Sunday, August 4, 2013

Gardening With Chickens

  For a long time I have wanted to get our fall/winter garden ready for late summer planting by raising a batch of meat birds in there.  Below is the north facing gate to our lovely fall and winter garden.  The big plants in the foreground are fiber bananas.The bananas die to the ground every winter and grow that big every summer.

   This garden is a fenced circle about 35 feet in diameter, and it looks like a bit of a jungle right now.  We have recently harvested kale, fava beans, onions, garlic, raspberries, lettuce, and parsley from it in the late Spring.  The fall and winter garden is close to the house, which is important because you don't want to go too far for some lettuce when it is 40 degrees and raining.    Another great thing is that it is fully fenced so that I can let the chickens run all over the yard in the winter.  There is nothing more depressing than birds hanging out in a muddy poopy winter run, and it is a pain to keep enough dry (or dry-ish!) straw in there.

For small chickens to be out in the yard, I needed to put up a run cover, or the red shouldered hawks around here would happily carry them off one by one.  To do this, I added to the pole in the center with a piece of bamboo I cut from our hedge, strung up cheap mason line from the center pole to the circular fence in a umbrella pattern, and spread the netting over the top.

All finished!  A good half-day's work!
I ordered the aviary netting on Amazon.   It's nylon and it comes in big pieces.  I got the 50' by 50'.  It was under $70, and was very easy to work with.  What a relief!  I highly recommend it.

In the past I have used this other cheap stuff from the garden store, which I DO NOT recommend:

It comes in big pieces, like 60x60 because it is for covering fruit trees and... I hate it!!  It's the worst!  It snags on everything, I mean everything, until you are extremely grumpy.  Then there is no way that you can take it down and reuse it without it ripping!  NEVER buy this crap!  Use something else. For just keeping birds off fruit trees I now use mosquito netting, which does not snag nearly as much, does not damage the trees, and discourages the birds around here just fine.  Plus, if you use white mosquito netting from over your bed like I did in desperation one year, it will look like your cherry tree is getting married.
But I am getting off topic!  Ah.... yes, chickens preparing my fall planting area.  Eating greens, weeding, scratching, fertilizing.  I am practically a permaculture genius.  Maybe Bill Mollison will be calling me soon to consult on his next book.

Now these chickens will hopefully eat everything leftover in here, scratch everything up and and ahem, fertilize.  The winter garden is over in June and needs to be replanted in August.  The idea is that when the meat birds in here are ready for the freezer, it will be time to plant the fall garden.
I wonder how many seasons it will take for them to kill the Bermuda grass....
I'll let you know and I'll definitely post when we plant.
Here's one of my favorite hens checking things out.  She raised these baby birds for me, and now they are bigger than she is.  What a cutie.

Found one last onion!  Life if good!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Apricot-Lime Jam

      Our apricots are ripe, so it's time to make our favorite jam.


    Before I began jam-making, we put a lot of apricots in the freezer, which is what my Love is doing above.  They add some real creamy sweetness to smoothies.  Additionally, there are a lot more apricots than sugar or jam jars around here.

    I started with the recipe right from the pectin package, which called for 6 cups apricots, finely chopped. I used seven cups halved to account for the increased volume and to increase the chunkiness.    

The next ingredient is 4.5 cups sugar.  I know this is a lot of sugar, but  I have seen recipes that call for a lot more.  What I have decided is that, hey, it's jam.  

Full rolling boil:

The important change I make in the recipe is to substitute the lemon juice for lime juice and add bunch of lime zest, from up to, say, eight limes.

......And here's the jam, fresh from the canner! 

     I used SureJell pectin, by the way.  They are not sponsoring me, but if they want to they can email me and I may be willing to sell my soul to the corporate food machine.  It depends if they send me a t-shirt or not.


    By the way, I know canning can be intimidating.  The first couple of summers it felt difficult and like it took me all day.  However, I promise that once you get used to it and know the steps, it's easy, even relaxing.  I did this jam in what felt like hardly any time at all after dinner last night.

    I love my big canner.  I can pressure can 16 quarts of tomatoes at a time in this thing!  I can also just water bath a few cups of jam, like I did for this.

   The jam came out great and so did my sprouted bread, so it was a pretty good day at the blue house.

What kind of jam are you making this summer?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

We Dig Potato Salad 

     There was a family Father's Day picnic over the weekend and I didn't have any trouble deciding what to make for it.  We had just dug an enormous bed of potatoes.  Big Love was happy because he got a 15:1 return on his seed potato investment.  He said he cut some of the bigger potatoes he planted into six pieces. You just want to make sure each piece has an eye. After you cut them up, you let them dry out a bit and plant them, that's it.  Now you are growing some real calories!

 Potato plenty!  Gosh, we could totally live on these things and have like a million kids.....but I guess that's what our Irish brothers and sisters thought before the famine.  Here's our potato bed below, thriving in early spring.  It was about 4' x 20'.

    Then the other day, it was time to dig the bed and see what treasures lay beneath the surface.

   We have waxy purple and gold ones, and starchy russets.

I used the purple and gold ones for the potato salad I made for the party.

  I had to think about what to put in for a bit.  Normally I would use a huge bunch of parsley for potato salad, only our parsley has gone to seed just now.  It would be silly to fixate on parsley with a whole yard full of herbs and greens, so I looked around and found some other things to put in.

Here is what I finally put in the potato salad I made for the party:

1 colander full of washed potatoes, cut up and boiled in salted water until they're done
1 handful of sorrel
a few sprigs of rosemary
handful garlic chives
apple mint
onion (use lots and dice them small)
olive oil
cider vinegar
little spoonful dijon mustard
salt and pep

     Sadly, Baby Girl has had a bad cold/flu this week so we could not go to the party, but I sent Big Love over with a huge bowl of the potato salad for his family and it was all eaten up.  I made a lot, so he is also eating it every day this week in his lunch.   It is always good to make leftovers if you have lunches to pack.

    Sorrel is a wonderful perennial addition to the garden.  It is extremely lemony and I add it to all kinds of salads.  The Silver Palate cookbook has a good sorrel soup recipe that would be something different for a luncheon or summer dinner party.


   Apple mint is my current favorite mint variety. Mmmmmm soft.

   Garlic chives are another perennial that we use all the time and kind of take for granted.  They're on the right next to some horseradish in the photo below.  This bunch has been there for years and I grab a handful at least twice a week.  They seem to tolerate more picking than the cute and delicate ballet chives we have.



   We have lots of rosemary bushes around the place.  They do well here, and are pretty and evergreen.

If you never tried growing potatoes, you should.  These things are fun and fun is good.  Besides, you might get a potato hug:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tasty OJ Alternative

   We are using the last of our oranges here at the blue house and it is so sad to see them go.  Now I won't be able to grab an orange or five whenever I want.

   What a relief it is to know that California citrus is not tasteless, as I was once told whilst growing up in Florida.  Those poor, strange people on the West Coast, I would think, eating their dry, horrible oranges.  So sad.  
   I was also under the extremely odd impression that California oranges were not used to make juice, probably because they were not juicy enough.  I wouldn't mention all this but I think Californians should know about the slander campaign out there in certain parts of the Real America.  I happen to know that lots of people think that all we do out here is give out welfare to the undeserving poor, have gay sex, and eat yucky oranges.  That is really unfair, because our oranges are actually very good.


    I have juiced many delicious and juicy California oranges with my gigantic juicer.  The only thing is that this year we are just not that in to juice.  For one thing, juice is a lot of sugar without enough fiber.  For another, juice uses up a lot of oranges.  This might seem okay at the beginning of a big orange season, maybe, but now that my stash in dwindling, it seems wasteful.  I'd rather feed ten oranges to Baby Girl and her playmates than drink them all up in one sitting.  If you are buying oranges, the waste factor is even worse!

   What to do?  Well, this year we have been making a drink to stand it for juice that we love.  It is lighter, delicious, and only uses a few oranges.

  To make it for two people, just peel two or three oranges and put them in the blender. Then add about the same amount of ice as oranges by volume and less than half a cup of yogurt or milk.

    Blend and call your loved ones to enjoy some breakfast!

    Yum.  I want an orange icee thing right now.

  We are in zone 8, so for us to get a good orange crop we first need a spring without any late frosts for the trees to bloom and set fruit.   This must be followed three seasons later by a reasonable winter in which the fruit does not freeze on the trees.

    Above is a picture of Renaissance Man picking the last of our oranges from the Valencia.  The ones near the center are hard to get because the trees are equipped with these strong, sharp thorns about three inches long.  Yikes.  Good work, Honey.

   Happiness in a box:

    Our house came with several full sized citrus trees.  When we were house shopping RM didn't care about the number of bathrooms, just fruit trees.  

    Below is one of our little orange trees, also a Valencia. It is finally taking off, having already survived some freezing winter mornings and some extreme summer heat.  Hope for the future!

Well, try the orange icee drink instead of juice.  And if you can grow citrus, you should.  These things are fun and fun is good.  I see you.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Harvesting Garlic!

No Vampires Here  

    The other day I needed an onion and I figured the ones out in the garden were close enough to being ready that I could just go get one of those.  I called for BG and we went out back to get one.  That's when I noticed the garlic.  It was all lying halfway down and all brown on the tips.  "Holy Smokes Baby Girl," I said, "It's time to dig those babies up!"

   It's a few weeks earlier than usual for the garlic, but the spring has been warm, and I guess the garlic was just done.  As I recall, I planted it rather hastily in September, without as much bed preparation as I should have done, and you can see it in the inconsistent size of the bulbs.  I better keep a few of the pathetic little ones around to let this be lesson to me!

   You are supposed to check a bulb to see if they are ready to dig once the tips of the plant dry out, but in my experience the tips often look brown for awhile before the garlic stops getting fuller, so I like to wait until they look really terrible.

    With BG and I inspired to action, we walked around for awhile looking for her little shovel so that she could help. When we tried to use it it did not go deep enough to get under the bulbs. Too bad. She sat back and pouted while I dug.  Poor little BG.  We both had fun pulling up the plants, though.


   You are supposed to use a fork to gently dig the bulbs up in order to reduce the odds of chopping one in half.  I used a short handled flat shovel to dig up our garlic this time, and I did chop one bulb, but I have also skewered one with a fork before. Jeez, I should be more careful!  

   What you should not be tempted to do is just pull them up, because this does not work.  You might get one this way, but on the second one, you will just behead the garlic and fall over backwards with an empty stalk in your hands.  Then the bulb will be difficult to find in the dirt without it's top.  In fact, you may never find it.  Your precious garlic bulb will be sacrificed to the allium gods.

   The next step in proper garlic harvesting is to brush off the dirt.  I considered actually doing this, but to be honest it sounded a bit like cleaning mushrooms in the kitchen with a little makeup brush, which I don't do either.

  DH's aunt, who has been gardening on a large scale since the sixties, taught me to just hose them off.  I understand that the next step is drying the garlic, so perhaps I would not want to get it wet, but until I dug it up it had been in the ground getting wet all the time anyway.  What's one more watering?

    We put them in the grass and washed them off with the hose.  Ah!  What I should have done is hosed some, but also lovingly brushed a couple off to see if the brushed ones stored longer or something.  Ah!  What I really, really should have done was not watered for a few days so they would be all dry and then lovingly brushed them off.  But then, it just rained like mad here.  Maybe next year.

   I am not too worried because since I dug these up four days ago it has been hot and dry and over 100 degrees.  I'm sure they are dried out.  Below is my little garlic drying table, which I have since pulled into even deeper shade.  Is is an old thing with no top that DH put some wire on.  I have yet to actually grow a year's supply.  We use a lot of garlic. That should be my goal for next year!  I will probably save at least a quarter of this, the really good bulbs from this year, to plant.

    Garlic is really fun to grow, just poke the little cloves in the ground in late summer or early fall, and they turn into bulbs over the winter.  It makes me feel good about myself, like I am actually the kind of person who plans ahead.  Man, do I have it together when I plant my garlic!  What's next?  A savings account?

   I love using fresh garlic, it is all juicy.  It gets spicier as it dries, though, and spicy is good.
Well, we had fun with our mini garlic harvest, perfect or not. Most of the bulbs are a semi-respectable size.  If you never tried growing garlic, you should!  These things are fun and fun is good.