WORDS TO LIVE BY

— Arthur Ashe

DID YOU MISS ME?

I’ve been MIA for a couple weeks but it’s been for good reasons.

Two weekends ago, Oscar developed Covid symptoms and was completely wilted. So, he got none of his weekend chores and projects done. Yes, he tested positive. I was feeling puny too so none of my weekend projects got done either.

This past weekend, friends of mine, the Parks, came to visit from Wyoming. Happy Days! I haven’t seen them since 2018. They tried to visit in March 2020 and actually got as far as Maryland, but that was the weekend the country started shutting down for the Pandemic and rather than finish their planned trip, they had to concentrate on finding a way back home. As you can imagine, we had a lot of catching up to do and thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

GARDEN NEWS

I was So Excited to find lots and lots of pods on my pea plants! I planted a lot more peas this Spring than I did last Spring because, well, I want more peas.

Lots of pea pods means lots of peas (cross fingers)!

I took today (Monday) off from work and started on some of my belated transplanting. I was able to put three Kabocha pumpkins in the Three Sisters Garden and one in a homemade container*. If that one survives, I plan to give it to the friend who originally told me about them.

I transplanted one tomato plant in a homemade container*, four in the original Greenstalk planter.

Tomato seedlings in the Greenstalk

, and two in my deep, green planter of this Spring’s failed Kale planting.

This planter box has not been very successful at growing anything, but, I’ll test a couple of tomatoes seedlings

I transplanted my Gypsy Peppers into another layer of the original Greenstalk planter.

Gypsy (sweet) Peppers

I moved last year’s thyme plant (split it into two plants) from the original Greenstalk planter to my new “leaf” Greenstalk planter. The “leaf” Greenstalk planter gives more pockets than the original but they are also more shallow. Mine is intended to hold mostly herbs and I already have tarragon, sage, oregano, and marjoram planted there. I used one level for my Habanero pepper seedlings though.

I’m trying Habanero Peppers this year

At that point, the cloud cover disappeared, and it got too hot to work outside.

I still need to direct seed zucchini, crook neck squash and watermelon (all those starts died) in the Three Sisters Garden. I also have a lot of empty pockets in the two Greenstalk planters. That can only mean one thing – I don’t have enough plants! Hmm, what should I do about that?

*Homemade containers: I saw a You Tube video about wrapping a cardboard box, inside and out, in a contractor’s garbage bag. Then you pull a big of the inside bag out through a small hole for drainage. I made three to try this year. They are not attractive, but they are inexpensive.

Cheap container

CHICKEN NEWS

The hens have been laying 6-8 eggs a day. That is, until Eager decided to stop laying and go broody. She has planted herself where everyone else has been laying their eggs and she won’t let anyone in. You can hear the arguing in the hen house as everyone circles around Eager, grumbling at her to “Get Off!” She just growls and fluffs her feathers at them. Oh, the drama!

The result is, we have to search for eggs every day. After all, when you have to pop out an egg, there is no holding it in. So, I’m finding them dropped everywhere in the coop and run…but not in that fancy nest box we have for them. Only one of the Cream Legbars will lay in the “real” nest box.

I wouldn’t mind letting Eager hatch a clutch of eggs, but we just are not prepared. If the hoop house conversion to a chicken house were finished, I’d move her and some eggs into that. It’s not ready, however, so we have missed opportunity this year.

FOOD PRESERVATION

I processed the last of the strawberries by coring and freezing them whole. We thawed and had some of them with our breakfast when the Parks were here this weekend. How can one fruit hold so much Yum?

I did some rebel canning. I cooked up a ham I had purchased when they were on sale at Easter, cut it up and canned it. It’s called rebel canning because, strictly speaking, cured meats are not approved by the USDA for home canning. However, bean and ham soup and split pea with ham are approved for canning. My rebel heart says, if they (USDA) really doesn’t want us to do it, they need to explain why there’s that incongruity. The only thing I could find is that they weren’t happy with the results back when they researched it in the 50’s but that they haven’t done much updated research for several decades. Plenty of people do it successfully using modern canning methods though, so I’m willing to try it.

Finally, I cooked the 20-pound turkey that has been taking up space in my freezer. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful my employer gives us turkeys each Thanksgiving, I just need to make room for this year’s additions to the freezer.

The plan was to prepare the turkey and have the Iredell County contingent of the family come here for Mother’s Day dinner. However, that was the weekend Oscar came down with Covid, so we canceled the dinner. Since it was thawed, I went ahead and cooked it and now have many packages of sliced turkey and cubed turkey in the freezer. I used a package for hot open-faced turkey sandwiches for one of our dinners while the Parks were here. Mmm-mm that was sure tasty.

TIMMY THE DACHSHUND

Saturday was Timmy’s birthday. Happy 15th birthday to my Timmy! He had his annual well-doggie check and is doing okay for a senior doggie.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

SISTER FOUR’S TURN

After just a week, Sister One (the corn) was sprouted in 10 of the 11 mounds in the Three Sisters Garden. If I don’t see something in that last mound in a few days, I’ll plant more corn seeds. The corn needs to be knee high before it’s time to plant Sisters Two and Three.

This weekend I planted bachelor button and sunflower seeds (Sister Four) in the Three Sisters Garden. These are meant to act as attractants to pollinators and distractors to birds. I think they will add a nice touch of color too.

In other garden news, the flower seeds I planted in the brick bed last weekend have also sprouted and we removed the plastic from the hoop house greenhouse.

Originally, I intended the hoop house to be dual purpose. In the Spring and late Fall it would be used as a greenhouse. In the summer it would be used as a chicken tractor to raise meat birds. The meat birds did not come to fruition this year though. Perhaps next year? In the meantime, one of Oscar’s projects this summer is to put doors on each end and cover the cattle panel with hardware cloth.

It was a delight to open my last container of strawberry freezer jam the end of February and enjoy that fresh strawberry flavor. So, the fact that it’s strawberry season here now, you can bet I went to my favorite strawberry farm this weekend. I’ve been getting strawberries from Kildee Farm in Ramseur, North Carolina, for the better part of a decade. They have always provided gorgeous, ripe, tasty strawberries.

I purchased three flats (three gallons) of strawberries. Yes, my zeal, as usual, overcame my good sense. Nevertheless, they are home and I’ve been working to get them processed as soon as possible.

My first strawberry activity was to load up the dehydrator.

Five trays of strawberry lusciousness!

Oh, my goodness, the smell in the house was divine!

My daughter asked, “You can smell them?” knowing that there is not much I can smell after Covid. But yes! I could smell them while they were processing in the dehydrator and enjoyed every minute.

The next morning, I emptied the trays and am now the proud owner of two snack-size bags of dehydrated strawberries.

Post-dehydration yield

Getting two small baggies out of 2/3 of a flat of strawberries may not seem like much but each little nugget packs a powerful flavor punch. Not only are these great to snack on, but they are also useful additions to cake, cookies, muffins, pancakes, salads, and other dishes. No, these two baggies won’t last until next season, but I’m not done with the dehydrator!

The second strawberry project was to make jam. I don’t usually make cooked jam as, somehow, I always manage to make a mistake. I wanted to try again so I’ll have jam on my shelf rather than taking up freezer space (though the freezer jam tastes so much fresher!). This time was no exception in the mistake department. Let’s just say, we’ll see if I have jam or syrup.

I have about a gallon and 1/4 left to process but they’ll have to be done after work this week.

Luncheon menu – this week, the worms got a smorgasbord of cauliflower stems and florets, pea plant thinnings, and strawberry trimmings. Last week’s lunch was all gone so I think I’ll check mid-week to see if I’ve given them enough food. I spritzed their bin with a little water as it seemed a little dry to me. Last time I over-wetted it, so I used my spray bottle judiciously.

The chickens are doing well and laying 6 – 8 blue, green, sage, and brown eggs a day. This week I sold five dozen eggs. That money goes straight back into buying chicken food.

There were requests for another three dozen, but the buyers didn’t show up. That’s okay, my eggs never last more than two weeks from lay. On the other hand, grocery store eggs can legally be two months old by the time you buy them from the supermarket).

Gosh, I wish I could eat eggs!

YELLOW STRIPEY THINGS

The bugs own the South. Most I leave alone as long as they leave me alone. Except mosquitos. And ticks. Those must go! When some of the yellow stripey bugs are flying and buzzing around you, sometimes it’s hard to know whether to be calm or to exterminate. This guide might help. Oh, and stay calm. Always stay calm. Sometimes as you rapidly leave the area.

ONE SISTER IS DONE

The Three Sisters Garden is taking shape. We spent a few weekends putting up a chicken wire fence around the garden space, then transferring dirt into the fenced area and shaping it. We also lined the edges of the area with mulch to reduce the amount of lawn that tries to sneak back into the area.

This weekend, we planted Sister Corn. We planted 4 sets of corn seeds around a ten-inch circle at the top of our 11 raised mounds. We put two corn seeds per planting hole to ensure germination. If everything sprouts, we’ll have to do some thinning, but that’s okay, the chickens will eat the extras.

Once the corn is about knee high, I will plant the other two sisters: beans and squash.

Next weekend, though, I am going to add a fourth sister – sunflowers. It was something that was suggested to attract pollinators and distract birds. Besides, it will be nice to see that bright spot of yellow in that section of the yard.

I bought a couple of already started flowers (a little instant gratification is wonderful in the garden) and planted them at either end of the brick bed. In between the two flowers, I scattered various flower seeds. That bed is being used as a flower garden this year to give the area a break from vegetable-eating pests.

The apple trees and boysenberries are now fully leafed out. There were even flowers on one of the second year boysenberry bushes! Dare I hope for berries this year?

Will flowers = berries?

The Great Worm Rebellion

I received my moisture meter Monday, a couple days after I expressed concern about my ability to keep a happy worm habitat. When I opened their bin to check the moisture and Ph level, there were, what seemed like, a hundred worms (or more?) trying to get out!

They were everywhere!

The meter showed that the bin was on the high end of moist, but not wet. Nothing else was wrong / missing so, apparently, that was just too much, and they didn’t like it. There were too many squishy worm bodies than what I could handle bare-handed (shudder), so I got a glove and picked every one of them off and put them back on the dirt. Then, for a couple of hours, I left the lid off to help dry the area a bit while leaving the overhead light turned on so they wouldn’t climb out (they don’t like the light). The next evening, they were still climbing so I did the same thing. By Wednesday, they were apparently happy again as there was no one climbing the walls. They’ve been fine ever since.

The days have been steadily heating up and it won’t be long before we won’t be able to spend much time working on outside projects, so we are steadily chipping away at them. I have company coming in a few weeks though so maybe it’s not so bad that I pay a little attention to the inside of the house!

EASY FOOD STORAGE

We’ve all noticed the empty shelves at the grocery store and the rapidly rising prices – of everything. This may be disconcerting if you have not been keeping a stocked pantry.

We have become accustomed to running to the store every week; sometimes more frequently if we run out of something or want a quick dinner of a rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad. However, we’ve been counseled to store food so that when hard times / food shortages / illness / natural disasters happen, we will still be able to feed our families.

Isn’t that hording? No! This is not like in the pandemic when some people cleared the shelves of toilet paper, requiring the grocery stores to put a limit on how much you could purchase. You are not going to leave this food on your shelf ’til the end of time. You are just eating what you purchased a few months ago rather than what you picked up today.

How much food storage should you keep? Ideally, a year supply of food. That, though, can be really overwhelming – and expensive – especially if you are just starting out. So, if you can, build a storage of two weeks, then a month, then three months, and so on. Before you know it, you will have a reasonable supply of food to get you through many of the miseries and afflictions that come along.

Would you like an easy way to start gathering your food storage? Something that will not break the budget?

Here is one suggestion: Set a goal to buy 5 cans of food for storage each week. One week it can be a variety of corn, tuna, pinto beans, soup, fruit cocktail. The next week it could be potatoes, chicken, green beans, peaches, yams, or maybe baked beans, peas, tomatoes, pears, beef stew.

Continue purchasing a variety of five cans of food each week. In a year, you’ll have 260 cans of food. The food stored will keep your tummy full and will be diverse enough to provide you with necessary nutrients.

Canned foods are still relatively affordable. Five cans a week are rarely going to break the budget. Five cans when you have no money for food, however, will be golden. But, if you really can’t do five cans, do three. Just do something and do it consistently.

Something’s on sale one week? Hallelujah, buy five cans of that one thing that week. You don’t want to pass up a chance to save money! Remember, the price can’t go up on the food that’s already on your shelf.

Not a meat eater? No problem. Don’t pick up the canned meat. In fact, that falls right into one of the “rules” of food storage – store what you eat. In other words, don’t buy canned beets if you don’t eat beets.

As you start building your food storage this way, eventually you will identify other items that would pair nicely with your canned food. That’s when you are ready to start buying pasta, condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup, or maybe baking items like flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. Don’t worry about that until you are ready to take that step though.

This is just a place to start. It’s easy. It’s inexpensive. It’s do-able.

FEEDING TIME FOR THE CRITTERS

The new critters have been here for a week and it’s time to feed them.

Our new adventure is WORMS. Yes, we have delved into the world of vermicomposting. It was something on my list of eventual To-do’s but a generous lady gifted me with an established worm bin, so I was able to get started now instead of later.

Why worms?

Easy to house. You can buy a fancy worm bin for $100 – $150 but really all you need is a large plastic tote costing around $20. There are a few variations to doing this but click Here for a video showing how easy it is to make an inexpensive worm bin from a plastic tote. My bin is in the back room since I don’t have a good place for it outside. That’s okay though because, done right, worms don’t smell. They don’t like it too hot or too cold and, though we live in what is considered a temperate area, it does get above and below their comfort zone. They tolerate 40- to 90- degrees F but like it best between 60- and 80-degrees F.

Easy to take care for. You feed the worms about once a week. Fluff up their environment a bit. Keep the moisture level right. Then leave them alone.

Easy to feed. You can buy worm food but there’s no need as they prefer food scraps and leftovers. They eat fruits and vegetables (even banana peels!), eggshells, cardboard, and shredded paper. Starchy foods take longer to break down so you should limit the pasta, pancakes, pizza, bread, rice, and potatoes (hmm, come to think of it, that’s the same for humans). Do not feed them spicy, salty, greasy or fatty foods, meat, dairy, eggs, citrus, or pet waste.

Best of all, worms make great fertilizer! This is a good time to have a worm bin with the price of fertilizer being nearly triple what it was a year ago. While I don’t need it on a large scale like big farmers do, being able to produce my own fertilizer is a great boon.

Today’s lunch

We opened the bin and stirred the dirt around a bit to aerate it, monitored how much they ate of last week’s food, and checked the health of the worm population.

I’ve marked a few of the chunky worms – keep looking, there are more!

We had some climbing up the side of the bin, which is an indication that something is not right in their environment. Either it’s too wet, or too dry, or there’s not enough food. Their previous keeper had been doing this for so long she just knew what they needed. However, I am not at that stage so I’m going to buy a tool that reads the moisture, temperature, and PH levels so I can keep them happy. A happy worm is a breeding, and pooping, worm.

Unhappy worms climb up the side of the bin

I dug a hole in the dirt, emptied the food I had collected for them into it, and completely covered the food with dirt. You cover the food to eliminate the smell of decomposing food which, besides being unpleasant, attracts flies and gnats. That is not good for the worms.

Yummies for the wormies

I added a bit of new soil and, thinking it seemed a little dry in the bin, I added some water. This is the reason why I want to invest in the gadget. Right now, it’s just a guess about how dry is too dry or how wet is too wet. You want to rotate where you put the food each week, so the worms keep moving through the dirt. So, I put a piece of cardboard over the area to mark where their food was placed.

Mark the area where you put their food

Even after watering, that sprinkle of dirt I added looks much to dry. I think I’ll shred some paper, saturate it in water, squeeze it out, and put it on top.

Put the lid on the bin and leave them in their own little world

While keeping worms is supposed to be an easy operation, there will definitely be a learning period. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there.

I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD DO THAT

Mandarin oranges are my favorite citrus. When adding fruit to a meal, I reach for a can of mandarin oranges more often than the other canned fruit.

When I was raising my girls in Alaska, the best thing at Christmas was being able to get fresh mandarin oranges. We would plow through a whole case, in a flash!

With the empty shelves of the pandemic, one thing we had a hard time finding was store brand mandarin oranges. Occasionally there were name brand cans, but they were priced and extra dollar a can over the store brand. I was really glad I had a supply of them that carried me through much of that period. Now that I can occasionally get the store brand, the price of course has increased dramatically because of the inflation we are now experiencing.

Imagine my delight to come across several You Tube videos about home canning mandarin oranges, or Cuties! In all my years of canning, I never came across a recipe for canning citrus.

The planets aligned this weekend when I found mandarin oranges on sale. Not a great price, but still worth testing the canning waters.

I bought a three-pound bag and, with Oscar’s help, turned them into canned mandarin oranges in less than an hour.

Canned Mandarin Oranges

While Oscar peeled the mandarins, I started heating a gallon of water in my smallest canning pot, washed the jars and put them in a 200 degree F oven to keep warm, and made a light syrup of 6 cups of water to 1 1/2 cups of sugar.

You can pack them in plain water, but some commenters indicated the oranges would lose their flavor when packed in water.

As we broke them into segments (you can pack them whole, but I like segments), we picked off any strings and excess pith. If you skip this step, you apparently will end up with bitter oranges.

After peeling, break into segments and remove strings and excess pith

I’m not sure how, but we did a good job refraining from eating them as we prepared them!

Ready to pack

I removed each jar from the oven individually and filled them with oranges and the syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. I used a chopstick to remove bubbles and settle everything nicely in the jar.

Nicely packed

Then it was just a matter of wiping the rims, putting on the lid and ring and putting them in the pan.

My pot is the perfect size for four pints

This was brought to a boil and processed for 10 minutes (at my altitude). I was able to do most of the clean up during that time.

Aren’t they beautiful?

Ta-da!

I got three full pints and the fourth was about 2/3 full. This was a nice quick project and the cost, even though the oranges were kind of expensive, was still less than buying the store brand at the grocery store.

I look forward to next winter when they are in season and I can, hopefully, get them at a great price.

A NEW ADVENTURE

New critters are coming to the homestead this weekend!

Ooh, the mystery.

Any guesses?