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Monday, September 22, 2008

"Come into my parlor," said the spider to the fly

Last month we were graced with a nightly visitor, a nocturnal orb weaver. Each night, as darkness began to fall, she would begin her work. First she would sweep down from the porch roof to the side of the house, laying her first thread. Then she would begin spinning and weaving: up and down and around, back and forth she would go. When she was finished she had spun a massive web several feet wide and deep.
She would then sit in the center of her creation and wait patiently for some unsuspecting insect to fly into her lair. Then she would pounce, first immobilizing her visitor then wrapping her prey in silk. Sometimes she would leave him suspended and return to her waiting and watching. Sometimes she would devour him on the spot. Every morning, both she and the web would be gone, only to reappear again at dusk. Until one night a couple of weeks ago, as the evenings became cool, she came out, but didn’t weave as usual. Her web was only a few strands, suspended in a haphazard crescent from the middle of the porch roof, and she looked much fatter- I suspect she had an egg sac. I think that small web was her farewell gesture, as that was the last we saw of her. I suppose the mosquitoes and no-see-ums are happy that they can now flit about freely in the moonlight. But I miss her.

I tried several times to get a close-up pic of her and did manage to get a photo of her in her web, but she was too high for me. Fortunately, my son got a good close-up shot of her to share. I’ve googled to find out exactly what kind of orb weaver she was, but haven’t found a picture or description that fits her. If you'd like to learn more about these fascinating critters, the Bug Guide has a lot of info on and photos of orb weavers.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Purely Political Post

Sam is a feisty rooster, and he has taught me well. So I have decided to be feisty in my own way, and comment on political stuff—something I have avoided until now.
First off- let me confess to my political biases: (1)I am a liberal/progressive. (2)I don’t generally like to be privy to information of a personal/sexual nature concerning other people, including political candidates, unless it directly impacts me or national security. BUT…when candidates campaign or tout themselves as advocates of Christian or other “family values” and attempt to convince the rest of us that they are “right” in espousing values, then I expect something more than lip service from them. Maybe I expect too much, but that's what I expect.
So , when news came out today about Sarah Palin’s unwed teen-age daughter’s pregnancy, I tended to agree with Obama when he said that, “We don't go after people's families. We don't get them involved in the politics. It's not appropriate and it's not relevant. Our people were not involved in any way in this and they will not be. And if I ever thought there was somebody in my campaign that was involved in something like that, they'd be fired,"
Obama also said: "This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's performance as a governor or potential performance as a vice president. So I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories."
He’s right. Up to a point. And I'm not in his campaign, so he can't fire me and he is in no way responsible for my views.
I believe that while private family dynamics may have nothing to do with a potential candidate’s ability to perform well in a particular capacity, it does say something about something. I haven’t quite figured out what that something is yet, but…
It’s kind of like when I’m in the grocery store parking lot and somebody has their bumper emblazoned with “What would Jesus do?” signs and such. When they unload their groceries, then abandon their grocery cart instead of returning it to a corral, and drive off, unconcerned, I tend to get slightly more upset when it slams into my car than I would have if it had been abandoned by an obvious heathen like me who was observed loading six-packs of beer into the trunk of his or her car. This may be unreasonable on my part, but there it is- it's how I feel.
I guess I feel that if you’re going to put yourself forward as a paragon of virtue with a particular set of values that you try to foist off on the rest of us, then you had better make sure your words and your actions are in sync. I hold you to a higher standard than the rest of us mere mortals. I am going to question and hold you responsible for a lot of what you say. If you publicly and vehemently espouse “family values” I expect you to be one of those rare people who has everything under control and on-board in his or her own family. I remember (yes, I am old enough, unfortunately) that when Adlai Stevenson (one of my very favorite political figures) ran against Eisenhower, his divorce became an issue: “If he can’t hold his own marriage together, how can he hold the country together?” It may not have been a valid question, but it did hurt him, politically. In this day and age, with candidates spouting off moral imperatives, it may be a valid and relevant question for candidates who have chosen to run based on those moral imperatives. So with all due respect to Sen. Obama’s statement, I submit that Governor Palin opened the door, and we, the people, have a right to enter, to question and to receive answers.

Friday, July 11, 2008

An Unusual Sight

The sun was shining. Streaks of lightning were splitting the sky. Thunder was booming and crashing. Rain was pelting down, pouring like a waterfall off the front porch. We've had TWO days with rain- good, soaking rain. I can almost hear the plants sighing in relief!
Sam and Monique, who usually retreat into the safety of the coop when the skies get dark and stormy, were evidently confused by the light. Sam decided to do a duet with the thunder by crowing loudly between the booms, insisting that he be fed immediately and let out into the yard to investigate. So there I was, at risk of being turned to cinders by a bolt of lightning, feeding chickens.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Silver Queens and Salsa

Here's today's meager haul from our little garden. I thought there was something wrong with the okra; it was white. Okra is supposed to be green or burgundy, isn't it? It probably has some disease and isn't edible, I thought. Then I remembered that I’d planted a new (to me) heirloom variety, Silver Queen. Well, duh! Why is it called silver? Silver Queen is NOT green, it’s kind of a pale creamy, almost white kind of green. The seed catalog says it’s supposed to be very tender when picked young, but this may have been on the plant too long. We’ll see.
There were only a few little tomatoes ripe today, and a few squash. This is probably the end of the squash. Squash- vine borers have been doing their dastardly deeds- they’ve already destroyed the zucchini and have begun work on the yellow squash now. With our long season, I may have time to plant more- I’m going to try, anyway. The beans are still doing nicely, as are the peppers, and we got a nice haul of roma and tip-top tomatoes over the week-end.

Most of the tomatoes went into the freezer, but I saved out a few to make salsa- it’s quite good. So good, in fact, that I ate nearly a whole jar all by myself. The jalapeno (seeds and all) give it a wonderful after-burn effect. I may regret my gluttony later...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Carrot Conundrum

Is this just an ordinary carrot that was planted in compacted soil and grew into a forked misshapen carrot?

Or is it an overly ambitious and slightly delusional carrot who thought it could turn into a carrot person if only it could grow legs and arms....

Sadly, it got yanked before the metamorphosis was complete, so we will never know for sure.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mimosa Blossom Soap- Sort Of

Yesterday was a soapmaking day. My plan was to make some small test batches of new soaps. I knew exactly what I wanted the mimosa soap to look like. Sadly, whenever I know exactly what I want soap to look like, it never quite does. My plan was to incorporate the green of the ferny leaves topped with white and pink blossoms and something to give it a fluffy look. Of course, I was working with a previously untried fragrance oil blend, not knowing whether I would have a nice slow tracing soap with plenty of time to work with color, or whether I would have soap on a stick as soon as I stirred in the fragrance. Luckily, while the soap moved fast, it didn't move furiously fast. But it was setting up pretty quickly by the time I went to pour it in the mold. It didn't come out looking like I'd hoped it would, and definitely needs to be trimmed, but it could have been worse- and it does smell good- almost as good as the real thing!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mimosa Musings

Living in Alabama as a child during the 50s, I spent summers playing with friends, barefoot and outdoors. One of our favorite pastimes was playing house. We would find a large patch of bare ground, usually under a tall, shady tree, then we’d haul in sticks, stones, dead leaves and whatever else we could find to lay out the outline of rooms, leaving gaps to serve as doors. The daddy, when he wasn’t off at work, usually stayed in the living room, reading the large leaves that served as a newspaper. Few of us girls wanted to play the daddy, and it was next to impossible to get any of the boys to play with us, so we just pretended he was away at work or on a trip. The mother stayed in the kitchen, cooking and fussing at her "children." or primping in the bedroom or entertaining her friends in the dining room. We sat and slept on pine straw sofas and beds and swept the floor with branches. Sometimes we were lucky enough to build our houses around a big flat tree stump or large flat rock. This wonderful architectural feature would serve as a table upon which we served pretend meals on leaf plates. In late summer, a staple of these meals was a pile of English peas still in the pod. In actuality, the “peas” were pods from the mimosa trees that grew all around us. It never occurred to us to eat any of the food we served, which is a good thing, since mimosa seeds contain a neurotoxic alkaloid that can poison cattle, sheep and dogs who ingest it. Besides, none of us liked English peas anyway, and usually had to be forced to eat them at home. Which may be why we enjoyed playing with pretend peas and discarding them, uneaten, without being fussed at by mothers who instructed us to clean our plates if we expected to eat dessert.

I’m reminded of those childhood summers every time I look out the back door and see the huge mimosa growing in the woods behind our house. Its limbs arch almost 40 feet high and nearly as wide, overhanging our fence, filling the air with the fragrance of its fuzzy pink flowers, and dropping seeds that pop up everywhere. And that’s part of the problem. The mimosa (Albrizia julibrissin) is one of those trees people hate or love- sometimes both at the same time. I love to look at it, with its delicate ferny leaves and those fragrant fluffy pink blooms that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. But I hate to pull the lebenty zillion little mimosa seedlings that pop up in the flowerbeds, veggie beds and a hundred other places they don’t belong. And when those pretty pink flowers turn brown, die, and are washed loose in a rain, they cling tenaciously and refuse to turn loose from whatever they land on, leaving ugly brown stringy wads on everything, including the chicken run fencing, the bush beans, the tomatoes, etc. Then there’s the fact that the mimosa is yet another of those imported species that has become invasive and is now threatening native flora.

It’s hard to drive past any open or wooded area along the roads and highways here without seeing mimosa trees. They seem to be everywhere, but the mimosa is not used as a landscape plant in the South as much now as it was during my childhood. One of the reasons it has fallen into disuse is that the mimosa is extremely susceptible to several diseases, including mimosa wilt, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Perniciosum, a devastating disease that has almost eliminated mimosas in many areas. Once infected, a mimosa may die within six weeks. Perhaps this is a case of Mother Nature intervening to remove the threat to native species. Who knows? I don't know how long we'll have the mimosa as a neighbor before it succumbs to disease or is cut down by developers. In the meantime, we'll continue in our love/hate relationship. I'll enjoy its beauty and complain about its pestiness. I might even make a mimosa soap, I can see and smell it now....

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Well Traveled Herb

This was one of those rare Alabama summer mornings--the temperature and humidity low enough to make working in the garden a pleasure rather than a painful necessity. Never mind that the idyllic state lasted only a couple of hours as the clouds drifted off, exposing the relentless rays of the sun. For a brief time, I was able to weed, water and enjoy the garden in blissful early morning coolness.

While I dispatched a number of weeds today, one weed I like to leave in place, or sometimes transplant to a more appropriate place, is mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Common Mullein is an herb that grows wild throughout North America in fields and along roadsides, but is often referred to as a weed, and has actually been classified as a noxious weed in Hawaii. I once thought that common mullein, being so widespread, was native to North America, but according to Steve Brill, mullein is Eurasian. It grows throughout most of Europe and temperate Asia, and has been used in European folk medicine for centuries. Soon after its arrival in the Americas, Native Americans discovered mullein’s healing properties, and adapted it to their own healing traditions. Known by various common names, including Our Lady's Flannel, Blanket Herb, Velvet Plant, Rag Paper, Candlewick Plant, Clown's Lungwort, Jupiter's Staff, Shepherd's Staff, Beggar's Stalk, Adam's Flannel, Beggar's Blanket, Old Man's Flannel, Hag's Taper, mullein has been used for everything from candles and candle-wicks to bandages to cures for colic, catarrh and diarrhea .

The mullein in my garden keeps guard beside the greenhouse, rising tall and erect from it's fuzzy gray feet, with a spiked cap of yellow flowers to beckon airborne pollinators (as you can see in the photo, one little winged critter is zooming in toward the flowers). In past times, mullein had a reputation in Europe and Asia as having the power to drive away evil spirits. Unfortunately, it does not drive away evil , seedling-chomping, seed-eating mice;it allows those nasty little greenhouse squatters free reign to come and go as they please. But I can forgive mullein this failing, and enjoy it for the many virtues it does possess, including those lovely yellow flowers.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kudzu- it's everywhere- even in the bath!

Yesterday I almost sold out of chai tea soap( there's only one bar left for sale on my Etsy site), so had to make more. Now I'm completely sold out of Kudzu again, so tomorrow I must make more kudzu soap. A lot of people buy it to give as gifts to people up north- something quintessentially Southern, they tell me. But kudzu really isn't a southern native at all. It came here as a guest, then liked it so much that it refused to leave. A lot of folks think it wore out its welcome long ago. It's been called "The Vine That Ate the South," and with good reason- folks say that if you park your car too close to a kudzu patch overnight, you might find it completley covered come morning. In fact, there's an abandoned old house I pass nearly every day that is almost invisible come late summer, covered by kudzu.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is a perennial woody vine, a member of the legume family, native to Japan and southeastern China, where it has been used as a food and in herbal medicine for centuries. Kudzu was brought to the United States for exhibit at the 1876 Bicentennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The plant, with its large leaves, beautiful magenta flower clusters and sweet, grape-like scent was a hit with gardeners, who used it as an ornamental plant. It was also promoted as a food source for animals and as a means to control soil erosion. It became so popular that it was referred to as “The Miracle Vine” and Kudzu Clubs were started in the 1940s in its honor. But by the 1950s kudzu had fallen out of favor and was becoming a pest, especially in the Southeastern US, where it found ideal growing conditions. Actually, it grew too well– with no native insects to threaten it, it grew as much as sixty feet a year, soon covering trees, power lines and anything else in its path, often blocking sunlight that native trees needed for growth. Resistant to herbicides (in fact, some herbicides actually stimulated its growth!) it became a threat to native species. The US Department of Agriculture declared Kudzu a weed in 1972, and people have fought to eradicate it ever since– mostly without success.

But Kudzu does have its virtues— every part of the kudzu plant can be used: the leaves not only make a great compost, but are high in vitamins C and A, and can be eaten (as long as they haven’t been sprayed with herbicides). You can boil them, steam them, fry them, pickle them, or even eat them raw. Bees love kudzu flowers, and produce a wonderfully scented honey from them. The flowers are also used to make tea and a delicious kudzu jelly. Kudzu vines can be woven into baskets and fiber from the vines can be used to make paper and cloth. The roots can be ground into a powder or used to make a tea. The tea and powder have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a number of conditions, from skin rashes to alcoholism.

I've always been fond of kudzu, despite it's nasty habits, except when it invades my own garden, and thought it might be interesting to use it in soap. So I convinced poor Mr. G to wade into any likely kudzu patches he might pass by on his travels. That dear man willingly risks snakebites, chiggers and who knows what to bring me big bunches of kudzu flowers, which I make into tea, then freeze for later use in making soap. In years when the flowers are not abundant or easily accessible (or when Mr. G is unwilling to risk life and limb), I use tea made from the powdered root. It makes a nice soap that smells delicious- kind of like grape jelly ( I have to admit to adding fragrance to this soap, since the kudzu scent doesn't survive the saponification process, but the fragrance oil does make the soap smell more like the blossoms).
The flowers are really quite lovely, but they're hard to see, since they're often hidden under the large leaves. But if you walk or drive past a patch of kudzu in mid to late August and smell the scent of grape jelly, look closer- you just might see some of them, and understand why people fell in love with kudzu at the Bicentennial Exhibition. I don't know why people fell in love with my kudzu soap, but I'm glad they did.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Back from the Alabama Soap Meeting

Friday and Saturday I drove to Prattville, AL to attend the 10th Annual Alabama Soap Meeting, which was a whole lot of fun. We had wonderful door prizes, goody bags stuffed with neat samples, coupons, magazines and other wonderful things, vendor tables, garage sale tables to buy each other's surplus stuff, and wonderful talks and demos, including how to hand-dip candles, how to make massage candles and frosted soap cupcakes. Our extra-special guest speaker was Anne-Marie from Brambleberry and Otion, who spoke about how to succeed in business and how to set goals. Talk about a dynamo! She is so full of energy and enthusiasm that she made me feel like a sloth (anybody who accomplished as much as she did before the tender age of thirty AND goes running before breakfast makes me feel like a sloth!). I didn't take a camera, but my fellow soapmaker/friend/blogger extraordinaire, Karen, did. You can see her pics and read more about the meeting on her blog, Rurality.

The trip home yesterday was a little harrowing- it rained buckets--so heavy at times that you could barely see the car in front of you. Fortunately, the car in front of me during the worst of it turned on his flashers, so I didn't rear-end him(or her). At one point, though, I was behind a truck pulling a trailer with some tall box-like containers. The straps holding the boxes looked to be vibrating an awful lot and the boxes seemed to be swaying. I wondered whether the straps would break, sending the boxes crashing onto my car. Thank goodness they didn't, because when the rain let up and I was finally able to pass him, I saw the truck was hauling porta-johns. I have no idea whether they were full or empty, but if they'd fallen off, it would have been one stinking mess, for sure! I was so happy to finally exit off the Interstate for the last ten miles of the trip. Except that last ten miles took over an hour, thanks to a resurfacing project.

The rain here was good for the garden, but getting home at dusk/dark both nights, and being in a rush to leave in the mornings, I didn't check to see how the veggies were doing, so this morning I was picking some cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash that had grown to elephant-like proportions! Since I don't like to cook humongous zucchini as a veggie, I'll probably grate them. I can see a zucchini cake in our future.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Miserable Manduca Monsters!

On my way out to close the chicken coop this evening I was shocked to see that the nicotiana plant that earlier had been blooming so merrily in the flower box on the deck had suddenly lost all its leaves and blooms. As I looked closer, I could see the cause. FOUR Tobacco hornworms (Manduca sexta) were chomping away, leaving mountains of frass behind (you can see it in the picture- it looks like little blackberries). Not just one or two, mind you, but four of those devils! On one poor little plant! Now I know that the hornworms are very useful in research and that they metamorphose into nice sphinx moths that pollinate night blooming flowers, but I'm just not willing to sacrifice my tomatoes and flowering tobacco plants to the cause. These four, red horns and all, have been dispatched to the great caterpillar resting place. I thought about picking them off and tossing them into the chicken run, but since Sam and Monique had already gone in for the evening, I figured the little devils would crawl out and start in on my tomatoes before the chickens got to them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Hungry Caterpillar

Caught in the act!

I nearly missed this little critter. He's almost the same shade of green as the bean pods that he was happily boring holes in, thinking, no doubt, that he was well camouflaged and would avoid detection.

I have no idea just what he is, although in trying to identify him, I've learned a great deal more about caterpillars. I looked here and thought he might be a cabbage or soybean looper or a green cloverworm, but he doesn't have the right number of leg segments or otherwise fully fit the description. Then I went here, and became fascinated by the diversity of caterpillars. Some I'm familiar with, like the tomato hornworm that nearly wiped out all my tomatoes one year. But being mesmerized by the images on the first two pages and spending much more time than I'd planned, I gave up, so still don't know what my little bean borer is. If you recognize him, please let me know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Adventures in Cooking

We've been picking summer squash from the garden for a couple of weeks now, and the bush beans are coming in, too! Not very many at a time, but enough to make a meal for the two of us. This is today's harvest:

I used some of our yellow squash last Sunday in a recipe from Tables of Content, the newest cookbook from the Junior league of Birmingham. It's a lovely book; not only are the recipes very good, but the book contains photographs of the "tables" of food in landmark settings in and around Birmingham such as Sloss Furnaces, the zoo and botanical gardens, with information about the landmarks. The squash casserole was quite delicious, as are most of the recipes I've tried from the book. This recipe serves 6 to 8; I halved it for us and adjusted the cooking time accordingly.

Best Squash Casserole
10 yellow squash
2 eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded mild cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped green onions (optional)
12 butter crackers, finely crushed
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Shredded mild cheddar cheese to taste(optional)
8 butter crackers, finely crushed
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the squash with enough water to generously cover in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil 10 minutes or until tender and drain. Let stand until cool and slice. Drain the sliced squash in a colander, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract any remaining moisture. The cooked squash should measure 5 cups.
Beat the eggs in a bowl until blended. Stir in the mayonnaise and salad dressing mix. Fold in the squash, 1 cup cheese, the green onions, 12 crushed crackers, the garlic salt and pepper. Spoon the squash mixture into a 2-quart baking dish and sprinkle with additional cheese and 8 crushed crackers. Bake for 30 minutes.

The beets from Saturday's trip to the farmers market provided roasted beets using a recipe from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook another of my favorite cook books that gets a lot of use. Growing up, I never cared much for beets . We always had them either boiled or pickled, but since discovering roasted beets, I love them. They have an entirely different, deep flavor, and this recipe really brings out the delicious beet taste:

Roasted Beets with Warm Dijon Vinaigrette
3 pounds medium beets with greens
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup sliced green onions
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
Leave root and 1-inch stem on beets; reserve greens. Scrub beets with a vegetable brush. Drizzle beets with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast beets in a small roasing pan at 400 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until tender.
Meanwhile, process green onions, vinegar and mustard in a food processor until smooth, stopping once to scrape down sides. Pour 1/3 cup olive oil through food chute with processor running, processing until smooth. Place vinegar mixture in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally.
Wash beet greens thoroughly; pat dry with paper towels. Cut greens into thin strips. Place beet greens in a medium saucepan; cover with water, and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered 10 minutes. Drain well. Set aside; keep warm.
Cool roasted beets. Trim off roots and stems, and rub off skins. Cut beets into 1/4 inch slices.
Place greens and beets on individual serving plates; top evenly with vinegar mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and dill. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings.
Note: I halved this recipe, too, but won't do that again because the small amount of vinaigrette dressing was hard to process and heat properly.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The best laid mulch

I don't know whether mulch, like plans, can "Gang aft a-gley," but if it can, I have a good idea what it might look like.

Yesterday morning I did some weeding in my little herb bed, then laid down some newspaper and covered it with a nice layer of mulch. Once finished, I admired the results: a pristine, weedless area with clumps of herbs and flowers emerging from a layer of pine straw.

Yesterday evening, I let Sam and Monique out for their evening walk-about. Sam was not in a good mood--he came out of the run full of himself, making menacing noises and strutting about like a rooster, which of course, can only be expected. He began running at me with his wing down, but seeing that I was in control of a broom to swat at him and not to be intimidated by his antics, he soon lost interest and began pecking and kicking furiously at the grass outside the run. Finding that surface hard and unyielding and a little too much work, he then headed straight for my nice little herb patch and began to wreak havoc with the mulch. By the time he had vented whatever anger he felt, my herb patch was a disaster, the tidy mulch replaced by exposed newspaper, bare patches of ground and pine straw scattered to the four winds. It is not, as you can see from this small section, a pretty sight. If that's not bad enough, an entire clump of thyme has gone missing.

Sam also decided that there was absolutely no need for me to know which pepper plants were which, and scratched all the pepper plant markers out of the ground. So aside from torn newpaper and scattered pine straw, the ground is also riddled with popsicle stick plant markers. The last laugh is on him, though, because while they all look pretty similar right now, I'm pretty sure that at some point in the plant cycle, I'll be able to tell a bell pepper from a cayenne pepper from a jalapeno, etc.

I gave some thought to straightening it all up today, but had some errands to run this morning. Now that I'm home, one look at the thermometer on the deck has convinced me that it can wait another day or so:

Saturday, June 07, 2008

To market, to market

For the past three summers, we sold soap from our booth at Pepper Place Market in downtown Birmingham. We loved selling at the market (well, maybe not the part about getting up at 4 AM every Saturday, rain or shine, or the 90+ degree days we often had); there's something very satisfying about being part of the farmers market experience. We weren't able to do the market this summer, so this year I visit as a customer. I headed there this morning to pick up some fresh veggies, visit the farmers and vendors and soak in the atmosphere. The booths were loaded with fresh squash, cucumbers, lettuces, peaches, beans, potatoes- even some tomatoes and corn! The smell of fresh baked bread, fresh brewed coffee and peaches filled the air, the bright colors of the produce and flowers and the buzz of conversation as people chatted with each other and filled their bags and baskets was exhilirating.

I bought peaches from Chilton County (Although they had a booth at the market today, the blackberries in the pic are from a mid-week trip back to Petals from the Past), hothouse tomatoes from Blackjack Farms near Birmingham, little red potatoes from Blount County, goat cheese from Notasulga, AL, some herbs from Cullman and some carr
ots and beets from Snow's Bend Farm near Tuscaloosa. The Snow's Bend Farm booth is one of my favorites- David Snow and Margaret Ann Toohey display their vegetables, herbs and flowers in such an eye-catching, artistic way that you have to stop and look. And having stopped, of course you can't resist buying. Once more, the camera wasn't functioning, but here's a pic of the Snow's Bend booth from a past market, when we had a neighboring booth. David can also be quite inventive; I remember being amused last year by the sign over the watermelon display: H2O melons, because, he explained, he couldn't fit "watermelon" on the sign.

Once home, I went out to our own little garden and found bush beans and summer squash ready to pick. We'll be eating well this week!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Off the beaten path

A couple of days ago, I had a meeting in Montgomery. Since my car has been acting strangely, Mr. G drove me . On the way home, I commented that it would be nice to take a side trip and stop off in Jemison to visit one of our favorite nurseries. Mr. G agreed, and we headed off to Petals from the Past, a nursery owned by Jason and Shelley Powell, specializing in heirloom plants, especially old-fashioned roses. But they grow and sell an astounding number of so many plants- including not only the gorgeous, fragrant old-fashioned roses, but perennials, vegetables, herbs, fruit, garden art, water garden plants, and more. The nursery store is an old farmhouse, surrounded by an inviting wraparound porch and breathtaking display gardens. I was sorry that I didn't have my camera with me. All the roses we've bought there have done well in our garden. Almost too well, as you can see from this Katy Road Pink-if I ever manage to keep the spent blooms picked, it keeps blooming and blooming, but it is SO loaded, that the task becomes an impossibility. But it also bears lovely large hops, which the birds love, so all is not lost. This bush has never been sprayed, the only fertilizer is a side dressing of compost every once in a while, and has survived droughts, floods and neglect. Katy Road is a real trooper, as are most of the heirloom roses I've encountered. Here's a close-up of one of the buds:

I must apologize for the poor quality of some of the pics I've been posting. The cover to the battery compartment on the camera is broken. In order to take a photo, one must keep it squeezed shut while trying to keep the camera steady- which sometimes proves difficult.

We didn't buy any roses on this trip, but did buy some herbs and veggie plants and a Meyer Lemon tree to replace the one we lost a couple of years ago. It even has some buds- so we may get lemons this year!
The nursery also has you-pick fields of blackberries, which just opened. The huge berries are now ripening and should hit their peak in a week or two. The plants are grown on post and wire trellises in long rows, which makes picking easy- and you don't get covered in chiggers in the process. Since I was dressed for a business meeting, not for berry picking we didn't even try this time, but I'm thinking we need to make another trip down there in the next two weeks.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Adventures in cooking

I just rediscovered one of my herb books- The Herb Garden Cookbook: The Complete Gardening and Gourmet Guide, by Lucinda Hutson. It is chock full of information on growing and using herbs, and the recipes sound wonderful. So I decided to try a couple. Night before last, we had Garlicky Rosemary Shrimp, with rosemary and bay leaves fresh from the garden. Last night I decided to try the recipe for Texas Goat Cheese Tart. Of course, I had no Texas goat cheese in the fridge, but I did have some goat cheese. Not as much as the recipe called for, though- so I began substituting. My tendency to substitute stuff in recipes worries Mr. G.

He'll wander into the kitchen while I'm perusing a recipe, look over my shoulder and say, "That sounds good- is that what we're having for supper?"

I often reply, "Well, sort of... I don't have any ____ so I'm using ____ instead."

Mr. G generally groans and mutters stuff under his breath at that point.

Sometimes the substitutions work- sometimes they're a disaster. And sometimes I get carried away and the final product has little in common with the original recipe. Fortunately, this turned out to be quite good, and I plan to try several more of Hutson's recipes- I may even follow some to the letter! The book has been relocated from my garden book shelf to the cookbook shelf in the kitchen.
Here's the recipe- if you decide to try it, let me know how it turns out!

Goat Cheese & Ricotta Tart

1 9 inch pre-baked pie crust
¼ cup loosely packed parsley
2 T fresh rosemary
¼ cup fresh basil
1 small clove garlic, mashed
6oz. Goat Cheese
6 oz Ricotta Cheese
4 oz Sour Cream
2 ounces unsalted butter
1T flour
2 eggs
Salt & Pepper to taste

Bring cheeses, sour cream, butter to room temperature. Preheat oven to 375F. Place herbs and garlic in food processor to mince, add cheeses, butter, sour cream, eggs, flour, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Pour mixture into pre-baked pie crust. Bake until puffed and golden on top (about 25-30 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: This would probably taste better with crème fraîche instead of sour cream, but I couldn’t find any cream that wasn’t ultra-pasteurized, so wasn’t able to make crème fraîche. The original recipe also calls for 12 ounces of goat cheese and 4 ounces of ricotta- but I used what I had. You could also use another combination of herbs, more garlic, etc.

Also, while the instructions call for a food processor, I have a very small one, so minced the herbs, added about half the amount of the cheeses, the butter and the eggs, then turned it all into a mixing bowl, added the rest of the cheeses and the flour and blended with a mixer until smooth.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Back to Blogging

Egads! It's been over a month since my last post. Since then, I must sadly report that Henrietta died, here's the last pic of her, helping to dig out some new veggie beds last month. Poor Henrietta, blind in one eye, survived a vicious pecking by the other hens and Sam, and seemed to be doing fine, laying an egg a day and digging around quite happily. Then one morning, she didn't come out of the coop. I still don't know what killed her, she wasn't pecked, and I don't think any possums or racoons got in the coop-Sam usually raises a ruckus if any nocturnal critters come around.

So now we're down to Sam and Monique- who has stopped laying. Her only interest seems to be eating, avoiding Sam's amorous advances and digging holes in the garden so she can take dust baths.

The area that Henrietta is pecking in the photo is now part of my new little veggie garden. It was so overgrown with weeds and honeysuckle vines that digging it out was a real chore-- so much of a chore that the garden fork couldn't take any more and had to be replaced. I use a modidified version of Square Foot Gardening, and it is now planted with tomatoes, cabbages, squash, carrots, bush beans, leeks, herbs, marigolds and okra. The squash has little baby squash and the tomatoes and beans are blooming, so if I can just keep the nasty bugs at bay, we should have some nice fresh veggies in a few weeks.
I put together some bamboo bean tepees in another part of the back yard for pole beans. I had Mr. G till that area (I'd used up all my energy digging the other bed), so now we have a nice long bed with pole beans, more tomatoes and some cucumbers. The beans are beginning to wind their way up the poles.

I haven't been on another jelly roll, but did make some strawberry jam with some of the most delicious strawberries from a local farm. The jam wasn't a complete success, it's a little too runny, but should make a nice topping for ice cream, and it still tastes good on toast- albeit a little messy. I froze about a gallon of the berries, so may make some more jam later.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gone Fishing

Today was a beautiful day- and tonight is a full moon. So Mr. G and I decided to go bream fishing on the Warrior River, one of my favorite places to fish. Even when the fish aren't on the beds or biting, the scenery is beautiful, particularly in the spring, when the bluffs along the banks sport a wide variety of flowering native plants. Usually, at this time of year, the mountain laurels are in full bloom, displaying a profusion of delicate pink blossoms. Today, they were just in bud- but ready to burst open any day now.
What we did find blooming were some shrubs/trees cascading down the banks next to the mountain laurel, with cream/white four-petaled flowers that reminded me of mock oranges- although they didn't have the strong scent I associate with mock oranges. I wondered if they might be some form of Stewartia, but am not sure. It was hard to get a good pic with the boat rocking,so I broke my own rule and picked a couple of blooms to bring home. If you recognize it, please let me know what it is.

We also passed a few turtles sunning on logs, like this one. He stayed still for so long that we wondered if he was alive, but he finally moved his head when we started the trolling motor. But about the fish- and the full moon and why we picked today. Bream begin spawning when the water temperature hits the mid to high 70s-- somewhere between March and April around here. That first spawn usually happens on the first full moon when that particular water temperature occurs. About a week before the full moon, male bream start preparing beds for the females. Males move in first and start cruising an area to stake out territories. They make depressions by fanning their fins, and remove sticks and stuff with their mouths so the females, who will move in later, will have a nice tidy space to lay eggs. I can usually smell the beds (Mr. G was surprised and happy to learn that I had this ability when we first married) so we usually have some success if we can get to the river at the same time the males are moving onto the beds. We found a couple of beds among the lily pads and started throwing our cricket-baited hooks into the water. We caught a lot of bream and shellcrackers, but only kept about thirty five and released the rest (they do have to be cleaned, remember) . We caught some baby catfish, too, but turned them loose. I always feel a little bit guilty when we bait the hook with crickets, but I do try to tell them what a noble deed they are performing and how much we appreciate their sacrifice. We brought home enough fish to stock the freezer for a few meals and enjoyed a beautiful day- what more could one ask? Unless, of course, you're a bream... or a cricket...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Case of the Pernicious Peony

Spring is trying to do its thing here- the rose bushes are blooming and budding, as is the yarrow, the deutzia, and much more. After a year of drought that left so many plants gasping, the rains this year have been most welcome. We've had storms, but for the most part, we've had a week of lovely warm weather. All that is about to change, though. The forecast bears an ominous frost warning for the next two nights, with a chance of snow.

I spent the day weeding and tidying up the greenhouse and making room on the benches for the seed flats that would have to come back inside. Then I picked a bouquet of roses, yarrow, deutzia and spiraea so we could enjoy them for a few more days. I noticed that the peony was loaded with buds, so I covered it with reemay in hopes that would give the buds a chance to survive any frost.

While I was washing up, I heard Jack, who had been asleep in the house most of the day, barking and growling. There he was at the living room window, carrying on as though there was an army of squirrels about to invade. When I pulled the curtains aside to see what had him so upset I had to laugh. He was barking at the peony! I must admit that it did look a little threatening. And as the wind blew, billowing out the white cover, it resembled a little ghost hopping about in the flower bed. Jack would not stop yapping, so I put him on his leash and walked him down to the bottom of the yard so he could see for himself that it posed no threat. He approached very cautiously, growling all the while, then, satisfied that we were in no danger of attack, cocked his leg to show his disdain. Quickly yanking him away before he could do more damage than the frost, I took him back inside. He sat and loooked out the window for a while longer just to make sure the peony kept its distance. It's good to know that we can sleep soundly, secure in the knowledge that the ever vigilant Jack is protecting us from pernicious peonies! On the other hand, we may not sleep at all, if Jack starts his growling and barking again in the middle of the night!

Friday, April 11, 2008

On a Jelly Roll

I am getting so domesticated it's scary! It's almost as though some alien domestic goddess lifeform has taken control of my mind and body... I've been baking bread, and even dragged out the sewing machine the other day to do some mending, then today, following the instructions on the Prairieland Herbs site, I made violet jelly. I haven't made jelly in years and could barely remember where I'd stashed the canner and jars, but after digging around in the basement, I found them, covered with dust from years of unuse. So they were hauled upstairs, given a thorough scrubbing, scalding and the like, and I was ready to make some jelly.

Since there were several clumps of violets scattered about the yard, I picked about 4 or 5 hundred blossoms to get 2 cups of petals.

After infusing them in water, then straining them out, I had a jar of blue juice. When the lemon juice was added, it turned the juice a lovely violet, lilac color. And when it was all finished, there sat four jars of beautiful sparkly jelly! Well, you can see only three jars, but you get the idea.

So now I'm excitedly looking forward to blueberry, strawberry and blackberry season- maybe even pepper season- pepper jelly sounds good. Yes, I am definitely on a jelly roll!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Sad Truth About Chicken Tractors and Tillers

Chicken tractors may be a good thing if they’re built correctly. But chickens working as independent contractors outside said chicken tractors are not very efficient. Especially not if the gardener overseeing the chickens is a procrastinator, and an impatient one at that. I reached this conclusion yesterday when faced with the prospect of getting my overgrown veggie beds ready in a hurry. When Mr. G built the chicken run, he paid little attention to my description of how a chicken tractor should be built. He kept saying that such a contraption would work only on level ground, which we don’t have. So, as is his habit, he ignored my plan and built what he thought should be built. It is too heavy to move- although I did convince him to move it once. But after the struggle to lift it, the bulging veins, the huffing, puffing and groaning and the unprintable language the effort brought forth, I didn’t make that suggestion again. He said that was the last time. And I accepted that. Any tractor work done by the chickens would have to be accomplished during their daily walk-about in the garden.

It’s getting very warm here--the temperature tomorrow is predicted to reach 82F and some of the greenhouse seedlings are more than ready to go in the ground. But their prospective garden beds were hopelessly overgrown with crabgrass, honeysuckle and numerous other defiant weeds. Undeterred, I ventured forth yesterday with the spade and garden fork. After about ten minutes of engaging in an exercise of futility where the honeysuckle emerged triumphant, I gave up and let Sam and the girls have a try. Henrietta showed the most initiative, kicking and scratching out a hole here and there, but she soon lost interest and wandered off in pursuit of less strenuous entertainment.

So today, Mr. G., seeing how despondent and tired I was, and noting that his supper was not ready because I was exhausted from my garden travails
and too worn out to cook, borrowed the neighbor’s tiller and accomplished in a half hour what the chickens and I hadn’t been able to do in a day and a half.

Sam, who had watched Mr. G running the noisy machine, was livid! As soon as I opened the door to the run he came out crowing and attacked the newly tilled bed, acting for all the world as though he was upset that Mr. G had taken over a task that he himself was all set to finish. He even managed to get the girls riled up with righteous indignation. He ordered the girls into formation and directed them to poke and kick and scratch at the newly tilled soil. But finding no grubs, worms or other tasty morsels (which had evidently been destroyed or dispersed by the tiller blades) , they soon wandered off, their anger forgotten. What they will try to do to the tender little seedlings that will soon inhabit the space is something I don’t even want to think about!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sweet Violets

Walking in the back yard today, I discovered a treasure growing just under the edge of the deck- a patch of lovely little violets. In years past there have always been a few violets pop up, but never a clump as large as this one.

I had been reading The Essential Herbal Blog this morning, where directions were given for making crystallized flowers. I have often seen pictures of cakes and other confections garnished with candied flowers and wanted to try it myself. Here was my chance!
I picked about fifty of the flowers, rinsed them off, set them to dry and went back to look at the directions. I didn't have any meringue powder,as called for, but I did have eggs. No superfine sugar, but the directions said you can put sugar in the blender to grind it finer. I gathered up a small paintbrush, beat the egg white, ground the sugar, put it in a bowl, and began to painstakingly paint egg white on each tiny petal, then spoon sugar over each flower.

After painting and dipping about five of them, I decided this may be one of those things I try only once! Wishing I had started with pansies or something with bigger petals, I did manage to do about thirty, setting each flower carefully on parchment paper. I'd read that it takes quite a while for them to dry completely, but perhaps because these were so small, most of them were dry and hard after several hours. They aren't quite as nice as some I've seen pictured, perhaps the sugar crystals were too large, but overall they turned out pretty well for my first attempt. They're quite tasty, too!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Held Hostage by a Rooster

I had a two day meeting out of town this week and decided since it was only fifty miles away, I’d just drive home on Thursday evening and back again on Friday. My registration covered Thursday night’s supper, a cook-out with steaks cooked on the barbeque grill. When I got ready to leave, the organizers told me to take my steak home and cook it, since I was going to miss supper. I don’t eat steak much, so on the way home, I phoned Mr. G and told him to fire up the grill because I was bringing him a steak.

But when I got home, the grill was cold- no smell of a grill heating, no plumes of smoke rising. .

“I thought you were going to light off the grill,” I said to Mr. G.

“Couldn’t,” he replied, “Sam won’t let me.”

Turns out, Mr. G had let the chickens out of the run for their walk-about, but once he got inside the house, Sam decided he didn’t want Mr. G back out. Sam had parked himself smack-dab against the back door and went into attack mode every time Mr. G tried to open the door. He was still there when I got home. Mr. G said the ornery thing wouldn’t budge.

Well, I got him to budge and got the door open, ran Sam off the deck with a broom and told Sam he should be ashamed of himself. Then I stood guard while Mr. G fired up the grill and cooked his steak. I pointed out to Mr. G that he’s a lot bigger than Sam, and I couldn’t believe he’d let himself be held hostage by a rooster. He told me he was half-dead from starvation and too weak to do battle with a mean rooster hell-bent on attacking him- and besides, Sam had awful big spurs.

I’m not sure it’s safe to leave those two home alone together any more.


I hated to do it, but I've turned on comment moderation. While I love to get comments and welcome them for the most part, there were several comments on some older posts that went on and on and on, apropos of nothing on the blog. Some were just long lists of strange links; some reminded me of the unabomber manifesto. Anyway, they got to be too troublesome to find and delete. So please do leave pertinent comments and don't get upset if I don't get them posted right away-- I'm probably chasing Sam around, rescuing Mr. G . or something and not able to blog just then.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Weeds or Faerie Flowers?

Walking back from the mailbox today I decided to pick a bouquet. These are all "weeds" growing in the lawn. Actually, I use the term lawn loosely, since there's very little grass- but I'm not big on lawns and as long as it's green, holds the soil in a downpour and doesn't require maintenance except for an occasional mowing it's welcome to stay. I don't feel quite so benevolent when weeds invade the flower beds, but they're pretty safe in the rest of the yard.

I haven't decided what all the little flowering things are, but I recognize henbit, dead nettle, ground ivy, Carolina geranium, carpetweed, and I should know the yellow one, but it escapes me right now- we have wild strawberries and cinquefoil and yellow oxalis, and it may be one of those, but it was poking up with no leaves, so... . They are all tiny-the yellow bloom is 1/2 inch across, to give you an idea. It reminds me of a bouquet of tiny faerie flowers.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Henbit, Henbane and other Poultry Plants

Our yard is covered with lavender/purple flowers, a combination of purple dead nettle and henbit. They look nice in a field, and sport lovely little flowers, as you can see from the henbit(Lamium amplexicaule) pictured here, but they are murder once they invade your garden beds and are next to impossible to eradicate. The henbit got me to wondering where the name came from- why “henbit”? I read somewhere that chickens like the seeds, and I have seen Sam and the girls pecking at it in the yard, but they peck at most anything, so I don’t know…

How many other plants, I wondered, have names referring to poultry? I could think of Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) a very toxic plant whose foliage and seeds contain hyoscyamine, scopolamine and other tropane alkaloids. The name henbane comes from the Anglo Saxon henbanna- “killer of hens.” Needless to say, you won't find any of that in our garden! Then there’s the hen and chicks plant, Echevaria elegans, and the spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum, is sometimes called a hen and chickens plant, too. Lamb’s quarters, Chenopodium album, often referred to as pigweed, is also known as Fat-hen (I have no idea why!). Half the barnyard in one plant! I guess we could throw chickweed in- one of its alternate names is clucken wort- that sounds kind of poultyish to me. I also saw an ad for an Easter Egg plant in a seed catalog- that should probably count, too.

I had a feeling that if I told Sam and the girls about all the poultry plants, Sam was going to crow about gender discrimination and get all upset at not having any rooster plants on the list. So I googled and came up with a vining Rooster flower- Aristolochia labiata, you can see it here.

If you know of any other plants to add to the “Poultry Plant” list, let me know, because I’m still looking.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lessons Learned

Yesterday was a learning day for me. Well… every day is a learning day, but some days you learn more stuff than on other days.

Lesson #1

I learned that most garden hoses contain lead. Other folks may have known this, but it was news to me. I was watering in the greenhouse with the ancient hose that’s been patched and mended once too often, when it suddenly decided it had had enough and decided to split right at the end. So there I was, holding a watering wand with no hose attached as the force of the water popped the coupling completely off. And there was the hose, writhing on the ground, spewing water all over me and everything else.

Once into dry clothes, I trotted off to the store, bought a hose, and took off the packaging. There, on the underside of the packaging ,in small print, was a warning: "This product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Do not place your hands in your mouth after handling the product. Do not place the product in your mouth. Wash your hands after touching this product."

Now that is scary! I figure some of that lead has to leach into whatever I'm watering-so much for organic gardening! Since I use the hose to water the greenhouse and garden, fill the little water garden on the deck (which the dog sometimes drinks from), and fill the chickens' water
trough, I don't feel like using a lead-heavy hose. Come to find out, hoses that are made from PVC have lead in them as a stabilizer. But some hoses, according to Consumer's Report, contain lead levels far in excess of EPA standards. This is very disturbing-
and to make matters worse, I might have been leaching lead for years
and not known it! No wonder Sam is so darn ornery- he’s probably gotten more than the recommended amount of lead in his diet/

Lesson #2
The reason some dogs have green eyes instead of red eyes in photos is that the flash brings out all their green-eyed, jealous monsteriness.
Case in point: Jack

Jack is the latest addition to our dysfunctional menagerie. He wandered into our household unexpectedly a year ago. I put his photo up on the Jack Russell Rescue site, but nobody claimed him. Despite some pretty rough going in the early months when we discovered he had severe separation anxiety, could chew his way out of a crate, and would destroy anything within reach when left alone, he’s grown on us and is now a part of our lives.

He and Patches can’t stand each other. We have to take special pains to insure they aren’t both in the same place at the same time- which takes some juggling, believe me. But our efforts have worked so far and Patches is smart enough to avoid being anywhere near Jack.

I was very concerned about what Jack might try with Sam and the girls since Jack Russells view most anything that moves as prey, and are so good at digging under, jumping over and gnawing through, any barrier between them and their goal, whatever that might be at the moment.

Turns out that Jack doesn’t mess with the chickens- he can be in the back yard and not pay any attention to them. He’s even been back there with them a few times when they’ve been out for their evening walk-about and they just avoid each other. There is one caveat though. Jack and I cannot both be out in the back yard with the chickens at the same time. If I’m out there, it’s a whole different situation-- as I learned yesterday.

I let Jack out with me when I went to work in the greenhouse. Now something about the sight of me and Jack together must have gotten Sam upset, because he started crowing. Jack, thinking who knows what, saw that as a threat or a challenge, or something and decided he should take action. He flew off toward the chicken run, barking and yapping, ran around and around it, flung himself against the wire, tried to dig under it. The whole time, Sam was crowing and carrying on, rushing about with his hackles out, making the most god-awful noise. Then the girls got in the act making high-pitched clucking sounds and running around like crazy, too. The more noise they made, the more determined Jack was to get in there with them, barking, yapping, digging. I finally had to turn the hose on Jack and give him a good soaking to get him to stop. Finally got Jack back in the house and Sam and the girls all quieted down. I think Sam and Jack are jealous of each otherand don't like to see me with any other critters. Next time I take a pic of Sam, he’ll probably have green eyes, too!

Here's Jack sans the green eyes- He isn't always a green-eyed monster. Most of the time, he's a pretty smart, playful and lovable little rascal.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring Sprigs and Shuttles

Spring is a season of gifts from Mother Nature, as trees and plants awaken from their winter sleep, unfurl their leaves and petals, then burst forth in glorious riots of color against the brilliant spring sky. The redbud out front woke up a few weeks ago. In fact, it burst awake suddenly,its empty limbs suddenly awash in deep pink blooms.

We've been watching the dogwood outside the window for a week now. It's been a little groggy and slow to fully wake, but this morning it greeted the day with a mass of white blossoms bobbing in the breeze.

I've always thought of dogwood as only an ornamental tree because of its small size and delicate features. I was surprised to learn that it was once widely used in industry, where its hard, strong, smooth wood was used to make weaving shuttles and spools for textile mills, as well as small pulleys, mallet heads, jeweler’s blocks, and turnpins for shaping the ends of lead pipes. In earlier times, according to a 1973 pamphlet from the USDA Forestry Service, dogwood root bark was used to treat fevers and a scarlet dye was made from its roots.

I now have a new appreciation for this beautiful little tree, and wonder how many early settlers wore clothes fashioned from fabric woven with help from a dogwood shuttle then dyed with dogwood root dye.

Mouse Seeds

I convinced Patches the cat that she should spend more time in the greenhouse, thinking she might be the better mouse trap I'd been hoping for. She would actually rather sleep all day, but she reluctantly agreed to spend some time in there with me as I set about planting more seeds to replace those destroyed by mice last week.

She looked like she was enjoying herself- staring intently all around the pots, creeping stealthily along the staging. Every once in a while, she would stop, her eyes fixed intently, as though she was about to pounce. (Notice the dead brown leaves on the lantana? I'm reluctant to prune anything for fear mice will come pouring out of the pots again and run up my arms).

But alas, Patches was just pretending to be interested in eradicating the dastardly little rodents. Or maybe she's just getting too slow for such tasks in her old age. As it turns out, she is not a better mouse trap at all. There are still mice in the greenhouse, as I discovered when I went to open the greenhouse this morning.

There on the bench were what had once been peat pots. They must have been very tasty peat pots, because something had nibbled ragged holes in them-a LOT of holes! The culprits left other signs of their nocturnal nastiness, too: there were what appeared to be mouse droppings all over the potting bench. But there were so many mouse droppings! And then I saw it- a seed packet, left on the bench - its edges gnawed and torn, its contents scattered. I had forgotten to put it away. But wait- are those seeds or are they something else? I had never noticed before how much chive seeds and mouse droppings resemble each other! There's no telling what might pop up in the seed flats now. Or how many mouse droppings I've already planted!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lazy Loafers

I had visions of chickens pecking around in the yard, keeping down the population of grubs, bugs and other threats to my struggling plants. Sam and the girls were good at that once and there seemed to be a definite drop in pests. But they've gotten lazy in their old age. They dig in the yard now and then, pulling up a sweet morsel here and there, but when two years of drought turned much of the back yard into a hard clay surface akin to concrete, pecking seemed to be more work than they wanted to do. Last year they discovered that the compost bin was an excellent source of worms and such. And they didn't need to work hard to get them-- the compost was nice and fluffy and offered up treats with minimal effort on their part. We've had quite a bit of rain so far this year and the ground is actually soft enough to dig without needing a jack-hammer, but Sam and the girls are spoiled. When they come out of the run in the afternoon, they head straight for the compost bins. Meanwhile, the grubs, slugs and other nefarious critters are thriving in the garden, secure in the knowledge that they have nothing to fear from a flock of lazy chickens with an aversion to hard work.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Eggs

It occurred to me that we have never tried to dye brown eggs. Even after the girls began to lay, we bought white eggs at the grocery store to dye. Long after the kids were grown and gone, we continued to dye eggs because it was one of my sister's greatest pleasures. My sister, Jo, was born with Down syndrome. She came to live with us when our mother died over thirty years ago and was always responsible for at least half the eggs in our family Easter basket. Jo attended a day program at the local Arc for many years but began to develop Alzheimer's about six years ago. Finally her symptoms became too severe for her to continue in the day program and it became increasingly difficult to care for her at home. Jo moved into a group home late in 2006 and seems quite happy to be among the other residents- and they dye eggs there, too! Here she is at our last egg dyeing session at home in 2004. See how proud she was of her lovely eggs?

I haven't dyed Easter eggs since these pics were taken, but thought I might try it next year with natural colorants. I was poking around the internet looking for information on using natural dyes for eggs and found some absolutely beautiful eggs here. I just might try that on some of our brown eggs next year.