Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beware of what you say to a four year old...

...because when she's five it will come back to bite you in the, eh hum, rear.

About three weeks ago Monkey and I walked through PetsMart to buy frisbees for Gigi (they're a dollar and she loves her frisbees...), we made our normal detour (yes, we buy frisbees and balls on a rope quite frequently...) to the kittens and cats up for adoption. Monkey understands that we will not be adopting a kitten, but we still like to window shop (the same goes for the hamsters, gerbils, parakeets and lizards). The pet adoption area is adjacent to the tropical fish area.

As we passed the rows of fish tanks, Monkey said to me, "Momma, remember when we bought Rainbow Prince (A lovely, little, deep blue Betta, who swims in a small tank on her desk)?" "Uh, uh, " I replied cautiously because something in the tone of her voice suggested she had just let one shoe drop. "Momma (the repetive use of 'Momma' normally means something is going to be requested...), you said if I took care of Rainbow Prince for a year, I could have an aquarium." I waited. "Momma, it's been one year." Bam! The the other shoe dropped. It had indeed been almost one year to the day since we brought Rainbow Prince home and placed him in one of the most lavish set ups for a Betta ever devised - filtration, live plants, color coordinated gravel...

"Momma, you said," she added to emphasis the fact that she had held up her end of the bargain and now it was my time to pay up. And pay up, I did. We now have a 40 gallon aquarium in the house, with fish and all. I won't go into the cost of setting up an aquarium. I did promise, and I have this thing about sticking to my end of the bargain. And I'm sticking to my end of the bargain with a vengeance. Because, when you buy fish from PetsMart, they of course are going to have something - like a fungus, that shows up right after the warranty ends and you have to go out and buy lots of things to treat them with and then a few die and you'll have to replace them (or not) when the tank is all clean of any illness. My pocket book is aching. I hope Monkey's elephantine memory is working at Christmas when she only receives new socks and underwear.

And each fish has a name, although the neon tetras are just Rainbow Stripe #1 - #5. Here's Speckle Bucket (the kid has a flare for names, what can I say) the self-proclaimed king of the tank. He and his wife, Lola George, are expecting. One of the Wag Tail Platys has already given birth and one of her offspring is hiding in the foliage and growing daily. Please take my advice and beware of what you say to a four year old.

speckle bucket

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 9

Week nine of One Local Summer has been extremely hectic, what with the start of school, work deadlines and a two-day dog training clinic in the opressive heat of South Carolina. We did manage to squeeze in at least two meals that were almost local. In both instances it was the grains that threw us. Unfortunately, I was too busy eating to take pictures. This pleased Monkey, who thinks that taking photographs of one's food is terribly rude. eh hmm.

Monday night we had a shitake mushroom and wild rice soup. The mushrooms came from a fellow tailgate vendor who lives in Black Mountain - 10 miles. The beef broth came from our freezer. I do believe that the beef which originally contributed to said broth was local from our Virginia source. The wild rice was not local, but it was good... The soup was incredible. As an accompaniment we had kamut rolls made by our neighbor - source of production 1 mile (the grain came from Montana...).

The second meal was spaghetti and marinara sauce. We seem to be eating a lot of tomato-based sauces right now, but we might as well eat while the tomato picking is good! The spaghetti was not local (but was organic). The sauce was made completely from our garden - tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil and oregano.

Now that the food posting is done, I'm going to turn off the computer for a while. The sky is dark, the wind is picking up and I hear thunder. We supposibly are awaiting a huge storm, which around here means loss of power. At least I think that's what normally happens. It's been so long since we've had a thunderstorm or precipitation in any form, that I've forgotten what actually happens.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gardening Friday

a gardener's best friend

One of the great things about organic gardening is that residents move into your garden. Lots of residents. Granted some of them are uninvited and require a little deligence to remove - like slugs. But what I've found is that now after three years of gardening here, good houseguests are arriving to help keep the freeloaders at bay.

A garden should be a microcosm of the larger environment. A healthy environment has a variety of inhabitants. Some, like potato beetles, flea beatles, hornworms, and crows want to eat what you want to eat. Others want to eat the beetles, hornworms and at least chase the crows. The predators in my garden make my job as gardener much easier. The key to attracting and keeping the predators is creating an attractive environment for them.

There are several ways to make your garden enticing to the "good" residents. In the simplest terms, provide them shelter (and food) and they will come. (Isn't that why the "bad" bugs come as well?) I plant plenty of annual flowers and herbs - marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, basil, parsley, and borage scattered throughout the garden. These attract bees and other polinators. They provide shelter to spiders, lady bugs, praying mantids and a host of predators. There are also several spots dedicated to perennial herbs. I leave a grass border around the garden within the fence to offer protection as well. Clematis and annual vines are allowed to climb on sections of the fence where they won't block sun. Outside the fence and near the garden are wood piles, rock piles and more flowers, many native that again provide protection for my little helpers.

It's comforting while picking potato beetle larvae off of the leaves to see a predatory wasp hunting for the nasty little critters as well. I don't feel so alone in my little battle to bring in a harvest. The lovely garden spider has taken up residence in the leaves of a tomato plant. Tiny spiders and some larger, more intimidating Wolf Spiders crawl about in the mulch. There is a toad living under a broken flower pot surrounded by cucumber vines. In the morning while I'm picking tomatoes, the garden is filled with the chattering of goldfinches hanging from giant sunflower seed heads (I plant them just for those birds...). I even think the crows have taken care of most of the hornworms while they help themselves to my tomatoes (good, or bad, you decide). Bill, the Cat likes to hide under the black-eyed peas and leap out at the crows.

So look for the "good" in the creatures that enter your garden. While the garden spider that shows up in August may be a surprise when you reach for a tomato, know that she's helping you keep pest free. And she won't bite, I promise (this is coming from an avowed arachniphobe). Toads love slugs and I love toads! Even the chickens and guineas help by eating bugs outside the fence and feasting on those I pick from plants. Why not do a little nature hunt in your garden and see who's set up home in the environment you've created? You might be surprised.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stopping the energy hogs

Our switch to clothesline over electric dryer has saved us a bundle this summer in electrical bills. Changing many of our bulbs to florescent has helped as well (although I'm tentative about the whole mercury thing and there is the color of the light thing that bugs the artist in me...) Here's something for those in this area - I found on a shelf at Greenlife on Merrimon free bulbs! You have to look a little. I think they were in the cosmetic/supplement section maybe near the fish oil, if memory serves. Imagine. There are so many ways to cut back a little, save some cash and reduce energy consumption. e4 has given some really helpful hints on cutting our computers' energy gobbling habits. Soon, I will be brave and tackle that "octopus" behind my desk, I promise.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chickens as nature intended

Nature has a plan and I've decided that this is the way to raise chickens. It's much easier than picking them up at the post office, checking on them hourly, cleaning up after them and fearing the brooder lamp will go out sometime during a cold snap on an early spring night. There are drawbacks - predators, disease, uncertaintity, but the chickens seem especially happy being, well, chickens. And Broody #1 and Broody #2 are showing some good mothering genes. Today as I was trying to pick up the surprise chicks I was attacked by Broody #1 (that's a drawback, for sure). She's left a rather hefty mark on my hand for trying to make contact with her babies. I have no idea if she is the biological mother of any of the four chicks, but they belong to her.

Here are three of the four chicks. The other was being naughty and hanging out in the other pen. Another few days and they won't be able to fit through the 2 inch wire. The shy one in the middle is my favorite. I think it is another Speckled Sussex. My money is on the yellow-legged one on the right being a boy. The one on the left is a funny looking kid. There are partridge patterns, laced patterns and speckling. Number Two (who I inherited from Jaime) is most likely the father of these three. Although Lefty could be a Speckled Sussex hen and Rufus, the Golden Laced Wyandotte. The AWOL Chick is black, like its mother.

3 of 4

There are only 3 more days until hatch. Broody #2 has been at it through all this heat. We are keeping fingers crossed for more chicks and maybe another Speckled Sussex or two. I know there is one Ameracuana egg (I've only one hen left), so maybe a green egg layer will hatch.


While I do like this method, I am still planning on a big order this coming spring. I skipped it this year. With an eye on the egg market, I'm thinking more Ameracaunas, a few more Black Australorps and some Barnevelders for variety in egg color. The Australorps just lay like crazy and both of the broody hens are offspring of my two Australorp hens and Rufus. Come to think of it, maybe I'll add a few more Wyandottes to the flock. Stop me now, please.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another reason to eat local vegetables

At the Monkey's annual checkup I got into an interesting discussion with her pediatrician. She asked me what I knew of hepatitis A. I said I thought I had been vaccinated for it (like a gazillion other things) while in the Peace Corps and that it was generally transmitted through feces and (ew!) therefore through food and water. Close personal contact, food and water... There are a few high risk groups, people traveling to certain areas of the globe included. hmm. So where was this conversation going?

Well it seems that it is now recommended children receive immunization for hepatitis A and the State of North Carolina pays for it. The pediatrician explained that with the increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables from Central and South America there has been an increase in incidents of hepatitis A. She's not an alarmist type. And she suggested that Monkey get vaccinated (even though we rarely eat imported fruits and vegetables at our home). Perhaps eating local is even better for our health than we thought.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gardening Friday

Fridays are generally my day to stay home and garden, then write about it. Lately though, I've had very little time to write. I've been spending most of my time in the garden trying to stay ahead of the weeds, disease, and pests (not to mention the overabundance the garden produces even in a drought). This afternoon with the heat climbing into the 90's and the humidity hovering around the same, I decided to pour myself an iced tea, kick back, and write about what I've been doing.

We always experiment in the garden, and this year has been no exception. A couple new (to us, that is) tomato varieties are wowing us. One, Stupice (which is new to us, but a favorite of many), has proven that big is not always better. It's sweet, zesty, red - everything "tomatoey" in a 2 ounce nugget of goodness. Principe Borghese is another favorite. It's small fruits are great in sauce and candied, as in a previous post. It's meant for sun-drying, but the humidity is way too high and we don't have a dehydrator. I'm not so happy with Black Prince, a favorite from last year. The fruits are much different than the plant we grew before and instead of being incredibly blight resisitant, this year's plants succumbed well before the start of August. I think it may be the down-side of heirlooms - plants with the same name can vary by location and supplier. In this case, we ordered from a different supplier this year. Next year, I'll look for the old variety and give it one more try on a limited scale. I'm going to try to save seeds from Kentucky Beefsteak and Spear's Tennessee Green and see how they do in comparison to ordered seeds.

Crows have been a problem this year. I think it has to do with the drought as much as anything else. Last Friday I hung old cds throughout the garden, especially around the tomatoes and from the scarecrow's arms. They flash in the sunlight. The ones on the scarecrow bang into his trashcan lid body, especially on windy days like today. It seems to be working. And best of all, I'm giving old, ruined cds new life. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

I've also been fighting powdery mildew with milk. Yes, milk. Mix 1/2 cup milk to 2 cups water and spray the leaves of cucumbers, squash, or whatever else seems to be succumbing (powdery mildew thrives in dry weather, oddly enough). So far, it's working. I had always been a little doubtful of this particular home remedy. Apparently for a brief time after application the milk, in combination with sunlight, turns into a natural fungicide. I've been applying it about every three days, always when it's sunny. Just remember to wash out the spray container when you're done - please don't forget and leave it in the sun. Trust me, doing it just once will keep you from doing it again!

Next I plan to attack the slugs, testing a variety of home remedies. This year has been worse than any other year. I think because the heavily mulched garden is the only place they find hospitable at the moment. Not for long slugs! You're going down...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 8

We came home today from a day of work down on the Tuckasegee River. I realized with a slight sense of panic that we had not yet had and "official" local meal and with the way the weekend is planned, I needed to make it tonight. So, I quickly scoured the freezer, pantry, fridge and countertop and came up with this:

Monkey's Favorite Spaghetti and Meatballs

The meatballs are ground beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farm/Springhouse Meats, Fairview, NC - 17 miles; bread crumbs from City Bakery whole wheat bread, Asheville, NC - 8 miles; duck egg - 0 miles (that's right - duck egg, they're laying!); and herbs - 0 miles.

The sauce is made with tomatoes, garlic, onion, zucchini (ground up fine, so the Monkey will never know), and herbs from the garden - 0 miles.

The pasta is not local, but I think the topping more than makes up for the fact.

Now I'm off to turn more tomatoes into sauce. I need the counter space.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tomatoes a-go-go

The tomatoes are coming in here at Little Creek Farm. I have been battling our local murder of crows (I love that collective name, by the way) for the rights to the fruits of my labor. This particular family had been marauding all over the cove. They hit one neighbor's garden everytime he planted corn or beans. Another has been losing tomatoes left and right. They finally hit our garden about 10 days ago. They wait until the tomato is perfect to strike. Then they take a bite or two and move on to the next red nugget. Bastards. Anyway, I've set up a little system to see if I can annoy them enough to keep them at bay (Lord knows the scarecrow's not doing his job...). It, along with a few other experimental things will be going into this week's garden post. Let's just say that I'm experimenting so you don't have to!

In spite of the crows, I'm hauling in quite a few tomatoes. I'm making the sauce up in batches and sticking it in the freezer until I have enough for one big canning operation. I love my new food mill. Tomato paste has never been easier. I can't wait until apple season, as slim as it will be here, to make apple sauce. We've also been getting loads of Principe Borghese tomatoes. I now see while everyone raves about them. I want to make sun-dried tomatoes, but the humidity is just too high here (and after buying the food mill, it will be a while before I can purchase a food dehydrater). So, I thought they just might be perfect for one of our favorite things to do tomatoes - here's the recipe taken from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (I highly recommend the book, if just for this recipe and her very simple, lovely pizza dough!). I enjoy the stories of the farmers and artisans who raise and create the ingredients as much as the recipes.


Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Take around 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of medium-sized tomatoes. In this case, I used the smaller Principe Borgheses. Core and cut them in half. Larger tomatoes can be cut into smaller sizes. In a half-sheet pan, or shallow metal baking pan (must be metal), arrange the slices cut side up about 1/2 inch apart. Coat with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Bake 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 F. Bake another 30 minutes and lower the temperature to 300 F. Bake another 30 minutes (you see where this is going) or a little longer until the edges of the tomatoes start to darken. If they haven't yet colored you can lower the temperature to 250 F and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and cool 20 minutes. Transfer them to a shallow glass or china dish and pour their oil over them. Let them mellow, uncovered, at room temperature for 4-6 hours.

You can layer them in a covered container with the oil and store in the refrigerator up to 6 days, or freeze (as we do). They are a great taste of summer in the middle of winter.

Cooking them this way intensifies the natural sugars and mimic what Sicilian farm women did with the tomatoes by placing them in the cooling bread ovens after the loaves came out. Just think you can heat up the oven to make a nice crusty loaf or two and make these tomatoes to go along! Enjoy.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One Local Summer - Week 7

Mmm - Sunday night dinner.
In the middle of all the chaos that is our household; we slowed down, sat down, and had ourselves a slow, pleasant dinner. We managed to clear tomatoes out of the way and cook ourselves another fantastic meal.

Roast Chicken, cooked on the grill - from Foothill Family Farms, Old Fort, NC - 20 miles. It was butchered Friday, and we picked it up at the tailgate market on Saturday.

Roasted Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes, dug minutes before - the Garden - 0 miles.

Roma II and Golden Wax beans - the Garden - 0 miles.

And cornbread made with corn meal from about 25 miles away; milk from Harmony Dairy, Westminster, SC - 100 miles; eggs from our hens, and flour from NC as well.

After my walk with Gigi, we are now sitting in front of the television watching Iron Chef America where the "secret ingredient" is FARMER'S MARKET. Go figure.

Oh, and for all of you hanging on for the Garden entry (I know you're dying out there without it), I'll have it up tomorrow. I promise.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Just when we thought things were getting back to normal around here, one of the black hens shows up with four little chicks. Mother and brood are quite happy in one of the little coops - scratching and pecking, scratching and pecking with a whole lot of clucking going on.

One Local Summer - Week 6

After almost 2 weeks of eating take-out and chain restaurant and midwestern comfort food, it was nice to get home to fresh home-cooked meals. We nourished ourselves daily with food from the garden. Our lunches (and at least one dinner) consisted of baked potatoes and green beans, with a few tomatoes thrown in. It was hard to choose a meal this week to label our OLS meal. Last night's meal won out.

We grilled hamburgers made with beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farm/Spring House Meats, Fairview, NC - 17 miles. The buns are from Annie's Naturally Bakery, Sylva, NC - 48 miles.

We served it with corn from Old Fort, NC - 20 miles; slaw made with cabbage and onions from the garden - 0 miles; and tomatoes from the garden - 0 miles.

Oh, and dessert - french vanilla ice cream made with whole raw milk from Harmony Dairy, Westminster, SC - 100 miles and eggs from our hens - 0 miles.

Seasonings and condiments, except for the Duke's Mayonnaise, where all non-local.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Gardening 101

Any gardener that has left her garden alone for a period of time returns to face work. Weeds don't refuse to germinate just because of a vacation (or in my case, a funeral). Pests don't seem to be sympathetic to grief. However, working in the garden until my back aches and sticks in a bent position, my hands cramp in unnatural claws and my shoulders are sunburned does help assauge some of the aching in my heart. A gardener knows the healing properties of the earth.

Good things happened in the garden during my unplanned two week absence. The beans flourished; even surviving an attack of rampaging goats (the grape was not so lucky, but will recover). I picked close to five pounds of Roma II, Maxibel Haricot Verts, and Golden Wax beans yesterday. There were enough Roma and Principe Borghese tomatoes to make a delicious pasta sauce last night. I dug out weeds and prepared beds for a second round of planting. I slept throughout the night for the first time in a long while.

But like I said, pests don't care that I'm grieving. They thrive in my absence. I saw signs of insect damage throughout the garden yesterday and picked many a slug and a tomato hornworm or two to toss to the chickens as I weeded yesterday.

This morning I tackled this week's gardening topic - Squash Vine Borers (or as they are known around here - gross little bastards...). They end up in even the best gardens and I'm sure they have their purpose, but I want my squash. They had to go. Armed only with a sharp paring knife and garden trowel, I was able to remove them and save my plants.

The Squash Vine Borer (Melittia curcurbitae, for those of you who like to know these things) is a moth larva that feeds on the stems of members of the squash family (squash, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers) for up to 6 weeks. It then pupates in the soil. This is what the damage looks like. You can avoid it by keeping young plants covered with row covers or treating the base with a nice organic insect repellent - both I skipped...). If your plant gets to this state, you can do a little operation to remove the larva and hopefully keep the plant.

Make a slit in the stem of the plant. Generally I find the larva above the damaged portion - so cut higher up than the mushy part. In this particular zucchini I found four borers. Remove the larva and gently scrape away any mushy parts. Cut off damaged leaves and stems.

Here's the litte bastard, er, borer. Everyone say "Ewickk!" I get great satisfaction in feeding these to the hens. The hens enjoy it too. I don't think the borers feel quite the same about the arrangement.

Finally, mound dirt up around the squash vine. It should root in the soil and continue to lead a happy life. I like to spread a little diatomaceous earth around the base to discourage insect pests and slugs. Members of the curcurbit family are kind of resilient, so hopefully they will continue to produce way too much zucchini for a long time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I miss my mom...

May 31, 1938 - July 25, 2007