summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

summer greens at Mountain Glen Farm

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Woodpecker Watch

Today my walk was stopped and delayed by 30 minutes while I came upon a very rare photo op of pileated woodpeckers on our farm.


The sighting of a pileated woodpecker has been a rare occurrence for me over the years, mainly seen in flight through the woods, but today a wonderful pileated actually seemed to pose.


The bird essentially alerted me to his presence by his distinct call.  That call was coming from the top of a dead limb on what I have dubbed ‘the woodpecker tree’ due to previous and frequent observations of red-bellied woodpeckers over many years there.  Recently, I have seen several pileated woodpeckers in that general area, but mostly in flight as in flying away from me.


This morning was different.


At first, I was not sure of the identification of the woodpecker because I was still too far away to make positive recognition.  I walked closer to the tree being careful to take slow, deliberate steps.  The dogs, Snowball and Buddy, shadowed at my heals.  They have learned, for the most part, to follow my lead.  Slowing my gait is an indication that I am interested in something and that they need to be quiet and still.


I took a few pictures before moving steps closer.  When I got to a point where I felt I was still out of the danger zone for the woodpecker to take flight, I stopped.  Soon, a second and a third pileated joined the first in that dead snag.  Then, a flicker flew into the mix. 


notice the flicker at the bottom of the photo -
much smaller than the pileated yet a large
bird compared to my most common birds
in residence
I consider the flicker to be a large bird, averaging 12”, but his size was surely diminished by the size of those pileated woodpeckers which are closer to19”.  Having a tangible comparison really puts the size of the birds in perspective.


I took over 50 photos knowing that I would be lucky to come away with a small percentage of ‘good’ pictures.  I was right. 


 I love watching the pileated woodpeckers as they smoothly dip and rise in flight.


But, better yet, is the opportunity I was wishing for all summer… to watch the pileated woodpeckers up close and personal
from the ‘good seats’.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Let The Harvesting Begin

Yesterday was tomato canning day…wrong.


Just as I got myself in tomato mode (I really have to be in the right frame of mind to tackle this job), Glenn announced that the sweet corn was ready.  Tomatoes can wait, corn cannot.  When corn is ready, a minute’s delay is too long.  Corn just keeps maturing past ‘perfect’

So, I switched gears, which is difficult for me, and I froze corn.  The redeeming benefit of freezing corn is that it is easier and takes a lot less time than canning tomatoes. My day just got a bit less demanding.


I ended up with 10 quart-sized freezer bags of sweet corn, cut off the cob, and ready to heat up for a meal.  Each packet is good for about two meals. 


Twenty meals with fresh, cut off the cob corn kernels to devour after the fresh, corn on the cob season has well passed - that is living right, country right!


You understand if you are an avid ‘boil-immediately-right off-the-stalk’ sweet corn eater.  If not, you probably do not know the difference between super fresh sweet corn and store-bought ears.  And, I feel sorry for you.


Today IS tomato canning day.


Preparation of the tools necessary (food processor, cooking pot, canning pot, cutting board, knife, filling funnel, ladle, cooling board covered with newspaper and towels, jar lifter and more) takes about one hour to set out.  Canning jars and lids are washed and the jars are sterilized in the dishwasher.  This takes another 90 minutes. 


Then, the actual canning begins.

sampling of today's tomatoes

After Glenn gathers the Roma tomatoes (this year they are extra huge - almost 4X larger than in previous years- and firm with very little blemishes - the first time our tomatoes have been so good - no, so fabulous) fresh off the vine, I wash them, cut them and remove the stem end, put them through the food processor skin and all, and boil in a pot for about two hours to reduce the water content.  Romas have very little water content compared to any other tomato variety making them very 'meaty' and perfect for canning and for sandwiches as the bread does not get soggy. 


The cooked tomato slurry is ladled into jars and processed in a hot water bath for about 20 - 30 minutes for quarts.  I can prepare 7 quarts at a time. Then, the jars are lifted out of the hot water and placed on my paper and towel covered board where they pop (sealing the lids airtight) and sit undisturbed to cool until morning.

first batch cooling and looking pretty

This is a lot of preparation and work for a bunch of tomato-filled glass jars, but the end result is well worth all the time and effort.


Come tomorrow, I will enter my kitchen and smile at the jars of rich red canned tomatoes sitting on my counter.  It is so satisfying to complete another annual garden chore.  This time, though, the entire canning process was fun because the tomatoes were so near perfect.


But, the best part is the taste of home grown tomatoes year ‘round…flavor unchallenged.


Have I tempted anyone to grow their own garden next year? 


I hope so!

P.S.  Glenn also dug up our onions - not our best crop, never is - but, we keep trying. 

I also froze and dried our first batch of green peppers - more will mature later in the season.  I usually freeze these veggies because it is so easy - clean, cut and bag, but I wanted to try some dried. A whole bunch of peppers (about 18 huge ones) dried down only filled one-half of a quart-sized freezer bag.  Well, the space savings is great.  I only hope the peppers rehydrate back to their pre-dry size.

UPDATE - I finished canning my tomatoes at 2:30 AM with a total of 35 quarts.  Initially, I guessed that I had enough ripe tomatoes for 21 quarts...boy, those huge tomatoes are deceiving. I even had enough left to cut up and fill my dehydrator.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Canine Company

Jackson has been visiting our farm.

In reality, he is more than a visitor. He has come back to his birth place.

Jackson is one of 7 puppies that Becky raised when his mama, Avalanche, died two days after giving birth to him and his six surviving siblings. Papa Samuel, who use to reside with us, now lives with Becky permanently as he should...he is Becky's dog. Finally, he is getting the love and attention he craves.

We did not keep a puppy, they were all adopted, so we love to see Jackson from time to time.  Buddy and Snowball enjoy his visits, too.

Jackson looks like he is having fun playing in a rare puddle - go Jackson!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Great Day To Fabulous Day In Minutes

Today was one of those days that went from great to fabulous in less than sixty minutes.  Quilt frankly, I have many of these kinds of days at Mountain Glen Farm and each one is noteworthy enough to share.

Before heading out of the house this morning to take my walk, I noticed a hummingbird flitting about the back deck.  First, I saw him try to feed on the respirator that was sitting on the top block of my soon-to-be greenhouse foundation wall.  I give the hummingbird credit as the respirator is a bright pink.


The hummingbird quickly darted to small tiny pink flowers that grow in one of my deck pots.  I do not know the name of the flower, but it returns every year as a secondary volunteer plant to the main perennial that purposefully grows in the same pot. This is a favorite flower of mine…maybe, because it is more a surprise to see it appear without any help from me.
That hummingbird entertained me for minutes before moving on.  What a 'put a smile on your face' encounter to start my day.

As I began, I noticed that the morning was perfect for my walk.  It was cool (around 65 degrees) and overcast (the sun was just trying to peak out from behind the clouds). No noticeable humidity. A few minutes down the road, a gentle wind blew.  Yep, I need to adjust my perfect morning attributes to include a pleasant, refreshing breeze.

I was so comfortable and content.

Halfway to the pond, I thought that today would be a day that I would see my Great Blue Heron.  My heron sightings have been rare this season and it has been quite a while since I last enjoyed a heron view.  As I neared the pond, I slowed my gait.  I wanted to be sure to see his flight from the water. But…

No heron today.  So, I moved onto the pond house dock to feed the fish which has become my routine task. 

Leaving the pond house, I was able to loop back to the house on a different route rather than backtrack on the same path as I had been doing for weeks.  The cattle have rotated to the back pastures and I can now make the loop walk without having to open and close gates which is a hassle.  Before leaving the pond area, I decided I wanted a photo of the large cattail patch.  The blades are so tall and green and the brown cattails are still fairly firm and pristine.  As I stepped within feet of the patch, an unidentified bird shot up and flew across the pond.  Its silhouette was different than any I had ever witnessed.  I watched the bird as it walked along the top post of a fence section.  Could it be a green heron?  Final bird identification would be made once I returned home and was able to peruse my bird book.


Yes, a green heron.  Wow! I saw my heron as I had predicted.  Maybe not the Great Blue, but the Green was even more exciting as that species is even more rare on my list of actual sightings.


Can you see the 4-leaf clover?
As I left the pond proper and walked the short incline to the next pasture, I came upon a 4-leaf clover in plain view.  Among all the other three-leaf clovers, this 4-leaf drew my attention. What luck…literally, what luck! 


Like I mentioned earlier, my great day turned fabulous.  Now, luck (I am assuming of the good variety) was added to this amazing day.

As I finished my daily saunter, I considered what would make this particular day even better.  My answer was a monarch butterfly.  I had been seeing swallowtails all summer long, but not one monarch. I wanted to see a monarch. But, was I asking for too much now?

Midafternoon, Glenn and I returned to the pond for a quick swim.  And, guess what I saw in flight?

I saw a stately Monarch butterfly quickly flying past my head.

I stopped thinking about what would make this day even better than it already was.  The day was already extremely full of surprises/bonuses/simple pleasures.

I have plenty of days yet to fill with unexpected delights. 

Tomorrow is another day.