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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Recap and Some Lessons Learned - Part 2

If I seem to ramble... well, why yes, I am.  :)

2015 Cayenne Pepper Bumper Crop
  • Dried peppers
  • Made venison jerky (or any kind of jerky)
  • Learned to use a pressure cooker
  • Helped field dress a deer
  • Grew sweet potatoes
  • Started willow and hybrid poplar trees from 5" cuttings
  • Harvested and process Black Walnuts

Raised Beds - Things I knew, and new lessons learned

It takes 3-5 years for lawns, abandoned pastures, or desert sand to really start producing well.  I have seen this happen everywhere I have gardened.  So I did not adhere to strictly regenerative and/or organic methods, although I did not use pesticides.  Our pasture is clay and slabs of limestone rock.  I wanted some kind of garden.  This meant that there was quite a bit of "garden soil" brought in from "the big box stores."  Much of it laced with Miracle Grow, because it is pretty darn difficult to get "plain old garden soil."  Most of the beds were only 6 inches in depth, which was OK for most things.
  • Not enough mulch.  
    • There is never enough mulch.  But I can get the shredded wood stuff for free, and I know what the deal is.   And I still didn't get enough of it!
    • Putting a layer of mulch under the raised beds would have helped keep the crab grass from invading from below (even though I thought I killed it by black plastic tarping the areas before building the beds)
    • Not a wide enough, deep enough layer of mulch between the field and my beds - crab grass had a mere 12 inches to leap to get into my beds.  In The South, with 1-3 inches of rain a week, that is not a difficult thing for it to do.  Cardboard under paths covered in at least 6 inches of  shredded wood chips.  Where I did that, I mostly won.  Around the edges, I didn't do that.  I lost!
  • No edgings on beds.
    • Too expensive, no time, weird weather, she said.  Pounding thunderstorms eroded the edge of beds, allowing crab grass to sneak in.  (The upside - it also allowed some rouge passion flowers and honeysuckle to pop up.  Depending on the bed, that was a good thing.)
    • More difficult to build deeper beds without siding.  Sweet potatoes were yummy and of OK size, but many of them made a right angle when they hit the clay bottom, and so were weirdly shaped.  Didn't hurt their taste, but probably not what the market is looking for if I go down the path to small commercial plantings.  10" deep was not deep enough for pretty and fat tubers - but was quite enough for thinner ones to cut into "rounds" for chips or for mashing or dicing into recipes.  
    • They just looked messy by the end of summer (I say this like none of my gardens have ever been messy by the end of summer!  If I am honest, most... er, all? of my gardens are messy by the end of summer.  I blame it on business travel.  Yes, that's it!)
I know there is mulch somewhere under that crabgrass!
Good Things
  • Just did stuff
  • Planned stuff
  • The balance between just doing and planning wasn't perfect, but did lead to successes
  • Roma Tomato VF seeds from 2006 - on the edge of tomato seed viability - germinated well, and have replenished my seed stock.  I had some seed from 2011, so I knew I'd be OK in the Roma Tomato VF department - but I am sentimental - that packet of seeds has grown tomatoes for me at 3 homes.  Now it is in a place where it can be grown out for generations and adapt to the region.  
  • Trialing all different varieties of tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, cowpeas, summer squash, and winter squash was absolutely the educational experience that I expected them to be.  And a yummy experience it was, too.
  • I spent too much on seeds.  So much fun.  So many types of beans - who knew? (You'll see this listed under the "bad things" too!)
  • Kept enough things isolated, that I was able to save seed from several toms and several cowpeas
  • Trees, glorious trees - got the first part of the orchard planted!  Extended Autumn weather meant that even though I was late in ordering, I got to put in both Spring and Fall trees!  Carolina Bell peaches, Karla Rose nectarine (had to buy my namesake!), September Wonder Fuji apples, Sweetheart cherries - what dreams are made of.  Dreams to hopefully come true in 3-4 years! (Stamps feet.  I'm not moving again.  Left the last place just as the apples started to produce.)

Bad Things

So nothing really bad happened except for the squash bugs!  Luckily I got some summer squash before the attack, but really? I had no zucchini to assault people with?
  • Do I get to mention squash bugs again?  Apparently I've never before gardened where there are squash bugs?  Google is my friend - going to be prepared this season.  I know what your eggs look like, and I'm learning what your life cycle is - I'm going to be gunning for you!
  • Spent too much on seeds.  Many never got planted.  I just hoarded them.  Most will be viable for several years.  So, of course, Mom sent me $$ for my garden for Christmas and my Birthday... so what did I spend it on. Dang, you, Johnny's and Baker Creek - I was supposed to not order more seeds for this year... (but I am giggling while I type this - because I'm doubling the size of the garden for next year...)
  • I tried to start small because I know this is year one, and there are a lot of outside inputs to a brand new garden... but I, of course, over-did it.  I have never been good at starting small.
  • I am no longer 25.  This makes me, perhaps (only perhaps) a better gardener... but it does mean that the joints protest more and I am not as inclined to stand outside in cold, wet weather.  
Do more of these things
  • Dry hot peppers - they take up way less space than in the freezer - and it makes it easier to give away (or sell?)  As mentioned before, cayennes love it here.  It's too humid to completely dry without a dehydrator, but they can start off drying in the sun, and then be whisked into the dehydrator to finish off.
  • Mulch more - duh!
  •  Plant more sunflowers - the flowers face East when they mature - so a perfect screen for our suburban neighbors - lots of cherry sunflowers facing them!  Maybe I don't need a new perimeter fence next year.  Maybe I can fill some vases full of flowers for some of those neighbors.
  • Pay more attention to variety isolation for seed saving purposes.  i.e. instead of planting two kinds of cow peas around a tree, limit each tree to its own kind.  I know most cow peas will self pollinate before an insect has brought them a neighbor's pollen; however, in a garden with as much diversity as I have, in the middle of a diverse pasture, pollinator pressure is high here.  Honey bees may not be as prolific as may have been here before, but all kinds of other solitary bees, wasps, hornets, and flies love to buzz buzz around the flowers.
  • Save more seeds.
  • Pick and freeze more "shelly beans" and ripe, but not dried, cow peas.
  • Take more photos that might be more commercially viable.
  • Add 1,000 photos to my stock photo site.
  • Continue trialing things, but start ramping up production for things that worked well last year - maybe enough to share.  Maybe enough to sell a bit?  TN Yellow Cherry tomatoes, Roma VF tomatoes, Mexico Midget cherry tomatoes, Mayo Colima cowpeas, Mammoth sunflowers...
  • Continue to weigh harvest - but maybe get a different type of scale - the one I have is pretty impractical to weigh 20 or even 10 pounds of something.
  • Keep keeping good records.  Especially of things one is breeding for seed.
  • Keep improving the soil and switch to significantly more regenerative practices
Been feeling like Autumn these last few weeks
- a reminder that winter will get here.

New for 2016
  • Chickens! Need I say more?
  • Ducks - maybe not, but you know, I'm not good at starting small.
  • Fencing for the garden area - something deer will respect?
  • Expand the garden area by 50%
  • Make a formal herb garden
  • Grow herbs in pots on the back porch
  • Establish strawberries on the edge of the little woods (this may require some major critter protection for a while)
  • Haul out my All American cast aluminum canner and use it
  • Water bath can small batches in my pressure cooker
  • Beat the squash bug team!

Friday, December 25, 2015


It is 70*F with thunder and lightning and a constant pouring of rain from steel gray skies.  Christmas ham is in the oven.  Warm doggie at my feet, seed catalogs on the table (thanks, Mom, for the gift for even more seeds!), and dreams of gardens and orchards plotted on the property wall map behind me.  We've been so blessed this year.  Wishing you and yours blessings during this magical time of year, and throughout 2016.

From Our Home to Yours

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Recap and Some Lessons Learned - Part 1

The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly of  2015.

Next year's garden is always going to be perfect - it is what keeps gardeners gardening.  But I have to say, that while the 2015 season was wayyyyy far from perfect, I have been so blessed to be back on the land.  And despite 12 days of continuous rains that turned most of the tomatoes to mush, I think this may go down as one of my favorite gardening years... but I think I say that every year!

Summer Harvests

 Major Milestones
  • Purchased home with 3.8 acres - suburbia to the left, 20-50 acre lots to the right
  • Identified existing trees - black walnut, honey locust, winged elms
  • Started first large garden in 4 years
  • Had photos accepted to
  • Took way more photos than in 2014 - way more than double
  • Planted Trees
    • 11 fruit trees
    • 5 weeping willows that I grew from cuttings and that are now several feet tall
    • 6 hybrid poplar trees that I also grew from cuttings and that are now 4 or 5 feet tall
    • transplant of a cedar from the little woods to the wind break line
  • Opened up some of the woods
  • Wood mulched most of the existing trees in the pasture
  • Harvested Black Walnuts (still more to process!)
  • Gave away some of the harvest as Christmas gifts
  • Bought local from local producers for Christmas gifts and consumption of things like jam and veggies that I didn't grow or that didn't do well
  • Saved seeds from tomatoes, beans, cow peas, basil
  • Froze more than 20 pounds of tomatoes, a pound of basil, lots of bell peppers
  • Dried a lot of peppers
  • Purchased tools - for gardening, for canning, for dehydrating, for jerky making
  • Helped field dress my husband's first TN deer
  • Began planting perennials in the herb garden
  • Started most of my own vegetables from seed: tomatoes, peppers, beans, cukes, pumpkins, water melon
  • Started many of my herbs from seed: basils, lemon balm, oregano, sweet marjoram, flowering sages, sunflowers
  • Road in my first helicopter
View of South Kentucky from my first helicopter ride.

Things that love The South

I guess I could have predicted this, but it is good to have the observations any way
  • Sunflowers - even ones planted in straight clay with competition from "weeds" grew and flowered.  Seeds from the same packet of Mammoth sunflower that barely made it to 5 feet tall in the desert with a 10" head grew 8 - 12 feet tall with disks that were nearly two feet across, with stalks 2 inches in diameter.  Bees, praying mantis, and all number of insects partook of their abundance.  I harvested some for seeds for 2016, and I left some standing for the birds.
  • Cow Peas - Trialed several varieties - planted around my fruit trees for nitrogen, but also in quantities for eating and seed saving.  I don't think I will have to ever buy seeds for them again. The climbers - easily scaled the sunflowers, and even toppled two of the sunflowers from their weight.
  • Basil - Grew nearly 4 feet tall - Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil being my favorite
  • Peppers - had not grown a lot of peppers before.  Some of them didn't like all the rain, and some went bonkers, even with the rain.  Cayenne peppers - they loved it here.

Last of the Cayenne and Arroz con Pollo drying.
Squash Bug Hell

So I went on a two week business trip seconds before the Squash Bug Hatch. I came back to two acorn squash fruits and one black tail watermelon - the plants themselves were almost completely consumed.  All the cukes and pumpkins were dead, gone, kaput.  Have to tell my boss - no travel during Summer Squash Bug Battle season.

One of two survivors.  Teach me to go on work travel in August!

Next post to include more recap and plans for the future.

Black Walnut Tree (with view of neighbor's home)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Permaculutre Elements: Apple Trees

The Apple Tree: malus domestica 
The Graphics Fairy
Today's post is going to be a little different than my usual photos or updates around the little farm.  In this post and in an on-again, off-again fashion, I plan to run a series of element analysis from a practical permaculture perspective.  So here we go....

For those of you who might have read my High Desert Gardening Blog (pre-permaculture), you will know that the three little scrawny apple trees sitting out in my field are not the first apple trees that I have planted.  The reason is that they are easy to grow, I like to eat apples, and a number of livestock species also like them.

The Apple is a fruit tree and a member of the rose family. There are several thousands of cultivars, and it is commonly used as food for livestock and for people.

Family: Rosaceae    Genus: Malus        Species: Malus domestica

Sample Cultivars:  Arkansas Black, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Holstein, Pink Lady, Virginia Winesap

Intrinsic Characteristics
  • Permaculture Zones: All
  • Layers: Understory or overstory tree
  • Placement: in orchards, gardens, food forests, wild wooded areas, and as specimens in ornamental landscaping. Also grown in containers and as espalier. 
  • Size: cultivars range in size from 6 foot tall or less on dwarfing root stock, or upwards of 30 feet tall on some standard (own root) trees.
  • Tree Type: Deciduous – loses leaves in the dormant season 
  • Longevity - dwarf trees on root stocks may begin fruiting years earlier than own root trees, but they also pass away sooner

Note that while some outputs don't need any additional inputs and can stand on their own, many of the outputs may or could.  Where space, time, and interest intersect, I will include them.
  • For the Bees - nectar and pollen
  •  Beauty - spring time flowers in shades of white from pretty dog-goned white to creamy white to pink
  • Fresh food for - People, chickens, hogs, horses, goats, deer, and other wildlife
  • Preserved for People - frozen (as sauce or pie filling), dried, as part of cider or rumtopf
  • Leaves - composting or to leave around trees
  • Scion wood - to graft onto root stock for new trees
  • Seeds - to start new trees on the cheap to see what new variety you might discover
  • Wood - for fires, smoking chips, building
Note: some of these inputs may not be needed for your situation, but I'm listing a list here, so work with me.
  • Wood mulch and/or compost
  • Understory nitrogen fixers - peas, field or cow peas, clover 
  • Stakes - for staking young trees
  • Tree Wrap - for protecting young trees from sun scald or rabbits or to help keep trees dormant as long as possible during early springs
  • Wire fencing - or other protection, especially in zones 3, 4 and 5 where there is deer and rabbit pressure
  • Compost tea - to inoculate wood mulch and to spray on leaves to protect against various mildews and fungus, and as a type of foliar feed
  • Pruning equipment - pruners, loppers, knives, saws, something to sterilize them between cuttings
  • Harvesting equipment - long handled picker for taller trees, ladder, basket, cart or wheel barrow
  • Other apple tree(s) - for pollination.  If others are growing apples near by, or if you have crab apples, this might not be an issue; however, you still may wish to plant a known pollinator just to be sure.  To find out what apples pollinate each other, check out this Online Pollination Checker.  They check other fruit pollinators, also.

Other Things to Think About
  • Climate - are you in the hot, humid South where it rains "all the time"? Then you will need cultivars that are fungal disease resistant.  Are you in a "warm winter" area? Then low chill apples may be what you need
  • Tree Size - do you have acreage where you will keep your trees 20 feet apart or more? Or will you be growing two trees to a hole in a densely planted suburban yard?  Or will you be somewhere in between?  What kind of trees do well like that?
  • Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees -  you may wish to succession plan for trees that may only be at their peak for 15 - 20 years - planting a new set every few years ensures continuous production

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mulching Trees

Took me less than an hour to winter wrap my 16 trees and a couple of hours to mulch them. This leads me to believe that on a one woman scale, I can  probably more or less triple the number of trees and still care for them individually.  Maybe about 50 trees total?  And, perhaps, as I become more experienced, I will learn some tricks that will allow me to double that?  Anyway, here is my process.  Keep in mind, I did this once already, when I planted them, but with much finer mulch.  With the warm sunny days combined with lots of rain, the attack of the grass is never ending.  Several times during the summer I "chopped and dropped" the grass and other weeds; therefore, between the decomposition of the finer mulch and the attack of the grass, signs of the old cardboard & mulch are difficult to find.  Details of how I mulch below.

Farm dogs are good for guarding against zombie bunnies.

The city will load your truck or trailer for free if you don't have a cover for it.  Alas, I do have a cover on the bed of my truck, so all of this was hand loaded.  The windrows of mulch are at least as tall as a  house, so I back the truck in with the lid up and the tailgate down until the tailgate is a few inches into the mound.  I then take a stiff rake and essentially help gravity move the mulch into the truck.  Once home, I unloaded it onto a tarp near the garden and fruit trees.  Later on, when about half the mulch has been used, I will be able to drag the tarp about 100 feet so that it will be near my windbreak trees for the balance of use.  The pile looks so small for being a pickup truck full.  I was concerned that I would not be able to mulch all 16 trees, and I was right.  The last tree definitely got skimped on a bit.

This is what a pickup truck of mulch looks like.

This is what one of my apple trees looked like pre-mulching.  You can see the dry grass from the last time I cut it down.  The dry grass is a few inches thick and provides its own kind of mulch.

Before mulching.

First a layer of cardboard.  I'm not particular what kind.  I leave the tape and labels on it.  I would put a thicker layer of cardboard, but with 16 trees, I was kind of lean on cardboard, too.  A six inch deep layer of mulch over the cardboard should keep the weeds from coming through even after the cardboard decomposes.  The photo below shows a tree half-done.  Note that I do not put the cardboard or the mulch right up against the trunk of the tree, but aim to keep it about 6 inches away.

My favorite non-organic drink.  Not a purest, here.
This activity was timed to happen the morning before a drenching rain with the idea that the rain would settle the cardboard and mulch and mold it to the shape of the land.  Most of the windbreak trees did not get a full 6 inches of compost on them.  I think another trip to the city this week is probably in order.  The plan is to keep expanding the mulch to each tree's drip line as they grow.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Free Mulch from the City

There is some debate about whether or not mulch created from the city's tree trimming and yard waste pickup program should be used for food production gardeners (or by anyone at all).  Tree trimmings and such may have been subject to pesticide and herbicide spray or over spray.  Perhaps some of the materials carry disease that can contaminate your own plants.  All valid concerns; however, it appears that the mulch created by our municipality is harmless in those regards: 
  • Beans, a particularly sensitive crop, thrived with this mulch
  • Various fungus bloomed and faded throughout the summer season
  • Earthworms are loving it under the mulch - we dug nearly 3 tree holes and saw less than half a dozen worms.  Where I have mulched, they are now proliferating.
One mostly full pickup truck bed of mulch = 54 five gallon buckets.

I think a contributing factor to the quality of the mulch is that it is regularly turned when it gets to the city's mulch yard. It gets steamy hot in many places, as evidenced by the steam rising from the various piles, and that contributes to the killing of pathogens and weed seeds and the breakdown of harmful chemicals.  They don't mix a younger pile into an older pile.

So after much consideration, I am now using the city's free mulch "everywhere."
  • In the paths between garden beds
  • Around young trees, and eventually about the larger trees in our pasture
  • On garden beds to "winterize" them
  • As the bottom layer of my compost pile
Future uses
  • Sifted to incorporate the finer pieces into my garden beds
  • As the "litter" layer to my chicken run
  • In conjunction with cardboard and landscape fabric to deter weeds around the part of my home that we would like to keep looking "suburban" and along fence lines that I want to keep weed free so I can grow what I want along the fence lines
Speaking of cardboard, there are also debates about chemicals in cardboard.  The rain and the elements seem to be decomposing the cardboard with no ill effects, and it also actually seems to be quite beneficial.  Instead of hauling my boxes off to a recycle center, I used them as the underlay for various mulching projects.  After a few months of Southern heat and humidity, they are well broken down.  I imagine by next year I will not see any bits at all.  I've been retrieving the remnants of tape and labels, but even a lot of that appears to be decomposing.
Decomposing cardboard lifted from under mulch.
(Placed on winter killed grass for viewing purposes.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Apples from the Farmers Market

My little fruit orchard is still in its infancy so my little apple trees are still several years from fruiting; however, that is not going to stop me from making home made apple sauce! 
One of my baby apple trees all wrapped up for winter.
Today was the last day of our local farmers market (The Mufreesboro Saturday Market), so I stocked up on apples.  Enough to make 2 batches of crock pot apple sauce (recipe below), an apple pie, and maybe have some to dehydrate.

Winesap, Granny Smith, Unknown, Roma
They smell soooooo goooood!

Unknown, but these are spicy delicious and crunchy

I am thinking that I made out like a bandit! I can't wait to be able to gather apples from my own three little trees one day. Grand Gala, September Wonder Fujii, and a Granny Smith.  Maybe put in some additional varieties in the spring?

*** *** ***

So my crock pot apple sauce is more like apple pie filling with an apple sauce texture.  Not quite as sweet and syrupy and gooey as apple pie filling, but full of that rich, complex, cinnamon, vanilla, clove flavor.  I know clove doesn't sound like something to add to apple sauce, but just a pinch leaves out the distinct clove flavor and smell while adding richness.  The following is for a large crock pot.

  •  14 - 20 apples, depending on size, peeled and cut into chunks or thick slices (either way, they will cook down into sauce)
  • 1 cup of warm water - maybe less
  • 1/2 c cornstarch
  • up to 1 cup sugar if you have mostly tart apples?  I've made this with no sugar before, and it is good that way, too.  In fact, sometimes I like it better that way.
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground clove
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or flavoring
  • Optional: 1/2 stick of butter (if you aren't going to use real butter, skip this - margarine just doesn't really add anything in my opinion)
Fill the crock pot to the top - it will shrink down as it cooks.  Except for the optional butter, mix all of the other ingredients in with the water and pour over apples.  Dot butter on top like for a pie.  Cook covered on low for 4-6 hours.  Start checking every hour after the first two hours and turn off as soon as it is "mashable" with a wooden spoon.  Mash up and let sit covered for several hours to cool.  Sometimes a skin will start to form as it cools.  I use a wire whisk to reincorporate it.  This usually means that I used too much cornstarch.  Which may not be uncommon as I am not good with measuring things.

*** *** ***  

Sorry, forgot to take photos of the apple sauce process.  I did, however, take pictures of the Yellow Jackets while I was cutting up apples on the back porch.  I gave them their own bit of apple trimmings on the far side of the table, and for the most part, they were happy to enjoy their apples over there and leave the knife-wielding woman alone.  And speaking of apple trimmings - I spread the cores and skins around the corner of the property where we have seen deer tracks before.  I figure, worst case, the squirrels will enjoy.  And that is not a bad thing. 
Sneaky Yellow Jacket thinks I don't know that it is sipping apple juice.

Friday, October 23, 2015

New FaceBook Page

The Little Biddy Hen House is now on FaceBook!  Not sure what I'll be doing with it, but since I'm a FaceBook Junkie, I'm sure there will be something there.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Black Walnut Obsession and Other Updates

Thistle Down and Black Walnuts

Yes, I suppose I am obsessing.  Have 5 or 6 more five gallon buckets full to hull and dry.  And after spending 2 hours with a hammer cracking them to win barely a cup of nut meats, I ponied up $40 and bought a purpose built nut cracker.  I spent an hour learning to use it, and I think I will be able to shell 2 cups or so of nut meats an hour after a little practice.  Yay!  Black walnuts for baking this winter.  And maybe some to give away.  At $20 a pound or so on Amazon, I should make back my $40 this season.
Tiny Red Spider among the floating bubbles of Morning Dew.
One of the reasons I am so slow at stomping on walnuts (to husk them) and putting them into my bucket is because I am always distracted by some little insect or, in this case, a tiny arachnid.  Less than 1/4 inch long, this little red spider is a marvel of industry.  The whole web is about 5 inches across, and covered in morning dew.

Last of the Summer Basil.
I feel bad that with all the abundance of Basil that we had this year, I did not put more up for winter stews and spaghetti sauce.  But, I did dash out on the evening before our first hard frost and gather up a few trays to dry.   I also got a tray of lemon balm, Melissa Officinalis, to dry to add to tea this winter.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Walnut Harvesting Update

After some small experimentation, I have decided that, for my small scale processing, the boot method looks like it will work.

The one showing ridges is ready for drying - the others need another round of cleaning.
  1. Look for walnuts where the husk has darkened on on side
  2. Step on walnut with heel of "mucky boot" and squash
  3. With rubber/latex glove, "squirt" walnut out of hull
  4. Leave hull to decompose right where it is
  5. Fill 5 gallon bucket until bucket is about half full
  6. Use the "jet" setting on a hose sprayer nozzle to spray walnuts in the bucket until water just covers the walnuts
  7. Use a 3 prong hand cultivator to mix the walnuts against each other until the water is really dark
  8. I am discarding the water where I am trying to kill weeds on my gravel driveway
  9. Repeat the rinsing cycle a few times
  10. Spread nuts out to dry
I was able to process three times as many walnuts as my first try (4 hours for a mixing bowl full of walnuts) - in about half an hour.  I could have probably cut the time down, but I spent a lot of the time picking up walnuts being slow and lazy.  If I had put some energy into it, I'm sure I could have picked up that many walnuts in a much shorter time period. 

From what I have read, Black Walnuts often only produce every other year or every 3rd year or so. There are still buckets of walnuts to harvest, so I am assuming this is one of the "good" years. So gotta harvest enough to have walnuts for a few years of brownies and banana bread! (And I say that like I actually bake...)

These ones have been drying for about a week now. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Black Walnut Harvesting

American Black Walnut - July 2015

Back in March and April (2105), when all of the trees had begun to leaf out, this one lone tree in the middle of the pasture remained leafless.  Earlier in the winter, my husband had cut vines as thick as my wrist from around her.  As all the other trees stirred to life, we thought that perhaps we were to late in rescuing her from the strangling vines.  By May, however, she began to leaf out, and as Summer brought warm rains and sunshine, she came into her own.  By July we knew she was going to gift us with many gallons of walnuts.

In less than 5 minutes I had gathered a 5 gallon bucket full.
There are at least 15 more gallons from her, and twice as much from her sister.

Fast forward to Autumn:  October has been cool and drizzly so far.  Portents of winter, but also the harbinger of garlic planting season and the walnut harvest.  I donned a sweat shirt, shorts, and mucky boots (after all, I'm from Northern Nevada, and it wasn't that cold), and headed out to try my hand at preparing walnuts.  Native North American Black Walnuts, to be exact.  I had watched my YouTube videos and read various blog posts, and now I was finally going to do it.

Being too lazy to find my small hammer, I substituted my small crescent wrench.

I only harvested a small 5 gallon bucket of fallen walnuts, and I was pretty sure I could process those by hand.  I had seen a video where the hulls were tapped all around with a hammer and then twisted off of the hard shell.  This seemed like an easy, no stress, low tech way to spend a Saturday afternoon on the back porch looking out at the drizzle.  Since I couldn't find my small hammer, I convinced myself that the back of a crescent wrench head was probably a better shape for mashing walnut husks, anyway.  And, indeed, it worked well.  As walnut juices stain, I was forewarned, and wore heavy dish washing gloves.  I listened to some TED talks and got into the rhythm of tap-tap-tap and twist.  I got to where I could hull one in less than half a minute.

After hulling 5 gallons of walnuts, the husks still added up to nearly 5 gallons.

Hulling the walnuts takes off the husk and most of the "fruit," but the walnuts are still covered in a fair amount of gunky stuff.  I can see where pressure washing them might make the final cleaning much easier than the method I used, but walnut husks and leaves contain juglone, and juglone prevents other plants from growing.  So I used the wash 'em in a bucket method and scrub 'em with a wire bristled grill brush.  I poured the resulting black water and sludge where I did not want anything to grow.  While husking 5 gallons of walnuts by hand was not a major ordeal, hand cleaning was.  Definitely going to look for a better method of washing them.
5 gallon bucket of un-husked walnuts equals one large mixing bowl of shell-on nuts.

All and all, I spent four hours to get on mixing bowl full of nuts.  And I haven't even shelled them yet.  They will need to hang out and dry for a few to several weeks, depending on temperature and humidity before I can crack them and find out what the actual harvest will be.  Still, even though I need a method that will scale, I'm pretty happy with this modest haul.

Can't wait for them to dry so I can crack some open and eat them!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Autumn Fancy

An eclectic bit of this and that from the late summer garden...

Not sure why this little dew dusted critter was wandering around the basil.  All of its cohorts were munching on passion fruit leaves.  I moved it over, and he/she began munching.

This is the passion flower vine this type of caterpillar (cats) usually haunts.  Your run of the mill passiflora.  Runs wild here, but the cats keep it under control.  Hoping to harvest some seed when the fruits ripen.

Fresh bean harvest for a summer soup.  Italian Rose (red & white), various cow peas, and some white beans of unknown origin... because I am not so good at the record keeping thing.  Fresh beans in soup - totally different experience than dried beans.  So smooth and full of flavor.  Too bad the Italian Rose lose their speckles and turn to a pale pinkish tan color when cooked.  But still, jummy (short for "just yummy")!  I will certainly be growing more of those next year, and isolating them so I can save my own seed.

Italian Rose bean pods, Pink Eye Purple Hulled cow peas, and likely Hssiao yellow cherry tomatoes and Mini Bell yellow bell peppers.  Looks like a sunflower petal, also.  Something ate the petals on on of my sunflowers, so I harvested the rest of the petals from that one, and dried them to use in tea this winter.

More jummy stuff from the morning harvest in late August.  Roma VF toms from seeds that I've been saving (hoarding) for more than 5 years. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Harvest Begins

Worked my bottom off to get raised beds made, mulch retrieved and distributed, seeds and seedlings planted, and hand watering all the babies until I secured enough lengths of hose to bring external water to the garden.  So much energy to bring outside inputs to the system.  And now, right along with our 90+ *F temps and endless days of rain, the garden is now heading into output mode.

Costoluto Genovese

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Just a quick post for the 4th of July.
The wild field on the West side of the house that merges into the adjacent unmanaged property is filled with many blooming plants - Queen Ann's Lace, yellow Rudebeckia that somewhere along the line escaped formal cultivation, some type of white Dasies, and mats of Passion Flower vines, plus other things that I can't see from the driveway.  The pollinators and other wild critters love making that area their home.  The East pasture, however, butts up against suburbia and trimmed lawns.  That pasture gets mowed at least once a week, and the most that gets to bloom are low growing clovers.  Luckily, if you build it, they will come.  I let some of the pasture weeds grow and bloom around the edges of the garden, and that brought some intrepid insects.  And then the clary sage bloomed - and the bees came.  And, apparently the bees also like the nectar from the blooms of plain old cow peas.  The sage is about done, but the cow peas are just beginning.
Bee sipping nectar from a cow pea flower.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Almost Summer

Of course I didn't get everything out that I wanted to; however, we are coming down to the wire.  Mid-to End of June is the last possible planting from seed for plants that will take 120 days to mature.  Means pumpkins and winter squash and sweet potatoes.  Not as many planted out as I could have, but with names like Rogue vif d'Estampes and Musque de Provence, I had to plant out at least a few pumpkin seeds.  These are my little Rogues.  The largest leaves are about the size of my hand.  Eventually, they should have leaves the size of a dinner plate or larger.  Planted too close together, of course, and I don't have the heart to thin.  I should know that in this climate I should get near 100% germination, and I know to space them further apart... knowing and executing are different, though... The clippings are from my wildly overgrown Sweet Marjoram, spread around the base of the pumpkins in hopes that it confuses the senses of that arch nemesis, the Squash Vine Borer.  There is also a tiny Lemon Balm tucked in there for the same purpose - and because I just love Lemon Balm.  I even love the Latin name, melissa officinalis.  

Rogue vif d'Estampes with melissa officinales

My Musques were planted on June 5th and broke ground on June 9th, right after the rains, just as expected.  I know the gardening is easier if I can time things to work with Mother Nature, but that doesn't always happen.  Luckily, last Saturday, I was able to put out some more seeds in anticipating of the drenching rains and slightly cooler temps (in the 80's F instead of 90's F).  The Musques, zuchhini, and Waltham Butternut Squash that I planted are all up and out of the ground.

Something I did plant out early enough, were peppers.  And while most still only have tiny little nubbins of peppers on them along with bountiful blooms, a few have some nice looking specimens.  I believe this is a Texas A&M (TAM) Jalapeño.  The canopy of the plant really does shade and protect the peppers - for the sake of the photograph, I am holding the upper leaves away from the fruit.

Texas A&M Jalapeño Peppers

 Did I mention rain?  And heat?  And humidity?  The Summer Crops are loving it.  So is the free mulch that I've been able to gather from the city.  These delicate sliver-gray mushrooms are barely and inch tall on slender stalks.  They bloom in clusters of 2 to 50 in the wood mulch on the overnight after a rain.  By mid morning, they are starting to fade, like the one on the right.  By the time the late morning sun touches them, they are gone, only to reappear after the next storm.

My "rainy day" mushrooms

Other wild things to delight the senses are these roses.  Simple, sweet, and growing with abandon everywhere, if we let them.  I am sure that they will happily and easily fill the whole garden and pasture given even 1/10th of a chance.  I give them the fence line by the house.  That's probably too much.  But I am gullible and taken in by their simple beauty.  Still, thank goodness for a husband with a riding lawn mower...

Wild Roses - thorny and invasive, but too sweet to totally eradicate

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Early June

I never see these little butterflies until I water. And everywhere I water down the mulch, they arrive by 10s and 20s and more, to extract water from the wood chips. They drink from droplets, but more commonly, they unfurl their slender proboscis and send it deep into the mulch.  Ten minutes later, they have all disappeared.  I think they are a type of Hairstreak butterfly.  Worms in my beans and peas - possibly caterpillars for these tiny beauties.

Tiny butterflies flock to the freshly moistened mulch to sip water.
Clary Sage: Blue Monday and Pink Sunday. They are fresh and pretty in the warm sun of late Spring. They will not look so good after the heat of a July Summer Sun. They are both open pollinated. I wonder if they cross-pollinated, and if so, will I see their progeny?  I have enough seed to grow this again next year.  The pink and purple bracts are not the actual flowers.  The actual flowers are small and barely noticeable.  Bumblebees loved these.


 I love the garden this time of year.   Everything is new and fresh, and the possibilities are still endless.  The days are warm, but the nights remain mild, with mornings sunny but still with a cool light breeze.  The torrential rains and hot, humid days of Summer have not yet arrived.  And the weeds have not yet rallied and taken over.

This year was a year of trials - I planted a lot of varieties, but not much of anything.  See what survived and thrived, and what limped and wimped out. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Little Critters

Had fun with my Camera stalking some little creatures.  More can be found on my Facebook Photography page, along with other photos of our property.

Soldier Beetle - One of the "Good Guys"

Same Soldier Beetle - on Cilantro Bloom

Less than 1" long Grasshopper on Tomato Leaf

1/4" long Grasshopper on the edge of a Pepper leaf.
Pollinator on a Snow Pea Flower