Archive for October, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Preparations

Here’s Jennie, all filled up and ready to go. Isn’t she beautiful?

Well, I have no idea what things will be like in a few days around here.  This is a shoreline community slated to receive the upper right-hand quadrant of the storm, which could be severe.  Shelters are set up and the beach has been evacuated.  We’re on a hill so no need to fear the 11 foot storm surge they are projecting, but I have taken some precautions.  I’ve filled my car, filled the generator and the gas can with extra gas for it.  Checked the oil lamps, flashlights and our wind-up radio.  I’ve charged up all the rechargeable things we deal with these days.  I’ll do a load of laundry and run the dishwasher tonight.  All the items outside that could become projectiles have been secured.  The bird feeders are filled (and extraordinarily busy!)  We have a gas stove that works without electricity but the oven won’t work, so I’ve made an apple pie and a pot of beans.  I have hot dogs and hamburgers for the barbeque grill.  I’ve also made a batch of sourdough English muffins and some chocolate chip cookies.  I took some easy meals from the big freezer downstairs and put them in the little freezer in the refrigerator to avoid opening the big freezer.  I’ve filled containers with water and frozen them, just in case we have an interruption in our water service.  I’ve turned down the temps on both freezers.  I’ve taken books out of the library.  I’ve invited friends who are possibly in harm’s way to come here, if they have trouble.

What have I forgotten??

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Storing and Keeping Butternut Squash

Our harvest, curing after a dip in a little bleach to kill unwanted organisms.

Our harvest, curing after a dip in a little bleach to kill unwanted organisms.

We love butternut squash.  It’s easy to grow, keeps well and is like a bright beam of sunshine when you cut one open on a frosty winter’s day.  They will keep for a year if you have a relatively cool, dry spot.  They should be picked when the skin turns buffy and most of the green color leaves the stem.  Pick before first frost, cutting the stem cleanly and leaving an inch or so of stem attached.  Wash them gently to remove any soil, then dip them in a weak bleach solution to kill mold spores, etc.  We then cure them for a couple of weeks on the screened porch.  This hardens the skins and allows any raw patches to heal over.  After they are cured they go down cellar into our son’s abandoned wine racks.

Vintage 2012

Vintage 2012

Our cellar is dry and stays at a fairly constant temperature, between 55º and 60º in the winter, conditions they keep well in.  We ate the last two from 2011 before we stored our 2012 crop.  They were slightly dry in the middle but tasted as fresh as if they had just been picked.

These last of 2011, have a little void from drying out but I peeled them, cubed them, tossed them with olive oil, garlic and rosemary and baked them at 400º until the edges browned. Yum.

These last of 2011, have a little void from drying out but I peeled them, cubed them, tossed them with olive oil, garlic and rosemary and baked them at 400º until the edges browned. Yum.

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“Threat of Frost” Lasagna

Faced with  the threat of a light frost a few nights ago, I decided to pick all my peppers, beans and eggplants.  The peppers and beans were not a problem; I froze the beans and put some of the peppers in a paper bag to ripen.  The rest went into the refrigerator.  But what to do with all those nubbins of eggplants, the longest of them only four inches?  I decided to try using them in lasagna.

I like the no-boil noodles put out by Barilla, if I can find them.  I chopped the unpeeled eggplant into one inch cubes and sautéed them in olive oil for a filling.  To complete the filling, I added some Swiss Chard (even though it would take a light frost) some of my purple onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, a chopped up slice of ham and sautéed the mixture until it was browned.  I made a Bechamel sauce (two Tbsp. butter, same of flour and 1.5 cups of milk) and added grated parmesan when it was cooked.  I mixed a little in the filling and set aside the rest.  I like a cheese layer as well as a filling layer, so I mixed a cup of ricotta with grated parmesan, grated mozzarella, salt, pepper and an egg.  To assemble, layer as follows:  smear a little bechamel on the bottom, cover with lasagna noodles, cheese layer, noodle layer, filling layer, noodle layer, Bechamel.  Top it off with mozzarella.  Bake at 350º until the top is bubbly and golden.  Leave out the ham for a vegetarian version.

A tossed salad with this really tasty lasagna is all that was needed.

A tossed salad with this really tasty lasagna is all that was needed.

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Time to Buy Hyacinth Bulbs for Forcing

To have this breath of spring in the dead of winter, you need to buy the bulbs as soon as you see them in the store.

To have this breath of spring in the dead of winter, you need to buy the bulbs as soon as you see them in the store.

The garden centers and home improvement stores all have bags of hyacinth bulbs and other bulbs that can be forced, but if you want a windowsill full of spring flowers next February, you need to get started immediately.

I am dreaming over seed catalogues but the days are already getting longer and I’m hungry for a touch of spring.  Last fall I bought a bag of assorted hyacinth bulbs at Home Depot (the largest I could find) and placed them in the vegetable crisper drawer of my refrigerator where they could rest in the cold and dark, a false winter for them.  The bulbs need a minimum of eight weeks before they can be forced successfully.  I’ve checked them frequently to be sure they haven’t begun to get moldy.  It’s now time to take them out and begin the process of forcing them into early bloom.  I’ve collected quite an assortment of Victorian Era hyacinth vases at flea markets over the years but similar vases are available, thanks to Martha Stewart who created a market for them when she featured them on her TV show some years back.  I always feel pleasure when I get the vases out and match each one with a bulb that will set off each vase’s jewel-like color.    I choose a white bulb for the first vase, a blue-green beauty I found at the flea market in Brimfield, Mass.  I place the bulb in the top of the vase, pointy side up, root disk down.  It’s important that air be able to circulate around the bulb or it might rot so I put a couple of toothpicks around the bulb to lift it away from the glass on one side so it can breathe.

This bulb has developed a good root system during its time in the refrigerator.

This bulb has developed a good root system during its time in the refrigerator.

I then fill it with water until the water level comes to just below the bottom of the bulb.  If the water covers the root disk, the bulb may rot.  Finally, I put the vase in a cool dark place so it can develop a good root system.  The root system is sufficient when it comes at least halfway down the vase and a little nub of growth appears at the top.  This will take a couple of weeks before  it will be ready to come to the windowsill and into the light which will cause the flower stalk and leaves to appear.   I keep them out of direct sun as this makes the plant become leggy.  Check them frequently.  You may need to add water from time to time.  If the water gets cloudy, change it and rinse off the bulb.  You can take it out and rise it off, just take care not to break off any of the roots when you put it back.  I use to put a few chips of activated charcoal in the bottom of the vase to help keep the water pure but I’ve found that it isn’t really necessary.  You might try it, if you seem to get frequent moldy bulbs.

After Several Weeks in the Refrigerator, They Have Developed a Healthy Root System

These are now ready to come to a cool (such as east) windowsill.

When your bulbs have finished blooming, they can be planted into your garden.  This is done when the daffodils bloom.  They may not bloom next year as forcing them takes some extra energy away, but you will be rewarded the year after and for many years to come.

These may look a little ratty right now, but they will bring us pleasure for years to come.

These may look a little ratty right now, but they will bring us pleasure for years to come.

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Banding Highlights of Last Week

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

On the 17th we had the biggest day so far this fall with 72 individuals banded and 13 species.  We had just one recapture, a Robin who had been banded as an adult last spring.  The crowd’s ranks were swollen by migrating Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers at 18 birds banded, and 28 White-throated Sparrows arriving to spend their winter with us at Connecticut Audubon.  While all birds are beautiful, the Blue-headed Vireo with his spectacles was a standout for me.

Blue-headed Vireo (formerly Solitary Vireo)

Blue-headed Vireo (formerly Solitary Vireo)

Blue-headed Vireo back (He's been eating pokeberries)

Blue-headed Vireo back (He’s been eating pokeberries)

 

We also had both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, tipping the scales at about six grams each.  Other birds banded were Brown Creeper (3), Yellow Palm Warbler (1), Eastern Phoebe (3), American Goldfinch (1), Song Sparrow (4), Hermit Thrush (9), Swainson’s Thrush (1) and American Robin (1).  The next day brought 19 birds with the only new species a lone remaining Gray Catbird.

IMG_1699

Golden-crowned Kinglet

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The AT: Day Hike on the Appalachian Trail

The vista from the top of Pine Knob.

The vista from the top of Pine Knob.

I’ve wanted to hike the entire 2,100 plus miles of the extraordinary system known as the Appalachian Trail (or AT) ever since I first learned about it as a teenager.  Family, career and life in general intervened and a few years ago I realized that this was one life goal I would not accomplish.  I am one who does not relinquish my goals easily, so instead I decided to be less ambitious and try to hike only the 53+ miles of the Trail that wind through the northwest corner of Connecticut.  It’s easy to do this as day hikes because there are frequent parking areas that allow easy access to the Trail.  By driving two cars and leaving one at our planned destination, we have gradually chipped away at the Connecticut portion.

The Trail winds though leaf carpeted woods along the tops of the Connecticut hills.

The Trail winds though leaf carpeted woods along the tops of the Connecticut hills.

Too ambitious when we first started to do this several years ago, we had begun at the New York border on Route 55 and planned spend the night in a tent, hoping to hike sixteen miles in the two days.  Two of our sons had decided to join us (afraid the old folks would fall off a cliff, I suppose) and we had set off, each with a 40  pound pack.  The day began well but I finished with one son carrying my pack, filled with the sobering knowledge of my true physical stamina.  For me, a goal of one mile an hour with frequent stops to snack, catch my breath and watch a bird or two became the new reality.

This tricky spot is known as Roger's Ramp.  You scuttle down between two huge boulders.

This tricky spot is known as Roger’s Ramp. You scuttle down between two huge boulders.

We have now done three stints and covered 25 miles, so with the day ahead bright and cool, we decided to hike another section, beginning where we had left off in Cornwall Bridge.  The AT itself is accessed via a mile long steep side trail known as Pine Knob Loop leading to the summit of the Knob where there is a lovely vista.  Once on the Trail itself, we found this section relatively easy going.  One hiker we met told us he had seen a large black bear ahead but we didn’t encounter him and we met few other hikers.   This late in the season we saw only one couple who, from their packs might be “through hikers” on their way to the Trail’s terminus in Georgia.  We stand aside and salute through hikers when we meet them, for their ambition and dedication puts us to shame.

The woods are full of interesting natural vignettes such as this mossy boulder crowned with Polypody Ferns.  You can understand how they get their common name of Rock Cap Fern.

The woods are full of interesting natural vignettes such as this mossy boulder crowned with Polypody Ferns. You can understand how they get their common name of Rock Cap Fern.

Our day was perfect with small jewel like spots of rocky outcroppings and tiny waterfalls, lit  by the sun filtered through golden fall foliage.  Among the birds I saw were four woodpecker species, Pileated, Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied.  We were accompanied by the dee-deeing songs of scolding Black-capped Chickadees and I saw a few other songbirds, with the most delightful sighting being a Golden-crowned Kinglet with his crest raised at me in indignation.  We got as far as West Cornwall Road, more than halfway to our 53 mile goal with our souls restored.

 

 

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Bird Friendly Plant Success: Yellow-rumps Come to the Bayberry

MYWA

This little shrub is only two feet tall and already it’s a success!

We have gone to considerable expense and effort over the past five years to remove old deer ravaged exotic plants (rhododendrons, arborvitae and azaleas, etc.) and replace them with native, bird friendly, attractive, low maintenance shrubs which we hope are deer resistant.  The newest of these plantings, Bayberry (Mirica pensylvanica), filled our hearts with joy yesterday when we looked out to see Yellow-rumped or Myrtle Warblers eating the bayberries on this little shrub.  Myrtle Warblers get their names from the fact that they are able to turn from eating insects to eating berries when the insects die off in the fall.  They favor the fruit of the Myrtle family such as Wax Myrtle and Bayberry.  The deer haven’t touched the Bayberry bushes, so I think they will fulfill our requirements beautifully.  Try some.  The are dioecious (having male and female plants) so get female plants and one male if there are no others around, to have berries.  Be sure to get them in the fall so you can see the berries on the plants.  It’s easy to get fooled and you don’t want to end up with all male plants.

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