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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fruit set...finally

I have been checking the garden daily for progress. Last week the flowers were starting to bloom, but still no fruit. The other day I noticed that there were some female squash and pumpkin flowers emerging. A couple of days later and now we have baby pumpkins! These are Small Sweet Sugar/Pie Pumpkins I grew from seed. I can't wait to taste the pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

Our first tomato is a variety called Goliath that we bought from Eisely Nursery. It was a fun purchase just to see what would happen. Each fruit on Goliath is supposed to reach 1 pound or more.

This other tomato is called Green Zebra. I found the contrast of shapes interesting. The Green Zebra has many ribs compared to the stark smoothness of the Goliath.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Flowers in the Garden

The flowers are out. Here are just a few of the blooms that are decorating the vegetable garden.

Nasturtium - this is the first time I have ever grown this flower. I selected it as a companion plant and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it is completely edible. Both the flowers and the leaves can be consumed. Additionally, the seeds can be dried and used like peppercorns. Based on that last use, you have probably guessed that this plant has a peppery flavor. The flowers are beautiful. The types we planted are Cornucopia (in the photo), Jewel, and Whirlybird Mix (still waiting these to bloom).

Marigold - The old companion for tomato plants are alive and well. I selected two types of marigold to grow from seed this year, Flower Power Mix and Burpee's Mixed Colors. The marigold was the first to bloom in the garden.

Squash - The zucchini, squash, and pumpkin flowers have been showing their golden glory for over a week as well. There have been many cycles of blossoms, but I have yet to find a fruit. Apparently it is common for the male flowers to start blooming a week or two before the females emerge. The females will need to emerge and be pollinated before the fruit comes. I will keep monitoring in anticipation of pollination and fruit.

Tomato - The first tomato flower appeared last week. Since then, the tomato flowers have been popping out all over the plants. No tomatoes yet, but I am hopeful.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Barbecue Pizza

Last night we made pizza for dinner. The dough recipe was adapted from Chickens in the Road. W e made two pizzas. I started by mixing these ingredients and letting them proof (activate yeast) for 5 minutes.

2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon onion powder (replaces salt)
sprinkle of dried basil and oregano

After this time, the yeast was bubbly and had a distinct scent. Taking the bowl over the Kitchen Aid (Yes, this can be done by hand, but last night I was feeling lazy.) I added 3 cups of whole wheat flour and started mixing. Once that was mixed through, I added 2 additional cups, in half cup increments, to the dough. Here is what it looked like after 5 cups (the amount varies each time).

It was a little dry, so I added some extra water to moisten it. I kneaded by hand for about 5 minutes until it was smooth and elastic, then placed it into a greased bowl. After rising for about an hour, it was ready. I preheated the barbecue to 400 degree. The pizza stone* was already in there, so I just turned it on. In the meantime, I split the dough in half and kneaded a little more flour into each ball. Using a rolling pin and cutting board, I rolled each ball into a circular shape.

The original recipe calls for baking the bare dough for 8 minutes before putting on the toppings. Using our pizza peel** and a little cornmeal, I picked up the first pizza and placed it on the hot stone. Since the stone cooks things fast, it only cooked for 4 minutes before starting to bubble. I poked holes in it with a fork to let some of the hot gas escape.

After both crusts had been cooked, it was time to assemble the pizzas. For sauce we used olive oil and chopped garlic. Just put some on a spread it around. After that we put a layer of avocado and spinach. Then came a layer of cheese and the other toppings. Last night we decided on basil, tomatoes, mushrooms, and pineapple. Lastly, we put a final layer of cheese on top to "glue" the toppings on.

We cooked each pizza for 12 minutes on the stone. The barbecue temperature was between 400 and 450 degrees. I checked it a few times to make sure it wasn't burning and that the cheese was melting. Cooking the crust before putting on the toppings made for a sturdier pizza. It was as good a usual. I can't wait to make it again.

*Note: Pizza Stone - Years ago we had a pizza stone but didn't know how to use it. Our crust came out soggy and the stone started to grow mold on the surface. We didn't know what we were doing, so we thought the stone was defective and threw it away. Last year we learned that the pizza stone is supposed to be hot when the pizza is placed on the surface. This is what makes the crust crispy. Also, we learned that you are not supposed to wash the stone (this was what led to the mold - too much moisture). Instead, we leave it in the barbecue and each pizza that cooks on it adds to the seasoning of the stone. Over the last year it has developed a nice patina (our was covered in cornmeal last night).

**Note: Pizza Peel - This is the tool that is preferred for transferring the pizzas on and off the stone. Using cornmeal on the peel keeps the pizza from sticking, essentially providing "wheels" as we call them. The handle makes it easy to retrieve the pizza without having to get too close to the hot stone.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lemon Love

Last Sunday for Mother's Day I decided to make a wonderful lemon cake for our moms. I was really excited because we have a beautiful, mature lemon tree in our backyard that is full of fruit. Not to mention that this gave me the opportunity to buy a bundt cake pan. Growing up, I can remember baking cakes in my mom's bundt cake pan. I love the shape and immediate fanciness of a cake that comes with using this pan.

I baked the cake without a hitch. The recipe is really simple and my Kitchen Aid mixer came in handy. I just dumped the ingredients into the bowl and turned it on. Also, I discovered the simplicity of Baker's Joy spray. No more greasy fingers and shaking the pan to coat it with flour.

Meyer Lemon Cake
Adapted from Great Aunt Ruby's Lemon Iced Cake at Chickens in the Road.

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups raw sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup non-fat dry milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3.4-ounce package (dry) instant lemon pudding
2/3 cup water
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract

After mixing the ingredients, I continued to let the mixer run for about 10 minutes to add fluff to the batter. I am not really sure if this did anything, but the original recipe called for it. I sprayed the bundt pan with Baker's Joy and baked it uncovered for 40 minutes, then covered it in foil for the last 15 minutes of baking. Once it was done (toothpick test), I turned it out onto a cake stand to cool.

Following the original recipe for the glaze, I asked my husband to pick me 3 lemons from our tree. I proceeded to grate the peel and capture the juice. As I mixed in the powdered sugar, it didn't seem thick enough. After adding extra sugar, I decided to use it as is - even if it was a little runny. The end result was fantastic. I can't wait to make it again.

After having the cake for Mother's Day, my mother in law asked about our lemon tree. She said that the lemons from her tree were getting soft. She showed me one and I noticed that it looked different from ours. The color was lighter and the shape was different. Our lemons are rounder and have an orange tint to the skin (see photo above). I decided to research different types of lemons to determine what kind of tree we have growing in our yard.

After a quick search, I have come to the conclusion that we have a Meyer Lemon tree. Apparently Meyer lemons are very juicy, much more than the other standard types. This would explain the problems with my glaze. Next time I will measure out the amount of juice so the glaze is a little thicker.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Homemade Chicken Feeder and Waterer

JULY 2010 UPDATE: We now have an automatic chicken waterer design. This post outlines all the parts and steps needed to create your own. Click here to check it out.

Original post:

Last week I noticed that the chickens were starting to eat and drink their starter containers dry. I realized that they needed larger receptacles to hold the food and water (or else I was going to have to fill them more than once a day). Initially I was going to buy them from the feed store, but after some research I decided to make my own.

Making a homemade chicken feeder and waterer is quite simple. The parts I used are as follows:

2 gallon bucket (bought at Home Depot)
Lid for the 2 gallon bucket
12 plastic plant saucer

Plastic bucket slightly smaller than 2 gallons (we had one that was part of a gift)
12 inch plant saucer

1/4 inch bit
1 inch bit

Building the feeder:
1. Attach the 1 inch bit to the drill (as shown in photo above)

2. Drill 6-8 evenly spaced holes along the bottom edge of the bucket. The bottom of the holes should be about 1/2 inch up from the bottom of the bucket.

3. Place the bucket in the saucer and fill with food. The food will spill out of the holes using gravity.

4. Place the lid on the top of the bucket to keep the food clean.

This feeder is easily filled by removing the lid and adding more food. I have found it useful that the plant saucer is not attached because it allows me to shake the last bit of food out of the bucket into the saucer. This reduces waste.

Building the waterer:

1. Attach the 1/4 inch bit to the drill

2. Place the bucket upside down into the saucer (see photo below)

3. Mark 2 spots on the bucket that are lower than the edge of the saucer

4. Remove the bucket

5. The marks should be on the top edge of the bucket, near the open end

6. Drill 2 holes where marked

7. Fill with water and put the saucer on top

8. Holding the bucket and saucer together, quickly flip the waterer over. The water will slowly start flowing out of the holes and fill the saucer up to the level of the holes due to the vacuum created inside the bucket.

Since making the new feeder and waterer, the intervals of feeding and watering are longer now. The food will last about a week with 4 chickens. The water lasts about 5 days.

This is just one way to create a homemade feeder and waterer. If you would like to share your ideas and experiences, please leave a comment below for others to see.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ladybugs on Patrol

The ladybugs are out doing their job: eating other bugs. Since ladybugs are beneficial insects, I am happy to see them in the garden. They are out in quantity right now. Good news for our plants.

The first one I found was patrolling a pepper plant.

This other one was hanging out on an onion.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Vegetable Garden 2009

We planted most of the garden last Saturday morning. After prepping the night before, we were finally ready to put the plants in the ground. Following my planting diagram and reference list, we measured, fertilized, and planted the seedlings according to plan.

My husband installed the drip watering system on Sunday. Later in the week, I finished up planting the herbs, peas, beans, and additional flowers. We have been out several times to adjust the direction of the water from the drip hoses to make sure each plant gets its share.

The plants seem to have made it through the shock of transplant. I am sure that the rain for the past three days has also helped. Once this rain stops, I will get some shots of the actual plants.

Hens and Chicks

These are the other type of hens and chicks, which are growing well in a half wine barrel shown here. Apparently they also look nice planted in a strawberry pot. As I learned when writing this post, be clear what type of hens and chicks you are discussing when talking with others (especially those with chickens). When I said "Hens and chicks look good in a strawberry pot," my husband started wondering what I had planned for our chickens and if I was going to put them in a strawberry pot.

Tiny Mandarins

It has been a little over a week since the citrus blossoms started blooming. I was pleased to discover tiny mandarins emerging from the wilting blossoms. Some of the other mandarin trees are getting blossoms and the lemon tree is still in full bloom.
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