Friday, June 28, 2013

Strawberry pilgrimage

It had been years, according to the date on the top of my jam jars. The last time I made strawberry jam was 2009, if that can be believed-- and apparently when I did I made enough to last us four years. Strawberry jam is something our household should never be without, so Wednesday I made the journey. A little over 15 pounds of berries, 27 half-pints of jam, a gallon sliced in the freezer, plus five cups leftover to eat fresh (perhaps alongside the truffles Patrick gave me for our anniversary).

It took me some time-- it always does-- to get back in the rhythm of canning. This being the first production session of the season, I found myself dawdling, being inefficient, and eventually re-remembering all those good lessons of kitchen multitasking I forget between October and July, every year.

In other news, I have a trunk full of perennials to get in the ground (Anninursery! A few weeks late, but still my favorite holiday of the year). Patrick took me to my favoritest garden center, the kind where they have variegated hydrangeas and all the plants have highfalutin names like Black Snow and Princess Chiffon, and let me pick out a passel. Connivingly, the garden center offers 10% off when you buy six, so as a result I have a variegated sedum, a new fern, a wild bleeding heart, a plum-purple heuchera, a hellebore, and an astrantia (that last one is new to me).

Fittingly, the house front is looking a little finer every day. Two weeks ago:

This morning:

Well, um, I'm gonna go cry now, because those yellow spindles and brackets took me a whole week to paint, front and back, up and down, and you can barely notice it in the photos. It's visible in person, though, let me tell you. And yesterday I climbed out the second story window (onto the porch roof) and started pulling down the soffit, and scraping the siding. I won't say it was easy, but the paint was definitely letting go more readily on those flat expanses of clapboard (vs. those pesky porch spindles!) Oh, jobs. My fingers are crossed that I will make it through this project without getting stung by wasps or hornets, without running off the edge of the porch roof to escape said wasps or hornets, and with money left over to afford the new wood we're going to have to buy to replace the rotting eaves. Fingers crossed.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

One evening

THIS is why I grow food. This evening, I spent nearly 45 minutes just harvesting and shuttling produce into my kitchen: arugula for pesto, radishes, peas to blanch, broccoli to blanch, lettuce for dinner, herbs to freeze or dry. Scapes for... tbd. Kale to blanch. Then I loaded up Terry Gross interviewing Amy Schumer (brilliant!) and set my knife in motion.

This summer I have made it a mission to start filling my freezer early. I usually have no problem in the peas and beans department-- they're so numerous, in their season, that there's nothing to do with them but freeze 'em. But kale? Kale we always run out of mid-Feb, just when I need that green lift the most. So, I took pruners to my garden kale-- which I've begun lovingly calling Kale Henge, it is so architectural-- and gave it a trim. I've tried many varieties of kale in my years as a grower of the stuff, and I have to say, for vigor you cannot beat Red Russian. It grows like a weed, and tastes terrific. 

As summer moves forward, I'm going to try to commit myself to one big prepping and freezing session per week-- time to put away more than what needs to be put away, this minute, time for things like freezing fresh herbs and oh, that kale. So far in the freezer I have a gallon and a half of peas, and 3/4s of a gallon of broccoli, plus the herbs. And a big bag 'o kale.

The garden is looking terrific. The potatoes and tomatoes are flowering, the zucchini have buds, the peppers have buds, the peas are getting ever-higher. The garlic is about ready to be pulled, and replaced with carrots.  The beets are about ready, too, and I'm looking forward to another installment of this stuff

Life is, generally, a swell thing. Dinner was veggie tart with arugula pesto, scapes and broccoli, plus a giant salad. It was awesome.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

A weekend in the Adirondacks with a pup

What a fine little trip. The photos really tell the story-- we canoed, we hiked, we chilled at camp. Del was such a champ adapting to campsite life, riding in the car (he made a nest out of our gear and lied down), riding in the canoe, sleeping in the tent. He did throw up. He did steal kindling from our kindling pile. He did really really really want to chase the red squirrels he saw along the trail. He was less interested in chasing the geese and the ducks and the blue heron we saw. 

I took him for a walk around the campground loop yesterday morning while Patrick was packing up. There was a little kid who wanted to pet him, and I was able to say "It's okay, you can pet him, he loves kids." And so the kid petted him, and Del wagged his tail and sniffed the kid, and I was... proud. Proud to have such a dog as this guy, who loves us and everyone and is gentle and sweet and good. 

He was completely and thoroughly tuckered in the car coming home yesterday. He is currently catching up on his sorely missed sleep, in my armchair. Ah, this dog. Good pup.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Orchard chickens

We integrated the chickens-- small with big-- last week. It's one of those less-than-idyllic homestead happenings. It sounds sweet, right, like now they can all be one happy chicken family? Well, not really. The big ones try to kill the little ones, the little ones can't find the food, or water, or coop for a few weeks... it takes some time for them to jell as a flock. The biggest surprise, for me, is that Patsy, the sweet semi-lame hen who got mauled this winter, has turned out to be the most aggressive bird towards the newcomers.

Of course, it's Patsy who has the most to gain by subordinating the chicks. Of course.

So most evenings I let the big chickens out by themselves for a few hours, to give the little ones a reprieve from military rule (that's a pretty good analogy) and to let the big ones fill up on grass, which keeps our eggs awesome. They love the orchard and the back fence area at twilight, when the snails begin to emerge and the dew falls. Each tree (and its attendant clump of companion plants) is like a circular salad bar for the chickens, who love eating the loaded grass seed heads this time of year. And, to my delight, the snails. 

Oh, chickens.

In other news, Delmer took a flying leap over his invisible fence last night, and into the mud on the other side of the back fence. Like he'd been planning it for weeks. Just wheeee! and splat, and roll, and wallow, and shake, and wallow. And get dragged to the brook to wash off by disgruntled me. He looked so pleased. Le sigh.

Patrick and I (and Delmer!) are heading north this weekend for a short little camping getaway. Del's first camping trip. Any Strain dog must be properly vetted for canoe travel, and tent sleeping, and mountain climbing, you see. And so he shall be. Back Monday.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Garden update, and making free organic fertilizer

First I'll tell you about the garden. These are the candy weeks, as we get close to solstice. Things just grow so incredibly fast it can feel like science fiction. The potatoes and tomatoes both are starting to flower, the broccoli is unstoppable, the raspberries are loaded with ripening fruit, the garlic is getting scapey. 

I'm keeping an eye on the circle garden, and pulling Bishop's weed sprouts daily. I've planted a bunch of new things that seem happy. This is the one spot I have growing conditions other than part shade/shade, and I'm a little trigger happy about making it count. I have chamomile and hyssop and rudbeckia and amaranth and cupid's dart and avens and creeping phlox and lavender. And so many others. So exciting to watch it all fill in. 

So that's the garden news. Now, for the fertilizer story.

When I was a kid, my dad kept a 50-gallon steel drum on a sawhorse in which he made cow manure tea, to use as fertilizer. Let it steep for a few weeks or a few days, decant into a watering can, and presto. So the theory went. Maybe the system was pressed into service regularly when I was too young to remember, but in my recollections now the thing served more as a leaf trap, mosquito breeding ground, and curiosity than a fertilizer brewery.

This spring, I wanted to make some fertilizer for my fruit trees-- to give them a boost-- and figured there had to be an easier way. Turns out, there is. For about six weeks, I've been making two small batches a week, and this is it: take an empty five-gallon bucket, fill it two-thirds full with grass clippings, and add water to the brim. Let it sit three days. Pour off into another bucket, or a watering can, leaving the soggy mess of grass behind. Water plants. The end.

Here now, I present to you, the proof of the pudding. Tomato one, on left, was given fertilizer a week ago. Tomato two was given fertilizer two weeks ago. A five-gallon batch of fertilizer was enough to water 30 out of 34 tomato plants, you see, so four plants had to wait another week to get their nitrogen fix. 

The day I walked out to the garden, looked at the tomato plants, and realized what was going on, I was in a state of semi-shock. Like, I expected the fertilizer to work, but not like a box of Miracle Gro! Why on earth would anybody buy that stuff, when just about everyone has grass clippings, and an old bucket, and water. 

I'm sure the fertilizer would work on anything, not just vegetables and fruit trees. Be careful applying it, as it can "burn" tender new leaves if applied directly. I unscrew the sprinkler top from my watering can, so I can deliver the fertilizer right to the roots of each plant. 

And by the way, I got my fertilizer recipe from this Mother Earth News article right here. Enjoy!

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Band wifing

People lining up to get in before their set. 
This weekend The Band and Its Wives journeyed downstate to that festival they won the opportunity to play at a few weeks ago. (I wrote about all that at the bottom of this post.) From meeting in a diner parking lot at 7am on a Saturday to discovering the band tent full of fresh fruit, snacks, and cold beer, the whole day was full of new experiences.

We arrived at the fest at about 8:30. Tumbleweed Highway didn't start until noon, and already people were lining up. The guys went off to load their gear. Wait, scratch that. The guys went off to direct the hired crew where to put their gear. This was the first time ever Patrick did not have to hoist his 75-lb pedal steel onto stage himself. The wives investigated hospitality, where we had access to three free very tasty meals, clean, well-lighted bathrooms, and our own private tent, as mentioned above.

The band tent at hospitality.
We could all get used to this kind of treatment.

The guys on stage.
We had access to the VIP section, where we could watch their set.

The crowd. 
I couldn't believe how many people were there. The guys are used to playing for maybe 450 people at a good bar gig or a well-attended upstate festival. But this was unreal. And they were on the JumboTron. Unreal. 

We spent most of the rest of the day hanging out in our band tent, or on the deck nearby, from which we could hear the main stage perfectly, and look down upon The Masses, and generally feel special. 

I was able to persuade Patrick to ride the chair lift with me. The fest was at a ski resort, so-- of course-- the lift was open for joy rides. Pretty neat.

We were here.
This band-wifing business sure has its perks. 

I don't always love that Patrick has weekend commitments most weekends of the year, I don't always love his rehearsal schedule. But in the end, this passion of his adds so much interest to our lives-- he has funny stories to tell when he comes home from those weekend gigs, and sometimes not-so-funny stories, but still, stories. Life with a musician will never be boring, and for that I am so thankful. 

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Getting there

That's the thing about our party. Every spring (so far, at least) there's been a tremendous push to get one project or another done pre-party (first year the cleaning, last year the shed moved, this year the patio), but then once it's over, the whole rest of the summer is there spooled out ahead of us. We don't have any grand ambitious plans for this summer, which is nice, but there are a few things-- a few roof leaks, a considerable quantity of porch-sag, and a few wobbly foundation stones-- that need to be addressed. Those will be weekend jobs to tag-team, but during weekdays I've been trying to devote myself at least partly to the house exterior. The above picture was taken May 31st. 

I worked hours bubbling the old paint off those spindles with a heat gun. Then, scraping. Then, I primed. Now it's ready for colors.

Please don't mind the flamingos. I don't know if it's a national thing, but our chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving sends pink flamingos to peoples' lawns, then you have to pay "ransom" (donate) to get them removed. And if you donate, you get to name the next "victim," which is just so much fun. Pretty clever.

Anyway, this morning the sun is (blessedly) shining, for a change, and I'm going to get out there just as soon as I send this off. Oh, and finish my tea. And shake some more sleep out of my head. This is the time of year I have a really hard time getting enough sleep-- I can't fall asleep until nearly midnight, and can't stay asleep much past sunrise. 
Good thing the world outside is so dang beautiful. Oh, June.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Historic West Side Home with Fireplace

Don't miss this beautiful single-family home in the Abel Bennett Historic District of Binghamton, NY!

Features include:
  • Spacious, private, second-story porch
  • Full modern bath remodeled in 2010
  • New hardwood flooring downstairs
  • Quiet neighborhood convenient to bus line, Rec Park, amenities
  • Architectural features like leaded glass windows, coffered ceilings, and original built-in cabinets
  • Large, bright kitchen with breakfast area
  • Master bedroom with walk-in closet, attached porch space, and new laminate flooring
  • Maintenance-free ventless gas fireplace insert

  • Three bedrooms plus office space
  • 1.5 bathrooms
  • Forced hot air heat. High-efficiency furnace.
  • 2100 sf plus walk-up attic
  • Built in 1889
  • New backyard privacy fence
  • Detached one-car garage original to house
  • Open, spacious downstairs layout
Contact: Patrick and Kristina Strain, 607-244-9351

It is NOT okay to contact us for advertisement or commercial reasons.

This home is for sale by owner and will be shown by appointment only. All information contained herein was obtained from sources deemed reliable, but no warranty is intended, expressed, or implied. Equal Housing Opportunity.

Regular blog readers: sorry to be using this space for something so promotional! I wanted to have a website address to list in our real estate ad. Tomorrow it's back to usual. And hey, if you know anybody looking for a house in Binghamton...

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