Thursday, July 31, 2014

In the Garden: Butterflies and a Melon

We got ONE casaba melon - just one, but oh my goodness, it is huge!  It's a cantaloupe-type melon, but the size of a watermelon.  The plants set so many fruits and they were all tragically destroyed by the awful melon borer moths.  I hate those things!  They migrate through and can be avoided, but I managed to plant the melons to ripen just after they came through this year, so I lost almost everything.  It was so tragic.  I might have cried about it if I wasn't so darn exhausted this year.  It wasn't the sweetest melon, but it was fine-tasting.

In the native plant garden the Florida hibiscus is blooming at last.  

And along the fences the passion fruits are setting fruit.

There were also some visitors - Gulf Frittilary butterflies.  Their white patches shine like silver spangles in the sunshine.  They have been leaving....

Caterpillars!  It's technically part of the butterfly garden, so I am not minding them so much.  That's what the host plants are for.  They are so dramatically spiky.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Visiting Maw Maw

Ethan's grandmother recently had a bad fall and broke both her ankle and leg - one on each side.  She was not doing very well, but is better now that she is out of the hospital and at home.  We managed to finally go down for a short visit.  We were all happy to see each other.  It was complicated, involving Ethan waking up seriously early to do the chores, and borrowing my in-law's minivan.  The AC was so functional in it (something we are not used to with our vehicles) that we all got cold and had to turn it off!  Of course Mirin brought his skateboard, which rolled around in the van with us, and became a stroke of genius when we reached Maw Maw's house and we found there was a new wheelchair ramp built over the stairs.

We thought we managed to bring everything, and had planned to make sandwiches for lunch, but forgot to buy bread along with cheese and other provisions!  We had some Wasa crackers we used instead, luckily.  We're just glad we remembered to bring the toddler at least.  My mother-in-law packed a big bag of all sorts of things for the beach, making everything so much easier.

We ended the day meeting some friends at the beach who live close by and we hardly ever see.  The kids got some of their energy out and I got to chat with my friend Jean about homeschooling and life.  It was so nice to get away for a bit and visit, although Ethan and I feel like the living dead after all the effort it took!  Ethan is so lucky to still have his grandmother (she is 96 this year!).  She is the last great-grandparent on both sides of the family.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nature Finds: Life on a Sow Thistle


There are about a dozen blooming sow thistles right near the milking shed, and every day I have seen so much life on and around them.  There are at least twenty of these little butterflies at any given time.  For some reason the name Horace's Dusky Wing comes to mind, but that could be completely wrong.  Perhaps Dusky-Winged Skipper is right.  See, that's the problem with growing up as a Lepidopterist's daughter. I have all these butterfly names floating around in my subconscious.

Here we found a Daddy Long-legs.

There were several of these striped insects.  I didn't get a chance to count the wings, but I believe they were actually flies.

Also a lot of little hairstreaks.  These little guys rub their wings together when they land.  They have tails on the ends of their wings that look like antennae.  It is thought this is to divert an attack from a bird, lizard or insect to their wingtips rather than their head.

And last of all a pair of mating wasps was visiting on their honeymoon.  It's too bad sow thistle is such an ugly plant!  Otherwise everyone would be planting it in butterfly gardens.  The weeds are always the best for insects.  When ever we go out with my dad and the Lepidopterist's Society, they always stop at the strangest places - sides of roads, abandoned parking lots, etc.  Anywhere the weeds grow.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Shaken up

This season for me is what I think many people up north experience in February.  February here is light and beautiful, everything is in bloom and it's pleasant to be outside. 

Right now, however, the heat is intense and exhausting.  The bugs are horrible.  We can barely get out to feed the animals because of all the thunder and lightening storms that come through, much less catch up on much needed maintenance.  I just want to sit on the couch in the AC, reading and knitting!  Of course I can't - or I could and the toddler would destroy the house.  These are the dark days on the other side of the solstice.

Mirin almost killed himself yesterday with an adventure in the pig pen.  The pigs are huge and we are always telling him NOT to play in the pig pen.  He always wants to because that's where the old homestead was, and he finds interesting jars, pieces of metal and shards of porcelain.  Ethan had told him he could go in after he had fed the pigs.  That way they would be eating and wouldn't chase him.

He went in before the pigs were fed because he was impatient to be in there.  They went after him, so he climbed a dead tree and fell when the branch he was holding broke and also broke two branches under him on the way down.  He said he had to beat the pigs off with the branches.  He couldn't call for help at first because the wind was knocked out of him.  He got a nasty scrape on his forehead and his back from falling against the rough bark.  He was okay, just shaken up.  He has always not really believed us when we try to tell him something is a bad idea.  He likes to experience things for himself.  I told him that if he was going to not listen to us, he'd better at least have better common sense!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Frying Pan Crayon Painting

When I was a kid my mom would get out a hot plate and let us put pieces of paper on it to draw with crayons.  The heat melted the crayons as you drew, so it was almost like painting with wax.  I remember really enjoying drawing this way, almost like wet-on-wet watercolor in which you can really play with color and form.  The colors were intense and bright, like paint.

For years I've wanted to do this with my children, but have been unable to find a hot plate at a reasonable price, not even at yard sales!

I had a bright idea the other day to try using a warmed cast-iron frying pan, and it worked beautifully.  It needs to be re-warmed after every second drawing or so.

We used the beeswax crayons from last year's home school.  I was going to use them this year, but I think we will spring for a new set, as the old ones are broken, colors are missing, and all of them have toddler teeth marks.

The smell of the melting beeswax was beautiful, so much nicer than the regular wax crayons, and the colors were extra pretty.  The big kids pointed out that it warms your hands up a lot to color this way, and it certainly warms the house up, so we will probably save this idea for the winter months.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In the Garden: Tassels

The corn is not only tasseling, but little ear tufts are out, too!  These seem to have appeared overnight.  I was even watching for them carefully this year. (you can get a little glimpse of the incredible jungle of squash vines in the background there).


We got the first watermelon, too!  I grew the Van Doren Moon and Stars this year.  They are huge.  It was not quite perfectly ripe, but it was still very sweet.  We still have a hard time telling when melons are ready to be picked.  It has been so wet, we thought it would be better to pick it a little early rather than later in case it exploded or cracked.  We've had that happen before!  This melon left an incredible crater in the mulch where it grew.

The harvest of Turkish Italian Orange eggplants has gotten away from me.  They tend to be bitter if they are left on long enough to turn orange.  I have dozens of little orange eggplants now, so I made a curry-style pickle from them.  The salt and fermentation draws out any bitterness.  I am really looking forward to how these turn out.  It's a recipe I've made with mango before, but not eggplant.  It has cumin, fresh hot peppers, wine vinegar, salt, fenugreek seeds, ginger and Rapadura.  It's still bubbling away on my table right now, but it will be ready to taste soon.

This is what the paths look like these days!
And I thought I had left such generous spaces between everything!

Ethan noticed a really cool yin/yang kind of thing about the male and female squash blossoms.  The males all stick up as high as possible.  They look like they're saying, "Pick me!  Pick me!"

The female blossoms are laid down on the ground so gracefully and with such care.  I had never noticed that before. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


 The piglets are weaned!  Star is so happy.  They were getting so big and annoying to her.  I remember that moment, when Rose was two and a half and was flipping herself all over my body while I was nursing her, and kneed me in the face.

They aren't super happy about it, of course, but they're doing fine. We will let them back out once Star's milk dries up.  I wish we could have separated her a little more while she was nursing (we have some better fences to build), because she is looking a little slim.  Ethan tried to feed them extra, but it all went into Bee's second, third and fourth chins.  We are hoping she is pregnant, and not really quite so fat.  I think Star will fatten up again now that the piglets are off of her.  We are still learning about keeping pigs.

Clothilde is big enough to help with the chores now!  She's been gathering eggs and helping Ethan fill the chicken's water up.  She loves it.

In this season of abundant grass, the hay ring has been re-purposed as a play structure.

We are now milking all four mama goats!  Rose has really been interested in helping me.  One day she milked both Cricket and Firefly with little help from me.  Mirin says he wants to take over the goat herd someday, but mostly he likes to help chase them down from their pasture.  I say chase, because otherwise they stop and eat fallen cherries under every single black cherry tree.  We would never make it down to the milking shed.

May is really happy to be milked again, and we even managed to get June Bug in the milking stand - not an easy feat.  She was so upset about it, she was actually frothing at the mouth and refused to eat her barley.  I hope she will settle into a routine soon.  I feel like so much of my life is picking up huge messes my kids have made and chasing obnoxious animals around.  Less of both those things would be great.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nature Finds: Toad-in-the-hole

For years now I had thought that all the little holes we saw every where were from mice, but we recently discovered that they are actually toad holes.  That must be how they stay cool and hydrated during the hot day.

One evening when we were out finishing the chores around dusk, one little toad came out and hopped across the cardboard for the garden.  We saw him poop, pee, and gobble up a little roach.  Clothilde was entranced by him.

 Coyote tracks in the sand. I've always heard that coyotes are not native to Florida.  The Florida Wolf was the large canine predator until they were purposely hunted to extinction.  Coyotes were brought to Florida from out west for sportsmen to hunt, and were accidentally released from hunting preserves.

This picture was not at the farm.  When we first started up at the farm, there was an old coyote burrow in a former gopher tortoise hole, but it had been abandoned.  All the neighbors told us they had tried to keep goats, but the coyotes ate them all.  That's why we have Belle, our Great Pyrenees.  She keeps coyotes and stray dogs from hurting the livestock.

Coyotes are very shy, and I have only seen one once in person.  It was at a huge land preserve that my parents were doing some sort of insect research at.  Hardly anyone ever went out there.  We came across one just standing around in the middle of a dirt road.  It was very surprised to see us and disappeared quickly.

Raccoon print here, of course.  You can also see how much it has rained by all the raindrop marks left in the sand!

Monday, July 21, 2014

High Water Mark

 There's been so much rain lately, the pig's wallow is twice the usual size.

 You can see the high-water mark on Bee.  The wallow is pretty deep.  The pastures are growing back so well right now with all the rain, but it makes it hard to get the chores done and not be sopping wet at the end.

We have really slacked off this year in our grazing management.  Last year we had them in smaller paddocks and they were moved daily.  This year they are being given twice as much and are moved every two days.  Even that seems like a lot!  I think it has to do with how heavy Clothilde is for Ethan to carry her around and move fences.

We're hoping for a better week this week!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

High Tide

Having older kids and then a new baby, it was hard to remember what it was like with child-proofing.  I don't know that I even did any childproofing.  I didn't need to.  All the fragile knick-knacks were put away, but that was it.

So childproofing was far from my mind when I moved my herb and spice shelf into the dining room for easy access while I was about seven months pregnant two years ago.

Then Clothilde was born.  As soon as she could crawl, the spice shelf became one of the favorite places to ravage.  We moved everything up to higher and higher shelves, until everything was piled as high as possible.

Last week I was working on a blog post of all things while Clothilde played.  She went out into the dining room for just a minute, and returned covered in cinnamon and asking to wash her hands.  I went out, dreading what I was about to see, and found the dining room was covered in cinnamon.  It was on the table, on the chairs, on the floor, in her hair.  A real mess, but it could have been so much worse.  It could have been cayenne pepper or turmeric or asafoetida.  At least cinnamon, being a bark, blended in discreetly with the wood floors and smelled very nice, and Clothilde smelled very nice.

I called Ethan at work and begged him to finally put the doors on the spice shelf that I've been asking about since Clothilde was six months old.  I told him I didn't care how ugly they were, I just wanted something that could be tied shut.

He managed some pieces of plywood and hinges on his way home.

 Clothilde got very excited about the power tools when he was working.  She helped during the whole job.

Hideous, but more importantly these days - toddler proof.


But how long until she figures it out?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Off Kilter

This is our cat Teasel, and she loves to sleep on the speed hump on hot days.  We call this her "Roadkill Impression."  Ethan always jokes that we should put up a sign saying, "Dear Earthskillers, please do not take our cat.  She is not dead yet."  The rumor was that they were going to feed everyone roadkill at the last gathering.  I think it actually ended up being pork, from our farm and someone else's.

Ahhh....started the day today with a nice farm breakfast - our pork sausage, the bread and butter pickles with the cucumbers we grew (turned out really good), and some homemade honey-dill mustard - we grew the dill at least!  Oh, and an agua fresca of mint sprigs soaked in cool water.

We had a rough week last week - Rose is in a short summer camp at Morning Meadow, and for some reason the staff thought it would be a good idea to feed the children chocolate cake one day.  Maybe other people's kids can handle that sort of thing, but all week Rose was the "yapper-type sister" as Mirin calls her. 

My mother was also guilty of feeding Mirin popsicles instead of meals this week.  They are the "healthy" popsicles, with just fruit but they are still very sweet.  And it didn't help that I spent a couple of hours ignoring the children and writing on Monday.  I have a vague ambition to be a writer someday, and I've written three books for older children now.  It was the fourth I was working on. They are all silly fantasy stories.  My family loves them, but I'm not sure who else might!  I was inspired on Monday, and you have to take advantage of that sort of thing.

So we got off on the wrong foot for this past week. On Thursday Mirin spent a lot of time at my mother's house and was fed popsicles for breakfast and lunch.  I didn't realize this until it was too late and the damage was done.  It's amazing how sugar can affect kids' behavior (I suspect grown-ups, too).  By late afternoon he was on the verge of a meltdown. My mom had taken all three children shopping (for more popsicles!!!), and they misbehaved so much that an old lady shopper actually scolded them.  I was very surprised because usually they behave decently when they are in public.

That evening after the chores were done and dinner was about to be served, I asked Mirin to put away the gazillion books he had callously taken off the shelf and left on the floor for the baby to shred.  Many of the books are from my childhood, or even from when my father was a boy.  They are old and special.  He was angry and started cramming them back onto the shelf randomly.  He tried cramming Curious George back, and the binding looked like it was breaking because he was being so rough with it.

And, I'll admit, I did raise my voice.  I said, "Don't, you're breaking it!  Stop!"  That was it, he snapped and spent the next half hour stomping around the house, slamming doors and yelling.  We ignored him and ate dinner.  Everyone else was getting ready for bed when he brought me a little comic he had drawn.  It was a series of pictures of me yelling, "Shut up, stupid!" at him and slapping him.  I immediately started trying to defend myself, of course I hadn't said that at all, much less slapped him!  But then I realized, here he was trying to give me a little hint at his perspective.  In his sensitive popsicle-induced state, just me raising my voice a little so he wouldn't break the book was like me slapping him and yelling mean things at him!

It was too late once I realized this.  He even tried to give the suggestion that I could have requested him not to break the book in a nicer way!  I was already into explaining that I never said those words, and he stormed off.  I apologized for having hurt his feelings through the door, but he just yelled that he wanted to be alone.  A few minutes later he came out with a fantastic costume.  It included a black hoodie and his bowie knife.  He said, "You've left me no choice but to join the assassin's guild!"

He was in much better humor at this point.  We marveled at his costume.  The toddler even managed to get her little hands on the knife (it was taken away before any damage was done).  I managed to conjure up some creativity and create a bedtime story that I knew he would want to hear, so in the end we got him in bed in a much better mood.  He was so much better the next morning.

Reflecting, I think it is so good not to get caught up in the drama - and also to be able to listen to those little hints at someone else's perspective, even if it seems silly to us.  Isn't that what relationships are about?  And family is all about relationships.  Getting along isn't about never having fights or disagreements, it's about being able to work through those disagreements and find some way to reconnect with each other.  This could have ended with all of us yelling and fighting for another hour or more, but instead it brought us closer together.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bored and a Sword

 I keep getting these ridiculous calls from my mother next door.

"Mirin's so bored he's crying," she'll say.  "Can I please put a video on for him?"

"No!" I reply.  "Make him go outside to play!"

 My dad even came over the other night to tell us he's worried Mirin will grow up deprived if he can't watch movies every night and play Minecraft.

I think it was different for their generation.  People who played around on computers back then actually had to learn a lot about programming, because nothing was very well set up.  They don't realize that these days everything is spoon-fed, and playing around on the computer is only passive entertainment.  They don't understand that I want my children to be able to entertain themselves, to learn to be creative and imaginative. 

In the depths of boredom, Mirin created a beautiful sword this week.  Naturally, he left it lying around for the toddler to pick up:

 Clothilde is the kind of kid who knows exactly what to do with a sword, of course.  See, boredom is good.  So much more creatively stimulating than a passively entertaining screen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Long Beans

I hardly got any Roma beans this year.  Between the mosaic virus they got and the melon vines strangling them out, they were just not very happy.  I will replant them in the fall, and see what happens.

But we've been getting a lot of long beans lately!  I've had to scramble to think of things to do with them.  So far I've managed salad, curry, lacto-fermented dilly beans, green beans and bacon, and cooking them with tomatoes and peppers.

This particular long bean variety is actually a family heirloom from my great-grandfather.  He wasn't my real great-grandfather, the real one having died in a tragic car accident when my grandfather was only two.

My great-grandmother, whose name I share, worked very hard as a single mother with her two young boys in New York City.  Her mother wrote from Italy saying, "Send the boys to me and I will raise them."  But my great-grandmother wrote back, saying, "No, mother, these are my children and you can't have them."  Apparently her mother was really mean.  After a few years, she re-married and had two daughters.  The man she married always treated her well, but I am sorry to say that he was extremely abusive to his children and step-children.  They were all scarred from it for life.  He is the one who grew the beans.  He was Italian, like my great-grand mother.  I don't know where he got seeds for an Asian long bean.

I think it is cool to have an heirloom passed down to me from my family (well, step-family.  It was my mom's step-aunt's husband who got them from my step-great-grandfather.  Complicated!!).  It seems to grow really well here, although my mom had misgivings about it, just because the step-great-grandfather was such an unpleasant person.  I never met him.  She did, once.  It's amazing how the results of bad behavior like that can stick around for so long - generations.  At least he left us a cool long bean, though!

The zinnias have been very beautiful lately, and much enjoyed by bees.  Rose picked one and was holding it up and bees were still landing on it.  We picked a bouquet that evening, and had to shake the little sleeping bees off of it. 

We are also starting to get some okra and Malabar spinach.  We can't really grow regular spinach easily here (not at all in the summer), but the Malabar spinach loves the heat and humidity and tastes awfully spinach-y, but without the oxalates.

I have been trying to take advantage of the cutting flowers I planted in the garden more.  They've been blooming since May, but this is really the first bouquet I picked.  There's just been no space on the table, or anywhere else baby-proof, with all the vegetables.  Now that the tomatoes are dying back, and there's some tomato sauce put up, I can make a few inches of room for something that's just pretty!

We got the first ripe Scotch Bonnet pepper.  I am not really fond of super spicy peppers.  I grew them for Ethan, who wanted to do some Caribbean cooking this year.  He's not quite sure what to do with it now.   They are very spicy.  When we get more, we might make a fermented hot sauce.  The fermentation makes peppers a little less spicy.

The corn is tasseling!  It is so high, I can't reach the top of it, even on tip-toe!    High as and Elephant's eye, as the saying goes.  This kind of corn gets very tall.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Twilight Dim

 Now that we are bringing the goats down to be milked again, we have been having some trouble with Twilight Sparkle.  She has turned out to be one of those animals that can't figure out the whole gate thing.  It seems like there's always at least one.  One evening I was finished with the milking and was trying to walk them back to their pasture, and everyone else had figured out how to get out of the gate and walk towards the path...except Twilight Sparkle.  I spent fifteen minutes trying desperately to guide her out towards the gate, with no success.  Then Ethan came over and we both tried chasing her out of the gate, with no success.  Someone mentioned drop-kicking her at one point.  The other goats, bored with all of this, moved on and began raiding the barn.  We finally managed to shoo her out, and even then, at the last minute, she hesitated and almost ran back inside the fence.

It's really unbelievable, because she can squeeze through all the gates when she wants to!  Every day while I am milking Cricket and Firefly, she squeezes through and makes trouble for me.  Yesterday I had shooed her away from jumping on me while I was milking Firefly, and I heard a desperate, strangled, "Maahhh!"

I looked up in time to see Twilight Sparkle trying to jump through the fence (only twelve inches away from the gate she had just squeezed through), get her head stuck, and flop back on her back with all four legs waving in the air.  It was the silliest thing I've ever seen a goat do.

So we are in for some trouble with this one.  Yes, she is beautiful, and has huge amber magic-unicorn eyes, but she can't figure out a gate to save her life.  I just hope she makes a lot of milk eventually.

And speaking of silly things the goats have done, May got a bouquet of daisy fleabane stuck under her scur!  She is not photogenic, however...

This was the best picture we got.