Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chicken Wings

Allow me to introduce you to our chicken coop. Sure it may not have a living roof (yet), but at least it no longer has "chicas" spray painted across the door. It has also been expanded now so the fenced in area which never quite made sense serves a purpose. It gives the girls a little place to scratch and peck to their little hearts content. This means no more poop all over the patio, chickens flying onto the table during meals or tomatoes getting ripped to pieces by ravenous chickens!

On a side note. Did you know that chickens are attracted to the color red? This seems like a interesting quirk until they are eating your beautiful ripe tomatoes or chase you around the yard trying to peck your freshly painted toes!

Once the girls were granted access to their new run, it quickly became apparent that a 3 foot fence was not tall enough to keep them inside. Jeff finally decided that he needed to clip some wings to keep the ladies in. He clipped Stinky first. She is the alpha of the group, and he clipped the one set of flight feathers right before his lunch break ended (this might seem obvious, but just in case, only clip one wing. If you clip both they will still be able to fly). He went back inside figuring he'd do the rest after work, but to his surprise, no chickens left the pen for the rest of the day. Apparently, without stinky to lead the way, the other chickens were perfectly content to stay inside their pen. So if you ever find yourself with lots of chickens but little time, just clip the alpha and your task is done!
unclipped clipped

Tying Up The Loose Ends

Its that bittersweet time of year my friends when the last of the summer garden is still trying to produce one last fruit. I have a hard time pulling up my tomato bushes. I want to wait until they are 100% dead, but that means I wait a long time for them to stop giving me one tomato here and there. Truly, I am hoping that yesterdays windstorm knocked a few of them down so I'll know that I have to pull them up.

My mom, however, does not feel this same guilt at tearing her still green tomato plants out of the soil in preparation for winter. All of her plants are already in the green waste bin and her last bit a food preservation finished for the winter. Enjoy her guest post.

For the last month my tomato production has been slowing drastically. No longer was I picking enough to can in one day. So as to not waste the ones that were more than I would eat fresh, every week I would take those that were fully ripe, peel them and cut them up over a strainer. The juice that came off was very thin but delicious and I put that in the refrigerator to drink fresh. The rest I put in baggies and froze. Today I pulled up the rest of my tomato plants so the frozen pieces that I had been saving for the last month were ready to can. I thawed them out, ran them through the juicer with some carrots, onions and garlic, boiled up the concoction and canned it. It is the consistency of V8 juice but has no salt or things I can’t pronounce in it. Ad a dash of hot sauce and it makes the most delicious Bloody Marys. I ended up with 11 pints canned and a quart in the refrigerator to use in the next few days. Thus ends my 2009 tomato canning. I now have stewed tomatoes for winter chili, homemade tomato soup to go with the toasted cheese sandwiches, salsa for my tacos and juice for my bloody marys. It’s going to be a good winter.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pretty Pansys

My mom bought these Copperfield Pansies from a nursery up in the Marysville/Yuba City are and I can't stop staring at them. I've never seen pansies in autumn colors before. I desperately want a pot chuck full of these beauties right next to my door with the pumpkins.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lazy Saturday Morning....Afternoon

OK, so maybe I didn't wake up until the morning was almost over. Apparently I do not have the farmer's ability to wake up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday, but I can live with that. When I did finally wake up this morning, I headed straight for the yard to pick some roses.

Perhaps its the result of the rain storm we just had, but Jeff's roses seemed to be doing one last hurrah for the season this weekend. I picked enough roses to make four bouquets of different sizes. I remember when Jeff bought this house, I had dastardly plans to get rid of most of the roses. They were suffering from a severe case of neglect and made his house look even more old ladyish. I have came to feel differently about the roses however, when I realized that they are some of the most fragrant roses I've ever met. I don't know what kind they are, but I'm assuming they are some old varieties become they smell like they had been sprayed with pure rose oil right before you sniff them. In a world that is full of scentless roses, this yard, with its eight amazing rose bushes is a real treat.

I did find a little hitchhiker though as i was distributing the bouquets around the house. This little baby snail was so cute and small that I went against my inner gardener and let it be, even though Jeffry's front yard has a major snail infestation. Did you know, that the snails in California are the same kind the French eat? I'm intrigued by the idea of free protein wandering around by the handful right outside the door. I wonder....

After flower picking and snail pondering had finished. I picked some fresh bell pepper for the pico de gallo Jeffry was making to go with our quesadillas. The food processor made it quick work as he just threw the tomatoes, onion, bell pepper and chile in, whirled it a few times and poof! Fresh pico de gallo magically appeared.

To finish off, I discovered a while back that the fruit from my pineapple guava was not lost, but still on the tree, just camouflaged. They finally ripened so I picked one and Jeffry and I gave it a try. They were not what I expected. They taste nothing like pineapple. I think they taste like a cross between a pear and a kiwi, and Jeffry thinks they taste like a cross between a pear and grape. I think the lesson we learned is that they don't taste very comparable to other fruits and are a flavor all their own. I'm going to wait another week and then pick another one to see if the taste changes. The flesh seems like it should have been a bit softer. We agreed that these little guys would make great jam, pie (perhaps mixed with strawberry) or a unique addition to fruit salad. Pineapple guavas are pretty productive once they mature, so I'm looking forward to making all these things in the future.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Answer My Friend....

For anyone who somehow managed to miss the weather yesterday, I took this picture at school. I think it pretty much sums it up. I was not foolish enough to attempt to carry an umbrella, but many people at my school were, and thus most of the trash cans I passed walking back to my car looked like this one.

Although my umbrella was safely stowed in the back of my car, my garden was not so Lucky. Natomas is generally windy anyways, but yesterday was like a scene from the Wizard of Oz. I guess it was a good thing I ripped up a few of my tomato plants on Sunday. It was easier than coming through and trying to clean up the destruction.

Here is a bit of a rundown of my casualties. My borage, which was happy and healthy on Monday, has started turning a sickly shade of brown and slumped over the side of it's pot. Perhaps a Syrian native isn't going to like the cold wet winter. The wind knocked over my corn, but at least that was a failed experiment anyways. It also knocked over the jewel of my garden, a giant pear tomato plant that was at least seven feet wide and five feet high. It was so big I had to tie its branches to my fence to keep them from taking over the rest of the garden. I'd been putting off taking a picture of its gloriousness, and now alas, it is too late. A large portion of the top half of the plant was ripped off the fence by the wind and now lies in a tangled mess. The wind also attempted to blow over my Roma which, while pretty shaken up, stood it's ground. Perhaps it helped that the yellow pear tomato fell on top of it and held it more or less in place! You can't see much of it in this picture, but my peter pan squash also looks a bit miffed at being so abused yesterday.

The only plants that seem happy by this turn of events are my greens. My more mature kale, spinach and chard seemed tickled to death that they got to bath in cold water all day. Even the brand new seedlings I'd just planted on Sunday seemed to come through the whole thing unscathed. I guess now I really have to tear the last bit of summer out of my garden, and commit to my winter crop.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Project Cider

Hello friends, there is a comic whom I don't particularly like, but he did tell a joke once that I found particularly inspiring and it went something like this:

If life gives you lemons, then find someone who life has given vodka, and have a party!

Well life hasn't given me lemons, but it did give me apples and thanks to the Internet and my local brew store it also gave me (allowed me to purchase) brew supplies and instructions. With these things in hand Project Cider went underway and my family and I now have five gallons of apple cider hopefully fermenting in my old bedroom!

We basically followed the directions from Mother Earth News for making hard cider. The only thing we changed was using potassium metabisulfite for sterilizing the bucket and to kill the wild yeast. This means we never cooked out cider or used bleach.

Here is what we've done so far:

1.) Wash, core and juice +/- 120 lbs. of assorted apples (the picture shows maybe a 1/3 of the apples used). We used primarily Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Mutsu's, but we also threw in a few Rome Beauties just for fun. The goal is to get 5 gallons of juice.

2.) Sterilize a brewing bucket with potassium metabisulfite diluted in water.

3.) Add juice and 5/8 tsp. metabisulfite to bucket and allow to sit for 24 hours.

4.) Add 10 cups of brown sugar and yeast to the mixture and cover till the airlock stops bubbling, should take about two weeks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pitcher Plant

About a year ago, i saw the most beautiful giant red pitcher plants at Trade Joe's. There were striking and intense and looking back on it, only $8. Unfortunately, I was feeling particularly cheap or poor that day and I passed. I though to myself, "maybe next time." But there never was a next time. The next time I went into Trader Joe's there were gone, never to be seen again.

Yesterday when I went to Trader Joe's I saw that they once again were carrying pitcher plants. Perhaps they are not veined with as much scarlet as the ones I saw last year, and perhaps they are not as big, though they are the same price :-( , but alas I could not make the same mistake twice. So I bought myself the pitcher plant and painfully passed on the wonderfully eery corkscrew grass (maybe next time). So now my desk has a lovely decoration which I think is fitting for the Halloween season.

Carnivorous plants need a lot of water since they are generally found in boggy locales. To give my plant that boggy place to call home I am using a self watering pot. As you can see in the picture, three is a circular pot which rests inside of the square one. The circular pot is very porous so it allows the water which fills the square pot to seep into it. I'm hoping this will keep my carnivorous new friend nice and happy!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fall Color

I stumbled upon a California native this week that is the cure for those who misses the brilliant fall colors of back east. Its called Roger's Red and it's a grape vine! This little vine will grow three to six feet each year, produce seedy grapes for the birds to eat, and best of all it turns a brilliant red in the fall. I haven't see one in person yet but I'm already thinking of places I could put one of these beauties as soon as I find it! Click here to learn more about this plant.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Pumpkin Scones

Hello friends, I hope you all got out to enjoy the nice fall weather this weekend. My sister sent me a recipe in keeping with my fall theme that I had to try out now that the weather is perfect for heating up the oven. Although these pumpkin scones didn't turn out as pumpkiny as I expected, they were super moist and made the house smell wonderful! I was feeling particularly domestic so I used a pie pumpkin for this recipe, but you could substitute if for canned if you like. So pour yourself a hot glass of apple cider and enjoy this fall treat!
Pumpkin Scones

About 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) butter cut into chunks
3/4 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1. Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and place cut side down on a cookie sheet with a thin layer of water in it. Bake at 350 degrees until a fork inserted through the skin slides through the pumpkin (about 1 hour).
2. In a bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt. Add 1/2 cup butter and, with a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub in until pea-size crumbs form.
3. In a small bowl, whisk pumpkin and 1/2 cup milk until well blended. Add to flour mixture and stir just until dough is evenly moistened.
4. Scrape onto a lightly floured board, turn over to coat, and gently knead just until dough comes together, 5 or 6 turns. Pat dough into a 6-inch round 1 1/2 inches thick; cut into 6 equal wedges.
5. Separate wedges and place on a lightly buttered 12- by 15-inch baking sheet. In a small bowl, beat egg yolk and 1 tablespoon milk to blend; brush lightly over tops of scones (discard any remaining egg wash). In another small bowl, mix granulated sugar and remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon; sprinkle evenly over scones.
6. Bake in a 375° regular or convection oven until scones are golden brown, 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a rack; serve warm or cool.