Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This Week in Pictures, Part 2

The turkeys are getting bigger every day. They are starting to really look like turkeys (instead of cute chickens) and the males are starting to "strut", when they fluff up their tails and fan them out. They wouldn't do it while I had the camera, of course.

Barry is watering the corn and potatoes. He's looking a bit grim about the lack of water, and the extreme heat lately. It affects him as much as they plants, and they both wilt.

Last night during Bee Rush Hour.

A volunteer squash of some kind in the compost pile. We don't know what it is since we haven't eaten much squash this year. Clearly the compost doesn't get hot enough to kill seeds. I'm hoping for cucumbers.
I made this berry tart with an almond flour crust (no gluten for my friends who ask) and homemade cottage cheese for the base. The blackberries are from around the corner, but the strawberries and giant raspberries are from the store. Seriously, how do they get them to be larger than strawberries? I probably don't want to know.

Scarlet Runner beans. Not as prolific as we'd like, but they have pretty red flowers in late spring.

Squash blossom in the garden. This is a summer squash I planted only a few weeks ago and it is going nuts and taking over the entire garden. Next year I'm planting all the squash types out in the field where they can take over and run amok.
My first strawberry from my planters in the front yard. Tasty and beautiful.


The volleyball-size one is still out there, these are only baseball and racquet-ball size. :0)

From the seed catalog:

Tomato Giant Pink Belgium (Heirloom)
HEIRLOOM. A succulent and enormous dark pink tomato
HEIRLOOM. 88 days. A succulent and enormous dark 1-1/2 to 2 lb. pink tomato that many gardeners prefer to the more acidic varieties. The flavor is sweet and very mild, and the large fruits are very attractive. Indeterminate. Pink-skinned tomatoes occur as a result of a clear skin over red flesh. (Ordinary red tomatoes have yellow skin over red flesh.) When ripe fruits retain green pigment, tomatoes take on purple and brownish hues.

Monday, June 29, 2009

This Week in Pictures, Part 1

Here are a few photos from around the farm. This is my Moon and Stars Watermelon, coming along nicely.

The infamous tomato plants. I spied a hint of orange on one of them today, so eating isn't far behind.

This is the tomato almost the size of a volley ball.

These are pear shaped Roma tomatoes.

Morning glories are growing everywhere. They are beautiful, but highly annoying in the garden.

They creep over every other plant and lock them down to the ground and generally make a mess of things for weeding. At least they don't have thorns like some of the other weeds.

Grapes twining their way over the wire shed. There are more grapes to the right of the photo running down an arbor Barry built.

Garlic harvested this week and curing in the garden shed

This really has nothing to do with the farm, but I just had to share. Barry drove a bobcat around for two days at our friend JJ's house this week. It is the smallest machine of its kind that Barry has every driven as he normally works on those monster excavators you see building bridges and roads. They had fun pushing around dirt and wood chips, but it was too darn hot.

And to take us out of this photo montage is Barry playing on his guitar. Moment after I took this I heard a 'sprang' of a string breaking, which brought his strumming to an end. Ah, well, time for a new string.

Best Bees Ever

The bees are very active this week. I've been watching them come and go every day and it is amazing to see all the take offs and landings happening, and all without a control tower. You can't quite see it in this flower photo, but a bee is just inside one trumpet gathering nectar. I also found one on the squash blossom when I was checking the garden. It is pretty cool to see the bees actually doing their thing up close.

I did a hive check on the bees today. It was hot and still around noon when I got the smoker going and put on the gear, but by the time I got the hive open the wind had picked up. Nice. Thanks a lot, Ma Nature. When it is windy the smoke won't go where you want, it just blows away. Plus, the bees seem to be hanging around the hive area more. It was looking like Atlanta airport at rush hour. The bees didn't seem upset, though, just worried about the possible forest fire I was creating with all my smoke.

The last few evenings starting around 5 o'clock the bees have been gathering en mass at the hive entrance. Yesterday Barry was looking out the window when he suddenly yelled, "Sally! The bees! Look at them on the hive!!!", which of course I imagined to be a swarm picking up and moving out, or some other tragedy. What really seemed to be happening was evening rush hour, or happy hour on the veranda, I'm not sure which. As they all start coming in for the night a backlog of bees collects on the outside of the hive which looks a bit scary, but is only a whole mess of bees hanging out either staying cool or waiting their turn to get into bed.

I opened up the hive and had a look and I am very pleased and surprised at how much work the bees have done in such a short time. They are pulling comb on almost all the frames in the top box, and sealing up many of them which have been filled with honey.

This picture is a frame that the bees have gotten them comb ready for honey.

This one is of a frame that they are starting to close up the comb, which means the honey will be sealed up until they need it for the winter, or until some big human comes in to steal it. The top part that is white is the sealed comb. If you've every bought "comb honey" you've seen this, just not on the frame.

This photo is looking down into the box of frames. You can see they've built out honey comb on most of the frames. Six of the eight are filling up, so I went ahead and added a floor to their bee condo so they wouldn't feel over-crowded. I briefly checked the brood box (the big bottom one) and didn't see anything that shouldn't be there (extra queen cells, empty eggs cells, small cats--no, just kidding about that last one).

While I was out there and geared up I trimmed all around the hive since the grass and weeds like to grow quickly in this heat. The lack of water doesn't help the gardens, but the weeds don't seem to mind. Even with all this heat and no rain, I have to get out there every day and do things. The garden is prolific and I'm just hoping we get some rain to keep the corn and potatoes growing.

That's all for now, see you on the farm!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Found Food

The tomatoes are just starting to ripen! The cherry tomatoes and Romas are first out of the gate, and both are delicious, although I'm partial to the little cherries. The slicing tomatoes are still green, which is frustrating for those of us tapping our feet, waiting patiently for color. Perhaps this week...

We bought two new soaker hoses to water the garden at night. It does make a difference. The corn is still growing, and the tomatoes and peppers get bigger each night. Fifty feet of hose for $8.97 at Walmart is a deal.

While our garden is slowly releasing its fruit to us through the summer, I've been fascinated by the amount of found food, I come across. Wild foraging is another term for it. I've recently found wild red raspberries growing in the yard where the dogs stay, wild blackberries along the roadside, sorrel in the side yard, some kind of berry along the garden gate, and mushrooms in the front yard. I've eaten every one of my finds, even nibbled on the mushrooms, although I couldn't exactly ascertain the type, even with all my identification books. Clearly more hands-on experience is required for the fungi.

The fruit might be free for the taking, but taking them isn't always free. The scratches and cuts on my hands, arms and legs shows what I put into my food finds, and lets Mother Nature take back something from me for my discovery.

If I actually return from my run/walk with some of the blackberries, I put them on my yogurt for breakfast. However, I don't always have that many, since there is something about eating on the sly that makes found food more delicious. I come home with my hands purple and my mouth happy.

Anyone out there know mushrooms? I think this one is edible. It seems to grow on old roots in the yard. They have all dried up and gone totally black this week, I guess because of the lack of rain. Any thoughts?

More pictures soon. See you on the farm!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Open Letter to the Tomatoes

Dear Heirloom Tomato Plants,

I really appreciate the small offering you sent me today. The single paste tomato and three cherry tomatoes were quite tasty, albeit rather small. Since they are the first tomatoes from our garden this year (well, I did snack on two cherry tomatoes that I found yesterday, those really were THE FIRST) I can't fault you for only producing these few, small specimens.

However, taunting me with almost a dozen huge, softball size green tomatoes for the past week is really too much! That one on the end has surpassed softball and is moving onto volleyball status. My mouth waters with the thought of Fried Green Tomatoes, but I vow that the first real tomato from this garden, "as God is my Witness!", will be RIPE and RED (or pink, depending on the cultivar). Every day I check up on them, worrying that local squirrels or chipmunks will have moved in and done the unthinkable: taken one bite out of every fruit. I can't stand the thought! I lay awake at night plotting the demise of those cute, furry-tailed rats, but they always seem to outsmart us. I keep hoping the dogs being five feet away will help, but they aren't much interested in squirrels--I think I feed them too much for that.

Darling Plant, I suppose you will one day soon have them all turn red (or pink) all at once so that I run around like an idiot trying to harvest them all. It will probably be pouring rain that day, too. Then of course I'll have to find a home for all those lovely, tasty globes, because even I have only so many fresh tomatoes I can eat in one day. You are devilish in your plans, I must say.

So you continue with your (evil) plot to wear me out--I'll wait for you to ripen, I will wait. While I wait I will slice the Vidalia onions and make the garlic mayonnaise, because I know that in the end, in the end I will have a tomato sandwich.

Your Loving Gardener,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Belly Pork, Pygmy Goats and Hay

Belly Pork (a.k.a. Pork Belly)

Barry's all-time favorite meal that I make him is what he calls, "Mmm....belly pork and mash." This is slow roasted pork belly with crispy skin, potato mashed with garlic, and a salad of some kind tossed together.

Now, for most of us on this side of the Atlantic, pork belly probably isn't on your "favorite foods" list. As our friend Mary put it: "Do you mean you are eating a big chunk of bacon?" Well, yes, sort of. Belly pork is the same piece of the pig from whence the lovely breakfast nosh comes, but it is fresh, not cured, and the skin is left on for heavenly, crispy goodness.
Radishes and salad from the garden.

This isn't the best picture of belly pork, sorry. I always make it in the evening and the light isn't quite right to show off how brown and sizzling it looks. The smell is amazing! And the taste and texture is really something that cannot be adequately described. There are three layers on a piece of belly pork: layer one is at the bottom and it is tender, juicy pork that has been roasting in the juice and fat for over an hour and is quite nice to eat; layer two is just above that little treat and it is a fattier section of meat, almost all fat but not quite that is like warm, liquid meat and much tastier than that sounds; the top layer is the skin with fat that has been scored with a knife and finished at high heat so that it is crispy and crunchy and full of flavor when you bite into it. The two eating techniques are Sally's version: cut each piece of the belly so all three layers are included and chew slowly, trying not to moan. Barry's version: separate the three layers from each other and it in order of goodness starting from the bottom and leaving all of the crispy skin for last, while closing one's eyes and moaning out loud. As you can see from the varying methods of consumption, both are equally tasty, but vary in technique only.

Pygmy Goats

We had supper at the home our friends Francina and Frannie a few weeks ago. We were excited to visit, not only because Francina is a chef, but because they had just gotten two baby pygmy goats. Barry and I were just a bit jealous since we have been wanting goats for a while now, but we realize it isn't quite the right time yet. The other irony to the story is that the goats live at our house in the city--the F's live in our old house in East Lake. Soon after they moved in chickens came to occupy our old chicken coop and goats moved into their (new) goat house. I am so happy that the old homestead has such love in it and that they are continuing the urban farming where we left off. Oh, and their tomatoes are as big as softballs! If you want to sample Francina's wonderful food and don't get an invitation to their home, just drop by Eddie's Attic in Decatur where she is Head Chef. The menu is great and you can sit on the covered patio or listen to great musicians in the music room.

Barry had fun with the little goats, as you can see. Catching them was quite a challenge, and the noise they make when caught made me want to throw them down and run, it is awful! Sort of like a really, really loud cranky baby who wants people to think you are torturing him. The little guys are cute, but since they are both boys Francina won't be milking them any time soon. We are still looking into goats and/or a cow for our place. I'll keep you all updated as things progress.

Hey, that's some nice hay.

Barry got ambitious the other day and decided to bush-hog (mow) the field. This gives us a whole bunch of hay that we can use to feed the animals or use as bedding. I thought he looked cute in his homemade shorts. You should see him in the shorts with his Wellies (tall rubber boots)--I'll have to post a picture next week. ;0)

See you on the farm!

More Poultry Fun

Last week we moved the Turkeys from their home by the garage to a more permanent home in the field. We set up our old dog kennel for outside access until the turkeys are big enough that the hawks can't take them. Here they are trying to decide if this new place is safe and interesting enough to all come out and play. Barry goes in to entice them out with a bit of food, but they take their time and really, really think about it. Fifteen minutes later one comes out: Houdini, our escape artist from the beginning. Of course it's he and not one of the others (and we are pretty sure it is a 'he' and not a 'she', but time will out).

They are really starting to look like turkeys now. Every day they seem to grow by leaps and bounds and get uglier, too. Personality-wise they are very fun, charming, actually. They cheep and twirp and twitter(without an iPhone) and gerble and gobble in a small way. They are super-curious, talk back to you as if they are listening and come when called. I tell people they are the best parts of a dog, which is why Barry loves them so much. Not too much, I hope, and keep reminding him that these turkeys, with three or four held back for breeding, are heading for stuffing and cranberry sauce come November.

So they've all come out to inspect. Seems okay...

"Hey, there's mom! She's the one in the red covering with the beak up high."

Here is our newest chicken. She is a typical "supermarket chicken" we got from a farmer friend of ours in north Georgia. It was left behind when the other chickens went to slaughter because it was too small to worry about. He said "You can have it if you can catch it", and I always love a challenge. This is a Cornish X designed to put on weight fast and have a big, meaty breast. She was easy to catch, is sweet, likes to be held and stroked, hides her head and thinks she's invisible, and is the dumbest chicken I have ever seen.

She spends her time hanging out with the ducks (because they are white like her?), or with her beak in the food dish. She is afraid of kitchen scraps and runs around avoiding the other chickens like they had the plague. Poor thing does not act like a chicken. Barry gets so upset when he thinks about how our agriculture industry are breeding stupid automaton birds just so everyone can have a giant chicken breast on their Caesar salad. In my years of having chickens of various types I can safely say their are some myths I can bust: chickens don't really mind getting wet, but they will run from the hose; and they are not stupid at all.

Poor little Corny won't be able to stay with us for too long. They aren't known for their egg laying abilities, and the sad fact is that it will get to large-breasted and its legs will give out before it ever got old enough to lay eggs anyway. We can't keep her from the feed dish, and it isn't fair to keep her in a pen, to limit her food intake. So s/he is destined for the frying pan, even though its sweet temperament would convince me to keep it awhile. The kind thing will be to butcher her humanely when the time comes.

We had some new babies show up the other day. One of our Cochins had been sitting on a dozen eggs, and we left her to it since they were useless to us by the time we found her. Well, one night some predator found her secret hiding place and made off with her, leaving the eggs behind. Since Cochins are known for being good mothers and very broody(having a constant desire to hatch eggs), we moved the eggs under a different hen. She hatched four chicks from the dozen eggs. The rest she moved out of the nest one by one and we took them and composted them. None of the non-hatchers had been fertilized, so were just bad smelling eggs. It amazes me how hens know when an egg is 'good' or not. I never take eggs out from under a sitting hen until she moves them away, then I know I can dispose of them. Nature is brilliant!

Here are Harriet and Howard, a bonded pair of Pekin Ducks. Howard is the greedy pig in the water with the bright orange beak. Harriet is behind him. Pekins are well known for they tasty, juicy meat, but I've told Barry that these two are here to stay for good (unless Howard keeps making a randy pest of himself with the other girl ducks, little sod). Since H&H are bonded, if one should die the other would stop eating and likely die, too. Of course it appears that being bonded doesn't mean Howard can't play the field and get action with the other ladies. Interesting...

All for now. See you on the farm!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Buzz Buzz Cluck Cluck Slurp Slurp

It has been a busy few days around the farm this week. Summers probably will always be like that, but since this is our first full season here there seems like a lot more things on our 'to do' list. The place was a bit neglected before we bought it. It has been empty for a few months, which means general up keep was lacking. The people who had it before us had tried raising various animals over the years. We've seen evidence of rabbits, goats, and pigs, but they never stuck to anything. (Actually, we met the pigs a year before we got the house, but that, and buying this place, is a story for another day.) They also had a large hound-rescue kennel here, and that (and raising three kids) must have taken up all their time, because the house and yard had gone to hell in a hand basket. So we are trying to slowly bring things up to where we want them to be.

The first photo is of our field of potatoes and corn that we planted last week. The six rows of potatoes are on the left side and the seven of corn are on the right. The corn is just now peeping its leaves through the soil. Barry is quite excited and can stop worrying 'if the corn will make it'. It will.
I took this photo as dusk was coming on us. I love the way the sky looks over the barn.


Peaches! Here is our first batch of non-green peaches. If any one would like some totally organic, fresh from the tree peaches, just let me know. They are smaller than store peaches, but really tasty. We did a taste comparison last night: Publix peach v. Our Peach. Our Peach is sweet, juicy and slightly tart. Publix's was super sweet with no tartness. We decided we liked the little bit of tartness better as it really set off the sweet but wasn't cloying or over-sweet. I think I'm going to make peach jam from what we don't sell or eat.

Barry is planning to build me a little sales cart for the front of the driveway so folks can drop over and buy stuff. I've also looked into Locallygrown.net and Conyers has quite a few farmers and consumers. Basically farmers log into the website on Sunday and list what they have for sale; Monday and Tuesday the consumers log on and tell them what they'd like to buy. Friday afternoon the consumer picks up their products at a place in downtown and give a check to the market manager who then pays the farmers. Cool, huh? Once our egg production gets going I hope to get some new customers that way, and I can be a consumer for my neighbors, too.


Here are some pictures of the chickens growing up. When Barry fills up their feed dish they are like pirhana on legs. You sharp eyed folks will see Barry in the back left fighting with his tractor. He got out his lawnmower to move the chicken house and it failed to start, so he fired up the big tractor to try and charge the battery on the small one. The smoke from the old girl (Massey-Ferguson, 1959) was crazy! The chickens hate the mowers.

Go chickens! Run from the camera!


I got in to check on the bees yesterday. They seem to be doing fine. They are building comb on the upper story of the bee hive. Shot down into the frame from above...

The frame next to it is starting to get capped. All those white areas on the bottom of the photo are full of honey to store for winter. Mmm...honey...

And here they are on one of the original frames. They just can't stop working on this one. It is getting way too wide but they keep doing it. I love this single bee standing there looking at me.

My cucumbers and strawberries are coming along. The strawberries are taking a lot longer to get going than I hoped. They should have started producing fruit by now, but we've only gotten one tiny berry--delicious, but doesn't count as dessert.

A few more chicken pictures, because I just can't stop!

Remember that little 'gift with purchase' chicken we got with our Silver laced Wyandottes? Here it is. Bigger than the others, so either a large, heavy breed or a cockerel (future rooster). It's a mystery we'll have to wait to solve when it is older.
All for now. See you on the farm!