Emerging Monarchs

As a follow up to my previous post, I should have posted these photos in mid April when I took them, but alas here they are!  This first photo shows a monarch about 1 hour before emerging.  The chrysalis is completely see through at this point!  Also in the second photo notice the curled wings before the dry out.  This was taken a few minutes after emerging.  The fourth photo is pretty cool in it’s own right because those two monarchs literally emerged within minutes of each other!

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And just when I thought our monarch adventure was done for the season, we now have 14 new caterpillars within the last week.  That month in between gave the milkweeds just enough time to replenish to give life all over again.

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Spring Garden Update

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The ONE tomato seed that germinated was this, the trusty Stupice (pronounced Stu-peach-ka) tomato.  Most of my seeds have entered their 3rd year in my kitchen cabinet and so I can conveniently blame their age for lack of successful seed sprouting this spring, having nothing to do with my 30 hour work week which I’ve never had since beginning my edible quest some 4 years ago.  And it’s no big deal that this tomato plant is about a month behind the tomato curve because Stupice is one tomato that is a lover of the fall, a welcomer of the sudden cool days that can sneak up in early autumn when we’re still passing them off as summer.  In 2012 I was still harvesting these medium sized red Czechoslovakian heirlooms in January.  Yes, that’s right.

Refreshed soil in the raised bed is now home to a white Armenian cuke, butternut squash, yellow crookneck squash, pattypan squash, basil and rosemary.  To my surprise the basil is getting DEVOURED by some rodent, perhaps with an Italian parentage.

Refreshed soil in the raised bed is now home to a white heirloom cuke, butternut squash, yellow crookneck squash, pattypan squash, basil and rosemary. To my surprise the basil is getting DEVOURED by some rodent, perhaps with an Italian parentage.

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My daughter and I had a “decorate grow bags” afternoon using felt shapes and water-proof fabric glue. They grow my best tomatoes ever.

My daughter's design, now home to a cherry tomato.

My daughter’s design, now home to a cherry tomato.

For such a small thing, Eva's Pride has an impressive crop.  Supportive stakes in my future?

For such a small thing, Eva’s Pride peach has an impressive crop. Supportive stakes in my future?

Honestly, I'm unsure what the deal is with my Snow Queen Nectarine.  the bottom half is growing some healthy, strong new branches but the top half is only now meekly blooming with no leaves.  I'm hoping the two ends can meet somewhere in the middle and soon.

Honestly, I’m unsure what the deal is with my Snow Queen Nectarine. The bottom half is growing some healthy, strong new branches but the top half is only now meekly blooming with no leaves. I’m hoping the two ends can meet somewhere in the middle and soon.

Pole beans making their presence known.

Pole beans making their presence known.  These WERE grown from seed (one of the easiest veggies to do so in my opinion).  I just save a few over-ripe pods each year and let them dry out on the kitchen window sill.

And last but not least, the red seedless Thompson grape.  This may be one of the most exciting things happening this season for me.  It's a first and I'm enjoying seeing the tiny flowers give way to this...

And last but not least, the red seedless Thompson grape. This may be one of the most exciting things happening this season for me. This vine fruiting is a first and I’m enjoying seeing the flowers give way to tiny grapes…

Chicken Salad

Our hens seem to be little charming magnets whenever family, friends or neighbors come over to visit.  Questions abound about their eggs, whether they’re friendly and how we came to keep chickens.  I’m always happy to share our story and tout how sweet and funny they are.  I think we have about 5-7 kids in our neighborhood dreaming about having their own chickens.

My husband and his sister enjoying some feathered friends.

My husband and his sister enjoying some feathered friends.

My daughter and I love feeding them yummy snacks.  Some of their most coveted treats from the kitchen include old bananas, apple cores, melon rinds, soft tomatoes, lettuce and carrot tops.  My daughter likes to help in the kitchen and she used her culinary know-how to concoct a tongue-in-cheek chicken salad.

Here we have crisp watermelon rinds with some crisp carrot tops.  Isn't it funny how food competition shows can describe a dish so eloquently?

Here we have fresh watermelon rinds with some crisp carrot tops. Isn’t it funny how food competition shows can describe a dish so eloquently?

DSCN0609Our Silkies often get compared to bunnies, and although their noses don’t wiggle, they do hop from time to time, usually to reach a flower or leaf just out of reach.  Otherwise, they have almost no vertical ability.  They are soft like a rabbit and don’t mind being held for some time, as long as their wings are held securely.  Their feathers don’t have the typical barbs, which gives them a fluffy look and a super soft touch.

We love our girls!

We love our girls!

Our grass has never been greener.  We have not fertilized with traditional bagged grass fertilizer since our hens came to our home.  Now we have a more natural and effective fertilizer.  Thanks, chickens!

Our grass has never been greener. We have not fertilized with traditional bagged grass fertilizer since our hens came to our home. Now we have a more natural and effective fertilizer. Thanks, chickens!

Applesauce from the Orchard

Yesterday was my family’s yearly visit to go apple picking at our favorite orchard near Julian, CA and dare I say I think it was our best yet.  Instead of letting October roll around and then saying, “Oh!  We need to go apple picking!”, we went a few weeks earlier than usual this year.  And boy did it pay off.  The crowds were thinner and the apples bigger and more plentiful.

Selecting our bounty with first-timer cousins.

Selecting our bounty with first-timer cousins.

The breath-taking blue skies provided a touch of fall in the air.

The breath-taking blue skies provided a touch of fall in the air.

Quite the array of apple types.  I filled it until not a single other apple could balance without falling.

Quite the array of apple types. I filled it until not a single other apple could balance without falling.

We picked Jonathan, Gala, and Golden Delicious, among others.  While walking the apple tree isles, I decided that I wanted to make my grandmother’s apple sauce recipe with a good portion of our harvest.  This morning my helper and I did just that.  This recipe has been made in my family for over fifty years and today was the first time that I’d made it with my daughter.  I thought of my grandmother and of the many Thanksgivings and Christmas meals that I’d passed the bowl of homemade applesauce that my mom made each year.  It’s a simple, fun recipe that isn’t afraid to let the essential flavors shine.  And there’s no sugar added. (It’s also amazing on potato pancakes).

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Grandma Iris’ Applesauce

7 yellow apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
7 green apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
7 red apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
Cinnamon to taste

Put apples in a large pot with 1-2 inches of water.  Bring to a 
boil and then turn down to simmer for 10 minutes.  Don't cook to 
long to allow chunks of apples to remain.
Drain the water from the apples.  Add cranberries, raisins and 
cinnamon and stir.  Eat warm or cold.  Keep refrigerated.
Serves 4-6 people.

Second-Chance Plum

A year and half ago I planted two bare-root fruit trees in my front yard.  The area where they were planted I now understand to be the barest of baren wastelands on my whole property.  Over the past year I’ve realized that NOTHING survives there…not even California natives or succulents.  So, determined to save the Burgundy Plum, I carefully dug it up, trying to avoid root damage.  What I saw when it came out of the ground was very telling…hardly any root growth and what had grown were tiny, string-like roots.  I gave it a new home in my backyard in a veggie bed next to the new pergola, where the soil is naturally richer and has had the advantage of amendment over the past 3 years.

Well Plum lost all her leaves almost immediately.  The only way that I could tell it was still alive was a slight scrape of my fingernail on a branch, which revealed bright green.  After a few weeks I could see new leaves start to bud out.  I was seeing a second spring.

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She’s still a meek thing, having been starved of nutrients, but I’m hoping that this is a second chance to thrive.  With patience I think that this plum will be a shade-providing, eye-pleasing tree for next to the seating area in the years to come.

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Mohawk Chicken

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It’s been a hair-raising morning with extremely rare San Diego summer rain.  Our Silkies appreciate a nice rainy day, particularly because it gives them a chic hairstyle (note the dyed tips), but also because it allows them to see better!

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DSCN0439It’s hard not to smile at these silly hens as they cruise the yard and visit the back door to see if any scraps will get tossed their way.  Yesterday our Ameraucana, Henrietta (seen above in the background), walked through the open back door and was caught hanging out in the dining room!

Baby Mulberries

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My adored mulberry tree (it’s technically in my neighbor’s yard, but it might as well be in mine) has suddenly broken out of it’s wintry spell and produced baby berries right along side it’s first leaves.  The clear mulberry hair reminds me of those clear rice noodles used in Asian cooking.  A little over two months from now, this is what they turn into.

Tag, You’re Fruit

One of my favorite edible garden blogs, My Tiny Plot, did a post a few months back about a plant tag making system that utilizes aluminum tags, metal punches, and a very heavy jig to make custom, professional-looking tags. They last a lifetime and never rust or fade with time.  I’d love to have one of these sets in the future, but seen as though they are in the UK through Alitags and have their own hefty price tag (no pun intended), I decided on the stay-at-home/mom-on-a-budget version.  I came across a pack of 50 aluminum tags at a local nursery today for the friendly price of $7.99.  Using either a ball point pen or pencil, press firmly as you write the name/date/etc of your prized trees.  For me, I wanted them for my fruit trees, but they are perfect for just about anything that you don’t want to forget in the garden.

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I am now the proud owner of 8 fruit trees, up from just 2 less than a year ago.  I finally found a place for the new bare-root Gold Kist apricot (I sacrificed a lack-luster rose near my kitchen window).

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So I mentioned that I was at the nursery today…and I got one more bare-root.  I swear.  Last one.  Snow Queen white flesh nectarine.  I do already have the Double Delight Nectarine with yellow flesh planted January 2012, but I didn’t have a white flesh.  So there’s my reason.  HA!  It’s perfect for low chill areas, less than 300 hours and it has amazing reviews on taste.  I even had a spot picked out before I went to buy it.

You know those root-knot nematodes that got me all down and out last summer?  And I solarized one bed for three months?  Well I pulled some beets from that bed and, you guess it, root-knot nematodes still.  So, I decided to plant the Snow Queen in that bed.  It’s grown on citation rootstock, which is nematode resistant and does well in wet soils.  So there, you little buggers!

My Eyes are Bigger than my Backyard

The first fruit tree at my home was a peach tree, now about 5 years old and hitting her stride.  I then added a Diana fig a year later and a few citrus (which failed-citrus and I do not mix).  Then last January I bought my first bare-root trees.  A Burgundy Plum and Double Delight Nectarine.  At the time I did a post of my new additions and their planting.  I love bare-roots for two reasons: they’re cheaper and way easier to fit into my car.

Oh!  Gee!  It’s January again!  And I just happened to find myself at my favorite nursery with an amazing selection of bare-root trees from Dave Wilson.  I just went to browse.  Really.  And then I remembered research I’d done on two cherry tree varieties that were just developed a few years ago for mild winters.  Low chill varieties Minnie Royal and Royal Lee.  And……they pollenize each other!   Living on the coast of northern San Diego, we receive anywhere between 200 and 300 chill hours each year.  Fruit trees each have their own hour requirement in order to produce fruit.  So, it’s important in a place like mine to plant varieties considered “low chill”.  Up until Minnie Royal and Royal Lee came out, growing cherries in a warm winter area was not possible.  Until now!

The ONLY reason why I decided to buy these beauties instead of just admire was because of a little orange tag I read attached to each type.  It stated that Mazzard rootstock was used to graft the trees on and it just so happens that this type of rootstock is….wait for it….resistant to root-knot nematodes (see my post about how to identify and get rid of)!  Now that they are in many areas of my edible garden, I figured this would be a great way to manage the problem.  Plus, Mazzard is good for wetter soils, which I have.  As a rule, fruit trees like well drained soils.

But, I couldn’t leave with just two.  Oh no.  A low-chill Gold Kist apricot (300 chilling hours) somehow weaseled it’s way onto my cart!  Now, I’ve heard that apricots are a bit harder to grow than most other fruits (along with apples), but to me they are the holy grail of the backyard orchardist’s collection.  You can buy them at the grocery store or farmer’s market for a very limited time, but I find that usually they are picked to early and are hard and a bit sour.  So I thought I’d give it a whirl.  Ah the things I will do to taste the sweet, juicy flavor of a perfectly ripe fruit.

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When I planted the Burgundy Plum and Double Delight Nectarine in my front yard last year, I amended the soil and added homemade organic compost as a mulch on top of the soil (thanks to my sister-in-law).  They seem to be doing fairly well, but haven’t grown much.  The nursery specialist said that the first year you want bare-roots to be focusing on root growth.  The fruit will come in the second or third season.  I decided not to amend my native soil this go-around with the apricot and cherries in my backyard.  I’ve read that some recent studies concluded that adding compost or amendment can cause the water to pool around the roots.  In addition, when the roots grow beyond the amendment and reach the native soil, they tend to turn back around to find that amended soil again.  This can end up forming a huge ball of tightly formed, twisted roots that do not naturally extend outward.  Makes sense.  In order to still provide my beauties with food and nutrients, I’ve decided to use my sister-in-law’s organic compost again as a mulch on top of the soil and then cover that with shredded leaves and grass clippings to keep the good bacteria alive.  In this way the compost will infiltrate the soil over time.  Ok, enough talk, more pictures.

Here's what the roots of bare-root trees look like!

Here’s what the roots of bare-root trees look like!

Minnie Royal

Minnie Royal

Planted Minnie Royal cherry tree.  About 15 feet from the Royal Lee.

Planted Minnie Royal cherry tree. About 15 feet from the Royal Lee.

Royal Lee planted in the middle of my main edible bed.  This is a south facing area at the bottom of a slope, which receives full sun.  It's the coldest part of the garden, being at the base of a slope, which is great for chill hours.

Royal Lee planted in the middle of my main edible bed. This is a south facing area at the bottom of a slope, which receives full sun. It’s the coldest part of the garden, being at the base of a slope, which is great for chill hours.  The Diana fig is in the background.

I haven’t yet planted the apricot, as I’m trying to figure out the best place for it.  I’m running out of space!  We’ll see what I come up with.  On a side note, here’s Henrietta’s before and after.

Here's Henrietta a few months old in Sept. '12.

Here’s Henrietta a few months old in Sept. ’12.

Here she is this morning.  Nicely filled out and seemingly lighter in color.

Here she is this morning. Nicely filled out and seemingly lighter in color.