Saturday, July 31, 2010

Plum & Tomato Harvest & Garden Update

For such a small tree, we sure got an abundant plum harvest this year. It's definitely our best harvest to-date. After the critters took their share (and believe me, they took plenty), I still harvested over 20 pounds of plums. I made 3 batches of jam: 1 traditional sugar recipe, 1 low sugar recipe, and 1 honey recipe. I also canned 4 pints of whole plums, froze a gallon bag of chopped plums, and made 2 batches of plum fruit leathers. I'm still not finished... there are is still 5 pounds of plums left. I haven't decided what to do with them yet. I'm leaning toward fruit leathers. They're SO yummy!

The cherry tomatoes are beautiful. I'm harvesting an average of 2 handfuls every other day.




The pole beans are wrapped around the cherry tomatoes and have finally started to produce. I'll have to plant more next year. Joe eats them as fast as they come off the vine. But that's not saying much, there are only 3 vines.



I harvested the first full-sized tomatoes from the brambles this weekend. The largest tomato was about 5 inches across! The white spots on the tomatoes are just water spots from the sprinklers and our super hard water. They've been delicious!

I ran out of onions in the kitchen today and decided to try a few from the garden. They are a good size at the base but the tops still haven't fallen over. The ones I tried today were good both for cooking and eating raw. The celery growing under the tomatoes is doing well in their shade. I harvested a bunch today. Joe confirmed that the celery was good.

The southern peas and corn are growing rapidly. I finally thinned out the pea seedlings and in doing so noticed the aphids and ants who had taken up residence on the underside of the leaves. It's the first infestation in the garden that I've felt needed to be dealt with, so I picked up some Safer Insecticidal Soap today and hosed them down.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cucumbers, Tomatoes, & Cantaloupe... Soon!

I've been harvesting delicious cherry tomatoes now for over a week with no end in sight anytime soon... thankfully! The tomato brambles have been prolifically producing tomatoes since the beginning of the month. The first hint of red started showing up on a couple of them this week! The tall smooth shoots in the picture with the tomatoes are the onions. They seem to be doing really well too. Though I don't know why they're growing so long. Everything I've read says to harvest when their tops fall over. They haven't fallen yet... so they continue to grow.

I noticed over the weekend that the cucumber plant had a couple of "babies" sprouting. Upon closer inspection, hiding under the stickers at the bottom there was also a BIG one. It's nearly ready to harvest. Maybe this coming weekend.






Today when I went to tie up supports on the cantaloupe vine, several had started to set fruit. It's growing up a trellis so I have too keep an eye on it to make sure the weight of the fruit is supported.

I picked up a variety of southern pea seeds while on my Florida/Georgia trip. For some reason, you can't buy them locally in California. So when I returned from my trip I promptly enlisted my neighbor, Ed, and his trusty Rototiller to help me expand the garden to accommodate lima beans, pink-eye purple hull cowpeas, and two rows of sweet corn (one row is for Ed). They've been in the ground now for 2 1/2 weeks and are coming along nicely. I did have a little trouble early on with some critter digging up the corn and eating the seed off the seedling root, but I just put down more seed and counted it as a succession planting!

Overall the garden is doing well. I direct seeded some bush beans (purple hull), basil, and yellow squash in the space where the sugar peas and broccoli were. There's still open space to add more and the bolted lettuce is ready to be pulled so there'll be even more space. It's just been so hot that I haven't decided how best to fill the space yet. Maybe I'll plant some chard this weekend and see how that does.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bunnies

For the last 2 days, the bunnies have been especially brave. Perhaps it's the heatwave that's completely fried their little bunny brains so that they aren't thinking straight. Or maybe they've just finally realized that I won't, under any circumstance, be chasing them UP a hill! These photos are closeups as far as wild, hillside bunnies go. At any given point there were 3-4 of them hanging out on the hillside. They were between 15 and 30 feet from me. Today I brought out apple skins and tossed them up the hill to them. They came down and had a snack while I worked the garden.

The one laying down was definitely lounging. In the photo he looks pretty aggravated that I had the audacity to take his photo (repeatedly). But he didn't get up to leave. He alternated between rolling around in the dirt, stretching out on his belly, and getting up for the occasional nibble on something. But mostly, he just lounged.

God did a good job making them blend into the hillside. When they sit still you can't even tell they are there. They are often so hard to see. Though I do have to wonder what purpose the white tail and backside serve. Maybe it's so they can find each other??

I saw a hawk patrolling the back hill this morning. I'm glad to see him and hope he focuses on the rats and mice. The hawks are just one of the reasons I have the chicken coop locked down so tightly.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Putting up the harvest

The past week has been busy putting up the harvest. We don't grow much more than what we can usually eat fresh or easily give away because we don't have a deep freeze. This year's harvest, especially the broccoli leaves and the plums (they fill a gallon bucket), was abundant!

Broccoli and leaves have been blanched and frozen.
The last of the apples are now applesauce. Two pounds made 3 pints.

The first batch of plums are now low-sugar jam. I expect there will be 2-3 more batches. I didn't even come close to using the entire gallon of plums.

All the carrots and beets have been harvested. Neither did as well as I had hoped, but they are still very usable.

The carrots only grew to about 1-2 inches each and will be a good side dish for us at least twice. The carrot greens grew to about 16 inches tall. I juiced them (they smelled like fresh cut grass!) and froze them in small disks using my muffin pan (because I think I donated all my ice trays so I didn't have to keep storing them!).

The beets were oddly shaped but several were a good size. All looked beautiful inside and the greens were so tender. I juiced the beets and the greens and froze them like the carrot greens.

I know, you're probably wondering what I do with the frozen juice. I make a juice blend of carrot, celery, beet, spinach, ginger, apple, and greens (carrot and/or beet) nearly every day. I call it my "Go Juice" because it keeps me from running out of steam mid afternoon around 2pm. I'll defrost a "green disc" overnight to mix in with my Go Juice. MMMM... BTW... Go Juice smells like dirt and ginger.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fried Roses

The recent heatwave has certainly done a number on my roses. From a distance they look lovely. But get up close and they look a little scorched. Investigate a little further and you realize... they feel like dried flowers. Fortunately, this big heatwave is past us now and we should cool down to between 90-100 degrees during the day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summertime = watermelons + sprinklers

The thermometer in the henhouse pegged at 120 degrees yesterday (it doesn't go any higher than that)! I hoped it was because the sun was hitting the thermometer, so I moved it to a shady spot in the henhouse today to monitor it. It got up to about 106 degrees. That's still pretty hot and the girls are panting quite a bit, but thank goodness it wasn't 120 degrees again. The thermometer on the back porch, however, did peg at 120 degrees today! It was only 115 degrees yesterday...

So what do you do in the summertime when the sun is blazing hot? You eat ice cold watermelon and play in the sprinkler! The girls LOVE the watermelon. They plunge their beaks in so hard that juice squirts up everywhere. All that's left of the watermelon after they've finished is the very leathery part of the outer rind. It looks like a fruit rollup.

A couple of times a day I go out and hose down their pen and give them an opportunity to play in the sprinklers. Funny thing about chickens is... they don’t really much like the sprinkler while it's running. In fact, they immediately head into the henhouse to wait until it stops. I've tried setting it to "mist". They're still not interested. But after after it’s turned off they shoot back outside to scratch around in the nice cool, damp ground.

Fortunately, our heatwave will be over by Sunday and we'll be back to our normal high 90's, low 100's during the day and cool 70's at night.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Broccoli Buffet

I pulled up one of the spent broccoli plants on Sunday and put it in the chicken pen, leaves, roots, and all. It had aphids underneath some of the leaves. The aphids were the first to go! I guess chickens eat dessert first too. They were very excited. They also love the root ball because it's loaded with lots of little crawly things, and sometimes even a worm or two, which makes them very happy. By the end of the day, all of the greens were cleared and most of the roots, and the girls were very full.

Apparently, the thing to do after eating at the buffet is to just plop down in dirt next to the buffet and enjoy a dirt bath, followed by a nap.

By the end of the day Monday, only the stalk and a very small root ball were left.

I gave them a new broccoli plant today. They definitely love the broccoli buffet. I have one more plant to pull up and give them. Chickens are such good garden helpers!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Clara's Eggs

Clara provided dinner for us tonight. It was a momentous occasion, having our first eggs for dinner. Joe made scrambled eggs with peppers and onions.




Photos were taken and there were lots of oooh's and aaah's as we cracked each one open. The largest egg (the first one she laid) was actually a double yolk.

I had read that sometimes the first eggs laid may have weak shells. Not Clara's! The shells were much harder than the store bought eggs. Each one's shell was perfect, smooth and beautiful. The yolks were a deep yellow-orange... and dinner was delicious!


With each egg she gives us, she seems to make less noise, which is good for the neighbors (who thought she was making rooster noises... sheesh... city people!) I guess it must get easier with practice!

I found a picture of another chicken on a different blog who looks just like Clara! I think she's a Wyandotte. Her comb isn't completely grown in, so time will tell. In the mean time, I'm just enjoying my sweet, lovey egg factory!

Friday, July 9, 2010

First Week's Eggs

This weekend we'll be eating these eggs. They're so beautiful I almost hate to do it, but if I don't they'll just spoil, so we're going to enjoy them! After all, Clara worked VERY hard to provide these beauties for us! The white one is a store bought large. I included it strictly for size comparison. They are laid out in order of deliver from left to right.


Clara has been working hard, 4 eggs in 6 days... and letting everyone know it! She is SO loud! My next door neighbor keeps coming out to check and make sure everything is alright. She sounds the alarm off and on for nearly an hour. During the first 3 egg deliveries the other girls stayed out of the hen house and cautiously peered in from time to time. Today, they were all standing below the nesting box observing the blessed event. Ruby even got up on the perch for a better look at things. If you look closely you can see there are 2 eggs underneath Clara (the darker one is the inspiration egg, the other is hers).


After the commotion settled down, Petunia actually jumped up in the nesting box WITH Clara. You can see Clara near the back of the nest box while Petunia gets a REALLY good look at things!


I'm sure the other 3 are saying "I'm glad we don't have this problem, it sounds just awful!" If they only knew!

After the egg delivery, Clara may hang out in the nest for a couple of minutes (panting), then quickly high tails it out of there. She doesn't return. At least not for a day or so...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Look at Petunia!

This photo of Petunia was taken June 9th a few days before I left town for 2 weeks.


Boy did she look different when I got home! This photo was taken July 3rd.

Now, some people have tried to tell me that she looks like a rooster, but I just don't believe it. My blog friend, Maddie, has 34 single-comb Brown Leghorn hens (no roosters) that look just like her... http://maddie365.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/the-chickens-new-purchase/. There has been no crowing or cock-a-doodle-doing and she's especially interested in the nesting box since Clara laid her first egg... 

We have EGG!

While I was working in the garden yesterday, Clara was in and out of the nesting box several times, often sitting in it for a bit of time. All the while, she was making quite a ruckus. I thought for sure we would have an egg, but by nightfall, there was no egg and she took to roosting as usual.

Today, while in the garden again, Clara began making long and repeated squawking sounds. I just thought she was mad at someone or was being bossy (she's the Queen hen). But not long after that began, I came out to see that she had laid our first egg! Such a proud moment...

The nesting box is a milk crate and seemed to be a good size. Except for the fact that Clara kept scratching the hay in the box and it kept falling through the holes in the bottom, it worked great. So shortly after she laid that egg I made a quick modification to the nesting box and inserted a piece of wood into the bottom of the box under the hay. Hopefully when they're scratching around to rearrange the hay next time, it will work out better and whoever it is won't be sitting on the bottom of the box but on a nice soft pile of hay.