Don’t Eat That!

The Deadly Nightshade (for REAL!)

You may remember my post from the other day where I asked what this plant was…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It had this tiny berries. I ate one, it was kind of sweet…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

It turns out that it is an honest to god nightshade. As in, don’t eat that, it will kill you dead, kind of plant.

Katie Nixon from the Lincoln University Extension came out on Wednesday and identified it for me. “You probably don’t want to eat any more of those berries,” she said trying to hide the worried look on her face.

“Yeah, no, I think I’ll pass on eating any more,” I told her, “But it didn’t taste bad at all, and I feel fine!”

I made sure to point out the plant and tell Emily, “That is POISONOUS, do NOT try to eat it.” I then pulled out the vigorously growing plants wherever I could see them.

Beets – Round Two

We planted beets this spring. Well, in May, because of the insane snow and freezing temps that hovered about until we were all well and sick of the cold. The beets grew to about the size of marbles. It was disheartening.

Dave dug them up at the same time we were harvesting the Yukon Gold potatoes and we just shook our heads, time for round two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I dug some of the red and purple potatoes out, I made a nice pile of dirt and began poking beet and radish seeds into it. I am crossing my fingers and hoping for a bumper crop of Bull’s Blood and Albino beets, along with some good salad radishes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sky kept spitting rain and making promises of more rain, so I held off watering the newly planted seeds. C’mon rain, get on over here!

Fall Transplants- Nope, Not This Year

I checked with Katie about what plants would be good for planting right now and she mentioned broccoli, lettuce, spinach and cauliflower transplants. They need to be in the ground by 8/15 at the latest. It’s too late to start them as seed, and I’m tapped out for garden funds for the year, so we will just settle for the beets, radishes, and…

Cover Crops

Despite the poor soil, we’ve done well. And next year will be even better. We will have a nice layer of chicken poo and decaying straw, along with two cover crops.

On Thursday I purchased one pound of barley seed, and two pounds of Austrian Winter Peas. Barley will provide cover and prevent weeds, then act as a mulch for the garden in the spring. The Austrian Winter Peas are a dynamic accumulator. Katie suggested this and explained that dynamic accumulators are plants that send their roots deep into the soil pulling the nutrients from far below. The plants are then full of nutrients and can be added back into the soil to feed your spring crops.

I won’t need to add the cover crops for a while. After all, I’m still harvesting from the garden! But once the growing season is over, I will pull aside the straw from some or most of my garden, spread the seeds and rake them in. By early spring I can either mow the crops down, or in later spring simply bend them and push them aside when planting transplants. How cool is that?!

I don’t have a count on the potatoes, but my new harvest forecast is for 150 pounds of produce this year. Go, garden, go!

Boom and Bust

Although there are still a few weeks of growth left before our first official frost date – October 9th – I have begun to consider this year’s growing season complete. Due to the enormous amount of weeds and neglect, I doubt I will attempt to plant any fall crops. Instead my attention has turned to prepping the yard for next year and reviewing our accomplishments and failures – the booms and busts, if you will.

Rabbit Haus? Not This Year

I was pretty darned convinced that meat rabbits were in our future – and they still might be – once I figure out how to prepare rabbit meat correctly…and get past “soft and fluffy with oh so beautiful eyes” to “tasty and edible.”

That mental acceptance is simply not there – and combined with the fact that I apparently suck at baking or stewing rabbit and I will be waiting on this for a while. It doesn’t make sense to grow an animal for meat that I don’t like the taste of (like I said, I’m not good at cooking them) and get nauseous over the idea of killing.

Millions of Apples…Peaches…Even Nectarines

I stood in front of our Granny Smith apple tree early this spring and discussed cutting it down with my husband and a guy from the County Extension. For eight years it had done absolutely nothing – a few apples here and there, small and worm-ridden.

It went on to produce over 140 pounds of apples this year – large ones, juicy, and (with the exception of two of fruits) worm-free.

As my dad said, “I’ve heard that talking to plants makes them grow better, but I don’t think they meant for you to threaten its life.”

Hey, whatever works…right?

We also pulled 88 pounds of peaches out of the lone peach tree and it took over three days of peeling, pitting and chopping to get it all in freezer bags or canned.

The nectarines were both bust and boom. We pulled over 60 pounds of nectarines out of the tree, but every single one of them had worms, so the chickens got them. We stored them in our Pepsi cooler in the garage and gave them several pounds a day for two weeks straight.

Next year…more dormant oil applications and more reducing of fruit buds so that the fruit can grow bigger and be hopefully worm-free.

Dandelion Wine

A year ago…maybe two…I picked a whole mess of dandelion flowers. Dave bought some high-end grape juice, raisins and yeast – and we attempted to make dandelion wine.

As we were cleaning the garage on Saturday, I noticed the five-gallon jug. I pointed it out to Dave and he shook his head, “I tried it when the Friends (yes, we have friends who have last name of Friend) were here, it’s awful. We need to pour it out.

As he tilted it into the sink, he first filled up a small glass for me to taste it. I took one small sip and reached for my water, “Oh my god, it tastes like I threw up in my mouth.”

Dave just laughed. “No seriously, Dave, it tastes like stomach acid!”

So yeah, that was a bust.

Twig House

Except for needing to duck slightly while inside, I love the twig house Dave built me for my birthday. Love it, love it, love it!

Crops That Failed

I planted hundreds of seeds of zucchini and swiss chard – nothing came up. I also planted quite a few sets of onions – which promptly withered and died in the heat of the summer. I was bummed that I couldn’t make zucchini bread, until…

Crops That Surprised

I began harvesting massive amounts of yellow squash this year. Over 22 pounds out of one 2×8 raised bed. I attribute this to multiple applications of diatomaceous earth. It stopped the vine borers in their tracks, or sent them off to the pumpkin patch (I lost all of the pumpkins we planted).

The potatoes were a great surprise. The first 2×8 patch of plants died back in mid-June and yielded over twelve pounds of potatoes. The second 2×8 bed yielded 14 pounds of potatoes six weeks later.

I’ve put all of the potatoes to good use – mainly by eating my 25 cent breakfast each morning.

It’s Never Enough

No matter what I pull out of the garden, it seems that it is never enough. Or as a reader of mine wrote recently,

I’m still proud of what I got from the garden but I wish it had been more.

Isn’t that always the case? I have yet to see a year where I was satisfied with every aspect of gardening. I think it will always be a work in progress. And that’s okay – it seems that gardening closely resembles life – they are both works in progress.

“You Cook More In One Day Than I Do in a Year”

“You Cook More In One Day…”

The fact that I spend far more time in the kitchen than I used to was brought home to me last weekend when my mom came to visit.

She works nights and called me to tell me that she would be dropping off her car for most of the weekend with her mechanic. “I’m so tired,” she said, “I’ve had less than three hours of sleep.” I told her I would meet her at the mechanic’s and bring her back to my house.

It had already been a busy Saturday morning. The puppy had gotten into the chicken coop, retrieved a chicken and terrorized it for probably an hour or more before we found her and chased her away from the chicken (more on that on Wednesday’s post). We had to repair the holes she had dug under the chicken wire and ensure it never happened again.

Being out in the yard led to watering and weeding. And that led to harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.

By the time my mom had called, I had already thrown some onions into the dehydrator, eaten breakfast and lunch, and washed, dried and folded several loads of laundry.

I left Dave and Emily to finish making the thumbprint cookies that Emily and I had mixed up and went to pick up Mom. I had tons more to do, so I dove in the moment we returned.

She watched as we made spaghetti sauce, prepped another 12 pound batch of apples for applesauce, and made dinner.

I looked over at her at one point and said, “Sorry Mom, I’ve just got so much to do!”

She paused, licking a toothpick clean of one of the flavored honeys I am selling at the farmer’s market. “You cook more in one day than I do in a year.”

She wasn’t far off – I really don’t remember much of my mom’s cooking quite honestly. I do remember her mother, my grandmother Mum, canning applesauce, apple butter, and tons of other stuff. I was a picky eater, however, and touched most of any food with distrust and reluctance. Her lemon meringue pie was to die for, however, and I haven’t had a decent one in over eleven years.

Truth be told, I don’t cook like this all the time. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t be looking in the refrigerator all too often with a confused and sad look, wondering what I can eat.

However that weekend was a particularly productive one. This was on the list of “got done”:

  • Dehydrated 12 ounces of onions (more on that in another post)
  • Made several 25 cent breakfast (only the smoked sausage is purchased, the rest is grown in our garden – I buy the sausage for $2, cut it 8 chunks and use one for breakfast each day)
  • Three quarts of applesauce
  • Applesauce cake
  • Old settler’s baked beans and corn on the cob
  • Apple pie with homemade crust
  • Spaghetti sauce (5 quarts)
  • Thumprint cookies (to use up some apricot preserves in the fridge)
  • Hamburgers

Good eating!

And honestly, keeping busy helped me keep my mind off the deep sadness that still occupies our waking hours.

Stay tuned…onions, sprouting everlasting supplies of them, dehydrating them, and using them in mixes is coming up on Wednesday.

Where Kell Got Her Kindness?

Okay, so this isn’t a post about gardening…or self-sufficiency…or crafts. But I’ll still claim its relevancy, because I cannot imagine my life being complete without my furry friends.

This morning as I was reading a news article from a while back about a Great Dane who helped save his mistress from being beaten by her abusive boyfriend, I realized just where my big girl Kellogg got her kindness.

Dixie Cup Dispenser…

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes…

Danielle’s cat, now in California – Maxwell House Coffee…

Tinkerbella Mason Jar…

Nearly all of our pets, at least the dogs and one cat, all have household food/object names. Don’t ask me why. It started with Dixie, who was actually named after Trixie, a dog I had as a teenager. Somewhere along the line Cup Dispenser was added to the poor pup’s name and a tradition was started. Eight years ago, a little eight-pound black mixed pup joined us and we named her Kellogg. I remember how my eldest spotted her at the garage sale, the day after my husband (then boyfriend) had flown off to California to pick up the last of his belongings…right after he had issued the “it’s a second dog or me” ultimatum.

I don’t know if it was my stubborn nature or an innate certainty that he didn’t really mean it, but Danielle called out, “Mom look, they have puppies at the garage sale!” and it was a done deal. It took me a week to get up the courage to tell him, over the phone, that we had a new addition. He just sighed and asked, “What’s her name?”

Kellogg didn’t stay small for long. Her feet were enormous, and Dave kept looking at them, commenting on their size, and wondering aloud how long dogs grow for and when this one would stop.

“Anytime now,” I lied, “I’m not really sure of her parentage.” Danielle was my co-conspirator and kept silent. It was months before I finally confessed, “Well, she’s going to be big. Her mama was a chocolate lab and pit bull mix…and her daddy was a Great Dane.”

“Great Dane!” Dave cried, outraged I hadn’t told him sooner. “Good lord, woman. Do you know how BIG Great Dane’s grow to be?”

And while Kellogg is smaller than a Great Dane, she isn’t that much smaller. She’s kind of fat, too. A big lumbering, bad hips, easy-going, plump eight-year-old now. And the kindest dog I could ever hope to know.

She has fostered a kitten and a pup, and dearly loves both of them. Her ‘son’, Einstein, our white kitty, was adopted by her after he returned from the emergency vet on death’s bed, having ingested an Aleve at the age of four months. It was days before he felt well enough to do more than lie there, nestled against her, and the deepest friendship between a dog and cat that I have personally ever seen was born.

Kellogg always seemed confused by Einstein’s inability to grow larger. I think that for a time she was convinced that our kitty was just an undernourished pup in need of toughening up. She would hold the cat down with one paw while gently gnawing on his skull with the other (yeah, that sounds like it must have been fun for the cat, don’t you think?). But Einstein never grew bigger, and eventually Kellogg stopped doing that, and accepted that her ‘son’ was a massively undersized runt.

They still sleep together. Or did until…

2012…January 11th…a litter of puppies were born on Dave’s birthday. I was convinced, it was meant to be!

A friend of mine had taken in a stray. Her kindness was rewarded by one very pregnant Chloe, who gave birth to TEN pups on January 11th. One died shortly after, but that still left nine squirming pups, seven girls and two boys. I was determined to have one.

I begged.

I argued.

I pleaded.

And then I ‘gave up’ – which is womanspeak for diversion. “I want meat rabbits,” I said. “I want to raise and kill my own rabbits for meat. Build me a rabbit hutch please.”

I didn’t know what to think when I got an okay on the rabbit hutch. When the pups were six weeks, and about to be shipped off to a rescue group, I asked one last time. “Can we please have a third dog?”

I don’t know who was more surprised when Dave said yes, me or him.

Down to my friend’s place we went, and I picked out one of the two light blonde ones. I had really wanted a brown one, but I guess I felt I owed Dave for being so accommodating – after all, I was getting a dog AND a rabbit hutch! So we brought home the blonde with a circle around her eye. And the three of us (Dave, me, and Kellogg) fell deeply in love with this bundle of wiggles. Emily took a while to warm up to the ‘baby’ and had some serious jealousy issues. She got over it though, as you can see here…

Don’t let this picture fool you…

This pup has plenty of energy. And I’ve seen Kellogg brighten up and look happy. She has a pup to play with again, for the first time in nearly seven years. She is loving it!

And as for Einstein? Well, he’s not too cool with the new addition, but we managed to capture this rare and unique moment the other day…

I love the innate kindness in this big, gentle dog. In our small house, she’s often spread out, right in the middle of things, and I must tell her at least once a day to move, to get out of the way, and Kellogg quietly obeys.

I can’t imagine our home without her…and Dixie…and now Bella. It’s perfectly overcrowded and smells of wet dog on rainy days, their muddy footprints constantly tracking over our floors.

But together they keep us company, keep us safe, and defend the property against ‘possum, raccoon, squirrel, and the occasional ravenous wild rabbit.

I love ‘em…every one of them!

Homemade Maple Syrup? It Makes “Cents”

I have really been enjoying the Quick Fix Healthy Mix: 225 healthy and affordable mix recipes to stock your kitchen cookbook. I’ve had several successes with the Quick Bread recipes – lots of appreciative noises were made during the feasting on the pumpkin bread recipe, as well as the banana bread and apple bread recipes. The Basic Quick Bread mix in the book makes it so darned easy!

One particular recipe caught my eye – that of Homemade Maple Syrup. I wasn’t sure what to think. We made the switch over to pure maple syrup about a year ago. It is thinner than the Mrs. Butterworth syrup, but I have been making an effort to slowly wean ourselves off of all high-fructose corn syrup products, and pancake syrup blends are chock full of them.

Away with thee, HFCS!

Short of tapping a whole bunch of maple trees, we were out of luck for making our own syrup…until this recipe.

It consists of 2 1/3 cups of water, five cups of brown sugar, and one Tablespoon of maple extract. Hmmm…

I took the chance and ordered the maple extract – 8 ounces of it.

The total came to $14.83 with shipping.

They sent two four-ounce glass jars…

Per the instructions in the book I heated 2 1/3 cups of water to boiling and then stirred in the 5 cups of brown sugar until it was completely dissolved.

Then I removed it from the heat and stirred it on and off for about five minutes, allowing it cool a little before adding the one tablespoon of maple extract.

Yes…it was that easy.

 

It made about 34 ounces of syrup…

And the taste?

Keeping in mind that it was warm and the purchased maple syrup was shelf temp, it tasted indistinguishable to me. Dave tasted it and said he liked what I had made better!

And here is the breakdown of how much it all costs…

$$ amount Ounces Price per ounce
Store bought  $   7.00 12.5  $ 0.56
Home Version  $  14.83 for 8 oz extract
 $  14.83 makes 16 batches  $   0.93 extract
 $ 1.20 brown sugar
 $ 2.13 for 34 ounces
 $ 0.06 per ounce

In case that chart is confusing (I made it on the fly), it costs a minimum of 56 cents per ounce to buy maple syrup in the store, or 6 cents per ounce for me to make it myself in no more than five minutes.

Next time I need it, I’ll purchase 32 ounces of the extract for only $24.99 plus shipping. That will practically halve the cost for the extract in the mix…

 

And seriously…you NEED this book!

Yowza – FRESH Horseradish! (and the Steak and Potato feast that followed)

As with many of the plants in our yards, we planted horseradish plants one year on a lark. It was probably a case of my husband saying how much he loved horseradish and me wanting to surprise him with our own plants. What says “I love you” better than growing your own horseradish?!

Of the four tiny plants I bought on eBay, three survived. That was, what, maybe five years ago?

Here they were, at the beginning of this year…

Now horseradish is a perennial, and it is the root that most people know best. Peel it, grind it up and make a sauce out of it. Yum! Yum!

Every year I would look at the plants and think, I really should dig some of that up this year. And each year I would forget. I was surprised to find it growing on the other side of the fence this year and realized that this was definitely the year to try and harvest some.

So right after the Great Carrot Harvest, we dug up the plant closest to the fence. We ended up with at least a pound of roots, possibly two. We cleaned them off and then placed them in this Ziploc bag…

They will keep nicely in the fridge.

For how long?

I have no idea. I’ll keep you updated on that!

While the coals heated outside in the bbq, Dave took a small piece, and began to peel it…

You will want to remove the fibrous outer coating and get to the white part underneath…

Take precaution, the juice of a horseradish can be even more potent than an onion…

Once you have peeled the horseradish, chop it into a few small pieces…

Add it to your food processor…

And process until finely chopped…

Now we made this fresh, and just kind of made up the ingredients as we went. So here is a very basic recipe:

  • 2 oz fresh horseradish root (peeled and chopped)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp water
  • pinch sea salt

Process horseradish in food processor until finely minced. Mix all ingredients together.

Now if you eat this right away, it is mild, not hot at all and amazingly delicious on baked potato and steak. Give it a day or two, and you are really in for a flavor-intense treat. The heat really comes through at three days, just so you know!

And don’t forget, horseradish puts off a lovely flower stalk each year. I gather the tiny blooms and add them to my Mixed Greens Medley.

Yum! Yum!

p.s. I think that horseradish is a lovely plant to incorporate into your landscaping.  Imagine the looks on your friend’s faces when they realize that lovely green plant is also quite edible.

Overgrowth…Overwhelmed!

I will preface this by saying, I have perfectionist tendencies yet I am full of imperfection.

And as happens each year – my will to garden wilts in the blasted high summer heat and then fades and dies by fall. Even after the miserable heat and high humidity has left and the gentle days of fall have settled in, I find myself unwilling to step outside. My interests turn to other things…

  • Fall activities with the kiddo
  • Planning my winter house projects (organizing, painting…hibernating)
  • Teaching more classes (I get a surge in the fall)
  • Craft projects I’ve been putting off when the weather was warm
  • Holidays

By the end of January I will be itching to dig my fingers into the dirt. I will peer out of the windows, frosted with ice, and wistfully dream of spring. It happens this way each year, without fail. I am nothing if not consistent.

Here is the yard, in all of its “glory”…

Okra grown out of control...and no, I didn't pickle any of them

I had a note in my computer reminding me to pick okra every other day. And then I went on a trip to Arizona…when I got back, they looked like this. [sigh]

Sad remains of soybeans

After taking the time to plant craploads of soybeans this year, I actually ended up harvesting too early, or too late.

I just like to call this...THE JUNGLE...

I think I am growing some amaranth in the right hand corner there…

THE JUNGLE...part deux

And one dirty little kitty...

The feed corn we collected from the ground at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped. I’m declaring corn growing in general a bust and moving on to other things.

So…that’s where we stand at the moment folks. No fall crops, not this year. Hopefully we will have some time on an upcoming weekend to plow under and add compost, leaving the beds prepped and ready to dig into once we have spring thaws.

Next weekend is Emily’s fifth birthday and I’m a little more concerned about getting the rest of the lingering mulch pile (mulch mountain #4) out of our driveway and the back patio scrubbed free of chicken poo. Oh, and the garage needs to be cleared so we can pull my uncle through in his wheelchair. All this in time for the party. After that, we are looking at the 2nd weekend of October before any other real work will get done.