Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mmmmm, Morels!

Morel Mushrooms--northern Indiana in my brother's back yard

Morels. I consider them to be the earth's most perfect food, and fondly refer to them as "those elusive darlings of the forest floor". Thankfully my husband hates mushrooms, so any that I find are all mine, especially now that my mushroom-loving sons are no longer in the nest here at Cairnwood.

Growing up in northern Indiana, I have fond memories of "mushroom hunting back in the woods". We'd find just enough morels to whet our appetites, but never enough to satisfy our craving for them.

Well folks, it's that time of year again when mushroom hunters will be out in force scouring the woodlands for these nuggets. If you're wondering whether the morels are ready for the pickin' in your neck of the woods, check out this sightings map.

My parents, who still live in northern Indiana, state they spoke with a knowledgeable person recently who claims that this should be a banner year for morels due to certain weather conditions last year. I sure hope so because I've got quite the hankering for morels right now! And if you're new to morels, there are several good websites that deal with morels, including this one.

Mmmmmm, morels....

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Take That, You Asparagus Beetles!!

I was feeling all smug recently because I hadn't seen any asparagus beetles on my oh-so-delicious asparagus yet this spring. I've been eating fresh asparagus nearly every day since April 21, but lo! When I went to the garden a couple days ago to cut some asparagus for supper, what did I find? ASPARAGUS BEETLES nonchalantly laying eggs all over my asparagus and in general having a gorge-fest on the succulent young spears.

Enter The Peeps. Ah, they may be too young to lay eggs for me just yet, but they're wicked deadly to asparagus beetles. I grabbed a handful of the said beetles and tossed them into the crate where the peeps had been enjoying the recent warm weather. A few beetles managed to fly away, but the slower of the lot became peep snacks. Yes! They're definitely going to earn their keep.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Are These My Babies?

Are you my mother?!

Toodie, my Australian Shepherd, is such a little mother. She's adopted my peeps, and I think she believes she needs to mother them. I took the peeps outside again today to enjoy the gorgeous 90 degree day while I planted some Tribute strawberries. Toodie had to be as close to the peeps as she could get; she planted herself in front of the peep crate and didn't move for at least 1/2 hour, intently watching their every move. She only left their side when I made her go back into the fenced dog yard.

I must admit that I was happy to see that she wasn't drooling while she was watching the peeps...she does eat a "raw, meaty bones" diet, which consists mainly of....chicken!

A fascinated Toodie watches her "babies"

Early Morning Stroll Around Cairnwood

Backlit azalea in the early morning light of my Woodland Garden

Yesterday morning I got up and took my camera out into the gardens to see what I could find. I love early mornings in spring...they hold so much promise. Promise for the day, and promise for the gardening season. This day was particularly beautiful, even though it turned into a hot, summer-like day (90 degrees F here in Central Pennsylvania is pretty darned warm for April!)

The spinach seeds I sowed on April 13 are sending up some nice little green leaves, as are the Thomas Laxton peas I pre-sprouted and planted on April 7. Interestingly, the Thomas Laxton peas are really not much further along than the Alaska peas which I soaked for a few hours, then planted on April 13. Perhaps I planted the Thomas Laxtons just a wee bit too early?

Spinach Seedlings--gotta love that stony Pennsylvania soil!

My Woodland Garden is coming alive...the azaleas are beginning to bloom and the rhododendrons are about to pop open. The "Pheasant's Eye" daffodils, Narcissus poeticus, are blooming...they're one of my favorite daffodils and I have fond childhood memories of picking bouquets of these for my mom.

Pheasant's Eye Daffodil (Narcissus poeticus), gazing at the sky

Pheasant's Eye Daffodil looking all perky by the bench in my Woodland Garden

My Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia pensylvanica) are unfurling, though I see a few spots where there should be fern fronds poking up, and there are none. I'm hoping they're just slow and won't be no-shows.

Osterich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica)

I discovered that the Bleeding Heart (Dicentra) in my Secret Garden has burst into bloom, yet the Bleeding Heart just off our patio is several days away from blooming.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)

I've placed my trays of seedlings outside on the picnic table since it's been so warm and I really don't have room in our house for seedlings (where's my greenhouse?!). They seem to be coming along well, though I'll soon need to pinch out the extra seedlings that have come up in the peat pellets.

Tomato seedlings enjoying the early morning sun

The 3 Concord and 4 Niagara grapevines that I got last week from the Conservation District have been potted up until I can get the vineyard ready for them. Hope they don't mind their tight, temporary quarters!

Grapevines waiting to be planted

Later in the day the weather was so nice that I HAD to take my little peeps out to enjoy the weather! They loved their first venture into the great outdoors! I put them in a dog crate since we don't have a "chicken tractor" or suitable outdoor holdings for them just yet. They had a blast scratching, pecking, catching bugs and eating violets. I see many more of these outings in the future....

They're right! The grass IS greener on the other side!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring Marches On

I've been so busy working in the garden lately that I haven't had the time to sit my rear end down and update my gardening progress. Well, that's not entirely true, because one day last week it rained and I made an entry here with tons of photos. Then, the power went out and apparently the"auto save" that occurs didn't work because none of it was saved. So there I sat with a blank screen.

I'm uploading the photos again. Of course now everything looks different because that's the way of changes faster than those little peeps I got on the 15th.

Ameraucana peep roosting on the food trough

Welsummer pullets roosting on the food trough

Speaking of the peeps, they're growing and changing fast! The one little Welsummer pullet that had been acting sickly did eventually die, sadly, though she is the only one I lost. The rest seem to be thriving. They're at that awkward stage now where they're sporting feathers but still have a lot of their "fuzz". They take turns flying off the top of the feed trough; they remind me of kids on a playground lining up to go down the slide, one after the other in swift succession. Zoom, zoom, zoom, off they go flying into the crowd below which causes an uproar of chirping from the ones that just got crashed into. I could watch them for hours.

The forsythia have been in bloom for the past three weeks, as have the daffodils. The dogwoods in the woods began blooming this past week, and just in the last two or three days the pear tree has burst into bloom. The little apricot tree that I planted two weeks ago is sporting about a half dozen blooms. The redbud is on the verge of blooming. Redbud flowers are edible, and I can't wait to add those to a salad...imagine how gorgeous that will be!

Redbuds preparing to bloom

I picked up my order from the Conservation District on April 22. From them I received 4 Niagara grape vines, 3 Concord grape vines, 6 blueberry bushes (3 Blueray and 3 Bluecrop), 5 Black Satin thornless blackberries, 25 Tribute (everbearing) strawberry plants, 25 Cavendish strawberry plants, and a rain barrel. I got the blueberries and blackberries planted the same day I picked them up. The grapes I've potted up until I get the vineyard prepared properly, and the strawberries are still languishing in their little bags. I need more time.....

On Thursday the 23rd I planted my potatoes. One raised bed was planted with Yukon Gold, approx 25 hills. Another raised bed is home to 8 hills of Shepody, 12 hills of Russian Banana, and 7 hills of Red Gold potatoes. A third raised bed is half full of 12 hills of French Fingerlings.

The Alaska peas I planted on the 13th are beginning to break through the soil and reach for the sky. I can't wait for those guys to reach the edible stage! And I've been enjoying fresh asparagus since the 21st when I harvested my first spears of the season.

On that happy note, I will leave you with a few more photos of Springtime at Cairnwood....

Crested Iris emerging

Happy little tulips by our patio

I love daffodils! Can you see the spider?

In case you couldn't see the spider....

More of my favorite flowers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Peeps Arrive at Cairnwood!

Ameraucana pullet--Miss Chubby Cheeks

Gold Sex-link pullet

First meal--Wellsummers, Speckled Sussex, Ameraucanas, and Gold Sex-links

Peeps have arrived at Cairnwood Cottage! I placed my order with Welp Hatchery in Iowa in early March for 30 peeps: 6 Welsummer pullets, 6 Welsummer straight run, 6 Speckled Sussex pullets, 6 Ameraucana pullets, and 6 Ameraucana straight run. All arrived in good shape, are lively and healthy looking, with the exception of one...

I got the phone call from the post office at 8:30 a.m. while I was still at work (at UPS). I was getting off work in about 15 minutes, and couldn't wait to get to the post office. Upon arrival at the post office, I was handed a fiercely cheeping box about 10" x 12", stuffed with peeps. I opened it in front of the postal worker so there would be confirmation of any losses, but thankfully that hadn't occured.

Our local Tractor Supply was getting an order of peeps in today as well, and I stopped by there to see what they had available. I stopped last week, but was too late that day...I was told they'd received 150 chicks that a.m., and by the time I got there in the evening, every single one had been sold! Today they had Gold Sex-links, one of the varieties I'd wanted to get, so I bought 6 to join the already peeping masses in my car. Both boxes were placed on the floor and the heater turned on to keep the little guys warm, and off we went to their new home.

I had their little brooder all set up and ready...heat lamp on for 24 hours to get things warmed up to approximately 95 degrees, sugar water set out for them and warmed to room temp. Crushed corncob bedding in place. Sugar water is recommended by the hatchery for the first 24 hours....1/4 cup sugar to one gallon of water. Let the peeps drink this for one hour prior to giving them any food.

So far my future slug slayers all seem to be doing well with the exception of one little Welsummer pullet. She's very lethargic and her breathing is labored...not sure if this is due to shipping stress or what, but I fear the worst for her. I'm not really sure what to do at this point. I realize some losses happen when dealing with peeps, especially ones that get shipped like this, but that doesn't make dealing with their demise any easier.

All morbid thoughts aside, I could spend hours sitting there beside the brooder watching these little critters run about, fall asleep mid-stride, fall asleep with their heads inside the little food trough, run over the tops of each other, stretch their legs, etc. Go you little beetle-munchers! Grow strong!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Homemade Laundry Soap

Laundry flapping in the breeze...Intoxicating! We'll sleep good tonight!

I've been making my own laundry soap for the past few years, and I can't even begin to guess how many hundreds of dollars I've saved by doing this. One batch of laundry soap lasts me six months or longer, and costs less than $5.00 to make. Here's my recipe for making 3.5 gallons of "liquid" laundry soap, and the only reason I'm using this quantity is, that's the size bucket/tub I have available. It's an old powdered laundry detergent bucket with a lid that just happens to hold 3.5 gallons. You can tweak this recipe to fill a 5-gallon, or whatever size bucket/container you have. Make sure you've got a tight fitting lid for it.

The ingredients you'll need to make your laundry soap

2 cups Borax
2 cups Super Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)
2 bars of soap
essential oils of your choice--optional

Dissolve washing soda and Borax in a bucket with hot water

Step 1. Measure the washing soda and the Borax into the bucket, add about a gallon of HOT water and stir to dissolve the powders.

Grate the soap into a pot (first fill it with water)

Step 2. Grate two bars of your choice of soaps into a large pot that contains 8 cups of water. The smaller the particles you can grate the soap into, the better and faster it will dissolve. Heat and stir this until the soap dissolves. HINT: grate your soap ahead of time and gradually add this to the water while it's heating. If you add it all at once without stirring, it's likely to clump and NOT dissolve readily. Also, the harder, dryer type soaps dissolve better than moist soaps which tend to clump together once they're in the water. My method is to grate, stir, grate, stir, grate, stir....heat and stir until all soap is dissolved. The actual grating takes a bit of elbow grease! If you're adding essential oils, try to use an un-scented soap. You can use just about any bar soap you like, from regular body soaps to something like Fels-naptha laundry soap. Use whatever you feel good about using, health and environment-wise.

Heat and stir the water and grated soap until soap is dissolved

Step 3. Add dissolved soap mixture to the Borax/washing soda mixture and stir well.

Step 4. If you're adding essential oils or other scents, now's the time to add that. **See my note on my preference of scents!

Step 5. Fill container with HOT water and stir to blend all ingredients.

This will not remain a liquid, but will rather turn into something resembling gelatin. It will dissolve readily in your wash. I use anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on the size of the load and how dirty everything is. This stuff will NOT suds, so don't keep adding more thinking soap suds will appear. They just won't. I've used homemade powdered laundry soaps in the past and they do a good job, however, any little bits of soap that don't dissolve in the wash and end up in the dryer (if you use one) will leave what looks like grease spots on your clothes, especially noticeable on dark clothes. Never a good thing! After figuring out what all those "grease spots" were from, I switched to making this "liquid" soap and haven't looked back.

** My ulitmate to-die-for scent is called "Cedarwood Mint". To the 3.5 gallon batch of soap I made yesterday (Saturday, April 11) I added 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of Cedarwood Mint fragrance oil from Scent Works. Look under their "fragrance oils" section and you'll find Cedarwood Mint listed there. Now, if I were a dog I'd be rolling in this stuff all the time. It's probably my favorite scent ever. The scent is hard to describe, but it's a very clean smell, and doesn't really smell strongly of cedar or mint, but is a beautiful marriage of the two, plus I think there's a hint of lavendar thrown in there perhaps.

I first encountered Cedarwood Mint when I was at a drugstore in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I was stopping to pick up a pre-op prescription for a hysterectomy I was to have done in the next day or two, and was having something of a pity party for myself when I saw a clearance rack filled with laundry soap called Cedarwood Mint by "The Thymes". I sniffed it and fell in love! I bought a bottle, even though it was prohibitive in price (even on sale!). I used it only occasionally because I didn't want to use it up. I later found out that it was a discontinued item, and was never able to find it again. However, my son, Jeremiah, found this fragrance oil from Scent Works and bought a bottle of it for me for Christmas, and the scent is spot on. Now I can make my own laundry soap for a mere fraction of what I spent on that first bottle.

And you know the stuff must smell good, because every time I walked by the washer yesterday while doing laundry, I had to open the lid and sniff to make sure it really did smell that good.

I washed our sheets and hung them out to dry on the line yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny, breezy day as you can see in the photo at the start of this entry.
Once the sheets were in off the clothesline and on our bed, I could smell that fresh sunshine smell and Cedarwood die for! We slept like babies last night!

An Abundance of Mushrooms

Mmmmmm, dried mushrooms!

So just what does one do with an abundance of mushrooms? Why, dehydrate them, of course! My organic produce co-op order recently provided me with four 12-ounce boxes of button mushrooms. My husband loathes mushrooms, and my two mushroom-loving sons are both living elsewhere now, so I was the lone devourer of the mushrooms. As much as I love mushrooms, I just couldn't eat them before they spoiled, so I opted to dehydrate them.

Fortunately my parents bought me a dehydrator for Christmas several years ago, so I have the luxury of being able to dry my produce with this. Other options would be solar in nature, not a bad thing at all, and something I've done in the past with great success.

To dehydrate mushrooms with a dehydrator, quite simply clean them (brush off the dirt or wash them if you must), then slice them into 1/4 inch slices, trying to keep the slices the same thickness, otherwise some will be done long before others.

Mushroom slices ready to dehydrate

Dehydrator full of mushrooms

Place the slices on the dryer racks, trying not to overlap them, cover with the dehydrator lid and let them dry until they're crisp.

I honestly don't know how long it would take to dry them because I forgot to check them before I went to bed. But, that wasn't my fault. You see, my mushroom-loathing husband came home from work and declared the mushrooms HAD to be removed from the house because he just couldn't stand the smell, which I thought was quite a delicious smell. So, out the dehydrator went into our kitchen addition, which is not quite complete or functional just yet, other than as a giant walk-in refrigerator in winter, and pantry in summer.

A once-full tray of mushrooms slices dries down to tiny pieces

I woke up with a start this morning thinking, "Oh my gosh! I forgot the mushrooms!" and despaired thinking they'd be ruined. But, when you think about it, once they're dry, they're dry and you can't really over dry something like that, can you? They were fine.

Plate loaded with dried mushrooms

Let the mushrooms cool and transfer them to an airtight container, where they should keep for quite a long time.

Interestingly, I had five mushrooms left that just wouldn't fit onto my full dehydrator trays. Look here to see what I did with them!

In the dehydrator now that the mushrooms are finished? An over-abundance of organic celery!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Daily Red

My Daily Red

Pictured above is the wine I'm sipping at this very moment. It's my homemade concord wine from last year, and we're taking a break from digging and planting, and in general just playing in the dirt. OK, yes I know, it's not dirt, it's "soil", but "playing in the soil" just doesn't have the same ring to it. You know what I mean.

I am the world's worst record keeper. Really I am. I generally start off in the spring by keeping a journal of what I'm doing in the garden, what I've planted and where, but after a few weeks of that I just give it up and figure my memory will not fail me in the years to come, and I'll just remember. Trouble is, my memory has already failed me and I seem to forget every year that I can't remember this stuff. I've got a yard and garden full of mystery plants. I dutifully put the little labels beside each plant, tree, shrub, etc., but they seem to disappear pretty quickly, especially when they get run over by the lawn mower. I keep thinking I'll get those little metal plant labels, indestructible as they are, but I keep forgetting....

So here's what I accomplished yesterday in the gardens at Cairnwood Cottage. I've got a pathetic little wisteria of some sort that I planted years ago in front of our house. I had to move it about 4 years ago when Dean began construction on our kitchen addition because it was right where the front steps would be. So I moved it to the north side of my garden. Then yesterday I decided I was going to expand my asparagus bed, and my poor little wisteria once again had to be ripped from the earth and moved, this time to my Woodland Garden. I hope it's happy there because it sure put up a fight when I was trying to dig it out of my future asparagus patch.

Jersey Knight....or Jersey Giant?

Then, I planted 19 "Viking KB3" asparagus crowns beside the existing and nicely productive 10 asparagus of some variety that I'm not sure of...I think it's Jersey something, Knight or Giant, I'm not sure which. But I know it's one of those two...can you tell by looking at it?! The asparagus bed will be separated and enclosed by some wood I got from Freecycle, making it a raised bed of sorts.

For those of you who have never planted's not a job for the faint of heart! You need to dig a trench about a foot deep, dump in about three inches of compost and place the crowns on that, spreading out the little octopus-like roots, then back fill. I cheated a little and simply dug holes; I didn't have the time nor energy required to dig a big enough trench for 19 crowns. And why only 19 crowns you ask? They came in packs of six, so I should have had 18 crowns, but one pack had a scrawny extra little thing in it. I planted it in hopes it would grow and thrive.

Today I planted a row of Thomas Laxton peas. We have a fenced dog yard, and one side of the fence gets lots of sun, especially in the early hours of the day. Thomas Laxton peas need some sort of trellis to climb up, so I figured I'd put the fence to good use and let the peas climb up that. Actually, last year I'd planted a few beans and peas along there, but I didn't prepare the soil properly since I was one-armed at the time (rotator cuff surgery). This time I hope I've done a better job at site preparation. I amended the soil with some compost, composted cow manure, and just a hint of wood ash. I actually moistened the peas on Thursday or Friday of last week thinking I'd plant them the next day. Well, that didn't happen. We'd been getting rain. Then I had other things I needed to plant. These were seeds I'd saved from a 2005 crop, so I wasn't sure what their germination would be like. Lots of them sprouted, so I should get a decent crop. A few snowflakes fell while I planted the peas was a mere 40 degrees at the time. The recent warm spell has me thinking 40 degrees is bleeping cold!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Let The Planting Begin!

I was tired when I got home from work this a.m., and was tempted to take a nap. BUT, the temps rose to 68 degrees F., it was sunny and gorgeous, and I just couldn't let a day like this go to waste. And I knew I had to get some bare root raspberries planted that I'd picked up yesterday.

Before I could plant the raspberries, I had to finish preparing the "berry patch", which is on a southwestern facing slope between my garden and the woods. This, at one time, had been an old vineyard we're told, and the terraces and some of the metal poles are still in place. I just had to finish removing some old brambles, Japanese honeysuckle, sumac, and a few other things (including my favorite little buddy, poison ivy). The woods is encroaching, and there are a few trees that are a bit too close and should be cut out. I hate to cut down perfectly good trees, but these really are in the way.

View of a portion of the Berry Patch (foreground) and Woodland Garden in the background

I got six Fallgold raspberries, and six Jewel raspberries. The Jewels are a black raspberry, and Fallgold is, guess what? Gold. I've seen this one written as Fallgold and Fall Gold; I'm not really sure which is correct. The Jewels are on the first terrace up from my blueberries, then the next terrace contains the Fallgold. The third terrace will be six more black raspberries from our friends, and I'm not sure of the variety.

Bare root Fallgold raspberries waiting to be planted

A newly planted Jewel black raspberry

In the next day or two I'll be transplanting some of my red raspberries to their new home on the northern side of my garden. Again, there are several trees that will need to come down because they're in the way. This will be near the chicken coop that we'll be building in the next week or so.

Trees in the Woodland Garden preparing to clothe themselves in green

Daffodil and bee in the Woodland Garden enjoying a 68 degree F. sunny spring day

Once the planting was complete, I had to go sit on the little bench in my Woodland Garden (adjacent to the new Berry Patch) and listen to the Spring sounds, feel the warm breeze and sunshine soaking into my sun-starved skin. The sky was a phenomenal blue, the little daffodils are a brilliant yellow now in the Woodland Garden, and the trees are about to explode leaves.

Bleeding Heart emerging

The bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) is popping up through the leaves and looks a lot like some kind of weird reddish-colored celery, or perhaps some sort of sea plant.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cairnwood's Frugal Tip of the Day

I'm always looking for ways to save money. A tip that I came across recently, and I can't believe I didn't think of this before, was to save the plastic bag inside cereal boxes. They're clean, food grade, and air tight, except of course for the top that's been opened. I've got dozens of these bags now, and whenever I need to coat something in a breading, I just put the breading in one of these bags, toss in the vegetables or whatever I'm breading, and shake until the items are coated. Works like a charm, and I'm using something that otherwise would have been thrown away. Same goes for bread bags if you buy store-bought bread. I've saved those for years to use in the same way, or for storing home-made bread, muffins, biscuits, etc.