Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hibernation Work

We're hibernating. We're staying indoors because the weather outside is frightful! It's 97 degrees with an extreme heat warning and a heat index of 115 degrees! Yikes on bikes (as Peter would say)!!!

But unlike the bears, we can't sleep the summer away. So this afternoon we started an indoor project: refinishing the dining room floor. Oh my! Do you remember the nasty green carpeting that was in this house?
Old and stinky. The linoleum floor underneath it in the dining room was equally ugly.
Thankfully, nobody was trying to force me to pick between those two equally evil floors. We were dreading this project because we've pulled up lino before, once in a bathroom in Mississippi and once in a kitchen in Alabama. Underneath was a thick sticky black adhesive, nearly impossible to remove. It was back-breaking work involving horrible chemicals and a massive floor sander. We lived with the ugly lino for nearly a year. But ... today was the day! And how happy Adam was to discover that this linoleum was quite easy to remove.

Instead of the black adhesive, evidently they used a kind of roofing paper between the pine boards and the linoleum. This paper sticks to the wood in a few places, and you can see where its black glue has adhered a bit. Adam pulled it up in big pieces, and in a matter of minutes we had lots of wood showing.
You can see the line indicating where the floor was painted,
and where it was not.
In one corner of the dining room there's a beveled wall. Behind it is a chimney and some sort of fireplace, we guess. All four rooms that meet at this juncture have this type of corner.
The linoleum didn't go up under the baseboards in the rest of the room, but it did go under the baseboard in this one corner, telling us that the fireplace was covered up after the lino was put in.
Adam was so tickled, that we drove to the hardware store, bought a paint scraper (for stubborn black spots), a sander, and sandpaper replacement pads.
He's been scraping away all afternoon.
This part hasn't been worked on yet. It's near the fireplace corner, and the black paper was much harder to remove there. We think perhaps the heat from the fireplace made it stick to the floor.
 Here's where he's been scraping. Doesn't it look good? I love wood floors, and I don't need them to look brand new, picture perfect. I mostly like them to look like wood and have a sturdy polyurethane coating for protection.
 Here's the line between the dining room (bottom) and the living room (top). They must've had French doors here with a threshold. We'll need to do something about that leftover threshold stripe.
In both rooms the floor was painted brown around the four edges, like a mat on a picture. I don't necessarily want to take off that paint. I feel it's part of the house's history, at a time when that was a fad. We'll have rugs down in both rooms, so I don't know how much that wood/paint delineation will show, but it's an interesting feature to retain. And you see the white paint splatters on the living room floor? I'm sure whoever did that thought, "Nobody's ever gonna see this wood floor again, so what does it matter? Who needs a drop cloth?" Phooey.

So much for today's hibernation! I don't know how people survive this who have to work outside. And the poor plants and animals! It's survivable in the shade, but only barely. Y'all stay cool out there!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Beating the Heat

Today's high is only 94. (It's been higher, nearly 100.) The heat index is 105, and there's a heat advisory until this evening. A heat advisory pops up on my accuweather alert nearly every day. So ... farm work is hot. Adam is up early; I'm not an early bird. But this morning even I was up-and-at-'em at 7:00. I was determined to find a way for Rooster Cogburn to be outside again.
 Adam rigged up a corner of the chicken yard with some fencing to keep the hens away from him. He was happy to be outside again!
He has food and water and some corner shade. He's trying hard to wiggle through the fence, but it's been a couple of hours and he's still unsuccessful, so I think we're good!
I strolled over to the greenhouse to see my few seedlings coming up. Asparagus is looking good:
Adam's new asparagus bed is about 3 feet by 5 feet:
The strawberry bed (we have no strawberry plants yet) is 2 feet by 6 feet.
Both will be filled with a combination of worm castings (our worms are doing fabulous!), compost, and a little sand. It's gorgeous stuff -- crumbly, loose, dark.
Adam is very eager to begin his compost-making this fall. He loves making dirt. Last fall and winter I watched him, day after day, and wondered if he was just using it for therapy. And although he did enjoy it, and it did soothe his soul, it's also extremely useful on the farm to have a big supply of beautiful dirt.
I used that dirt to begin some yellow squash and zucchini seeds (left and middle) and more blue lake green beans.

I attempted starting some annual flowers from seed. Only the coleus did well, and it's massive. I have it in rectangular pots on the front porch.
 My pretty eucalyptus tree is doing  so well. Oh, and that round thing in the middle of the photo is a rose hip on one of my bushes by the front porch. I need to figure out when and how to prune them. They're very leggy.
 Adam drove the truck up with a load of compost mulch for the herb garden. Several herbs have given up the ghost for the year; it's too hot. But some are thriving, notably the lemongrass (far left), basil (right), thyme, oregano, and some others.
It's 10:15, and Adam is done for the morning. He came inside, sweaty and gross. He also did a little mowing and compost work in the veg. garden. And we picked cucumbers and tomatoes and the put the latter in the dehydrator. His big dehydrator is coming along. The "plans" he got for it online from NC State University (oops!!) Appalachian State were just plain awful. He says the best they did was give him the right shape - haha! So he's having to make the final portions himself -- the doors and drawers and racks. But until late afternoon ... rest.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

What to Do with Too Much!

Even after the farmers' market, I still had lots of small tomatoes left over today.
These are only a few of them.
 I've made tomato sauce. Now it was time to dehydrate some tomatoes. Adam's working on the BIG dehydrator, but we do have a small electric one, so I used that.
This is the BEST tomato ever! It's called a Garden Peach tomato. It's so pretty, very firm flesh but without a real shiny "skin" like most tomatoes. It has a sweet, zippy flavor as a tomato should.
 I capped this one and ate the whole thing like an apple.

All the tomatoes fit in there. Yay! The bad news, however, is that if I went outside and picked tomatoes (which I really, really should have done today, but I didn't) I'd have that much again. Sigh.
We also have figs coming out our ears, as they say. I've made preserves, and the dehydrator was already full, so I found a new recipe ... fig chutney! I chopped all the figs. (I sold two big packages at the market.) These are only the ones we could get from the bottom of the tree. There's more than two pounds here.
 I washed, stemmed, and quartered them.
I put together two recipes I found online, and I'll give it to you as I made it. I used coriander seed!! Yippee! A use for all that dried up cilantro! I ground it up in a mortar/pestle with some peppercorns.
Fig Chutney:

Into a heavy sauce pan (I used a cast iron chicken fryer), heat two tablespoons veg oil. Add a medium thinly sliced onion and saute for five minutes on medium. Turn down to simmer.
1 cup white raisins/sultanas
1 cup dark brown sugar
a cinnamon stick
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground  peppercorns
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
juice and zest from one lemon
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
3/4 cup - 1 cup very good balsamic vinegar
Simmer this mixture for about 30 minutes, uncovered, depending on how dark and how thickened you want your chutney to be.
Add the chopped figs. I had over 2 pounds, I think. Cook on simmer (but the chutney should be bubbling) for another 15-20 minutes. The longer you cook it, the more translucent the figs will become.
Mixture before adding the figs

finished chutney
Okay, you say, but ... what do you do with it? 
Looking online, it seems chutney is not used on buttered toast for breakfast, so it's not a jam :)
It's more like pepper jelly -- good on cream cheese and crackers, good to marinate pork or beef. 
Some put it on crusty bread with a strong cheese -- sharp cheddar or Roquefort.
Someone makes chutney and peanut butter sandwiches!
The taste of the chutney is complex, rich, sweet, spicy, and a bit hot -- the ginger does that.
This batch made 2 and a half pints.
Yay for using more figs!!!
Disclaimer: I didn't really measure all those ingredients. I'm estimating what I thought I used. The online recipes had measurements in metric ... ugh!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Experimenting with Fig Preserves

The figs are ripening each day. We have to get them before the birds do!
I picked a few on Tuesday and made some preserves. Yesterday Adam got a ladder and picked another bowlful.
Fig preserves are the easiest preserves to make, I think. You need no pectin. Whether you have a pound of figs or you have great piles of them, you can make preserves. For each pound of figs you need 3/4 cup of sugar (roughly) and a lot of thinly sliced lemon (with the rind), about one lemon per pound of figs. That's it! Stir it well, let it sit for about 1/2 hour, and then start cooking it slowly until it boils.

On Tuesday I had some lovely preserves going until I was waylaid by Facebook! Shame on me. I smelled an awful smell, ran to the kitchen, and sure enough -- my fig preserves had burnt on the bottom. Not one to waste anything, especially something I'd worked for, I gently removed and lifted the good preserves from the burnt stuff on the bottom, and canned the good stuff. I made about a pint.
Yesterday I fared better. The only secret is to cut each fig in quarters so the preserves aren't too chunky, and to cook it a long time -- maybe an hour, stirring often -- until the fruit becomes translucent and the sugars thicken into a syrup. This ensures good texture and good taste. 
Yesterday I got two wide-mouth pint jars from my canning, plus extra in the frig. Today I'll do more. It's not a hard job, and for preserves I do not use a hot water bath. Because the sugars are so very hot, all you need to do is turn the jars upside down after you've filled and sealed them. Leave them upended for about 20 minutes, then turn them right-side-up again. They should pop/seal quickly. I'll be eating these preserves up so fast, I'm not sure it would matter!
We have two other fig bushes across the yard, and they give a totally different fig - I'm so tickled! I'm not sure about the big fig tree -- it's probably a Brown Turkey or a Papa John -- but the other two bushes might Italian Blacks. I'll be preserving them today.
Do you have figs in your yard? Do you make preserves? Do tell!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Canning Little Tomatoes

In desperate need to do something with all these tomatoes, this morning I started canning. The only tomatoes I didn't can were these -- the smallest cherry tomatoes. They're small as the end of your finger and so delicious.
I take those little tomatoes and put them in a bowl. I spoon on a little of this 1:1:1 dressing: one part veg. oil, one part good vinegar of your choice, one part white sugar. What a pop of flavor! I gobble them up.
Last night we picked a lot of tomatoes, and this morning I picked even more. In this photo you see garden peach, besser, black cherry, white cherry, juliets, yellow pear. I also picked lots of cherry chocolates and green grape. None are what you'd call "big, full-sized tomatoes." You can't make BLTs with these.
I put on big pots of boiling water, one to sterilize my jars, lids, and bands, and one for the hot water bath. The two pots on the back are two kinds of tomato sauce: red and white!
I separated the white and red tomatoes from each other, thinking it would be neat to can some white tomato sauce. What do you think? Might be tasty and interesting a couple of months from now on pasta.
I capped all the tomatoes and put them (skins and all) in the blender and pulverized them to a creamy liquid. Then I heated them well on the stove -- steaming but not boiling.
The white sauce above, the red sauce below:
I'm determined to get a good seal on these babies so they will stay safely canned for months. I turned them upside down (for 15 minutes) after removing from the hot water bath (for 20 minutes).
I'll keep them on the dining room table and check their seals several times a day. They've already "popped" down. So much fun!

Do you enjoy canning? Do you do it each year? Next canning project: fig preserves!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mid-July Update on the Farm

The chickens are fine. They are using their new roost although I have not a photo of it yet.
Ethel, Punkin, Bernie, Ruby -- on roost
Lucy on the cooler. She's such an individual.

The bees are fine but the weeds are grown high at their gates. Weeds are a feature of the farm this time of year, and in spite of all Adam's mowing and scything, it's hard to stay ahead of it.
Ned was bitten by a snake but is all better.
The worms are munching and multiplying.
The tomatoes are ever-bearing and delicious.
The corn is short.
So are all the sunflowers, but then again, we did cheat by buying sunflower birdseed. It's an experiment, and only intended to feed chickens.
Most of all, the weeds are getting the better of us in many areas, and Adam is brainstorming about how to master them better next year so that our bed crops will perform better. It may be time for our raised beds. He's also experimenting with solarizing the grass -- killing it with heat by putting down lots of plastic.
This evening's tomato haul:
The cucumbers, I think, are staging a coup to take over the farm. We caught these this evening in the teen-aged state before they could grow massive and join the coup forces.
The figs on the big fig tree are beginning to ripen. Although not enough yet for canning preserves, Adam is enjoying the occasional nibble as he walks by.
 Two apples on the espaliered tree fell to the ground. They look good. The tree in the middle of the garden has green apples still.
The mint is fading and tired. It will have a second growth later.
 The tomato plant in the big pot is tall and floppy, and won't stand up.
This is chamomile. It's bloomed and is fading.
 The oregano is gone to flower and seed.
 So has the basil.
 The cilantro died (as expected) for the season. Now we have coriander seed, which we don't have a clue what to do with.
 My hyssop died. Yes, that's a soup bowl in the herb garden. I broke its lip but couldn't bear to chuck it in the trash, so I put is in the garden to enjoy.
 The borage plant too, which was so tall and impressive, died quickly. I had trimmed off two of its branches, and the next thing I knew, it was dead.
Some of these herbs reseed and return; some do not. Oh -- and the lemongrass is doing fabulous. We will divide it and propagate it for next year.
On to the shady flower beds:
I'm not sure why my sedum is so small. I've always had tall sedum before. Is this a different variety? Or is it in too much shade?
 Adam's elephant ears have erupted and are looking grand! There are three in this long bed. Can you see them all?
 My sister-in-law's hosta that I moved is letting me know that it is not happy about it. I'm hoping it will recover and do better next year.
 The others that came from the nursery are doing fine in spite of the sun they get.
 Both hydrangeas Adam planted are doing well and are making an attempt at flowering this year.
 Remember the climbing rose bush we transplanted from the orchard? It's done quite well at last. It didn't bloom this year, but it's well-established now and I think will flourish beautifully next year.
That's it for today! I told Adam long ago that I would be helpful on the farm in June, but utterly worthless in July and August because of the heat. I do not do heat. He understands. He goes out early, about 6:00 or so, to work, and is done by 11:00. If you don't live in the Deep South and understand what we mean by heat and humidity, it's hard to grasp. I know we seem lazy to those who live elsewhere. You have to live here a few years and do outside work before you can understand!