27 June 2010

Wasps again

We've been clearing out another stall of the small barn, today, making room for the new chicks and some potential chicks from the five eggs that a broody hen is incubating for us at the moment. As I tipped a wheelbarrow-load of straw on to the compost heap, I noticed this delicate structure on the underside of the barrow. If you look hard (or click on the picture for a closer look), you can see the wasp larvae in the cells towards the bottom left.

26 June 2010

Flowers and fruit

A light rain this morning. After a very dry start to the growing season, we've been lucky with the weather in the last month. Our water tanks in the barns are full and the plants are all coming along well. The squash are starting to flower:

As are the eggplants/aubergines in the greenhouse:

The other warm-weather greenhouse fruit are swelling. I think these are Amish Paste tomatoes. But they could be Purple Russians. Won't know for sure until they ripen!

This is the largest of the Tomato peppers. I love the shape of this variety. They taste wonderful, too.

23 June 2010

Aww and ugh

I picked up our 2010 batch of chicks today. I'd forgotten quite how tiny they are when they're newly-hatched.

Slightly less appealing were the other babies I found. These are the offspring of the Colorado potato beetles that I so cruelly dispatched on Tuesday. I get the feeling I was being too blasé by half about them. There were several dozen chomping away on the potatoes this evening.

Fortunately, the fully-grown chickens were just as keen on the larvae as they were on the adults.

Oh, and we had an earthquake this afternoon.

Blue mud dauber

Last year's parsley plants are now flowering and taking up a ridiculous amount of space in the greenhouse. I'm leaving them in place for now, as they're attracting a lot of insects. I hadn't seen this particular wasp before, but it's very beautiful, with a metallic blue sheen to its blackness. I like its name too. Sounds like an X-rated show of some sort.

22 June 2010

A dangerous foreign pest

That's how I've been brought up to think about Colorado Potato Beetles. I've been trying to find an online example of the 'wanted' posters that used to be in British police stations, warning the public about being vigilant and reporting any sightings of the creature to the authorities. I haven't had much luck: this being the closest I could get. The site says the image is from The National Archives, but I couldn't find any trace of it in the Catalogue or in their image library. The latter isn't searchable and is divided up into a number of categories, none of which suggested 'Colorado Potato Beetle' to me. But this post isn't supposed to be a rant about usability of archives' websites, so I won't go on about that (however tempting it may be).

The point I was originally going to make was that my impression from all those posters was that the potato beetle was enormous. They always showed it at such a high magnification that I was quite surprised to find that the bugs are really quite small. Here's one sitting at the base of my middle finger:

In spite of their 'most wanted' status, they aren't any sort of a threat to humans or at all difficult to catch. They don't move very quickly and their hard shells make them easy to pick off the plants (unlike the tomato hornworms, which are all wriggly and revolting). I keep an eye on the potatoes, but have only found four of these beetles so far this year. When I find them, I feed them to the chickens, who think they are a great treat. The rooster picks them up, one at a time, then makes excited 'look what I've got for you' noises and presents them to the hens. Seems a better way of dealing with the problem than spraying the crop with anything.

21 June 2010

Solstice sunset

At this time of year the sun sets in the gap between the two barns, its last rays causing the greenhouse to momentarily glow with light. Makes me think of Chinese lanterns.

20 June 2010

Carrot, pine nut and dill salad

The greenhouse is beginning to yield more root crops. We had carrots and beetroot for lunch today, with the last of the greenhouse-grown potatoes. I made the carrots into a salad with some pine nuts. It was an experiment, and one that worked out well, so I thought I'd make a note here of the recipe. I sliced the carrots into coins and steamed them for ten minutes. Half-way into the carrots' cooking time, I dry-roasted the pine nuts over a medium heat for five minutes. I added the cooked carrots to the pan at the end of that time, to dry them off. Then I tossed the carrot slices and nuts in the dressing, which was a mix of olive oil, lemon juice and chopped dill.

19 June 2010

Strawberry season

I've mentioned David Lebovitz's excellent ice cream book The Perfect Scoop before. The only recipe I think is missing is a simple strawberry ice-cream. There's one for strawberry-sour cream ice cream, though, which I've adapted today to use just double/heavy cream.

The adapted ingredients:

1 pound/450g fresh strawberries
¾ cup/150g sugar
1 tablespoon vodka
2 cups/500 ml double/heavy cream
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Slice the strawberries and stir them into the sugar and vodka (the vodka is to help keep the ice cream soft). The strawberries start off looking like this:

and after an hour they'll look more like this:

(at this point we came perilously close to giving up on the ice cream idea completely: the strawberries looked and smelt so delicious).

Blend with the cream and lemon juice - not too much; it's nice to have some chunks of strawberries left.

In his recipe, David exhorts us to "try to eat this ice cream soon after it's been churned." Well, alright then. If I must...

12 June 2010

Pier 21

I'm in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the moment, at a conference. It's a lovely city and we've been lucky with the weather: warm and sunny all the time, so far. Here's the view from my hotel room:

Looks a bit industrial, perhaps, but this complex of buildings is highly significant in the history of twentieth-century Canadian immigration. It's known as Pier 21 and is where ships bearing immigrants tied up and discharged their human cargo between 1928 and 1971. The main building is now a museum dedicated to the experiences of those new arrivals in Canada.

As a relatively new arrival myself, my feelings about the exhibits were mixed. In one sense, it was disturbing to think of my recent immigration experience as something that people could learn about in a museum. Although Pier 21 is no longer a point of entry for immigrants and therefore has passed into history, the immigration process has not. To me, it is still a fresh and recent experience and there was something very strange about seeing stories like mine represented in a museum. I felt very unsettled by it.

The oral history aspects of the museum were excellent, although I was less convinced by the audio-visual experience called Oceans of Hope. There was one unintentionally very funny part with a war bride who had the most peculiar English accent I've ever heard. I nearly laughed out loud when she claimed "I've lived in London all my life!". No part of London I've ever visited, I thought...

Overall, the museum was well worth a visit but it did leave me with confused emotions which I'm finding hard to adequately express. Mostly I suppose I felt that the museum didn't address the fact that immigration is an ongoing Canadian fact of life as well as part of the country's history. Will have to think about it some more...

07 June 2010

Yellow peril

I've had a few complaints lately about the class of wildlife I've been featuring on this blog. Vultures, rats and snakes are a little unsavoury for some people, it seems. By way of respite I offer up this creature instead.

This ridiculously cute bird has been terrorising the front of our house all day. It appears to be convinced that its reflection in the windows is a rival male and is alternately bashing against the glass and then sitting on the trellis by the side of the house and singing its little heart out.

It's a yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia).

05 June 2010

Cream tea

Had a go at making clotted cream yesterday. For a first attempt, it went pretty well. Well enough for my 12 year old to say "I adjure you to make this cream again!". Then she asked me what 'adjure' actually meant, but we decided it was an appropriate word to use in the context.

The Bel Cream Maker instructions for 'Devonshire Cream' require you to pour no more than an inch of cream over an inch of milk in a shallow pan and then allow to settle overnight. "Afterwards heat very slowly until crust forms and cracks. Skim off and cool." These latter instructions were a bit vague for my liking, so I consulted the Internet and found a likely-looking recipe on the Sustainable Table site. No mention of having milk underneath the cream, though (and as I'd already done that step, I couldn't undo it!).

After eight hours of slow baking, the cream looked like this:

I skimmed off the thick top layer with a slotted spoon and transferred it to the fridge. You're left with a fair bit of thin cream underneath, which can be used for something else. After the top layer had been in the fridge for a few hours I took it out for our cream tea. I found that it was very dry, so mixed in some of the thin cream until it was of the right consistency for use on jam and scones. Next time, I'd probably leave it all in the fridge to cool completely and do the skimming later on (as the Sustainable Table recipe suggests) - this might help to get the right consistency from the start.

It's a bit of a faff, to be honest, so despite Child #1's adjuration, I don't think it's something I'll be making too often.

04 June 2010

A gardener is someone who...

...can't resist planting anything with the potential to grow.

I found this hickory nut in the hayfield on 25 March (probably dropped by a squirrel). I potted it up, kept it in the fridge for a while and then placed it on a sunny window sill. Nothing seemed to happen for a long time, but in the last few weeks the nut sent up this delicate little seedling:

There are two varieties of hickory trees that grow in this area, the Bitternut (Carya cordiformis, whose nuts aren't edible (as you may have guessed)) and the Shagbark (Carya ovata), whose nuts are sweet. I'm hoping this is the latter (although if the squirrel didn't eat it, perhaps it's the other one!).

The other day I came up with another way of completing that first sentence: A gardener is someone who has to wash their hands before they use the toilet. Have you got a favourite definition of a gardener?