27 July 2012

State of the 'Stead, July

small cucumber harvest


As predicted, the July jungle exists where a perfectly manicured garden was planned.  Between the heat and the drought it's difficult to maintain, but the past few weeks of weeding and pruning have returned it to a more recognizable condition.  The heavy mulching must have paid off because we still have producing and maturing plants despite only an inch and a half of rain since the beginning of May. 

Marveille des Quatre Saisons blossoms

The spring crops faded weeks ago and we are harvesting July vegetables: zucchini, beet, broccoli, cabbage, chard, cucumber, onion, garlic.  The string beans are just coming in and we're still waiting (fingers crossed) for sweet corn.

clockwise from top: golden beet, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, cucumber, bright lights chard

In addition to rampant weeds, we have many volunteer plants, plants that self-seeded from last year's crops.  Among them were at least (I promise I'm not exaggerating) one hundred tomato plants, a handful of Hopi tobacco plants, and parsnips which somehow made it from one of the southernmost beds to the very northernmost bed.  I was impressed.  We kept the tobacco and about ten tomato plants.  The rest went to compost and the chickens.

tobacco blossom


The chicken harvest is over, or so we thought.  The fifteen laying hens have been happily scratching and pecking in their yard.  And then one started crowing.  I'm not an expert at this homesteading stuff, but I'm pretty sure hens don't crow.  We have a rooster, and I love him.  I know I just butchered over forty chickens and I should be over growing attached, but I love him.  It's the crowing--it's so darn charming! And he's just the happiest little rooster ever with his fourteen beautiful heritage hens.  He rounds them up and struts around the yard.  It pains me a bit that we can't keep him.  If we do I'll end up collecting fertilized eggs--let's just say you don't want to make a frittata with those.  And we're not going to breed him.  As my father-in-law keenly pointed out, one doesn't breed the runt.  So although I love the crowing, I think it's time for coq au vin.

rooster and Rhode Island Red hen

rooster and his ladies

The ducks are getting big.  We moved them into their own pen in the coop several weeks ago when they were eagerly escaping their little pen on the porch about ten times a day.  My day was looking something like this:  wake up, catch the ducks, make breakfast, catch the ducks, feed the chickens, catch the ducks.  I'm sure you see the pattern.  By the way, ducks are fast.  They gave me a run for my money every few hours. 

wood ducks

Also, we had some excitement with the bees.  Around sunset a few weeks ago Nick discovered that their boxes were full.  They needed another box to continue happily building comb and making honey.  He thought he would add one more box before sundown and found out bees don't like to be messed with in the dark.  They got mad.  They found a hole in his suit, flooded in, and stung him--many times.  They also chased him across the property and back as he ran flailing and removing his bee gear.  Later he told me he couldn't help thinking of how accurate the 'bee scene' in Tommy Boy is.  He's lucky he got out with only a dozen stings or so.  I don't think he felt lucky at the time, or when I was removing the stingers from his beard, neck, and chest.  What a night.

angry bees, the morning after


This is the summer of cucumber and beet.  We eat plenty of cucumber and beet.  I've been preserving loads of cucumber and beet.  I make a crock of spicy dill refrigerator pickles every week or so for a cool side or snack.  I've canned about thirty pints of them as well.  Canning in the middle of a heat wave in an unairconditioned house is a great way to make yourself crabby and to start drinking beer before your husband comes home from work.  Our homemade IPA pairs well with pickles.

cucumber and dill prepared for pickling

My favorite cucumber salad lately is seeded sliced cucumbers tossed with feta, olive oil, dill, and cracked pepper.  The chickens have loved the cucumbers that were too large and overripe for us.  They manage to peck it open and eat the entire inside while leaving the skin perfectly intact.  We have genius chickens. 

cucumber climbing trellis

The beets are magnificent this year.  The red Bull's Blood Beet grew very well,  but the Golden Beet, which I actually prefer due to the milder flavor, did not germinate as well.  Still, we had several good pickings.  My favorite way to prepare them is boiled, sliced, and topped with caramelized onions and goat cheese.  I've also sweet pickled them for winter and tucked a few servings in the freezer.

romaine, pickled beet, blue cheese

preparing onion for curing

Our zucchini has peaked and is already at the mercy of the squash beetle.  Although I enjoyed the new cultivar of zucchini I tried this year, Romanesco, I'm just not feelin' it.  I can't say I'm terribly sad to see it go.  We had it roasted, a la parmagiana, and in this cake.  With eighteen plants, we harvested our share. 

zucchini a la parmagiana

spiced zucchini bundt cake with crunchy lemon glaze

So, that's July on the 'Stead: hot, dry, pickly, stingy, and crowy. 

radicchio blossom


  1. We got a rooster and it doesn't seem to do anything to our eggs. I've heard that the fertizized eggs are better for your cholesterol. The red spot you see in some eggs are a result of a breakage in the blood vessel during a chickens ovulation and will happen regardless.
    Hovever in a warm summer and if there is a hidden nest somewhere, that you take weeks to find. I concede that some of the eggs may go bad.

  2. Don't kill him until I get to meet him!

  3. Love the rooster! Poor Nick w/ the bees, OUCH! That happened to me once as a kid and I've been terrified of bees ever since.

  4. My dad (who has had beehives for years) has said that the banana smell will fire up the bees too (and not in a good way)....