Archive | July 2014

Garden Warfare

My friends, make no mistake: we are at war.

The enemies are relentless guerrillas. They strike under cover of dusk or in the wee hours of dawn. They have no fear, and if confronted will stare defiantly back without a shred of remorse. They are aware that there is no recourse for us to fight back, and they taunt us with that fact. They know our weaknesses, and will bypass what we could bear to lose to strike instead at our most treasured resources.

They are the local deer, and they have been relentlessly targeting my winter squash and cucumber plants in their nightly browsing. I can’t stand it! They are simply shameless. And rather than nibble a few leaves off the larger plants that could survive it, of course they prefer to eat the new young shoots as the later plantings sprout up.

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Today we put some things in place to hopefully discourage them a bit, since a deer fence isn’t quite in the budget just now. We grated some Irish Spring soap around the affected plants, and pinned out some Bounce dryer sheets. We also tried our hands at a simple scarecrow aimed at the deer, a couple of blue t-shirts hung around the garden to flap in the wind and create movement. While deer can’t see the vivid orange used by hunters, they should be able to see blue quite readily. I’m hoping it will catch their attention and spook them a bit. I’m not sure that any of this is going to work, but at least we will have tried!IMG_20140726_201122174

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The Best-Laid Plans

It’s been a hectic week and a bit since my last post! As I promised, I do have exciting news that returned with my in-laws from their vacation visiting family in upstate New York, but I’m saving the formal post for after I have a chance to take pictures. They brought something else with them too, that I wasn’t expecting: a whole bushel of sweet cherries! What I didn’t know when I first heard this was just how big a bushel is – according to good old Google, a bushel of cherries is around 50lbs! I immediately made plans for a whole slew of preserves with this bounty, and if all had gone according to schedule I’d have several well-documented posts to share with you about my cherry-canning escapades.

Needless to say, things did not go even a tiny bit according to schedule. On Tuesday night we had a very violent 10-minute thunderstorm that knocked out our power for nearly 24 hours. The chest freezer was full enough to stay frozen, but we lost most of the contents of our indoor fridges and freezers. Since we have an electric stove, we couldn’t do anything in the way of cooking or preserving, and so everything was thrown off. Trying to catch up, my mother-in-law and I took the weekend and pounded out several batches of jam, jelly, and pickles from stocks that were getting ready to spoil or over-ripen – the last of the early kohlrabi and strawberries, remnants of rhubarb left over from other jams, and of course the cherries! I also picked up some pickling cucumbers and green beans at the farmer’s market to try my hand at pickling on my own, and I have chunks of watermelon rind in the fridge for pickling as well. And at last, the cherries are all processed and juiced in preparation for jelly, or chopped and frozen in preparation for jam. Now perhaps we can get back to some semblance of organization!

Whirlwind Summer

The last few weeks have been, in my book, a more or less perfect whirlwind of summer. While I don’t love the extreme heat and humidity that sometimes comes with the Pennsylvania summers, we’ve had a nice balance of warm sunny days and brief bouts of thunderstorms to break the heat when it starts to get out of control. The garden has been thriving for the most part, although due to our late start we haven’t yet been able to harvest anything besides herbs. The most successful has definitely been the lavender! I’ve been drying the buds and plan to use them for a blueberry-lavender jam.

Speaking of jam, this year’s preserving endeavors started out unexpectedly rocky, when not one but two batches of the strawberry balsamic thyme jam I blogged about last time completely failed to set. I’ve made this jam before with no trouble, and although I did less jam-making last year than usual, I couldn’t imagine I had lost the skill entirely. After doing some reading online, I noticed several bloggers mentioning that they had observed a decline in the performance of Certo pectin, and recommended the Ball brand pectin instead. For my next batch, a vanilla-rhubarb jam with Earl Grey tea, I tried the Ball pectin instead, and sure enough it set up perfectly! So, I consider myself back in the game. Today I made strawberry rhubarb jam, and I have plans for honey-pickled kohlrabi with the rest of the spring harvest from my father-in-law’s garden.

Our livestock is growing steadily. The pigs rooted up their beautiful grassy pen in no time, but they don’t seem to mind! They have a shady shelter and food and water available in plenty, and once a day we bring them some treats in the form of kitchen scraps. When it’s hot and dry, we make sure they have a muddy spot for a wallow to keep cool and protected from the sun. The ducklings are fully feathered and getting quite big, and enjoy nibbling at the grass or playing in the baby pool we keep in the barnyard. The chicks have outgrown what I like to call the “dinosaur” stage of gangly awkwardness. The ones not raised by our hens are getting braver and venturing outside more. The young roosters are starting to crow, which is an exercise in hilarity at this age! Their little voices cracking is both adorable and humorous.

That’s mostly the gist of what’s been going on around here, but we’ll have more news when my in-laws get back from their vacation!