Thursday, May 25, 2017

The art of romance

Ahem... never thought I would have ever done this, but a gardeners gotta do, what a gardeners gotta do.

I have three huge yellow squash plants and two huge zucchini plants all covered with baby fruit.   And I do mean covered.  I should be covered up with squash coming in right now.   Problem is, though they are covered with baby fruit, these fruit will grow no more unless pollinated by bees.     I could not figure out for the life of me why this wasn't happening.  I went out this morning to investigate.   At first I thought is was a lack of bees, but I don't believe now that was the case.  Something, probably bunnies (who are getting less cute by the minute) is eating the male flowers.  Not cool.  There were maybe two male flowers left between the two zucchini plants.  So quieting the voice in my head that said "give them some privacy",  I took the male flowers off, opened them up, and went around to the rest of the viable fruits (some had already started dying.  Nothing to do about that.) and pollinated the fruit (female flowers) by hand.  I did the same with the yellow squash.  I will more than likely have to continue this for now, each day.   I now have a keen knowledge of what a male flower and a female flower looks like with their petals off.  I know, I know.  Just feels wrong somehow.  But it had to be done.  Below are the squash flowers.  Left is male, right is female.  See how it is attached to the fruit?

On the wood chip front, I am off this morning for another load of free wood chips.  The ones I have already laid down are doing great!  The plants are thriving.  In fact, I thought we were done with asparagus for the season, but we have more coming up now that they are protected from heat, and have plenty of moisture.  We received a lot of rain these past three days and so the garden is exploding.  After the plants dry some, It is back to pulling off tomato suckers, cutting herbs, and other various garden maintenance.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Two totally awesome gardening tips I never knew!

Well, that title sounds like I know everything.  That is soooooo not the case.  The old adage of "You learn something new everyday" is really true.  That is if you are willing to learn.  That is a sermon for another day, so ON TO THE TIPS!

1)  Milk spray-  Yes.  That is milk like you get at the store.  While walking through my garden the other day, I noticed a lot of white spots on my cucumbers.  So, I went to the computer to ask why.  Well it's called "Powdery Mildew" and it is prevalent among the squash family.  In an effort to keep my garden as organic as possible, I looked up organic treatments for "Powdery Mildew".  I found many articles on milk spray.  Basically it's 1 part milk to 2 parts water.  You can use any type milk you want.  It's the protein in the milk that does the trick.  Something about the reaction created when the sun hits the milk.  It creates an environment that the fungus can't handle.  I sprayed yesterday.  You should spray in full sun when the leaves are dry.  When I went out this morning to check on things, I noticed the spots are fading and, in some cases, disappearing.   I'll spray again in 10 days or if it rains.

2) Back to Eden Gardening-  In a nut shell, deep mulch gardening.  Here is a link for the info.  It's kind of lengthy, as it's a documentary, but I watched the whole thing. Very informative.

***  check with your local landfill or tree service to obtain wood chips.  I should have some being delivered this week or next by a tree service, but I also took my little truck to our landfill and they had wood chips for days.  They filled my little truck to the tippy top of the bed.  The last two days I have been putting wood chips in my garden beds, flower pots, window boxes, etc.

Here's my garden so far with the chips added.  I need more chips to cover the last four beds and plan to put chips in between my beds as well which will get rid of the rock walkway.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Eating as nature intended...and on a budget

Long ago I began the process of moving our family to a healthier way of eating.  It all started with Rubic being diagnosed with multiple allergies, both environmental and food, but primarily corn.  Corn especially in the form of High Fructose corn syrup.  That stuff could set him off in hives faster than anything.  In my enthusiasm to help my son I spent all of our grocery money at a health food store, and received very little food as a result.  It was just too expensive.  So I then thought I would just have to read labels to get all the allergens out of his diet.  This also began my foray into ultimate scratch baking.  Anyway, It was while reading labels and baking something that made me about give up.  Corn is in baking powder.  I know right!  I didn't give up entirely, but I did have to moderate my expectations some.  HFCS was the main culprit.  I had to make sure that was out, but the other stuff I just had to do the best I could.  Money was tight.  Whole corn products seemed to have less effect on him, so HFCS was my primary focus.

15 years later, I'm still not where I can do everything I would like, but I have made progress and feel we are in a better place now.  Eating organic has become "all the rage", and so you really need to be able to get the most bang for your buck if you're going to try it.  While his allergies opened my eyes to better eating options, It's been a work in progress.  Changes have been made in steps rather than all at once, and that is my first point.

1)  Small changes over time-  Ours started with trying to remove High Fructose Corn Syrup out of our diet.  I wasn't worried about organic or all natural at the time.  I was just wanting to buy items my family would eat that didn't have that stuff in it.  If I could, I avoided corn in general, but primarily HFCS.  Funny though, while trying to remove the HFCS, I found we were eating items on a healthier scale.  If I bought boxed cereal, it was rice, wheat, or oats.  Nothing sweetened because that meant HFCS.  It was a minuscule  change in the big scheme of things, but a change.  Then I began to read about margarine and how it wasn't such a good idea.  We switched to butter.  I buy it when on sale and stock up (Usually around the holidays).  Dh was dealing with high blood pressure and cholesterol.  We switched to Extra virgin olive oil (I buy it at Sams).  Both butter and Olive oil are more expensive.  You can't fry with Olive oil so, guess what, we ate less fried foods.  Each small step we took led to another small step we tried.

2)  Make your own-  In my effort to not only get HFCS out of Rubic's (and my families) life as well as save money to afford the changes I was making; I began to do a lot of scratch baking.  There were items my kids liked that I wanted them to enjoy, but the store version was not a good option.  It's a real eye opener once you start to read labels.  Boxed cereal was replaced with homemade granola.  Cookies, granola bars, bread, Chocolate syrup, etc; are now made at home.

3)  Learn -  This can be used multiple ways.  Learn a new skill:  canning, bread making, gardening, and cooking in general.  Also, learn about the food you purchase and how it affects you and your family.  Look up those unpronounceable ingredients.  In a world of google,  information is at your finger tips.  As I have learned about what goes into the foods we buy, I have felt compelled to make the changes where I can.   On that same note, and not to only make it look like I'm picking on processed food, Just because something says "organic", "whole grain", or "all natural", doesn't mean it's good for you.  If you buy organic boxed macaroni and cheese, you are still dealing with powdered cheese, white pasta, etc.  My main pet peeve right now is Kroger's "Simple Truth" chicken.  You really need to watch the label.  Their "simple truth" chickens are labeled "organic"or "all natural", but the labels are identical and both types are in the same bin.  Both are priced higher than the other brands.  The organic I can understand, but all chickens are"all natural'.  Good Grief!  You need to know about what what you're buying, especially if your dollars are precious and you are trying to spend wisely.  Be an informed consumer.

4)  Grow what you can-  I have been gardening pretty much since we have lived here (bout 20 years).  My garden has expanded from just a garden to a garden, fruit trees, blueberry bushes, blackberry bushes, strawberries, and herbs.  When I first began gardening, I used pesticides because that's what I knew.  Over the years I have made a move away from pesticides in favor of companion planting, or scheduling my planting in such a way as to mitigate the damage from pests.  I've moved away from using commercial fertilizers to using compost and chicken manure.  Having chickens has provided us with farm fresh eggs, and a better garden.  While I don't (yet) grow everything we eat, I do grow a good chunk of it.  What I have grown in the past 2 years has had no pesticides or commercial fertilizers.  While I am not certified organic with a label and everything, it's good enough for us.

 5)  Buy local.  You can call your county extension office, or just google where the nearest farmers market will be.  We have several in our area.  Prices tend to be the same here in Georgia as the prices are set by the Dept of agriculture.  That is up to a point.  If you're buying a large amount to can or freeze, many farmers can set their own price.  It's worth it if you will put these items up.  Also, they will tend to reduce their prices near the end of the day.  You can also google local produces of honey, milk, eggs, etc.  Just keep an eye out.  If someone offers you eggs or veggies, or even plants, thank them very much and enjoy your prize.  What they have given you is priceless.

Here are the changes we have made over time.  This list might help some of you in starting out.

1)  No more HFCS-  there are alternatives just as cheap.  In fact many companies are moving away from using it now.  Never assume it isn't in something.  Read your labels.

2)  No processed foods-  Three exceptions; turkey bacon (Einstein likes it and it's cheap), powdered coffee creamer, and chips for Dh lunches.

3)  Butter replaced margarine, and olive oil replaces other oils.

4)  No more American Cheese-  I buy Cheddar, Mozzarella, or other hard cheeses.  No low fat or nonfat cheese.

5)  No artificial sweeteners or anything with them in it.-  we use Stevia or sugar or a mixture of both.  True confessions.  Once in a blue moon I still succumb to a Diet Dr Pepper.  But that is more the exception than the rule.  Rare, maybe 2 a ear if that, but I want to be honest.  But I know it needs to be never.

6)  Whole milk, and whole milk products-  No more skim milk or other non fat dairy.  Skim milk used to be the waste from milk processing.  It is blue normally.  Chalk is added to whiten it.  YUCK!  I can't afford organic and if I could I would opt for raw milk (Unpasteurized).  That is only sold in Georgia for Ahem pet consumption(eye roll).  I buy whole milk and mix half and half with water.  Reduces fat and calorie content and tastes like 2%.

7)  Whole wheat flour- I use mostly in baking bread in about a 4 to 1 ratio with all purpose.  It's used entirely in cookies, crackers, and quick breads.

8) Farm fresh eggs- some what free range with our chicken tractor, but not totally because of predators and my garden.

9)  Pesticide and chemical free fruits and veggies from the garden.  If I buy organic, it has to be a price I can handle.  I also don't buy organic for things where the peeling is discarded (like bananas).

Changes I want to make:

1)  Buy more organic meats when possible.  Eventually I want to raise pastured chickens for meat.  We thought about this year but there was a bird flu out break close to Georgia and we decided to wait rather than bring any new birds into our yard.  Those organic whole fryers I bought a few weeks ago made the best broth and the most flavorful and tender meat.  Sold me!  I just can't afford the prices all the time, but when I can, I will.

2)  Try and begin to use raw milk when possible.  I'm hopeful when we do this, the powdered creamer can go.

3) Master the art of bread making where no white flour is used.

The idea is to start where you are making small changes as you can, and adding new changes when you can.  It's taken many years to get to this point in my grocery buying, and I still have things to change.  You can make the changes too.  A little along.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Frugal maven and the story of the Fowl affair

Now that I have had my shower and am no longer covered in grime, I can sit and spin a yarn about my Saturday and afternoon.

Saturday was the biannual cleaning out of the old sand from the chicken coops and runs.  We learned a year or so ago that sand: contractor or river sand, is the better choice when it comes to chicken litter.  The reason for it's superiority are as follows:

1)  Makes for cleaner eggs
2)  Keeps their nails "manicured"
3)  Easier for them to "Dust Bathe"
4)  Easier to clean out chicken poo-  Sand dries quickly and causes the chicken poo to dry out as well.  This makes it easier to scoop out the poo with a cat litter scoop.  Because we can do this, we can use the sand much longer than if we used pine shavings or saw dust, etc.  It cost less over all.
5)  It composts well-  It takes time and energy for compost to break down things like pine shavings or saw dust.  Putting only chicken litter with a little sand in a compost pile gives more bang for your buck (cluck?)

In between the big cleanings, we do a coop scoop about every three days or so, putting it all in the compost pile.  Today's biannual cleaning cost about $15 for the sand.  We used about half of it.  The rest will be used for little cleaning jobs over the next 6 months.  In the fall we'll do this again before the winter comes.  Compare that to the 3 packages of pine shavings we used to use each month:  about $14 each month.  That's a huge savings besides all the other benefits.  It's a win, win.

Our big cleanings basically include:

We tip the large run on its side and scoop all of the old sand out of the 4 X 8 trench in which the run sits.  Once all of the sand is out, we refill the run with the new sand.  We put about 3/4 of the sand in, then tip the run back in place.  Any adjustments we want to make are made at this time.  This go around we fixed (I hope) a water problem.  They are constantly knocking the water over.  We now have the water on a concrete block, but attached by baling twine to the roof of the run.  Fingers crossed to see if this works.  We also added a laying box in the run.  Right now we are getting about 5 eggs a day.  By adding a laying box, we hope they won't have to wait in line if they really gotta go.  Once done with the run, we clean all the old sand out of the coops.  There are two coops on either end of the run.  Anything needing to be cleaned is cleaned.  Once that's done we refill the coops with fresh sand as well.

It's always comical when we do these big clean outs.  We put the chicken in the PVC run and let them roam around the back yard (we can move it around so they get the benefit of free range without the danger to them or my garden).  While they do that we get to work.  Once finished and everything cleaned up and ready to go, we bring them back to the coop.  It's like watching an episode of Extreme makeover home edition.  We can hear them in the coop clucking or crowing like they just found something new.  They have to go all through it and look at every new thing.  Kinda funny.

Then we collect the eggs, add the feed (their water is done before we bring them back), put our tools away, and go get a shower.  Let me tell you, we need it!  And a Banana smoothie!  YUM!