Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Garden Chores DONE!

We've been blessed with a few mild days so I have been working to get the fall garden chores done before the weather turns. We haven't yet had our first snow but it could happen at any time.

I turned the voluminous tomato vines and pepper plants into compost material by using a mower and grass catcher to chop them up small. It worked beautifully! This method was recommended by Margaret Roach, garden coach extraordinaire from A Way To Garden blog. It worked so slick. Those huge mounds of debris became wonderful small bits of compost fodder in no time at all. It made me so happy to have that chore done - thanks, Margaret. It's important to keep the compost pile aerated and moist. I've noticed that the chickens have been helping me with the aeration by scratching around in the pile. It is getting easier to turn with all their help.

My compost pile that will turn into wonderful DIRT
Also got the garlic bed planted with three varities - Chef's Italian Red, a softneck with mild flavor; Georgian Crystal, a hardneck with large, buttery cloves perfect for roasting, and Erik's German White, another hardneck with a spicy flavor that stores well. All are organic and from Seed Savers Exchange.
Under this 6" hay mulch are my garlic bulbs
After preparing the bed, I planted the individual cloves 2" deep about 6" apart, then covered them with 6" of hay mulch. I followed SSE directions exactly so hopefully with the reliable source of the garlic this year and the specific planting instructions, I will have an abundant crop of garlic next year. I use so much garlic in my cooking, and as my regular readers know, I had to plant my own so I'm not stuck with garlic imported from across the globe.

For those who don't know, softneck garlic has the small center cloves with around 12-16 cloves per bulb and hardneck has a hard center stem and about 4-6 large cloves around it.

I transplanted the daylilies from the peony bed to one of the outside ground beds in the garden on the south east where they can multiply to their little orange hearts desire. I don't want any competition to my peonies. The blueberry bushes (well, they look like sticks now but will be bushes one day!) have been moved to the south ground bed in the garden. Asparagus is in the north east ground bed and the garlic is now in the south west ground bed and come spring, the north west ground bed will be lush with cosmos, one of my favorite summer flowers. I can see it all. The garden will have some lovely flowers within it for my pleasure as well as the bees. I need to attact more bees next year since we seemed to have a shortage this summer compared to what I've seen in previous years.

Yes, this is a blueberry 'bush' of six. Now
in a bed on the south side of the garden
protected from critters with the tomato cage until
spring. The blueberries will get marvelous sun here.
We have several little saplings from Arbor Day Foundation that we planted in a large tank last spring because we weren't sure where we wanted them placed in the yard. I have chosen spots that will show them off in the future once they reach full maturity and today planted them all. We will protect the bark from the mice & other critters including deer that look to saplings in the cold barren menu of winter. I've used the tomato cages that Mark made early last year to protect the saplings from big merauders this winter.

Our cottage is nestled among many trees which is wonderful but most of the desiduous are Chinese Elm which is a 'weed' tree meaning it is like a weed in that it puts out a zillion (yes a zillion) seeds that the spring winds carry so there are little seedlings everywhere. In other words, another weed to pull!

We won't be here to see these new trees grow to a size of substance and certainly not to maturity, but I can visualize how they will enhance the ranch in the future. Hopefully they will eventually replace all the elms around here. We have several beautiful mature evergreen firs, pines (Austrian, Scotch, and Ponderoso), and Norway Spruce which all contribute a lovely structure to the tree story in the yard. Today, we added Washington Hawthorn, Tuliptree, Sargent Crabapple, Viburnum, Kentucky Coffee Tree and Bur Oak so one day there will be a great stand of valuable trees.

BTW, those homemade tomato cages worked beautifully for the tomatoes last summer. They are strong enough to hold up the tomatoes but need a steel post to ensure the wind doesn't blow them over when they get top heavy with foliage and fruit. We'll correct that next summer.

Well, the garden chores are DONE!!!! Yeah! Now I'll look to other creative endeavors to pursue this winter.

Let it snow - I'm ready!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

We finally Got Baby Keets!

This week the mama Guinea who has been missing for a few weeks turned up with her new clutch. Her first two clutches were devoured by predators so we were thrilled when she showed up with babies on the ground.

I saw all five adult guineas together in the roundpen by the barn and there seemed to be a lot of activity. As I looked more closely, I could see the tiny keets running under all the guineas. Boy were they tiny! I couldn't get near them so in anticipation of rounding them up again like last year, I cleaned out the guinea shack, put a heat lamp in along with some straw, water and food.

The next day she actually brought them to the guinea shack which is in the lean-to of the barn. Mark walked around the corner and saw her sitting just outside the door. I had piled up some boards so the babies could get in over the threshold but they were too tiny. Mark managed to get them in along with mama guinea. Now they are safe and sound. There are 8 keets this year. It's early yet so I don't know how many will survive but they have a better chance now that they are inside away from predators. I'll try for better pictures as mama guinea gets more comfortable with me in her pen. Right now, she attacks when I go in to fill the water and feed.
Not the best picture, but if you look closely you
will see the baby keets, the blur are some in motion
As you can see, the French Marans are getting bigger
Here are a few pictures of the chickens including the black copper French Marans that are growing like crazy. They are big enough that today we took down their dividing fence and removed their tiny hut and integrated them into the big chicken world. Everything seems fine so far.
All the girls in their pens. The French Marans are
in their pen along side the regular chicken pen. We
took down the fence dividing them today.
This angle shows the divided pen
Not flashy but a pretty bird. She will lay the rich dark chocolate brown eggs
Healthy and happy hens!
The one cuckoo French Marans we got last spring is laying lovely dark brown eggs. The black copper French Marans are supposed to lay even darker brown eggs. It will be interesting to see if there is much difference.  The cuckoo marans has a sweet disposition. I may get more of that breed next year.

From a dedicated bird lover,

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Really? The Only Garlic in My Country Store is from China?

Here I live in the middle of farm country and my little country store tells me they get the best deal for their bulk garlic from CHINA!!! OMG! Really? Think about the process of getting it to the USA and to my little store literally in the middle of the country. I find it hard to believe that the store buyer can't find competitive garlic in the US. Well, last fall, I planted garlic after I first found out the origin of the garlic in my store. I'm so into eating local that I just had to plant my own garlic. Well, it was a total failure with only six plants surviving. I just got my garlic bulbs from SeedSavers Exchange for planting this coming week so I am trying again. I cannot buy garlic from China. Florida and California are the farthest I'd like to go ideally for anything I don't grow myself.

The freezing, canning, and jam making are essentially done - yeah!!!! It feels so good. It is hard work but still fun and so fulfilling to see all the colorful jars on the pantry shelves and the full freezer.
Sister Sandi gave me these wonderful
labels for my birthday. Perfect, huh?

Beautiful pickled beets...and so so delicious especially during the winter. I use a traditional old fashioned recipe that I remember from my childhood. I have always loved pickled beets. But I also love them fresh steamed, roasted and grated raw on a salad. It's such a lovely sweet vegetable that is under utilized.
I got all the ripe tomatoes put up in a couple varieties of ketchup, marinara sauce, tomato sauce, salsa and tomato marmalade made with tomatoes, oranges and lemons. I pickled the few cucumbers I was able to harvest and also made some 'dilly' pickled green beans since I don't like frozen green beans. The day before our first hard freeze, I picked all the green tomatoes and pickled a dozen quarts and wrapped the remainder in newspaper for late ripening.
I made half of the pickled green tomatoes with a dill pickle brine and half with a sweet sour brine. I've never made them before so this will be a taste treat this winter as well.

I've begun to clean up the garden and plan for next years planting. With tomatoes and potatoes, it is important to rotate crops to avoid disease so I've selected the area for those crops next year. I've also decided to reduce the number of items to plant because I want to devote the prime garden real estate and my time to those plants we love the most since I am reducing the size of the garden too. Yes, I'm condensing the garden to only the raised beds except for the asparagus bed. The past two years I planted veggies all around the perimeter in the ground but next year that space will be flowers and berry bushes. Year three and I think I've finally found the right garden design. I am pleased about it.

I'm looking forward to putting the garden to bed for the winter and to focus on other creative projects. But I have to admit, I am thinking about next years garden too. When the seed catalogues begin arriving in the mail this winter, I will be excited all over again. Truly a gardener through and through, I am.

The geranium is in for the winter in
a perfect spot in the south window

Monday, October 17, 2011

Preparing for the First Freeze

Here are the new black copper French Marans pullets on the left and two Rhode Island Red hens on the right sitting in a sand dust pit. The chickens take dust baths which help clean their feathers.
This is another view of the Rhode Island Red hens in the dust pit and if you look closely (click on the picture to enlarge) you will see one hen and lots of dust where the other hen is in the middle of her dust bath.
We picked up seven black copper French Marans from a breeder near Lincoln, NE. They have been here for about a month and are growing so quickly. They are beautiful chickens -- pure black with copper feathers around the head and/or neck. We still have them separated from the full grown hens so they won't be picked on. The chicken pecking order can be brutal and difficult to watch as it is established with new additions to the flock.This week we'll begin the integration process so they can be part of the Dot House before the cold weather sets in. The black coppers lay the darkest of the dark chocolate colored egg shells.

Here is a sampling of the eggs I gather daily. The brown one on the upper left is from the Wyandotte and Rhode Island Red hens; the blue egg on the bottom left is from an Americana or Easter Egger hen; the green egg on the lower right is from a pullet (young, new layer) Easter Egger and the top right dark brown egg is from a young cuckoo French Marans pullet.
As  you can see the Marans eggs are getting darker as the pullet gets better at laying. I have only one Marans laying right now. Supposedly the black coppers will lay even darker eggs than the cuckoo Marans breed.

This weekend, we had the delight to host long time friends John and Cheryl from Denver. We had a lovely visit and John got to experience the harvest in a big way when he rode in the combine of friends who were harvesting corn.

Cheryl is packing produce and eggs for the ride home. She helped me pick the last of the ripe tomatoes from the vines. We also harvested the last of the potatoes and the peppers. The help was appreciated. I sent jam, Jack Daniels ketchup and tomato sauce along with them. Sharing the fruits of the harvest is something that gives me great joy and is a vital part of gardening for me. Today, I'll be making tomato marmalade and the last tomato sauce. We are expecting our first hard freeze of the season this Thursday, so I'll be picking the last of the green tomatoes today and tomorrow so I can wrap them in newspaper to ripen and some will be pickled.
John spent over an hour with Buddy training him to 'stay' for extended periods of time. I appreciated the training session and worked with Buddy a couple times after they left yesterday. John's concentrated training session helped Buddy understand the stay command so much better. He will now stay for up to about 10 minutes. I worked with him again this morning and he's got it. Thanks John!
Saying goodbye after a fun weekend to our Denver friends, John and Cheryl.
The gardening season is winding down with the produce almost all harvested, and this week I'll be putting the garden to bed for the winter with final cleaning and mulching of all the beds. I have a few bulbs and plants to transplant and about six saplings to put into the ground, then I'll be ready for the snow. It's hard for me to believe that its the end of another gardening season but I'm ready.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Summer Reading Hits

Summer is so active that I don't get to read as much as I like, but I still manage to work in reading time before bed each night and sometimes on rainy days or a few hours that I just take off to indulge my love of reading. I wanted to share my favorite books that I read this past summer. 

Silver Girl: A Novel [Book]Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand is a 'summer by the pool read' and very entertaining. It has a Bernie Madoff type of storyline from the wife's viewpoint. I always enjoy her female relationships.

Dreams of Joy: A Novel [Book]Dreams of Joy by Lisa See. I'm a huge fan of Lisa See. She brings the Chinese culture and time period to life. Her characters are fully formed and the stories very exciting.

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War [Book]Day of Honey - A Memoir of Food, Love and War by Annia Ciezadlo. The author is a war correspondent in the Middle East and with her journalist husband moved to Lebanon, his home, as home base for their reporting. She manages to bring the conflict and culture of the Middle East to life and through her immersion of food and cooking, she adds a personal perspective...and some fabulous recipes! Annia Ciezadlo is a gifted writer and her memoir is worth the time to read.

Spoken from the Heart [Book]Spoken From The Heart by Laura Bush. This is really an excellent book by a good hearted and intelligent woman. I thoroughly enjoyed this deeply personal memoir learning about her early life as well as her life in the spotlight both in the Texas Governor's Mansion and in the White House. She's a beautiful writer.

Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older [Book]Gardening for a Lifetime - How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older by Sydney Eddison. This is my new favorite garden book since I totally relate to wanting to simplify as I get older. I want to continue to garden but without the back breaking work. She has so many fabulous ideas for all gardeners not just older gardeners. The book is packed with great ideas, lists, etc.

Gathering: Memoir of a Seed SaverGathering - Memoir of a Seed Saver by Diane Ott Whealy. I loved this book written by one of the co-founders of Seed Savers Exchange. She has had an interesting life that started on a farm in Iowa where she learned to save seeds from her Grandpa and later in life with a singular passion to save seeds for greater agricultural biodiversity. The focus of seed saving was a common thread throughout her life while having a family, being a homesteader and canning all that she grew and foraged from the land  - oh I admire her work ethic and her accomplishments. Seed Savers Exchange is the nation's premier nonprofit seed-saving organization and I'm a grateful member.

I hope you choose to read one or more of these wonderful books. I have a pile of books for my fall/winter reading and can't wait to get to them...that is, after all the produce is put up and the garden in put to bed for the winter.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pride on the Prairie

This summer I had the good fortune to attend a couple events honoring family members in South Dakota.

The first was the Miss Teen of South Dakota Pageant in which our grand-niece, MeKayla Pravecek, participated. Around 200 teen girls applied to the pageant and about 50 were selected to participate in the pageant which is based on scholastic achievement and community service. Although it is not a beauty pageant, it does have the ballgown glamour on the final day which all the girls relished so that made it fun for them. They had to also go through several events during the weekend including a personal interview where they were evaluated on their personal poise and their ability to think on their feet. MeKayla was one of the six finalists. We are so proud of her. She is a remarkable young woman and has a bright future ahead of her.

MeKayla, a finalist Miss Teen of South Dakota, with Miss Teen of Missouri
The second big event was the induction of our brother-in-law, Bill Hinks, into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Fourteen inductees were chosen from 53 nominees. Bill's business success and philanthropy assured him a place in the SD Hall of Fame.

He started a small furniture business in 1977 and grew it to be one of America's top 100 furniture retailers today. His company, Furniture Outlets USA, employs over 700 people in more than 35 regional retail stores. A number of years ago, he bought a dying mall in Sioux Falls, SD and turned it into a vibrant retail center. Over the years he has generously supported numerous children's charities, he donated land for Legacy Park in Sioux Falls and has contributed to various needs at Augustana College. His love of sports has made him a long time supporter of local sports teams as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves. Last year, he received an honorary degree from South Dakota State at Brookings.

Bill is a distinguished leader in South Dakota and was recognized for his many contributions to the community over the years. We are so proud of Bill! It was an honor to share his special day of recognition which he so richly deserves.
Bill with his wife Carolyn (Mark's sister)
Bill, one of 14 inductees for 2011, giving his acceptance speech
at the South Dakota Hall of Fame ceremony and banquet
South Dakota is 'Dances With Wolves' Country
When I went to South Dakota for these two summer events, I drove great distances through the prairie. If you've never really been in the high prairie, you owe it to yourself to experience it. I mean off the interstate, actually in the prairie. Once I got off the Interstate and traveled on state highways, the traffic lessened and there were times of up to 30 minutes when I didn't see another car on the highway. In this day and age, it was an almost eerie feeling. If you saw the movie, Dances with Wolves, you saw the South Dakota prairie I'm speaking of since it was filmed in the Pierre area.

I know some people will say that there is 'nothing' there but if you open your eyes and heart you will see the great expanse of prairie that many of our forefathers traveled across in order to settle the United States. It gives you a sense of what they felt and how wonderful and terrible that journey must have been in that vastness. It was so awe inspiring with the huge sky and endless hills of grass, I pulled my car over and stepped outside. The grasses were bending in the wind  which as I listened sounded musical to my ears - musical to me because I was in a modern car and not a covered wagon where the wind would be relentless.

There are buffalo in many places on the prairie so when you have the delight of seeing that too, it conjures up all sorts of thoughts. I took some pictures that won't do justice to the place or the moment but I have to share what I captured that day.
A snapshot of the prairie...the big sky and endless land
And just me on the prairie highway

For those of you born in the eastern US, this will look empty because you don't have the eyes of one prairie-born. Just as when I travel the interstates in the east that are ribbons cut through the trees, I always find myself wanting to see more - more sky, more land, less trees! It's what we are used to. I have learned to love the abundant trees of the east but still have the prairie's beauty in my eyes. It is subtle so you have to get quiet to appreciate it but boy is it magnificent.

If you haven't been to Mount Rushmore in the  Black Hills of western South Dakota, you owe it to  yourself to visit. Put it on your list of places to see and make it a vacation destination soon. When you do, make sure you also see the badlands and adventure out onto the prairie so you can experience the vastness personally. It is worth the time and trouble.

For those of you intrigued, there are a couple books about prairie life that I heartily recommend,
Dakota: a spiritual geography [Book]Dakota -  A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris; and

My Antonia by Willa Cather  My Ántonia [Book]

will give you a peek into the soul of the prairie and its inhabitants. This country is not for the faint hearted as you will learn. But the quiet beauty will take your breath away if you are only still.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Autumn Bounty

I've been busy in the garden all September bringing in the harvest...
Beautiful carrots from the garden, just scrubbed and
ready for freezing for winter soups and stews
Sliced then blanched before freezing
Beautiful Missouri peaches turned into several lovely
jars of Peach Ginger and Old Fashioned Peach jam
Marinara sauce, blueberry and peach jam

Apple rosemary jelly and apple ginger marmalade
made from apples from my Aunt Frieda and Uncle
Joe's apple tree in South Dakota

This is a bucket of bliss! The tomatoes are FINALLY
ripening which means I have been tied to the kitchen
making all the tomato preserves --- marinara sauce,
salsa, ketsup and tomato sauce. It will be a tasty
winter afterall.

I could barely lift this container of tomatoes. The
tomato plants are loaded with ripening tomatoes so
I'll be in the kitchen for sometime yet.

Raspberry, cherry,  & blueberry cherry jams and two
quarts of marinara sauce. Yeah, I've been making
a lot of jam, but it's a staple for Mark with his home
made bread. Come January, it is a real treat on bread,
waffles or some vanilla ice cream!
And here is a lovely view that I witnessed from my
kitchen window while working at the sink. Nature is
just outside my windows.