Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Let's Go Wild!

We've always encouraged wildlife in our backyard.
There is nothing quite as satisfying 
as knowing that you are helping Mother Nature's creatures
by simple creating an inviting habitat.
With an email handle like 
you know I'm gonna do my part!

A few years ago, we became an official Monarch Waystation
by fostering monarchs with necessary resources in our Florida backyard.
You can read about that here: 
Monarch Waystation Certification

One of the goals on this new property
is to go beyond nurturing only butterflies.
We are actively working toward becoming a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
By following certain guidelines, we can become an official habitat, sponsored by
The National Wildlife Federation.
You can even download a checklist 
to ensure that you have the necessary conditions needed.
Here's their website.

For caterpillars and butterflies,
both host and nectar plants are needed.
The monarch caterpillar, for example,
spends its whole life on the milkweed plant.
When it has grown to its full size,
it wanders nearby to form a chrysallis
and the transformation is complete.

 Wooded areas provide cover protection from predators
and plenty of sites for nesting and hiding.

 Our Christmas tree becomes a part of the landscape
and enables all kinds of woodland creatures to use it as they see fit.
Dragonflies, lizards, toads and many bird species
take up residence in dead branches and leaf cover.
Many butterfly and moth species overwinter in leaf piles,
so it is vital to leave some of your fall leaves in place each season.

 Mature trees are integral for viewing surroundings
and birds use these perches to find food or avoid being another critter's meal!

baby wrens spring 2018

Of course, nesting spots are one of the most common
reasons to provide mature trees to wildlife.
Maintaining safe areas where species can raise their young
will keep the cycle of life moving forward.

 Providing building material encourages birds and other nest dwellers
to make their homes nearby.
Some of the items we can offer are animal hair, cloth strips (natural fibers), 
dried leaves, moss, pine straw, string, thread and twigs.

Even our open mulch piles have been known to be visited
several times a day by birds, squirrels and bugs.

 Of course, water is a fundamental element needed by wildlife.
Furnishing a birdbath or another source of water keeps critters hydrated and healthy.
Adding a stone for butterflies and pollinators is another consideration.
We have been fascinated by the wasps and bees 
that have visited our birdbath, drinking to their heart's content.

Along with native plants that may contain berries, nuts and seeds,
supplemental food is appreciated.
We will be working toward installing more natives  over the next few years.
We do have a couple of bird feeders available to our feathered friends.
This one is suspended above our back steps,
so as to dissuade any curious squirrels.
So far, they haven't figured out how to get into it,
and the height has most likely discouraged a host of others.

We also offer winter feeding using
homemade suet and feeders.
You can click on those links to read all about how we made our own.
We are in a mild climate, so many birds stick around all winter.
It's such a treat to see them enjoying the season with us.

 In the warmer months, we provide food for the hummingbirds,
making our own nectar. 
Here's the recipe.

Sharing our yards with critters
is really an easy thing to do.
After all,
this world is meant to be shared.

"In every walk with nature,
one receives far more 
than he seeks."
~John Muir

Friday, July 13, 2018

Garden Friday

Garden Friday finds us in a state of transition.
Summer is half over, 
but it is still too hot to sow most fall crops.
Here's what's going on in our summer garden.

We had an unbelievable weekend last week,
waking up to temps in the 60's.
It was a great time to spend a little time in the garden.

The melons are still flowering,
although we are awaiting our first pick.

Two vines each of cantaloupe and watermelon
are teasing us with hanging fruit.

Both varieties are on the smaller size.
Without much experience growing melon,
it seemed like a safer way to get started.
I'll be thrilled if we actually get to harvest any of it.

A few new dangling orbs were spotted on the wire tunnel.
Next year, I plan to build a more sturdy and permanent structure 
that will be used for vining crops.

The sweet potatoes got their teepee this week.
It will be fun to watch the vines climb
and fill in the space with delicate purple flowers.

Not sure how visible this is here,
but I was stunned to see a broccoli head forming.
I thought it had been far too hot to get anything out of this plant.

Hope is running rampant
as I detect the first vestiges of eggplant

 and banana peppers.
I think I see ratatouille in my future!

 The turtle beans will be dried on the plant
and stored for use later in the year.
This has been an easy crop to grow
and there are plans to expand our dried bean supply.

One curious note.
Although these are the healthiest looking tomatoes I've ever grown,
there are very few flowers and absolutely no fruit as of yet.
I was a bit late in transplanting them,
but I've also heard that our lingering winter 
may have something to do with it.

Most of the kale has been picked,
but I left a couple to use as trap crops.
These cabbage worms will enjoy sampling this kale,
and maybe leave other plants alone.

You can see how hearty their appetites are.

With my North Carolina Planting Guide in hand,
I began sowing a few fall crops.
Seeds, pots, a bucket of compost and some composted manure 
were all that were needed to get a good start.

This is the Small Sugar pumpkin variety,
which only gets to 8 pounds at the most.
They will be grown on our gazebo frame.

Planted 1" deep,
I soon found out that the squirrels easily dig them up.

I later placed screen on top of the seed containers.
I also started broccoli and Swiss chard in seed starters.
Carrots will be directly sown in a large bin this weekend.
That'll be it for seed starting until next month,
when the majority of crops can be planted.

One of the small projects we wanted to get done,
was to use our free mulch

to create a walkway alongside the west side of the house.
Our property slopes here,
and the water tends to quickly flow to the backyard.
We're hoping this will slow it down a bit
and make it a bit easier to navigate with the large pavers in place.
The stones were found on the property, 
so this cost us exactly nothing!

I mentioned the composted horse manure eariler.
A sweet neighbor brought me over a trailer load
that is ready to use in the garden.
He gets the manure from someone nearby
and adds his grass clippings to it and lets it sit.
What a great addition this will make to the fall garden!

So many gorgeous things are in bloom right now!
Heading out for my morning walk each day
allows me to drink in the color of our crape myrtle against the cerulean sky.

Our butterfly bush has been heavily visited by pollinators this season.

I just can't get enough of these coneflowers.
Pollinators of all types love 'em,
and knowing they will return each year makes me 

This year's focus has been on the veg garden.
The plan for next year will be to totally revise the veggie area as well as 
incorporate more natives into the landscape for aesthetic purposes.
My goal is to create a wildlife habitat
so that we can welcome all sorts of natural elements to the property.
One step at a time!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Homemade Corn-Free Ketchup

Our son has been plagued with food sensitivities since he was a wee one.
Gluten, dairy, pineapple, coconut (and all dander) 
are a few of the things he must avoid to maintain good health.
Last year, during his annual checkup,
we decided to retest him for food allergies.
Although he no longer tested positive for soy and apples (yippee!),
he had developed a corn sensitivity.
It's mighty hard to avoid corn, it's in almost everything!
Now, you need to know that he was thrilled when he could eat mayo, 
having avoided eggs earlier in life.
And ketchup is a staple.  

He continued eating store-bought mayonnaise and ketchup, 
even though he knew about the sensitivity.
(Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.)
I even called the companies whose products we use,
and sure enough, they informed us 
that the vinegar used in making the condiments was indeed corn-based.

It caught up with him a week ago, when he had a reaction.
He decided to take himself off of his two favorite condiments
and see what happened.
Nothing did, so we found our culprit.
Thankfully, apple cider vinegar can be used
in anything that requires vinegar,
without the interference from corn. 

Can I just say how amazed I am 
that he could just quit cold turkey?
I wish I had such fortitude.

 We already have a corn-free recipe for homemade mayo,
so the challenge was to find a substitute for his all-time favorite, 
the red stuff.
 The bonus is that it's also sugar-free, using only honey as the sweetener.
Our version is adapted from the recipe posted here.
We left out a couple of things and used honey instead of agave,
and it turned out just fine.

 Forty minutes of simmering on the stove
thickened it up nicely.

Another allergy-friendly substitute!
Bring on the burgers and fries!

Homemade Corn-Free Ketchup 

1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1/4 C apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 T local honey
1/2 T garlic powder
1/2 T onion powder
1/2 t salt
1 1/4 C water

Bring all ingredients to a boil,
then simmer for 40 minutes.
Let cool and store for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
Makes 2 cups.

Note:  T=tablespoon

Friday, July 6, 2018

Garden Friday

It's Garden Friday, once again.
The summer heat is hittin' hard,
with little rain having fallen this week.
We have a few odds-n-ends to share today.

The sweet potato slips patiently waited for their turn
to get into the dirt.
With a minimum of three months needed to fully mature,
we may barely squeak in under the wire for a fall harvest.

We are growing ours in containers,
and you can see by the root system that they were just itchin' to get buried.

Each slip had a healthy number of roots
which were covered with our magic compost mix.
They should be snug as bugs in the warm, moist soil.

With only one deep tub in which to plant,
we decided to start with only a handful.
Next year, when the garden is redesigned,
we hope to make a lot more room for these.
Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious veggies one can eat.
They store well for long periods too, so they are worth the time and energy.
Did you know you can also eat the greens on top?
Just make sure you have an abundance of them before picking them.
They can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach.

Shallots were harvested this past week.
These are a cinch to grow and they can be used in everything
from humble scrambled eggs to the fanciest of dishes.
They are a bit milder than garlic and onions.
What a treat!

Beets have been gathered, as warm temperatures don't sit too well with them.
I am hoping to be able to get another crop in come fall,
so that these can be enjoyed into the winter months.

Our sweet neighbor behind us allowed me
to plant a few things in her mailbox bed.
I'm working on prettying up the neighborhood,
one mailbox planter at a time.

Once these fill out,
they will make a warm welcome for her when she arrives home from work.
We planted agapanthus, white lantana, Gerbera daisies and English thyme.
With rain predicted for later today,
they should get a good dose of just what they need!

What's new in your garden on this fine, summer day?