Friday, August 27, 2010

Rabbit Watch

There is a drama that is occasionally played out here on the farm.  This summer there has been a rabbit that comes out early in the morning and late in the afternoon and eats grass and sometimes just lays around in front of our shop building.  The building is located behind the house.  You have a good view of the building and the rabbit from our back porch.

I like to spend a few minutes drinking coffee on the back porch before I go to work in the mornings (normally about 6:45).  Sally, one of our dogs, usually joins me out there and she has begun to take notice of this rabbit as well.  Here she is watching the rabbit.  Her ears are at attention and are about as big as the rabbit's ears!

Most days she is content just to watch the rabbit, but occasionally it will do something that triggers her predator instinct and she starts to stalk it like this:

Now rabbits are wild creatures and only survive in the wild by being ever vigilant.  So, I can assure you that by the time Sally gets into her stalking mode, the rabbit is already aware of her and her intentions.  It is really funny to watch because Sally will slink out toward the rabbit in plain view.  The rabbit never seems very concerned but will eventually run off into the brush on the other side of the shop.  At this point, Sally runs as fast as she can, but never even gets close to the rabbit.  Here she is as she chases after the rabbit.

Sally returns after a couple of minutes all out of breath and panting hard.  She has already done a hard days work.  And, we can breathe a sigh of relief that she has once again saved us from the evil rabbit that lurks in the bushes!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Black and Yellow Argiope

If you are afraid of spiders, you might ought to stop reading here because the blog tonight is about spiders.  This is the time of year for spiders.  You have probably noticed (or run into) the webs that are being spun by those huge spiders that like to make their webs right across your doorway every night.

Tom has been telling me about a couple of spiders that have webs out in the garden.  So, today I went out there to take a look.  I was delighted to find a Black and Yellow Argiope, one of those big spiders that builds a web that has a zig zag pattern in the middle.  Actually, I didn't know what it was called until I came back to the house and did a Google search for "spider zig zag web".  Tom says there are 4 of them are at different places around the farm.  This one  made its web between the rows of tomato plants.

I wish you could see the spider a little better.  It is really beautiful.  Black with yellow spots and black legs.  These spiders eat flying insects that get trapped in the web, mainly aphids, flies, grasshoppers, bees, and wasps.   They prefer sunny places to build their webs and each night they eat their web and build a new one. 

I'm fascinated with spiders because there are so many different kinds and they spin many different kinds of webs.  This spider is called and "orb web" spider because its web is circular.  There are even spiders that carry their young around on their backs!

Maybe I should have been a entomology major instead of a math major.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Water-saving device

I'm somewhat embarrassed to share this.  But since this blog is about gardening sustainably, and saving water fits in with that, I thought "What the Heck!".  So, here goes.

As I've mentioned before, the house out here on the farm needed some TLC when we moved in.  We spent most of last year working on the windows, new roof, new siding, new geothermal heating and A/C system.  So, finally, this summer we started on the inside.  The first project was redoing the downstairs den.  I'm not a fan of carpet and my goal is to get rid of all the carpet in the house.  So, we started out by ripping up the carpet in the den, putting down new porcelain tile and painting the room.  This took about 6 weeks to accomplish since we only had limited time to work on it at nights and on weekends.  But, it was well worth it to see the finished product.

Another project is to redo the master bathroom.  The tub and lavatory are PINK and are stained and chipped.  The tile was obviously a DIY project done by some past owner and the bathtub faucet leaks.  But, this is going to be a big project and I've decided to hire a contractor to do most of this.  So, it's going to take awhile to get all the players in place to do this project. 

In the mean time, this leaky faucet is driving me nuts.  I don't want to spend any money or time replacing it, since we'll just be tearing it out in a couple of months (hopefully).   But, I hate to see all that good water go down the drain.  I tried catching it with several different containers.  Nothing worked very well. 

Then one day I came home to find the following set up in the tub:

Tom had come up with the idea of using one of our watering cans.  The water drips directly into the snout and is ready to use to water plants whenever we need it. The can holds about 2 gallons and we empty it about twice a day. It really has come in handy during this dry spell!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jim's Climbing Okra

We have some dear friends who are a few years older than us.  We have known them for many years.   Jim does a lot of back-yard gardening.  Earlier this spring he gave me some seed that someone had given him.  He said it was "climbing okra".  Hmmmm.  Well, I had to try this, but had trouble finding room for it.  I finally decided to harvest all the lettuce in one of the cold frames and plant it there.  It was late in the spring when I finally got it planted and it took a long time to come up.  I had almost given up on it when a few plants finally poked up through the soil

Tom rigged up a trellis for it out of some short pieces of cattle panels he had on hand.  We don't have any cattle, but use cattle panels for a lot of things.  They are normally used to build pens for sheep or goats or cattle, but if you are creative, you can figure out a lot of good uses for them.  Here's a picture of one someone bent into an arch in their back yard.

Anyway, it took the climbing okra a long time to start growning, but when it did, it really took off!  Here is a picture of it now.

For the longest time, it was all leaves and no flowers.  Then a couple of weeks ago, it started blooming.  Now it has bunches of pretty yellow flowers.  I've been watching it closely for signs of any "okra".  Finally, this week I found one.  This is what it looks like:

It does look something like a piece of regular okra, but I am relatively sure this is a variety of luffa gourd.  These can be eaten when young and tender and are a standard staple in many Asian cuisines.  If you let them grow, they get rather large and develop a fibrous core that can be dried and used as a pot scrubber, hence the name "dish rag gourd".  These are also sold in many bath shops as body sponges.  We grew some one year and I sold them at the farmer's market.  I had several customers surprised to learn that these "sponges" came from a plant and not the sea. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yogurt Making

I posted a recipe for making yogurt a couple of weeks ago.  I'm so excited about this that I decided to post directions and pictures of my last yogurt making endeavor.

First, buy the ingredients.  These include a half gallon of low-fat milk, dry milk, maple syrup and a carton of plain yogurt.  These are the brands I used along with a half gallon of Braums milk.

Second, pour the milk into a large pan and heat to 180 degrees (F) stirring occasionally.

Third, after the milk reaches 180 degrees, remove from heat, cover with a dish towel and cool to 110 degrees.  This will take a while.

While you are waiting for it to cool, wash the jars you are going to put the yogurt in and get your yogurt incubator set up.  I use a cast iron pot.  Put a folded dish towel in the bottom and set it in a pan of water.  Cover with a lid and heat the water on low until the inside reaches about 115 degrees.

Fourth, when the milk cools to 110 degrees, add 1/3 cup of powdered milk, 1/3 cup of maple syrup and 1/2 cup of yogurt.  Mix well, pour it into your jars, put lids on the jars and set them in the incubator.  The jars will not be sealed since the yogurt will be stored in the refrigerator.   I lay a small thermometer on top of the jars so I can check the temperature periodically.

Re-cover the pot with the lid and wrap in towels.   You need to be careful if you have a gas stove.  You don't want to cause a fire!  You need to keep the temperature between 110 and 120 degrees for 5-6 hours.  I've found that the cast iron pot holds the heat really well and I rarely have to apply much more heat during incubation to keep the temperature in this range.

I generally do this in the evening and check the temperature just before going to bed.  I might apply a little bit of heat if needed.  Then, I go to bed and dream about the yummy yogurt I will have to eat the next morning.  Here is the finished product.  The yogurt will keep in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 weeks.

Notice that I just use any jars that I have on hand.  You don't have to buy anything special.   The yogurt is just as good as any that you buy in the store and it only has natural ingredients.  No preservatives.   Be adventuresome and give this a try.   You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I bought some sunflower seed this spring and then found some old sunflower seed that we had in our "stash".  The stash is a couple of ziplock bags full of packets of seed that we only partially used or packets that we bought and never got around to planting.  At any rate, I had several packets of sunflower seed that I wanted to plant this spring. 

The trouble is that I am very bad at planning and really did not have anywhere in my garden to plant the sunflowers.  So, Tom came to my aid and found a spot out in one of the fields where I could plant them .... a strip along the side of where he planted the peppers.  I planted a long row.

I don't go out there very often because, well, I'm lazy and just don't want to walk that far especially if it is hot, like it has been lately.  So, I kind of forgot about the sunflowers until Tom brought one it to me this week.  It is huge and beautiful!  Here it is:

I'm debating whether to cut some of them and take them to the Market to sell or to keep them all to myself.  Hmmmm.....this is a hard decision.