Saturday, July 31, 2010

Raspberries and an ex watermelon

Picked the first two raspberries from the new patch this afternoon. Delicious and pest free!

Unfortunately my watermelon is not so pest free. I have no idea what could be inflicting this kind of damage. A few of my low growing tomatoes have had the same sort of damage. Very mysterious. Anybody out there have any clues?
They're fenced in, too. Hm. Curious.

The Finished Duck Run

The lady ducks are enjoying their new run. Unfortunately the drakes are ridiculously obsessed with trying to breed the duckling so we had to separate them. Hopefully I'll get to the store to pick up more PVC to make another run this weekend. We've had some sort of rapter bird soaring over the farm this week. It's not anything I recognize from a distance... Maybe a kite or a falcon. Not a buteo, I don't think. Humm.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Building a new duck run

I spent my afternoon

yesterday building a new run for our ducks. It's actually a test run (heh) on a design I originally came up with because i'd really like to get chickens and they need taller runs for perching.
I had one major flaw in my design and that was that I was drilling 1/4" holes in 3/4" PVC poles, making them snap when bent. Next time I'll buy metal brackets to attach the PVC.

Overall I was quite thrifty. I used 4" furring strips for the base, and a 2" furring strip for the top. The 4" cost $1.97 each and the 2" cost $.82. Super cheap! The overall cost ended up being less than $14.00 for the structure and then roughly $7 for the poultry netting over the outside. Just over $20 isn't bad for a new poultry run!

I attached the netting with UV resistant zip ties. This whole project was very non-traditional, but it made a good mockup for the plans I drew. When I make another I'm going to reinforce it like crazy. Thisll keep the hawks at bay for now.

My final photo is of my bargain find yesterday at the supermarket. I had been thinking about planting grapes along the fence line, but the price of grape vines really can be ridiculous. I found these little babes on the clearance rack waiting for me. They were $1.74 each and while I realize I should be planting good stock these appear to be totally healthy and without any spots, blemishes or wilted areas. I picked up eight total vines, though their varieties are escaping me at the moment. I also picked up three latham raspberries and four Chester blackberries for the same price.
I'll be keeping those over winter in large pots on the far side of the yard to observe them: kind of a quarantene to make sure they're as healthy as they seem. Overall I ended up with sixteen fruiting plants for less than $30... Woo!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pushy pumkins and exponenial growth

This is madness. I was out of town for like five days, leaving my gardens in the capable hands of my awesome friend Kay. Upon returning, my pumpkins had escaped from my three sisters garden and run rampant across the field. They grew more than fifteen feet in five days!

On top of the pumpkins traipsing across the yard, they've also rudely invaded the fenced veggie garden! I tried to beat them back to little avail. They're supposed to be in the left of the wire fence in this photo... Not creeping over it!

This story does have a happy ending though. In the five days and fifteen feet of growth, these amazingly powerful plants have produced several giant green pumpkins! There are at least seven fruits, all the size of my head and if you know me at all you know that means they are very, very large. :)

Alpine strawberry and mater worms!

First ripe white alpine strawberry of the year! This little guy packed quite a lot of taste. It's sweetness actually reminded me of the same pure sweetness of really good watermelon. Delicious! By next year I'll have propagated a whole patch of these babies! :)

T-t-t-tomato H-h-hornworms! It took me an hour to find the jerks that did this. I really seem to be out of practice when I comes to hornworm spotting. I finally found two of them munching away happily. The worst thing about hornworms is that if you hurt them they make little buggy screamy clicky noises. Ugh. Ah well. I like to live with as many garden pests as I can, but I draw the line at hornworms.

I introduced our cat, Harrison, to them and then promptly gave them over to the ducks who made quick work of them. Funny that they should be present in two very separate areas of the garden, but be on the same tomato variety, purchased from the same greenhouse. I'm betting they came with the maters. Bummer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Geriatric kitty update: the tumor

Things are coming to a close for my little-old-lady-cat, Cleo. After her weight loss I started feeding her anything she'd eat and she gained quite a bit back. It wasn't until a few days later that I found a mass in her belly. A big mass.
It didn't seem to hurt her and in her fragile state I was hesitant to take her to the vet, so I called for a consult and learned it could be a tumor or an abscess. Either way it would either get way better or way worse so I decided to hold off the vet visit.
Five days later an abscess burst and she was suddenly much perkier. I took her in to the vet to have it cleaned (she fit 100ml of solution into the wound! Holy crap!) and was very saddened to learn that the abscess occurred because of s large mammory tumor on Cleo's lower teats. Because of her age (nearly 20) there is no hope in surgery. She is in mild renal failure and the vet said realistically she probably has a month, two at the most, left of life.
My poor kitty. 70-80% of feline mammory tumors are adenosarcoma (I think that's it...? I assume that's sarcoma growth of an adenoid...? No clue.) Basically it will next spread to her lungs and that will be when I have to make the final decision.
Anyway she is now home and on antibiotics for her abscess. She is comfortable, perky and very much herself. I give her subcutaneous fluids every couple of days and she seems to have clear lungs for now.
I have had Cleo since I was 6... She has been a constant in my life for as long as I remember. I'll miss her when she goes, but she has had an incredibly long and happy life.

Overdue recipe alert!

I've been meaning to post this for weeks but as the previous post alludes to I've had technical difficulties the have frustrated me to the point of just needing a damned break from blogging.
For my parents' farewell picnic (they moved to NH) I needed a dessert. I had just finished making marscapone from local milk and needed to use it before it soured. Thus I created one of the best desserts I've ever eaten!

It may not look like much but it was fantastic!
Marscapone Cherry Tortes:
1c. Marscapone cheese
9-10 Fresh black cherries, halved and pitted
Pie crust dough, pre-made and rolled to fit a standard pie tin.
Brown sugar

First you cut your pie crust into 6 even wedges. They'll be very roughly triangular.
Grease a set of six muffin tins. I always use butter- it cooks into the crust better than the more synthetic stuff.
Next push each sixth of pie crust into the muffin tins, keeping the three corners accessible.
Dollop 1-2 tablespoons of marscapone into the bottom of each cup. In hindsight I would also press a bit of brown sugar into the crust before this to create a butter-tart-type carmelization where the marcapone touches the crust.
Place 3-4 cherry halves, cut side up, on the surface of the marscapone and dust with brown sugar. If you prefer sweeter tarts you can toss them in sugar first.
Fold the three corners of the crust up over the cherries and bake according to crust directions Another hindsight: painting the crust with milk after closing the tart would have given me browner, prettier tops to them.
You can do this with ANY fruit! Raspberries and chocolate? Strawberries with honey? Pears with nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar? Be creative! I plan to do some of these for my wedding. They're SO easy, especially if you aren't making your own marscapone first. They're a quick way to make an elegant dessert in a time/money crunch.
I'm going to try the with chocolate yogurt-cheese substituted for marscapone next!

The mysterious picnic post

I've tried to post about my recent picnic dinner experience countless times now and each time something has caused my blogging software to crash. This wouldnt be such a drag except I am posting from my phone so blogging is rather time intensive.

So I decided the other day to have a picnic dinner for my family. My parents are moving to New Hampshire this week and I wanted to have a get-together before they left. I'm pretty sure they weren't expecting to eat out-of-doors when I invited them, but, as mosquito netting is my new favorite toy, I figured we'd give it a whirl.
For dinner we had chicken from my good friends' farm. I talked them into raising some meat birds in with their layers for me this spring and this is the result:

I am not a big meat cooker but this chicken was super easy! I simply rubbed it with salt, paprika, pepper, Rosemary and thyme and stuffed it with lemon wedges.
In addition to the chicken I also made salad from local greens, beans from my garden, homemade goat cheese and local bread, summer squash muffins (also homegrown), and a fantastic dessert of cherry tortes.

These purple beans are so sweet and tender. They cook up green so they're a bit less festive when steamed, but so much tastier than their green buddies. I will have to see if I still have the seed packet from them so I can plant them again next year. I guess if all else fails I'll just collect and dry the seeds from one of the plants this fall. I know it's an heirloom...

I forgot to photograph my finished goat cheese! This was a huge hit with everyone except my brother (he's not a cheese fan- blows my mind)... This was a beautiful little log of lemon cheese, sprinkled with dill. We had it on local French bread and it was perfect! I will definitely be making more. Seems this would make an awesome holiday gift...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

We forgot the crackers!

So I managed to make some marscapone cheese before bed last night. I haven't got photos of the finished stuff yet but it's very subtle and pleasant.

It's definitely a baking or cooking cheese due to it's simplicity, but I'm sure I can come up with something to use it for. Maybe a spread for fresh zucchini bread? Mm.

After the marscapone I drained the whey from the lemon cheese. It's a bit more lemony than I'd hoped, but such is the nature of experimentation.

I hung the draining curds over my kitchen counter for three hours. The whey creates the most wonderful smell as it drains. This was such a fun experiment for me. I'm sure I'll do it again.

After three hours, I checked on the lemon cheese. It was still pretty moist so I wrapped it again and put it I'm the colander for overnight refrigeration. This morning it's the perfect texture! Haven't tasted it yet but was thinking of spreading it on French bread with raspberry preserves for breakfast.
All in all I'd say this was a successful first foray into the world of cheesemaking. I'm sure I'll continue in it.

My final photo is from inside my mosquito netting that I've hung from one of the apple trees. It's the perfect solution for wanting to nap in the grass during the summer. I highly recommend this netting to anyone who has ever daydreamed of sleeping out-of-doors but has balked at the thousands of bloodsucking little fiends buzzing about the yard.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

... not even Wensleydale?

I set off on a cheesy adventure today. I attempted my first batch of soft cheese: a lemon cheese made with goats milk. There were a few recipes online that sparked my interest, but this was the one I wanted to try first.

Supposedly similar to chevré, it is white, creamy and simple. Of course, it's not done yet. (Also pictured in the photo of the lemons is a bowl from the amazing green and white marble enamelware set -35 pieces!- that I found at treasure mart yesterday!) The recipe that I used claims a quick fifteen minute set, but as I had to use ultra pasturized milk (not a lot of options for goat milk in SE Michigan- contact me if you have a resource!) it won't ever truly set up the way I want it to. Most of the other recipes call for a 6-12 hour set before straining so I'll give that a shot.
I'm sort of muddling through this as I go. That's what most of these cheesy websites suggest, too. It can be both a science and an art, requiring precision in temperature and base procedure, and expression in finishing, seasoning and method. Heh.

Anyway, hopefully it'll work. If not, it's back to the drawring board for moi.
Maybe I'll attempt some marscapone cheese before dinner..
Or maybe I'll sit on my couch and figure out the best place to get butter cloth, rennet and various cheese cultures...

Geriatric kitty woes.

The hard thing about have a seriously geriatric cat is that some times they have such severe ups and downs that you end up with whiplash.
My nineteen year old kitty, Cleo, lost at least a third of her body weight this past week. She's such an independent cat I didn't notice at first. When I did notice, I gave her subcutaneous fluids and as much high end cat food as she'd eat. Then, yesterday morning, I noticed as she lay flat out on the floor that there was a lump on her abdomen. At first I thought it might be a distended bowel or something but now I'm pretty sure it's a tumor. I obviously can't tell of it's cancerous or not, though it sprang into being very quickly. The dilemma I'm having is that she has some really seriously issues with going to the vet. She gets very stressed (hyperventilating, gagging, drooling, etc) and she gets super vicious. She's never been to the vet without inflicting wounds on at least one person; the last time it was me, and two serious bites. Because of her taste for human flesh she must be muzzled and "bagged" and sometimes sedated in order to be handled for anything more than a palpation.
I made the decision yesterday to hold off the visit to the vet as she was in a sort of limbo. If she gets better I'll take her for tests, and if she gets worse I'll take her for euthanasia.
This morning she seems better. She is sleeping in a normal upright position, eating and drinking and she even meowed at the door of her room to come out, albeit only once.

For now I think it's the waiting game. She's always been a peculiar cat when it came to health issues. Why should this be any different?

Update: Cleo passed away September 24th, 2010 on her 20th birthday. She was so willing and resigned at the vet that I can't help but feel like she was definitely ready. She was my kitty for twenty years and she'll always have a special place in my heart. As she slipped from this world she reminded me of one thing... she's always been a little wench. Just before dying she launched herself up off the table and tried to bite me - something she has been trying to do her whole life. I couldn't help but laugh to know that even to the end she was ornery and mean.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Horse training in a heat wave.

This weather is getting old. We've had 95+ degree weather for the past 3 days and today is supposed to be the worst yet. I know I'm a wimpus but it sure makes horseback riding difficult!
I did manage to get out to ride Aoife (14.1hh crabbet arabian mare, 9yo) yesterday. I was tacked and ready by 7AM and I and my horse were still dripping ten minutes in.

We worked on an awesome 2'6"-2'9" course (if I do say so myself) with a line of ascending oxer to descending oxer to improve her bascule over the jumps. The descending oxer also contained a picket fence plank that Aoife was totally not a fan of, but she was willing.
She did beautifully at everything I threw at her, though she was pretty ticked that she missed her hay with her herdmates and kept inching towards the gate to her field or stiffening against the rein away. She got plenty of hay afterwards though I'm sure it's more the social activity that she missed.
After doing our stadium jumps we suited up (flyspray and SEI vest) and went out on the trails to school some cross country jumps. Aoife hasnt ever done much cross country. She's done small standard jumps out in the field, but that and railroad ties are about it. We didn't do much but it was enough to confirm that she'll go over pretty much anything I point her at. I think the highest we did was probably 2'6". She was great. I can't wait to school her away at Copper Creek!
Afterwards she followed me right into the wash stall having only been in it once before and years ago. She was happy to be hosed off and even happier to roll in the dirt afterwards. She's a grey horse. I have come to terms with her love of dirt. :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A productive day, all before noon.

Jeremy and I made it out first thing this morning to the very opening of this week's Saturday farmer's market in Ann Arbor. It has grown exponentially in the past two years and now you can find everything local from veggies, fruits, dairy, lmeats, leather, grains, flours, eggs, plants, chocolate, coffee... Even locally grownand pickled kimchi and Egyptian pickled turnips! It was a great experience. I picked up blueberries, chocolate icecream and an amazing local yogurt with a great culture from Thomas Organic Creamery, pickled turnips, and an angel food cake from Grandma's Kitchen.
The angel food cake and the icecream we later took to lunch with my mom for a surprise dessert in the park. They were delicious!

After the market I spent the morning hours tilling planting and fencing a strawberry bed. I had tried to put strawberries under my raspberry plants but they ended up expensive fodder for the local rabbit population. Bummer. These are fenced though. Fragaria ananassa "sparkle" I think. I put a couple of wild strawberry plants at the bottom of the patch too (Fragaria virginiana).

I have cardboard down to help smother the grass between raspberry rows, but I really haven't seen a huge problem with the grass growing up around the raspberries. It's not "pretty" but it shades the new growth and as I pull it out bit by bit by the time I get it all the plants will be established.

Did I mention I got a new pair of overalls? They're "Rosies" brand and not only do they fit perfectly; they zip off into shorts, have a zipper pocket AND have built in knee pads for gardening!
They're the best. I highly recommend them.

My final snapshot comes from my late afternoon perch on my bed. It's too hot to move and living in a stone house only keeps you so cold without an airconditioner. This is hot. Hot and humid. Ah well. Such is Michigan!

... Ugh. Judging from the squeaks I'm hearing in the distance I have to go brave the heat now. The drakes are chasing the duckling again. Nothing like tough love on the farm! Ducks should have to take parenting classes. This is ridiculous. Lesson one: don't pick up your offspring by the head...

Of strawberries and snakes

This was supposed to post yesterday but I forgot to publish it. Ah well.

This morning I had a bit of spare time before my last day running the camp before August. I've taken July completely off to prepare for my wedding. More on that in a later post.

Within the first few minutes of my morning I'd made quite a few little discoveries. The first was that my June bearing strawberry patch is still producing tasty albeit small berries in abundance.

The berry plants were starting to runner so I assumed they were done for the year. Boy was I wrong! I picked nearly two cups! These are the super sweet musky berries of the late season that bruise easily and are generally pretty ugly. Tasty though.

My next surprises were powdery mildew on various cucurbits and septoria leaf spot on some of the tomatos. Nothing too bad, so I sprayed (organically) and went on my way.

The final surprise came when I lifted the cardboard where I have plans for a final (yeah right) strawberry bed. Thirteen garter snakes lay in little plops all over the ground! They had obviously crawled in for shelter from the 50 degree nights we've had. Naturally the little kid in me demanded I play with one. After a bit of musk it quickly became docile. Of course I let it go.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Relaxing Morning

This morning I was determined to get some gardening in. With the summer camp in full swing I cam hardly find spare daylight to garden in so this morning I ventured out around six to see what I could see. Naturally there were good things and bad.

First I spotted a large yellow summer squash that I'd neglected to notice. It was slightly overgrown and still super delicious, much sweeter than I remember them being.
On closer inspection however I discovered the first of the bad news. Striped Cucumber Beetles. Ugh. I then proceeded to spend nearly my entire morning scouring, discovering and squishinh them. I'm nearly positive I peaked into every blossom of every cucurbit (sp?) in the yard. As the sun warmed the air they got quicker and I know I missed at least one. I think I have a new hobby. :)

In my wanderings this morning I snapped a quick snap shot of my annual bed that's under the clothesline pole. It's doing well despite being infested with ants and planted in 2-3 inches of dirt on top of the concrete base.

Here's a photo of my three rare heirloom melons. I started them pretty late but I was desperate to give them a shot this season. Left to right are: Petite Gris de Rennes (charantais), Minnesota Midget (cantaloupe) and Golden Midget (watermelon). They're all supposed to be short season anyway, maturing in 60-80 days so I figure as long as I trick them into think it's spring by keeping them in very early/late day shade I may get some fruit. If not, I have more seeds for next year.

In case anybody us curious about what I do with my time at the camp, here are two shots of the jumps we are building this week. We wanted shorter interesting jumps to give the beginners a chance to jump something interesting.