s not a cute little native bee or wasp – it’s a MOTH!  And not just any moth, it is the squash vine borer. 

The squash vine borer is a weird moth in that it is active during the day.  They overwinter in cocoons in the soil, then they emerge in late May or early June in our area.  They mate and lay eggs at the base of squash plants.  The eggs hatch and turn into these guys:
Picture Credit
The larvae literally bore through the squash vine, hence the name.  As you can imagine, boring through a plant’s main stem doesn't make for a very happy plant.  This usually results in the death of the plant.  In my case, it resulted in the death of ALL my plants.

Luckily, there are a number of chemical-free suggestions for dealing with squash vine borers. 

Squash vine borer defense squad.
Destroy infected plants. If you have an infected/dead plant, you should discard of it so the larvae can’t come back as an adult next year.  I gave all of the dying squash plants to the chickens. If you have chickens, you will know that the only thing more destructive than a flock of chickens would probably be fire. My chickens took great delight in shredding and pecking the vines.  I’m pretty certain if they didn’t eat the squash vine borer larva, they at least stomped them to death.

Plant as early as possible.  The squash vine borer emerges from its winter slumber in early summer – late May or early June in this area.  By planting early, you can give your vines a head start on the squash vine borers. (I wish I had done this. I didn’t plant my squash until mid-May.)

Use a floating row cover.  If the moths can’t get to the plant, they can’t lay an egg.  You should plan on using row covers when the adults are active (late May, early June).  Keep in mind that a row cover will prevent bees from pollinating!

Set traps to know when they have emerged. You can tell when the squash vine borers are emerging by looking for the adults, or by setting a yellow bowl full of water in your garden.  The moths are attracted to the yellow, and get trapped in the water.  When you find one in your trap, you know it is time to take action against them. It is also a sign to start looking for eggs on the stems.

Protect the stem.  Block the moths from laying eggs by wrapping aluminum foil or pantyhose around the stem of the vine. I might give this a try.

Plant vine crops that are usually not attacked by squash vine borers. Try butternut squash, cucumbers, melons, and watermelons. I planted out some butternut squash a couple weeks ago. I hope they do well!

Hand pick and destroy eggs.  I think this one might be hard to do, but I'd be willing to give it a shot.

A second planting of summer squash made in early July will mature after adult borers have finished laying eggs.  I’m doing this: I have multiple summer squash plants started inside that are ready to go out now. This might not be a guaranteed strategy because our area can have two generations of squash vine borers.

Till the soil in fall. This will expose the larvae to freezing temperatures, and it will allow you to find and destroy them.

Here is a nice publication about squash vine borers from the University of Tennessee. 

Watch out squash vine borers. This is WAR!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tonight's dinner brought to you by: Your backyard!

These days we're eating something (and usually multiple somethings) from the backyard every day.  But last night's dinner actually came exclusively from the garden:  

Summer garden meal

2 fried eggs, mixed fresh green beans, roasted yukon and red potatoes, sliced rutgers tomato, and a few sungold cherry tomatoes.

It was delicious! And there is plenty to have this again tomorrow. :)

Yesterday's tomato harvest.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The epic garden battle: Woman vs. Deer

A few weeks ago, I was wandering around the garden when I noticed some missing cherry tomatoes.  My immediate response was 'Nooo! Tomato hornworms!'

But after inspecting the plants carefully, I couldn't find any sign of a horn worm.  And it struck me as odd that all of the damage was just on one side of the tomato plants.

Missing cherry tomatoes?
That's when I glanced down and noticed the following footprint on the ground:

Deer print in the garden.
DEER!!!  A darned deer had gotten into my garden.  With this realization I ran around the rest of the garden and noticed all of the other damage -- multiple missing tomatoes, some munched peppers, a bunch of 'pruned' bush beans.  A deer can do a LOT of damage in a short amount of time.

Prior to this, our 4 foot fence was enough to keep the deer out. Yes, a deer CAN jump it, but I think it just didn't seem worth the effort to them before. I mean, I have PLENTY of tasty flowers that they had been eating on the other side of the house.  But now the deer has worked up the nerve to enter the garden and taste my delicious crops. Which means it will be back.

I entered panic/trouble-shoot mode.  I needed an immediate (and cheap) solution to keep the deer from returning in the evening and causing even more damage.

So here is what I did:

I had some 8 foot 2x2's laying around, so I attached a few of them to some of the 4 foot posts with screws.  I then strung  clothes line at 6 feet and 8 feet.  Next, I tied some strips of white fabric to the line.

Not the prettiest anti-deer wall.
Now, it's really not much of a physical barrier, but the deer won't know that.  I'm hoping it will be more of a visual barrier to them -- if it looks like a wall, it should prevent them from trying to jump in.

Would you jump into this?
Two weeks later -- I have found plenty of deer prints outside of the garden, but we have had no more deer visit inside the garden. Looks like this strategy is working out just fine!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Harvest Totals: June 2012

As expected, our garden harvest has started to increase with the warmer weather.  I'm thrilled that our ROI is firmly in the positive range, and should only increase for the rest of the year. 

We are now harvesting green beans and cherry tomatoes regularly, and this month we harvested half of the yukon potatoes (the rest will be harvested in July).  Our Rutger tomatoes are just now ripening, which means we will have a large tomato harvest starting in July. We also harvested the garlic this month, but didn't weigh them yet, so they are not included in this graph.

Plot of backyard harvest values.  Each vegetable type is weighed separately over the course of the month,
and the value per pound is based on local farmers market prices. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Angel, we will miss you.

It is with a heavy heart that I write today's post.  The historic heat wave that swept across the central and eastern United States caused the temperature in our area to reach 103 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prior to this heat wave, the weather had been very mild.

When we returned home on Friday afternoon, we checked on the chickens and brought them a fan and cold water.  We found poor little Angel lying on the ground panting desperately.  We took her inside to try to save her, but our efforts were in vain.  The sudden heat wave was too much for Angel.

We are heartbroken.

Angel was our favorite hen in the flock--she had enough personality for 10 chickens.  She was quirky, and beyond sweet. I think she was the most appropriately named chicken in the flock, because she really was a little angel. She never picked on any of the other chickens, and she was full of nothing but kindness. Of all the chickens, she was always the most excited to see her human caretakers.  She would run up to us, follow us around the garden, and sometimes even enjoy a ride on our shoulders.  
Angel, as a chick, playing in a tube.
Even as a young chick, she was always up to something.  She was very curious, and found things to play with.  She was only a couple of months old when she started to fly onto our shoulders.
A young Angel and my husband.
Angel and me.

Angel was a very photogenic chicken: I think this had something to do with her fondness for us.  She would always run right up to me and pose for the camera.  Luckily, because of this, I have a ton of pictures of her.

I put windows between the chickens and the trellis to keep
them from eating the plants... it wasn't very effective on Angel.
Angel loved to jump on everything.
I used to say that the chickens were my favorite part of the garden, and that is true.  But when I said it, what I really meant was that Angel was my favorite part of the garden.  She made me smile every single day, and she managed to touch our hearts.

I knew we wouldn't have the chickens forever, but it has been painful losing Angel so unexpectedly and so soon.  Without her, the garden seems so empty.

In the evenings, JC (our head hen) always clucks at the bottom of the coop telling the others to come home.  One of Angel's quirks was that she was always the last to return.  Once she was safely in the run, JC would quit clucking and go to roost.

Every evening since her passing, I have stood outside and watched our little flock of 4 walk back to their run after free-ranging.  After the other 3 chickens have gone inside to roost, JC stands in the run clucking and looking for Angel for a few minutes before she reluctantly goes to bed.

Eventually, JC will stop waiting for Angel.  And I know with time, this sadness will fade and be replaced by all the fond memories Angel created with us. 

Angel, we will love you and miss you. Always.

May 2011 - June 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A tale of 3 peas

Back in the fall, my husband and I were discussing growing peas for the first time this spring.  I wanted snow or snap peas, so he suggested getting both.  He ALSO suggested getting shelling peas.
Snap peas
I immediately turned up my nose and refused: "I don't like shelling peas! I don't want to waste my precious garden space on them."

But, he was insistent on growing the shelling peas, so I begrudgingly offered to let him grow the shelling peas on the garden fence, thinking this way 'MY' peas would have the premium trellis locations that are safe from the deer.

And sure enough, the deer got to the shelling peas, severely limiting their production. But the little guys persevered and produced enough for 4 large helpings of shelled peas in the spring.

This is where I'd like to end the story, because I don't want to admit that my husband was right and I was wrong (he takes too much delight in it).  But, in all honesty -- I was wrong.

I LOVED the shelling peas -- they were absolutely fantastic!  And to shame myself even further: I didn't like the snap and snow peas very much.  My favorite peas of the three varieties we grew were the shelling, and I wish we'd grown nothing but the shelling because I enjoyed them so much.

These snow peas are part of my lunch -- they are just
sitting on my desk staring at me. I'm not very excited about
eating them.
You live, you learn.

We decided that this fall and next spring, we are only going to plant shelling peas.  I wonder how productive they will be without being half-eaten by the deer?

Here are the varieties we grew:
Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow --> Super productive, but not great tasting.
Sugar Ann Snap --> Pretty tasty, but not very productive.
Green Arrow Shelling  --> AWESOME tasting!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chicken Chatter: A late bloomer

I never really gave much thought to chicken development. But apparently chickens, just like people, do things in their own time and at their own pace.  A while back I posted about our Jersey Black Giant, Johnny Cash, who for a long time had no prominent comb or wattles.  For contrast, Pebbles (our other Jersey Black Giant hen) had a nice large red comb and wattles -- seen in the picture below (bottom right).

Johnny Cash (left) had no comb or wattles for months. Pebbles
had a large red comb and wattle early in her development.
Ironically, even though she looked like she wasn't maturing, she was one of our first chickens to start laying eggs, and she is one of our most reliable layers.  She is also head hen -- a very graceful leader of the flock.  Then, rather randomly, at about 8 months of age, ONE of Johnny Cash's wattles developed.  For months, we called her the 'one wattle wonder'.
Johnny cash with one developed wattle.
Then over the last few weeks, Johnny Cash finally developed her second wattle, at the youthful age of 14 months.
'I'm ready for my close-up now.'
 I guess Johnny Cash is just a late bloomer.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Harvesting Garlic

Recently harvested garlic.
In the interest of full disclosure, I decided that in addition to a picture of a large impressive garlic (above), I should also show a rather pathetic, 'why did I bother planting this' garlic bulb (below).
Some garlic didn't live up to their potential.
Garlic with tops falling down.
I decided to harvest the garlic after their tops all fell down (you can see them starting to fall over in the above picture, which was taken a week ago).  I didn't get a just-prior-to-harvest shot, because by the time I got out to help harvest the garlic, my husband had already ripped them all out of the ground. Got to love his enthusiasm:
Garlic-less bed.
Below are some of the harvested garlic in a basket.
Another garlic picture!
We put a line across our shed porch, and hung the garlic across the line to dry.  Once they are dry, we will weigh them and prepare them for storage!  We're anxious to find out whether or not the garlic paid for themselves.
Garlic hanging out -- to dry.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Harvest Totals: May 2012

I'm pleased with our steady improvement in our garden every month.  This month, we harvested 23 lbs of produce and 87 eggs, for a rough value of $118.  The most exciting part of this month is that our Return on Investment is finally positive at $28! Our combined value of produce and eggs this year (based on local farmer's market prices) is almost $400. Our investment cost is based on the amount of money spent on seeds, potato seeds, plants, soil, electricity/water for seed starting, chicken feed, etc.  All garden-related expenses are added to the investment cost--ours was roughly $370 so far this year.

Our poundage went down from last month, but our estimated value grown increased because we were mostly harvesting collards last month, and this month we harvested a ton of snap and snow peas (which are more expensive than collards, here).

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chicken Chatter: Angel, the loud chicken

Before I got chickens, I never gave any thought to the noise that they made.  I knew that roosters crowed--but what noise did hens make?

As our young chicks matured into young hens, they lost the cute 'peep' and replaced it with their mature adult voices.  Most of our chickens make pleasant noises--small coos and clucks. Perhaps, the occasionally louder 'HEY!' at another chicken if they are upset.

But then, there is Angel.  I've already described how Angel is a flat out bizarre chicken with a lot of personality.  But one of her most defining characteristics is the way she vocalizes.

I'll be out in the garden, all will be quiet, and suddenly the peaceful scene is broken by a loud 'BAACCCHHHKK!!'.   Or at least, that is how I guess you might spell Angel's language.  She loves to make a lot of noise, and she really likes to talk to her human companions.  If she can't see me, she makes much less noise.  But if you're in view--she's going to let you know she's there!

I took this video of Angel talking. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The first tomato and pepper of 2012

It's the little things in the garden that make it exciting.  Like finding this first little Sungold cherry tomato.  I know that shortly in the future I'll have a whole lot of these little guys to enjoy!

Sungold cherry tomato (a bit out of focus)
And just as exciting, I noticed the first cayenne pepper on one of the plants.
Cayenne pepper (also out of focus)
My camera work was just not up to standards today, but perhaps it was the excitement of the fruiting plants that caused me to be unsteady. :)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chicken Chatter: Poor Angel is getting picked on again

I don't know what it is about Angel that causes her to be lowest on the pecking order. And I know that there is little to nothing that I can do about her social standing with the rest of the flock.  But I wish that the other ladies weren't so darn mean to her!

The other chickens peck Angel so severely that she is now missing a chunk of feathers on the back of her neck!!  Poor little thing.  I think part of the problem is the fact that Angel doesn't always run away when she is being pecked--sometimes she just crouches down and lets another chicken peck her repeatedly.

Angel, missing neck feathers.
Our two black chickens leave Angel alone for the most part.  It's the buff orpingtons that cause most of the problems.  June has been attacking everyone lately because she is broody--and apparently that causes general moodiness in chickens.  Sunshine, on the other hand, has no excuse -- she's just a down-right mean chicken when it comes to Angel.
'Who, me?'
I wish I knew how to stop that behavior, because Angel is the sweetest little chicken in the flock.
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