Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"This Means WAR......sort of......"

Yesterday morning, I walked out to find that during the night, "Bambi" came and "snacked" on my newly planted raspberry bushes and strawberry plants!  I know it was Bambi because of the hoof tracks left in the sand.

You've seen this "before" photo earlier......

Here is "after" snack time.  Raspberries, strawberry plant, and pussy willow.....all chewed upon.

The one volunteer strawberry plant in this bed had all of its leaves stripped from it, but thankfully, a new one was just appearing and hadn't gotten eaten, so there is hope for it thriving yet.

I noticed one of the marble edge pieces on the blueberry bed was knocked down and that is when I saw that a few of the strawberry plants in that bed were missing some leaves.  The horror of it all!!!!

That's when I went quickly back inside to the computer and Googled "keeping deer from your garden".  This is one of the links I found.  It seemed easy enough and certainly low cost to implement it, so I followed his instructions and now have my own "deer alarm" in place.

I have a bucket, topped with 5 tin cans, holes drilled in their sides, and all connected by fishline.  The fishline is then stretched slightly taut through slots that I sawed in the tops of some garden poles.....

.......connecting to another 5 cans, all similarly connected, and sitting on another bucket.  The theory is when deer stealthily come closer to the tasty plants, they will not see the fishing line (which is a low test strength so in case the deer gets tangled in it, it can easily break it) and pushes against the fishing line, it causes the cans to fall onto the cement pad and ground creating a CLANGING that "should" scare the critter away and hopefully cause it to have second thoughts about returning.  :)  The fishing line is higher than Copper's head/back, so she shouldn't trigger it.  The lowest point is when it comes down from the pole to the cans on the cement pad, which is low enough for her to trigger, but I will be able to easily see (or hear) if this happens prior to our going to bed for the night.  I suppose something this simple can't be entirely free of possible maintenance, right?

It is hard to see, but the second bucket with cans on it is in the upper left hand side of the photo.

Here is a better photo of it.  Remember, both can collections are connected to each other, so when pressure is on the fishing line, both come tumbling down, so the noise is doubled.  It works and is pretty loud......I can only imagine the sound would "seem" magnified in the dead of night........or so I "hope".  LOL

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Making Strawberry Jam!"

My original plan was have my 1st canning experience be making Strawberry Jam, until Derrick, my former student, suggested pickling asparagus.  With the asparagus harvest dwindling and the strawberries just starting, I made the decision to try pickling first.  With the pickling experience behind me, I had a better idea as to what to expect and could plan my steps a little more thoroughly.

I went out Sunday morning to my favorite farm stand, Youker Farm Market, and bought an 8 quart flat of strawberries.  I forgot to take a photo of it with all 8 quarts, but remembered when I had 5 quarts still in the lug.  Prior to rinsing the berries, I washed all of my jelly jars and a couple of pint jars "just in case" they were needed, plus the lids and rings, too.

Here is my 1st quart being de-stemmed after having rinsed it and drain in the kitchen sink.  I don't remember who taught me to use a spoon for taking the stems off, but it certainly is quick and easy.

My procedure was to rinse a quart and while I was de-stemming that, another would be draining, then transfer that quart, rinse another, etc.  After a quart was finished, I then mashed and poured it into a large bowl.

The recipe required 5 Cups of mashed strawberries, so when I had that, I set about making my 1st batch of jam.

10 jelly jars were filled with the hot liquid jam and were carefully placed into the canner and processed for 10 minutes.

Time to begin batch #2.  Having just experienced the process, I felt comfortable enough stop and take a quick photo of the sauce pot filled with mashed strawberries, pectin, and sugar, prior to its rolling boil.  It requires stirring constantly and once things begins to happen, they happen QUICKLY!  ;)

I had 2 jelly jars left from the dozen I started with, which I filled first, then I began filling pint jars. I was able to fill 4 pints, too!  My end total was 12 jelly jars and 4 pints of Strawberry Jam!  I am pleased to report that each jar sealed, too.....the "pinging" began almost as soon as the jars were taken out of the canner and placed to cool on the towel.  Each jar has since had a label written and placed on it with what it is and when it was made.

The 2 batches of Strawberry Jam used 5 quarts of berries.  Here are the last 3 quarts of berries, rinsed and de-stemmed.  I put some in a container for fresh eating and mashed the rest, adding 2  bags of mashed berries to the freezer.  

I plan on freezing some whole berries, plus some Rhubarb, too, and try making Strawberry Rhubarb Pie this Winter.  "IF" I can wait that long!  I see aother trip to Youker's in the VERY near future.....later this morning perhaps?   ;)

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Asparagus Preservation......."

I have been bitten by the "preserving food" bug.  ;)

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try freezing some asparagus spears after talking to the woman at Youker Farm Market (on US 37, south of Traverse City).  She made it sound so simple, I said to myself, "why not"?  Wash, trim, bag, and freeze.  That's it!

I bought 5# of asparagus and headed home.  I knew I already had some quart Ziplock Vacuum Freezer Bags, so figured I'd give it a whirl.

After washing the asparagus, I cut the spears to a length that would fit snugly into the quart bags.

When finished, I had 7 bags of spears, with a bag of trimmed pieces, too, figuring I could use those for soup or a "not so fancy as spears" vegetable side dish.  ;)

As simple as the process was, I decided to freeze another 5# a couple of days later, but didn't use the Ziplock Vacuum Bags, only the regular Ziplock Freezer Bags.  I consider it an experiment and will see what, if any, difference there is when I use them from the freezer later this year.

I'd posted these photos and wrote about my experience on Facebook about the process and a former student of mine commented on how he loves "pickled asparagus".  Yep, that got me to thinking about how much I enjoy a pickled asparagus spear in a Bloody Mary.  :)  You can guess what happened next......

Not having canned "by myself" before, I searched the internet for a recipe that sounded simple enough for my first canning experience.  Finding that, I went out and bought canning equipment and supplies.  The recipe I found did require the asparagus to be "blanched"prior to being packed into the jars, and surprisingly, I had kept a blanching pot from "back in the day".  Why I hadn't kept the canner we had, I have no idea......perhaps it was rusty?  Besides blanching, all the recipe required, besides the asparagus, was vinegar, "canning" salt, cayenne pepper, dill seeds, garlic cloves, and water.

Next came the prep.  It had to be washed and trimmed to length so it would fit into the pint jars.  Much shorter lengths than trimming them for a quart freezer bag, but one that will look nice as a garnish for a Bloody Mary.  See the "theme" here?  LOL

Here are the "short spears" in the basket of the blancher and ready to go into the boiling water.

I'm sorry I didn't take the time to snap some photos while packing the jars of blanched asparagus and adding the spices, garlic clove, and brine to each jar, but I felt I had to move quickly and get them filled and into the canner for processing.

10 minutes later and they were cooling in the sink as I prepared to lift them out of the canner to place on the countertop to fully cool.  By the way, they're cooling on one of the kitchen towels I wove.  :)  Soon after I had them cooling on the counter, one by one they began to "ping", which meant the lids had sealed as I hoped they would.   :)  As you can see in this photo, I didn't have enough spear heads to fill the 7 pints and actually added lengths of cut ends to fill a couple of the jars completely.  They may not be as pretty, but they'll taste the same.  ;)

Tomorrow, after this canning experience came Strawberry Jam!   :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"A Few More Beds......"

Yes, more cleaning out of beds....what a novel idea, eh?  ;)  This one is against the basketball court and/or extra parking area.  It actually had a different soil make up, as it had been heavily amended for several inches down, but below that it was true sand once again.

Here is the finished bed with its 3 new rhubarb plants and 4 dill plants.  I kept the Spiderwort, which has been attracting bees, plus it is an attractive plant with beautiful flowers.

These next 2 small beds are sort of an extension of the last one as it wraps around the corner of the basketball court.  It was filled with weeds (thankfully, no orchard grass for a change!) and the tall bush is another Pussy Willow, which had been a favorite of deer prior to our moving here.

As you can see, I trimmed the Pussy Willow back to shape it, but I'm not positive I will keep it.  There was one lone strawberry plant, too, which I left as well.

I bought 2 Latham Red Raspberry plants to put in these beds.  I'm not sure how deep the roots will spread and send out runners, but hope the long rectangular marble slabs, keep them somewhat in check and in these beds.  ;)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Father's and Grandfather's Day gift....."

Patrick, Julie, and Abigail drove up Sunday for a visit and to go out to lunch.  We drove into Traverse City to the Mackinaw Brewing Company (, a favorite place for all of us.

The kids gave us a hardcover photo book that they put together.  :)  Here is the cover and beginning page.....

Very cool, eh?

Monday, June 17, 2013

"The Septic Man Cometh......"

I figured that our septic tank should be looked at to see if it needed pumping out, once again not knowing when the last maintenance had been done on it.  I called Walt Steuer Pumping Service from Traverse City ( and he was out here last thursday to find the tank, check its condition, and add a "riser", to bring the tank cap up to ground level.  Thankfully, the tank is in excellent condition and has no need of being pumped out.  As you can see in the photo, the Pussy Willow bush/tree had been planted extremely close to the septic tanks opening, and it was suggested we move the bush so it roots would not become a problem in the future.

Another view of the Pussy Willow and tank opening.  I really wasn't invested in having the Pussy Willow there, or anywhere else for that matter, so when the riser was installed the following day to bring the tank opening level with the ground, Levi, who installed the riser, with the help of his sister , Lily, dug the bush out and took it home to their Mother.  I was very pleased for them to remove it, and was happy that the bush was going to a home where it would be fully appreciated.

Here is what the area looks like now.  I have since potted up some Chives and set the pot on top of the septic tank lid, but I'm not sure if it will stay there or not.  Decisions, decisions, eh?  ;)

Here is a view of the area from further away.  It was amazing to me how much larger the open area became without the Pussy Willow next to the deck.  By the way, we plan on having the hot tub removed, too.  The pipes had frozen and it would need to be renovated.  We'd gotten rid of our hot tub in Madison because we didn't use it enough, so we're not going to bother with the expense of fixing this one up.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Another Bed Redone....."

Yesterdays accomplishment was a raised bed which sits directly in front of the side door of the house and end of the driveway.  It must have been neglected for quite awhile because the grass in it was very thick and matted.  In the back left corner, there is a good sized Yucca plant.  Its not a particular favorite of mine, but it will stay.  The bed showed signs of a few Spring bulbs, too, but when I cleaned the grass out, they came with it.  This Fall I can plant bulbs and know exactly what is where.  ;)

I used a pitchfork to remove the "sod", for that is basically what the bed had become filled with over its period of neglect.  I saved as much of the "soil" as possible, which was very sandy, but it had been amended at some point because it was darker near the top compared to a few inches further down.

The bed "surround" is made up of long rectangular marble slabs.  After removing the sod and old leaves, I reconfigured a couple of the marble pieces near the Yucca plant and did not include it in the newly cleaned bed.

Next came the addition of peat moss and a bag of commercial compost.

At this point, I hadn't the plants I needed for the bed, so needed to go to Manitou Gardens (a WONDERFUL nursery up on S West-Bay Shore Drive, Traverse City), who had just what I wanted.

3 Beautiful Blueberry bushes found a home in this little bed.  I'm not sure how old the plants are, but they have fruit on them already.  I brought them home, added more peat moss and compost in the bottom of each hole I dug for them, and covered the bed with cedar mulch.  Of course, a thorough watering took place after that.  ;)  Hopefully, they will thrive and give us many years of tasty blueberries!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Planted and Mulched....."

Here is the round raised bed planted with marigolds.  "As an experiment", I also planted bush green beans seeds among the marigolds.  I guess we'll see if they are compatible and/or if one is too overbearing.  I amended the soil with peat moss and compost, too, then topped the area with a shredded cedar mulch.  Hopefully, that won't inhibit the sprouting of the green bean seeds either.  As I said, it is an experiment.  :)

Speaking of "mulched", I laid straw around all of the vegetable plants, too, in hopes of it keeping more moisture in the ground by allowing less evaporation, and helping keep the squash and pickles cleaner as they grow.

Yes, more clean up around this area is needed, too.  ;)  I did mount the weed eater charger day before last and "assume" the weed eater is now fully charged.........I plan to find out today.  ;)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Arbor and Gazing Ball Bed....."

I've already posted this photo on Friday, May 31st, when I wrote about assembling our tumbling compost bin, but I need to post it again, so you can see what the "before" looked like.  Yesterday I worked on re-constructing the arbor, the front half of which had fallen down.  I also weeded/cleaned out the round, stone surround raised bed, in front of the arbor.

Here is the "before" photo once again......

And here is how it looks "after" re-construction.  I think it looks pretty good and it will, of course, look MUCH better once the beds along its sides are cleaned out.  I don't know what the climbing vine is that is growing on the left side of it, but am thinking it might be a Clematis?   Perhaps a grape vine will be planted on the right side?  Anyone have a suggestion?

Here is the full "before" photo of the round raised bed in front of the arbor.  When unpacking one of the garage boxes, I found the gazing ball stand, so searched our "box list" to find the gazing ball so I could set them up in this round bed, which I thought perfect for it.

And here is the "after".  I haven't yet decided what I want to plant in this bed.  The soil will also have to be amended with peat moss and compost like I did with the other raised beds.  My plan is to also mulch all the beds, too.  I bought a bale of straw to use as mulch for the vegetable beds and will write a post about those tomorrow, but will most likely use a more decorative mulch for the flower beds.  Having as much help as one can, holding moisture in this sandy soil, is imperative.  ;)

The clean up continues...............

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Sound Sleeper....."

This little girl is getting more exercise and fresh air than she is used to, making her sleep "extremely sound".  She didn't even wake up when I took this photo!  :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Vegetable Planting......"

Our yard has several growing beds, some surrounded by rocks, others are raised beds made with wooden boards.  I don't know how long it has been since any of the beds had any type of maintenance done to them, because all are chock full with weeds and wild grasses, so my guess is further back in time than last year.

My immediate goal was to get some vegetables planted in the largest of the raised beds, which is divided into 4 sections.  Our soil is very sandy, which I must admit, made for easy weeding.  Still, weeding is weeding, right?  Not the most pleasant of jobs, but that is only my opinion.  There could be people who love to weed......I am not one of them.  ;)

Here is a photo of the raised bed prior to removing the weeds.  There were a couple of large pots sitting in the bed, too, that once held some sort of plant, which I just emptied out onto the bed, hoping that even a little bit of old potting spoil would help with building the soil.  This photo was also taken after I removed several old, flimsy, broken down, tomato cages, and a rotted soaker hose, which broke into numerous pieces as I pulled it out.

Here is the same bed after I weeded the sections, amended the soil with peat moss and commercial compost, and planted the vegetables.  Once I buy a new hose and can soak the bed nicely, I will also mulch the sections with straw to help keep the moisture in the soil.  The triangular supports were built (or so I believe) to hold 4 sliding glass doors, which I found behind our small outbuilding.  I'll not use them this late in the year, but do believe they will be a big help in getting an earlier start next year.

While weeding, I found some volunteer strawberry plants struggling to survive amongst the weeds.  I transplanted them all into the 1st section, hoping they will thrive and produce runners (which establish new plants) so perhaps we'll be able to pick strawberries next year.  Since transplanting and taking this photo, I've given them a good side dressing of compost, too.  They don't look like much now, but if they survive and send out the "hoped for" runners, this entire section of the raised bed will be a mat of strawberry plants.

In the next section, I've planted 6 varieties of tomato plants.  I brought 4 sturdy tomato cages with me from WI but haven't put them in place yet.  I'll have to purchase 2 more soon.

I found some 12" x 12" marble tiles and placed them in the bed temporarily to use as stepping stones to cross from one side to the other instead of having to walk all the way around the entire raised bed.  Once the plants gain some size, I won't be able to cross through.

In the last 2 sections, I've planted 3 varieties of squash....Zucchini, Butternut, and Acorn.

I only planted 1 hill of squash in the last section because a White Pine overhangs it somewhat.

I also cleaned out another small, square raised bed (seen behind the blue rain barrel in the earlier photos) and planted a couple of pickle plants.  There is also a large plant of some sort of mint that the pickle plants will share the bed with............I hope they are compatible.  ;)

I didn't do any soil testing or anything like that, but am "assuming" the soil, besides being sandy, is probably somewhat acid, too.  So this year I am relying on my soil amendments to give the plants good nutrients and will dub this as "The Year of Great Expectations", and "hopefully", it will not become "Mike's Folly".  ;)

Friday, June 7, 2013

"Cleaning and Organizing the Garage......"

Copper and I made our 2nd trip to the recycling center yesterday with another load of packing boxes that I'd broken down.  The recycling center is located behind Lake Ann Elementary School and they are participating in a recycling fund raiser by recycling cardboard.  They have a semi sitting there that is already 3/4 full.  I was glad to help them by contributing my boxes.  :)

After we got back home, I began cleaning and organizing the garage.  My 1st concern was to get the kayak and canoe off the floor and hung in the "storage straps" that Patrick had given me after we'd bought our boats.

Goal accomplished!  This is the 1st time we've been able to use the straps for both boats.  I'd used them to hang my canoe from the Gregory St. garage ceiling, but we couldn't use them correctly because the height of the Madison garage was so low due to being "under the house".  There is actually spacing on the straps for 3 boats....good thing we only have 2 to worry about because even this garage doesn't have enough height for that!  ;)

The space in the back of the garage, the workshop area, extends entirely across the width of the building, with a cathedral ceiling open to the storage loft.  The wall on the left is one side of the "office", which has a separate outside entrance, and also one from the workshop area.  I still have the office to clean and organize, but I feel good about the progress that was made yesterday.  Right now, the bikes and bike equipment are in the office.

The open space under the window is being reserved for a workbench that Patrick will be bringing for me.  It was a workbench kit that I had put together while living at one of the my other houses (for the life of me, I can't remember which house!).  He'd taken it when I'd moved from the cabin, but has offered to give it back.  I believe he is trying to open up storage space in his garage.  ;)

I still have more sorting and organizing to do in the workshop area, but for now, the floor is swept and many of the things are on shelves.  At least I can find things if I need to now.  ;)