Friday, September 28, 2012

Wild Dinner

So I finally had a successful hunting trip. The ironic thing is, I went into the woods to pick some wild mushrooms I saw on my last fruitless hunting trip and brought the .22 along "just in case". The one time I wasn't really hunting squirrel I got lucky. 

These wild mushrooms are giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea). They are easy to positively I.D. as they have very distinctive characteristics and no dangerous look-a-likes once they get past a certain size. Please do not use my description as a field guide. Please do your own research and consult at least three different sources when you positively I.D. any wild mushrooms. If you are not 100% sure of the mushroom you have, throw it away. Remember "There are old mushroom hunters, there are bold mushroom hunters - but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!." 

This squirrel is a Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis ). These squirrels are very common and prolific in my area. They have two litters a year producing anywhere from 4 to 16 young a year. They are ready to breed at 5 1/2 months. This one was barking at me about 120 feet up in a shag bark hickory tree.

Here is the giant puffball cut up. People use it as a tofu substitute others bread it and fry it. I chose to saute it with butter and salt. I used the smaller one since it was firm, the larger puffball was starting to go to spore and was soft. Side note, when these mushrooms go to spore they produce several trillion spores!

Here is our wild dinner. Sauteed squirrel with giant puffball mushroom and red onion. It was very tasty and rich. I used a little more butter than I should have do to the mushrooms soaking it up. The squirrel was a little chewy but the flavor was great. The mushrooms are better and tastier than tofu!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tomato Paste / Juice

We decided to make tomato paste and juice from mostly these Amish paste tomatoes. A few large orange and red tomatoes were used as well. We used about 8 times the tomatoes pictured here. 

 I can't believe how much we started with and what we ended up with. I had the paste in a large pot simmering over night. I woke up twice to stir it over the night. In the morning the volume was a 1/4 of what we started with.

I think this is defiantly a weekend project, not a start after work, refrigerate for a week, pick more tomatoes, process them, cook them down, refrigerate over night, heat back up and can the next day project. =)

When it all cooked down we ended up with 4 pints of tomato paste and 1 quart, 2 pints of tomato juice. I used the left-over tomato paste for spaghetti and meat sauce with dinner that night. It was quite tasty over spaghetti squash. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Garden Flowers

Just thought I would share a pic of a flower arrangement I made for Dara. I had to cut the Jerusalem Artichoke flowers so they put their energy into the tubers and thought I would see what else was in bloom.

Flowers: Jerusalem Artichoke, Borage, Marigold, Yarrow and some white flower I found growing in the perennial flower bed.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Harvest 09/18/12

Here is what I picked in the garden after work.

The Amish paste tomatoes are still producing heavily. Our bell pepper plants are full of peppers. I only picked a few because I want to give the rest a chance to change color. I know we have some red, yellow and orange bell peppers I just don't know which plant is which. =) The jalapeno peppers are going nuts. I picked a few and will get the rest in a week or so when they are big enough. We are still getting broccoli heads. I plan on making some salsa with the big tomatoes on the left, the black (red) hungarian peppers and some ground cherries when they come in.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Garden Guardian

I moved my lawnmower yesterday after not using it for a month or so and found this guy (or girl, didn't check). This is a Eastern American Toad (Bufo americanus americanus). These toads like to take up residence under anything that gives them a cool moist environment out of the sun. I have plans to make a bunch of toad condos around the perimeter of the garden. These will consist of flat limestone rocks about a foot or so across propped up over small depressions. I will do a post later on the subject. 

Having these insect predators around is just one more way to keep a natural balance in your garden without resorting to chemical warfare. The more beneficial predator and insect habitat you can encourage in and around your property, the less you will have to worry about out of control pest infestations. So the next time you see a toad in the garden look around and try to find a place to give them shelter. A overturned clay pot works just fine, just break a hole in the lip so they have a door.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's time to plant garlic

I built this new raised bed in about 45 minutes, cost $25. I used cedar fence boards from the local box store, $2.25 each. I filled it with a sphagnum peat moss and composted manure mixture.

I used hemp twine to break the bed into 6 sections. The tomato staked in the back happened to be in the area I wanted to put this bed. I would have ripped it out but it is one of two OSU blue tomatoes that are producing for me. 

I ordered a 6-pack sampler of heirloom organic hard and soft neck garlic from Botanical Interests. I really like this company, they are always fast and the seeds have great germination rates. 

Here is what came in the sampler package: 

Back left - California Early soft neck 
Back center - Silver White soft neck
Back right - Inchelium Red soft neck
Front left - Chesnok Red hard neck
Front center - Metechi hard neck
Front right - Purple Glazer hard neck

I will be braiding the soft neck varieties next summer at harvest. I can't wait to have real heirloom garlic for the kitchen. The garlic you get at the grocery store is typically bland compared to the varieties you can grow, very easily, in your own backyard.

If you are reading this mid September through mid October and are anywhere near me geographically, you still have time to get a crop in the ground for harvest next summer. Again I recommend checking out if you want a great heirloom organic product.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The garden keeps giving

We are getting some monster tomatoes. Its almost impossible to pick them all before they are over ripe. 

These are black Hungarian peppers. They are usually a dark purple / black but if you let them go to long they turn red. They are still good they just get a little bit hotter. 

We are still getting broccoli in September!

This is the first year trying to grow celery. It is doing very well. I think we will plant a lot more next spring.

Here we have beets in the foreground, red chard on the left and yellow chard in the back. The chard is going crazy this time of year. 

This kale was planted the spring before this past spring. It over-wintered, went to seed and is still  producing greens. You can see the dried out top from when it bolted. 

These spaghetti squash will keep for up to 6 months in the right conditions. I don't think they will make it that far. We will be planting a dozen or so vines next year. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tomato pest or opportunistic scavenger? And a corn story

We have so many tomatoes coming in right now. We picked a couple hundred recently. But I found something strange on the Amish paste tomatoes. It is a good thing there are hundreds of them!

I have never seen or heard of a woodlouse eating a tomato before. So I was genuinely surprised to find this tomato being devoured by a bunch of tiny crustaceans. It always amazes me to think these little guys are more closely related to lobsters than ladybugs. This is the common rough woodlouse or Porcellio scaber. 

These are not typical tomato pest. From the research I have done it seems they will eat a tomato or strawberry after something else has bitten the fruit. It seems once they have a way in then they will gladly eat your tomatoes. A lot of people believe it is usually a slug that does the initial damage with the woodlice following since they share similar niches, shady wet areas. I am going to put out some beer slug traps and see if I get any slugs. I have been meaning to make more toad habitat so maybe this will motivate me.

So I learned a lesson in corn farming. It seems I should have known this since my father's family were corn and potato farmers, but I guess some skills and info didn't make it from my grandfathers generation to mine. One of the reason we are homesteading and doing the blog is to relearn these important skills so we can pass the information on to our children and grandchildren. This corn is a solid blue corn variety. I planted it next to our yellow and white sweet corn. The color yellow is dominate so if your blue corn gets cross-pollinated by your yellow corn this is what happens. I will only plant sweet corn next year. Lesson learned.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Not everything is a success

I thought I would share a couple homestead fails we have had recently. I try to look at these events as learning experiences. "Try" is the key word here. 

If you are new to bee keeping this may not look like a bad picture. Plenty of healthy looking bees building comb and using propolis to seal up the hive. The problem is the comb is going perpendicular to the top bars. This is called cross-combing and is bad for a hive if you want to manage it properly. I should have checked the hive earlier and corrected it sooner. At this point my plan is to wait until spring and harvest this quarter of the hive for honey and watch them more carefully when they are drawing comb. 

This is whats left of the pole beans I planted a while back. I posted earlier on an assassin bug I found in the garden eating a bean leaf beetle (Cerotoma trifurcata). Well I guess I needed an army of assassin bugs to deal with the amount of bean leaf beetles that came this year. They ate every single plant that sprouted, but they did not touch the established pole beans growing 15 feet away. Maybe they just like new growth. I planted the beans late, hoping to get a second crop this year, so maybe I need to start them earlier next year. I will use this area to plant winter snap peas soon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Garden Update Sept 2012

We are officially corn farmers! We have two kinds of sweet corn and a blue corn variety. 

This is one of many watermelons growing in between the corn stalks. We have two varieties growing this year. The ones we got last year were so sweet, best watermelon I have ever had.

We have been eating a lot of spaghetti squash since we started the Paleo diet. Now we are growing them. This is such an awesome squash, it really does mimic eating spaghetti, sweet spaghetti. 

We planted 4 of these Amish paste tomato plants in a raised bed. There are literally hundreds of tomatoes on them. We will be canning paste soon. It seems they all ripen at the same time, perfect for canning.

This is a volunteer ground cherry from last year. I will make some salsa with these and the corn. 

The peppers are going crazy now. The problem is I always forget to write down where I put the red, yellow and orange peppers so I tend to eat all of them green. One day I will remember to keep a better garden journal.

I don't like many fresh tomatoes but these orange cherry tomatoes called Blondkopfchen are very good. It is also a very prolific producer. You have to pick everyday to keep up with these. 

Here are some more tomatoes going crazy. There are thousands of tomatoes in the garden right now. We will be picking a ton tonight after being gone on vacation for a week. 

I think these are the mortgage lifter tomatoes. I will know for sure if they turn red. They may be dr wyche's yellow tomato. Again, one day I will properly plot the garden out, I just get so excited when I plant I forget to write it down.

These are Jerusalem artichokes. I can't wait to dig these in the fall. I will do a whole post on it when I harvest.

Here are the Cascade hops. I need to harvest and dry these out this weekend. 

Here are the Catawba grapes. They are so good. I eat a couple or five every time I go to the garden. It will be a few years until I get enough for wine.

Here is a pic looking out at the main garden. It sure is nice to swing after a hot day in the garden.