Archive | August 2015

End of August Farm News

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This last day of August seems a good time for an update on farm news.  My butterfly bush is in full bloom.  An anniversary gift from my husband, the bush is at the edge of its northern range here at the farm.  Every winter it dies down to the ground.  In the spring it sends up new branches and begins to blossom in August.  The scent is delicious!

a2The fig tree is thriving and has settled on five figs chosen to grow to maturity.  There were eight little figs but the tree let three shrivel and drop.  The figs are about 1.5″ across at the widest.  I doubt they will ripen before the first frost.  The tree will be moved inside as fall arrives.  I hope the fruit continues to ripen and not drop from the shock of being moved.

I spent part of the day stacking firewood.  Our wood pile is about two-thirds full.  We need at least six cords to be warm through the nine months of heating.a3a4  To get ahead of the endless tree felling, we decided to buy nine cords of seasoned tree length firewood.  It was delivered a couple weeks ago and forms a large pile up near the road.  As soon as we finish splitting and piling the wood we cut in our woods, we will start on the new pile.  There is a half-cord of ash left to split down in the woods.

Today I harvested the last of my fresh lettuce and had a big salad for lunch.  The head lettuce I planted this spring did very well and did not bolt too badly once very hot weather arrived.  Today I also canned the last of the wax beans for this year.  I put up a total of twenty-one pints of beans.  These will be a yummy reminder of summer during the cold months.a5

Today was very warm and mostly sunny so I took the opportunity to wash both the dogs.  They were badly in need of a bath, especially Holly who only likes to wade in the pond and stream while Otto jumps in for total immersion.  The dogs look and smell great!  And, so, a busy day and month come to an end.a6

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Rare Bennington Pottery Mug

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This mug was recently sold by me from my online eBay store.  I acquired it from a thrift shop for less than a dollar in May and sold it within three months for $40.  It is called a trigger handle mug and was made by Bennington Pottery.  The color is what makes it especially rare and valuable.  It is an agate effect in a combination of green and white called “Spring Green” by the pottery.  This color is a seasonal feature that is rarely produced.ben2

ben4Trigger or double handle mugs by Bennington are popular and sell in the $10-$20 range for most colors.  I found this mug taped together with several pieces of unrelated white and green pottery.  When I got the pieces home and pulled them apart I was very surprised to find the maker’s mark.  Any Bennington piece is valuable so I was pleased.

The pottery is located in Bennington, Vermont.  In the early 1960s it was founded by David Gil in an unheated barn.  Over the years the business moved and expanded into a large workspace and retail area. Bennington Pottery is still operating today, turning out fine quality, highly collectible pieces.

Happy Bunnies

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The angora rabbits at Phoenix Farm love to get out of their cages every day for some free hopping around time.  Here is the outside run I set up for my female rabbits.  It is a space 16 ft by 8 ft enclosed with two-foot high plastic lattice panels.

bun1bun3I have walled off a small area within the larger run to segregate one of the does.  There are four females, Alabaster-who is albino, Gem-a fawn color doe, Citrine-who is chocolate torte and Jade-a sable doe.  Jade and Citrine are both dominant females.bun5  Jade will fight with any other female whereas Citrine only wants to fight with Jade.  So Jade gets her own smaller area and the other three does have the larger space.  Jade likes to stretch out on the cool grass to enjoy an hour or two away from her demanding babies.

The buck, Marble, an albino, gets a separate area where he can have exercise and fresh grass without a chance of impregnating the females.  His spot is about five feet square.

bun6While mom is outside, her five babies practice their newly developed hopping skills around the cage.  They explore the feeder and waterer and sample hay and fresh grass.  These little ones are 19 days old today, already have teeth, and are beginning to eat solid foods.

bun4Four of the five are albinos with pink eyes and pure white hair.  One baby is white with darker eyes, maybe gray or brown, and is showing brownish points on the nose and ears.  It is hard to know quite yet what the final color will be.  The pointed white baby is just behind the front fawn who is chewing a blade of grass.

The babies are very friendly, hopping right over when they hear my voice.  They like to explore my hand and lick at my fingers.

Bunny Update

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The baby angora rabbits are twelve days old today.  Their eyes started opening two days ago.  The process is slow to give them time to adjust to the new sensation of seeing.a3  The little ears are up and away from their heads.  I’m sure they can hear well now.  Their sense of smell is acute.  When I am around the fawns lift their heads, pink noses wiggling as they sniff at the air to smell me.a2

The babies now sit up like rabbits rather than lying on their sides as helpless newborns.  It is adorable the way they drape themselves over each other when they sleep in the nest.

Looks like all five are albinos, no chocolate doe for me. Maybe next time, if I can get the persnickety rabbits to mate again.

Mama bunny is busy cleaning one of the babies in the photo at the top.  In the smaller picture above left, the fawn in the background is the runt of the litter.  It is half the size of the largest baby.  The tiny one is growing fast and will one day be nearly the size of the others.

Pearly Everlasting

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As I was cutting the pasture with the rotary mowing machine to keep the weeds down and encourage the grass, I spotted one of these plants.  It is a pearly everlasting, a native Maine wildflower. Some quick maneuvering saved the plant from disaster.

The scientific name is Anaphalis margaritacea and it is related to asters.  It is a perennial with either male or female plants.  I can’t tell the sex of this plant by looking so will wait to see if it produces seeds.

As the name suggests, this flower works well for dried arrangements, retaining its pearly white bract color rather than fading to beige.  The foliage has a silvery cast with a pleasant scent when crushed.

Pearly Everlasting has medicinal uses for native peoples including sore throat, headache and diarrhea relief. The plant parts can also be used to create yellow, gold, green or brown dyes.  Its most valuable use after dried arrangements is as a favored food source of the Painted Lady butterfly larvae. I will be looking for seeds to collect from this plant to spread in my wildflower insect reserves.

Favorite Potato Salad

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There are many variations on potato salad.  Some keep it very simple and just buy a quart or two at the local deli.  I like to make my own so I know all the ingredients and can avoid spices that don’t agree with me.  For instance, garlic causes food sensitivity issues so I try to avoid it whenever possible.  Much commercially made potato salad contains garlic.  Here is my favorite recipe that I have adapted over the years.  I served this to some guests yesterday and they really liked it.

There are a few secrets involved in making the most tasty potato salad.  One is to cook the potatoes in their skins.  This imparts a particular full flavor.  Cook the potatoes until they are soft, but not mushy.  There should be some firmness left and the chunks should easily hold their shape.  Another secret is the French dressing marinade.f3

Favorite Potato Salad

Begin preparations at least 4-5 hours before serving.

Hard boil 4 large eggs, chill.

7 to 9 small to medium potatoes, about 2.5 to 3 lbs, skin on, scrubbed and cut into halves or thirds so the chunks are roughly the same size, I use Russets but any variety will be finef4

Gently boil the potatoes in a 2 qt saucepan until they are still somewhat firm, just softened through, and the skin barely begins to split.  The chunks should retain their shapes and not be breaking up.

While the potatoes are cooking make the French dressing marinade.  I make my own rather than using store bought dressing to avoid weird ingredients like xanthan gum or polysorbate, whatever those are.

French Dressing

In a pint sized container with a lid, such as a canning jar, combine:

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 tsp prepared mustard

3/4 cup olive oil

Put the lid on the jar and shake well until completely combined.  Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use and shake again before use.  Half the dressing is used for this recipe, I store the rest in the fridge for the next batch of potato salad.

When the potatoes are ready, quickly drain them in the pot, then refill the pot with warm water to rinse and drain again.  The potatoes will be quite warm to handle so use care.  They must remain fairly warm for the next step so do not allow them to cool.  Use a knife to slit and peel off the skin.  It will mostly roll off in complete ribbons.  If using new potatoes and everyone likes skins, the potatoes do not have to be peeled.f2

Cut the potatoes into large bite-sized pieces about 3/4″ to 1″ square.  Place in 2.5 quart bowl.  Drizzle the warm potatoes with half the French dressing.  Toss with a spoon to fully coat the pieces and so no dressing is left sitting in the bowl.  Cover and cool in the fridge for at least one and one-half hours.

To assemble the salad:  remove potatoes from fridge, toss again to be sure dressing is well distributed.  Add:

1/2 to 1 cup real mayonnaise.  You can make your own mayonnaise, I just buy a high quality, limited ingredient variety

finely diced dill pickles or green salad olives, about 1/2 cup

marjoram, basil, Bell’s seasoning, celery salt, pepper, onion powder to taste.  Some like fresh onion and this is a nice addition if your stomach can tolerate it, mine cannot

6 or 8 slices cooked, cooled, smoked bacon broken into small pieces

Gently stir the additions into the potatoes until they are well combined.  Vigorous stirring will break up the potatoes so use care.

Cut the hard boiled eggs into large chunks, gently fold into the salad with any additional mayonnaise required to form a creamy consistency so the salad is not too dry.

Cover and chill at least another hour before serving to allow the flavors to combine well.

Sometimes I add chopped ham rather than bacon, chopped fresh tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, dill and/or celery. Additions or substitutions are easy with potato salad, it is a very adaptable dish.

Yield about 2 quartsf

Baby Birds

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As I drove my tractor past the star magnolia tree yesterday I happened to glance that way and was startle to see three pairs of big, frightened eyes staring back at me.  After parking the tractor I went to take a peek. Three baby birds nestled in the grass at the base of the tree.  They were not so afraid now that the huge, loud machine was gone.  They even open their beaks, begging me to feed them.  Their colorful maws make excellent targets for the parents to hit.DSC07244

The bright yellow feathers on their tails helped me to identify these baby birds as young cedar waxwings. Every year the waxwings flock to our farm to feast on the highbush blueberries.  I often suspected generations of birds were raised on the berries.  Now I’m certain.  With two hundred bushes loaded with blueberries that can reach the diameter of a quarter, there is plenty of food for all.

Today I checked the spot again and the baby birds were gone.  They seemed fully fledged and ready to fly.  I hope they are enjoying our berries.