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Spring chicks abound around here.  Four new little fuzzy peepers hatched out this last week.  I love the little one with the black tipped fluff and am curious to see if he or she continues to carry it into adulthood.  These will be more heavies and the next batch set for summer will focus on egg layers.

I haven’t gotten around to sexing these yet, but they sure are cute at this age.  The little one in the front is the most brazen of the bunch, following me around the back room as I am doing laundry.

The early spring hatch is growing rapidly as well.  They are reaching their between stage where they lost the cuteness of baby chicks and yet haven’t gained the full beauty of full grown chickens. They are now big enough to have moved out to the coop they are having great fun learning how to pick at the little bugs that seek shelter in the straw.

Even have them trained like good chicks to wait in line for their mashed up meal worm treats. Okay, I didn’t actually train them to do that, it’s just something they do when they see me grinding up the worms, but I find it adorable.

This weekend will be beak trimming for the older chicks.  While I am not a fan of the cutting of a large section of the upper beak from the bird, I do advocate for using a finger nail clippers to trim the very tip where it begins to curl to minimize pecking injuries.  At the same time I will trim flight feathers.  This is done to keep the little guys from hurting themselves trying to fly in their current cage.  As much as I would love to free range them here, it simply is not safe to do so with a red tail hawk nest and owl nest both in my back woods.  As I love seeing the hawk and owl and their babies every year I think I’ll just keep the chickens safe in their runs and enjoy living in harmony with the wildlife…..except that wild sow….she and I still are at odds.

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There is just something about Hydrangeas in the garden that is a must have, especially in the South.  The huge blooms are beautiful and attention demanding for a good reason.  A hydrangea bush in full bloom is truly a sight to behold and several together is breathtaking.

On a negative note, Hydrangeas also are one of the more expensive plants you can purchase to beautify your yard.  Due to this many people choose to avoid them, and yet they can be propagated fairly easily using a five step method.  So in purchasing only one plant, you can end up with several by next season.

Here are the five quick steps I use in my own hydrangea propagation.:

1. Take your cutting from an established hydrangea shrub.  You want the cutting to be about 5-6″ long and preferably from a branch that did not flower.  I truthfully have not noticed a difference in this and have (as seen in picture) used cuttings from branches in which the flowers are spent.

2.) Remove the lower leaves, leave only the top leaves of the stem.

3.) If you happen to have large leaves in the remaining leaves, slice the tips off them leaving half the leaf size. This step is not necessary but can help to create less work for the plant in it’s establishment process.

4.) Dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone and insert into a damp vermiculite, coarse sand or a rich mix of vermiculite, sand and garden soil.

5.) Water well and allow to drain. You want the soil to be moist but not soggy.  Cover the pot with a plastic bag to form a mini greenhouse.  Steak the plastic up and away from the leaves.  Then place your new rooting in a bright location outside of direct sunlight.  Direct sunlight will burn the plant.

That is pretty much all there is to it.

You will notice the leaves in this picture are getting a rather, worn down look.  That’s alright, the creation of the roots will also bring with it new leaves.  In other words don’t panic if your first sets of leaves brown up and fall off.  I’ve had some cuttings which have had this happen before new leaves formed, and some which retained bright and beautiful leaves the entire time.

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If you are financially struggling, or just wish to save a few dollars and yet still have seeds for a garden during your next trip to the local farm market or grocery store consider purchasing a few carrots to use to bring to seed for next years garden planting. Carrots are simple to grow and during their growth period product a rather pretty fern like plant to display in your yard or home.

To begin sprouting your own carrot tops, you simply need to cut off the tops, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch of flesh remaining.  Place the tops in shallow bowls filled with water.  Keep well watered and wait.  Before long they will begin sprouting little green “buds” which then proceed to leaf out.  At this stage you can transplant them into a pot filled with dampened garden soil.  Water well and secure in either a clear plastic bag secured with a rubber band to create a mini greenhouse, or place in a opaque Rubbermaid style tub with lid. The Rubbermaid tub makes it’s own nice little greenhouse effect.  Keep out of direct sunlight but be sure it achieves strong light.

If you wish to not be  bothered with the above greenhouse steps, you can plant directly into your garden or flower bed.

Let the plant grow, eventually flower heads will appear.  Once they die back and produce seeds, remove the flower and shake carefully over waxed paper or newspaper to catch all the tiny seeds.  Store seeds in air tight container or baggie.

There you have it, a way to try new carrot strains, increase your own seed supply, beautify your home or flower beds and put to use something which you would normally discard.

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Yep, I love worms..lots and lots of worms.  These beautiful and yet simple creatures are exceptionally skilled at turning my kitchen scraps into the most beautiful and rich gardening soil imaginable.  They ask for very little as well.  A box or pail to call home, little dirt , some newspaper to read and scraps to snack on.

There is a special name for those of us who “raise” worms, we’re called worm farmers. I like the sound of that.

Worm beds can be stored almost everywhere, inside in your kitchen, in basement, garage or outside.  They can be in a 5 gallon bucket, a storage bin, garbage can or something more elaborate more for your benefit then theirs.  They really are not very fussy creatures.

As my worms had already outgrown their first home, a large storage bin, today I pulled out a old plastic diaper pail from storage and started a second farm.  A five gallon bucket would work the same.  This is the method I used in creating my new starter worm home.

Take your bucket and drill holes around bottom for drainage holes.  Drill additional holes around the top of the bucket to allow air flow circulation. Inside the bucket you need to layer moistened shredded newspaper, yard waste and some soil in bucket.  Add your worms (red worms known as Trout worms, or earthworms work best for job.), and a handful of scraps. Mist with water once more and cover with lid.  Place on top of cinder blocks or wood scraps to allow the “liquid fertilizer” to drain and place a form of catch basin under to gather it.

Feed your worms weekly to start a handful of scraps which can include fruit, vegetables, tea bags (minus the staple), and coffee grounds.  Do NOT feed them onions, garlic or egg shells which all can be harmful to your worms. Be aware worms reproduce quickly so be prepared to offer food more frequently as they consume it.  Alter ends and sides you place food at to move your worms through their bed.

Water when it begins to dry out, I find this is usually twice two three times weekly.  Do not let temperatures get below 40 degrees in location worms kept, or above a hundred degrees in their tub.

One of the most rewarding things for myself is to share these lessons with my children.  To be able to show them, teach them, that humans and nature can work together to sustain each other.  That things do not need to come from stores, manufacturing plants, or labs and that some of the finest things can be created right at home with a little time and effort.  I hope, when my time here is up, they will carry on the knowledge for themselves and future generations.

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It’s been a several day adventure into the land of whipped eggs around here.  To begin there was the creation of the curds, then the creams, the meringues and finally putting them all together into the most satisfying, sweet, delectable, melt in mouth half-dollar size pillows of air one can only imagine.  These are not your lemon cream pie meringue topping cookies.  These cookies are break apart, melt on tongue crisp.  My son calls it biting into a puff of air and he’s not far off.

In the pictures there is the completed Little Lemon Pillows filled with lemon curd and infused with vanilla bean and lemon zest.

There is also the outer “shells” for the Key Lime Pillow Bites filled with key lime curd and infused with vanilla bean and  lime zest topped with green sugar sprinkles.

Strawberry Dream Bites are represented in the pastel sprinkles “shells” to be filled with a strawberry cream filling and infused with rose hips.

The Maple Meringue Cookies are vanilla and maple infused meringue with a thin maple glaze and sprinkled with gold adornments.

All the baking is now done, tomorrow the final assembling is all that is needed.  But I’m exhausted and going to bed.

 

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Use it to fill pie crusts, or tarts shells.  Spread it between cake layers or as filling for cupcakes.  Smear on pancakes, serve over ice cream or pound cake..or my favorite just grab a spoon and dig in.

Making your own lemon curd at home is not difficult it just involves doing the process in small quantities to assure it turns out.

To make your own curds you will need:

6 egg yolks (save whites for that lemon meringue pie).

1 cup sugar

Large lemons or limes (juiced) to make approximately 1/2 cup or better of juice….OR you can use 1/4 –  1/2 cup  concentrate.

1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz if you make your own butter).

In heavy pan over medium heat whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  Add lemon juice and using wooden spoon stir to keep from burning.  Stir continually for 10-15 minutes but do NOT let come to a boil.  Don’t fret about any egg lumps they will be worked out later when butter is added.  Once thick enough to coat back of your spoon the curd is done.  At this point add butter and stir well until melted.

Pour your curd into prepared jars place in hot water bath for 20 minutes.

Curd will keep for several months, however it might lose some of it’s color.  This doesn’t not mean it is bad…just use it in things where it won’t be so noticeable.

Canning for shelf storage is only considered safe for lemon and lime.  Orange, Grapefruit and other citrus can be made into curd using same method but require being stored in refrigerator.

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So, recently I was asked to do a review on a by now known, seen on TV, product called Eggies.  The box shows these beautiful sideways cut eggs laying on a platter filled with traditional, and fancy pipped yolk filling.  The perfect Easter egg!…that’s not exactly what you get.

But before you even get anything, you need to assemble the little cups you are to boil your eggs in.  Each cup has four parts, a bottom section, a top, a “lid” that screws into the top and of course the ring that holds these two halves together….so…fifteen minutes later I had 6 little cups all perched on my counter and ready to be filled with cracked eggs and then, I read a bit further down the instructions which announces you need to oil these cups.  Not just spray them with a good squirt of Pam either but using a paper towel “dab” oil around the insides of the top and bottom sections.  Alright….twenty minutes later I had disassembled, dabbed, reassembled the Eggies and was ready to go.

The entire process for actually making the eggs is pretty simple.  You crack your eggs and hope you got your aim right for the whole entire yolk and white to slide into the small hole at the top of each cup.  If not, you then spend time wiping egg off the cup and your counter.  But, that’s another story.  So you fill your cute little plastic egg cups with your cracked eggs and screw the lids tightly.  The next step is to take your cute little egg holders and place them in a pot of water on stove, set it to boil and wait.  They give you a chart for how long based on egg size.  I did not know you needed a chart of time based on egg size.  Boiling eggs for me was always just throw them in a pot, bring to boil, let hard boil for 3 minutes and turn it off leaving eggs sit for another 3 minutes.  But…it seems there is an actual scientific determined time limit involved in boiled egg making. Who knew?

Once boiled, remove the Eggies from the water and open to release the beautiful boiled, perfect eggs from inside.  Well…that’s how it’s suppose to work in theory anyways, in reality it is …grab a very thick hot pad to hold the now scalding pieces of plastic while trying to twist off the ring holding the two sides together without achieving third degree burns on your fingers.  If you have managed to achieve this, then squeeze the base and release what looks like three-forth to one-half of a hard boiled egg.  This “new” boiled egg is suppose to sit flat on any plate or platter.  It does, but to get to the yolk inside to make into the golden creamy filling of deviled eggs you need to chop off a good section of the rounded end.   I won’t go into the rant on that the yolk of the egg remains on the FLAT side of the boiled egg, so to scoop it out you create a hole all the way through.  The whole reason boiled egg yolks stay in the middle of the egg is due to the egg laying sideways in the pan while boiling, standing upright the yolk goes down.  I guess they didn’t study the scientific element of THAT!

So, alright, you have half a dozen or dozen of these little egg cups with holes straight through them, which your daughter thinks is really neat because she can hold them to her eyes and see through them like binoculars! To side you have a bowl of yolks you rescued from their trap along with another bowl of the whites “caps” you cut free.  I found a use for the “caps”, if you turn them over you can shove them back inside the egg cups to block the hole you made so your filling doesn’t slide out the other end onto someones lap.

Now, for all the negative I stated on this, I will say if one does not plan to use them to make deviled eggs, only wishes eggs for salads, egg salad sandwiches or to nibble on.  They do create good boiled eggs for that.  They also do help with peeling of eggs where at times you can waste a lot of the white if the eggs do not peel proper.  Something that can occur with older eggs past their “Fresh” stage.  I, as well, would suggest these for those who have issues of hand which makes such movements and motions as peeling eggs difficult.

I’ll give them some more tries and perhaps I’ll grow a fondness for them.

Oh, and speaking of eggs!! The latest batch of little chicks are getting their wing and tail feathers.  Some have already learned the art of jumping out of and fluttering back into their enclosure box.  Time to get working on the baby pen.

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Now, I know most of you know you can plant seeds and grow strawberries, or root cuttings to establish new plants…but did you know that you can actually grow strawberries by planting the actual berry?

If you have ever tried to plant strawberries from seeds, you know those little suckers are TINY!..yet the entire outside of the flesh of the fruit is dotted full of them and they are nicely held in place just waiting to germinate.  This is how wild strawberries repopulate as well, they don’t wait for someone to come and pick every single seed off the flesh for them.  This is also why at times, strawberries come up in unusual places where a bird ate the berry and..well…voided the seeds.

Ok, enough bird talk.  How you can grow your own strawberries using the fruit.  The first step is assuring the fruits you have are not sterile.  Some commercial strawberries are bred to be this way.  Annoying I know, and yet I imagine it’s how they keep others from replicating their particular brand.  One way to help overcome this is to look for a local farmers market or a pick your own and go gather some berries.  Now I am not saying you can’t use those out of the produce section at your local store, I have tried this just to see if they would grow and some did, but I personally recommend a pick your own or farmers market.  Not only do you assure good quality produce, but also you support the Mom and Pop growers.

A second thing you need to realize is this.  Some strains of strawberries have been …for lack of better term…mutated.  Through seed germination you do not guarantee your fruit will look exactly like that you purchased.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Often the resulting plant you manage to grow returns more to it’s ancestral nature, or what we consider a heirloom.

Now for my method.  Strawberry seeds need a period of cold before they will germinate.  Your refrigerator is ideal for this as we store them in refrigerator to keep them fresh.  So, without thinking, you already most likely have done this step of the process.

The second step is to assure your berries are ripe and ready.  Green, unripe, semi-ripe does not mean ready to seed.  In fact the best ones you can plant are those which are already on their way to the trash pile.  You are looking for overripe, these will be the ones you slice up for planting.  Some will argue with me and say you need to throw the berries in a blender with water first, drain off the water and any floating seeds and use only the sinkers.  I find this step unnecessary and prefer just to use the slicing method.  The rotting flesh becomes part of the compost and benefits the growing seedlings.

Third step, remove over helpful cat from table and catch daughter about to tumble off the chair beside you…oh wait, that’s just in my house.  Third step!  Prepare the soil mixture.  Any seed starter soil will work fine for this.

Fill the cups 3/4 full, leaving a finger size indent in center to place your berries in.  You want them near surface and just covered with a layer when finished.

Place your berries and remove cat off table again.  Then cover berries with the top layering of soil.  Don’t be afraid to “smush” some up to fit, this won’t hurt them at all.

And, there you have it…and yes, that is the ever so helpful cat coming to offer assistance once more.

As a final note, be prepared for some seeds to just not grow. This is just the nature of the beast.

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Shamrocks!!

Shamrocks!! I love them!…and yes, I know St. Patrick’s Day is over and done with but what better time to talk about how to care for, and propagate these little fields of green luck then after the holiday is over?

Shamrocks, otherwise known as the less familiar name Oxalis, are actually bulb plants.  This means they have a period of growth, dying back and regrowing.  Knowing this, there is actually two methods in which you can divide these plants.

The first is to let them die back naturally, removing the dead leaves that form, and when all dried remove the bulbs from the soil.  Separate the new “offsprings” from the “mother” and return the “mother” to the original pot.  For the “offsprings”, lay them just under surface of some rich potting soil mixed with some wood chips.  Water well and keep soil moist (do not let it dry out completely).  Begin your newly established bulbs in a low light location moving to full light once you see growth appear.

The second method involves removing the entire plant from the pot and cutting straight down the center of the root bulb.  You can then place each section in a new pot.  If your shamrock is rather large, you might need to divide it into quarters..but be certain you have at least one bulb per new section.

In regards to caring for your shamrock….well…shamrocks like to sleep, a LOT!  They require at least two “rest” periods a year, three is not abnormal.  When your plant starts to look wilty and puney, are those even words? Well they are now….When they start looking wilty and pruny stop watering it.  Remove any wilted leaves and allow it to die back.  Remove the plant to a cool and dry location and let it sleep.   This sleep is usually two to three months long for the green variety and a month for the purple.    Once this time period is over and you are ready to kick them out of their slumber, change the plants bed (replace the soil) and water your shamrock. Return it to low light conditions until you see new growth at which point move to a bright light location and enjoy it’s rebirth.

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First batch of the years harvest of spearmint dried and bagged.

I wish I could say it was without event, but I can’t.  Being that I do not use any pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals on any herb, vegetable or plant I grow there is bound to be some insect that will find them irresistible.   This year, it was rolly polly’s or otherwise known as pill bugs by the thousands.   Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the little polly’s, in fact they were the first insect I introduced my children to as infants, but, I don’t like them invading my back room.   I can only assume that they came in with the last of eight bags harvested that day.  It was starting to storm, I wanted to get in and out of the elements before I became a lightening target so I grabbed the bag and ran.  Normally I would have stopped to wash the mint at the hose before this but it’s possible in the rush to get myself and kids inside I forgot this step.  The result of this slight oversight? A week and counting of picking polly bugs off my back room walls to be freed back into the great outdoors.

Yet, the true lesson came a few days after when deciding to put some dried herbs in blender to powder down for use in soap making. (Powdered allows for a finer soap ingredient then crushed or cut).  Having already done some batches the normally see through blender pitcher was dusty green.  My ever curious daughter being ever so helpful, wanted to make sure this contraption was doing it’s job properly and pulled up the little cup lid that blocks the hole you can add things into without shutting off the machine.  Powdered dry mint + moving, turned on blender = a huge cloud of minty goodness green powder now covering counter, cupboard doors, ceiling and of course…the daughter.   I don’t wish to know how much was lost that day to the kitchen dusting, I just cleaned it up, cleaned up the girl…and contemplated using the remaining mint in blender to mix up some mojitos.

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