Up Close And Personal

Look at my little freckled friend—freckled with pollen, that is.

I love taking my camera around the yard and finding new subjects. Take, for instance, the pictures of my sedum. I was traipsing through the flower beds noting the faded blooms, dead leaves, and broken, spent stems when I came upon my three sedum plants. All three were ablaze with bumble bee activity! 

Nothing else was going on in those tired, old flower beds except for the little energized world on those sedum blooms. 

It’s funny:  I’ll slow down to capture something and end up being captivated by what I’m viewing through the lens.

Gee, who’s catching whom?

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Blog Post About Our Sauerkraut Making Webisode

I believe sauerkraut was one of those accidental discoveries. Someone put cabbage in a vessel and just, plain, forgot about it. I’ve done that; who hasn’t?  Typically, it’s something in the very back of the refrigerator though… resulting in a finale not quite as pleasant as sauerkraut.

It’s easy to think of “kraut” being a German “discovery,” isn’t it?  After all, it’s a typical pairing on a German dinner plate.

Believe it or not, the beginnings of sauerkraut actually date back a full 2,000 years—to the Chinese laborers building the Great Wall. At that time, apparently the cabbage was fermented in rice wine, whereas today we know kraut-making as a “dry method” of salting the cabbage to extract the natural juices in which it will ferment. It’s believed to have spread to present-day Europe as nomadic tribes made their way to those parts—picture Genghis Khan, plundering all the way, energized by a crock of kraut!

Captain James Cook, the 18th Century Pacific explorer, always took a store of sauerkraut on his sea voyages, since experience had taught him that it was an effective preventative of scurvy.

So, sauerkraut fed laborers who eventually crafted a man-made wonder which can be seen from space, nourished nomadic tribes as they made their way around the world, and kept sea-farers free of scurvy. Nothing in the back of my fridge could ever fuel such remarkable accomplishments… but that’s why I have sauerkraut on standby.

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Subject Too Dark

We had a powerful line of thunderstorms to go through last night. I watched the approaching storms thinking we’d finally get some much-needed rain but it turned out to be more fury than falling water.

As everyone turned in for the night, one by one, I was left doing some last-minute work on the computer. Finally, my eyes were just too heavy so I began the route to lock doors and turn lights off. As I made my way to the back door, I was overcome by the night sounds.

(Click start for night sounds.) It was very dark; my eyes couldn’t adjust to capture any form out back but my ears were overwhelmed. I grabbed my camera and began to set it up for a recording but it warned me “Subject Too Dark.” I knew that. I didn’t want pictures, per se; I wanted the sound.

For once:  no airplanes, no cars, no horns, no tractors, no television, no computer, no roosters, no sheep, no “nothing else.” It was so… settling. Yes, the subject was “too dark” but in my mind’s eye?  It was perfectly lit.

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Sauerkraut Making Webisode

Our host, Tracy Toth, shares her recipe for making homemade sauerkraut in the first installment of this two-part webisode. We expect to post part two after the cabbage fermentation process concludes.

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Cycles

Cycles of all sorts…

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed (host plant)

Milkweed plant “going to seed”

I plant tobacco. I love it. It reminds me of growing up and taking family trips down I-95, seeing fields and fields and fields of this majestic plant with gigantic leaves. I’ve rarely seen insects on or around our  tobacco plants; the leaves are sticky. And although I find the scent appealing, I imagine in the bug world there might be something off-putting about it. So,  I usually don’t bother to check the plants for pests.

Tobacco Budworm

That all changed a few days ago, when I noticed these worms on the tobacco. I assumed they were corn earworms—after all, they looked like them and were less than a foot from the overhanging corn leaves. Maybe they just dropped onto the tobacco from the corn leaves?

Wrong. I was amazed to find I have tobacco budworms.

A very close relative of the corn earworm, the tobacco budworm attacks field crops—tobacco, soybeans, cotton (which, by the way, is planted at the end of the tobacco row). A common predator is the wasp. Host plants include beardstem, lupine, and sunflower to name a few—all of which are present at our place (including the wasps!).

Just goes to show:  there are so many “mini-lifecycles” going on every day all around us…if we just take a moment to notice—like those pictured here.

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Pokeweed

There we were, at our annual family reunion in South Carolina, and Aunt Renie said something like, “and remember those pokeweed salads?” That has stuck with me for a few years—especially since pokeweed grows like, well, a weed around here. I finally decided to do some research on this beautifully-berried plant since there is no better time than the present given all the bunches hanging out back.

First and foremost: pokeweed is a toxic plant. Let me repeat this. It is poisonous for humans, pets, and livestock!

Yet, in days of yore, poke “sallits” were a staple of southern cuisine in the U.S.

Young pokeweed leaves (collected before acquiring a red color) are boiled three times to reduce the toxin, discarding the water after each boiling. The result:  poke salit or poke salad. Be warned. It should never be eaten uncooked.

Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after boiling three times since traces of the toxin could still remain. Even today, doctors in the south launch frequent awareness campaigns to warn that pokeweed may remain toxic even after being boiled.

That said, let’s move on.

Apparently, pokeweed is a jack of all trades as far as plants go. It has been the star of folk song lyrics, used topically or internally as remedies and poultices by Native Americans, and enjoyed as an ornamental plant. The berries have functioned as writing ink, a paint to color aboriginal horses, and natural fabric dye.

It doesn’t look like pokeweed’s dance card is filled, though, by any means. A member of the Phytolacca family of plants, scientists have been able to isolate a protein from pokeweed that is being used to try to inhibit the replication of the HIV virus in human cells.

Oh, the possibilities…

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Blog Post About Our Butter Making Webisode

Butter.

It has assisted in and flavored many a recipe and, at times, come to my absolute rescue in the kitchen.

After researching “butter” (and, let me tell you, I was fascinated by all of it: the history, the “tools”, the commercial production) I was surprised to find there’s a USDA grading system — AA, A, and B — that is based on flavor, body, color and salt.

Oh, and how about this:  the color of butter is directly related to the naturally-occurring compounds in the feed of the cows. Makes sense, right?

Did you know that in order to make one pound of butter, the cream from approximately 11 quarts of milk is needed?

It’s said the discovery of butter happened when a nomad hung a sack of milk around his horse’s neck and it shook and shook with the horse’s gait until butter formed. Now, we can just reach for it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

We’ve come a long way—yet butter remains, amazingly, about the same.

Here’s to you, Butter!

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Butter Making Webisode

Our host, Tracy Toth, shares her recipe for making homemade butter.

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Butternuts

Let’s do a little math. We ordered a quarter-pound packet of Waltham butternut seeds, knowing that would more than cover us for planting in the spring (we had some seed left from last year) and ended up planting only half that amount. The packet was $8.95.

We are in the midst of harvesting the butternuts now. This load is the first picking and represents about 500 pounds. Altogether? We’ll get about 1500 pounds of butternut squash out of the less-than-half packet of seed that was planted.

The Waltham variety is an extremely popular variety — not only with us but with the pollinators. (Remember the blog entry about the bees buzzing in the blossoms?) Its flavor is delicious, it keeps well (we’ll store ours through the winter in our basement, which stays cool and dry), and the plants are consistent and reliable.

So, it’s inexpensive + proven + tasty + reliable + bountiful = A winner!

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Look at the Sunflowers

End of summer and everybody’s sad…just look at the sad sunflowers!

The children have been back at school for two weeks now and we’ve started to harvest butternut squash which can only mean one thing: summer’s officially over.

It’s funny, really, that you can’t wait for the summer season to begin and when the “end” rolls around, it’s almost welcome.   

I’m tired! And just look at the sunflowers; I think they’re tired, too, of holding up their large, seeded heads in the unbearable heat and blinding light of the sun. I look at them thinking they give up at about this same time each year.

I noticed the sun setting at 6:30 last night. Two months ago, I’d be weeding at this time, thinking “Thank goodness I have two more hours to work.” Now? I’m happy to be thinking ahead to apple butter, early morning frosts, and Indian corn. That is, until the seed catalogs come at the end of winter and it’s time to choose those sunflower seeds again.

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