Thursday, January 28, 2016

Update on the Peacock

It is about time that I gave an update on PeteyPi, our peacock.  If you have forgotten how he got this rather odd name, here is my original blog about him.  

So, here he is today.

If you recall he was only 2 years old when we got him and won't be 3 until this spring.  Because peacocks do not get their full tail feathers until they are 3, then he still has a way to go.  But, he is getting there.  He has a few "eye spots" and they are beautiful.

Because he is such a large bird, we installed a couple of 2X6s in his shelter as roosts for him.

Here he is jumping from the top roost to the bottom.

Today I decided he needed a better feeder.  His old feeder was made of plastic and was too shallow.  A lot of food was knocked out onto the ground and wasted.

So, I bought him a bigger feeder that is made of metal and is deeper.   He was very curious about it.

And, walked all around it.  Even jumped up on the straw bale in the corner to get a better look at it.

Finally, he decided to try it out.

Then, I cleaned and refilled his water dish and he tried that out too.

 I have gotten quite attached to this silly bird.  I sometimes give him treats, like this lettuce that I recently had left over from a salad.

 It is amazing the things he can do with his neck and head.  He can stretch his neck out long, like the picture of him on the straw bale, or scrunch it up, like the above picture.  He can also turn his head 180 degrees!

So, that's the latest on PeteyPi.  Hope you enjoy the pictures and find him as beautiful as I do!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Turnip Greens

About a month ago, I took you on a tour of what winter looks like on the farm.   

One of the pictures I posted in that article was of our turnip patch.  

Both the leaves and roots of the turnip plant are edible.  But, turnips have a bad reputation because of their strong taste.  However, when cook just right, they are delicious.  Here's how I cook the greens.

First, remove the tough stems of the bigger leaves, wash well and drain in a colander.

While they are draining, chop some onion and saute in a large pot along with some chopped bacon.

You'll need a large pot to start with, but the greens cook down to a fraction of their original size.  I like to use a cast iron pot like this enameled pot.

Once the onions are softened and translucent, add the turnip greens.  You will need to stir them ever so often and watch them carefully to keep them from sticking.  I usually add a little extra water or broth.

Cook over low to medium heat.   They quickly wilt and cook down, like this.

Now, put a lid on the pot and cook over low heat until tender. 

Add salt and pepper to taste, put them in a bowl and enjoy!

I like to add a dash of hot pepper sauce and eat them with cornbread.  Some folks add a teaspoon of vinegar.  These are a meal in themselves.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Attracting Native Pollinators

Back in June of 2016, I wrote an article about the Native Pollinator Workshop we attended at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.   Native Pollinator Workshop

I recall at the time I had intended to write some more about what we learned in that workshop, but, alas, we got busy with the garden and I forgot about it.  Forgot about it, that is, until this past weekend when we attended the annual Horticulture Industry Show.  This was the topic of my last blog entry.  HIS meeting

During the meeting I attended a session on providing habitat for native bees.  I posted a note about the session on our Windy Acres Natural Farm Facebook page and someone asked me if I could share some of the information I learned at the session.  This reminded me that I had intended to share information from the workshop we attended in June.  So, here is that belated post.

The Europeans brought honey bees to the new world and since that time, we have become dependent on them to help pollinate our crops.  However, before the Europeans arrived, there were already many native insects that did the job of pollination just as well as honey bees.  Now that honey bees are being decimated by disease, it is more critical than ever that we encourage preservation of our native pollinating insects.  

In addition to pollination, many natives eat pest insects.  For example, the larvae of many syrphid flies eat aphids.  The adult fly fuels itself by eating sugary nectar and then searches for plants with aphids on which to lay its eggs.  When the young flies hatch, they patrol the plant looking for aphids to latch onto and suck dry.  

So, how do we encourage these native pollinators in our yards?  Here are some tips.

  • Avoid using pesticides, but if you must, try to avoid letting the pesticide spray drift out of the area you want to treat.  Use low pressure and avoid days when the wind is blowing.  Even light wind can cause considerable drift.
  • Create a pollinator-friendly landscape.  Unfortunately, this does not go hand-in-hand with large manicured lawns.  Some lawn may need to be sacrificed to create suitable habitat for beneficial insects.  One can do this by creating flower and herb gardens that contain plants that attract butterflies and native bees.  Here are some recommendations for flowers and herbs that are good to plant.
    • Native wildflowers are excellent for attracting pollinators.  A short list of these includes Asters, Beebalm, Goldenrod, Milkweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Purple Coneflower, Sunflowers and Spiderwort.  There are many domesticated varieties of these you can buy at garden centers.  As I have mentioned before, we have a couple of large areas we only mow a couple of times a year to encourage wildflowers.  In one of those areas we have some beautiful native milkweed called Antelope Horn Milkweed.  Here's a picture of it.

    • Herbs include Basil, Lavender, Mint, Rosemary and Oregano.  Here are some pictures of my basil patch from last summer.  I let it go to seed during the latter part of the summer.  It was literally covered with bees.

    • Garden flowers include Mexican Sunflower, Cosmos, Russian Sage and Borage.  I grew Mexican Sunflowers this past summer and plan to plant them again this year.  In addition to attracting butterflies and bees, they are also a beautiful red color with yellow centers.  
  • Provide suitable nesting sites for native bees.  There are a couple of ways to do this.
    • About 70 percent of native bees nest in the ground, so they need access to bare ground.  Clear the grass from an area of your yard.  An obtrusive corner where you might situate a few large rocks so that it looks somewhat landscaped would work well.  The site should be open, sunny and have good drainage.

    • Other native bees are tunnel-nesters.  They generally nest in abandoned beetle tunnels in stumps or dead trees.  But, you can simulate these sites in several ways.  Here are pictures that illustrate how to do this.

The Xerces Society has excellent information on building nests like those above.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Horticulture Industry Show 2016

Goodness! Here we are in 2016 already. When did that happen? The past few weeks have been a whirlwind with family coming in for the holidays and a birthday for Tom thrown in there as well.  

However, we have one more activity to get out of the way this month before I feel like the gardening season can truly begin.   The Horticulture Industry Show is an annual event that is a joint meeting of growers in Arkansas and Oklahoma.   Each year the location alternates between Tulsa, OK, and Ft. Smith, AR.  Oklahoma State University bears a lot of the responsibility for organizing the event.

Here is a link to this year's event:  HIS meeting  

The theme this year is "Building Soils for a Secure Future" and the keynote speaker is Jeff Moyer from Rodale Institute.  He is a world renowned expert in organic agriculture.  

Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 by organic pioneer J.I. Rodale to study the link between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. He moved from New York City to rural Pennsylvania in the late 1930's where he was able to put his ideas and principles into action.

He learned about organic food-growing concepts and theorized that to preserve and improve our health we must restore and protect the natural health of the soil.  When World War II caused a sudden shortage of nitrogen fertilizer because it was diverted to making munitions, the natural nutrient poverty of the nation's soil was revealed.  Developing and demonstrating practical, non-chemical methods of rebuilding natural soil fertility became Mr.  Rodale's primary goal during World War II.

Rodale Instutite's website contains a wealth of information on topics ranging from herbal gardening and apple tree pruning to organic gardening and maple sugaring.  I hope you will check out their website below.