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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.