Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Preserving Garden Goodness - Zucchini

Summer is here, along with zucchini season!  Zucchini is such a versatile summer squash and can be used in so many different ways.   However, it is also very prolific and sometimes you get an oversupply.  You hear jokes about folks sneaking around at night leaving bags of zucchini on their neighbor's doorstep.  This blog article gives you an option to that.

First, trim the ends off the zucchini and shred it, either using a food processor or by hand.  Being the lazy person I am, I used my food processor.


Next, measure the shredded zucchini into one-cup portions.


Place each portion in a sandwich bag.


Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can with your hand.


Fold the bag over and squeeze more air out of the bag.  Then, place the folded sandwich bag inside a freezer bag, like this.  You can put several sandwich bags of zucchini in each freezer bag.  Label and date the package and freeze.


There are lots of recipes for using grated zucchini.  A quick search of the internet revealed squash patty recipes, Julia Child's zucchini sauteed with butter and shallots recipe, scrambled eggs with zucchini, a whole plethora of recipes on Pinterest and, of course, zucchini bread, zucchini cake and zucchini cookies!

So, don't let zucchini season get you down.  You don't have to sneak around in the dark leaving your extra zucchini on your neighbor's doorstep.  You now have an option that will allow you to enjoy your zucchini all year long.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Native Pollinator Workshop

Earlier this month, we attended a workshop at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  The workshop we attended was titled "The 3 B's - Bees, Butterflies and Beneficials" and focused on how to identify and attract native beneficial and pollinating insects.

We got some very nice handouts, including a couple of books.


For years, agriculture has relied on honeybees to pollinate crops.  Believe it or not, they are more valuable for pollination than for the honey they produce.  In fact, a huge industry has developed around renting bee hives to farmers for pollination purposes.  Here's an article about how honeybees are used to pollinate the almond blossoms in California and the costs involved.  


This article was written in 2012.  At that time, the average cost for hive rental was $150/hive.  During the workshop, we learned that since then the average cost has risen to $350/hive!  Honeybee populations have declined drastically the last few years due to disease and something called "colony collapse disorder".  The reasons for this decline are not well understood, but it is generally thought to be a combination of several factors.  Here's a good article by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the issue.


However, there are other types of insects that pollinate crops.  In fact, honeybees were brought over from Europe by the colonists and are not even native to the United States, and we have plenty of native pollinators that can do the job as well.  The workshop focused on identifying these insects and learning how to attract them.

Here is the agenda for the workshop.


During the morning session, a woman from the Xerces Society (Xerces Society) presented a slide show that was very interesting and informative.

After lunch, we had a tour of the Kerr Center gardens and observed the native plants they were using in their flower beds.  






During the tour, we took pictures of insects we saw on the plants and texted them to a Kerr Center employee who put them into a slide show that we viewed after the tour.  The gal from the Xerces Society helped us identify them.  Here are a couple of pictures I took.



I find myself noticing more insects now.  It's not unusual to find me cocking my head and peering at some winged creature on a flower.... some of them stinging insects!  I'll swear there were there were 4 or 5 different kinds of wasps working over the flowers on my fennel plants this morning.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Girl Scout Chicken

This week I want to report on a fun experience that Bossy (see previous blog post Meet the Chickens) and I had at a recent Girl Scout day camp.  We were invited by Bailey Norwood to come out and give the girls a hands-on learning experience with a live chicken.  

We arrived just in time for the girls' afternoon Popsicle break.  Bossy was given luxury accommodations with food and water.



She was quite concerned when we first arrived, but settled down after a while and strutted around for all to see.

We had an attentive bunch of girls.  They asked a lot of questions and volunteered a lot of information about chickens they had seen.  Several of them had chickens at home or had grandparents who had chickens and they were eager to share everything they knew.  :-)



I brought along a few "props", such as some of the chicken feed we use, some grit chickens need to help them grind their food and some nesting material that we put in the nest boxes.  I passed these around and let them feel of the different items.  This seemed to keep their attention.



All in all, the visit appeared to be a success.  It would be interesting to hear what sort of stories the girls took home to their parents about the "chicken lady" and her chicken!  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Meet the Chickens - The Young Girls

The last installment of "Meet the Chickens" introduced the Old Girls.  This one introduces the Young Girls.  These are the chickens we got in the Spring of 2014.  They are now in their prime egg-laying years and are fat and sassy.  These hens are Rhode Island Reds, or RIRs as they are often referred to.  They are a deep dark red, as you can see below.  This one is named Bossy.



She got that name because she has always been very vocal, even from the time she was very young.  She clucks and fusses at us as if she is bossing us around.  Bossy is the only RIR in our flock that has a "stand-up" type comb, as opposed to a "rose" comb, as shown below.

Next is Matilda.  See the difference between her comb and Bossy's?



Also, notice that she has a growth over her right eye.  She has had this for most of her life.  It does not seem to bother her, but it makes her easy for us to identify.  The problem with pure bred chickens, like RIRs, is they all look alike and are sometimes difficult to tell apart. 

Next, we have Big Bertha.



She and Little Bertha are very difficult to tell apart unless you see them together.  Big Bertha is slightly larger than Little Bertha.  In the blog article Incarcerated Chicken, I misidentified the hen who became "broody" and wanted to set on the clutch of eggs as Big Bertha.  As it turns out, that chicken was Little Bertha below.



Notice she has an orange tie on her leg.  I put that on her when I realized that I had confused the two chickens in the blog article.  Hopefully, I won't make that mistake again!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Meet the Chickens - The Old Girls

Because I've written a lot of blog articles about our chickens, I decided it was time that you actually got to "meet" them.  We have 11 chickens in all.  There are 3 "old" girls, remnants of the first flock of six chickens we bought three years ago.  Then, there are 4 "young" girls, the Rhode Island Red chickens we bought last spring.  Finally, there are 4 "little" girls, the new chicks we bought in March of this year.

First, I'll introduce our "old" girls.  These are the first chickens we ever owned.  We bought them from our local Atwoods store in the spring of 2012.  We purchased 6 chickens in all - 3 New Hampshire Reds and 3 yellow sex-linked.  Sex-linked chickens are crosses between two purebred chickens.  They are called "sex-linked" because you can tell the difference between the males and females when they are very small.  Unfortunately, we have lost two of the New Hampshire Reds and one of the yellow sex-linked over the years, leaving us with three old girls.  I thought it fitting to introduce these ladies first..... "age before beauty" if you will.

The New Hampshire Red we have left is "Gertrude".  Bear in mind that I take no responsibility for these names.  Tom named them.  I was still working at the time and he spent much more time observing them during the day and was first to observe the distinguishing factors by which we tell them apart.  This is Gertrude.


Gertrude's claim to fame is that she is the only one of the chickens who has figured out how to fly over the fence.  So, if we let them out into the uncovered pen, we have to be on the look-out for Gertrude escaping.  It is odd, but she will go for days without flying over the fence, then she will get out several days in a row.  

Notice in the picture above, she appears to be missing some tail feathers.  That's because the neighbor's Great Pyrenees dog found her out one time while we were gone and was apparently trying to herd her back to the pen when she panicked, got caught in the fence and lost some tail feathers in the melee that ensued.  In the end, she extricated herself and is none the worse for wear.

Next, we have Gloria.  She has white feathers that encircle her neck like a necklace. 


She appears to be going through a soft "molt" in this picture.  Chickens lose their old worn feathers ever so often and grow new ones.  This process is called molting.  A soft molt is where a few feathers at a time are lost.  A hard molt is when the feathers drop out very quickly but don't come back for a while thus causing the chicken to have bald spots on their body.

Finally, we have Blondie.  Blondie is a friendly, curious chicken.


Last fall, she discovered me planting a couple of trees in the yard and came over to investigate.  While inspecting the soil I was digging up, she discovered lots of worms and grubs which she immediately gobbled up.  Ever since then, when she sees me digging in the garden, she comes to help me.  

We've come a long way since that spring day in 2012 when we brought these girls home.  Most of what we've learned has been from trial and error, reading books and checking Internet sites dedicated to chicken-keeping.  These hens deserve medals for sticking with us this far!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Milkweed for Monarchs

I love the wildflowers that grow on the areas of the farm we do not mow.  Here is a picture of what one of the areas looks like this spring.  When the sun is shining, there are lots of yellow flowers that are open.  This picture was taken on a cloudy day, so they are not open. 


Notice the flowering plant in the lower right corner of the picture.  Here's a closeup of one of the flowers.



This plant is a variety of milkweed named Antelope Horns.  Milkweed is essential to the life of Monarch butterflies.  The butterfly and the plant evolved together over the centuries. Caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves. Adult monarch butterflies eat nectar from flowers, which consists of about 20% sugar.  The chemicals in milkweed protect the monarch. The chemicals the caterpillar ingests remain in its body, even after metamorphosis, making the adult butterfly toxic and bitter-tasting to many predators. 

Monarchs migrate to warmer climes for the winter from their winter homes in South America and Mexico, a round-trip of about 6,000 miles. It takes them up to two months to travel each leg of the journey. Each butterfly only makes the trip once, and then its great-grandchildren make the trip the following year.

However, Monarch populations are declining at an alarming rate. The North American monarch population has declined by 90 percent over the past two decades.  The decline has been linked to a deadly combination of factors that includes illegal logging in Mexico, wildfires, droughts, and loss of their crucial milkweed habitat in the United States.

Milkweed is in drastic decline due to the human battle against weeds led by the increased use of glyphosate-based herbicides.  These are used on genetically modified crops and have been a leading cause of milkweed loss.  In fact, this study points to a 58 percent decline of milkweed in the Midwest and an 81 percent decline in monarchs in the Midwest from 1999 to 2010.  These declines coincide with increased use of these herbicides. 

While you and I cannot do anything about illegal logging in Mexico or droughts, we can do something to help increase milkweed populations where ever we live.  One thing is to plant milkweed in our yards and flowerbeds.  There are varieties that are very pretty, such as these shown on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website.  We can also encourage Monarch survival by stopping the use of herbicides and pesticides on our lawns and gardens.

More information can be found about the plight of Monarch butterflies in the following National Geographic article:   National Geographic News



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lady Beetle Bugs

Last Saturday at our farmers' market we had a bunch of beautiful lettuce heads for sale in our booth.  As the morning progressed, I began to notice little critters, like this, on the heads of lettuce.  Looks kind of scary at first glance, but you don't want to squash this bug because it is Lady Bug larvae (or Lady Beetle which is the official common name recognized by the Entomological  Association of America).  At this stage of development, the larvae are also called "aphid lions" because they are voracious and can consume their own weight in aphids.  Adult Lady Bugs may consume up to 50 a day.


Here is another one of the larvae. After a while, I began to pick them off to take back home to the garden.  I collected some of the lettuce leaves that had fallen off and put them in a plastic pan.  Then, I put the larvae in the pan.  I think we made it home with most of them.  They can't fly at this stage, but they are quite mobile and can crawl pretty quickly.


We work hard to attract beneficial insects to our farm and keep them here.  We have large areas of the farm that we do not mow until after frost in the fall.  These contain lots of wildflowers, such as yarrow, which attract beneficial insects.  

After 20-30 days, the larvae pupate, then emerge as adults in another 3-12 days, depending on temperatures and species. Adults may live only a few months to more than one year. Here's one of the adult Lady Bugs that was on the lettuce.


Isn't she (or he) a beauty?