Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photographing a Needle in a Haystack

Well, that's what it seems like trying to get a photograph of a hummingbird in a zinnia patch! The hummingbirds are so skittish, but may be getting more used to me. I've seen two at a time now, so there are at least that many! I hope we have more!

You may want to click on each of these to see the bigger images. You'll be able to see the soft wisps of feathers on the upper leg/side and the little feet.

In each image the iridescent feathers have reflected the light a little differently.

The green colors look like peridot and emerald gemstones.

Although it looks like they are always hovering, they do perch on the blooms sometimes.

As a gardener, it is so rewarding to see birds enjoying my efforts. There are always birds in the garden, perched on tomato stakes or under the shady leaves. They find the puddles on the plastic mulch and bathe and drink. They wrestle bugs from the air and from plant stems in a flurry of wings and beak thrusts. In particular, the goldfinches and cardinals like to balance on the stakes. The goldfinches check to see it's safe and then swoop down to a puddle. The cardinals eye the plants up and down looking for a juicy, wormy snack. The morning doves waddle around cooing 'wooo' at things and picking at specks. The robins flap down looking for the biggest puddles for an extra splashy bath. They hang out in the shade under the zukes and startle me sometimes. There are multitudes of sparrows in little groups. They alternate between puddle baths and dust baths. They make little cups in the dust where they scratch and beat their wings to raise up dust clouds. These are all very common birds and I haven't mentioned other common ones like the jays, cat birds, silly acting crows and families of hawks soaring overhead and crying 'skreeee'.

I guess the hummingbirds are extra special for me as they are not so plentiful, but also, they are just so different from typical birds, the way they eat, fly and change color in the sunlight! I so love hummingbirds! They have hovered in the air right in front of me and looked directly at me, first with one eye, then shifting sideways in a flash to scrutinize me with the other eye! Their little bodies stay focused while the beating wings blur around them. Maybe they will get more used to me and I'll be able to get closer and get some more pictures, or just have them near when I'm tending the garden.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A View From the Barn and other Garden Updates

Yesterday, I decided to take some pictures of the garden from a different angle, looking out the upstairs door in the barn. I use the word 'upstairs' in a loose's more 'upladder'! This picture is shot down through the trapdoor in the floor.

Look how worn the old boards are. Just imagine all the feet that have tread here!

When you are upstairs, this is the view to the south. The odds and ends of furniture were here when we bought it. There are some bottles, old metal milk cans and two man saws, etc. that I'll photograph another time. The window broke and is boarded up for now. Fortunately there are light fixtures along the ridge line!

And this view is to the north. Excuse all the grime!! It needs a cleaning as there are still scraps of hay from who knows when???

There are mini trapdoors for dropping hay to the cows below, a feed shoot and a chicken door, but I will take pictures of those some other time. For now, I have posted a view of some little holes cut into the south end of the barn. There are 2 on each side of the window and must have been for pigeons or doves.

And this is the old hay door on the east wall. The old spade came with the barn. We still have the huge hay hooks too!

And here are the 'aerial' views of the garden and yard. It looks so wild! How ever do I walk through all that greenery?!

A wider shot showing some of the lawn/dog's play area.

Zoomed in a little. You can barely see the compost bin in the foreground!

Back on the ground, I took some more update pictures. Here are the sunflowers, etc.

I don't usually show this angle of the garden since I have some messy fences coiled up here. I stopped using the rabbit fence several years ago and didn't use the larger piece as a trellis this year, so they are in the way and getting rusty. I may just have to take them to the metal recycle bins. If you look closely at the barn, you can see the door I took the pictures from. Someday, we have to have stairs built to it. As a home inspector once said when we were buying the place, 'that first step's a doozy'!!

This is probably the most photographed angle of the garden! You can see my late-crop zukes and cukes growing in the foreground. Hopefully they will provide a last taste of summer just before we head into the fall!

These tall arching plants with trailing pink blooms are called 'Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate', but mine grow over the compost bin. Somehow, 'Kiss Me Over the Compost Bin' isn't quite so romantic!!

This is a pretty good shot of my tall variety of Balloon Flower, showing you how it gets the name.

I completely forgot I had planted some hardy gladioli, probably the first or second year we were here and was surprised to see them on the 'back' side of the house today when I walked all the way around the house. I almost missed them as they are going by!

This is a beautiful hydrangea on a 'shared' plant on the property line. I really love this shade of blue!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stir Fry Dinner

Since canning the cranberry pepper jelly, I have been excited about making stir fry sauce with it. In fact, we have had it two nights in a row!

I cut chicken and bell pepper (from the garden) into bite sized pieces and coarsely dice some Vidalia onion. The chicken goes in first and as the outer surfaces of that start to look cooked, I add in the veggies. When everything is cooked, I add in the pineapple chunks and a little juice and a few tablespoons of jelly. The jelly melts down and makes a sauce with the pineapple juice. I toss everything in the sauce. You can see the yummy sauce bubbling at the edge of the pan.

We have it with rice and green beans picked fresh from the garden!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Weathered Looking Butterflies

So many of the butterflies this year are looking very tattered. I wonder if they are getting attacked by birds or insects or if the heavy rains have damaged them?

Look at all the raggedy edges on this one.

The one in the next two pictures has a big piece missing from the left wing.

Even the smaller varieties have tattered wings. You have to look a bit closely, but there are two butterflies on this spike of butterfly bush.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dogs Eating Zucchini

Just a video to show you how much the dogs enjoy eating veggies! They had their normal meal a few hours earlier, but apparently there is always room for zucchini.

I muted the video as the breeze made noise on the mic...just imagine a lot of loud chomping noises!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Garden Update

My annual resolve to deal with summer heat and humidity is fading away. I try so hard to make the most of summer, but it wears on me. I am feeling sapped physically and mentally too. I am like Detritus the troll in the Terry Pratchett books; I need to be cool to think well.

We are now getting regular, torrential rains, but they seem to just make the air feel heavier. If I wasn't still looking forward to the tomato harvest and other veggies, I would be wishing for snow. I think I would roll around in it with the dogs right about now!

Anyway, I'll try to limit my least collapsing in the air conditioning has given me time to catch up with a fun British show called Being Human, about a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost trying to live like regular people in Bristol, England. There are a lot of laugh out loud moments! The first season came out on DVD here on Tuesday and we watched that and then found season 2 on youtube. Now, we have a long wait for season 3 as it doesn't even air until January, 2011!

I haven't bought any bread since starting to use the 5 minute artisan bread technique. I liked the basic boule so much I made up batches of it a few times in a row, but now I've also tried a delicious rye/wheat bread too. I will try to work through most of the recipes in the book and I am thinking about getting a copy of the sequel too.

Here is one of my rye/wheat loaves.

The garden just gets more and more bountiful as the season progresses. Today, we canned some cranberry pepper jelly flavored with our jalapenos. They are a hot variety this year! Jeff tasted one and when he went to speak his voice sounded like Kermit the Frog being strangled! Good thing he loves hot peppers!!

The jelly is deliciously sweet with a bit of zing from the pepper. I like to put it on sandwiches: roast beef, boursin and jelly or turkey breast are really good. I like it on chicken too, as a glaze/sauce for a stir fry with pineapple and sweet peppers. It goes with Mexican food too, like chicken quesadillas. The classic way to serve it is on cream cheese and crackers. It's SO versatile!

I have a bunch more canning projects planned including pickled jalapenos, flavored with a bit of garlic and honey! Here are some of the glossy green jalapenos I used today.

Here are a couple of the sweet green bell peppers still on a plant.

While I'm showing close ups, how about a look under the leaves at the green beans? They are almost ready!

This is a *very* early pumpkin. I will have to pick it soon!

Some dreaded 'late blight' has been spotted in Massachusetts, so I am watching my plants for any signs of trouble. It affects tomatoes and potatoes and ultimately shrivels the entire plant! I am also starting to use some organic copper fungicide on my tomato plants to prevent the more common humidity/wet related problems like bacterial speck and bacterial spot. I only use organic substances in my garden and only when absolutely necessary. That's why you'll see so many weeds and some bugs in my garden. I plant extras of everything to sacrifice to bugs. I like to keep the beneficial insects happy and healthy, but that means having some of the nasties too. One of the many reasons for the plastic mulch you've seen me using is to reduce potential bacterial harm to the plants. Any bacteria lurking in the soil are prevented from splashing onto the plants during rainstorms.

Here is some of the main block of tomato plants. The plum tomatoes are the shorter, bushy ones. There are a lot of green tomatoes.

Here is the cucumber and tomato 'annex'.

The tomatillos are shoulder high on me.

Here are the beautiful zinnias which have been attracting numerous butterflies and hummingbirds too. The sunflowers in the background tower over me!

The giant Casa Blanca lilies are in bloom by the patio. In the evening, the scent is almost too strong!

Well there now, you've had another tour of my garden and some cooking without suffering any of the heat and humidity =)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Favorite Cupcakes

In the heat of summer I try not to do too much baking, but some things don't take too long. My little loaves of bread take <35 minutes and for a sweet treat, cupcakes are done in 25 minutes. I do occasionally make cookies too. Though they only take 12 minutes to bake, I have to bake them in batches, so it takes quite a long time overall.

For my chocolate cupcakes, I used to always use Hershey's European Dutch Processed Cocoa, but when that was discontinued, I was at a loss as to which cocoa to switch to. I tried a few that baked up terribly! It is not fun to have to throw out a dozen cupcakes or a two layer cake!! Finally, I tried Bensdorp Dutch Processed Cocoa and I love it. If you are a baker, what is your favorite cocoa?

You can see the Bensdorp gives a nice dark, chocolaty look. And the flavor is as good as it looks!

I am not a frosting artist. Sometime it would be fun to learn some techniques, but I am happy to just spread a bit of buttercream on top. In the heat of summer it's a bit melty anyway, so simple is best.

I like buttercream with a minimal amount of butter (the ratios given in the Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery cookbook are good in my opinion) and it's fun to give it a bit of color too. Here is a color from another batch. After they've been in the fridge they are less melty looking like this one.

My favorite chocolate cake recipe is from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home Cookbook and the entire book is online, but the cake recipe is here and includes instructions for cupcakes. It is called the '6 Minute Chocolate Cake'. That book was released in 1994 and I've been making the cake since a couple years after that. I like it with water just fine, but it is richer with cold coffee, if I happen to have some saved for it. I use plain vinegar. It just happens to be vegan which helps it be so very quick to make and I'm even more likely to have the (all pantry staples) ingredients on hand when I have a craving for it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Today's Reading and More Gardening

Today, I finally began my 'summer reading list' and have been voraciously reading London in Chains: An English Civil War Novel by Gillian Bradshaw about a feisty, 17th century girl who gets a job managing a secret, illegal printing press! I will be finished with it in less than 24 hours, which is what always happens when I get a really good book. I have no restraint; I must know what happens and then I have book withdrawal!

Although it was hard to put down the book at all, I did take some breaks to plant, weed and take pictures in the garden. I have to be a bit better about weeding now that we've had rain, but you'll see in the pictures that there are still plenty of weeds.

The zinnia patch really benefited from the rain cleaning their leaves and nourishing them.

Most are now at waist height or even a little higher.

The mixed planting of winter squash, gourds, pumpkins and sunflowers is one of my favorite bits of the garden. The sunflowers are now taller than me!

The vines are looking for space to grow and I will let them grow out over the lawn if they want to.

Here, you can see the butterfly garden to the left, with lavender colored wild bee balm and coneflowers and butterfly bushes and the sunflower/mixed patch to the right.

You can see the string bean rows are wider after the pounding rain, but they do look happy enough.

This picture is mainly to show you the tomatillos that are now as tall as the tomato cages supporting them. They responded to the rain more than anything else. They are in the background of this picture, looking like a hedge.

I am already anticipating eating the first eggplant.

This Australian Jarrahdale squash is growing well. I just love the shape and color of these, both the immature light green skin and the blue-gray skin and the orange interior of the ripe squash.

A growing Jack O'Lantern.

I couldn't resist posting another picture of the coneflowers as they are so pretty.

Here is a little double cosmos I tucked into the herb bed as I only had 2-3 seedlings of it.

And, these are the lovely brown-eyed susans. Just the first can see there are a lot more buds to open!

Now, back to my book =)