Monday, December 31, 2012

Graffiti Adds Color to the Garden

In the blandish, brown of the winter landscape, the vegetable garden provides many shades of green and sometimes a little something extra.

This year I'm growing that something extra in a purple cauliflower called Graffiti.  Look at this fabulous color.

I bet Graffiti will look beautiful on a plate, since it retains it's purple color when cooked.  Graffiti tastes like regular cauliflower, but with the added bonus of powerful antioxidants that come with purple vegetables. The heads seem a little smaller than the traditional white, so I'm giving this one more time to grow.

The traditional white cauliflower shown below is ready for harvest.  The unseasonably warm weather we were experiencing only a few weeks ago wreaks havoc on cool season vegetables causing them to bolt prematurely.  This cauliflower is a big improvement over my first two harvests which were not nearly as attractive as this specimen.

The warm temperatures of early December caused mixed results with broccoli this year.  Some broccoli heads flowered prematurely like the one pictured below.  The pretty little yellow flowers are favorites with the bees.  At the end of the season, I'll let the broccoli flower for them, but it's a little too early for flowers at this point.

Some of my broccoli plants produced the largest heads I've ever pulled out of my garden.  In the picture below the primary head has already been harvested, but the side shoots of this plant are as big as the primary heads on other plants.  That means more yummy broccoli for soups, roasting and maybe some slaw.

I thought I was on my way to wonderful stand of carrots this year, but apparently some other creature thought the carrots looked pretty good as well.  I'm guessing this is the work of a no good, wascally wabbit.  Whatever ate my carrots also ate my celery plants along with some other choice produce along the edges of beds on the western side of my garden.  Hmmm, I wonder what goes good with rabbit stew?

The Brussels Sprouts are coming along nicely.  I should be harvesting some sprouts next month. 

When little else in the landscape is adding new growth, it's a joy to see new shoots like the ones on this Dinosaur Kale.

The Red Russian Kale is not as vigorous as the Dinosaur Kale, but it's purple veins and oak leaf-like foliage are a pretty addition to the garden.

These last couple of years I've gotten into the habit of growing extra produce for "the girls".  Chard, kale and cabbage are the menu today.  Adding winter greens to their diet improves the quality of their eggs and they really seem to enjoy the treat.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Bird Feeder

My chickens have provided me with many hours of simple, at home entertainment.  When things get a little humdrum for me and the chicklets, we make our own fun.  Chicken fun usually involves something to eat, whether it's chard or watermelon, worms or grubs.  My girls are always willing to focus on the prize.

Grasshoppers are a favorite treat.  Now you see it! Now you don't!

Chickens are naturally inquisitive, but at the same time very cautious and suspicious of anything new.  That's what makes them so interesting and fun to watch.  There's nothing funnier than watching a chicken who thinks a watermelon rind is out to get them.  I've seen it.  It totally happened.

Cocoa, who is pictured below, is a nearly 3 year old Cuckoo Maran, who stills lays an occasional egg or two.  She is an accomplished feather puppy of the first degree.  She will come running when called, insists on digging in my garden beds, and is not ashamed to beg for a treat.

I recently carved a leftover pumpkin to provide some chicken fun and entertainment on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I carved large feeder windows in the pumpkin to provide the chickens with space to peck at the interior flesh.  Then, I sat back to see what the chickens would think of this edible, orange wonder.  

Cocoa, of course, was the first to investigate a new potential source of food.  The other girls stood off to side clucking like a bunch of hens waiting to see if Cocoa survived the pumpkin encounter.

And, then there were two, as Snowflake joins Cocoa to check out the orange newcomer.  Snowflake is an Ameraucana and a relative newcomer herself.  We purchased Snowflake when she was 4 months old.  She is now 7 months old and has recently started laying beautiful green eggs.  She has already laid a couple of double yolkers and is quickly becoming a flock favorite.

Snowflake appears to be staring down the pumpkin.  If I could read her mind, I would imagine she's saying, "You want me to stick my head in that little window.  I don't think so!"

Snowflake turned her beak up at the pumpkin.  I guess I'm going to have to make the pumpkin game a little more interesting to entice Snowflake.

I laid out the carved  pumpkin pieces and I immediately had a taker.  This is Speedy G.  Named for the fact that she escaped when I first brought her to her new home.  Speedy G led me on a merry chase.  I think the only reason she came back was her close relationship with Snowflake.  Like Snowflake, Speedy G is also an Ameraucana.  The two of them came from the same pen at the breeder and they are as inseparable as the bobbsey twins.

Blue, a beautiful Blue Maran, takes her turn inspecting the orange menace.  Blue and her sister, Belle, lay the darkest brown eggs you will ever see.  They are spectacular especially when seen next to the green Ameraucana eggs.

Always watchful, especially when eating, Belle and Snowflake have the cleanest little fuzz butts in town.

The pumpkin bird feeder experiment was entertaining and good for a few laughs, but it wasn't until I filled the pumpkin with sunflower seeds that the chickens got really excited.  I guess if you want a chicken to stick it's head into a little hole, you have to offer something a little more enticing than pumpkin guts.  Lesson learned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Fun with Burlap

Burlap is a staple in the garden.  It can be used to shade seedlings, to line wire baskets, to keep seeds moist during germination, to bind the root ball of a plant during relocation, and for erosion control. That's just a few ideas that come to mind.  If you can think of more, please leave me a comment with your favorite uses for burlap.  I'd love to hear from you.

I've used burlap in the garden for years, but I never thought of using it to decorate until now.  I was quite surprised to discover that burlap makes a wonderful material for all sorts of Christmas crafts and decorations.  Using actual garden center burlap will work, but if the smell bothers you, look for lower odor versions of burlap cloth and ribbon at your local craft or fabric store.  

Burlap can be elevated from it's utilitarian purposes and become a thing of beauty.  I was inspired to decorate with burlap this year when I purchased this lovely burlap table runner made by a local artist at Little Flower Linen.  The lace finished ends are a great idea and I plan to use it all year round.

To decorate with burlap, you just need to get a little crafty.  The web is full of wonderful ideas, so after checking out many of the ideas on Pinterest, I decided to try my hand at some burlap crafts of my own.

I found some instructions for burlap garland, and once I figured out how to make it, I had a blast trying to figure out different things to do with it.  One of the things I made was a burlap wreath.  I was totally amazed at how easy this was to construct.  I used wide burlap ribbon, jute twine, a metal wreath form, some scissors and a large sewing needle. 

Using a simple in and out straight stitch, I sewed right down the middle of the burlap ribbon.

I used the stitching to pull and gather the fabric into a ruffle.  I secured the ruffled fabric to the wire wreath frame by hand sewing it with more jute twine.  If you don't sew, here's another no sew wreath project I found on the web that uses the same burlap ribbon.

I added a few gold balls, butterflies and satin ribbon to the finished product.

The butterflies are my favorites.  Those little guys are clip-ons I bought at Michaels.  How cool is that?

The wreath became the focal point of my kitchen window.

I even added little bells and pine cones to finish the ends of the window garland.

And then, I went a little burlap crazy... 

I used plain burlap strips tied with jute and decorated with ball garland on the doors, 

and more burlap garlands to add a festive touch to the windows.

It took a lot of burlap garland to decorate the tree, but it's the perfect country touch to accent my little chickens and other birds.

Here's one final project using some Burford Holly trimmed from a shrub in my front yard.  I combined the greenery with some faux berries and some small burlap ribbon tied in a bow.  This little project took about 15 minutes including the shrub pruning.

I hope I've inspired you to include a little burlap in your Christmas decorating this year.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!