Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Damn garden pests

Clearly my garden is yummy not only to us.  Growing food is a constant Battle! Of! The! Bugs!  The question is who can get to the plant first?

In the clematis corner we have Earwig Damage!

Battling Earwig Damage is Hole-y Margarine Cup and his sidekick Canola Oil!

So far Earwig Damage is kicking Maragine Boy's puny arse.  He'll soon be replaced by Newspaper Tube Man.

Ever seen one of these beeeyootiful butterflies?

Don't for a SECOND think it's an innocuous insect.  This jerkwad of a bug's larvae turn my cabbage into lace.  It's called a cabbage moth for a reason.  As you may notice from this fuzzy picture the damn worms are exactly the same color as the cabbage leaves in the background.

Twice a day, and I do mean TWICE, I comb over the cabbage plants for the damn things.  This morning I found 5, this evening 3 more.  And that's on top of the 5 or so I got yesterday.

Luckily the chickens looooove cabbage moth larvae.  They've gotten a steady diet of the teensy green twinkies over the past weeks, which they've dutifully turned into eggs for us.

That's kinda gross when I say it like that.  Nevermind.

And finally, there's an even more insidious insect in the yard.

The western tent caterpillar:

I found 2 small nests last weekend in my apple tree, thankfully before they had grown to any substantial size.  This one had only just started to hatch, with maybe a half dozen caterpillars munching and tenting.  You can see the white egg case in both pics.  The larvae were about a half-inch long.

Tent caterpillars seem to come in cycles here in the PNW and this is only the 2nd time I've ever found them in my 7 years in my home.  I suspect that this is going to be a bad year because we had a relatively mild winter.  Tent caterpillars can be terrifically damaging to trees, not to mention unsightly. 

There are lots of different ways to deal with tent caterpillars.  The best way is to simply prune the affected branch and discard it in the yard waste bin.

And in case you're wondering, as I was: yes, chickens love tent caterpillars.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Moules marinieres

Moules marinieres are one of my fav foods.  I don't have them that often and honestly don't know why.  They're so easy!  They're called "Sailors' mussels" and are traditionally served with fries.  I made mine with rice, which gave plenty of ways to scoop the sauce into my mouth.

This is one of those recipes that you make "au pif" (by the nose) and just throw things into a saucepan in kind of general ratios.  You'll see what I mean.

olive oil
1 onion or shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle of dry white wine
1 lb cleaned, fresh mussels for each person
1-2 roma tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper
cream (optional)
Something to serve it with.  As I said, I made mine with rice because it's what I had in the house.

Clean the mussels and scrape off the beards.  They're pesky buggers.  I used a sharp paring knife for this.  Mine were pretty muddy, so I scrubbed them with a brush, too.

Saute your onion or shallots and garlic in some olive oil.

Pour in some of that wine and bring it to a boil.  I used about 3/4 cup.  Once it's boiling, throw in the tomatoes and mussels, clamp on the lid, and wait 2-3 minutes. 

I had 1 mussel that didn't open so I left it in the broth for another minute.  Sure enough, it popped open!  Discard any mussels that don't open: they were dead before the cooking started and can't be trusted with your intestinal health.
Remove all the mussels with a slotted spoon and put them into bowls.  These bowls had some rice in the bottom.
Turn your attention back to the pot.  Now it's time for the magic!  Bring the broth back to a boil and reduce it by half.  This won't take long.  If you want, pour in 1 turn of cream - you know, as much cream as goes in as you circle the pan once.  Add the parsley, ladle that yumminess over the mussels, and you're done!

This would be heavenly with a crusty bread.  You do not want to lose oen drop of the terrific broth in the bottom of the bowl.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jar, Jar, Blinks

Hi.  My name is Jenn.  And I have a bajillion canning jars.

Hi, Jenn!

I was bitten by the canning bug a couple of years ago after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Last spring, before we got engaged, I spent many a quiet moment skulking about craigslist looking for estate sales and good deals on canning jars.

There are dozens of jars in my attic.  These pics represent just 8 of the maybe 12 dozen jars stashed up there.

I've got about 4-5 dozen jars in the garage.  Those were jars we used as centerpieces at our wedding.

Then there are jars that are on the canning shelves, which I took down recently to sort and organize.

During this inventory process I decided to pull out the antique jars and use them just for decorative things.  Why?  Antique jars can be prone to chipping and breaking because they've been through lots of heat/cool cycles.  Besides, some of the jars just look pretty damn cool.

Know what?  I discovered that most of my jars are vintage.  Many are really old.  You can see that some are mouth blown:

Compared with an industrial/pressed glass jar:

These belonged to my great grandmother.  I actually used them last year but then I cracked one so these are now delegrated to non-canning uses, such as yogurt, infusing honey, etc.

This is a specialty jar for asparagus.

Little jars are great for the leftover bits of jam that didn't fit into the jars to be sealed.  They're also a nice thing to give away because they didn't cost anything.

Do you know the etiquette of receiving home-canned goods?  If not, read here.  The rules are simple:
1. Return the jar to the gifter.
2. If you don't return the jar, you won't get more yummies.
3. If you can't return the jar, give it to a thrift shop or another canner.
4. Don't try to recycle the jar: the glass is not the same type used for shelf-stable stuff you buy at the grocery store.
5, Return the jar to the gifter.

Which reminds me...
Did you get one of these on Labor Day?  What did you do with the jar?  Give it back and I might be enticed into making you more jam...

And about all those vintage jars I was going to take out of rotation?  With exception of the wire gasket jars, all of them are going to get used again.  If I took out all of the old jars I would have none left.  And if you want some, let me know and we can work out a deal. 

I might even throw in some eggs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A photojournal

Here are some pics of a typical day for me.  I'll spare you the pics of my office.  These are pics from my lunch break and from my bike ride home.

Thursdays means the downtown farmers market in Tacoma.  It's only 5-6 blocks from my office building.  I came home with 2 lbs of red cherries for the hubbie.

My boss and I laughed about Infinite Soups a lot.

Fast forward to my bike-ride home.  I have to cross I-5, where I used to spend over 2 hours daily.  In the distance is the Tacoma Dome, which was built with wood downed during the 1980 Mt. Saint Helens eruption.

I love the old homes in my neighborhood, which was built in the 1920s. 

About 2 years ago I found 3 cases of pint-sized canning jars on this corner.

This house is the reason I took my camera with me on this trip.  They've used their space so well, both on their parking strip and in the miniscule front yard.  I ride by their house all the time and have enjoyed watching their veggies grow.  I anonymously dropped off some eggs in appreciation.  Hey, we've got about 5 dozen eggs right now!

Something tells me that they and their neighbors will have an abundance of squash this fall.

This house is a couple of blocks away.

I'd bet money that this yippy Jack Russell has an invisible fence.  I kind of like tormenting him a bit when I ride by on my bike.  I'm not proud of that.

This guy, Bill, lives down the block and kitty corner from us.  His front gardens over the years inspired my own.  We had a nice chat over the rotten weather and animals destroying our plants (his: dogs, mine: chickens).
(No idea why this pic wouldn't rotate.)  Here's Bill, showing off his garden to me and sharing my lament over the crappy cold weather.  He's on planting # 2 or 3 by now, too.

Need inspiration in your yard?  Take a walk.  Talk with your neighbors.  See what they're doing that works and what's not working.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bah phooey on this spring

We've had a rotten spring in the Pacific Northwest!  It's been, on average, 5-10 degrees colder than normal.  Today the forecasted high was a full 11 degrees below normal.  I've planted several things over and over in the hopes that the soil temp will rise enough to get the seeds to germinate.  So far I've been pretty unsuccessful out back. 

More proof of the craptacular spring:
  • I'm wearing sweats and a bulky wool sweater as I type this.  In the middle of June.  BAH.
  • We turned off the heat in May... then turned it back on.
  • The storm windows are still on the house, a full month late.
  • Last weekend's temps above 70 were the first in 9 months.  Nine months, people!
Would you believe that I've planted carrots twice already and this is all that's come up?  I also planted parsnips and got nothing.  Notice the big empty area at the bottom right.  I pruned the apple tree after taking this pic.

This photo was taken in June.

And this one was taken in March.  Arg!

We've gotten some lettuce but that's about it from the back yard.  The front is faring far better and I'll show pics of that later this week.

Keep this up and there will be no green beans at our house unless I find a place for them out front.

In case you think that this patch looks suspiciously like weeds, you're right.  I recently saw "organic chickweed" at the farmers market for $2/bundle.  Are you KIDDING?!?  That stuff is a nuisance!  I grabbed a nibble and was shocked again.  It's delicious.  So, what the hell.  It's organic in my yard, too.  As I weeded last weekend I left a small patch behind the yellow squash.  By the time I get around to weeding that patch again, it'll be primed for a yummy salad of some kind.

The sunlight in our backyard is, shall I say, "filtered".  OK, it's very shady, as evidenced by the roaring health of the hostas.  G-man and I are talking about moving the veggie garden entirely to the front yard for 2011 and letting this area revert to grass.  Our back yard is small, and made smaller by my affection for large plants, so having some grass and not worrying about chickens eating our veggies would be nice.

Speaking of the girls, I've been blocking off the area between our house & our neighbors' home and letting the girls eat, scratch, dustbathe, and dig to their hearts' content as long as we're home to keep an eye on them.  In just a couple of hours they can completely cover this walkway with dirt they've excavated from the bed on the left.  The "damage" here was done in less than 30 seconds.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Update on Beaker

Beaker is our hen who had the mild vent prolapse (where the vent partially inverts and comes out) seems to have healed pretty well.  I'm happy to report that we haven't had to put a finger where the sun doesn't shine for about 2 days now, nor have we had to slather the poor girl with foul-smelling Preparation H.

She, understandably, didn't appreciate our loving attention.

We now have a new problem with Beaker, though it's one that seems well-timed: Beaker is broody.  This means that a hormonal switch has flipped in her body and she will attempt to hatch just about anything that remotely ressembles an egg. 

At this very moment she's sitting on 2 golf balls and a promotional rubber ball G-man got somewhere.  The ball lights up when it bounces, so I whacked it on the side of the nesting box, stuffed the red and blue blinking ball under the puffed-up white hen, and amused myself watching her light up like a flashing cop car.

Hey, it's Friday night, hubbie's at work late, we don't have cable, and I don't have any books to read.

Ohhhh.  Shiney and blinky!

Given Beaker's recent prolapse brought on by huge-mongous eggs, I'm going to let her be broody for a few days because she won't lay eggs during that time.  I tried to put her in the yard to see if she could be distracted from her broodiness but she drove me nuts trying to get back into the run for over an hour.  When I finally let her back into the run she made a beeline for the nesting box and has been there ever since.

Here's a video of a broody hen sitting on... well, on something a bit surprising. 

Too bad roosters are illegal in the city or I might consider giving her some fertilized eggs to hatch.  That would be super cute.

Maybe I'll just screw with her instead and see what kinds of crazy things she'll try to incubate.  I once heard about someone's silkie hen who tried to hatch a plastic truck and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure.

I love how the chick looks so confused.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


This female Anna's hummingbird (or her offspring) has been nesting in my next-door neighbor's yard somewhere for several years.  I planted this red hot pocker to entice her into my yard.  It worked!

Nearly every morning I see her in the yard next door, either sitting in a tree making her squeaky song - you can hear one here - or sipping the honeysuckle.  Sometimes I'm late for work because I just stand there and watch her for a few minutes.  She brings a smile to my face every single time. 

I await her return every year and see her nearly daily all summer.  Last weekend she sat on the telephone wire and watched me garden for a little while.  Hummingbirds are quite curious creatures and shockingly fearless.  Over the years I've seen hummingbirds hover over the chickens as if to check out these bizarre critters.  They come within 2-3 feet of my chickens, who lumber after the weird "bug" that's hovering tantalizingly out of reach.  The hummers have no fear of me and always make me wish I were wearing red.

For some reason I want to call her Molly.