Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Devil's Den- Mother's Day hike

 My favorite days are ones spent with my family outside. So for Mother's day this year, Kenan asked where i wanted to go hiking.  There are several spots we hike often and i was having a hard time deciding where i wanted to go.  Then Kenan suggested Devil's Den Nature Preserve, we'd hike here only once before and it had been several  (5+) years ago.



This is on the backside of the Devil's Den sign.  i love this. 


There is a huge field where we parked to start the trail. At first it just looked like a hay field, but upon closer observation i realized it was beebalm. Then i began to see Milkweed and echinacea too.  The entire field was planted in wildflowers, like a giant butterfly garden. i can not wait to come back this summer when the field is blooming. 


Devil's Den nature preserve is a 250 acre tract, with hiking trails and abundant wildlife.


The name Devil's Den refers to a 600-million year old cave formation.  This is the entrance to cave known as Devil's Den. You are not allowed to enter it, and although you can't tell from the photo is a very steep rather scary hole that goes into the ground. My family is actually standing on a ledge above the entrance.  You can feel the cool dampness of the cave here.  You have to be very careful in this area because there are many hidden holes that lead to the caves below. One wrong step and you could easily fall in. The cave also had a role in local history.   It is associated with the 1912 Carroll County Courthouse shooting and was a major attraction in the 1920's.  They occasionally do tours of the inside of cave, but i didn't find much info about it online.  


When we first began our hike, the Dwarf irises were everywhere. We also saw trillium, mayapples, Clintonia (speckled lily), wild azaleas, wood violets and more.



We even spotted this pair of Bobwhites not far from the entrance. The one on the right with the dark head is the male, and the one on the left is the female.


Just as we were almost finished with out hike my daughter pointed out these Lady Slipper Orchids!  i was so excited!  This was the perfect ending to a perfect Mother's day.  i am somewhat obsessed by native wildflowers, and Lady Slippers are somewhat rare.  i've searched our property for them, but have never found them and in all the hikes we have done i don't believe i've ever come across them before. So this really made the hike extra wonderful.  i snapped a couple of pictures and examined the leaves, so i have a better idea of what to look for on our property. i was told by a neighbor that yellow lady slippers use to come up on our side of the creek, but i have never found them. 

i really enjoyed hiking at Devil's den and really look forward to returning this summer to see the butterfly garden. Although the actual trail is less than a mile loop, it's still a wonderful scenic trail and worth checking out. This simple hike and time spent with my family is the best gift they could have given me. The day truly could not have been more perfect.


The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man. ~Author Unknown





Friday, May 15, 2015

Chicks, chicks and more chicks!

This has been the year for new chicks! Remember the new chicks that we hatched out here? After moving them to the chicken tractor, another olive egg hatched. So my hen ended up with 4 olive eggers, and one Mottled Java cross.   It has been a month, and the babies are almost fully feathered now.

Mama is very protective, so they are so it's hard to get a picture of them. Of the three 4 olive eggers three appear to to be crossed with the BCM, but the 4th has the look of a Cream Legbar.  i'm a bit worried, all three of the BCM/OE cross have very pink combs and the beginnings of wattles. One is quite obviously a roo and the other 2 definitely have to look but i'm trying to remain optimistic. Of the remaining two chicks, the OE/CLB cross has a very small yellow comb, and the Java cross also has a tiny yellow comb.  The Java however, carries himself/herself like a roo. See the one standing up? Yep, that's the Java. So, yeah...if 4 out of 5 turn out to be roos i may just cry.  i currently have 4 BCM roos and i have to find homes for atleast 3 of them, which isn't very easy to do.  i know most folks would just cull the extra roos,but we are a vegetarian family and kill them is just not an option. 



This one of my game hens. Several weeks ago, she disappeared. She is pretty wild and doesn't always sleep in the coop,so i figured something may have snatched her in the night. i also knew there was a pretty good chance that she had a clutch of eggs hidden somewhere.  

Right before we left for our vacation she showed up in the yard. She was very obviously broody, and disappeared back into the woods. i was so worried that the chicks would hatch while we were gone. We had hired a pet sitter, but she wouldn't know how to catch the hen and chicks and get them into the coop. Thankfully, they didn't hatch until a few days after we returned and i was able to move them into the pen where they'll be more protected from predators.


i'm very curious to see their feathers come in. i believe the two black chicks were fathered by a BCM, but the rest of them i have no idea. Our main rooster Mr. Beardy is an EEi believe, and we also had the Cream Legbar at the time (he has since passed). So this is a mish mash barnyard mix of cuties. They are around 2 weeks old now and are just beginning to get some feathers.. 



This little mama was setting on eggs when we left as well, but hers were not due until May 1st.  The day came and went, but no little peeps.  i got a message from a local lady who had just hatched out silkie/sizzles and asked if i was interested. How could i say no? So i removed a few eggs from under mama, and shoved the day old chicks underneath her instead. Then i waited to see if she would accept them. Ideally, you would do this at night. So the hen would wake up with baby chicks under her...however i was terribly worried that she wouldn't accept them and they would die in the night. So i did it in the evening and then checked on her repeatedly to make sure all was well.  She took to the babies right away, and is a wonderful foster mama.

i really wasn't sure what to expect with Sizzles. Honestly, i thought sizzle was another name for a Frizzle and thought that silkie/sizzles would be a mix of silkies and frizzles (not necessarily crosses). i've been eagerly watching their feathers come in and was a little surprised that of the 4, it appears only one has frizzled feathers, one looks like it is going to have silkie feathers and the other two so far have regular smooth feathers.

After a bit of research i'm finding that a sizzle is a silkie/frizzle cross.  When these two are crossed only 50% of the chicks will get the frizzled gene (less in my case). The smooth feathered chicks will have silkie characteristic, but regular feathering...they may carry the frizzled gene even though they do not have frizzled feathers. You can not cross two frizzles or you get a bird with really messed up feathers.  So these are interesting. i'm watching the feathers come in and can't wait to see what i end up with. 


 My daughter named the frizzled chick 'curly fry'. :) 

Oh yeah, i still have one more broody hen. lol.My silkie, Stevie, was setting on a few eggs but kept rolling them out of the nest, so i gave her 3 more Olive eggs to set on. i'm so worried that all of my olive eggers are roos, i figured i'd try again. :)  With all these new chicks i currently have over 30 chickens...i'm starting to feel like a crazy chicken lady.  and husband is not very happy, but i keep reminding him that at least half of the new chicks will be Roos and i'll have to find them homes. Also the chance of all these chicks surviving to adulthood is pretty slim, we have way too many predators in the area. By the time fall comes around, i'll be lucky if i have 5 new layers.  If by chance i did end up with a bunch of girls, they would be easy enough to sell.  So even though i'm looking  like a crazy chicken lady at the moment, as long as i can find homes for all of these roos i'm not that worried...even if my husband is. :) 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

In the Garden- First week of May

It seems like everything is starting a bit earlier this year. i've been in a rush to get my gardens planted, even though in the past this area doesn't plant until Mother's Day weekend. Many folks don't even put out their tomatoes until Memorial day.  Although the weather is warm, and seems perfect for planting it was only a couple years ago that we had a freeze the last week of May, so i'm really trying not to get too ahead of myself.



My late winter lettuce is still doing well, and i have a spring planting that is close to harvest. We are beginning to get asparagus, and i found a few more morels last week. Chickens are still laying well, despite about half my hens trying to go broody. 



The weather has been a bit strange this year. The spring has been warmer than usual,and then we had a freeze at the end of April that really seemed to screw up my broccoli. Almost all of my broccoli plants began to button after the freeze. Buttoning is when the plant produces a small premature head because of a drop in temperature.  i have had broccoli bolt because of hot temperatures,  but this is the first timei've had it button. i don't know if the plants will recover, but i removed the buttons and am watching to see if they are stunted or will continue to grow side shoots.  

The late freeze also killed the blossoms on my pear trees, and most of the blossoms on my peach trees.  The temperatures went from freezing one week, to 80 degrees the next so now i'm dealing with spinach, radishes and kale that is bolting.  


Root veggies have never done well for me,so this year i planted them all in pots of raised beds. My radishes were doing fabulous up until we had a week of 80 degree temps and then they suddenly began bolting. i  planted the Easter Egg radishes, which had a really nice variety of  colors. All of the white bolted, but i did get to enjoy a few radishes on my salads this week. 





i plant the Redbor kale every year because i love the deep purple color it turns in cool temps. It also grows well in the heat, but the leaves are green when the temperatures are warmer. This springs temp seem to have confused my Redbor kale, as the plants are both purple and green. Some of them are trying to bolt, while others are still growing fine.




i have a few tomato plants that were started early that are doing really well. One even has baby tomatoes on it! Most of my tomatoes are still really small. We went on vacation for a week in April and i didn't get them started until we came back.  So i should have a few early tomatoes, and then lots of later tomatoes as well.  The eggplant that  overwintered is doing great too! :)


Most of my tomatoes look like this, and i somehow managed to start over a 100 plants again this year. i have no idea where i am going to plant them all. 

My frost free date this year was May 6th, which just seems so early. i have all my old crops in, even though it's been 80 degrees all week.  i have potatoes, cucumbers, peas, squash and beans coming up. This week i'm working on getting all of my tomatoes, sweet potatoes and peppers in the ground.  My main garden is still pretty empty, but i have the other 4 about 75% planted. 


i'm hoping that things cool off again,so i can continue to enjoy my homegrown salads. These are one of my favorite things this time of year. i'm continuing to sow new lettuce seeds about very 3 weeks, but if the temperatures stay this warm, it's just going to bolt and get bitter.

i'm definitely excited for the growing season, and optimistic for a good year .i've just got to finish getting it planted! :)  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Morel Season begins!!

About 15 years ago, not long after moving down to VA, my friend and i were hiking through our woods and stumbled upon a morel patch.  She was the first to notice them, and once we'd seen one the other just seemed magically begin appearing.  This was the beginning of my morel hunting addiction. 

Every year since then, i've gone out in the early spring morel hunting.  That original magical patch dried up years ago, but we have learned what to look for and when to look and over the years have found several new patches.



Morels need very specific conditions in order to grow. The soil temperature has to be perfect, and  there are several things to look for that hint towards the perfect time.  Once the bloodroot begins to bloom i start looking for the trillium and mayapples.


Toadshade Trillium was the first to appear. So i started walking through the wood each day looking for a sign of the morels. 


Then the Red trillium aka Stinking Benjamin, started popping up, along with the mayapples.  As soon as i saw the trillium and mayapples coming up, i knew the temps were right. We had a several days of rain, and everything seemed to be popping up overnight.   This is the best indication that the soil temp is perfect, and the rais is what really gets them going.


i went out hiking in the rain to my favorite spots to look for the elusive morel. i saw several of these orange newts, which is another good indication that the soil temp is correct.  Last year i found a bunch of these guys and while squatting down to get a picture of one i found the morels. So now i think of these guys as the morel guardians since i always seem to find them in the same area that i find the mushrooms.


Last year i stumbled upon a honey hole. So as soon as i noticed the right conditions i started checking for morels.  i've been going out almost every day, but not finding any. After looking back at some older posts i knew that i've typically found them around April 30th- May 5th,  but the flowers are blooming earlier this year. So the mushrooms should be here.  i scoured the area, but didn't find a thing, just as i'm about to give up i look down and see it. 


As always once you see that first one, the the others just sort of magically appear. They were small, and extremely difficult to find. i left several that were too small to pick and will check again in a few days after they've had some time to grow. 

Morel hunting has become a favorite family activity in the spring. The kids are great at spotting the morels and can recognize the different flowers, knows most of their names, and are learning all the signs of when and where to start looking for morels.  

There are very few other fungus that look like morels, so identification is easy.  However, if you've never hunted morels before make sure and familiarize yourself with false morels and other look-a-likes.   You can find a bit of info on knowing the difference here . The most obvious difference is that morels are hollow. Both the cap and the stem is hollow. So if you are unsure if you have a morel or a false morel, split the stem in half. The false morel will be full of cottony fiber and plant tissues, while the morel is smooth and hollow.  Never consume any wild mushroom unless you are 100% sure of what it is. 

Happy Mushroom hunting!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lundberg Organic Brown Rice, Gluten-free, Vegan Pasta Review.




i recently had to opportunity to try out Lundberg Farms Organic Brown Rice Pasta meals. These come in a variety of flavors, are gluten-free, vegan, non-gmo, organic and made with whole grains.  

 Lundberg Farms is committed to producing the finest quality rice and rice products for your family since 1937, the Lundberg family has been growing healthy, great tasting rice while respecting and sustaining the earth. today, the third and fourth generations carry on the family heritage by using eco-positive farming methods that produce wholesome, healthful rice, rice cakes, rice chips and risottos while improving and protecting the environment for generations to come.

Lundberg Family Farms is family-owned and operated. It is a proud participant of the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization created by leaders representing all sectors of the organic and natural products industry in the U.S. and Canada, to offer consumers a consistent non-GMO choice for organic and natural products.


Although we are not a vegan or gluten free family, i was excited to try these out.  The flavors looked intriguing, and there are times when you need to whip up a quick meal. They are very easy to make, you just boil the water then add the pasta and seasoning pack and then let it simmer around 7 minutes.  The sauce thickens as it cools.

This was my first time trying a gluten-free pasta. It had a slightly different smell when it was cooking, that i wasn't quite sure about. However, the finished product looked and tasted like regular pasta. These meals make a nice side dish, but could easily be spiced up to make more of a meal. 

Lundberg farms pasta is not only tasty, it is also affordable. The ingredients are all natural and easy to pronounce, making it a really nice alternative to many of the pasta mixes on the market that contain food coloring and artificial flavors.  These were easy enough for my 13 year old to make himself.  We really enjoyed these pasta dishes and  look forward to trying some of the other Lundberg products and flavors




*disclaimer. i do not receive any monetary compensation for my reviews.  i occasionally receive free products to review or giveaway, but all opinions are my own.