Monday, March 28, 2011

Still No Flowers Blooming....

But we have brand new baby chicks!

Spring must be here!

Friday, March 25, 2011


Pansy, overwintered from last fall.

Everywhere I look flowers are blooming.  Not on my property, though.

Sand Cherry, Prunus x Cistena

We have a bit of a microclimate thing going on here.  We're situated in the middle of several wide open fields and tend to get a lot of wind.

Ornamental Weeping Cherry

 Even though we also get a lot of sun, it seems that we're always a bit colder than more sheltered areas.  So, even though there are daffodils and fruit trees blooming up the street, my flowers are hovering right on the brink.

Ornamental Pear

 Oh well.  They'll bloom in their own time....


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Seed Starting Disaster

Seedlings on the porch... pre-disaster.
Our property is subject to high winds.  I know this, and yet I did something dumb anyway.  I put all my indoor seedlings on the porch to soak up some sun, but didn't weight down the bin they were in.  One particularly strong gust of wind sent my tender seedlings flying right off the porch.....

Poor little seedlings!  But, all was not lost.  I only lost the herbs and half of the tomatoes.  The herbs can be re-started, and I had started more tomatoes than I needed anyway.  It's still disappointing, but not a complete disaster.

The veggie garden, all tilled under and ready to go.

I've started working on the vegetable garden bed for this year.  It's always a blank slate, as we till it under with the tractor every spring.  So far, all I've done is stake out where the beans and cucumbers will go and put in the raised beds for the lettuce.   It's time to start planting the cool season veggies, but the weather is being less than cooperative.  Some days it's warm and sunny, some cold and rainy.  Not much gets done when it's cold and rainy, and when it's warm and sunny the list of chores is a mile long.  Such is farm life, and I wouldn't give it up for all the sunny days in the world!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Supermoons And Ducks

This past weekend the full moon was closer to the Earth than it had been in 18 years.  It lit up the whole property like dawn.  It was truly amazing to see the moon rising through the trees.  Even more amazing how the camera was able to pick up the landscape hours after sunset.

 I wandered out to take pictures of the event.  The moon was bright enough to illuminate the whole yard.  As I sat in the lawn, snapping away with my camera, I heard the unmistakable "slap, slap, slap" of webbed feet.  The ducks had come to see what I was up to.

The chickens go to the coop at night and go to bed.  Not the ducks.  They're party animals, wandering the yard doing very important ducky things.  I always give them a handful of grain when I go out to the barn for the last night time check of the horses.  It was after night check when I went out to take pictures, but the ducks must have thought they hit the jackpot.  Surely I was out there to bring them another snack!

Eventually, they realized that I wasn't going to the barn to get them a snack and wandered off into the night to do whatever ducky things they do.

I snapped one more shot of the moon illuminating the night sky, then went back to the house. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Trouble With Photinia

Photinia are great plants.  Big, bushy and fast growing, they make an excellent hedgerow.  Their new growth is a gorgeous shade of red, which adds interest to the wall of green.  They're also evergreens, which makes them great as privacy screens.

Our house came with a lovely photinia hedge.  Unfortunately, the previous owners had inexplicably planted right it up against the south wall of the garage, blocking the windows.

The garage windows provide a nice view of our property and also let sunlight into the garage.  They weren't meant to be blocked.  The photinia needed to be pruned.  Photinia will take a pretty severe pruning, so that wasn't really a problem.  I pruned the first two back last spring, but when I got to the third plant, I found a bird's nest.  I couldn't chop down the bird's house, so the hedge was lopsided for a year.  It looked pretty silly, as you can see in the above photo.

The bird's nest.

This year, I got out early to prune, before the birds started building nests.  I was able to make the first two that I had pruned last year into something neat and tidy.  Not so much the third one.  It looks like I hacked it up with a sawsall.  Which is what I actually did, but still.

I really didn't like cutting down that hedge, but it just doesn't belong where it is.  A big, beautiful hedge like that belongs out in the landscape where it can grow and be appreciated, not planted in front of windows where it will have to be severely pruned every year.  We may try digging the bushes out and re-locating them.  We have a tractor with a backhoe attachment to do the work, but I'm worried about damaging the bushes or the garage while getting them out. 

It may not matter at all, though.  As I was pruning the edge I noticed some spots on the leaves.  I'm not sure, but I think it may be the dreaded Photinia blight.

Photinia are particularly susceptible to Entomosporium blight.  It can be very difficult to treat, and the prognosis is usually grim. The best way to prevent blight is to promote good air circulation in the plant.  Like, not planting blight prone species too close together or up against a wall.  If it turns out that these plants have it, I'll probably just rip them out and replace them with roses.  We'll see how they do this year....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Late Winter Haircuts

Apple blossoms in April.

Our property came with five apple trees.  By the time we moved in it was May, and the fruit had already set on them.  The apples were sad, pathetic little things.  The trees themselves had blackspot something fierce, too.  We were able to treat the blackspot with Serenade biofungicide (which made the entire backyard smell like stinky feet for two days, but otherwise worked great).  Even without blackspot, it was clear that my apple trees did not look like the ones in the orchard down the street.   And I had no clue how to take care of them.

Enter the Local Agricultural University Cooperative Extension.  My local ag university is Rutgers, and I have found them to be an invaluable resource in my little farming venture.  Through their site, I found great information about general care, pruning, diseases, pests and timetables for care, all tailored for my area.  While I don't follow their instructions to the letter (I prefer to be a little more "low impact" with my disease/pest control), it's still really good advice.

One thing I learned from my cooperative extension: pruning!  Apple trees are high maintenance, the first 4-5 years of their growth should be dedicated to cultivating strong branches and good root growth, not fruit production.  I don't know how old my apple trees are, but the house has only been here for four years, so they can't be that old.  As mature fruit-producing trees, shade is the enemy.  Sunlight is required to set fruit and good air circulation prevents disease.   That means that aggressive pruning practices need to be implemented.   My poor apple trees looked like they had never seen a blade.  No wonder they had fungus!  

The best time for pruning apples is late winter, after a prolonged cold spell.  Pruning too early can cause damage to the tree and negatively affect fruiting.  I have a fool-proof method for knowing just when to prune my apple trees:  I wait until I see workers out pruning the apple orchards around me, then I go home and prune my trees!

My first winter in our house, I diligently removed all the crossed branches, suckers, branches growing straight up or straight down and pruned complex branches to improve air and light circulation.  The trees had no fungus problems and set a pretty good amount of fruit.  I still didn't get any apples, though.  Some sort of bug got to them first.  

Apple perfectly cored by some unknown pest.

Hopefully, this will be the year that I get to eat an apple off my trees.....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem....

My collection

I'm not really sure what the second step is.  My problem and I are in a good place right now, so I'm not really looking for a solution.  My husband, on the other hand, is getting a little annoyed with my obsessive milk jug and fruit container hoarding.  I've tried to explain to him the it's for the greater good of the garden, but he's still skeptical.  He'll be happier once we can start harvesting the fruits of my trash collection.

We tilled under the veggie garden this past week, but torrential downpours and the resulting mud kept me from planting out there.  But, thanks to my hoard, I was still able to sow seeds outdoors. 

The collection put to good use.

For this week I've started more swiss chard, spinach and lettuce along with some cosmos.  I usually direct sow cosmos, but I thought I'd try containers this year.  Mostly because I have not yet built the garden beds that the cosmos are supposed to go in.

Be sure to stop by The Home Garden for Seed Starting Saturday with Dave!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Early Morning Visitors

Every spring and fall we get wild turkeys.  They arrive in groups (flocks?) of 20-30, scouring the pastures for bugs and other tasty treats.  I don't know where they go in winter and summer, but they only visit our house in spring and fall. 

This morning, I saw that they had returned.  There was a gang of more than 20 turkeys making their way through the pastures.  The toms were strutting their stuff, feathers fluffed up and gobbling away.  I had to get a picture. 

Our house has a wrap around porch, so I went out the door opposite from where the turkeys were.  I then proceeded to sneak around the side of the house.  I didn't want to scare the turkeys off.

Sneaking up on the turkeys.

My cunning stealth was working!  The turkeys hadn't even noticed me.  The toms were still busy displaying for the hens.  This was going to be a great picture.

I started slowly moving into position, trying to get the best angle without scaring the turkeys away.  Just as I was about to snap The Perfect Shot, a hurricane of toddler proportions went blasting past me, gleefully yelling: "Mommy, Mommy!  Look!  Turkeys!  Gobble, gobble!"  My daughter had followed me out onto the porch.  And she was not using her inside voice.  The turkeys scattered and my perfect shot was gone...

Even the horse looks startled.

Oh well, maybe they'll be back tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lucky Duck Gets Some Friends

 A few years ago my husband and I decided we would get some ducks to raise for meat.  We like duck, and  we're not averse to eating things we have raised.  Honestly, I think that there is no better way to understand animal rights and the importance of responsible husbandry than to be involved in raising your own meat animals.  I have a great respect and love for animals.  My respect and love for them is only deepened in knowing that they make the ultimate sacrifice for us.  Because they make this sacrifice, I am committed to making their lives as happy as possible.  But, I digress....

We bought a breed of duck called "Blue Swedish".  It's a duck bred for meat and egg production.  A wholly domestic dusk.  They can't fly at all.  Actually, most domestic ducks and chickens can't fly.  Partly because they are bred to have a lot of meat and partly for practical reasons.  It's kind of hard to keep an animal around if it can up and fly away anytime.

Our Blue Swedish ducks were great!  They were fun to have around, they were very tasty and, all in all, it was a great experience.  So, last year I decided to get more ducks.  We had a farm, we had a coop, our chickens were doing great..... I felt we were ready to get some more ducks.   So, I started cruising Craigslist.

I found someone selling Muscovy ducks for $4 a duck.  That's a steal!  Muscovies usually sell for $10-15 for an adult.  I didn't know much about Muscovy ducks, but I had heard their meat described as the "veal of duck meat", had heard they were good layers, and also good mothers.  It seemed that Muscovies were the way to go.....

I bought three.  I thought I'd made the deal of a lifetime!  Still thinking I was pretty savvy, I asked the seller if the ducks could fly.  She said they could fly about as well as a chicken.  No problem!  My chickens are good fliers, as far as chickens go, but they can only get a few feet off the ground and can't fly very far.  I've certainly never had a problem with them flying away.  I brought my new ducks home and put them in the coop.

That evening, I headed out to check on my ducks.  I opened the coop door, and the ducks darted out.  I started to herd them back in.  They took off in flight.  Remember how the seller said they could fly as well as a chicken?  Ha!  They took off in a flight that would make an eagle proud. As I watched them fly away over the roof of my two story house, I heard my husband call out "Hey, were those your ducks?".  Yes, those were my ducks.

I searched for them that night, to no avail.  Eventually I went to bed.  There really wasn't much I could do.  The next morning when I got up, guess what I saw in my back yard?  One of my ducks had returned!  I named her Lucky and she soon became a fixture on the farm.  She hung out with the chickens during the day.  She slept with the horses in the barn at night.  Any time I was outside, she was right at my heels.

 But, ducks like to have duck friends.  I wanted her to stick around.  Since she can fly, I didn't want her to fly away looking for a man come spring.  I needed more ducks.

Lonely Lucky Duck

I found a local breeder, and arranged to see her ducks.  Her farm was beautiful and her stock was healthy and well cared for.  I ended up purchasing a young hen and an older drake.  Drakes (males) are similar to roosters in their function in the flock.  A good drake (or rooster) protects his hens and their babies.  Since my birds free range durig the day, I like to have an experienced male on hand.   And, really, who could pass up such a handsome fellow?

OK, maybe he does look a bit like a dinosaur.  Male Muscovy ducks have fleshy growths on their faces, sort of like a tom turkey's waddle.  But look at his lovely plumage.  It doesn't show up as well on camera, but in the sun, all those black feathers turn green and purple!

My new little female is adorable, too.  She seems to be a perfect little lady.  A definite contrast to my brazen Lucky duck.

 Lucky showing her new friend the feed room

She's still a little shy, but I think she'll warm up in time. 

I have learned my lesson this time, also.  I clipped the new ducks' wings as soon as I got them home.  No more fly aways! 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

An Exciting Week

Spring is on its way!  The bulbs are coming up, buds are swelling on the ornamental fruit trees (they always seem to be the first to bloom), the days are getting longer and temps are staying consistently above freezing during the day.  That means it's time to get busy getting the garden ready.  And busy is exactly what I've been this week. 
Out of control Photinia hedge.

Hedges were pruned and ducks were purchased, but those are posts for another day. 

New friends for Lucky the duck!

My seed sowing is getting into full swing!  I started zinnias and marigolds inside and winter sowed some more lettuce, swiss chard and snapdragons.  Although, I'm not sure the lettuce and swiss chard really count as winter sowing, it's getting pretty close to the time I would be sowing it outdoors in the garden, anyway.   The snapdragons were just seed I had leftover from a container I started indoors.  I figured, what the heck?  If it works, I know I won't have to start them indoors next year.

My indoor seedlings are doing great.  Last week's tomato seeds are already sprouting.  The jalapeno and bell peppers are looking great, too.  The poblanos still haven't sprouted, but they were slow to germinate last year, too.  

With temperatures consistently in the 40s during the day and sunny weather,  I've been able to take the celery and indoor-sown lettuce outside during the day to harden off.  Taking them outside also frees up space under the grow lights.  I'm starting to run out of room. 

And, to top it all off, when I opened my email this morning I found out I had won a book!  Garden Rant hosted a giveaway of Ellen Ecker Ogden's new book The Complete Kitchen Garden, and I won!  I'm really excited to get my copy.  The book is a collection of garden designs, seasonal recipes and tips on organic gardening.  As soon as I'm done reading it, I'll post a review.

Be sure to check out Seed Sowing Saturday with Dave at The Home Garden!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I love tarragon.  I put it in eggs, salads, chicken, seafood, and salad dressing (it's delicious in vinaigrette!).  Unfortunately, it's hard to find in the grocery stores around here. It's a sad consequence of my rural lifestyle.   Needless to say, I was thrilled when I found some at my local nursery.   After tasting a leaf to be certain it was true tarragon, I snapped it up.

True French tarragon is a tender, temperamental perennial that propagates via cuttings and runners. It does not grow from seed.  Any seed you see sold as "tarragon" is likely to be Russian tarragon, which has little flavor.  A true tarragon plant has an unmistakable anise "zip" to it.  Some even call it "numbing".  I call it tasty!

I keep my tarragon plants on the south side of the house, near the foundation, in an area I call "The Kitchen Garden".  It's where I grow my perennial herbs: sage, rosemary, chives, thyme, oregano and marjoram.  It's warmer in the winter and well drained, perfect for delicate Mediterranean plants.   In the summer, it's lightly shaded from the worst of the heat by this shrubby purple floribunda rose, whose name escapes me right now.

I usually let the tarragon over winter in the kitchen garden, under an insulating blanket of straw, but we don't usually have winters this consistently cold.  Sometime in December, I panicked.  I didn't want to lose my tarragon.  So, during a thaw,  I went outside, dug it up, potted it and brought it into the house.   I was sure I had killed it.  But, after sitting in the sunroom looking dead for two months or so, it's coming back to life!  I guess tarragon is tougher than I gave it credit for...

Just for fun, here's one of my favorite tarragon recipes.  It's great on salad, but even better as a marinade for seafood!

Citrus Vinaigrette:

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar or any other light vinegar will do.  I've even used plain white wine for marinades, and it came out great.) 
1/3 cup citrus juice  (I usually mix orange and lime.  Orange, pineapple and lime also makes a tasty combo)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
salt and pepper to taste (sometimes I use soy sauce in place of salt.  I think it gives it a an Asian flair.)

If I'm using this as a marinade, I usually add a clove of garlic, too.  

To me, a recipe is just a suggestion.  I'm always manipulating and tweaking things.  If you try this recipe let me know in the comments how you liked it and if you made any changes.  Or if, you have your own tarragon recipe that you love, leave it in the comments, I'd love to hear it!

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