Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Season's First Broccoli

The First Broccoli of the 2013 Growing Season
We waited for what seemed like forever for this year's broccoli to "head up."

Truly, I was beginning to think that something had gone wrong and feared we would not get any broccoli at all.  However, nature prevailed and we finally have our first broccoli harvest.

Can you guess what we are having for dinner tonight?

Rose Petal, Lavender Blossom Tea

My Lavender Bush in Full Bloom
 Oh how I love the clean, fresh scent of fresh lavender!  Last year I planted a tiny little seedling and it grew and grew.  This year it is blooming for the first time.

Since the lavender is blooming at the same time as my newly-planted, extremely fragrant, climbing rose bush; and because it is blisteringly hot outside, I decided to try making lavender/rose petal tea.

I placed the petals from one rose, four sprigs of lavender blossoms, and four cups of cool water in a mason jar and placed it on the back deck in the blazing hot sunshine.

It did not change color - perhaps because I did not use boiling water.  However, it was highly fragrant and very refreshing over ice.

Monday, June 24, 2013

We don't use air conditioning because....

"We don't use air conditioning because it makes it too hot outside."  Anonymous
We have yet to turn on our air conditioner this year - except for about 20 minutes of run time about two months ago during a bout of extreme humidity - I am determined to make it through the summer without it.

Mind you - I'm not bragging about it.  We have had an unusually mild spring, with evening temps consistently in the 60's and sometimes even 50's.  This has made it relatively easy to resist flipping the thermostat switch from "off" to "cool."   It has also helped that the upstairs AC unit isn't working.  My husband turned it on about two weeks ago to "test" the system and nothing happened. [ Insert evil grin here - and no I did not sabotage it - but fate took a firm hand. ]

Most nights, the boys have been sleeping in the cool basement.  Hubby and I are doing fine upstairs with the windows open and with the ceiling and circulating fans running.

Funny thing - our body thermostats seem to be adjusting to the rising temps.  Twice in the past two weeks, while outside in the evening, I've had to don a light jacket.  Seriously - I was shivering in the cool night air.  We went to a movie a few weeks back and I remembered that the theaters are heavily air conditioned, so I brought along my windbreaker.  Thanks goodness I did.  My boys have even commented on how cold the grocery stores seem to be.  Take my word for it - none of this would have happened if we had been living in an artificially cooled home.    Yes indeed - we are adjusting.  Since we will have to work outside in the garden whatever the outside temps, this internal thermostat change is welcome indeed.

Can we make it through the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August in Maryland?  Only time will tell.  But when we started this experiment, we were sure we couldn't sleep comfortably if the bedroom was above 80 degrees.  Last night it was 84 degrees when we went to bed and we managed just fine.

Today I purchased a new book entitled, "Losing our Cool, Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air Conditioned World, and Finding New Ways to Get through the Summer," by Stan Cox.  Hopefully, reading it will provide us with an extra measure of motivation and increase our determination to persevere - even as the temperatures (both outside and in) continue to rise.

It's around 5:00 p.m. and a thunderstorm is approaching.  Perhaps it will cool things off?  

For further reading, check out these links:
The Unchilled Life, NY Times
Living Without AC and Liking It

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Chicken vs. Asparagus Beetle Experiment Comes to and End

Our Four Happy Hens Have Been Sold
If you've been following our war against asparagus beetles, then you know that we purchased four young pullets from a Mennonite farmer and let them run among the asparagus beds.  They did their job admirably and all the beetles are now gone.  Unfortunately, keeping chickens in our neighborhood is against the covenants, so today all the chickens were sold.

The hens cost $27.50 and the bag of feed was $14.50.  We sold the pullets for $15 each.  The experiment was an outstanding success.  The beetles are gone and we came out $18 ahead on the endeavor.

I sure will miss seeing them scurry among the asparagus ferns.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Anticipation, Green Tomatoes, and Baby Figs

There is a time during the late spring, after most everything is planted, when I do nothing but weed and wait.  It is a somewhat stale period when things are growing but not quite fast enough to suit me and during which I resent every tomato, onion, and green bean I'm forced to buy from the store.  But grow they do and the anticipation builds.

This morning I wandered out to pick a few strawberries (their production is starting to pick up a bit)  and to pull a few more weeds and lo and behold I spy green tomatoes all over our tomato plants.  Not just a few tomatoes, but loads of tomatoes forming on what just a few weeks ago were those first few tomato blooms which made me dance a jig.

Upon spying the first pale green globes, I paused and I swear I could smell the sauce cooking down on the stove, pungent with my homegrown rosemary, thyme, basil and parsley - and I could taste the fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato salad which I love so much.

The tomatoes would have been enough for me, but there was more to behold.

Waltzing over to the fig tree to give it another feeding of whey, I spied the first tiny little figs beginning to form.

Life is good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Our First Quail Eggs are Here!

Our Very First Quail Eggs
Yesterday we got our first quail eggs and two more this morning!  So "eggciting."

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Leave them alone and they'll come home...

Missing Filbert
that found its
way home!
I walked out on my front porch this afternoon and there stood my missing filbert tree.  It was dried out a bit, which is weird because it has rained at least four inches in the last two days - but it was definitely there.  I brought it in - set it in my wet bar sink - gave it a good soaking - and left it there to recover from its trauma.

What the heck?  Does anyone think this is funny?  My son and I spent at least 45 minutes searching the yard for it the other day and now it is back - sitting innocently on the front porch.  No sir - not a bit funny.

Since losing it the first time, I planted its partner lest it disappear as well.  I'm keeping this one in the garage until it is planted.  Either I have a prankster in the neighborhood, or a very determined guardian angel.

Either way - I'm still stumped.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Making My Garden a Private Retreat

Ugly But Functional
Chicken Wire Fencing
We expanded our garden this year and enclosed it with a t-post/chicken wire fence.  We had the t-posts and fencing on hand so there were no new costs associated with the expansion.  We used green spray paint to cover the white t-post tops and this worked to make the t-posts nearly invisible.  However, the chicken wire, while not really visible from a distance, is worn out from prior use and is just plain ugly.  It does it's job, but I hate the way it looks.

So I decided to plant edible, flower, and vining plants all the way around the garden in order to hide the unsightly chicken wire, increase the productivity of our 3-acre parcel, and create within the garden a tiny, private retreat for all who there labor.

There is heavy sod in the enlarged garden area, and we are gradually hacking away at it, removing it, bit by bit.  The fence is long.  Removing the sod and getting everything planted and established will be a slow process.  Right now it looks a bit ragged - but we'll conquer it eventually.

Here's what we've accomplished so far:

My Baby "America" Rose
I received two, fragrant, climbing, Star Roses for Mother's Day.

Rose #1 is "America."  It has a strong, spicy fragrance which greets me even before I reach the garden, grows 10-12 feet high, 6-8 feet wide and blooms throughout the summer and into the fall.
A Mature "America" Rose

<<<  Here's is what it looked like during today's heavy rains.

I found this pic on the Home Depot website and am looking forward to the day when my little rose looks like this.>>>>
A Mature "Don Juan" Rose

Rose #2 is "Don Juan."  It has a strong, traditional rose scent, grows 12-14 feet high, 6-8 feet wide, and blooms throughout the summer.

<<<<While it was looking great yesterday, the heavy rains have taken a toll on my little Don Juan rose.  Here's what the flowers should look like once it gets established.

"Jefferson" Filbert Seedling
Hazelnut/Filbert Hedge from
Food Skills for Self-Sufficiency
Three filbert trees were purchased from Edible Landscaping in Virginia.  One tree is on back order, one disappeared off the front porch while waiting to be planted, and one went into the ground yesterday, just in time for today's rain.  Once mature, they should form a nice, 10-12 foot hedge in front of the fence.

Newly-Planted Passion
Flower Vine
Mature Passion Flower
Image From:
All in One Discount Nursery
Also from Edible Landscaping, the Passion Flower Vine (which can be invasive) will be grown in a large pot to keep it from spreading outside its designated area.   It can spread 20-30 feet in a single season and has lovely, fragrant flowers.  The leaves can be used in tea as a sleep aid/stress reliever and supposedly the fruit can be juiced and tastes something like Hawaiian Punch.

Newly Planted
Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Mature Black-Eyed Susan
Two, Black-Eyed Susan vines were purchased from a local nursery for $4 each.  I split each pot into two plantings, so four vines were planted in front of four separate fence posts.   Right now they look quite frail and feeble, but they should cover the fence with happy little blooms by mid-summer.

Last, but not least, is Rose Canina, otherwise known as Dog Rose.  Here's the description from the Edible Landscaping website:
Dog Rose in Bloom
A perfectly lovely rose in its simple charm. Scented, delicate, apple blossom-pink single flowers. Tall 6-8' gracefully arching shrub with healthy blue-green foliage. Nearly thornless. Showy display of scarlet hips dresses up the shrub for summer and fall. The best tasting rose hip for winter use.
Itsy Bitsy Rose Canina Plant
And from the Herbs 2000 website:
The fruits or hips of the dog rose enclose an assortment of vitamins and added essential nourishments. For instance, the hips of Rosa canina enclose rich amounts of vitamin C. In addition, the fruits also contain different amounts of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 and K. The other ingredients contained in the dog rose fruits are tannins, flavonoids, vanillin, polyphenols, carotenoids and essential oil.

So those are the foundation plantings for one long side of the fence - the side most visible from the house.  I will fill it in will plants that I am rooting (Rose of Sharon, Butterfly Bush, Variegated Euonymus, Burning Bush, Lilac, etc.) and with divisions from the yard (Liriope, Daylily, and Iris). I will continue to post pictures as our "living fence" progresses.  Hopefully, the entrance to my garden will someday look like this:

“....she liked... the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in 
no one knew where she was.
 It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place." 
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Little 'ole me, I've lost my tree...

One Lonely Filbert Seedling

There were two baby filbert trees sitting on my porch,
A thief came flying by.
Now there’s one baby filbert tree sitting on my porch,
While I search and I cry and I sigh.

Oh where, oh where has my filbert tree gone?
Oh where, oh where can it be?
It was on my front porch with the other one.
Oh where, oh where can it be?

Little ‘ole me, I’ve lost my tree,
And don’t know where to find it.
I’m left all alone with the one that stayed home,
And I’ve given up hope of finding it.

Seriously - what steals filbert seedlings off of front porches?
Raccoons? Deer? Squirrels? Dogs?
And why take one and leave one behind for Pete's sake?

I'm stumped.

Turning Oak Trees Into Vole-Proof Garden Beds - Progress Report #1

Under Construction - "Made From Our Own Trees" Raised Bed
Two of our dying oak trees were felled, cut into two-foot lengths, and then cut into boards.  You can see pictures of the tree-cutting process here.

My husband really went above and beyond on this one.  He worked like mad to cut the boards oh so perfectly.    Each board is buried one foot deep and one foot remains above ground.  Hopefully this will keep the voles from chewing the roots of our blueberries.

The bed will eventually be about 30 feet long.  We inherited this blueberry plant from relatives and wanted get in into the ground before it died so we planted it even before the bed was complete.

Building this bed is time consuming work, but I love the rustic look and the fact that we didn't spend more the the price of a gallon of gas for the chain saw on materials.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It's the Little Things in Life

It  doesn't take much to lift my spirits!

The Potatoes are Blooming!
So are the Tomatoes!
...And the Blackberries are Ripening!

Monday, June 3, 2013

This Isn't Paying Me - Value Measuring Methodology

Grow Food - Save Money?
I convinced my family to work harder on our 2013 garden in order to save money.

Surprisingly, more than a few dedicated gardeners report that their gardens cost them as much, or more, than it would for them to buy their produce at the local grocery store.

So,  I've been keeping track of the labor and expenses associated with our 2013 garden as well as our invested man-hours.  When we arrive at the end of the growing season, we will have a very accurate record of the dollars we have invested vs. the monetary value of the produce we have harvested.

To date, we are approximately $100 in the red.  However, I'm using the non-organic produce prices rather than organic.  Since we use no chemicals in the garden, my produce would actually cost more than the prices I'm recording.  However, since we will be strapped for cash when the furloughs kick in, I doubt I will be buying organic produce anyway, so the spreadsheet will remain unchanged.

What do you think?  Will we end up spending as much money, or more, on the produce we are growing?  Are you among those who question the value of putting time into the building, weeding, watering and harvesting the garden requires.  Do you ask, "If I make $$$ per hour, wouldn't it be more cost effective for me to work more hours and buy my produce at the local grocer?" 

Only time will tell.  However, whatever the bottom line reveals, I will garden as long as I  am physically able and have a piece of ground upon which to invest my time, creativity and strength. 

Why?  Well, consider this quote by an unknown author:  
There are so many men who can figure costs, and so few who can measure values.
Yes, for me it's not just about the costs, but also about measuring values.  To do that I must measure my alternatives.  Enter "Value Measuring Methodology."  I intend to research it and apply it to my gardening efforts. Stay tuned for the results.

In the meantime, feel free to weigh in on the subject.

The One Dollar Onion

We picked up two large onions at the grocery story yesterday.  They cost $1.50 per pound.  Just one onion cost us $1.00. 

There are 112 onions growing in my garden.  Assuming they grow well and form nice large bulbs, there is a potential $112 worth of onions growing in our garden. 

While there are many benefits to growing your own food (maybe I'll list them in a future blog), this little monetary perk keeps me on track and helps motivate me to rise while it is still cool outside to water and weed the little darlings. 

Speaking of weeds, I spy a few in the picture that need to be pulled.  I'll put that on tomorrow morning's to-do list.