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DePhoMo #3

One of the last garden tasks to be done was to finish putting away potatoes. I spread them out on screens in the garage to cure, then have to brush the dirt off them and store them in baskets. These are the last of the red potatoes that need to be brushed off.

Russet potatoes cleaned and stored in wicker basket.

The crazy world of gardening

Yesterday we got four inches of heavy wet snow! Snow on May 7th. Someone told me that was a record. I'm not sure if that's for amount or date.

Today I planted peas, spinach and lettuce. Yes, all the snow was gone. I had planned to get things planted yesterday, but it was too cold and wet for me, not necessarily for the garden. So I spent yesterday in town running errands.

There are pictures that go with this entry, but tonight I am too weary to post. We got ducklings and goslings on Wednesday. And the turkeys are three weeks old and getting very big, although one has stopped growing and appears to be dying instead. I sure wish I knew why that happens sometimes.

Poultry update - April report

This year we plan to do a couple of different things with poultry than we've done in the past. Every prior year we've just gone to the local hardware/farm store (L&M Fleet Supply) and bought our chicks from them. You pay a higher price, but you don't have to get any minimum number like you do when ordering directly from a hatchery. You can mix and match breeds, from their limited selection.

But this year I wanted to try a different variety of chickens for meat from the universally grown Cornish Cross hybrid, which is a white meat chicken that ends up with leg and organ problems due to their extremely rapid growth rate. I want something that grows a little more slowly that is more like the heritage breeds of old. After some research, I ordered a batch of 25 Freedom Rangers from jmhatchery.com. They'll arrive in mid May.

In the meantime, I've been trying to find a source for Muscovy ducks, also for meat. Unfortunately, I'm not able to find any way to get just four birds, which is all I want to try for the first time we'd grow them. I tried an ad in freecycle to see if someone would want to go in on an order with me. I had some interest, but nothing panned out. So we're going to scale down our duck operation and just get two Toulouse geese and two white Pekin ducks this year. They'll arrive next week.

And in the meantime, I wanted to get eight baby turkeys as early as possible since it takes a good long time to grow them out to eating size. I started by cleaning out the garage and laying in supplies (bedding and food). Then on April 20th, Nick and I headed in to L&M to pick up turkey chicks (which are called poults). They only ended up having seven, so I got seven, plus on Buff Orpington chick to round out our numbers ;)

Aren't they cute?

They are probably two days old at this point.

Food, water and a heat lamp: all the comforts of home. They need 95 degrees at this point, which will be decreased about 5 degrees each week until they can go outside - at which point they'll be fully feathered.

One more for good measure: Nick holds the chick. One more reason to have gotten one baby chicken, they are a little more sturdy at this stage and hold up better to being handled by a three-year-old.

After one week. They are bigger and have grown out a lot of wing feathers already. The more golden one on the right is the chick, the rest will be white turkeys.

I'll have to put a screen over the stock tank where they are in another week because they'll be able to fly out!

Garden update - end of April

We've been having a warm, dry spring, which is pretty unusual weather in northern Minnesota. As much as we are tempted to push the gardening schedule ahead of normal, we have to be tempered by the fact that temperatures are falling into the low 20s as night. But it has been dry enough to till the garden, and also work further on the huge raspberry patch renovation that I started last fall.

Our raspberry patch started out at one end of the garden, which is about 40 feet wide, and was originally about 4 feet deep. When we bought the house, there was asparagus in the garden next to the raspberries. Over the next several years, the weeds and raspberries totally choked out the asparagus. We finally devoted a different section of the garden to asparagus, which we've keep weed free and is doing very well. But the raspberries kept spreading and spreading into the regular garden until it was about 20 feet deep! There were no paths or any good way to get in there and pick, let alone weed it. So in the fall I decided enough was enough and attacked the patch in an effort to get it under control. I marked out one 4 foot "row," then a 2-1/2 foot "path," and another 4 foot "row" with stakes and string. I had originally thought to create a path with the lawn mower, just mowing down everything. But the mower didn't do so well with the big mature raspberry plants. So I had to go in with the branch trimmers and cut out the canes by hand. Then I was able to go over it with the lawn mower to take care of the weeds.

That created enough space to get in and start cutting out all the old raspberry canes (raspberries bear on second year wood, then the cane dies and can be cut out). Some sections had old, dead canes that had been there for several years where we simply couldn't get into the middle of the patch. Imagine all the berries that had been wasted in those areas because we couldn't pick there! I also pulled out all the weeds I could get too, mostly quack grass. I probably got a little over half of the patch under control before winter came and I had to quit.

This is what the patch looked like all over - overgrown with raspberry canes and weeds and grass.

Dave went and got a load of cow manure on Tuesday, and spread some of it out on the back "row" of raspberries after I got them cleaned out. We had a ton of pine needle mulch that will go on top of that to hopefully suppress some of the weeds.

From the back of the garden, showing the cleaned row and the row I'm still working on. I got most of that second row cleaned out yesterday, and all of the second path. Then I managed to rip open a blister on my finger and wasn't quite able to finish. But it looks TONS better. There are fewer raspberry plants, but we'll actually get more berries this year because 1) they'll be more accessible and easier to pick, 2) there will be fewer weeds to compete for water and food resources, 3) the manure will hopefully perk the plants up and really boost production. We'd never fertilized that end of the garden at all, which is probably why the poor raspberry plants kept trying to grow out of it into the good garden soil.

Dave also got all the tilling done with the big tiller yesterday. Some rows were amended with compost and others with chicken manure.

This is shot from just inside the garden gate, looking toward the other end where the raspberries are (far end).

We also have about half the garden set up in 4x4 squares (square foot gardening-style) with paths on all four sides. Those get turned over by hand, as the big tiller would just make a huge mess of them. That has yet to be done. You can see on the upper right corner a big (9x9 square) section that Dave did with the tiller where we had the compost last year. We move our compost pile to a new section of the garden every year, then till that area and remark out the paths before planting.

Cherry bushes blooming!

Aren't they pretty?



Oh so yummy!

Chicken update

We have four chickens. Two Silver Laced Wyandottes, the one in my icon survived the winter last year and I got a second one last spring, and two Americaunas - one black and silver and one golden. I'd been getting between 2 and 4 eggs a day for most of the winter.

I go down to the barn several times a day to break the ice out of their water and check for eggs so they don't freeze. When I went down yesterday afternoon, I noticed the larger and younger Wyandotte was sitting on the floor all fluffed up. Normally the all come out when I come down to the barn to see if I have treats for them. She stayed in one spot, which was a little unusual. She wasn't sitting in a normal nesting spot, but I supposed it was possible she was getting ready to lay an egg and couldn't be bothered.

I went back down a little later with some treats and she came out then to partake. But when I went down to lock them up for the night, she hadn't gone in the coop. She was sitting, all fluffed up, on the floor right by the coop. I picked her up and put her in, and mentioned to Dave so that I would remember, if she got worse, what day her symptoms had started. He asked me if I was planning to take her to the vet (wanting me not to spend extra money on a chicken) and I assured him that I wouldn't. But if there was something I could do, or if she needed to be isolated, or put out of her misery, I wanted to remember how long she had been sick for.

Well, she wasn't sick very long, since she was dead when I went to let the birds out this morning :( She had laid an egg the day before yesterday, and was only acting sick yesterday. I have no idea what could have struck her so quickly. We do notice occasional little birds like goldfinches, sitting at the feeder all fluffed up and then we'll find their little dead bodies. I suppose whatever kills them might have infected her. I don't know if I should be concerned for the other birds as well or not.


Why does a "goose egg" mean zero?

This year we raised eight ducks, and two of them turned out to be female. They started laying eggs about a month ago (in mid-September some time). Then about two weeks ago I found an egg that was the same color as the duck eggs, but about twice as big! Turns out our remaining goose (we butchered the gander some time ago because he was so aggressive) is also female, and she's been laying eggs. So far she's laid seven eggs, and each has been bigger than the last. I use one in place of two regular eggs when baking!

You can see how big it is compared to my hand.

In a carton with the other eggs. At the top are two duck eggs, the goose eggs are in the middle, and the brown ones at the bottom are chicken eggs.

It has been nice to have the ducks and geese laying, because my one laying hen is molting right now, so she's stopped laying. And my three new pullets we started this spring haven't started laying yet. I feel badly for the goose though, because she actually made a nest in a depression in the ground, lined it with dried leaves and has been sitting on it. It feels mean to steal her eggs, but they wouldn't hatch even if October were the right time to be hatching baby geese!


Apple Pie

We didn't get many apples off our own trees this year, but were gifted by friends and neighbors with quite a few. Here was my latest attempt at an apple pie, and I got a little fancy with the crust with my Pampered Chef pie crust tool.

Apple Pie

This recipe is straight out of the Joy of Cooking.

Preheat oven to 450. Line a 9" pie pan with pie crust. Peel, core and chop 5-6 cups of apples. Put in mixing bowl and drizzle with 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Add 1/2 - 2/3 cups sugar (depending on how tart the apples are), 1/8 tsp salt, 1 - 1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch (depending on how juicy the apples are), 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Stir until apples are well coated. Place inside crust and dot with 1-1/2 Tbsp butter. Top with upper crust or lattice, finish as desired (I like to sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar mixture on top). Place in 450 degree oven for 10 minutes, then turn down to 350 and bake until done, from 45 minutes to 1 hour total.

Cream of Potato Soup and Tiger Bread

The weather here has taken a turn from warm and sunny September to cold and dreary October. So soups and warm bread have been much appreciated around here. This soup is super easy to make, and the bread is dense but flavorful (I love molasses in bread).

Cream of Potato Soup

Peel and dice 2-4 potatoes, depending on size of potatoes and how big of a batch you want to make. When they are soft, drain, reserving some of the cooking water, mash about half, then return the rest to the pan. Meanwhile, saute an onion in butter or oil in the bottom of a sauce pan or small stock pot. When it is golden, add a little potato water to loosen the onion. Add the potatoes and 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk. Add more potato water if a thinner soup is desired. Season with salt, pepper and parsley flakes, or whatever seasoning you desire. I think next time I'll add some garlic when I saute the onion, and probably add a few cubes of chicken boullion for flavor.

Tiger Bread

Makes 2 loaves or 16 large buns

3 C bread flour
1¼ C ww flour
1 C cracked wheat flour
½ C wheat germ
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp yeast
1¾-2 C warm water
1/3 C molasses
3 Tbsp oil or butter

Combine all ingredients, adjusting ratio of water/bread as necessary. Knead. Let rise until double in bulk. Punch down, divide in half, shape into loaves or buns. Place in greased pans, cover and let rise until almost double (about 1 hour). Bake at 350 for 35 minutes for loaves, 15-18 minutes for buns.

Productive garden day

I didn't do what I wanted to do today, but I was productive nonetheless. After getting Scott on the school bus (which jump starts our day extra early), Nick and I loaded some mulch that had been sitting in the garage into the back of the truck and headed up to the garden. I started by picking everything that needed it (cucumbers, pickling cukes, dragon tongue beans, zucchini, yellow crook neck squash, and broccoli). I set up the sprinkler to water the raspberry patch, with the intention I'll get back to work in that tomorrow.

Then Nick and I went to work and dug up about half a row of potatoes. We dug up about two bushels. OK, I dug and Nick squealed every time I uncovered a worm. At one point he had five night crawlers draped over his hands like some sort of Mardi Gras jewelry. He did help put potatoes in baskets, but he also kept himself entertained while I worked. Then it was time to move the sprinkler, so I went to work weeding out the asparagus patch. I had enough mulch to renew the mulch on 4/5ths of the patch. That ought to help keep down the weeds next year. I have some more raking to do up there to find some more mulch to finish the patch, and perhaps enough to do the blueberry bushes as well.

All together we spent almost three hours working in the garden this morning. Just me and Nick :)

Shoot, when I looked at the weather forecast at 9 pm, there was no frost warning. But the 10 pm news mentioned patchy frost possible, and now I see that on the NWS website as well. I'm crossing all my fingers that it passes us by because there's no way I can go out in the dark now and cover up everything by myself. It takes me and Dave nearly an hour to do everything together. I did wonder when it was already 50 at dark. It sure cooled off fast when the sun went down. Please think warm thoughts for the tomatoes!


Zucchini bread recipe

What do you do with an abundance of zucchini? Make bread, of course!

Zucchini bread

Makes 2 loaves

Beat 3 eggs with 2 C sugar, ½ C oil, 2 C grated zucchini and 2 Tbsp vanilla

Mix together separately: 3 C flour (I usually do 1/2 whole wheat), 1 Tbsp salt, 1 Tbsp baking soda, ¼ Tbsp baking powder, 2 Tbsp cinnamon

Add dry ingredients to wet and beat until just mixed. Add 1 package chocolate chips and/or 1 C nuts (Nestle caramel swirled chips are divine).

Divide batter between 2 greased and floured loaf pans (can also be made into mini loaves - bake about 35 minutes, muffins - bake about 25 minutes, or mini-muffins - bake about 20 minutes) and bake at 350 for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.