Archive for March, 2013

It’s a Full Moon So I Planted My Peas

I planted my peas yesterday.  I usually try to plant them on St. Patrick’s Day but the weather has been icky and I decided to wait for the full moon.  Last April I wrote a post about the benefits of planting when the moon is full and I refer you to that post for the link to the USDA maps and more information about this.  This year I’m trying something a little different; planting the peas under a row cover which I’ve had on all winter.  This has warmed the soil a little more than our lingering wintery weather would allow if the soil were not protected.  I also put in two rows of beets under the row cover as an experiment.  It seems to me that beets don’t do as well in hot weather so I am thinking that an early start may give me a better crop.

I have restored the photos back as far as the post on Planting with the Full Moon (4/29/12) and hope to finish the rest of my restoration soon.

Here’s a picture of an Amaryllis that just bloomed, to cheer you up.  Her name is “Minerva” and was a gift for Christmas 2011 from friends in Maine.  The flowers are nearly dinner plate sized.



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Birding Trip to Block Island

We scoped the edges of the shoreline around North Lighthouse, hoping for an Iceland Gull.

We scoped the edges of the shoreline around North Light (built 1868), hoping for an Iceland Gull but none was seen.

Yesterday we went on a birding trip to Block Island, led by the New Haven Bird Club. It was cold but not too windy and the sun was out, so the conditions were enjoyable. I had never been out to Block Island before, so part of the fun for me was seeing the island and its two major lighthouses.  The birding, while not spectacular, was interesting enough to keep me excited all day and it’s always great to be with like-minded people.  [What’s not to like?  We were birding!]  The jetty was lined with Great Cormorants, who gave us good views of their diagnostic white flank patches.  They are our winter cormorants.  The most exciting bird of the day for me was a Great Egret, resplendent in his breeding plumes which reached to the water at his feet.  Sad to say my picture was from quite a distance and is not worth showing you but this link will take you to a photo display.  He reminded me of the service birds like him gave to the Conservation Movement of the early 1900’s for those plumes began the craze for feathers on women’s hats.  Birders (mostly women) were horrified by the fad of birds on hats and subsequent destruction of birds and their outrage led to the passage of the International Migratory Bird Act of 1918.  The three links below will take you to my eBird checklists of the birds seen during the trip.

Southeast Light from the edge of the cliff.

Southeast Light from the edge of the cliff.

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Signs of Spring: Woodcock, Snipe and Snowdrops

Well, it may be cold and windy outside with snow spitting flakes into my eyes as I go out to the compost pile, but I have incontrovertible evidence that Spring is Here! On Monday we went to a nearby Christmas Tree farm to hear American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) “peenting” (their song) and performing their fantastic courtship displays, which displays are accompanied by a cascade of twitters and wing whirrs.  They are recently arrived and, because they eat worms, they need to wait until the ground has thawed enough to let them access their food source.  Sad to say, I got no pictures as the show takes place at dusk, too dark for my camera.

Wilson's Snipe, a Harbinger of Spring

Wilson’s Snipe, a Harbinger of Spring

I was luckier in photographing the also newly arrived Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) as they feed in daylight.  He was near a culvert poking around in the outflow for food, which includes plants, worms and insects.  Their cryptic plumage makes it easy to lose sight of them in the grass and leaves but we managed to get good looks with patience.

My last sign of Spring is my Snowdrops.  Just a few days ago their spot had remnants of a snowdrift, but today, here they are!

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

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Black Walnuts: How to Gather, Clean and Store Them

These walnuts are at the right stage for processing.

These walnuts are at the right stage for processing.

This is a subject I had planned to write about last fall, when it was the season for Black Walnuts, but our son’s lung cancer took a downturn and I didn’t get to it.

Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra) are native to our area of Connecticut and we have a dozen or so in our yard.  They are noted for their fine wood, much desired for furniture, but we enjoy them for their nuts.  I’m not so happy with the one that hangs over the vegetable garden as the roots secrete a hormone, Juglone, that stunts the growth of a number of plants, tomatoes, potatoes and asparagus among them.  The nuts are delicious though.  They have a distinctive flavor that stays vibrant even after baking, something the English walnuts seem to lose.  The trick is to harvest them  and extract the nuts from the thick, tough shells.  The shells are so tough that the Grey Squirrels cannot get into them and only the Eastern Red Squirrels are able to access the nut meats.

The nuts are gathered as soon as they fall from the tree (choosing the largest nuts).  Store them in a paper bag (away from squirrels!) until the green husks just begin to soften and turn black.  At this point the husk can be removed.   This is not easy and the juice stains.  Several methods have been suggested (even running over them with the car) but my husband puts on an old pair of shoes and rolls them around under his foot against a rough piece of flagstone.

Grinding them underfoot while washing them off with the hose seems to be an efficient way to get the husks off.

Grinding them underfoot while washing them off with the hose seems to be an efficient way to get the husks off.

Once the husk is removed, the nuts in their shells need to be washed thoroughly and dried on newspaper (again, away from the squirrels).  If the residual husk is not completely removed they may mold.  If they begin to mold, you can dip them in very dilute bleach, if you catch it in time.  We found a special heavy-duty nutcracker to crack the nuts, and I have seen similar ones on-line.  Before we found that, we used to crack the nuts with a hammer on a rock that had a little depression to hold the nut.  If you do this, wear goggles as the sharp shards of shell fly everywhere.  Cracking the nuts and picking out the nut meats is one way to while away an afternoon.  I have tried storing them toasted, non-toasted, frozen, unfrozen and have found they keep the longest untoasted and frozen.  We prefer them toasted when we eat them and I toast them just before I use them.  In my next post, I’ll relate some of the ways I use them.

After husking them, wash them off.

After husking them, wash them off.


Be sure the residual husk is completely removed before storing them.

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Make Your Own Corned Beef

The perfect brisket.  I had to cut it in two to fit my pot.

The perfect brisket. I had to cut it in two to fit my pot.

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, my mind turns to Corned Beef for the traditional NEBD (New England Boiled Dinner).   I began searching for brisket (the cut that is used in corned beef) a few days ago and found a real beauty, about five pounds with no fat to speak of.  Corning your own brisket is supremely easy with advance planning being the only requirement, as it takes ten days for the beef to fully absorb the flavor of the corning liquid.  Forget those bright red chemically enhanced versions found in the supermarkets and try this.  The corning liquid is nothing more than a brine, to which many of us have become accustomed as it is a very popular procedure for tenderizing meats, especially poultry.

Ready for ten days in the refrigerator.

Ready for ten days in the refrigerator.

I’ve adapted this recipe from one given me by my friend Terrie who died of Lymphoma several years ago.  I enjoy making it each year, and as I do, my mind is filled with memories of Terrie.  She was an extraordinarily gentle person, a fellow birder and a writer.

Corned Beef

1 beef brisket, about five pounds

2 quarts water

1 C. coarse salt

1 C. brown sugar

2 tsp. Juniper berries

1 tsp allspice berries

2 bay leaves

3 garlic cloves, crushed

With a fork, pierce the brisket all over.  Whisk the remaining ingredients together until the sugar dissolves.   Put the brisket in a non-reactive container and pour the brine over it being sure it is covered with liquid, cover and refrigerate for 10 days.  Turn the meat every two or three days to be sure all surfaces get equal brining.  After ten days, remove the meat and rinse it thoroughly.  Place in a stock pot with fresh water, simmer for one hour then pour off the water and replace with fresh cold water.  Simmer until the meat is very tender, two or three more hours.  Slice thinly.

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Update on Photo Restoration

I’ve gotten back to September in my efforts to put back all the photos I inadvertently deleted from my posts.  It’s been tedious, but I have enjoyed reliving the experiences from those posts.  I have only one photo I haven’t been able to put back, the one from our land in the 1880’s in the post about re-discovering the Southport Globe Onion.  The work continues!

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How Many Downy Woodpeckers Come to My Feeder?

This post is taken from an article I wrote for the Connecticut Ornithological Association quarterly Bulletin.  COA has terrific information on their website and also manages a listserve where anyone can post their Connecticut bird sightings.

Three at once is the most I have ever seen, and then only when the fledgelings are learning about the feeder.

Three at once is the most I have ever seen, and then only when the fledglings are learning about the feeder.

This might be a good family project. It involves real scientific research and will lead to a better understanding of the birds who share your yard.  I did this experiment before I had a digital camera and caused family discord over the number of rolls of film I used!

Have you ever noticed the way Downy Woodpeckers visit your bird feeder? One comes for a seed and you may notice another, or rarely two others, waiting on nearby branches. If I am doing a count for a Citizen Science Project like Project Feeder Watch, the most I can claim as daily visitors would be two or perhaps three individuals, as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology allows me to count only those birds I can see at one time. Yet, the frequency of their visits caused me to believe that more than three Downy Woodpeckers were regular visitors to the feeder.

In the Wild Bird Guides monograph on the Downy Woodpecker, [Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 1999] Gary Ritchisonstates that each downy has an individualized plumage pattern on the nape of the neck, much like a fingerprint. I read this and decided to experiment. Setting up a suet feeder close to a window and moving over a comfortable chair, I spent several hours over the next two weeks photographing downy woodpecker neck nape patterns. Each night I analyzed the photos, makingdrawings of the different neck patterns, emphasizing the differences. I gave them nicknames to help me recognize that pattern the next time its owner visited the suet feeder, such as One Spot, Smudgie, Two Spot, Lightning and Widow’s Peak.

This is my page for the female Downies.

This is my page for the female Downies.

After the two weeks were done, I had identified nine females and six males as regular visitors.  Fifteen in all, five times as many as are readily visible at one time.

You likely have many more Downies than you think!

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