Last Saturday we went blackberry picking at "Scout Farm", a piece of land near us that is owned by the Boy Scouts. The wild blackberries are free for the picking, and all Scout families can go up there whenever they like. My kids (especially Chipmunk) tend to eat every single blackberry off our bushes as soon as they are picked, and I wanted to make a cobbler. So we packed into the van and headed up to Scout Farm.
I have to warn you, though, the whole experience was less idyllic than those of you who live in the city or suburbs might assume. In order to thoroughly understand this experience, you must add to these pictures the sounds of gunfire not as far away as you might hope (target practice, I am assuming); the grumbling noise of construction equipment; and the chug-chug of an old tractor cutting hay. Mix them all together, and you have a nice "quiet" day in the country.
One of the first things we saw were these prints. The picture doesn't do them justic, because they were big. Bigger than dog prints. Bear maybe??
This is a beaver pond, but we couldn't find the lodge.
Andy and Katydid did most of the picking. I was busy keeping track of Chipmunk, and the boys decided they would rather "hunt bear" than pick blackberries, even with the promise of blackberry cobbler.
Fortunately, they did not find one.
Katydid and I had more luck "hunting" with the camera.
Frost Aster, by Katydid.
On the way home, we saw a porcupine crossing the road, but Andy couldn't get a good picture. Can you see him in the grass there, a big blob of white-tipped quills?
Landscapes from the way home...
And finally, blackberries for cobbler:
Peonies, by Katydid
Violets?, by Katydid
Wood Anemone?, by Katydid
Lily of the Valley in the woods, by Katydid
Daisies in the garden (by me)
Mysterious blue flower from the wildflower mix Katydid sowed in the garden
More flowers from the wildflower mix
Grass in the field
I thought this was cranesbill, but after googling, I've discovered it isn't. Any ideas?
Weather: A front is approaching and it's supposed to rain for the next three or four days. Temperatures will remain in the low to mid 60's because of the rain, but will hopefully rise into the 70's this weekend. In spite of the fact that we've had a lot of rain recently, the ground seems bone dry. The little boys come in every night covered in a layer of dust that builds up in the bottom of the bathtub.
In bloom: Those darn peonies are STILL not blooming. Pip and Pop have been picking the buds to give to me. If they take any longer to become flowers, there just aren't going to be flowers, period. Our cinquefoil bush erupted into flower today, though, and the rose bush's buds are swelling. The irises are in full bloom, and I am thinking that I might need to divide them this year.
Oh, and the wild strawberries that dot the lawn are just about ripe!
Birds: I left a cardboard box from a plant delivery on the outside table, and a wren has been filling it with sticks. I had seen (and heard) the wren perched on the chair next to the table, but Katydid (of course) was the one who had seen it bringing sticks. I peeked in the box today and sure enough, the corner of the box is full of twigs. I was confused because it wasn't a nest, per se, and Katydid told me that wrens often fill a spot they want to use next nesting season with sticks to prevent other birds from nesting in it. Considering the fact that the wrens also destroy the young of other species so they can take over their nests, I find that rather uppity. But I still like to hear the wrens sing.
A phoebe is nesting in the eaves of the outer garage and every time we open the door to check on the chicks and turkeys, it buzzes us. Scares me half to death, even when I'm expecting it.
Wildlife: None to report but mice in the house. I caught one of them last week, but another has already taken its place. Ah, the joys of life in the country. Usually we don't see any this time of year, though, so I wonder what's going on.
In the garden: None of the corn we planted came up. Zero. We think the crows got it. This weekend we scrambled out to buy new corn seed to replant. Replanting is a big deal in this climate; we went ahead and planted Kandy Korn again (our favorite), but with 89 days to harvest... we're pushing first frost here.
On the positive side: the little boys pulled the rest of the radishes for me, and I was able to positively ID which radishes Pip had actually planted. French Breakfast. So we can plant them again. The spinach and lettuce are now big enough that we can make salad from the thinnings, and my tiny little tomato plants are just getting blossoms.
In the barnyard: Otherwise known as "the outer garage". Last Wednesday, the kids and I were called to the post office to pick up 50+ chicks. One of the Ameracaunas died en route -- it was in the corner and looked as if it had probably been suffocated -- and two of the Delawares (which we will be raising for meat and eggs) died in the first few days. But overall, chickens are definitely hardier than turkeys. (We lost yet another turkey last week, bringing our count down to 9, and one of those has a leg problem.) All 10 of Katydid's bantams made it through all right, though. She took pictures on the first day:
We ordered 30 meat chickens (Delaware, White Rock -- the little yellow fuzzballs) and 12 layers (Speckled Sussex, Ameracauna -- the "Easter Egg" chicken, and Black Jersey Giant).
A closer look at the bantams, which were really teeny-tiny a week ago.
Black Jersey Giant...
One of the few remaining Blue Slate turkeys...
This is a Naragansett turkey, which seem to be far hardier than the Blue Slates and Bourbon Reds. We've only lost one of them, but we've lost three of each of the other kinds.
Here are the turkeys all together. They've still got a few weeks left in the brooder.
Of course, I'm not telling the whole story. Andy was out of town when the chicks arrived, and we couldn't get the heat lamps set up right (they were the clamp-on kind, but kept falling off... not exactly fire-safe... so we had to hang them), and it got cold that night, and that was the reason another turkey died. Fortunately, there is Katydid. She has really been doing most of the chicken care. Andy and I check to make sure everything is okay, and we fiddle with the heat lamps, but Katydid does most of the work. (And those first couple days, it was a lot of work!)
Around the house:
So much cleaning needs to be done, especially since our Little Flowers/Blue Knights group is gathering here this coming weekend to help work in a garden we're growing for the Little Sisters of the Poor. I did manage to put my file crate back together, though, so at least we can eat on the dining room table now.
What I'm Reading: Lots of rural-related magazines: Hobby Farm Home, Hobby Farm, Backyard Poultry, Acres USA. We went to Tractor Supply this weekend. That's my only explanation.
(I am really bad at using forms so I'm afraid that my diary entries will never end up the same way twice. I just occasionally feel the need to document what's going on in my garden. Maybe I should buy a garden journal.)
Weather: The weekend was about half and half for good weather: Saturday it rained most of the afternoon, which was good for the garden but bad for us, since we still had an enormous amount of stuff to plant. Sunday was cool and cloudy until late afternoon. Monday was gorgeous: sunny and 70. A stiff wind kicked up in the afternoon, heralding cooler temperatures. Andy covered all the tender annuals he could -- tomatoes, peppers, melons, winter squash, okra. Good thing, too, because we had a little frost Monday morning. The rest of the week has been fairly rotten -- more rain than we need, cold, blah.
Blooming Now: Lilacs (finally); peonies getting ready to bloom (finally); irises just purple at the tips. Saturday when we went to the farm to buy plants, there was a dogwood in full bloom. Andy and I laughed; it's been nearly 2 months since we saw dogwoods blooming in Tennessee. I have seen some roses blooming at lower elevations, but alas, my rose seems to have contracted some disease which is turning the leaves yellow. It usually blooms in June anyway, so maybe it will recover enough to have a few blossoms. We splurged on an enormous fuschia for the front porch on Saturday; I am hoping it will attract our hummingbird pair.
In the Garden: Rabbits ate half the pea plants. Something ate my asparagus. Half the new strawberries died. Ditto the pawpaw. I fought an extended battle against bindweed yesterday afternoon, trying to clear out a grow bed to plant melons. (Michael Pollan agonizes over bindweed in Second Nature. I knew it was a pain but I had no idea it was so insidious. New plants can grow from every part of its broken root. Every little piece! I combed through that bed for nearly an hour pulling bindweed and sorting through the dirt to get more pieces of root. It's a losing battle, but hopefully I made a little progress.) I think our water (even after it's been boiled) is killing the shiitake mushroom kit.
On the plus side of the equation (the negative is on my mind this morning, sorry): potatoes are up; we found the carrots in the bed that was a weedy disaster; and somehow in all the other activities of the weekend we made time to plant corn, beans, summer squash, my beloved Italian zucchini from last year (also, Zucchini Rampicante, another Italian zucchini), cucumbers; and as transplants -- more cucumbers (I have rotten luck with cucumbers); 4 kinds of pepper, a bunch of tomatoes, brussel sprouts, a few cabbages; two flats of okra (in black plastic this year for warmth); and roughly half of the melon plants I started from seed. Still to go: watermelons, Charentais melons, pumpkins, and Gareth's experiments of the year: Chinese noodle beans and a couple different open-pollinated varieties of corn (he wants to see if they'll cross.)
I'm also putting in a modest herb garden this year by the deck: cilantro, parsely, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, chocolate mint (in a pot!!), dill. I already have invasive amounts of lemon balm and mint from the previous owners.
Barnyard: This is not going as well as I had hoped. We got 15 turkey poults last Thursday - 5 Blue Slate, 5 Naragansett, 5 Bourbon Red. We've lost five so far. So now we're down to 4 Naragansett, 4 Blue Slate, and 2 Bourbon Red. Unfortunately, heavy losses of turkey poults seem to be the rule rather than the exception. This doesn't make me feel any better. Those little poults are terribly cute.
From the kitchen: I think I'm going to be able to pull radishes this week. What to do with radishes when the salad greens aren't ready? I also have mint. Radishes and mint? I don't think so!
What else is going on?: Maybe a better question would be, what's not going on? Sports. Sports are not going on. Otherwise... Katydid is getting ready for a violin recital, we're preparing for the arrival of 52 new chicks next week, various children have had eye exams and well-child checkups, I had to go to Urgent Care for oral steroids since my regular doctor's office was booked solid (but I feel almost human again, so it was worth it), Andy's in NYC again this week (only once, though), we're finishing up school books, I'm trying to write a guide for Gareth's study of evolutionary biology, Gareth marched in a Memorial Day parade, and Katydid and Andy got up really early to attend the annual Early Morning Birdwalk at our local arboretum. And the snapping turtles are trundling through our field and yard en route to their breeding sites.
A few pictures:
Pip is a deep sea diver, isn't that obvious?
Katydid in her element. (Photo by Andy.)
The snapping turtle we found in the field last weekend. The females apparently come out this time of year to lay their eggs. This particular turtle was fairly large -- probably about a foot long -- but apparently they can grow much larger. Later in the weekend we saw another, much smaller snapping turtle on our front steps. All children now know how to identify snapping turtles and have been warned to STAY AWAY from them.
The snapping turtle's head. (Photo by Katydid.)
I have only ONE picture of Gareth in the Memorial Day parade, and it's hard to pick him out. Then my batteries gave out. Andy and Farmerboy got to march along with Gareth's Scout troop so Katydid and I "had our hands full" with the twins and Chipmunk. It is therefore doubtful whether I could have gotten any more pictures anyway, but just so you know... they all looked wonderful.
A fiddlehead poised and ready to break through its brown casing.
I'm not making any predictions yet (considering that after a string of 40 degree days we're forecasted to drop back into the 20's again.) But this weekend has felt a lot more like early April than early March. Especially considering this:
Crocuses or snowdrops? I'm not sure. But plants. I must tell you that seeing these little sprouts awakens two different emotions for me: one, I am elated because -- obviously -- spring! And on the other hand... oh, I hope these little guys don't get walloped by a snow storm or a bad freeze. I must remind myself, however, that our crocuses have survived far worse and are probably going to be okay. I also have to confess a secret hope that they will time their bloom this year so that we don't miss it. The kids and I will be heading south in a few weeks, and we won't be back until after Easter. While I am desperately looking forward to warm weather and green, growing things, I do enjoy our first blooming bulbs a great deal. It would make me a little sad to miss them.
A few more pictures from our garden time today (and let me tell you, being able to go out into the garden again makes everyone much happier):
The ditches are running rapidly again and will need to be dug out this year. Our garden lies at the bottom of a hill, and in New York that means all the snow melt collects there. (Being from drier, more southern climates, we had no idea how this worked when we chose our garden site. The first April, Andy spent a long, rainy day frantically digging emergency ditches to save the trees he'd just planted.)
The ditches serve other purposes, of course, when you're a boy:
And, of course, Mom and Dad are probably the only ones who cringe a little when you mention Mud Season.
(Yes, he does have mud on his face. By the time we went in he was pretty well covered with it.)
In case you're wondering why we need the ditches:
That's a new pond in the other plot we plowed up last year, where Gareth's Three Sisters garden was. (Just ignored the trash bag in the foreground; I have no idea why it's there, but it's not full of trash. I think it may contain straw or pine shavings. Just, you know, a little reality check here.) That's where all the water from the ditches empties. Oops.
No ditch-digging today, though, unless you count the boys' efforts. Instead, Andy pruned some of the berry bushes.
It's nice to have a few garden chores again -- even if this thaw doesn't last. Winter can't last forever, after all. At least... I don't think it can.
... knocks out power to hundreds of thousands, strands father of six in Baltimore. Arrives home just in time to avert milk emergency.
In other words, we're okay. Our power is still on, thanks to the fact that we were behind the snow line for much of the day yesterday and did not get the accumulations of ice that places like Albany did. (Were you watching Mike Seidel and that leaning telephone pole in East Greenbush this morning on The Weather Channel?) The boys did insist on sleeping with flashlights last night just in case, and I don't think Pip has let go of his all day today. And Andy finally did make it home, after two days of traveling home from California.
Yesterday it was 65 degrees. And we were under a tornado watch. We ran around frantically all afternoon, stacking firewood by the house and cleaning up the yard. Today it is 30-something-really-cold-feels-like-you-wouldn't-want-to-be-outside-windy degrees and it is supposed to snow most of the week. And into next week. (Hi, Grandma and Grandpa! Aren't you excited about coming to visit?)
Since I'm having a hard time getting going today, and I certainly can't be counted on to actually organize my thoughts in any way that makes sense, I thought I would just set down some random, house-related tidbits today as we get ready for Thanksgiving.... and try to stay warm.
I'm making chicken stock today. If you had told me a few years ago that I would totally give up canned broth I would have laughed. Our resolution to eat locally this year has gone better in some months and worse in others, but overall we are eating much more locally than ever before. The one thing we have gone totally local on is meat. I don't buy any meat from large chain stores anymore. On the one hand, it takes a little more effort and time to work with what you've got in your freezer as opposed to heading out to the store to buy exactly what the easy recipe calls for (I know no chickens entirely composed of drumsticks, for instance). On the other hand... I've generally always got something to make for dinner.
Anyway, it turns out that chicken stock is pretty easy. All the chickens I buy are whole chickens, so usually I roast them in the oven. After dinner, I take the rest of the meat off the bones to use in casseroles, etc. during the week, and I stick the carcass in the freezer. I use two carcasses to make stock. I fill a big stockpot up about 2/3 with water, then throw in whatever vegetables I happen to have around -- carrots, celery, onions, and kale today -- and the chicken bones. I season it with salt and pepper. I skim off any gunk that rises to the surface, but I find that with the roasted chicken carcasses I don't have to skim as much as if I use a whole, uncooked chicken. Then I simmer it for a few hours. When it's done, I let it cool for a little while, until I can strain it without splashing myself with boiling stock. I usually try to put it in the refrigerator for a while so it's easier to skim off the fat. Then I pack it in freezer containers and freeze it until I need it. (I know that some people use ice cube trays for this, but I'm usually making recipes in large quantities anyway. So freezing the broth in pints and quarts is not a big deal.)
I find that paying an arm and a leg for local, humanely raised chicken encourages frugal practices such as making my own stock. ;-) Next year we've decided to raise our own meat chickens (although we're too chicken *cough* to do the slaughtering ourselves and will probably take them to a local meat packer).
I'm also baking pumpkins today. Back in July, it appeared that we were not going to get pumpkins due to cucumber beetles. But somehow we ended up with 6 pie pumpkins. We've been storing them on the front porch, but I don't want them to freeze solid. Before I cook them, I mean -- once they've been baked, I'll scoop the flesh out of the shell, pack it into freezer containers, and freeze it. Some I'm not going to freeze because I'm going to make pumpkin bread this week and freeze that, or at least as much of it as I can rescue from the starving hordes who inhabit my house. The last time I made pumpkin bread I think I used this recipe, but I tripled it. You'll notice that it calls for three cups of sugar. I did not use nine cups of sugar for my pumpkin bread. Instead I used 4 cups (total, while tripling the other ingredients) and the 5 or 6ish cups of pumpkin that I had. I also used yogurt in place of the oil. And it was so yummy I told my kids (and the other kids to whom I fed it) that it was cake. (Tripling the recipe resulted in two 13x9 pans, by the way.)
Getting some stuff out of the freezer is going to be necessary, too, though. When we bought the freezer, the salesperson tried to talk us out of it because it was so big. At that point, I was merely pregnant with twins; we really had no clue what life in a large family would be like yet. But am I ever glad that Andy didn't listen to that salesperson. Our freezer is so stuffed right now that we had to make room in the small freezer upstairs (the one attached to the refrigerator). If I wasn't feeling so lazy, I would go downstairs and take a picture of it. We've got a side of beef (and that cow must have been huge), 8 chickens, about maybe a little less than half a lamb, and most of the corn, green beans, peaches, squash, and berries we froze this past summer. (To clear out some of the squash, I'm going to make yellow squash muffins. My kids prefer squash muffins to blackberry muffins; go figure. They are really good, though. )
I think we are going to have to put a turkey in there for a couple of days. This is a new experience for us: going to a farm to buy a fresh turkey. We're supposed to pick it up Monday, but I'm not sure... will fresh turkey keep in the refrigerator until Thursday?
Katydid and I picked up some yarn at Wal-Mart yesterday with the idea in mind that we would make a yarn wreath for Thanksgiving. Yarn wreaths are probably one of the only real crafts I can make. A mom came to my fifth grade classroom at Christmastime and showed us how. As you might imagine, they are really easy. I made one for Gareth when he was five or six... at that time he could count the wraps, but he didn't have enough fine motor control to actually do the wrapping. I have no idea where that wreath ended up, though; we moved, and so it could be anywhere. I keep trying to do another one with the kids -- or get the kids to do one themselves -- butI never seem to be able to sit down and do it.
I also keep telling myself, this is the year I will learn to crochet, this is the year I will learn to knit, and we've seen how that goes. But maybe this year...
Our "nature" area... Tomatoes saved from frost on the windowsill, Snack-Jack pumpkins from the garden, baskets of nature finds, a dried ear of Gareth's Black Aztec corn, a basket of tree-related books, and a sumac tree Gareth found in the yard and transplanted into a pot.
The weather this week has been mostly gorgeous and leading up to what looks like peak weekend for fall color, and we have been trying to make the most of it. On Wednesday, I took the little boys for a nature walk around the yard. I gave them a basket and told them that we would collect leaves and pine cones and rocks and whatever else they wanted to put in it. This suggestion was met with enthusiam, and the five of us (Chipmunk was on my back) set off for a tour of the yard.
Our haul... The big yellow leaves are pignut hickory (I think), then maple leaves (of course)... and I really do think we've got sugar maples, not red maples... birch bark, asters...
(You can see that we brought along a few knights as a bodyguard. The colors on this picture are a little funny because the camera was on the wrong setting.)
The boys wanted to stay in the yard for our walk. They did not want to venture into the field. Granted that our yard is much bigger and wilder than most, experience with other little people (Gareth and Katydid) in small suburban yards makes me think that at this age, you don't need a lot of complicated field trips anyway. Gareth and Katydid had their love of nature kindled by picking up stone landscaping blocks to observe the roly-polies (pill bugs or wood lice) eating the mulch, by observing the butterflies that fluttered through our flower beds, by collecting acorns that fell from a big oak tree that stood on the hill behind us. Every once in a while, we would head off to a park with a playground and a nature trail, where I would let them play until they wanted to be done playing, and then we would set off down the trail through the woods.
In this house, we still do the play and walk routine:
Pop needed to take a break on the tire swing.
And, of course, we had to run around with the chickens a bit. (Pip volunteered to carry the basket and did a very good job.) Then we were off on our walk again.
Farmerboy discovered some sap on this spruce tree and several rows of holes probably tapped by sapsuckers. He touched the sap to prove it was sticky.
After we collected pine cones from beneath the spruce trees (spruce cones??), Farmerboy remembered how the water collects in that corner of the yard every spring to form a shallow pond. He hypothesized about how the water came down the hill, so we studied the lay of the land a bit, and I pointed out that we should have been able to tell that this part of the land was wet when we moved in because of the big weeping willow that grows there. I love weeping willows, but this is the only place we've ever lived that we've actually had one. The limbs are too weak for climbing unfortunately, but they still make a good "secret place" which the kids use sometimes when they play their "Civilization" game (which involves a lot of trading between different "cities".)
The underside of a roll of birch bark which made its way beneath the willow tree through "trade"...
There was also a big thistle beneath the willow tree that the boys wanted to examine. Farmerboy wondered if it was possible to pull all the thistle's spines off in an attempt to neutralize it. The answer is no.
After we poked around under the willow tree, Farmerboy wanted to show us the other spots in the yard that have become "cities".
Katydid's city is located in the ferns. I'm not sure what kind of ferns we have, but could they possibly be New York ferns? You can also see that our chickens think that we are part of the flock. They followed us on our walk around the yard and are now foraging for bugs among the leaf litter and rotting stumps.
Farmerboy investigates the soft, crumbly pile of completely rotted wood at the base of one of the stumps.
The stump itself is hollow and used as a "storage area", Farmerboy informs me. Pip immediately decides to store some rocks.
After investigating the ferns, we head around the side yard to the remains of the huge tree that came down last year. The wind blows maple leaves from the trees in the front yard back this way, and we examine and collect a few pretty ones.
Katydid and Gareth have joined us by this point. One of the choices up on the white board this particular morning was to take a nature walk and journal the finds. I knew that Katydid would enjoy this choice, and I hoped to encourage Gareth to document what he found, if he chose that option. He did, and it surprised me. But, he informed me, nature journaling is kind of "boring." Alas.
Katydid took a picture of a wooly bear caterpillar for us...
... but by that time, the little boys had done enough nature walking and were ready to play!