Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sometimes, a Shovel is the Answer

With the dry weather we've had this month, our pastures are browning--but they are thistle free.

For a decade, I've been battling the pants-piercing, skin-stabbing thistle. This is one tough, painful weed, and the horses and sheep want nothing to do with it.

On my drives through the country, I've seen this thistle take over a pasture, and I'm determined not to let it take over ours.

When it first appeared, my first defense was regular mowing. The thistles came back fuller and stronger than ever.

Next, I tried spraying them with a solution of vinegar, water and dish detergent.

Before treatment

After treatment

The thistles returned, and I upped the ante with Round-Up, a chemical I try to avoid using. Again, the thistles wilted, browned, and later returned.

The problem, I realized, was that it was hard to coat the entire plant with the chemicals.

So a few years ago, I changed tactics and got out the shovel.

Every month I walk the 11 acres of pastures and dig up thistles. Last year there were fewer thistles, and this year, the number dwindled again. On my walk this weekend, I only found a dozen thistle plants. Maybe, just maybe, the shovel is the answer.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Perfect Tomato

Tomato season is here, and so is the debate about the perfect tomato.

The Black Pearls, black cherry tomatoes, began ripening about a week ago. A few days ago, I picked my first full-sized tomatoes--the Paul Robesons. A Russian heirloom, they are described as black tomatoes, but their color ranges from a smoky red to a glossy green.

The tomatoes pictured are all ripe and ready for eating.

I describe their size as perfect. They're baseball size, fit into my hand and are the right size for a single serving.

Most black tomatoes have a flavor that is salty, rather than sweet or tangy, and these are no exception.

I describe them as a perfect tomato.

But because I like variety--and like tomato salads composed of a mix of colors, I've planted other varieties. I'm waiting on other blacks, reds, pinks and green tomatoes to ripen.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Cat Days of Summer

During the Cat Days of Summer, when the temperatures climb to 90 and the insect popular explodes, the sheep, horses and chickens while away most of the day in the barn, and the cats overtake the back porch.

Trick snoozing on the back porch.

The concrete is cooler than their usual napping places in the barns.

Leslie the Cat on the back porch.

House flies, gnats and even the lumbering, buzzing horse flies seem to leave the cats alone on the back porch.

Roxie perched on the stoop.

If snoozing on the back porch, they have to exert little energy to find their next meal--cat food served on the porch.

But their is one cat who chooses a different place for his siesta. Dewey Kitty comes inside and stretches out where I, too, would like to while away the hot summer afternoons.

Dewey Kitty snoozing under the ceiling fan in my office.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Zucchini Solution

Mama Hen and her three chicks inspect a tomato, their first of the season.

Because it is summertime, and I have a garden and a flock of chickens, I am a picky produce eater.

When I find three zucchinis that grew a foot overnight, I don't make them into bread or mix them with cheese and bread crumbs. I simply break them in two and toss them over the fence to the chickens who cluck in delight.

Is that cucumber past its prime? Over the fence to the chicken yard it goes.

Tomato have a spot on it? The mama hen and chicks will love it.

In my Before Chicken years I felt compelled to use or give away everything I grew in the garden. The 2-ft. long zucchinis and bushels of tomatoes that I had no time to process took away the joy of gardening and eating fresh produce.

But now that I have chickens, I take joy in tossing the excess and damaged produce over the fence and watching them gobble it up. And, I can savor the six-inch tender zucchini, the perfectly ripe tomato, the crunchy, snack-sized cucumber.