Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Make Yogurt

On weekdays my favorite breakfast is plain yogurt mixed with mandarin oranges sprinkled with granola.  I never get tired of this combination.  I used to buy yogurt at the store until I learned how easy it is to make.

You need the following ingredients.

  • Half gallon of milk (whole, low-fat or skim)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (adds a slight bit of sweetness) 
  • 1/3 cup of powdered milk (adds creaminess)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
.  You also need a cooking thermometer, like this.

Here's what you do.  First, pour the milk into a sauce pan.  I always use Braum's 1% milk.  Attach the thermometer to the pan and start heating the milk.

I use a medium heat and stir it occasionally.  Keep an eye on the temperature.  You want to heat it to between 180 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not quite there yet in this picture.

Once it reaches 180 - 185 degrees, then remove from heat and let it cool down to 115 degrees.  I set it on the counter, cover it with a kitchen towel and stir it every 5 minutes or so for the first 20 minutes to keep a film from forming on the top.

It will take longer than you expect to cool down, but once it reaches 115 degrees, add the following:

  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk
  • 1/2 cup of starter yogurt
 Stir until everything is mixed together well and there are no clumps of starter yogurt.   Then,
 ladle it into clean glass jars and cover with lids.  They can be used lids since they do not need to seal.

Next, you have to incubate it for several hours at between 105 and 115 degrees.  There are many ways to do this.    For example, you can set the jars in a styrofoam ice chest to which warm water has been added and keep changing the water to keep it in the desired temperature range.  There are also special yogurt incubators you can purchase.  Whatever you do, you have to keep the temperature constant in the 105-115 range.

I found that my food dehydrator works great.  The drying racks come out and leave plenty of room for the jars of yogurt.

It also has temperature settings and a timer along with a table listing the item you are drying/making and the temperature to use.  Note, the temperature for yogurt is 115 degrees.

So, set the temperature for 115 and set the timer for about 6 hours.  Close it up and go on about your business.

After 4 hours, I begin checking the jars.  I take one out and turn it on its side.  When it is no longer "watery" and pulls away from the side of the jar, then it is ready.  Don't worry too much about "over-cooking" it.  The first couple of times I made yogurt, I set the timer for about 10 hours!  It turned out okay, but was not as creamy as I like it.  I found the using a shorter incubation time works better.  You may just have to see what works best for you.

This is what it looks like when it is finished.  I think I incubated this batch a little too long, but it tasted great anyway.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Monster bug? Not!

Have you ever seen a bug that looks like this?

Here's another picture of it.

Looks kind of scary, doesn't it?  

In reality, this is the larval stage of an insect that you are very familiar with . . . the Ladybug!  Believe it or not, this is what they look like after they hatch.  During this stage,  the larvae feed voraciously. A single larva can consume dozens of aphids per day. They also feed on other soft-bodied plant pests as well, such as scale insects, mites, and insect eggs

At the end of the larval stage, the Lady Bug attaches itself to a leaf and pupates.  This is what it looks like while in the pupal stage.

During this stage, the ladybug's body undergoes a remarkable transformation.  This transformation is a result of special cells called histoblasts. The histoblasts regulate a special biochemical process through which the larval body is broken down and reformed into the adult ladybug.  This process may last anywhere from 3 to 12 days depending on the species of Ladybug and various environmental variables, such as temperature.

It emerges from the pupal stage as an adult Ladybug.

Ladybugs are a favorite with children and adults alike because of their bright color and spots.   They have a fun shape too.  No wonder a well-known automobile is nicknamed after them!  

But, first and foremost, they are a beneficial insect that we should all make a concerted effort to attract to our gardens.  And, the first rule of attracting beneficial insects to your garden, is "Avoid using pesticides".  Pesticides do not discriminate between good and bad insects and will kill good insects just as dead as they do problem insects.

Next, be sure to include plants that attract beneficial plants in your garden.  The tiny, clustered flowers of umbels offer exposed nectar and pollen to small pollinators like parasitic wasps. Umbels include plants, such as yarrow, dill, fennel, and wild carrots. Composite flowers attract the larger pollinators, like robber flies and predatory wasps. Composite flowers include many garden favorites, like zinnias and sunflowers.   

Finally, learn to recognize the most common beneficial insects so you can avoid killing them.  Here is a good link:

Sunday, June 23, 2013


One of the chores I enjoy is mowing.  I don't know why I like it.  Maybe it is because I can see the results immediately.  Unfortunately, the riding mower was in the shop for 3 weeks earlier this spring and the grass really got ahead of us.  There are large areas that we only mow a couple of times a year, but we try to keep the area around the house and garden mowed pretty well. These areas had gotten terribly overgrown while the mower was broke.  

Tom is swamped this time of year and I decided to help by mowing around the garden.  In one place the Johnson grass was really tall.  You can read about how much I hate Johnson Grass in my blog entry about "Devil Grass":

Before I knew it, I ran over some of Tom's drip tape that was lurking in the weeds and the mower sucked it up and it wound around one of the blade spindles! 

Drip tape is this plastic hose-like stuff that has tiny holes in it.  You use it for (what else) drip irrigation to conserve water.  

I hated to tell Tom what had happened because it is not an easy matter to work on the mower.  It is really heavy and the only way we have to get under it is to lift the front end off the ground with the tractor.  Even then, it's not easy to get under it to work on it.

Sally came out to help, but decided she would rather roll in the grass.

The tape was wound around the blade spindle really really REALLY tightly and it was no easy task to get it off.  

But with lots of perseverance and me cheering him on, Tom got it all unwound.

So, now that it is fixed again.....I guess I'll go do some more mowing.  But, will be more careful when mowing tall grass, like that, again!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spittle Bug

Have you ever seen something that looks like this on a plant?

I've heard the foamy stuff was made by some sort of insect.  So, this time I took the opportunity to check it out.  This is what I found.

It is an odd-looking little creature, called a Spittlebug (what else?).  Apparently, there are several kinds of spittlebugs and this is not the full-grown bug, but the nymph stage of one of them.  

The frothy spittle serves several purposes. It hides the nymph from predators, insulates it against heat and cold, and keeps it from drying out.  Sometimes, the nymphs pierce plants and suck sap causing damage to the host plant.  But, the only type of plant I have noticed them on are some of the wildflowers that we have growing in the field in front of the house.   From what I could determine, some of them can be serious pests in alfalfa fields.  But, they don't seem to bother the wildflowers much, so I'm just going to enjoy them for the odd little insect they are.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tub Trugs

Over the years, we have used all manner of containers for harvesting produce .... some of them we bought new, some were recycled from restaurants, or some we saved from food items we purchased.

But, when you have a lot of different sizes and shapes of containers, they are difficult to store because they don't stack evenly.

This year we were looking through a garden supply catalog and ran across some harvest tubs called "Tub Trugs".  These caught my eye primarily because of the funny name.  But, as I read the description of these, I decided I had to order some and give them a try.  

As it turned out, if you ordered $50 worth of merchandise, then the shipping was free!  Whoopeee!  I am always one to look for a bargain.  So, I figured that I could order 6 of the 3.5 gallon size and get the free shipping.   They came within a week and here is what they look like.

They are great for holding many things.  We trimmed our leeks, put a little water in the bottom of a tub trug and the leeks stayed fresh and were easily transported to the farmers' market the next day.

The 3.5 gallon size, like these, is also the right size for storing heavier produce, such as squash.   Larger containers would be too heavy.

Finally, they are FLEXIBLE.  So, if you only have one hand free, you can still carry them, like this: 

I've got radishes in this one.  So far, we are really happy with them.  We'll see how they hold up and may order some more next year.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Goodbye to Sweet Little Lizzy

In April, we had to say goodbye to our sweet little Lizzy Dog and have her put to sleep.  This was a very difficult decision for us to make and we were both heart-broken.  But, she had become very sick and was in renal failure, so there was no other option.  It has taken me all this time to get to the point where I felt I could write this blog entry in memory of her.  It is something that is healing for me and may be of some consolation to others who have lost beloved pets.

Lizzy came to us in the fall of 2004, when we lived in town.  We found her roaming our neighborhood one day.  She appeared to be a full-blooded beagle and was very friendly, so  I was sure someone owned her.  Since I feared she would get run over, I put her in our fenced back yard until I could find her owner.  However, even though we put an ad in the paper and reported that we had found her to the local shelter, nobody ever claimed her.

It was just as well, though, because I've always called her our little "angel dog".  You see, we found Lizzy about a month before we had to have our beloved dog, Lucy, who had been with us for 15 years, put to sleep.  I felt like God sent Lizzy to us to help fill the void that Lucy's death created in our lives. 

We found that owning a hound was quite different.  Alongside the Bloodhound and Basset Hound, Beagles have one of the best developed senses of smell of any dog.  And, Lizzy would follow her nose anywhere!  Here is an entry I wrote about her following her nose, called "Good Dog, Bad Dog".

Even when she was inside the house, her nose alerted her to critters outside, like this.

Lizzy also had the typical hound bark, although you couldn't call it a bark.  I read somewhere that beagles have "the melodious voice of the hound".  And, that was certainly the case with Lizzy.  When she and the other dogs were outside barking at something, there was no mistaking which one was Lizzy!

Over the years since I started this blog, I've written several entries about her.  There is this one about her and our compost pile which she loved to investigate.

And, here is one about her and Sally sniffing out a mouse in some tall grass.  Lizzy did most of the "sniffing" while Sally supervised.

Lizzy was the gentlest dog I've ever known.  She never tried to bite anyone.  Never even growled at anyone as far as I know.  The grandkids loved to play with her and she tolerated it with dignity.

The only time I knew her to be aggressive at all was with other dogs when she felt they might eat her food.  Even if she didn't want to eat the food herself, she would lay beside her food bowl and "guard" it to make sure Sally didn't get it!

We'll always hold a special place in our hearts for you Lizzy Dog.  If heaven is a perfect place, then I know you'll be there waiting for us.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Swiss Chard Going to Seed

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Rainbow Swiss Chard that we were growing.  Here's a link to that post.

The reason it is named "Rainbow" is because the stalks of the leaves are several different colors.

Like all plants, Swiss Chard reaches a point in its life cycle where it produces seed.  In order to do this, the plant sends up a long stem called a "flower spike".  It looks like this.

At the top of the stalk is where the flowers grow.

These will eventually produce seed and the plant's life cycle begins all over again.  

I plan to let one of the red and one of the yellow plants go to seed, harvest the seed and plant it again next year.  I want to begin saving more seed from plants that we grow ourselves.  There are 2 reasons I want to do this.  First, the plants grown from saved seed will be more adapted to our soil and climate than those grown from seed produced elsewhere.  And, second, the seed we save ourselves will be FREE!