Thursday, May 31, 2012

Squirrels! BAH!

Squirrels are the bane of my gardening existence.  They dig out seeds I've just planted.  Chew the tops off pepper plants, tomato plants, and sunflowers!  I sometimes wonder if they're doing me a favor as topping those plants causes them to be bushier -- including the sunflowers!  Instead of a single flower head, there will be many when the squirrels have chewed the tops from one.  They dig out newly planted plants, too.  They dig in all my planters, leaving heaps of dirt all over the place!

I know.  I probably shouldn't feed him if he gives me so much trouble.  This table is on my porch just outside one kitchen window where the cats like to lounge.  Feeding him here is great entertainment for the cats.  Although, two of my cats go outdoors and I do have (expletive laced) video of my 24-pound tuxedo cat sitting lazily only 4 inches away from the squirrel watching him with mild curiosity.  

Every year I search for ways to stop the squirrels' destruction.  Usually I cover the tops of my planters with rocks and shells I've gathered from the beaches.  This does stop them from digging in those.  I'm never surprised when a bean plant starts growing in a row where I did not plant beans.  It's nothing I did.  It's the squirrel's doing.  

This is my potted blueberry.  We amended the soil to reach the correct pH and still it was a little sweeter than blueberries prefer.  So I started taking my coffee grounds out to the planter in the mornings to help increase the acidity.  What do you know?  When I added coffee grounds to the top of the planter, the squirrel stopped digging.  It's a good thing I love coffee!  I'll be spreading these everywhere! 

This chili pepper planter is covered in clam shells.  The bit of soil on the porch was from the squirrel's last dig before I added the shells.

Last year, I lost most of the spinach in my salad box to the squirrels.  They would dig it up, eat it, just make a wreck of the whole box.  This year, I sprouted everything under bird netting.  Once it got too tall for the bird netting, I removed the bird netting.  As soon as I did, holes everywhere!  Squirrels!  Bah!  I moved my salad box from a too shady location to a too sunny location, so had to give my lettuce and spinach some shade.

The squirrels aren't afraid to climb in on the sides and dig, or even in the small, two-inch gap between the two shades!  So we had to make some more modifications before we could start our cucumbers in the back row.  (In this picture you can see the leeks that overwintered in this box.  They were TASTY!  Normally leeks wouldn't survive a winter in this region, but last year's winter was incredibly mild.)

These are trays from garden centers used to hold all the cell packs of flowers and such.  I knew I hung onto them for a reason!  (They come in handy for harvesting.)  We stapled these to the sides of the box to keep the squirrels out.  It's working.  Look how happy the lettuce is, too!

The cukes are sprouting happily.  And the squirrel isn't going to get them!  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Weed 'em and Reap!

Does your yard look like mine?

Yes, the dandelions are winning.  No doubt this is thanks to my dandelion loving youngest child who spreads seeds around with abandon every year.  Last year, he requested a dandelion birthday cake.  He really loves dandelions!  

What to do when you have an abundance of dandelion blossoms?  Make dandelion wine!  Which is exactly what we did.  

I was lucky to have come across the recipe the way I did.  I was leafing through one of my old cookbooks (The New York Times Heritage Cookbook, 1972 edition) for inspiration and came across several dandelion recipes days before the dandelions were in full bloom.  The recipe was simple and I figured "Why not?"

I'm sure the neighbours thought we were nuts out there plucking dandelion blooms and putting them into a 2-quart sized Easter bucket!  I found it was easiest to just slip two fingers beneath the bloom and pull up in order to get only blossom and no stem.  You don't want any stems, just blossoms.  Read the whole recipe before you get started as this is a several-day process (but easy!)

Dandelion Wine

4 quarts boiling water
4 quarts dandelion blossoms, washed
3 lemons
3 oranges
3.5 pounds sugar (8 cups)
1/2 cake compressed yeast or one and one-half teaspoons active dry yeast, dissolved in two tablespoons lukewarm water

  1. Pour the boiling water over the washed blossoms (I simply added the blossoms to the pot of boiling water and stirred to submerge them all) and return to a boil.  Cool and set aside, covered, for three days.  (I covered with the pot lid and let it sit on a back burner for the three days.)  
  2. Strain, discarding blossoms (put these right in the compost bin or even directly on the garden, they won't go to seed now that they've been cooked!) 
  3. Cut the colored rind from the lemons and oranges (wash them well then use a very fine peeler or paring knife to remove ONLY the colored rind and NONE of the white pith -- try to get no white at all).  Add the colored rinds to to the strained liquid.  Bring to a boil and boil fifteen minutes.  
  4. Juice the orange and lemons and add the juice and pulp and sugar to the liquid and stir well.  (The oranges and lemons fall apart using a hand juicer, it's messy but it will do the job.)  Cool.  
  5. After it has cooled, add the yeast and pour the brew in a container to ferment in a cool place for a week to ten days.  I used a plastic gallon jug to ferment mine in.  I had about 4 inches of space in the top of the container and yes it expanded and it bubbled over a little bit.  I only had the screw-cap top on.  Anyone who makes wine regularly says to use a fermentation lock, which will fit on top of a gallon container - usually glass.  I recall my parents making wine and using balloons in place of the fermentation lock.  Poke several holes in the top of the balloon, fit it to the top of the container and let the balloon fall inside the jug.  It will raise with the carbon dioxide which will escape the holes.  When it deflates completely, it's done.  (Instructions for a balloon are here.)
When you set the wine aside to ferment, it doesn't look pretty.  It's foamy and brownish and cloudy.  In a few days the bits inside will settle and the liquid will clear.  I let my wine sit for 12 days before I strained and bottled it.  I strained it using a wire mesh strainer but now I wish I had put a coffee filter inside that wire mesh strainer as well.  I put it into 4 standard-sized wine bottles, corked them and put them away.  

This holiday weekend, we tried our wine.  It is good!  It's very sweet, though.  Researching online I see that with a short fermentation time one can reduce the sugar and also if you let it ferment longer, the sugar gets eaten in the process resulting in a less sweet wine.  It's quite citrusy, too.  I can see having lemonade coolers using this wine during the summer.  

Can you feel the anticipation?  

It is good!  I like it chilled.  

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