August Blooms

I noticed summer fading at 8:15 last night.

coleus caladium

I remember when my boys were little and being thankful when the days were getting shorter.  This meant I could get them in the house a few minutes earlier, wash a days worth of dirt from their bodies, and get some food in them before ten o’clock.

My garden and flowers are winding down for the summer, too.

The rue has continued to surprise me this year.

rue flower

This is its second year with me and has grown to a height of two feet.  I will save the seeds and see what happens next year.

rue seed pod

Rue seed pod

The plumed celosia I save every year from seed is just now blooming.  A little late but I’ll take it.

celosia celosia

I can always count on my old-fashioned petunias to pull through no matter what summer brings.  They are very fragrant in the evening, so just follow your nose and you will find them.

old fashioned petunias old fashioned petunia

The white caladiums and begonias really glow at night.

caladium begonia caladium

I noticed some passion flowers (Passiflora incarnata) blooming in the butterfly garden.

passion flower

They are a host plant (food source) for the Gulf fritillary butterfly along with the variegated fritillary and Zebra longwing.  I didn’t see any caterpillars but I did want to show you the fruit it produces.

passion flower fruit

This fruit looks very much like a kiwi and I’ve read that people make jelly from it.  I opened one last year and it was just hollow inside with a lot of seeds.

I was excited to see a monarch butterfly on my Asclepias tuberosa

monarch butterfly

and then shocked to see a praying mantis having it for lunch.

monarch butterfly and praying mantis

I need to direct him to the other flower bed where the grasshoppers have decided vacation.

Hopefully this monarch caterpillar will escape unscathed.

monarch caterpillar

My fennel jungle is usually full of swallowtail caterpillars by now.  I only saw these two yesterday.

swallowtail caterpillar swallowtail caterpillar

Over the years, people have given me garden art and I love using it wherever I can.

frog man

I wish he would pull that dang grass for me

I love when they tell me they saw this or that and thought of me.

Garden Greeter

Garden Greeter

 

Reminder

Reminder

bee happy garden art

Although this one made me wonder…

garden rock face

Brenda

Posted in Butterflies, Flowers, Garden, Rocks, Seeds, summer flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Chicken Coop Update

My little chicken coop has undergone some change since last year.

chicken coop july '13

last summer

The living roof is filling in nicely

chicken ccop

with a variety of sedums

chicken coop

On the front and side of the coop I planted amsonia hubrechtii (Arkansas blue star), ornamental millet, old-fashioned petunias, celosia, wild bergamot (bee balm)  and sunflowers.

chicken coop

I found an old enamel table top at a flea market and had a very talented artist paint on it.

sunflower painting chicken coop

I love sunflowers and so do bees and they are still busy gathering nectar and pollen for their winter supply.  Sunflowers are a great late summer flower for them.

sunflower chicken coop

The red door is also undergoing a change.  Beth has sketched a sunflower on the door for me to paint so I decided to paint the door a light blue to match the sunflower painting.  I have the outline done but knowing me it might be a month or two (or ten) before I finish.

chicken coop

On the chicken end, the brown speckled Sussex chicks I bought in April are almost as big as the older girls.

chicken, brown speckled sussex 4 wks. old

baby speckled Sussex

As they age, their speckles are becoming more prominent.

chicken

speckled Sussex almost 5 mo. old.

chicken

I named them Lady Mary, Edith, and Rose and they are almost to the age where they will start laying eggs.

Except this one

chicken

Lady Mary is Mr. Lady Mary.  He’s just beginning to crow and becoming protective of his girls so we’ll see how this goes.  He likes to peck at my polka dot boots but I like to think he’s doing this because they are bright and not because he sees me as a threat.

chicken

I’m thinking about renaming him Carson.

Any thoughts or new names?

Brenda

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bees, Chickens, Farm life, Flowers, Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Mad As An Old Wet Hen

That’s the phrase my grandmother used all the time to describe one of her sisters.  I’m not kidding when I say that every story she told about my great-aunt ended with this phrase.  She obviously had quite a temper and, although I never witnessed one of those tantrums, I treaded lightly around her.

That’s how I am feeling today about straw.

Yes, straw.

For years, I have used straw as a mulch.  I liked the way it looked, it was easy for me to haul around, and did a good job suppressing weeds.

Last year, the straw seemed to have a lot of grass seed in it.  This year it was full of grass seed.

grass straw grass straw

So I have spent the better part of the summer pulling grass from my mulch.

Not happy.

My happy place had turned into a grassy place.  No LOLing here.

Every time I would start on a section I would get more and more frustrated.  So I did what most of us would do.  I turned to Facebook.  Within minutes of asking for suggestions about mulch in our gardening group, I was directed to a local guy who bales pine straw.  Several in our Master Gardener group use him as well as our local botanical garden.

So I gave him a call and he met me the same day.  He had six bales left and I was able to get all of them in my truck.  They were lightweight and very easy to work with and in a matter of a couple of hours, I was done.

My happy place was back.

pine straw

impatiens, pine straw

flower  bed

allium cernum

flower bed, allium, black eyed susan, coreopsis

I know any mulch is not weed proof, but I’m hoping to have better luck with this.

What is your favorite mulch?

Brenda

Posted in Arkansas, Farm life, Flowers, Garden, Mulch, summer flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Patience

I have a framed saying from years ago when Al started fishing.

It says:  Waiting for the fish takes patience but waiting for the fisherman takes more patience

I’m not refuting that statement because I have fished with this man before.   Casting, reeling, trolling, casting, reeling, trolling.  Hour

lake allen

after hour

lake

after hour

allen lake

Sometimes catching a fish

allen lake

sometimes not.

Talk about patience.

Gardeners must also experience patience.

sunflower

Patience with weather,

datura

Bugs,

coneflower ratibida pinnata?

and unwanted animals.

 

But nothing has tried my patience more than a group of trees in my yard.

In 2001, our local conservation office offered pecan tree seedlings for fifty cents each.

They were about one foot tall and I bought five.  They didn’t know the variety but did tell me they were seed grown.

I knew they would take a while to produce pecans.  About eight years the experts said.

Eight years went by and nothing happened.  Nine years.  Ten years.

Nothing.

I had resigned to accept the fact I may never get pecans from these trees.

I began to wonder if they really were pecan trees.

If not, fifty cents was pretty cheap for a shade tree.

So imagine my surprise when Al told me to look in the tree last night.

pecan tree

After thirteen years, it looks like my patience has paid off.

Yes, Blonde Gardener, they do exist.

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Farm life, Garden, Home | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

B is for Bee

Last weekend, my dad and I suited up to check the bee hives.

bee

I added a super last month (painted seaside green) because my little hives are growing!

bee

When the weather starts to warm, the bees will come out on their “porch” to cool off.  I saw this in mid June.

bee

And this a couple of weeks ago when the temps got in the 90’s.

bee

bee

The other hive hasn’t done this yet although it appears to have more bees inside.

bee

Any time you open a hive to check, you will accidentally kill some bees.  Each bee has a specific job to do in the hive.  Some bees are the housekeepers.  After I closed up the hive, I noticed these bees removing a dead bee from the hive.  It took two bees to get it out.  Once out,  one bee left leaving the remaining bee to finish the job.

bee

The white spots you see in the middle are bee larva.

bee

The top layer of creamy white is honey.  I could tell immediately when I pulled it out because it was heavier than the other frames.

bee

I will not take any honey out this year.  This is typical for a first year hive.  Bees need food for winter so this will be their pantry.

The bee man at the bee meeting looked at my pics and was worried that I won’t have enough honey for winter.  I still have quite a bit blooming though and I also have flowers blooming well into the fall, so I hope they get busy and prepare.

bee

bee

bee

bee

bee

Anyone out there with bee advice, let me know what you think.

Brenda

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Bees, Garden | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

From Wild Plums to Jelly

This is the first year my dad was able beat the deer and birds to his wild plums and what a treat they were!    After eating my fill, I decided that some wild plum jelly would be a good way to use up the rest of the fruit.

wild plum jelly canning

My grandmother taught me how to make jelly when I was little.  At her house, summertime meant gardening and canning and never wasting any fruit or vegetable along the way.  She had such a tiny kitchen, and I was probably more in the way rather than helping, but she always made me feel like she couldn’t have made it without me and it was the best jelly ever because I had helped.

Making jelly is not hard, but you do need some basic equipment to get started.  Most of the equipment I have I got from her.  One of my favorite’s is a metal colander (?) juicer (?) with a wooden masher.

wild plum jelly canning

As you can tell from the stained masher, it’s been used once or twice before.

wild plum jelly canning

Another piece of equipment I use are her scales to weigh the fruit.

wild plum jelly canning

A water bath canner is used for jelly as well as high acid foods like tomatoes.  I originally had hers but it was pretty well-worn when I got it and eventually rusted out on the bottom.  It became a flower pot and I bought this one.

canning

Water bath canners have grooves on the bottom

canning

and jar racks to keep jars from sitting flat on the bottom of the cooker.

canning

This is an important feature and allows the boiling water to circulate under the jars.  The handles on the jar rack however are basically useless, to me, as they are too flimsy to pull full, hot jars completely out of the pot without them toppling everywhere.  I use jar grippers instead.

wild plum jelly canning

You will also need canning jars and lids, a canning funnel, sugar, pectin (or Sure Jell) and a variety of bowls and towels because making jelly can be a little messy (or a lot messy if you’re like me)

Wash the jars in the dishwasher.  I usually do this about an hour before I start making jelly or canning anything.  You want your jars hot when you put your jelly in and the dry cycle of the dishwasher works great.  But, since I started my jelly on the spur of the moment, I just put some clean jars in a pan of water and warmed them up.

wild plum jelly canning

Canning jars come in wide mouth and regular mouth sizes.  Wash whichever lids (the flat top) and caps (screws on top of lid) you need.  My recipe says it makes 8 half pints but I always have a couple extra jars and tops standing by just in case.  Place in a small pot and heat.  Everything needs to be kept warm.  Putting hot jelly in a cool jar can cause the jar to break.

wild plum jelly canning

Here’s a handy way to get your lids and caps out of the hot water. It’s magnetic so I don’t have to use a fork like I used to.  Brilliant.

canning

 

Place your water bath canner on the back burner and begin heating the water.  You will need the water to be to the boiling stage by the time the jelly is ready to be put in.

 

For wild plum jelly, you will need five pounds of plums

wild plum jelly canning

(I had seven pounds of fruit, so I put aside two pounds to make some freezer jam later.)

Wash plums.

wild plum jelly canning

In a stockpot, squeeze out the pulp and remove the seed.  The skin of the plum is also chock full of flavor, so I also put that in my pot as well.  This is the messy part and takes some time.  Someone told me (after I was done of course) that if you freeze the plums overnight the pulp of the fruit is not quite so mushy and the seeds will pop right out therefore eliminating the messy part.

Add four cups of water to the stockpot and simmer for about thirty minutes.

wild plum jelly canning

As this is simmering, find a big bowl and, if you don’t have a colander/strainer/juicer thingy like mine, line a good size strainer with cheesecloth and place on top of the bowl.

In my case, I used a measuring bowl underneath my contraption.

wild plum jelly canning

Use the masher to gently press the fruit through the strainer

wild plum jelly canning wild plum jelly canning

wild plum jelly canning

Let stand for thirty minutes or until you get 5 1/2 cups of juice.

Return juice to the stockpot.  Add one package (1-3/4 oz) of powdered fruit pectin (SureJell).  Stir and bring to a boil.  Add 7-1/2 cups of sugar.  Bring to a rolling boil and boil for one minute stirring constantly.

wild plum jelly canning

Remove from heat.  There will be a thin layer of foam on top.  Using a spoon, skim off foam.

wild plum jelly canning wild plum jelly canning

Next we put the jelly to the jar!

My grandmother always used a coffee cup to dip the jelly into the jars.  You can use a ladle or measuring cup, but I prefer the coffee cup method.

I do this next step one jar at a time so I can keep my jars hot ’til the last minute.

Place a canning funnel (yes this is hers) on top of the jar and ladle in the jelly.

wild plum jelly canning wild plum jelly canning

Wipe the rim of the jar with a wet paper towel or dishcloth.

wild plum jelly canning

Don’t forget this step. It is vital to getting a good seal.

Top with a lid

wild plum jelly canning

and screw on the cap.

wild plum jelly canning

Using a jar gripper, place the jars in a boiling water bath.  The water should cover the jars by about an inch.  (If it doesn’t,  add boiling water until it’s does)

wild plum jelly canning

Process (or boil) for 5 minutes.

wild plum jelly canning

When the time is up, use your jar grippers again and remove the jelly.  Set on a couple of dish towels.  You will begin to hear popping sounds (hopefully).  This means the jar is sealed.

Let set for twenty-four hours before moving.

Then make some biscuits and serve.

Mmm, mmm good!

Brenda

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Cooking, Garden, Home, recipes | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Who Do I Listen To?

There is a debate happening on my shoulder.

The debate is about some bare land that has appeared in my backyard.

The bare land appeared because a new fence had to be built to keep the baby calves out of the backyard.

empty space

new flower bed  bare ground new flower bed bare ground

On one shoulder, the garden angel is telling me I already have 8 pretty flower beds.

On the other shoulder, the garden devil is saying, “those rocks would make a perfect border.”

Garden angel:  “you have trouble keeping up with what you have.”

Garden devil:  “what’s one more flower bed?”

Garden angel:  “if you leave it as is, Al will weed eat it”

Garden devil:  “you have acres of just plain grass.”

See what I mean?   What is wrong with leaving it as is?  Nothing.  Why can’t I just leave it bare?  That’s not what I do.  Great.  Now my head’s involved in the conversation.

So, here’s what I’m thinkin’.

Several varieties I grow reseed.  As I find these various seeds, I am throwing them in this area.

bee balm monarda

Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is a good example.  This flower blooms readily all summer and is grand central for bees and butterflies.  It does well in dry, rocky soil which is abundant in this area.

Below is common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) that has popped up in the path of one of the beds.  Last year was the first year this native biennial bloomed.  It can get up to 6 ft. tall and obviously reseeds generously.  The flowers are a bright yellow and bloom for several weeks.

primrose

common evening primrose

Other re-seeders include purple coneflower, gray headed coneflower, old fashioned petunias and anise hyssop.

Gray headed coneflower and purple coneflower

Gray headed coneflower and purple coneflower

petunia

old fashioned petunia

coneflower hyssop

Hyssop and purple coneflower

Maybe I’ll just start at this end

new flower bed  bare ground

and slowly work my way to the other side.

sunflower

or maybe I’ll just let Al weed eat it.

 

Brenda
(and all the other voices in my head)

 

 

Posted in Arkansas, Bees, Flowers, Garden, Home, summer flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments