Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Raising the Roof

Although we were hoping to put it off for one more year, it became apparent that we needed to replace the roof on the big barn. Not only were the number of Tidy Cat litter buckets serving as rain buckets multiplying along with the corresponding holes in the roof, but we discovered one big  hole far down on one side that had been allowing water to gush through in massive quantities into an interior stall in the lowest level of the barn. Since we have kept this stall closed off from the buffs, we didn't see the damage to the wood until it was too late. Lest we have any more nasty surprises, we bit the bullet. Here are some pictures of the 2.5 day project handled exclusively by our local roofers. The shot that follows is of the initial tear off of the old metal.

I wish I had a shot of the guy straddling the apex of the roof as he pulled up the strip of metal along the peak. My neighbor who lives in the house behind the barn said she was transfixed by the process but had to stop watching the guys running along the top of the barn after the metal was pulled off. A cop and a veteran, she's not lacking in courage but even she found it hard to take watching them work 3 stories up. Not only were they contending with the height and the lack of flat, level surfaces to walk on, they had to deal with many wasp nests in the rafters and some rotten support poles. And August heat.

This shot shows the only way up to the roof. That ladder is long and narrow! Bad enough to climb but to also carry tools and materials???? At least they didn't have to approach from the other side of the barn which would have entailed climbing the full three stories.

This is the barn with the new roof on. In many ways the new roof is not as attractive as the old one (mostly because it lacks the patina of decades of rust....) but it should function much better. The guys finished the 1.5 days before Irene was scheduled to make landfall in NC. Fortunately, it didn't affect us at all but since we didn't know that would be the case, we were glad to have a new roof over our supply of hay for the winter. One big project down, infinity more to go....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fluffy Buffies

Bleah. There are way too many angry people on Facebook this week. I need something to make me smile. Think happy thoughts....fluffy bunnies--or better yet---fluffy buffies. Here are some recent photos of the buffalo to lift our spirits:

Ah, now that's better. See how happy I am now?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Snake Poop

Although it wasn't in the comments section, I received a very nice request from my favorite nephew for a look at the snake poop. He's truly a boy after my own heart. For those of you with more delicate sensibilities, feel free to skip this post. For the curious and strong of stomach, here you go:

If only they made Tidy Snakes litter, maybe I wouldn't have had to clean this mess off of the plywood floor. I guess I should give the snake some credit for aiming for the litter pail even though it's not species-appropriate.

Here's a closer look:

OK, everyone, enjoy your dinner tonight!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Snake Handling

For those of you who are squeamish about snakes, be warned: this post is actually about handling snakes. For those of you who are squeamish about religion, you can relax. This is a strictly secular endeavor. And finally, for those who don't mind reading about snakes but don't want to see them, read on. There will be no pictures of snakes (but if someone begs for it in the comments, I might be persuaded to add a picture of snake poop).

I just spent the past hour rescuing a five-foot long black rat snake that had become badly tangled in some old deer fencing. The deer fencing is this cheap, plastic netting comprised of 1/2 inch squares that don't look large enough for a snake to get through but apparently it looks otherwise to the snake. We removed all of this fencing from our orchard a couple of years ago and had to cut a few (mostly live) snakes out at that time. I had forgotten that we had a couple of rolls of the stuff still in the workshop. I think I had saved it thinking we might need it to put over berry bushes to discourage birds from snacking before we could harvest the fruit. Stupid.

I should have figured that the snakes living in our workshop (which we encourage for rodent control and general enjoyment) would eventually find the netting. Sure enough, when I went out to the workshop today to work on a small repair project, I spotted one of our Rizzos near the fridge. He/she (I'm not going to try to sex a snake) wasn't moving and seemed strangely looped over some junk--normally they slither along the wall or a shelf. Then I spotted the netting and realized that it must be stuck.

The trouble with the netting and these snakes is that they can easily get their narrow head through the openings  but their bodies are too thick to slide through. Unfortunately, snakes don't do reverse well. They keep pushing forward and in the process get hopelessly entangled. By the time I got there, this poor snake was being constricted (yes, it would be ironic if this were a boa) in about a dozen places along its body.

I went to the house to find my big fireplace gloves (not snake-proof but the thickest I've got) and my best narrow scissors all the while wishing I had the kind of scissors used for taking out stitches. In my haste, I forgot my reading glasses. Those would have come in handy for cutting black netting off of a black snake in dim light but by the time I realized the error, I had two fistfuls of snake and wasn't about to carry it into the house.

It took me a bit of doing just to get Rizzo to where I could work on her. I've decided that this is Mrs. Rizzo since she's about five feet long--definitely smaller than King Rizzo who is a mighty six footer. The first challenge was getting her out from where she was wedged between the fridge and a pail of soil amendments. All the more challenging because I couldn't see where her head was to know if it was trapped or free to strike. I gradually cleared the junk from the space in front of her and tried to lift off one of the two rolls of netting but she was entwined in both.

When I found her head, I couldn't see if her mouth was bound shut but she only had a couple of inches of wiggle room for her head, so I figured I'd be ok if I didn't get my hands right by her mouth. Rat snakes are not venomous so a bite wouldn't poison me--it would just hurt. I tried to lift both rolls so I could move her over to the workbench where the lighting is better but the back half of her was looped through the handle of the pail and wouldn't let go. I had to set her down to try to pry her very muscular tail off of its perch. Clearly she was stressed, probably assuming that I was there to kill her, and so she released the contents of bowels as she released her grip. Once again I tried lifting the rolls only to find that the netting had wrapped around the leg of some shelving. Set her down again and got the big scissors to cut the netting. Last time was the charm. I picked up the rolls with one hand controlling her head and one supporting the rest of her weight and got her to the workbench. Still not sure how I did that.

All the while she's squirming like mad and making things worse. But how do you let a snake know that you're just trying to help? You don't. You just try to work quickly. The last time I cut a snake out of netting, I had my trusty assistant to hold the body so I could have both hands free to work on getting the scissors between the netting and the snake's skin without doing more damage to the skin than the netting had already done. Much trickier when the body is free to move around. And it got trickier the closer I got to the head. The more  I freed of the body, the more that wonderfully muscular creature tried to make a break for it--even going so far as to try to knock stuff off the workbench to distract me. The sad sound she made every time I went to cut a loop didn't help either (I suspect she was trying to hiss at me but it came out like a scared, pathetic cry). But I was focused like the proverbial laser. Having a snake in your care will do that to a person.

And the fact that I had to ditch the gloves as soon as I began to use the scissors. By the time I got near the head, I could see that there was one piece of netting wrapped tightly around her mouth. While bad for her it meant I could safely cut the netting that was located where I'd normally have to hold her head to keep her from being able to bite. Finally, it was down to that last loop. Before I freed her mouth, I did one last check to make sure her body was completely free. Not only did I not want to have to go back for a touch-up after she had full use of her fangs again, if she escaped with a loop around her, she wouldn't be able to digest her prey and she would die.

Made the last snip with her head firmly in my control then picked up the rest of her with my free hand and took her outside. I released her into the grass next to the workshop so she could get to her favorite hiding spots to recover. She looked to be in much better shape than I would have expected given how badly tangled she was. Thankfully, she must not have been trapped for long. Her skin seemed to bounce right back into shape and I saw no lasting effects from the ligatures. Here's hoping there was no internal damage.

I quite like holding snakes. Something about the strength and unexpected weight of the body with that skin that is simultaneously smooth and scaly (it has scales but they blend together so it all feels smooth) is a marvel.  But I don't go around picking up snakes normally. Not only do I lack the quick reflexes and excellent eye-hand coordination of an expert snake handler, I know it would stress out the snake. So, instead, I look at them and try to provide a nice place for them to live. In that spirit, I returned to the workshop and threw away every last bit of that blasted netting. I don't expect Mrs. Rizzo will want to see me anytime soon but I hope I catch a glimpse of her sunning herself in the window one of these days just so I know she's ok. Now, I better go clean up that snake poop.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

AVL to ATL to Ethiopia

When you think of Atlanta and food, what do you think of? Chicken and biscuits? Chicken and waffles? Pork and anything? While there is plenty of traditional southern fare to be had in the ATL, there are also loads of good options for the modern foodie. Even the vegetarian ones. On a recent quick trip to our former home, however, we ignored the farm-to-table, locavore places that we'd normally slobber over and dove deep into that slice of the Atlanta food scene you don't hear much about: world cuisine.

Driving down from the mountains, we set aside the reality that we'd only have a few meal opportunities before having to high-tail it back home and passed the time talking about all the places we'd like to go. We reminisced about going for Ethiopian or Peruvian food on Buford highway, having proper Chinese dim sum and high-end authentic Mexican cuisine in the ubiquitious strip-mall restaurants, enjoying the spectacular dosas of south Indian cuisine at Udipi in Decatur, and Turkish kayak pizzas right next door. Sure a little American food slipped in as I still regularly fantasize about the gingerbread waffles with lemon curd at Java Jive but mostly our thoughts stayed global.

My number one priority was getting a taste of authentic South African food--something I've only found in the U.S. in Georgia. Strangely, both Atlanta and Savannah have great South African restaurants. We had been to 10 Degrees South shortly after it opened in the mid-90s. We remembered the Buckhead bungalow with its warm tones, casual atmosphere, and spot-on renditions of staples like bobotie, sosatie,and  boerwors with mealie pap. 

When we arrived, we were shocked to find the house had been turned into an unrecognizable modern building (hideous from the outside, it looked like a dreary medical office building) with valet parking (complimentary). Buckhead seems to have rubbed off on the place as it seemed to have gone more upscale for the dining and much more nightclubby for the bar. Fortunately, the food was as good as ever. There's not much beyond the vegetable curry for the non-carnivores but I was in heaven. I shared a biltong carpaccio ceasar salad with our friend and host for the weekend and she kindly let me steal a bite of her Kingclip--a favorite South African fish. Best of all was the dish I crave the most: bobotie. This Cape Malay spiced meat dish is often described as having a custard as part of it but that gives the wrong impression. It is like nothing else and needs to be tried to be appreciated. No photo will do it justice. And I didn't take my camera anyway. Make friends with a South African and have them make it for you.

Of all the wonderful cuisines brought to us by immigrants, this was the only one that didn't have the cheap-and-cheerful aspect that we usually enjoy. Still worth every penny and the strange looks we got for arriving in a pickup truck and not wearing black in the 95-degree heat. 

To make up Jim's protein deficit, we lunched the next day at the new northside location of one of our favorite haunts from Little Five Points: the Olive Bistro. The owner, Steve, takes what seem like fairly ordinary
Mediterranean dishes and somehow makes them spectacularly good while keeping them at cheap bistro prices. We gorged ourselves on hummus, falafel, grape leaves (his are about the only ones I like other than my own), and baklava. And one other thing: Tuscan beans. This dish of white beans, olive oil, lemon, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and herbs is completely addictive. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since we left ATL 10 years ago. It is deceptively simple--deceptive because for the life of me I cannot recreate it. So. Damn. Good. 

For our second dinner, we tried to keep it simple since we were still full from lunch. Our plan was to picnic at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival before seeing The Tempest. After a brief stop at Dancing Goats so Jim could pick up some of his beloved Batdorf and Bronson coffee, we headed over to the DeKalb Farmers Market. Note to our Illinois friends: the "l" in DeKalb is silent. But the market is not. This international market has some of the best food and best people watching--or more to the point, listening--in Atlanta. Here is where you go when you need 50 lbs. of jasmine rice, a durian fruit, fresh squid, pomegranate molasses, dried porcini mushrooms, dried shrimp, fresh oyster mushrooms......and on and on. Bulk spices, fresh produce fit for nearly any cuisine, incredible fresh seafood, fascinating dry goods, and an excellent wine section. The place is always jammed with folks from so many different countries loading up on the things they need for their own versions of good home cooking.

We really went to load up at the hot bar (sesame tofu, three kinds of samosas--lamb, beef, and veggie, fried chicken, lentil salad) where dinner for three came to $12. But I couldn't help looking through the whole, huge store. We did, afterall, bring a cooler with us thinking we'd load up at Trader Joe's before heading home. Instead, we loaded up here. So many fun things but two items just blew us away: Tej and injera.

Big fans of Ethiopian food, we have long lamented the lack of it here in the mountains. We have made a few attempts to cook it ourselves but two things are especially tricky: the honey wine known as Tej which should accompany the meal and the spongy, fermented bread injera on which and by which the meal is eaten. I have made injera twice. The first time fairly successfully with a non-traditional recipe out of a Moosewood cookbook. It takes three days but it's worth it since there is no good substitute. I tried making it the authentic way with Teff flour and it was a disaster. Inedible. I probably just needed a different recipe since I was using a different flour but I was gunshy after that experience and gave up. Since we had only ever found these two things at restaurants (and often the Tej only if we asked for it--most restaurants seem to have a secret stash), we resigned ourself to eating this most wonderful cuisine only when we were in cities with Ethiopian restaurants. 

Imagine our shock when perusing the wine aisle and spying a bottle of Tej in with the German white wines. We snagged it immediately and hoped that the reasonable price tag (c. $10) wasn't a harbinger of bad things to come.

I grabbed a South African pinotage for good measure, then headed out through the produce area. Mere moments after drooling over the fresh oyster mushrooms and looking to see who was brave enough to put a durian in their cart, I found myself in the bread aisle. Really, I was just cutting through to get to the hot bar but then I saw it. No way! Injera. Fresh-made injera for sale. Injera is so delicate and not at all shelf-stable so this was a huge surprise and a huge score. We grabbed up two packages of the giant round breads (easily 16 inches across) with the idea that we'd freeze them for future use. 

When we got to the checkout, the lovely east African cashiers looked at our Tej with amazement. They, too, couldn't believe the farmers market sold Tej. They passed it around and made us tell them exactly where it was. I think the market was going to have a lot of internal sales that night. Then they noticed me cradling our injera like a newborn in my arms. More amazement as they inquired about my plans for the bread. While one cashier asked me what I cooked (I replied "zil zil tibs" which got a great reaction) another was grilling Jim as to whether I was a good cook. I think we scored big points. 

Sadly, the bread did not survive the trip home intact. No matter. It still was as tasty as ever; it just wasn't photo-ready. They are a wonder to behold when they are properly cared for. Instead, we just made a whole bunch of dishes to cover our shame. First, I had to make the basic elements of nearly every Ethiopian dish: berbere (a hot spice mix) and niter kebbeh (spiced clarified butter). In the process of clarifying butter, you separate out the solids. I love that one of my recipes called both for the niter kibbeh but then also wanted me to add back the solids:

Once you have these basic ingredients, the recipes all go ridiculously fast. The vegetarian dined on Gomen (a mix of two kinds of kale, swiss chard, and carrots) and Yemisir Wat (a.k.a., Mesir Wet), a lentil dish often made with red lentils but we went with the more substantial brown lentils. A healthy dollop of Greek yogurt helped to offset the heat of the berbere.

The omnivore enjoyed all of those things plus Zil Zil Tibs made with sirloin steak and Doro Wat, the chicken stew which  features two kinds of chicken: meat and hard-boiled eggs. Try picking up a whole hard-boiled egg with injera and eating it gracefully the next time you're in an Ethiopian restaurant. Much hilarity will ensue. 

The spice level can easily be turned down when you make your own berebere mix. Since a well-made berbere is much like great Indian spice mixes where the heat doesn't drown out the myriad complex flavors, we prefer to keep the heat and use the yogurt to provide some variety. That, and the sour notes from the injera, set up some amazing taste sensations. But suit yourself. I'd rather you eat Ethiopian mildly spiced than not eat it at all. 

One last note: although Tej is called honey wine, it is not the same thing as what is called mead or honey wine in the U.S.. Try to get the real deal if you can. It is sweet, but not as cloying and viscous as many domestic honey wines. We normally don't care for honey wine but we make an exception for Tej and for meads from our friends at Fox Hill Meadery who make wonderfully balanced, dry, and complex meads--definitely not the stuff of dorm rooms and renaissance fairs.

Phew! All this writing has made me hungry. Fortunately, I have leftovers for days.......

Thursday, July 21, 2011

From Mulberries to Chanterelles

Summer is speeding by at an alarming pace. I'd hoped to write about a bunch of things, giving each one its own post but I fear now that if I keep that goal, I'll never get to any of it. Before life gets any busier and while I listen to the calming sounds of the bullfrogs and a most-unfairly named screech owl, here's a bit of what we've been up to over the past two--now make that three--weeks or so:

In doing a little orchard maintenance, we discovered that we'd missed some blossoms on one of our young, heirloom (is than an oxymoron?) apple trees. We try to keep the trees from fruiting at this age so all of their energy will go to making a strong tree. Our neglect of the Horse tree resulted in a fine illustration of why a sapling shouldn't be allowed to fruit too early--the entire tree was bent over to the ground under the weight of the fruit. We didn't get a picture in our rush to relieve the pressure on the tree (i.e., pull the fruit off) but here's a shot of the developing apples. Yes, Horse apples. Can't wait 'til we can let these beauties grow properly.

Speaking of fruit, a neighbor tipped us off to the location of some mulberry trees with ripe berries on public land nearby. We spent part of our 4th of July harvesting free fruit--ours for the staining, I mean picking. Neither of us had seen or eaten fresh mulberries before and they were a revelation. Gently sweet and slightly floral, their deep purple juiciness was refreshing in the awful heat and humidity. We gathered what we could reach and bemoaned the lack of longer arms.

After snacking, we had about three cups worth. Not enough for jam but almost enough for pie. I grabbed some of last year's blueberries out of the freezer to fill out the filling. All the mulberry pie recipes that I consulted said to leave the stems on. Looks weird but I understand why. The stems run down through the fruit so if you try to pull them off, you just end up juicing the berry and still not getting the stem detached. Plus, your fingers make you look like an Iraqi voting for the first time.

I didn't feel like going to the trouble of making a lattice top crust so I went for a crumb topping instead. It was absolutely the right idea even if the recipe I used went too heavy on the sugar--that's easily fixed next time.

Even though I really had to steel myself for turning on the oven, it was worth it. Overflow was an issue despite  the scant amount of filling but fortunately I had remembered to stick a cookie sheet under the pie plate.

So tasty! The only real downside was the stems. Not that they're tough to eat, they just create a weird texture issue--I kept thinking I was about to eat something I shouldn't. Next time, I'll snip them off as close to the berry as I can get.

Shortly after the mulberry madness, this guy showed up:

Normally, I just let the stray dogs sans identification wander back where they came from but this guy just kept hanging around. Neutered and very familiar with the concept of porch, I figured he had been kept by someone at some point. He was, however, quite emaciated and covered with a cloud of fleas and more ticks than I could count. It took me awhile to get him to let me close enough to check him out (he was very head-shy as though he was expected to be hit) but eventually his sweet self couldn't resist some attention. I pulled as many ticks as I could before I got so flea-bitten that I broke out the Frontline and dosed him for both our sakes. My plan was to take him to the pound the next day if he was still around. Normally I would not feed a stray but when I found that he had eaten my snapping turtle shell, I realized just how desperate he was for food and I took pity on him. I gave him some dog food but I didn't want to give too much at once, so I also gave him a zucchini (yes, there's one more use for all those squash you have lying around this time of year).

He happily wolfed it down, thus earning him the name Zuke. At some point during the night, Zuke wandered off. We know this because we a certain howling hound kept us up most of the night making noise from not too far away (but far enough that we couldn't do anything but close windows and insert earplugs to little avail).
No sign of Zuke in the morning, so off to the pound he did not go. That afternoon, he showed up again. But this time he brought a friend. Another hound whom we'll call Red, for his reddish patches. Now, I'm starting to feel like someone painted "sucker" on my forehead and "easy mark" over the back door. Red didn't look hungry or parasite-infested nor did he have any of Zuke's shyness, so I expect he is actively cared for by someone. I couldn't manage to take both dogs in nor track down their owners with company about to arrive, so I let them run around and apologized to the buffalo for Red's incessant barking (I now suspect it was he, rather than Zuke, who kept up the barking all night). They disappeared before the company arrived and I haven't seen either of them since.

We had enough rain and warmth at the beginning of the month to make a foray worthwhile. I went to my favorite mushroom patch on the farm and found all sorts of interesting things. Best of all were these lovelies: chanterelles!

Because there was such a variety of shapes and sizes among the examples I found and there are a number of poisonous look-alikes, I took my fungi to the Asheville Mushroom Club for positive identification before eating. Once given the all-clear, I quickly dug out a favorite recipe for creamed chanterelles with sage over wheat crostini (made all the better for having wheat walnut bread from West End Bakery). So decadently rich, so decidedly delicious! If only I'd had time to go looking for more....... 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Eschol Moos

It started last spring when our neighbor whose house is behind our big barn moved back home with her two kids. The buffalo were so fascinated with the kids playing in their yard that they'd run up to the fence to watch whenever the kids were out. One day, instead of the usual little grunts that the buffs make whenever they're on alert about something (usually the prospect of a tasty treat), I heard Eschol moo. Buffs aren't supposed to moo and this really wasn't a classic moo. More of a grunt that got stuck in the on position.

I think Eschol was a little surprised himself but he just stood there and listened to the sound coming out of his mouth and went with it. For a few days after that, every time he saw me, he would moo at me. He'd moo when I walked up toward the barn and again when I'd leave. Sometimes in the mornings, I'd hear him mooing as I was coming out of the house as if to say, "Hey lady, it's getting late. When are you going to come bring us some hay?"

By the time the grass was growing again, he had largely stopped making any noise. Until this week. The moo just came back. I think he's trying to tell me that they've lost interest in the plants that are left in the main pasture and would like to be moved (no, I refuse to do the obvious pun here) to lusher pastures. I've been giving them brief forays in the fish pond as a reward for passing through the chute/stanchion.  Today, I saw them eating the giant ragweed that's growing like crazy in the fish pond. Good buffs. Yes, you may eat as much of that as you like.

On a sad but not unexpected note, the swarm of honeybees did not take up residence here. They left a little more than 24 hours after they appeared. Oh well. I'll take my weedeating buffalo over a fickle swarm any day.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spring into Summer

So much to catch up on. When last I wrote we were in the grip of a long, hot, and dry spell. Since then, we've had a muchness of rain. Almost too much. But it did cool off for one brief, glorious week. And the rain hasn't been constant unlike the dry spell. On the whole, it's been a bonus. The grass is growing, the wallow is full, the late-planted herb and okra seeds germinated in record time, and mushrooms are popping up all over. Permit me to give you a brief recap primarily in pictures:

The black raspberries (they grow wild here) have been coming in bigger and juicier than last year. The birds are getting most of them, but I snag a few whenever I go out to see the buffs or when I'm mowing the driveway.

House wrens, not known for their stellar site selection, have built a mossy nest behind the old plow head in the right-hand cubbyhole of this storage unit on our porch. You may need to click on the pic to enlarge it.

It's a clever nest design except for the fact that it is exactly at eye level for our dog and is located right next to her water bowl.

Speaking of critters, we found a very recently dead snapping turtle down by the creek. After a few days, nature's clean-up crew had taken it down to the bone/shell. We've got everything but 3 of the legs. Gory? Maybe, but this stuff fascinates me.

Dinnertime? No! This is a very large mushroom that was growing near our hollyhocks. The cap came off the stem before I could get a shot, so I went ahead and laid it out to make a spore print. Spoon for scale not for sampling.

I don't know if the color comes through, but the gills are a nifty shade of green. As you will be if you eat it. Also, you might be dead. If I've identified it correctly, this magnificently monstrous mushroom is none other than Chlorophyllum molybdites (green-spored parasol or green-gilled parasol). Quite impressive to look at but also quite toxic. A good reminder to do a spore print since the gills may not look green especially when it's young.

There were a few glorious days where it wasn't too hot and the sky was a beautiful shade of Carolina blue. The above shot is of the property just down the road from us.

The buffs were thrilled to get up to the main barn again. While I'm not thrilled about having to muck out the barn in hot weather, I did need to let them into this pasture to eat the fast-growing weeds.

Effie trying to keep Eschol from the good stuff. The good stuff being whatever's in front of her at any given moment.

Enjoy it, Effie, you won't be allowed in there much longer.

And stop eating the leaves off the apple tree. That does it! Back to the lower pasture with the lot of you....

Old Creaky has a lot of apples this year. Some came down in the annual June fruit drop but the remaining ones are starting to show a hint of blush as they get bigger.

Thanks, bees, for another great job of pollinating. The New Girls on the Block (my oldest colony) is putting up honey so fast, I've had to add a couple of supers to make sure they don't run out of room now that Sourwood season is upon us. The Blackberry Girls (on the left in the pic) are slowly building up their numbers, so I added a second deep to give them room to grow.

See anything unusual with this picture? Try enlarging it. I was transplanting some herbs this morning when I heard the unmistakable sound of a large number of bees buzzing. I followed the sound to this black walnut tree.

A huge cloud of bees was flying around and I knew that I was seeing a swarm. Sure enough, over the next hour, a cluster formed on the tree branch. At one point, there were two "beards" of bees side-by-side.

But soon they coalesced into one large swarm. I was worried that my bees had swarmed but it seemed unlikely since they weren't hurting for space and I hadn't seen any indications of swarm preparations when I added the supers last week. Ideally, I'd like to capture this swarm but it's 35 feet or so up a tree and the branch is hanging over the creek, so I can't use traditional methods. Instead, I hastily assembled a bait hive within sight of the cluster and am hoping against hope that the scouts will find it and deem it worthy. Unlikely, but worth a shot. I can see the swarm from the windowseat in our house which is both fascinating and maddening. And distracting. I keep checking to see if they've left or if there's any sign of bees checking out the bait hive.

The garden is chugging along. The tomatoes (Roma, above, plus Mortgage Lifters and Mountain Fresh) were going great guns until the rains came. Blight appeared in a flash. I've been spraying religiously and clipping low-hanging leaves so we'll see if they can be salvaged. So far, the Mountain Fresh which is a resistant variety has been doing best though it's got the least fruit.

Greens have done very well. We're still eating tons of lettuce and now the kale (Red Russian, above) is coming along well.

The chard is nearly ready to harvest and I've got several recipes waiting.

Phew! Well, that's a bit of a peek into what we've been up to. The stanchion update will require a whole 'nother post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ain't It Awful the Heat?

Ain't it awful the heat?
Ain't it awful?
Don't know what I'm gonna do.
What a scorcher.
This is torture.
Don't know what I'm gonna do.

Points to anyone who can name the person who wrote the words and the person who wrote the music for this very apt tune. Apt because we are now in our third week of weather with temps in the upper 80s/low 90s. Up until early May, we were enjoying the warm spring because we were getting lots of rain. The lettuce and radishes came up quickly:

Actually, the radishes came up so fast and got so much rain that some of them split in spectacular fashion before I harvested them.

This is the first year that I've used floating row cover. It has done a wonderful job of protecting my seedlings from flea beetles so the lettuce didn't get devoured before having a chance to put out more than a leaf or two. It also protected the tender plants from the late cool snap (Blackberry winter) we had the first weekend in May. Now that we've entered a dry spell, it has helped conserve moisture in the soil. I think it's the only reason that I'm still harvesting lettuce at this stage.

The downside to the row cover is that I don't see what's going on under the cover as frequently as when I can just glance down at the bare ground. Weed seedlings get more of a foothold when I don't lift up the cover for days at a time. And while water gets through the cover, I think it runs off and pools in depressions a bit more than if I were watering the ground directly. That may have something to do with why I've had a lot of seeds that haven't germinated.

Of course, that could also be due to the scorching heat and lack of rain over the past few weeks. In that time, we've only had one tiny shower and that only moistened the ground but didn't soak it. After a lazy spring where I didn't have to water the garden much at all, I finally hooked up the hoses to the rain barrel last week. It only took a week to empty all 85 gallons of rainwater. Fortunately, I have a second rain barrel but I'm already well into that one and no big rain is in the forecast. I find myself scanning the weather map each afternoon, desperately hoping to see those fabled "isolated thunderstorms" on the radar in our area. We've been teased with a lot of late afternoon thunder but no downpours. On the bright side, I hope to have fewer problems this year with tomato blight given how little rain we're getting.