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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Visitors - Country Style

Each day when I wake up I pass across the hallway from my bedroom toward the living room. I always stop at the front door and take a quick peek outside just to check for any changes which may have occurred overnight. Most mornings, things are as they were the night before when I turned off the porch light and went to bed.

Some mornings though I am surprised to see some of these changes. There have been mornings when I'd wake up to find evidence that our nutty neighbor had crept into the yard while we were sleeping. One time she put a ziploc baggie in my mailbox with a handwritten note in it. It described how she had professionals come to her home while we were sleeping and install cameras that she claimed scoped my entire front yard, recording everything my family would do during our leisure time outside. Another morning I woke up to find that she had nailed a sign to a tree in my front yard, "Beware of the Dog". Of course we took this "lady" to court and won a 1 year restraining order with an added requirement that she go to a specific facility for psychotherapy for the next year as well.

Other mornings things on the lighter side are found in my yard such as an old shoe owned by a neighbor down the road where my dog visits his Collie friend.

We find fast food bags the dogs have so kindly removed from the road as passersby carelessly litter the highway.

The first week of April I woke up to find this guy in my yard:

He appeared to be part red tick, part beagle. Although I'm not 100% sure. Over the next week or two I medicated this dog, fed this dog and loved this dog. The nutty neighbor however, saw that something new and joyful had entered our lives and called her friend up the road.

This was the friend who gave her money for her own medication, gave her food and offered to love her as I did this independent (some call them strays) dog. The nutty neighbor threatened to have this dog picked up by animal control and put to sleep. Her friend being a dog lover and owner of multiple little dogs got angry at her, called me and between the two of us, we found a very loving home for this guy. Needless to say, the nutty neighbor lost the one friend she had left who helped her through hard times.

The most recent find was these:

All total 6 have shown up in our yard this year. My Border Collie finds them in the fields and brings them home. Not all have survived the ordeal but the last one was a bit larger and no longer nursing age so we immediately got in the truck and drove 1/2 mile up the road to this beautiful cemetery to release him where hopefully my Border Collie won't find him again.

We really do enjoy all the little animals that visit us whether by their own choice or not. Country life has offered us many visits from independent dogs, cats, baby groundhogs as well as these little bunnies. We always offer them food, water, medication and love and we miss them so much when they choose to continue their journey down the road.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Family Cook Books

I have always kept my own little handwritten cook book of recipes my family enjoys at dinner time and for dessert. Most of them are recipes which have been tweaked to please them and their taste. The majority of those come from another cook book I have which actually belonged to my grandmother.

After my adventures in canning and preserving I have come to the realization that this is something I love and it will be ongoing. Therefore, I am finding myself collecting up a few recipes in that area. I have also been tweaking these for personal taste as well. I will keep the recipes which have been tried and approved by various family members in our home and in the mountains.

So, now I guess I'll find a pretty little book somewhere and begin recording my canning and preserving recipes, methods and little tidbits I have learned along the way.

I think my daughter will enjoy this when she grows up and starts her own family. I know how young ladies like to bring things from their family into their new home, especially cooking methods so I'll be sure to make a copy of this for her.

My sons will receive one only if they request it. When they marry off I don't want to offend their young wives by shoving my recipe books into their faces. It is difficult enough for young ladies to feel like they are pleasing their new husbands without being made to feel like they have to do everything "just like mom".

Just having these things recorded and accessible to the next generation is what matters, not how many want to pick up the books and repeat the process.

What I would find most pleasing would be if one of my daughter-in-laws did request the book and began tweaking it in a way to blend her family's methods with our family's methods. I think that's what family is all about anyway.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mulching Our Vegetable Gardens - Part 2 - With Pictures

I promised I'd try to get pictures of the garden and the work as we did it yesterday. After a whole lot more research and talking with Mike, we decided not to use the peat moss. We took it back for a refund yesterday with the intent of using something else. We're just not sure yet what, if anything we'll use. Gail made some really great suggestions. Two of those I can definitely do - 1. The chicken waste we mucked out of the coop 2. Feed bags - I just got tired yesterday after completing all of this other work and will have a fresher outlook on things along with a renewed energy level today when I go outside to assess the garden again.

So, here is what happened yesterday:

This is what the hills looked like before we starred on the garden:

In the following picture you can really see how thick the grass was getting in areas beneath the straw where I couldn't see until I raked it back a little bit:

Below is a picture of our Natural and Organic Insecticide:

The garden after the straw was raked out and each hill hoed:

There is still some straw visible between the rows in the above picture but Mike will be using the tiller between those to take care of that for me.

A little bit closer:

38 Hills of Squash and Cucumbers later, we see happy plants free of pesky old weeds and grass:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mulching Our Vegetable Gardens

Not all of our vegetables require mulch. But we have found that our squash and cucumber plants suffer in the heat if their hills aren't covered a bit with something to hold in the moisture.

Last year, we had great success in mulching our vegetables with straw. We purchased last year's bales from a community store for $4 a bale. Those bales were small and we could tell they were old. But like I said, the straw did a great job in keeping my tender plants cool and for the most part, weed-free throughout the summer.

So of course this year we decided to use straw again. So we visited another store in Mt. Airy. I won't name the store but it is a nationally known farm supply store. They had straw bales for $4.50. At fifty cents more, we found these bales to be about twice the size of the ones we purchased from the community store. They were fresh and smelled so good. We took them home and mulched the newly planted squash and cucumbers.

About 10 days later, little sprigs of grass started showing up in the hills. I visited the garden, pulled the weeds and walked away. Then a few days later, I went to check these hills again. Using my hands I raked back the straw from the first hill, all the way around. There was nothing but a thick layer of rich green grass growing all over the squash hill. I pulled it all, recovered the hill and walked around the garden inspecting the others for this same invasion. Unfortunately, it is there. It is everywhere the straw has been. . . .lesson learned.

I talked to my husband who took me to the garden center (the place I enjoy most because I worked at one myself for several years) to discuss other mulching options. I asked the lady there what I could use on squash and cucumber hills as a mulch. Her suggestion was pine needles or pine mulch. I told her squash and cucumbers were sweet calcium loving plants and asked if the acidity of pine would harm them. She paused, saying she was unsure and telephoned the manager. He said don't use it the pine would burn the plants. Aside from straw his only other suggestion was to use dead leaves. This won't work for us because we just don't have them after burning all the brush lately.

So we left the garden center and visited Lowe's to look at other options. Lowe's had the usual rocks, pebbles, bark, needles, straw, etc. The only other thing they had was Peat Moss.

We know if we attempt to mix peat into the soil of the already existing hills two things will happen. The soil will then retain more moisture. The plants will have been disturbed and may not recover.

The other possibility with peat moss is to wet it and apply it around the plant on top of the hill. We understand that applying it all over the hill isn't a good idea because once the peat dries it will form a crust that water cannot penetrate, causing the opposite effect to our plants that we are trying to attain.

I water by hand only. I don't use the water hose because water is a precious resource for us with our hand dug well and watering by hand gives me quantity control.

So, here is the plan.

We're going to rake all of the contaminated straw off of our plant hills. Yesterday my son and I mucked out the hens nesting boxes.. We'll take this used straw and line their boxes with it as well as their roosting area so we won't suffer a loss.

Then we'll take the time to remove every weed, grass sprig etc from those hills that we can see.

We'll mulch approximately a dinner plate size area on the top of each hill. Once this peat has formed the crust I mentioned, I'll cut a small portion of it about 1 to 2 inches around the perimeter of the stem. This will be similar to a plug that I can simply remove or lift long enough to water the plants then put the plug back into its original position to hold in the moisture and block out the heat.

I really hope this works because I can't spend the entire growing season trying different methods. I will try to remember to take pictures of this as we go, just in case it does work.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Disappointment in Strawberry Farms : Fungicides & Pesticides

I am in Surry County, NC also 1/2 mile from the border of Stokes County, NC. Today I did some searching on the website to locate local strawberry farms. In Surry County, I found two farms listed. None were listed in Stokes County. I called the first one listed and asked the dreaded question, "Do you spray chemicals on your strawberries." The reply I received was the usual, "Well, yes we do but everything we use is harmless. If it were dangerous, we'd all be dead by now." So I asked the prices of their berries and once she completed her list of prices I asked, "Could you tell me the name of the chemical you spray on your berries?" She paused, then asked the farmer if he knew. He said, "Yes I know what we use. It's called Captan." She repeated this information and I politely thanked her and hung up.

She fails to realize the problem with chemicals being sprayed on crops is not as immediate as "death". It is a long term problem. One that causes birth defects, infertility in young men, cancer, and more.

Captan is a fungicide that prevents things like powdery mildew on plants. It also makes the berries much redder than organic strawberries. Another thing strawberry farmers often spray on their patches is Nutrasweet. This is used to create sweeter berries.

One really bad mistake people make when picking strawberries is eating them while picking. These berries, even though they are porous and have already absorbed chemicals do retain a residue of the chemicals on the outside. This residue is suppose to be washed off really well before consuming the berry. I shiver to imagine the number of small children consuming these berries while picking them and the possible long term effects on their tiny bodies.

Long term use of chemical fungicides such as Captan and pesticides such as Diazinon not only effect the workers but those who eat the final product. These chemicals also effect the environment greatly. The residue seeps into the earth and settles into the water table. Many different varieties of tree frogs are going extinct while others are developing birth defects such as too many limbs or not enough limbs. Killing off the insects is removing their food source.

My gardens have little frogs as permanent residents. I don't shoo them out of my garden or kill them. I welcome their presence. They are the natural insect control I need for my plants. Then if I find the insects are consuming a plant of mine, I still don't use chemicals. I use flour. Yes, the stuff you make cakes and biscuits with. Why flour? Because it coats the bugs and smothers them. This is the same way Boric Acid works but without the toxicity of chemicals.

Here are some natural alternatives to harmful chemical sprays:

So far I have called both strawberry farms in the Surry County, NC area. One I won't visit due to the usage of Captan on their berries, the other had disconnected telephone numbers but by reading their ads, I am sure they spray chemicals as well.

I am having no luck in finding strawberries that are safe to eat when looking at the long term effects.

I discussed the options with my three teens and my husband today. Sadly, we were forced to make the decision not to preserve any strawberries unless we luck upon a chemical free strawberry farm somewhere in our general vicinity.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Salad Reconstruction: Lettuce vs Spinach

Because I eat a lot of salads, I decided I should look at the nutritional value of my salad ingredients, one by one.

Of course I began by looking at the foundation of the salad, lettuce.

Well, I stopped there because if there is a problem with the foundation of anything, then it will need to be repaired before remodeling any other parts of the structure . . . right?


Lettuce contains the following:

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 cup (30g)
Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Carbohydrates, Protein 0%

Vitamin A - 10%
Vitamin C - 2%
Calcium - 0%
Iron - 0%
Vitamin K - 60%
Folic Acid (Folate) - 16%
Phosphorus - 1%
Magnesium - 2%
Zinc - 1%

Est. Percent of Calories from:
Fat 0.0% Carbs 0.0%
Protein 0.0%

There really isn't a whole lot going on with a head of lettuce when it comes to getting a good supply of nutrition in a raw lunch. So I decided it was time to make a change in that area as quickly and as simply as possible.

While looking for alternatives, I thought I'd also look for more flavor. Options for a salad foundation don't go much farther than the various types of lettuce and spinach. It is also important that I replace the lettuce in my salad with something I can grow in my own garden along with my other salad ingredients.

My choice is Spinach:

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 cup (30g)
Fat, Cholesterol, Carbohydrates 0%

Sodium - 23.7mg - 1%
Potassium - 167mg - 5%
Dietary Fiber - 0.7g - 3%
Sugars - 0.1g
Protein - 0.9g - 2%

Vitamin A - 56%
Vitamin C - 14%
Calcium - 3%
Iron - 5%
Vitamin D - 0%
Vitamin E - 3%
Vitamin K - 181%
Thiamin (B1 - 2%
Riboflavin (B2 - ) - 3%
Niacin (B3) - 1%
Vitamin B6 - 3%
Vitamin B12 - 0%
Magnesium - 6%
Panthothenic Acid - 0%
Zinc - 1%
Copper - 1%
Manganese - 13%

Est. Percent of Calories from:
Fat 12.9% Carbs 62.9%
Protein 51.4%

Spinach contains more Vitamin A & K which is important to my personal diet. This is especially true if I do not cook the spinach. Simply tearing it raw as a foundation to my salads retains the nutrients.

Being rich in Vitamin A, spinach can help protect my body against cancer, blindness, bone disease, heart disease and stroke.

It also lowers cholesterol levels.

The Vitamin A in spinach will also help my skin because it has the ability to heal acne, psoriasis and reduces wrinkles and fades age spots.

Spinach contains high amounts of Vitamin K.

At one time, this was the Vitamin that none of the other Vitamins would take to a party. It didn't seem to have any purpose in the body aside from controlling blood clotting. This made it appear to be very dull company.

Move over popular vitamins!

Recent studies have shown new and exciting things about Vitamin K that are bringing it to the forefront.

Vitamin K is not only found in spinach but also hangs around with vegetables like cauliflower, green cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It can also be found in whole grain cereals, egg yolk, kelp and alfalfa.

Vitamin K helps the calcium in your body work to straighten your bones. This means people with Osteoporosis benefit from Vitamin K. It also works to help women absorb and retain calcium by reducing the calcium lost in urine. This is a good thing because over 10 million people have Osteoporosis and 80% of those are women.

The blood clotting benefits of Vitamin K makes it useful in preventing hemorrhage in babies and reducing the flow for women who experience excessive menstrual bleeding.

Personally, I find the most impressive benefits of Vitamin K are its ability to fight Alzheimer disease and prevent cancer.

(I must note here that as with anything else there is such a thing as too much Vitamin K. Too much Vitamin K can lead to liver problems or jaundice. If you plan to increase your Vitamin K intake do so by changing the foods you eat rather than buying a bottle of supplements to take. If you feel like you need to take supplements please talk to your physician first. He/she can check your Vitamin K levels and tell you exactly how much more you need in your diet.)

I now have a bed of spinach growing in the garden. Hopefully these newly germinated seedlings will grow and provide me with a delicious raw base for this year's summer time salads.
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