Homemade Bread

2. July 2012 04:46

I had tried making bread several times with results that were better suited for construction or door stops than for eating.  Typically this effort was the result of frustration after visiting the grocery store. My preferred bread not being restocked and I could not find another kind that I liked. 

In the fall 2010 I reached that state again, but this time decided to try it using a bread machine.  While the machines make funny shaped loaves, but had positive reviews for the quality of the bread. I purchased one of the least expensive models and a couple of cookbooks on making bread with a bread machine. And I was very surprised that after a little experimenting, it actually worked as advertised!

Since then we have been enjoying a lot of home made bread and almost no store bought.  It has been mostly "hearty" multi-grain bread with lots of healthy extras that is delicious toasted with preserves in the morning.  But it has been a bit too heavy for sandwich use.  Finally I got up the nerve to try a sandwich bread.  Much to my amazement it turned out perfectly.  The pictured light whole wheat loaf had a softer texture and sliced nicely for sandwiches.  Hopefully the experiment will be repeatable.  Maybe one of these days I will try making my own hamburgers and hotdog rolls.

Not much of a harvest for July 4th

2. July 2012 04:12

When I ordered the seeds for the garden I had dreams of fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes and other veggies being ready to eat by Juny 4th.  However, the weather and other circumstances did not cooperate, so they were planted at least a  month too late to make this coming week's holiday feast. 

The zucchini is not over producing like most zucchini plants tend to do.  It does not seem to have many male flowers needed for pollination and those few it does have tend to open when there are no female flowers open.  Bees seem to be scarce as well, so I am trying to collect pollen for use a day or so later as well as experimenting with use of pollen from another type of squash.

Meawnwhile, the baby bok choi are starting to flower before I realized they could be harvested.  I had never grown bok choi before and did not realize that the outer leaves which flared out giving the plants a flat appearance were actually hiding the pale stem structure I had knew from the grocery store produce shelves.

I can't tell what the potatoes are doing underground, but they are certainly pushing out a lot of green leaves above ground.  Likewise the green beans and peas are taking their time getting to the flowering stage. The lettuce, spinach and carrots did not germinate well.  It is time to plant additional seeds to create later crops.  The garden is not growing quite the way it was designed on paper. However, for a starter garden it looks like it is going well. I am happy to see that at least some of the plants appear to be doing what the catalog pictured -- just off to a bit of a late start.

Gopher Grief - Part Two

1. July 2012 01:33

Well, it was unlikely that the gopher incursion into the garden area would be a one time incident.  Sure enough, the next morning there was a new mound by the pots along the fence.  And like the first one, the tunnels had been backfilled adequately so that there was no hope of finding the runway and setting traps.

Again, on the third day, yet another mound appeared at the end of one of the raised beds, not too distant from where the other two had been.  This gopher was very good about blocking the exits after he had excavated under the garden.

Our next door neighbor Charlie tried to help.  He has been on an all out anti-gopher campaign and is determined to have a little lawn and some flowers by his house. Last I heard, he had close to two hundred gophers since the spring.  The dead gophers are handed over to Pacific Wildlife rescue to feed the owls, eagles, hawks and similar critters they have in their care.  Since the gophers have no respect for property lines, Charlie has extended his trapping to neighboring property to get the critters before they travel their underground freeway into his lawn.  He hosed down all of the mounds and open tunnels he could see on our property.  Usually,  a day or so later, it will be easy to see where the gophers are active.  Not so in this case.  The gopher went into stealth mode and did not disturb anything above ground.

And so things stayed for a couple days.  Then, this morning as I was walking around checking on how things were growing, the ground collasped opening up clean access to the gopher runway. I put out the trap and hoped I guessed correctly from which direction the gopher would be returning.  Later in the day, I found the trap sprung and one less gopher to be undermining things.

Of course one of his many relatives will likely move into his vacated tunnels in a day or so.  This won't be the last time.

It's a boy and he has wings

30. June 2012 18:26

At four weeks old the red rump chick finally has the red feathers for which the species was given common name.  There is still a lot of the gray down on his back mixed in and hiding the red.

He also discovered he had wings and started exericising them when we took a trip down the the LA area.  Perhaps it was because of the motion of the car as we started up that he flapped to regain his balance and realized that he had wings.  And every so often since then he has been exercising those wings.

A few days later, at four months old, the chick was well covered with feathers and looked like a three quarters scale version of the adults.  He is spending his days in a larger enclosure so he can work on learning to climb, perch and use those wings while he also starts learning how to shell seeds and feed himself. 

More photos of baby bird are at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=118.

Gopher Grief

22. June 2012 03:45

The garden has been coming along nicely.  Since I am still waiting for something to harvest, I found other tasks to perform.  The past couple days I worked on getting the paths around and between the beds cleared of sprouting weeds and leveling them off.

This morning after making an inspection of how things were growing, I headed down the hill to the shed.  Not more than ten or fifteen minutes later, on my return, I noticed a new gopher mound on the side of the hill next to the garden.  As I came up futher, I discovered that the critter had not stopped there.  He had dug under the garden bed and created a huge mound on the other side.   

Obviously the gopher was not impressed by my hard work smoothing the path. And the little beast was smart enough to backfill his tunnels far enough so I could not find the runway for setting a trap.  Of course, he is probably pretty miffed we put the hardware cloth between his domain and the tender veggies growing above. I cleaned up the mess and the path is level again.  Odds are this is only the first assult on the garden from below.

A Bird in the Hand

20. June 2012 04:33

Baby bird (red rump parakeet) has been growing fast enough you can almost see it happen. The chick has gone from just a touch of white fuzz, to a coat of gray down to the beginnings of real feathers.  At three weeks old the pinfeathers are starting to show and he has figured out a few things about the way the his world works.  Meal time is still messy, but gradually more of the food is going into the chick than is landing on the outside.  Once the baby has had his fill, the frantic attacks on the feeding syringe stop and he heads for the hand to relax a while.

More photos of baby bird are at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=118.

Garden Tool

13. June 2012 07:01

Several of the sources mentioned the value of keeping a garden journal to document what one planted and how it did. So it was a no-brainer that I would be frequently taking the camera to the garden. I am realizing that I should have the camera handy any time I am near the garden or wandering around our property. Otherwise there will be either a missed photo op of a passing critter or else a dash through the house to fetch the camera and a trail of muddy footprints.

One example of the latter situation was my enounter with the California King snake. I had been working on getting the drip system in the garden working and went over to the house to turn on the water. There, by the side of the house, was a snake. Not the usual gopher snakes I had seen around previously. But a more colorful brown and cream striped one, about 30 inches long. Apparently the snake was as surprised to see me as I was it. While I dashed off into the house to grab the camera, it headed in the other direction for cover. Fortunately it did not go too far. A while later I went to get the mail and found it near the mailbox. This time the camera was close and I got a few photos before it disappeared down a gopher hole. (A week later, my husband found a snakeskin in that gopher hole. From the faint pattern of stripes and size, it probably belonged to my acquaintance from the previous week. )

Addtitional photos at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?moid=2496

Baby Bird

13. June 2012 05:05

Despite being so tiny, the three day old red rump chick was tough. Its mama decided she had better things to do than take care of her offspring. So his care and feeding was up to the humans who barely had a clue about such things.

Online information sources about hand feeding chicks did not prove to be much help. For instance, they disagreed on some very specific points. One said to be sure that the chick's crop was completely empty before feeding. Another said it was okay to feed if it wasn't completely empty. And for other points -- well, the directions were clearly for larger species and / or older chicks.

It took a few days to get the "nest" satisfactory. The chick did not stay put in the center of the homemade brooder. It kept wandering off and would be found under one of the paper towels or tissues that were put in there for support. Eventually a shallow tupperware dish was found and crumpled tissues filled most of the area that wasn't occupied by the chick. The baby seemed to settle down after feedings almost immediately when he was in the small cozy space.

Of course the whole feeding routine has been a learning experience for both of us. For the first few days, feeding meant getting as much food on the outside of the chick as when inside him. The tip of the feeding syringe seemed too big for the beak it had to service. Fortunately the chick did get enough to eat and in a very short time his size and appetite increased dramatically.

Baby has made it through two weeks of being hand feed and is currently covered in fuzzy gray down.  A few more days until real feathers appear and we may get the first hints of the baby's gender.

See http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=118 for photos of how baby bird has grown.

Seeds have sprouted

11. June 2012 05:01

It has been almost two weeks and the green beans, peas, corn, potatoes and a few other things are easy to spot from a distance.  I know corn and potatoes take a long time, but I remembered green beans and peas for being quick.  I checked the seed catalog information and it said 60 days.  So I have at least a month yet before I may have fresh green beans for dinner.  It is almost like waiting for Christmas when I was a kid -- it is taking so long!

While I was surprised by how quickly the corn, green beans and peas germinated, I was equally surprised at how long it has taken the carrots, onion family and spinach.  They are just poking up above the ground now and don't seem to have as good a germination rate as the others.  Perhaps that is a clue I should start these inside and put out as transplants next year.  Well, not the carrots -- I will just need to make sure that the soil where they are planted won't crust over or dry out before they germinate.

The zucchini is not doing so well so far.  It has bloomed, but apparently has not been pollinated as the pods wither and die instead of growing once the flower fades.  I suspect a lack of bees in the area to do the pollination. I will see if I can play bee for the next couple to be sure. The tomatoes are just starting to show blossoms and I hope they will be making fruit shortly.

I finally have a garden again!

29. May 2012 22:51
One of the reasons for buying acerage was to have room for a bigger garden and more fruit trees and berries than we had in our home back in Saratoga years ago.  The place in Saratoga was a fixer upper and it required some hard work to get things going there.  However, in moving from a surburban quarter acre to almost five acres in a more rural area the scale of things makes the difficulty of some projects a lot bigger than just the relative sizes.  Our yard in Saratoga had a fence, and although there was an ongoing problem with gophers the "pests" were managable.  Here, the area is open, gophers set up an extensive freeway system below the surface, and deer, jack rabbits and cottontails are regular visitors. There are some weeds which are so nasty they would be a marvel of bio-engineering had they come out of the laboratories instead of mother nature.  So the process to get things to the garden I have pictured in my head has simply been out of reach... and twenty years have gone by. 

This past year I started sketching out the garden plans again.  As I worked over the ideas, I found that some of the old assumptions needed to be changed.  And as I started making those changes, they seemed to propagate other changes.  But it was clear that the grand scheme was going to not going to happen this year -- and probably not next year either.   

 So I looked for options that might work while the bigger pieces were still to be done. The result -- very simple -- four raised beds that could be set up near the house with a minimal amount of fencing. While the initial concept was that these were to be "temporary" beds, as that part got going, the temporary part has vanished and another series of changes -- improvements to the overall plan have happened as a result of the experience so far.

The drip system for watering was completed over the Memorial Day weekend. Seedlings and seeds planted the week before are beginning to make the beds look more like a garden. I am looking forward to discovering what will grow here and am hoping for fresh corn and green beans and vine ripened tomatoes to serve at mealtime again.

You can see the details of the raised bed and the garden area at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=120.

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