Monday, August 30, 2010

What's for Breakfast?

Although it's not earth shattering news, I once again proved that when your resources are limited, food tastes so much better.

On Sunday I decided to fix myself a real breakfast. This is no small feat since we are cooking on Coleman stoves and our choices are limited to what is on hand, no popping off to the corner store here.

But I am not complaining! It's nice to feel appreciation for what one has. And this is what I had:
Eggs- laid that morning by our Cuckoo Morans hens.
Bacon- thank heavens it lasts forever in the fridge
Blueberries- from the farm down the road.

I had very nearly missed the blueberry season but I did manage to get four pounds of very sweet berries off of our neighbors sun beaten bushes last week. The farm children run the U-pick and I still smile when I think of the pink crayoned sign on wide ruled paper stating "1.00 a pound", of the old, useless bathroom scale to weigh the berries on and the honor system of paying- leaving the money in a My Little Pony lunch box.

So, eggs over easy (double yolkers, of course), bacon and blueberry pancakes.
It was amazing. I have never tasted such good blueberry pancakes. I ate every bite, and the fact that it looked like this?

Made not the slightest difference at all. It was heaven.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fungal bits

It has been almost 100 degrees the last couple of days, and I have not been doing anything blog-worthy, so here is something from a cooler time of year.

In my seemingly endless effort to get the pasture fenced and usable, I had some rotting logs to contend with. They had lain in the pasture zone for several years, and were not something we wanted to leave in there for the horses. And they were soggy and rotten, so they would not make good firewood. Thus they were my least favorite log chore; all the effort of firewood with no neat stack to show for it.They were mossy and damp from the unusually wet spring. Looking closer at the moss, I saw these interesting little spikes or stalks. (Click on the photos to see them larger.)

They were small, delicate and, well, very specific looking. Odds were they were created for a specific task.

A little risky web surfing indicated that they are the reproductive organs of fungus, preparing to release their spores to the wind.

So I did the best I could to keep the chunks of moss they were living in intact, and set them to the side of the pile. Hopefully, they were able to complete their mission, and next spring there will be another crop of these tiny wild ones.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Saving Seeds

The first thought I had about saving seeds in the beginning was "why bother?". There were all these warnings about what will cross with what and it made seed saving sound difficult.

In the end I started saving seeds because of a gardening misfortune. I had gone on vacation and when I came back all my lettuce had bolted and gone to seed. That was my first surprise, the tiny lettuce plants had just skipped turning into heads of edible lettuce and gone straight to the procreation (and bitter tasting) phase of their lives.

It wasn't until years later that I gleaned the information that lettuce will bolt for several reasons including high night time and daytime temperatures, lack of water, crowding and some say root trauma from being transplanted. From my experience, all of these seem to be real factors.

Lettuce seeds were my first attempt at seed saving simply because I was making lemonade from lemons, so to speak. If I missed eating the lettuce I could at least save the seeds and try again.

I had two types of lettuce that had come up from a "Gourmet Greens" seed mix. (one thing I enjoy about mixed seeds is that something usually comes up) and so, what I saved seeds from were a light green curly leaved lettuce and a red oak-leaf type. The red oak-leaf offspring were tough and bolted easily.

Happily it was a different story with the light green lettuce. Ten years later I am still using the yellow lettuce seed, actually, the seed from the third or fourth generations, because it turned out to be very nice and tender. It is also a beautiful bright yellow/green.

I have through the years chosen seed from heads that bolt later than all the rest, and so have developed a lettuce that is pretty darn tough in the elements but tender in the salad. This year I resisted eating the very nicest head I've ever grown so that I can save it's seed. I will plant it's seed this fall for my Maritime Garden.

These are Chioggia Beets going to seed. I love their red and white striped flesh. It's the only type of beet that I planted this year.

My second surprise back then was how many seeds came from one plant. It was then that I started to realize just how economical it is to save seed yourself. One lettuce plant will give you about two dozen packets worth of seed. Let's see... at 2.99 a packet that is 71.00 dollars worth of seed. Lettuce seed, properly stored, is good for at least three years. I've used it as late as 5 years.

Look to Seed Savers for instructions on how to save seeds for several specific vegetables and flowers. Just save a few a year and you will see how easy and fun it is. And how much money it will save you!

I avoid the cross pollinating problem (although it isn't always a problem as proven by my very first seed saving, it just depends on how it gets pollinated) by simply letting only one kind of lettuce go to seed at any given time. One year I will save one type and the next year another. Or I can speed it up by saving one type in the spring and one type in the fall.

Some things don't need to be saved by seed. Potatoes and Raspberries are great to plant from year to year.

These raspberries have sprung up where they don't belong. I will be moving them to a new row in another berry patch up the hill.

It's easy to save seeds for most plants, and it's fun. It brings an extra element of excitement and satisfaction to my garden to know where my seeds came from and to be part of the full cycle of my carefully tended plants.

These are spinach seeds on the stalk.

Here is a little film of me processing my spinach seeds, and the chickens are very interested.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Latin Lover

St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)

Plant Identification... Are you asleep yet?

Whenever I go into plant ID, Buck's eyes begin to glaze over. I can't say I blame him. It can get very technical and it is not very interesting unless you need to know which plant is which for some reason. For instance; "Is that plant a noxious weed?" Or "Can I eat that?" Or "Did I plant that or did it just grow there?"

The biggest hurdle to jump is the FEAR OF LATIN.

It sounds funny and is unfamiliar so we tend to avoid it. But it sure beats having someone tell you "Oh, that plant is stickywilly" Huh? Someone else will call it "bedstraw". And yet another person I know calls it "cleavers".

These are all common names for Galium aparine L. . A rambling plant that will stick to you with it's little hook-like hairs and round seeds.
That's the trouble with common names, they are common only on a local basis.

When most of us didn't move much farther than the next small town common names were a shared language, but now we move from coast to coast and country to country. What gives us the power to share knowledge in the the world of growing things is the Latin naming system.

For our scientific Latin based naming system we have Sweden born Carl Linnaeus to thank. He made sense of the world around us so that we can avoid the kind of plant and animal world equivalents of the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter which was lost in space due to confusion about what measuring system was being used to build it.

Because of Mr. Linnaeus we can confidently identify a plant to someone in Africa, Spain or next door without any fear of mis-communication.

Latin is a language
Dead as dead can be.
First it killed the Romans
Now it's killing me.

(This is a poem our daughter June is very fond of.

One aspect of the Latin naming system I enjoy is knowing what each element of the name means. It's often helpful in identifying the plant's physical attributes. For instance, Hypericum perforatum L., or commonly known as St. Johnswort, is in the Hyperiacaceae family and perforatum means perforated. It's leaves are literally perforated and if you hold them up to the sun, you can see the tiny holes in the leaves.

If you pinch a yellow flower bud between your fingers you will see a surprising dark red/purple liquid.

This liquid is hypericin the main component in several medications used around the world for a wide spectrum of health issues from depression to staphylococcus infections. It is not native to the US and can cause livestock (and people) who consume it to be hypersensitive to the sun, so it is generally considered by farmers to be a noxious weed.

O.K. For those who didn't fall asleep, go forth Veritate et virtute "with truth and courage" and use your Latin.

Oh, and before you go could someone wake up Buck and tell him we're having spaghetti with homemade Lycopersicon esculentum sauce for dinner?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tying Up Loose Ends

The field is full of daisies.

There were a few past posts I left unresolved and a couple I'd like to update.

One was the mystery of the egg eating hens, which turned out to be a Blue Jay. My dad, being the resourceful farmer he is, solved the whole problem by painting golf balls the color of the hens eggs (a light brown) and keeping the real eggs picked up. End of problem. Someone else will have to ascertain why that worked for sure but my guess is that the Blue Jay doesn't like eating golf balls.

Another chicken and egg issue was my dismissal of our Cuckoo Marans' first egg as "nice brown but not dark brown". Well, I think they are listening and had a rather strong reaction to my criticism.

Just look at these beautiful eggs! The two lightest eggs are from our other flock of Domoniques.

But wait Girls-

Aren't you going a little overboard? Are they all double yolkers? I take it all back!

Our apple trees are all doing fine except for the Chehalis. When we built our little tree guards, we were thinking of deer. We should have been looking closer to the ground.

Wabbits! They chewed so much of the bark off that the poor tree couldn't pull through. We reinforced our cages for big and small nibblers.

Also, I realized I had forgotten to wax poetic about our first crop of raspberries so I will just let the picture speak for itself.

I ate half of them while still standing in the garden. Where was Buck?, I don't know...
I cooked the rest into a light syrup and then added olive oil and balsamic vinegar for an amazing salad dressing! Double Yum.

Oh and this dog

now smells like this.

Way to go Bruiser. I thought the first time would be the last time. Maybe he likes smelling like Peppe LePew. We don't.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Seeing things differently

It is not an unusual sight in the summer to see huge swaths of thistles; five feet tall, in full bloom, getting ready to spread their seed to insure an abundant crop next year.

What was unusual was my second reaction to them.

My first reaction was, as usual, to get out the weed whacker and knock them down. But then I noticed the bees.

Our honey bees were happily buzzing around them, loading up on pollen and nectar. So now I saw the thistles as a pest and a source of yummy food for our hive. And I like our bees and want them to thrive, so I can't just whack down a nice food source.
So I will put it off for now, and try to find a window after the flowers wilt but before all of the seeds drop. And if I miss that window, I guess that means more yummy thistles for the bees next summer.