Giving Thanks with High Eggs-pectations

Thanksgiving 2016 is in the rear view mirror at this point but we are still basking in the cozy feeling of spending extra time with our family during the holiday!

After the super warm fall weather, we finally got the more typical, predicted frosts and so we have been taking precautions when needed. Dave protected our cool season plants when necessary by using plastic sheeting on a small portion of the fields where we still have turnips, radishes, carrots, scallions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, spinach and believe it or not, lettuces with good success. Brrr…too cold for me as you can see Dave has to wear plastic gloves due to the very wet AND cold he experiences as he removes and applies the covering both morning and night. IMG_1321.JPGOur new raised strawberry beds got a head start with the extra fall warmth and the bare root plants grew into 400+ established plants in just a few weeks time. IMG_1260 2.JPGWith hard frost on the way, though, we gave them a snug blanket of straw for the winter. IMG_1261.JPGMy next focus was on protecting the broccoli as I was planning a repeat of the Thanksgiving Broccoli Pie we took to last year’s Thanksgiving dinner. We harvested broccoli for this over several days from a small, fall patch of plants and were delighted to have this bunch at the ready, which I blanched and set out to dry for the pie. IMG_1283.JPG I substituted our fresh scallions (which are abundant this time of year!) for the leeks.IMG_1281.JPGAfter last year’s worries that I didn’t weight the crust sufficiently, I decided to invest in ceramic pie weights (instead of the dry rice or beans that I have used in the past) and put them to use this time around. IMG_1279.JPGI had help constructing the pie again this year as Peter proved to be interested in being my sous chef! Here he is applying the egg wash to the edges of the pie after we filled it with the cream sauce, broccoli and cheese. IMG_1304.JPGWe then topped it with the upper crust and additional egg wash and cut vents for the steam to escape. IMG_1306.JPGEt violà! We enjoyed Broccoli Pie ala Yotam Ottolenghi for the second year in a row! IMG_1307.JPGI also had help with the dinner rolls that I have made for more years than I can remember. Once the subject of a local TV show called Breaking Bread with Father Dominic, Peter and Stefanie decided to learn the secret of twisting the dough into braids. Here they are with their pan of rolls ready to rise for a bit before cooking. IMG_1284.JPGPeter also showed great interest in the chickens and was rewarded with a bit of personal affection that they showed him!

We are not the only ones enjoying the late broccoli harvest. The giant leaves of the plants are impressive here but…IMG_1317.JPGThe scale is a bit more evident when you see the full grown hens going mad over them…IMG_1319.JPGWe are patiently waiting for the first eggs to be laid…nearly 22 weeks and counting! Maybe they need some musical stimulation in the form of entertainment? Thank you to Fran Vandermeer, (Kate’s wonderful college VB coach and now dear family friend) for sending this cute suggestion…an Egg-xylophone!

Coulter, now 19 months old – and more adorable than ever – would agree, I’m sure! He is too big to fit into his car and has to ‘drive’ it with one leg hanging out the window…IMG_1225.JPGBut he still loves the thrill of the breeze from a high swing…IMG_1248 2.jpgWalking stride for stride with his dad at the local park…IMG_4674.JPGAnd hopefully, snuggles from his Nana…IMG_8383.jpg

When Pigs Fly…

This is not a political blog, so I will not make it into one now but it is nearly impossible to continue on with no mention of the events that caught America by surprise last week in the election of our next president.

Although I am slowly (ok, very slowly) uncurling from my fetal position, I am still struggling to come to terms with the potential loss of the rights that women of my age (I’m suddenly very proud to be 58 years old!) have fought for and advanced in the last 40 years or so. There are too many to list here but for me it started with  Title IX and I never looked back. The list of other potential setbacks on advances such as climate change goes on and on but this is not the place for them, in part because the list is TOO LONG!

So here is the thing. Despite the popular vote in favor of one candidate and the democratic process electing another, the American people had their chance to speak with their vote. So now we need to calmly and patiently listen and find out why this happened and figure out a common ground and work together.

So it was today when I was on my morning walk that I bumped into this little guy, Willie, who was on a walk in the Ward’s neighborhood. I smiled and laughed and enjoyed this little potbellied pig on a leash and I felt room in my heart for a whole other interpretation of When Pigs Fly…  The phrase used to have an implied threat of impossibility that no longer exists after last week’s turn of events. Now we need to understand what Willie is doing on a leash in Kirkwood, Missouri and not question why he isn’t a puppy.

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Little Sprouts of All Sorts!

We are enjoying a beautiful, warm and sunny fall here including several days of record heat for October and two bouts of rain in the past two weeks (2 inches each) that have kept us hustling at times to accomplish our goals. We have welcomed the warm weather which has kept the threat of a frost at bay so far and has allowed us to move forward on several fronts. Here is an indication of the fall broccoli that is just now ‘heading’ and will be ready for the Thanksgiving Broccoli Pie  that we so hoped to repeat for this year’s Turkey Day table. Yummy!IMG_1066 2.JPGDave is continuing to bring in veggies from the fall planting – lettuce, spinach, turnips, radishes and Swiss chard – as well as those that have survived the long summer and are happily continuing to produce their fruits…such as eggplants! IMG_1073.JPGWhat a relief…the raised beds that we prepared for the strawberries have now been fully planted. The 400 Sure Crop variety of dry root plants FINALLY arrived from Stark just in the nick of time and we worked like crazy to get these planted before one of the recent bouts of rain.

Here is what a bundle of 25 dry root plants look like before we soak them in water for an hour in advance of planting. As I can attest, it only gets messier after this! The key is to place each dry root ‘plant’ at just the right level in the soil so that the roots are buried but the crown is midway at the soil level…half exposed and half under ground. If not positioned just right, the plants will either be too low to send shoots to the surface and die of smothering or if too high, they will heave up out of the soil with the winter freeze, exposing their roots and die of exposure. I only can hope that I adjusted this planting ‘just so’ and that these plants will thrive for the crop next year!img_0860There is not so much to admire at this point unless you are me…and you know that these minimally evident starts will quickly recover from their current status of dead looking roots, miraculously sprout green leaves within days and produce lively plants with large red berries next spring. Et, viola, the weather cooperated and we have sprouts galore!

IMG_1037.JPGSo yes, we are very blessed to get this extended fall weather to help accommodate the strawberry beds. We are giving them a chance to get well rooted and then will add the necessary straw covering for winter protection.

We have also begun to build more raised beds in the former strawberry patch to accommodate future veggies such as garlic and perennials which include asparagus and rhubarb to name a few. The need to establish these this fall is key since I will be planting the garlic in a few weeks – after the first frost – but the rest of the perennial veggies will wait until next spring. Here is Dave ready to deliver two of the 4′ x 10′ frames he built to the field. img_1034A quick progress photo midway in our efforts to set, level and bring in more compost, topsoil and sand to fill the forms before tilling all together to create lovely raised beds. img_1035We recently picked up 3 bales of straw at the Valley Park grain mill and two have been designated for the strawberries (stored in the barn) but I added one bale in the chicken coop, much to their delight! They were cautious at first but have loved pecking thru the bale which I scatter with seeds and treats of all sorts for them to find! IMG_0931.JPGEver eager to find more distractions for the chicks, I have also started sprouting grains for them. All summer long I provided them with greens that I cut from the surrounding overgrowth. They have loved the surplus of grapevines and honeysuckle but these sources are diminishing with the fall weather so I wanted to find a way to supplement their diet of greens during the winter. What could be richer in nutrients than sprouts??? I started with a recommended organic, hard red wheat grain which I was able to order on line in this package.  IMG_0879.JPGI bought a nested set of plastic containers to use as my sprouting trays and Dave kindly drilled small holes in the bottom of the top container so that I could keep the grain wet but well rinsed. img_0877I soaked the first package overnight in a bowl of water. Little would I know how much this small quantity would EXPAND!IMG_0880.JPGI then moved it all to the sprouting container where I would rinse it twice daily. What fun to see the beginning of little sprouts after the first day!IMG_0905.JPGI won’t bore you but each day the sprouts became more and more evident and grew quickly. Day 2 on the left…day 3 on the right…six days of sprouting in all!

My biggest surprise was around day 5 when I went to check on them and saw that although these were sprouting indoors (in the laundry room), they were graced by a lovely morning dew which was such a delight to observe!img_0991Are you bored yet? It was finally time to cut some of the sprouted material and send it off for the final inspection…would the chicks like it???IMG_1039.JPGYowser! YES! They love it!

The chicks will turn 19 weeks on Monday and we are still eagerly waiting for egg laying to begin…tick, tock, tick tock!  They still don’t seem very interested in the nest boxes but are otherwise quite healthy and happy as farmer Coulter can attest on his daily inspections.

We have also worked to keep Coulter highly entertained this fall. Check this out…we put his little swimming pool into the mudroom and much to his delight, filled it with corn (so much less messy than sand!) to make a little play station for him and his construction vehicles. He finds this highly entertaining and I’m hoping that his mom and dad aren’t tired of finding corn in all his clothes at bath time!  IMG_0985.JPGNow 18 months and full of energy and lots of vocabulary, he spent a low key Halloween as ‘Farmer Cal’, alternately pushing and riding on his John Deere tractor…

Of course he made a quick visit with Nana to Kathy B’s for some early trick or treating. He was a bit skeptical but enjoyed the plush toy cow that Kathy always has on hand for him.  img_1030A bit more comfortable at the farm, he giggles and laughs, showing his relaxed side!

I’m following several interesting stories on chickens and bees and hope you enjoy as well. Thanks to JBS chemistry teacher, Eric Knispel (who adopted the roosters) for sending this one about chickens and mosquitoes…check it out!.

And thanks to Kate for sending this very important news on the future of chicken sexing which we will be watching with great interest as we hope that the practice of eliminating males chicks evolves in the near future.

I will hope to have a bee update after this weekend but I am thinking the boy and the girl hive will probably get married (combined) this weekend in order to ensure the survival of at least one hive for next spring. I would combine them based on the fact that one has resources but no brood reserves and the other has brood reserves but less resources. Together, they will make a better ‘whole hive’ and perhaps together, have the best chance at surviving the winter. Another interesting article about bees here. Most European countries have outlawed the use of these neonicotinoids in their environment. We need to wake up to this reality too!