Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September Garden update- Slowing Down.

Hard to believe it is already September. The summer went by way too quickly, but i'm looking forward to slowing down  bit. i've neglected my crafting all summer and am ready to start picking it up again. 

End of August and beginning of September, my tomatoes began to succumb to the early blight and septoria leaf spot. i picked the remaining tomatoes and pulled almost off of the plants. i still have a couple in pots, and a couple hanging on in a different garden, but i don't expect to get much from them.

i'm still getting a few summer squash, but pulled most of the squash plants too.  i put in new plants in July, but the squash borers killed most of them before they been started blooming.  i have two surviving plants, but one is starting to show signs of mosaic virus so this might be the end of my summer squash this year.  Tomatillos are starting to ripen and my peppers re finally starting to produce.

i planted a ton of  sweet peppers again this year. i've been watching them closely waiting for them to start to change color.  i always plant California wonder and they do really for me. They spend the first half of the summer looking a bit stunted, than once August hits they take off! They are now loaded with blooms, baby peppers, and fat green peppers waiting to ripen. They freeze really well, and i like to dice them or cut them in strips to use in all kinds of recipes. 

My winter squash struggled at the beginning of the summer and then made a comeback near the end of August.  i cut vine borers out of the stems really early July and didn't expect them to make it. My pumpkins did extremely well and their vines took over the patch. It wasn't until they began to die back that found the acorn and butternut squash. i also planted Red kuri, Delicata and Galeux D' Eysines but the vines died before they ever matured. i have one mystery vine that keeps producing small round yellow squash, but they rot before the mature and i haven't figured out which variety it is yet. i'm hoping at least one of them will make it to maturity just so i can figure out what it is.

Last year voles destroyed my sweet potato patch, but because they were just eating the potatoes underground, the plants continued to look healthy and i didn't have any idea about the voles until i went to dig the plants. This year, i've been digging them up and checking them constantly.  i pick off any tubers that are a good size and leave the rest to grow bigger. i've dug about 40 lbs so far, and still have lots in the ground.  i think the rest will do fine if i leave them until right before frost.  

Apples!!  Apples are a special treat, because we do not get them every year.  Some years are good for peaches, and some years are good for apples.  This year we got very few peaches because of a late frost,  but the apples did fantastic. Kenan has picked probably 2 bushel so far, and i've been canning and freezing applesauce a fast as i can. i also made a couple batches of apple butter.  These apples do not store well, they often have worms on the inside and have to be process quickly or they begin to rot within a week.   i look forward to pulling out some of this applesauce in the middle of winter. :)

This spring i was getting mostly white eggs and really wanted some color variation.  i purchased new chicks this spring, but have had to wait all summer for them to start laying.  Yesterday i collected these from the nesting box. The large brown egg on the left is from a Blakstar hen, the green one came from my Olive egger. The pink one on the right is brand new from my Tetra tint, this is her first egg and it's a pale pink. The white egg came from one of my wild girls, and the speckled on in the center is a complete mystery. i'm guessing it had to come from one of the Cream legbar mix, but i haven't seen either of them in the nesting boxes yet.  i'm hoping at least one of the CLB mix will lay blue eggs. Both of my Black Copper Marans ended up being Cockerels, so i'm still on the lookout for a BCM hen. Marans lay really dark brown eggs.  i'm really happy with the variety of eggs i am getting right now, and am eager for the other new pullets to begin laying. 

 i've been working this last week to clean out the spring and summer garden, and get the fall garden planted. i put in broccoli, cauliflower, purple cabbage, bok choy, kale, lettuce, spinach, peas, beets and carrots.   i have some things already planted, others started in containers and i keep planting more every time i go outside.  The weather has already begun to cool down, so i'm starting to slow down as well. 

Although i'm never really ready for winter, i feel really good about the amount of food i've put up this year. Especially since this time last year we were living in an RV, with no room to can or to store food.  i'm not yet done with the garden, but i've lost that manic urgency to grow as much as i can.  i have never liked the fall and winter, but i feel myself falling into the natural rhythm of the season and because that i am learning to embrace it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Saving the Monarch Butterflies and a Giveaway!

The number of migrating monarchs has been declining at an alarming rate. Right now it is at a record low since scientists started documenting them.  The monarch population has been dropping for a few reasons; widespread loss of the plant milkweed, which is the sole food source for the monarch caterpillars; changes in weather in North America and deforestation. 

Along our road there is lots of milkweed plants growing. During the summer the county road crews mow down the weeds that grow along the edge of the road, including the milkweed. So every summer we go out and gather as many monarch caterpillars and eggs as we can. Last year we did not find any, but this year we did. :)

The tiny eggs are very hard to spot if you do not know what you are looking for. i was lucky enough to witness a monarch laying her eggs a few years ago, so i've been able to spot them easily ever since.  They are typically white, but this one is just about to hatch so you can see the dark spot where his head is. 

The newly hatched caterpillar is less than 1/8" long. The first thing it does after hatching is eat it's egg. It then begins eating the milkweed.  Milkweed is the only food they eat.

We collected 10 caterpillars and eggs and set up a simple habitat for them in our laundry room. We used one of the insectlore butterfly garden enclosures and keep fresh milkweed in a vase of water, changing it out whenever necessary so the caterpillars have a constant source of fresh leaves. As the caterpillars grow they will shed their skin several times before they are fully grown and ready to pupate.

When the caterpillar is full grown it usually leaves the milkweed plant. It crawls off the milkweed until it finds a safe place to pupate. The caterpillar lays down a silk-like mat and then attaches itself to the mat. The caterpillar hangs upside down in a J-shape for about 24 hours.

The caterpillar then sheds his skin for the last time, exposing the chrysalis that is underneath. The new chrysalis is very soft at first, but hardens to create a protective shell.  In 10-14 days the chrysalis will darken and the butterfly will emerge.

Right before the butterfly emerges you can begin to see the color and pattern of it's wings as the chrysalis becomes transparent. 

When the new butterfly emerges it's wings are crumpled and wet. It will climb onto a branch and hang upside down letting it's wings straighten out and dry. On sunny days the wings will dry quickly, but when it is cool and overcast it can take a few hours before the butterfly is ready to be released.

Once the wings are fully dry we release them.  We have released five this year, and have 4 in chrysalises waiting to emerge. i love watching our newly released monarchs fly away. They seem to dance in the air and spin circles around us before disappearing.  These butterflies would not have survived if we had not collected them from the milkweed and provided a safe place for them to grow and pupate. Helping the monarchs on our road has become an annual activity for us, and we look forward to it every year. 

What can you do to help the monarchs? Plant milkweed in your flower gardens! Although milkweed is considered a weed to many, it is an important food source for the monarchs. They can not survive without it. Increasing the amount of  milkweed and native pollinator-friendly wildflowers and decreasing the amount of pesticide/herbicide use is a great way to help the butterflies.  

i want to help you help the monarchs by hosting a milkweed seed giveaway!  5 winners!

   One winner will receive a seed prize pack with milkweed seeds, cosmos, sunflower seeds, bachelor buttons and several other native wildflowers and nectar producing plants.

 Four runner ups will receive a pack of milkweed seeds.  US only.

To enter, fill out the rafflecopter form below. You may have to wait for it to load.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Summer Garden Meals

There is something magical about planting a tiny seed in the ground and watching it turn into a plant that produces food to feed the family.  Often times a garden just supplements what we buy from the grocery store, so it is always extra rewarding when we can create a meal that was entirely (almost entirely) grown at home.  Here are some of my favorites from this summer.

i rarely use recipes, i just sort of throw things together without measuring anything. So i'll give you a description of each meal, link to the recipe if i've posted one or link to a similar recipe if i haven't for those of you that prefer recipes with exact amounts.

1. Raw zucchini noodles with pesto and fresh tomato

This makes a really great light lunch.  i used a carrot peeler to create raw zucchini noodles, you can also use a veggie spiraler. Mix the noodles with a bit of homemade pesto.  i topped it with fresh diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of parmesan and pine nuts. If you don't have pesto, an alternative to this recipe is to dice a fresh tomato, add diced garlic and shredded basil then drizzle olive oil over it. Mix well and and top the raw zucchini noodles with it. Then add a sprinkle of feta or homemade goat cheese if you have some or leave the cheese off if you prefer.

2. Garden Veggie Frittata and Mock apple pie.

Click on the links above for the recipes. Our chickens provide us with lots of fresh eggs, so i love recipes that use garden produce and eggs.  You can make your frittata using many different garden veggies. In the spring i like to make them with spinach, swiss chard, morel mushrooms and asparagus, while summer frittatas tend to have lots of squash and tomatoes in them. You can create them with what ever garden veggies you have on hand.  The mock apple pie, doesn't fit as an entirely homegrown meal, but it was in my frittata picture so i included it anyway.It's always a good recipe for using up those giant zucchini.

3. Sauteed squash with onion, garlic and cherry tomatoes.  This is a simple and delicious meal. i included a similar recipe. All i do is heat up some olive oil and add diced garlic, sliced summer squash and zucchini . Saute about 5min-10min. you want your squash to be tender crisp, not soft and slimy. Add some shredded basil and cherry or grape tomatoes and heat another minute or two so the tomatoes are heated through. Then sprinkle with goat cheese, feta or parmesan if you like. Salt and pepper to taste.

4. Bruschetta topped with heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese.  Here is an official recipe for bruschetta if you need one.  All i do is take some sliced french bread, brush with olive oil and put under the broiler until it's lightly toasted on both sides.  You really have to watch it, it browns quickly. For the topping dice a couple tomatoes and place in a bowl. Add minced garlic and a handful of shredded basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and let sit a few minutes while the bread is toasting. Then spoon the tomato mix onto the bread and sprinkle with goat cheese, feta or whatever you like. Place under the broiler again, and heat just another minute or two being careful not to let the bread get too brown.

5. Garden Veggie Hash  This is favorite with breakfast dinner. Multi colored potatoes, peppers, squash, onion and garlic pan fried in a cast iron skillet and seasoned with salt and pepper. We usually serve it with scrambled eggs or omelets.

6. Rainbow Veggie Bake 

This is both beautiful and delicious.  All you do is dice onion and garlic, cook in olive oil till soft then pour in a 8x8 casserole or glass pie pan. Make sure the bottom of the dish is covered well with the oil mix. Then slice potatoes, squash and tomatoes and place them in the dish like this. add salt pepper, rosemary, italian seasoning etc. Drizzle with olive oil cover with tin foil and bake 30 min. remove foil, sprinkle with parmesan and italian cheese and bake another 15-20min. until potatoes are tender.  i used purple and red potatoes, zucchini and yellow squash, pink, yellow and purple tomatoes to give it lots of color.

 You can layer your veggies in a spiral in a round baking dish/pie pan or make rows in a square 8x8 casserole dish.  Both have a beautiful presentation and taste fabulous either way.

7. Ratatouille  This is a perfect fresh garden meal. Everything came from the garden except the olive oil, salt and pepper.  If you follow the link there is a recipe for ratatouille. When i make it i don't measure anything, i just chop a bunch of veggies and throw them all together.

8. Caprese salad with balsamic vinegar reduction
This is another really easy and delicious meal.  All that is in this is fresh tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinegar. If you want to use fresh mozzarella you can learn how to make it here.   For the balsamic vinegar reduction i used about 1/2 cup vinegar, and simmered it on med heat until it had reduced to about 2 tbsp and was thick, but still pourable. You can add a little honey if you prefer it sweeter. Let it cool while you slice the tomatoes.
 i used pink, purple and yellow tomatoes because i love color.  Slice your tomatoes and mozzarella cheese into 1/4" slices and  arrange them on your plate by alternate between the different colors and the mozzarella cheese, like above. Then add a handful of shredded basil, salt and peppers and drizzle the balsamic vinegar reduction over the top. Serve immediately.

These were just a few of my favorite garden recipes this summer. i hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Raising Question Mark Caterpillars

We have a huge crazy hops vine that grows up next to our fence. When we first moved here i picked a bunch of the flowers to dry thinking they would be useful. Turns out i'm extremely allergic to the hops pollen and have pretty much left it alone ever since. The vine is pretty out of control, it's  and has started winding around my bean fence and invading my garden. 

While pulling the hops that was in the garden i spotted this interesting looking caterpillar. Turns out it is a Question Mark Butterfly caterpillar and it eats hops. :)  i quickly began looking around the hops leaves and found 5 more caterpillars.

In the past we have raised Monarchs, Black swallowtails and Painted ladies.  We have always seen many Question Mark butterflies fluttering around. So i was excited to bring them inside. 

Raising caterpillars is easy as long as you know the food source for your caterpillar and have a good supply of it. Caterpillars eat a lot! 

We keep our caterpillars in a Butterfly Garden enclosure from Insectlore, but you can use an aquarium, one of those mesh pop up hampers,  just about anything.  We give them hops fresh leaves daily and keep the container clean.  The caterpillars eat for a couple of weeks and then shed it's skin for the last time to form it's chrysalis. Question Mark caterpillars spin pink silk to secure their feet before hanging upside down and making a J. i've never seen that before!!

The chrysalis is pretty neat looking. Those little white/silver dots shimmer like jewels. 

In 10-15 days the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. It will hang upside down for a little while to dry off it's wings. It's not unusual to see some pigment stains in the container from the excess pigment on the wings. Depending on the color of your butterfly it sometimes looks like blood, but it isn't.  

Once it we noticed it opening and closing it's wings we decided it was time to release it. We took it outside and my daughter held it out on her finger until it flew away.  

Question Mark butterflies are  beautiful butterflies, but often go unnoticed. They sit with their wings closed and look more like a dead leaf than a butterfly. The Question Mark gets it's name from the question mark symbol on it's wing.  They look very similar to Comma butterflies, but Comma butterflies have a comma, but no dot on their wings.

After releasing this guy we watched him sit on the fence post soaking up some sunshine and letting his wings finish drying. Not long after i snapped this picture he flew away. It doesn't matter how many times we raise and release a butterfly it's a magic experience every time.