Photo Friday: Meet Ally

Today I’m taking a break from the usual gardening stuff to introduce a new member of our family. We adopted Ally on Tuesday, after she made an appearance on local TV station WTVW’s Pet of the Day segment using her stage name Leslie. Her handler said she was a lap kitty and liked to snuggle, and that she was about a year old. She had a great TV presence, staying calm and collected in the studio, and after a brief discussion my wife and I headed across the river to the Henderson County Humane Society to meet her in person. After spending a little time with her and seeing her sweet and loving nature, we decided to bring her home to Happy Acres.

Ally in her new home

Ally in her new home

Apparently she’s had a busy and fairly stressful life so far. She was taken in as a stray, and had already had a litter of kittens before she was spayed. We took her to our vet Wednesday to have her checked out thoroughly. She seems to be in pretty good health, though she does have worms. That’s not surprising since she has been living in the shelter for 5 months with a bunch of other kitties. We thought the spot on her nose might be a sore from rubbing on a carrier or cage, but the vet decided it is just a freckle. And we knew she was petite, but we were surprised when she weighed in at just over five pounds. No doubt we can put a little more meat on her bones, because it seems everyone who comes to Happy Acres gains weight eventually!

Ally visits the vet

Ally visits the vet

We are keeping her in the guest bathroom until the worms have been taken care of. We don’t want our other cat Puddin to get them, and that does give them ample time to get used to each other with short introductions. Puddin has always been good with other kitties, so we’re not really worried too much about them getting along. But what we didn’t know from the meet and greet is that Ally is also a budding artist. Using only the materials left at hand, on Wednesday night she created this display of TP Art! It’s a little more rustic than my wife’s TP Art, but still an impressive showing for a first effort.

Ally's TP art

Ally’s TP art

She loves to sleep in the top tier of our cat condo/scratching post. She gets afternoon sunshine through the window, and has been spending a lot of time there – when she’s not creating art, that is! She probably enjoys the peace and quiet after spending five months at the shelter with 20 or 30 other kitties. So far she has been quiet and well behaved, and the only time we have heard her meow is when she was in the carrier in the car. Even then, she was happy when we stuck a hand in to reassure her. She does like to get up on our shoulders to sit, which works okay when she weigh five pounds but might not work as well if she sizes up and gets bigger. She also surprised me by jumping on my back when I bent over to pick up a toy mouse. I am thinking many new adventures are in store for all of us!

Ally in the cat condo

Ally in the cat condo

I hope you have enojoyed meeting our new kitty Ally. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres.

 

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Harvest Monday August 27, 2018

Welcome to Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. The school buses going by every morning to the nearby grade school is a sure sign though. Right on cue with the season, I brought in more of the winter squashes last week, plus another tromboncino. It’s the same players as last week, with three each of Tetsukabuto and Thelma Sanders along with one more small Gill’s Golden Pippin.

Tromboncino and winter squashes

Tromboncino and winter squashes

Speaking of tromboncino squash, my homemade trellis has done a good job of keeping them contained this year. I fasten a 4 x 8 foot sheet of concrete reinforcing mesh to metal t-posts, and secure it using zip ties. I got the idea from Michelle (From Seed To Table), who uses it for her vining squash too. Whenever the vines start to wander, I guide them back to the trellis. I have pinched out the tips of some of them to get them to branch out and to rein them in. The trellis also has the advantage of keeping the squash up off the ground where they are easier to see and less likely to rot.

tromboncino vines on trellis

tromboncino vines on trellis

The eggplant and peppers are still fruiting for me. The striped Nubia and white skinned Clara are ones I’m growing for the first time, and I like them both. We’ve been grilling most of these. Along with the eggplant are two different peppers, Orange Blaze and the red mini bell Sweetie Pie. Both are AAS Winners, Orange Blaze back in 2011 and Sweetie Pie in 2017. It’s my first time growing Sweetie Pie, and I like what I see so far. The plant is loaded with peppers in what is likely going to be a so-so year otherwise for peppers here.

eggplant and peppers

eggplant and peppers

Some peppers are doing great however, like the Kaleidoscope baccatum pepper I overwintered indoors then set out in the ground in late May. It is truly loaded with peppers, which are red when ripe and have only a slight bit of heat. I usually pickle these like I do the Peppadew peppers, and that’s what I will do with this batch. Once pickled we use them on salads, sandwiches and as a pizza topping. I am saving seeds from this variety and hope to have them available for a giveaway later this year.

Kaleidoscope hot peppers

Kaleidoscope hot peppers

The pole beans are still setting pods, no doubt happy in the somewhat cooler weather we’ve had lately. A little rain surely perked them up too. It’s the Appalachian heirloom beans NT Half Runner and Bertie Best Greasy Beans in the below photo.

NT Half Runner and Bertie Best Greasy Beans

NT Half Runner and Bertie Best Greasy Beans

Bertie Best Greasy Bean is an heirloom from North Carolina that makes fairly small pods that plump up quickly with the beans inside. They have strings, and the pods cook up tender even when the beans get large and the pods start to mature. ‘Greasy beans’ are so named because the pods have a slick feel to them, lacking the fuzz usually present on a snap bean pod.

Bertie Best Greasy Beans

Bertie Best Greasy Beans

The slicing tomatoes have come to a screeching halt here. And I pulled the determinate paste tomatoes to make room for a fall planting of Red Racer and Defiant tomatoes. Also slowing down but not stopping yet are my Juliet vines, and I got another bucket full of them last week, just shy of four pounds worth. I’m roasting these up to turn into tomato sauce, after saving a few of them for fresh use. They already made an appearance on pork carnitas last night. And they will also show up on a salad we’re having for lunch today.

Juliet tomatoes

Juliet tomatoes

In the future harvests department, our pawpaw trees have a few fruits hanging on them still. I’m not sure if the trees are large enough to support the fruits, so I’m not surprised a few fell off. I’m keeping my fingers crossed we get to taste at least one of them this year.

pawpaw fruit on the tree

pawpaw fruit on the tree

And finally, I baked a loaf of sourdough bread last year in my clay baker. I’m thinking of donating one of these for an upcoming rummage/bake sale. I can see more ‘practice’ loaves might be necessary too!

no-knead sourdough bread

no-knead sourdough bread

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest of any size or shape you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And please be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!

 


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Homemade Kombucha Experiments

It’s hard to believe, but I have been making homemade kombucha for over a year now. It’s actually pretty easy to make your own, and it only takes a few minutes of active time each week. It also only costs less than a dollar to make a whole gallon of it, even when I use organic sugar and high quality teas. That is a considerable savings over commercial kombucha which usually costs over $3 a bottle around here. Homemade kombucha tastes a lot better than the commercial stuff too, plus you have the advantage of making the flavors you really like.

gallon glass jar for brewing kombucha

gallon glass jar for brewing kombucha

Kombucha is a surprisingly easy to make home fermented drink. If you can make tea, you can make kombucha! The kombucha culture is called a scoby, which is short for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’. Over a period of 1-2 weeks, the scoby converts a sugar/tea solution into kombucha. Flavoring is usually added after this first ferment (1F), during a secondary ferment (2F) in the bottle. Creating your own flavor combinations is one of the benefits of making your own, and I have a lot of fun coming up with new flavors. My Spicy Thai Basil kombucha features a sprig of fresh Thai Basil, one Thai Bird hot pepper, and a slice of lemon. Those go in the bottle first, then I add the finished kombucha and let the bottle sit for a few days before putting in the refrigerator and then drinking.

adding ingredients for Spicy Thai Basil kombucha

adding ingredients for Spicy Thai Basil kombucha

My wife’s favorite flavor is ginger. I usually use a combination of fresh sliced ginger and crystallized ginger for the flavoring. Turmeric and ginger go well together too, using either fresh turmeric root or turmeric powder. I think the turmeric has a much stronger flavor than the ginger, so a little of it goes a long way for me. And ginger and lemon work well together too, using fresh lemon juice or the dried lemon slices I find at Trader Joe’s.

fresh and crystallized ginger for kombucha

fresh and crystallized ginger for kombucha

I got my original starter from a class I attended in Berea, Kentucky last year on making artisanal sodas. I came home with a piece of scoby so small it fit in a baby food jar. You generally use one scoby each time you make a batch of kombucha, and a new scoby is formed in the process. A year later, I have so many scobys I store extras in my scoby ‘hotel’, where there is currently a No Vacancy sign outside. I keep the scobys there sitting in sweet tea, and replace the liquid about once a month. The liquid in the hotel makes a super strong starter for a batch of kombucha. If you leave it long enough you will have kombucha vinegar.

extra scobys in the scoby hotel

extra scobys in the scoby hotel

My wife started drinking it several months ago, and I have had to up my production to keep up with demand. So I added a second one gallon fermentation vessel with a spigot. The spigot isn’t absolutely necessary, but it does make it easy to fill the bottles. I make about a gallon of kombucha each week, which keeps the two of us supplied. I generally let the kombucha ferment for two weeks for the 1F. We like our kombucha tart, and the longer you let it sit the more tart it becomes. We each drink about a cup of ‘booch a day. Kombucha is always made with a base of sweet tea, traditionally using black tea. But that tea can also green or white, or some combination of the three. Even some herbal teas can be used to make kombucha, including rooibos, yerba mate and hibiscus flowers.

kombucha brewing

kombucha brewing

In the above photo you can see my gallon brewing vessels on the right, plus two more smaller ones on the left. The half gallon one is my experiment using rooibos tea for a base. Rooibos is an herb that’s native to South Africa, and the leaves from them are reddish brown when dried. There are a lot of nutritional and health benefits claimed for rooibos tea, but the main attraction for me is that it’s naturally caffeine free. I try and limit my caffeine intake, and generally drink decaf coffee and tea. This is my second batch of rooibos kombucha, and the jury is still out on how I feel about it. The tea has a distinctive flavor, and some of that flavor is present in the finished kombucha. It’s not bad, but it is different from the kombucha I usually make from black and green teas. So more experimenting is in order! I’ve also been drinking iced rooibos tea to try and develop a taste for it.

dried butterfly pea flowers

dried butterfly pea flowers

My other experiment is using butterfly pea flowers in kombucha, both for the 1F and as an additive to 2F. I had never heard of this caffeine free herbal tea until I read about it on one of the kombucha Facebook groups I belong to. It’s all the rage there, mainly because of the shocking purple/pink color it gives to kombucha. When it’s infused in hot water, it makes a blue colored tea. That tea turns purple when an acidic liquid like lemon juice or kombucha is added. The flavor of the tea is often described as ‘earthy’, but I don’t think it really has a strong flavor at all.

butterfly pea flower tea

butterfly pea flower tea

So far I have added the butterfly pea flower tea to some finished kombucha made the conventional way with black tea. I also added dried lavender flowers and blueberries, to go with the purple theme. The result is a wildly colored purple drink with a great taste. I can’t say I can really taste the butterfly pea flowers, but the color is hard to miss. And look at those bubbles in the below photo! It was down the hatch shortly after I got the pic. I may have just upped my kombucha consumption today with the tasting. Oh well, anything for the team is what I always say.

kombucha with butterfly pea flower tea added

kombucha with butterfly pea flower tea added

I also started a quart batch of kombucha using only sweetened butterfly pea flower tea for a base. That one won’t be ready to drink for another week or so, but it is already making a new scoby, which is always a good sign. I used starter tea from a finished black tea kombucha, and the liquid turned from blue to purple as soon as the acidic starter went in.

butterfly pea flower kombucha brewing

butterfly pea flower kombucha brewing

My next experiment will be with using hibiscus flower tea. It’s another caffeine free herbal tea that has a citrusy flavor and a bright red color. I’ve already tasted it both hot and iced, and I like the flavor. I think I already have enough kombucha brewing at the moment, so I plan to wait a bit before I try it for the primary fermentation. If the citrus flavor persists after fermentation, it should go well with lemon, and ginger, and who knows what else. More experimentation and kombucha tasting will be needed for sure!

hibiscus flower tea

hibiscus flower tea

I hope you have enjoyed this update on my adventures with homemade kombucha. If any of my readers make their own, I would love to hear about your adventures too! I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres.

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Harvest Monday August 20, 2018

Welcome to Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. It’s still tomato season here, and they are still keeping me busy processing them. On Wednesday I harvested a gallon bucket of Juliet, almost five pounds total. The vines have slowed down a bit, but that’s okay by me since I’ve gotten plenty off my plants already. In addition to fresh use, so far I’ve made Juliet into sauces and I’ve dehydrated them.

Juliet tomatoes

Juliet tomatoes

I turned all of this batch into Slow Roasted Tomatoes. For that I cut them in half, spread them out on three baking sheets, drizzled with olive oil then baked for three hours in a 250°F oven. It made four cups of roasted tomatoes, and I put them into the freezer for later use. We use these on pasta and pizza, and in casseroles where they give a big tomato taste. You could also add herbs or salt before roasting, but I find they have plenty of flavor by themselves.

slow-roasted Juliet tomatoes

slow-roasted Juliet tomatoes

I also got enough paste tomatoes to make a batch of Roasted Tomato Sauce. It’s a mix of varieties here, including Marzano Fire which has been a shy producer for me this year. This has been a year when the hybrid tomatoes have really shown their worth, and many (or most) of the open-pollinated ones have done poorly. I will take that into consideration when planning next year’s garden, and many of the ones that failed to perform this year will not be back. Tough love is sometimes needed in the garden!

paste tomatoes

paste tomatoes

For slicing tomatoes, a whole bunch of the Garden Treasures came ripe about the same time. These hybrid red slicers have a great taste, and always produce well for me. The seed is not available commercially at present, but Proven Winners should be selling the seed and plants next year for Garden Treasure and Garden Gem. Meanwhile I have enough seed to plant both here next year, and I plan to do just that. I got my seeds by making a $10 donation to the University of Florida tomato breeding program, but I’m not sure what seeds they are giving out now.

Garden Treasure tomatoes

Garden Treasure tomatoes

Garden Treasure

Garden Treasure

Several of the winter squashes seemed ready to harvest last week, so I brought them inside to cure. I cut two Tromba d’Albenga while I was at it. They’re hanging out with a Tetsukabuto, four Thelma Sanders and five Gill’s Golden Pippin squashes. It’s my first time growing the heirloom acorn squash Gill’s Golden Pippin. According to the listing at Adaptive Seeds (where I got my seeds), they are “five times more flavorful than most acorn squash, but about half the size.” Even allowing for the usual seed company hyperbole, I am hopeful they will be a tasty addition to our winter squash lineup.

assortment of squashes

assortment of squashes

I grew Thelma Sanders last year and we really enjoyed it roasted, but some were too large to enjoy in one sitting. The smaller size of Gill’s Golden Pippin should be a plus in the kitchen. I’ll let them cure for about a month before we get our first taste of them.

Gill's Golden Pippin squash

Gill’s Golden Pippin squash

I got a more hot peppers last week, including the aptly named Kimchi and Gochugaru plus a lot of the Thai Bird peppers. All three of these are growing in containers and giving me plenty of peppers for drying. I dehydrated the Thai peppers whole, but ground up the Kimchi and Gochugaru after saving seeds from them and dehydrating. I’m getting a good amount of ground pepper flakes for making kimchi later on when I have cabbage from the garden.

Kimchi, Gochugaru and Thai Bird hot peppers

Kimchi, Gochugaru and Thai Bird hot peppers

I also got a big harvest of Cayennetta hot peppers. I’ve also got these 2012 AAS Winners growing in a container, where they do quite well for me. I’m going to turn these into a homemade Chili Garlic Sauce, but first I’m going to ferment them for about a week. Fermenting gives them a bit of extra flavor, and it also means the finished sauce will keep longer. I’ll be cutting the peppers in half then salting overnight (5% salt by weight) before packing in a jar to ferment, as I described a few years back in Fermented Pepper Mash. After fermenting the peppers can also easily be turned into hot sauce.

Cayennetta peppers

Cayennetta peppers

I’m still saving seed from select pepper varieties that I have isolated to prevent cross pollination. This time it was Aji Angelo, a mildly hot red baccatum pepper. I got quite a few seeds from the five peppers, then I added them to the Cayennetta peppers for fermenting. I decided to add a watermark to the below photo because my pics of Aji Angelo peppers have been stolen more than a dozen times and used to sell seeds on Ebay, Amazon and recently a Swedish seed company. I’d be happy to let them use my pics, if they would only ask!

Aji Angelo peppers

Aji Angelo peppers

The pole beans haven’t slowed down yet, and one new face made an appearance last week. I got a pound of the NT Half Runner beans. These are another of the heirloom beans I am growing from the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center. The NT stand for “non-tough”, and are a special strain of half runner beans that remain tender even when the pods are full and the beans inside are big.

NT Half Runner beans

NT Half Runner beans

I’m getting a steady supply of the purple podded Bluehilde beans now too. And as Lou (Rainbow Chard) pointed out last week, the pods on mine are a bit flatter than hers, which tells me perhaps the strain is a bit variable. Some of mine are more round than others, so that would seem to be the case. In the below photo I’m holding a couple of the really flat pods I found. Some of mine do have strings, despite the Baker Creek catalog listing that says they are “stringless, even at 10 inches long”. Oh well, I don’t mind stringing them, since many of the other pole beans I’m growing have strings. I have had issues in the past with Baker Creek seeds not being true to type, so who knows if I really have Blauhilde bean or not!

Blauhilde beans

Blauhilde beans

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest of any size or shape you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And please be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!


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Planting the Fall Garden

I’ve been busy the last few weeks planting veggies for fall and winter harvest. First in the ground were bush beans. I pulled the spring planted beans which had slowed down considerably, and sowed more in their place. I also sowed another short row where the bush squashes were growing. In addition to my long-time favorite Derby, I’m also trying Mascotte (a 2014 AAS Winner), Castandel, and Jade 2. I’ve got small plantings of each of the four beans, about twenty feet total, to see how they perform in the fall garden. I grew Derby last fall and it did great, so I am hoping for a repeat this year. The bean plants are growing nicely now, though bean beetles have been munching on the leaves. I was hoping the leaves would outgrow the damage but I may have to spray some pyganic to set the beetles back.

fall planting of bush beans

fall planting of bush beans

Next in the ground were radishes and turnips. I sowed them two weeks ago, and they are ready to be thinned. I’m growing several daikon radishes, including Alpine, KN Bravo and Mini Mak. I’ll use them for fermenting as well as for fresh use and in cooking. We got a good rain yesterday and all the plants have perked up nicely. Of course it will also make the weeds grow, so I need to work on them too! I planted the radishes in a triple row to maximize the space available.

fallgardenradishes

daikon radishes

I’ve got a mix of turnips planted, including ones grown only for greens like Topper and Nozawana and ones grown for the roots like Hakurei, Oasis and Mikado. I’ve also planted Scarlet Ohno Revival, which makes hot-pink roots and tasty strap-shaped leaves. I know plenty of folks who like the roots but don’t like the greens, or vice versa, but my wife and I like all parts of the humble turnip! I planted the turnips in a double row, each row about a foot apart. I’ll mulch with straw once I get them thinned out, and they should fill in the space between the rows. As you can see in the below photo, I will need to keep pointing the sweet potato vines back to keep them from running all over the turnips.

double row of turnips

double row of turnips

Speaking of sweet potatoes, I set the slips out in early June, and the vines are growing lush now. One variety I’m growing for the first time, Murasaki, is covered in lovely purple blooms. I’ve seen the bees working the blossoms too. I think sweet potato vines are ornamental anyway, and the blooms are an added bonus.

Murasaki sweet potatoes

Murasaki sweet potatoes

Last week I set out seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi. I started these indoors back in early July, and hardened off outdoors for a few days before planting. The seedlings are still quite small, but they have taken off quickly once they got into the ground. I set these plants out in a double row too. Then I set out another row of kale and collard greens. We love our greens here at Happy Acres, and these should keep us well supplied into early winter.

fall planted broccoli

fall planted broccoli and cabbage

I need to get this area mulched soon too, and I will likely use shredded paper and straw. I had a little damage from cabbage moth caterpillars but a spraying of Bt and neem oil took care of them. I’ll need to reapply it after the rain, since the white cabbage moths are still flying around.

fallgardencabbage

Little Jade napa cabbage

The last things I planted this week are truly an experiment. I set out plants of cucumber, squash and tomatoes in a 4×8 foot bed that was vacant after I pulled up a dead squash vine. I forked in compost and organic fertilizer before planting. We’ve got plenty of pickles already, so I planted three slicing cucumbers (Diva, Corinto and 7082). I’m using remesh cages to contain the vines.

cucumber seedlings

cucumber seedlings

For squash I set out one plant each of the yellow crookneck Tempest and Spineless Beauty zucchini. I also set one plant of Astia zucchini in a 15 gallon Smart Pot. I’ll have to work to keep that one watered, but I have successfully grown the more compact varieties like Astia in large pots.

fallgardenastia

Astia zucchini in Smart Pot

I set out two different short vine determinate tomatoes. I grew Red Racer last fall, and this 2018 AAS Winner gave us our last taste of salad sized tomatoes in 2017. I’m also trying Defiant, a short vine slicing tomato that is blight resistant and did well for me this spring. The main crop tomatoes are still producing but slowing down, and it will be nice if these fall planted ones give us some fruits. We don’t generally get our first frost until late October, so there is plenty of time for them to bear.

Defiant tomato

Defiant tomato

I still need to work up the cold frame beds and get more kale and kohlrabi planted there. Then it will be time to start other greens like lettuce and pak choi. I hope you have enjoyed this update from Happy Acres, and I’ll be back with more happenings soon!

 

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