Monday, October 8, 2012

Blogging Versus Homesteading

Most of you have probably figured this out by now, but I've found that keeping up with blogging is not as fun for me as keeping up with my homesteading.  Thus the blog has fallen to the wayside.  Thanks for joining me on my fun journey for awhile.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll pick up blogging again down the road, but for now, it's become one more thing on the to-do list, so I'm dropping it.  :)  Prioritize!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tomatoes To Red Sauce

Tomato after Blanching
Your first step to using all those tomatoes for something other than salads is blanching them.  Blanching is an easy little trick that you must add to your toolbox if you haven't already.  Following are the steps to blanching:

1.  Place tomatoes in boiling water for just 1 minute (you don't want to cook them).

2.  Scoop the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl of ice water.

3.  Skins will split open (see picture above), and you just slip them off the meat of the tomato.  If the skin doesn't split open, just slice the surface lightly with a knife, and the skin will still come right off.

After you have blanched and peeled your tomatoes, next you need your Colorful Paring Knives (Google Affiliate Ad).  (or any paring knife, really)  Cut out the green spot where the tomato used to be connected to the plant and then slice the tomato in half (you will need larger than a paring knife for that cut if you're dealing with anything larger than a Roma).  Squeeze each half of the tomatoes over an empty bowl.  Then place the (mostly) seedless tomato halves in another bowl (or straight into the food processor if you'd prefer).

Skins and Seeds Bowl
Halved Tomatoes Bowl
From here you can do what you'd like with the tomatoes - make pasta sauce, pizza sauce, straight tomato sauce, whatever you fancy.  "What's the difference?" some might ask.  Pasta sauce will be a bit runnier than pizza sauce, along with taste variations that you may prefer.  Straight tomato sauce is when you just take them down to a sauce without any seasoning.

Below is my approach - don't forget I'm a bit of a free spirit, and it shows in the kitchen just like every other part of my life.

1.  Puree tomatoes (or puree it after all the cooking is done - whichever I feel like on a given day).

2.  Cook tomatoes in a pan with a bit of olive oil and fresh oregano and basil from the garden.  Add salt and pepper, of course.  Oh, and don't forget a little sugar - that makes everything taste better.

3.  Meanwhile, saute some onions and garlic (from the garden or farmers' market, of course)...maybe some sweet pepper if you want.  Then throw it into the cooking tomato sauce chunky, or puree it and throw it in (or you can do all the pureeing together at the end if you don't want any chunks).

 4.  Let it all cook down for awhile.  Throw in a little of this and that as you prefer - thyme, mushrooms, chives, whatever.  Take a walk through the garden and see what's growing - throw some shredded squash or zucchini in - no one will ever know.

5.  Now you have pasta sauce.  Throw a few fresh basil leaves on top, and it turns gourmet.  To make it into pizza sauce, you want it thicker.  Some suggestions:  drain some liquid off and keep cooking it down, add some flour, OR stir in some tomato paste from the store - your pizza still counts as homemade! 

Back to picking tomatoes! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Make Your Own Red Sauce

We are known for calling spaghetti "noodles and red sauce" at our house.  How did this come about?  Because we never consistently have spaghetti noodles in the cupboard, but there is usually some type of pasta available.  Then, of course, there's the fact that one's never sure what kind of sauce might end up on our pasta, but if it's red, it's usually acceptable to a broader range of diners.  One day when my son was in preschool, he made me look like a great homesteader with his description of his favorite food.    Below is one of my favorite preschool stage keepsakes.

Next post will explore processing tomatoes and making red sauce.  (My apologies for the lapse of time without a blog this past week.  Somehow when life gets busy, blogging gets bumped.  I'll post the next ones much quicker.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Part 3: Sweet Potato Vines

Sweet potato bed
The sweet potato vines will always need their own bed, aside from some early spring crops like lettuce and spinach.  Early in the season, this bed felt like a waste of space.  Now, I frequently walk along the edge of the bed and trim the vines back off the paths. 

Peanut plants amidst the shade of the sweet potato vines
This year I planted peanuts for the first time and put them on the edge of the sweet potato bed.  Next year I will try giving them some more room to expand and see what happens.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Part 2:The Squash and Zucchini Plants

The squash and zucchini were one of the worst pathway-overtaking offenders this year.  They can thrive on the pathway because they grow out from the base, which is firmly rooted in nutritious dirt.  These are another candidate for softening a corner boundary of the fenced-in yard.  While harvesting the produce of these beauties does not cut back on the space they take (in contrast to yesterday's lemon grass), if I put them in a corner at the back of a path, it will be okay if they overtake their section of the path because I will not need to pass by them to get to anything else.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Photo Record Keeping for Edible Landscaping

Earlier this season, I was moaning to an urban homesteading friend (see "Sustainable Urban Living Inspiration") about how much space I was wasting in my new beds and that I needed to plan other things for next season.  In his experienced wisdom he assured me the space would fill in and that I should take pictures of the gardens once things were full size.  Then, he advised, I could use the pictures to plan my space layout for next year.  Brilliant!

Committing to edible landscaping means managing an ever-changing landscape.  The next few posts will cover pictures of several of my plants at peak size and the space adjustment plans for next year.  This will avoid the landscape looking lopsided, with lots of empty dirt one half of the season and overrun paths the other half of the season. 

Today, we will look at the lemon grass:

This gorgeous edible grass grew much larger than others I've seen - must be my rich new soil!  It is currently shading my herbal perennials, stunting their growth, and growing over my path on the other side.  Some of this could be reined in by more frequent harvesting, but we all know I'm behind on keeping up with all the produce right now.  Be looking for a post on harvesting, drying, and using lemongrass in the near future.

Since this is an annual that has a chance of surviving a move indoors over winter, I plan to uproot it in a couple months anyway.  I will either center it in a bed next year, or more likely, move it to a corner to soften the boundaries of the backyard.  I may even try to split it this winter - wish me luck!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Quail Habitat

Once again, the quail have taken more than their share of my time!  Just when I had them all settled in, I added a few more a couple weeks ago, which meant more pecking wars and hours of monitoring my attempts at safe setups.  Below is the process (a big thanks to some chicken-owning family members for guiding me through some of this):

Day One:  Introduced new quail by letting all free-range around the yard under my supervision against cats and other predators (all wings clipped to prevent escapes that would only end in death-by-predator).  Figured out which were male much quicker than last time and passed them on to a neighbor who will raise them for meat.

Night One:  All quail in original pen for a "safe" overnight.  

Day Two:  Found new quail badly pecked in the morning - one's eye was swollen over and heads of both were bare.  My only hope of their survival was letting them free range, but I had plans for the day.  So, I took my chances, let them have run of the backyard, and left for church.  That afternoon, I brought my chicken experts to the backyard for a consultation (all quail were accounted for - we rarely get backyard intruders).  The injured ones were safely hiding for recovery and the former crew were hanging out together eating my freshly planted pea seeds.  Basically, this free-ranging was just allowing them to separate, not letting them adjust to each other.  My sister and brother-in-law informed me that they needed to be forced to be in close proximity, where they could see each other but not be able to reach each other to avoid injuries.  They also said they would need to stay that way for a couple weeks.  Great!  That means building a temporary setup that is stable enough to last a couple weeks against predators.  A walk through the basement brought a brilliant idea - that metal cube organizer I have kept since college - I knew it would come in handy someday!  I rearranged the cubes so that I had two sections for quail, put bricks on top of it to make it hard to overturn, and called the project finished.

Night Two:  No problems with the setup.  Our dog chased a stray cat away first thing in the morning. 

Day Three - Day Twelve:  Uneventful.  Injuries healed over. 

Day Thirteen:  I decide it is time to come up with a permanent setup for the quail that has enough square footage for six quail to roam happily, cozy laying spaces with egg retrieval access, and ease of access for changing bedding, feeding, and watering.  I went to the basement and looked over our scrap wood, leftover metal fencing material, and leftover plastic chicken wire.  After dragging everything out and assessing the space, I am suddenly able to come up with a creative solution that doesn't require all the material and work of building an entirely new setup.  I realize that I can connect the cube organizer (that is too covered in quail filth to ever use as an organizer again anyway) and the original quail pen - allowing a space to run outside and a sheltered space with nesting holes for eggs.  I can also then add a roof to the original pen for protection from rain and snow without taking away their access to the sunshine and the rest of the natural world.  I still need to make a few improvements to make the passageway between the two fully predator proof, but I believe I have a setup that will work long term. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lotion on Less

Out of cash and out of lotion = time to make a new batch of homemade lotion.  The process is amazingly easy, and it makes great lotion.  I began my lotion-making ventures based on a recipe at, one of my favorite blogs, so I must give them credit.  However, I like a very thick lotion, so I've adapted it and made my own recipe.

What you will need:

Bees Wax (2 Tbs)
Olive Oil (1/2 Cup)

Aloe (1 Cutting)
...and some water.
        (1/2 Cup)

1.  Grate the bees wax - of course, I do this with my food processor.  I grate plenty of bees wax so that I can just pull it out pre-grated for a quick lotion refill session.  If you want a workout, feel free to grate by hand! Not sure where to get bees wax?  Connect with me...I have a few family members who raise bees.  Or find a local beekeeper - (s)he will have wax.
Grated bees wax
2.  Next, heat the wax and the oil together in a double-boiler until the wax melts.

3.  Add goop from inside your aloe plant into the hot oil mixture...or you can purchase a small container of aloe vera at a craft store and use that.  This is also the time that I add a few drops of tea tree oil and sometimes vitamin E if I have it on hand.  Tea tree oil has a very specific odor - if you don't like it, add a scent that you do like...or just embrace the smell of olive oil.
5 drops

4.  Dump the hot oil into a warm blender and turn it on.  Then quickly pour in lukewarm water all at once.  It will congeal like magic within seconds!

Lotion in a Blender  ;)
 5.  Pour off any water that does not bind itself to the lotion.

6.  Put lotion into clean container in which you want to keep it.

7.  Just rub any lotion in that gets on you in the process and clean up.

I've had a lot of requests for my lotion, so now you know the process and ingredients.  If you are not up to making it yourself, I will make you a jar and sell it to you for $6.50. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Freezer Space Running Low

Oops - forgot to check on my zucchini for a few days.
 I have always found throwing things in a freezer bag and into the freezer much easier than canning, and to be completely honest, have wondered why anyone bothers with canning. Well, I believe I have found the answer.  Space.  We have spent hours on end making peach desserts and preparing peaches for the freezer.  I have made applesauce.  I have made zucchini bread.  I have frozen several bags of zucchini and squash.  I have frozen broccoli.  The list goes on and the hours pass by.

The "problem" is that I still have this table full of produce, plus a backyard with many more tomatoes, cantaloupe, green beans, and herbs ready for the picking, not to mention the entire bed of sweet potatoes that will be ready in another month.  I still have more planting space, but I am falling behind on processing and storing my produce.  My refrigerator, counters, and freezer are all nearly full.

I suppose I may have to tackle this thing called canning.  After all, I do live in Muncie, Indiana - home of the Ball jars.  I must admit, one of the issues that has kept me from canning is fear.  I'm just always a little uneasy that I will ingest botulism when eating home-canned goods.  I know, I know, this is the horrible impact of industrialized agriculture on my psyche, but it's the truth.  Another issue I have with canning is flavor preference.  I tried canning with some friends one year when I had an overabundant tomato harvest but didn't end up liking the salsa or tomato juice that we canned.  People tell me that canning preserves summer flavor better than freezing, but I prefer frozen veggies at the grocery better than the canned veggies.  Thus, I'm just not convinced that I will end up using the things I can.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Camping Diet Redefined

With camping season kicking off at the peak of harvest season, I have decided that there is no excuse this year for the awful diet we usually have while camping.  This year I took a few extra minutes before leaving the house to fill some skewers with produce from local farms and my own backyard.  As usual, the little bit of planning was well worth the payoff.  I actually enjoyed the weekend without feeling like I had a rock in my stomach.  Between these and the veggie hotdogs, I actually felt good in the morning .  Good enough for some pancakes and bacon over the fire!  :) 

*I know, veggie hotdog is an oxymoron, but I see nothing logical to start with about eating a hotdog.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rabbit Meat

Preparing my Rabbit for the Fryer
Something about seeing that whole guy intact - minus his head and feet - makes him less appealing.  Nonetheless, I was determined to give it a chance.  However, after cooking it the best I knew how, I've decided I'm just not a fan of eating rabbit.  It's a little expensive, a little chewy, and alot of work for a little meat.  If you want to bring me a perfectly cooked, gourmet dish of rabbit to prove me wrong, feel free.  But until then, I think it's back to other entrees for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Never Ending Homesteading

Grapes juiced, check.
Entree of locally raised rabbit, check.
Side of squash from backyard, check.
Homemade bread, check.
Front yard peaches into dessert, check.

Dozens of peaches still need attention.
Dozens of apples still need attention.
Red raspberry starts still need to be planted.
Fall seeds still need to be planted.
Quail pen renovation needed.

How in the world does one keep up with all this? Whose idea was this to live off our little plot of land? It's really starting to look nice and pay off, but this is certainly not the easiest path.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What to Do With All Those Peaches

The problem with edible landscaping is that with every additional food-producing plant that I put in the ground comes additional maintenance, harvesting, and "putting up" work.  Since we are up to our elbows in peaches (and apples and grapes) here at the Draper homestead, I think it is due time for a Top 10 Uses for Peaches list.  You may notice the absence on the list of eating them straight away after picking them.  This is because my peaches are not very sweet this year (likely due to the drought), so I will be primarily using them in things.

10.  Peach Crostata
 9.  Upside Down Peach Cake
 8.  Blanch, Peel, Slice, and Freeze in Light Syrup
 7.  Puree and add to iced tea (good for those peeled, sliced peaches that start to brown before you can use them).
 6.  Puree and add to quick breads.
 5.  Peach Pie
 4.  Peach Cobbler
 3.  Peach Crisp
 2.  Smoothies
 1.  Mash into yogurt.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fall Planting

A second planting for a late fall harvest has been a major goal of mine this year as part of my Learning to Live Local on Less  journey.  Since I'm new to this second planting, I was thrilled to find that Mother Earth News has an app specifically designed for timing your plantings and has an option to split your planting schedule into spring and fall.  It was only $2, so I figured I can't go wrong and went ahead and purchased it.  I feel quite confident that it will help me expand my produce-growing power.  Without the app, I would have stuck with a few simple basics like leafy greens.  Now, I may try some braver endeavors as well, such as purple sprouting broccoli and oats.  Next step:  mustering up enough self-discipline to keep planting while harvesting, pruning, and weeding are all in full swing. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Quail Eggs

Quail eggs ready to be scrambled.

The empty, cracked shells on a spoon drip catcher.

Many of you have been asking questions about my quail eggs, so today I've brought you some pictures of quail eggs in use.  I tried to include other objects in the pictures that will provide a frame of reference for scale.  They have the same flavor and consistency as chicken eggs, just much smaller.  I estimate that it takes about four quail eggs to amount to one chicken egg.  I have not had to buy any eggs from the store since my quail started laying, which was the goal.

Speaking of quail, a brief update for those of you who have been following for awhile:  I managed to identify two males and return them to the farmer.  He will use them for meat and bring me two females in exchange.  I was also able to identify the aggressor who killed one of the other quail.  She disappeared from the box in which I was holding her while deciding what to do with her, so that solved that problem!  :)  Now I have four happily laying females and will soon have six.  Life on the urban farm has calmed down in this regard.  I still hope to improve their pen at some point and will let you know when I do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bidding Farewell to Grocery Store Jelly

Our grapes are ready for harvesting, and I am determined to make good use of the produce as part of my Learning to Live Local on Less journey.

Less than half of the first round of harvest from one vine.
First step:  systematically clipping each stem of grapes off the vine as it becomes ready. 
Second step:  washing the grapes.  This is urban homesteading, folks, so my grapes have been entangled with Slurpee lids, chip bags, and other neighborhood litter.

Third step:  pluck each grape from its stem to prepare for processing.

Fourth step:  slightly boiling the grapes with a little water to extract more juice.  Plus, that rinsing just didn't calm my sanitation fears like a good boil!

This juice strainer was found at Meijer.
Fifth step:  strain the juice from the grapes.  Helpful hint:  do not allow grapes to accumulate in the strainer. They eventually become too heavy, causing the strainer full of grapes to fall into the bowl of scalding grape juice below.  This results in scalding grape juice splattering all over yourself and your kitchen.  Learn from my mistake!!

Sixth step:  boil grape juice with plenty of sugar and pectin. Stir until it thickens to the consistency you desire when pulled out and cooled on a spoon.  If you want it thicker and firmer, add more pectin. 

Seventh step:  put the jelly in storage containers.  I used canning jars and put them in the fridge. I did not fully process with a water bath, but I did sanitize the jars and boil the liquid.  Thus, all the lids sealed, and the contents will be fine for quite awhile considering the high sugar content and the refrigeration.

Hoping to master growing peanuts, so that next year our entire pb&j staple can be grown on our own little city plot.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Homemade Salsa

For those of you who love chips and salsa and live in zones 5-7, there is simply no reason at all not to enjoy homemade salsa made from locally grown produce. 

Ingredients:  tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro...hmmm...if you don't have these items growing in abundance in your own kitchen garden, you can certainly find heaps of them at your local farmers' market.  Adjust the amounts of different types of peppers to find a heat level that suits you.  You may want to throw in a few other favorite ingredients to customize your salsa, or add a flavor absorber like yellow squash to stretch your salsa (a handy tip from my sister-in-law since I don't really like squash on its own). 

What to do:  throw it in the food processor, and voila, you have salsa.

The other day my husband thought we forgot to buy salsa at the store.  No such thing happened - we are just Learning to Live Local on Less!  :)    Even with minimal homesteading kitchen equipment, you can simply chop up the ingredients, stir them together, let it set long enough for the flavors to mingle together, and you will have a nice chunky salsa that looks closer to a pico de gallo than what I have pictured. 

I hate to admit, but in the interest of keeping it real, I must confess that I still use discount brand tortilla chips.  Maybe someday, I'll be fully self-sufficient and make those too, but it's all about the journey, right? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ponderings on Pruning

Pruned Apple Tree
Pruning is not something that comes naturally for me.  I hate to cut off all those nice branches just to send them to the compost pile.  I am learning.  I am learning that removing branches from my apple and peach trees equals more fruit.  I am learning that when I cut off the old wilted rose, new roses will continue to flourish for a longer season.  But I feel like such a traitor to that nice old rose that has lived out its life cycle in peace. 

I really am no good at pruning in any area of my life.  It takes discipline.  It takes slowing down to work through a mental process of why pruning is necessary and how it will be beneficial in the long-run.  You see, for me, gardening is full of spiritual moments.
Pruned Peach Tree
Fall Pruning Project

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Goat's Milk Woes

I inquired about goat's milk and was disappointed with the outcome.  The goat farmer I contacted does not sell goat's milk, just shares of a goat, which then gives you a specific amount of milk during the times that she's giving milk and leaving you fresh out of luck when she's dry.  The monthly fee is more than it costs me to buy organic cow's milk at the supermarket, and I prefer cow's milk anyway.  So, I guess we won't be taking the goat's milk route (thankfully - I was dreading that one a bit).

I know we don't need any more contributors to the world of ranting bloggers, but I must at least say that I'm not a fan of the "buying a share approach" to Community Supported Agriculture.  I would much rather support community agriculture by going to the farmer's market and purchasing the local produce that my family chooses.  It doesn't strike me as sustainable that we all pay a monthly fee to get a basket of what the farmer chooses, regardless of what we might choose. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why?...or...Why Not?

Someone recently asked me why I am raising quail. I've had similar questions about why take the extra time to hang up clothes instead of just throw them in the dryer. The funny thing is, I usually find myself somewhat at a loss of an answer to such questions because my reasoning does not fall precisely in line with any specific ideology that dictates such actions. I suppose the easiest answer is that, although these things may be time-consuming, they are also very life-giving to me.

I'm not completely comfortable with industrialized agriculture and the many practices involved. I desire to show respect for the Creator by respecting His creation. I don't believe, for example, that this looks like placing chickens in cages that allow for no movement and focusing on the sole result of the most efficient egg production. Nor do I believe this looks like keeping created beings in overcrowded facilities where they do not see the light and cannot interact with any of the rest of creation.

I am also uncomfortable with the amount of steroids, antibiotics, and God knows whatever else getting pumped into our food for the sake of low-cost, efficient, and blemish-free production. While I don't find researching and debating the details of what the exact extent to which all this affects us physically, I do prefer to take proactive steps to cut back on the amount of chemicals being pumped into my body and the bodies of my family. In my house, this looks like everything from eliminating the use of plastic more each month to growing things organically in my backyard.

Finally, I value moderation of consumption. I enjoy cutting back on energy and water usage. I enjoy cutting back on utilization of centralized systems. And I enjoy saving money. I find it somewhat absurd that in the same day we use money and electricity on running both a device to pump out hot air (the clothes dryer) and a device to pump out cool air (the air conditioning), so I use the Creator's outdoor heating device (the sun) to dry my clothes).

That's the best I can give you for my "why." Really, it all comes down to that I like it. It feels right. It connects me with natural processes, teaches me spiritual lessons, and brings me joy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Learning More About Quail

I believe this one's female, based on my research.  :)

Today’s job has been learning more about my quail.  Here’s what I’ve found:

     1. My quail are Coturnix quail, also known as Japanese quail.
     2. Quail have cannibalistic tendencies when under stress or living in too little space (very good to know…should have researched before losing one in pecking battles).
     3. Quail need 2 sq. ft. per adult male.  We have close to that but probably a little under, so we will need to increase their space now that they are maturing.
     4.  Nobody in my area carries game bird laying food.
     5.   Sometimes quail hide their eggs in the bedding (that should be fun!).
     6. Ways to sex quail (determining gender):
1.     Look at their breast feathers.  Males will have a rust color to their breast feathers while females will have distinguishable spots on their breasts.  (This does not work on the white ones.)
2.    Males crow, and females do not. 
3.    Males have an extra bump on their rear that secretes foam – don’t think I’ll be using that method to determine my males if at all avoidable!
4.  Separate the suspected male to see if he lays an egg because we all know that males don’t lay eggs!

I suppose my to-do list has now expanded.  Over the next week I will be sexing my quail and expanding the enclosed space available to them (they will be the dinner of predators and fly through the neighborhood without the space being enclosed).  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Updated To-Do List

Now that I have my edible landscaping well underway, I feel like I have come to a standstill on moving further down the path toward Learning to Live Local on Less.  Thus, I think it is time for a new to-do list. 

    1.  Contact a local goat farmer and inquire about switching to local goat milk as our milk source.  (If I had more space, I’d sure love to have my own goat!)

    2.  Research quail to learn how to better care for them and make this a sustainable egg source.  (We are currently dealing with some in fighting, likely, because some are males.  It is very difficult to tell the difference from male and female quail when they are babies, so we will need to figure out which are the males as they mature and trade them for females.)

        3.  Plan and prepare planting for a fall harvest.

        4.  Test soil from close to the foundation of the house for lead and asbestos to    see if it is safe to add edibles along the edge of the house.

          5.  Investigate growing grains or finding an affordable local source of grains.

I suppose the above list includes enough next steps to keep me moving in the right direction.   I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How the Garden Grows

Cantaloupe vines climbing up the fence.
Yellow squash with onions in the front.
First fruits.

French Runner Beans.
Sweet Potato Vines


Plant progress picture day!  Due to the drought, I have more empty dirt space than I'd like.  New plants just can't keep up in the record breaking high temps and lack of rain.  At this point, I am going to wait until late summer to plant some more things for a fall harvest.  Forgive the haphazard layout...Blogger doesn't handle multiple pictures well.

Challenging Peppers.

Herbs...lemongrass tea = happiness.

Tomatoes will be ready soon...

Delicious Peaches
My healthy grape vine... desperate need of pruning and training.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Brick Paths

My backyard layout was inspired by some British garden photos that had brick paths. I was committed to not spending much money on the paths but still had my heart set on brick. Well friends, I have good news, it is possible to make brick paths for free with good friends, craigslist, and the patience to live with a mess while you wait for the right materials at the right price. I was able to salvage many bricks from the messy side of a friend's yard, for which they were grateful that I cleaned out some "junk." Then, another person getting rid of paver bricks found my wanted ad for bricks on Craigslist.  He was also happy to have me take bricks off his hands for free. Just as I was losing steam and sitting around with mostly filled, wobbly paths, yet another friend called to see if we could use some extra sand they had leftover. So, we took the dirty sand out of the boys' sandbox and spread it around the brick paths. This stabilizes all the bricks and turns them into nice paths - I will do a how-to post of the process when all is finished. Then, we took the new sand and put it in the sandbox.  As you can see from the photos, we are still living with some mess, but we are getting closer every week.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Quail Adventures

There has been much discussion at our house about whether or not to let our quail have free range of the yard while we are outside to keep predators away.  Currently, they have free range of their pen.  The issue that stands in the way of allowing them free range of our yard is figuring out how to get them to go back into the pen for their own safety when needed.  Thus far, we have had trouble getting them still enough to clip their wings so that they can't fly out of the yard.

Take today, for instance.  I admit that I still have not found a great way to clean the quail pen.  I moved the lid off of one corner, just enough to be able to scoop out the dirty wood chips with my shovel.  It wasn't long before one flew out into the yard and calmly hid behind the pen, so I ignored her for a time in the interest of finishing cleaning without losing any quail.  Within minutes, I had another escape out of the roost and fly over the fence into our neighbor's apple orchard (thankfully, a friend).  We managed to track her down, catch her, and clip her wings.    However, in the course of finishing the cleaning of the pen, we had a handful of others escape around the yard (including hiding in the doghouse - bad decision), and one more fly over the fence into the orchard.  Our trusty bird dog tracked it down and sent it into our forsythia.  Everyone is safely back in the pen now, albeit somewhat traumatized, some with clipped wings.  It was a fun Saturday afternoon distraction, but I must come up with a better system for cleaning the quail pen! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gardening Shoes

How does one replace a faithful pair of gardening shoes? These shoes have served me well for years and years. This week, however, pieces of rubber have started to fall off in the garden while I work. So, what do I do? Purchase a new pair of shoes to immediately immerse in dirt? I am very finicky about my shoes. Crocs or some other such "gardening shoe" simply will not do! I need athletic shoes to support me while I go about the work of gardening. I can't use an old pair of athletic shoes because the support is completely worn out by the time I am done with them, and thus, they do not provide the support needed to garden without pain. Hmmmm...stayed tuned.