New neighbors

So over on the other blog, Marginally Domesticated, I talk about the craft projects I work on in the (limited) spare time I have.  One of the things J & I do is paint a series of interesting-looking bird houses to hang out in the yard, for variety in the perennial gardens:

Battleship mid rangeThis was one of J’s creations last year. I painted this one:

Adobe birdhouseBecause we hang them on plant hangers, they are fairly unstable and thus generally unattractive as a housing situation for birds.  Also, they’re made of a pretty flimsy balsa wood, meaning they don’t hold up well.  You can see a little bit of mildew along the left edge in this photo.  I decided to slap another coat of paint on it and put it out for decoration again this summer, believing no bird in its right mind would want to live there.

Enter the sparrows.

A few weeks ago, we noticed a sparrow hopping up the ladder into the house, then hopping back out, down the ladder and flying away.  We peeked in, and discovered a mess of twigs stuffed down into the taller part of the adobe house.  Figuring this was just some confused bird, we amused ourselves by watching it hop up the ladder, go in, come out, hop down the ladder, and fly away.  Really, it was charming.

A few days later J went over and lightly touched the house, to see how “construction” was coming, when he heard, “PEEP peepeepeepeepeeepeepeepeep PEEP!” He came back in and said to me, “Congratulations, you’re a slum lord.  You slapped a coat of paint on the place, and now there are 5 birds living in there.”  We couldn’t see them, but we imagined they must have been stacked up in there like cord wood.  It’s a really tiny space in the back, with only one main entrance/exit – the side holes are more like windows.  It was more like an illegal sublet than a real home.

Over the weekend it appears that the young residents have fledged, and the nest is now empty.  There’s poop on the front porch, the inside is trashed, and the bottom is now falling off.  Plus they didn’t pay a lick of rent.  I should have demanded references.

There are always a few surprises

We have always ordered our seeds from Pinetree seeds, in Maine.  We like them because they are a small company and they promote seeds with a good germination rate.  On the few occasions that the seeds do not do well, Pinetree either replaces your seeds or refunds your money. We’ve noticed that when we let them know about a problem, it is probably not limited to us because those types of seeds often disappear from the following year’s catalog.

Last year we ran into our first case of strange vegetables.  We had ordered more of the Mr. Big Pea and decided to try Sugar Snap peas as well.  We very carefully planted the seeds in specific rows, one type at a time.  The plants came up, and we had a mix – some were the Mr. Big Pea (shell peas), others were just Sugar Snap (pea pods.) Literally from one plant to the next they could be different.  We investigated – peas can cross-pollinate.  Lesson learned – we shrugged it off, ate what we liked, and froze the rest (mostly the pea pods.)  I had the thought of using them in a stir fry; I think we still have a few bags, a year later.  Clearly not popular with us.

This year something’s going on with the squash.  We’re growing yellow squash and zucchini; they are in the same area.  One yellow squash plant is producing these:

2014-08-13 19.16.25Now, you would think that it’s a cross-pollination issue, right?  Except that there is a type of squash that looks just like that, called a Zephyr squash.  We know this, because we grew it two years ago.  It was not a particularly disease-resistant plant, so we only grew it that one year.  So it could be cross pollination (both types of plants are in the same area) or it could be a Zephyr squash plant.  Which is essentially a cross-pollinated summer squash/zucchini whose seeds are saved.

Maybe we should start our own seed company with the offspring of all of our mistakes.

Now we’re cooking

I can stop complaining about the lack of vegetables now:

Harvest on 8-14
Harvest on 8-14
Harvest on 8-17
Harvest on 8-17

This was a lot of stuff to come in all at once.  It looks very impressive, posted on Facebook.  I had several offers to, “….take some of that off your hands.”  So kind of those folks!  Where were they when I was on my hands & knees for four hours, weeding?

In the end, we put up 5 jars of pepperoncini peppers:

PepperoncinisI found a great recipe for pickling them on Our first batch tasted a little mushy, probably from the length of time they sat in the canner until I was able to finish stuffing all the jars and bring it to a boil.  This time we stuffed the jars, filled the brine, removed the air and then put them all into the canner at once.  We’re hoping this makes them crisper.  The ones available commercially taste too bitter to me, so if they are just a little crunchier, they will be perfect.

We’ve got some beans coming, too:

Anellino di Trento and Royalty Purple bush beans
Anellino di Trento and Royalty Purple bush beans

We grilled these with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and dill and they were fantastic.  We’re enjoying the beans more than normal, given that just three weeks ago we thought they were a total loss.  Something was getting over our fence and eating the bushes.  We suspect a woodchuck, and so we set up the electric fence around the wire one.  Problem solved.

After picking all those tomatoes, we parboiled, peeled, seeded and diced them into 2-cup quantities and froze them.  We ended up with 2 bags of Krim, 3 bags of Kellogg, and a bag each of Brandywine and Roma.  But we didn’t freeze all of them:

2014-08-17 19.22.33That is a Tomato Stack Salad with Corn & Avocado.  It is delicious.  We used Krim, Kellogg and Brandywine, plus corn, fresh chive and basil from the garden in the dressing.  We have been waiting all season to make that stack of deliciousness.  It was worth the wait.

In a fit of optimism, I planted 191 Knight peas in the back 40 yesterday.  Average time to harvest?  56 days.  That puts us somewhere around October 12, give or take depending on how warm fall is.  I may have wasted $1.50 in seeds if we have an early frost.  This is my idea of living dangerously.

Be careful what you wish for

In my last post, I mentioned that we should maybe think about a pet with fur, rather than something like this:

Not as cute as a cat
We constantly have to move this guy out of the way of the mower

Just before 4th of July, I was out picking lettuce for dinner, and while walking back to the house, saw something out of the corner of my eye under the hammock.  Turned out to be a bobcat:

BobcatYou really have to zoom in on the picture to see him, but he’s there in the dark patch in the middle of the photo.  A friend estimated him at 45-50 pounds, slightly larger than our former resident cat.  I had mixed emotions about the bobcat  – part of me thought, “How cool!” while a stronger part of me thought, “Run away!”  I managed to get J out to the back deck to see our new feline neighbor before he strolled off into the brush that the evening.

Fast forward a week after that, and I was under the rhododendron weeding, when he popped out of the brush about five feet from me.  I am certain that both of us had the same “Aieeeee!” look on our faces, although I could only see his.  He ran one way, I ran the other.

I am now wearing bells out in the yard.