Carpenter bees are here. May 11, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: carpenter bees, controlling carpenter bees
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Shriek! Silence Dogood here. I was having lunch at a nice restaurant yesterday with a dear friend who insisted that we enjoy the warm spring weather by eating outside on the terrace. Unfortunately, we were dive-bombed by so many carpenter bees that I ultimately insisted that we eat in the indoor section of the restaurant.
Carpenter bees are harmless to people: They’re not going to sting you. But they’re as big as bumblebees (you can tell the difference because bumblebees are furry and nest in the ground while carpenter bees are smooth and prefer wooden structures), and they’ll definitely buzz you incessantly as they go about their business. They’ll also chew through your wooden walls to nest inside. If you don’t want your wooden walls and other structures to be destroyed by them, you have to stop them.
Sure, you could call a pest-control company and have them blitz them with toxic pesticides. But I wouldn’t recommend it, since you and your family will be blitzed with the pesticides, too.
Instead, as the University of Kentucky’s website notes, carpenter bees tend to be drawn to wood that is bare, weathered and unpainted. To protect your wood siding from invasion, make sure it is regularly painted. If anyone out there in the blogosphere has discovered your own method of nontoxic treatment, please let us know!
‘Til next time,
Can you vanquish fleas? May 4, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dogs and fleas, flea controls, fleas, fleas in history
Silence Dogood here. I expect all pet owners share with me a horror of flea infestations. A single flea and its offspring can apparently produce 8 million fleas in a single season. Yowie kazowie!
Our black German shepherd, Shiloh, receives her dose of Frontline, or poison as I call it, the first Sunday of every month to keep fleas and ticks at bay. I hate poisoning our best-beloved dog, but having experienced a flea infestation before, I know that I must subject her to this treatment. And by giving her Frontline, I don’t have to douse her two indoor companion cats with toxic chemicals every month, too.
I learned my lesson the hard way. When I bought this house years ago, the previous owners had a flea-infested indoor-outdoor cat, something they neglected to mention. I moved my two indoor-only cats in, and didn’t think a thing about it. Until they began scratching uncontrollably and my legs became covered with red lesions.
I tried spraying the house with organic controls. I took the poor cats in for flea shampoos, which almost killed one of them. The only thing that ultimately worked was the Frontline-like fluid that emulsified on their skin and killed adult fleas and kept juveniles from maturing. I can’t now remember what that pre-Frontline product was called, but it did do the trick. The cats, the house, and I were finally flea-free.
As an amateur historian, I’ve of course wondered about the flea situation in pre-Frontline generations. How did the courts of the kings of old, who allowed dogs into their great rooms, deal with the flea issue? How did the sentimental, pet-owning Victorians deal with fleas? Just this morning, I read that even the dinosaurs were infested with fleas, giant fleas with sharp, rasping mouthparts and clinging legs.
We now believe that we can vanquish fleas with our Frontline-like products, which keep juvenile fleas from maturing, making it impossible for them to breed new generations. Perhaps we can use these techniques to vanquish recurrent scourges like bedbugs as well. I’d just love to think that these toxic products wouldn’t have to be doused on our pets or us.
‘Til next time,
Forget marijuana, grow chickpeas. April 30, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: agriculture, chickpeas, farming, growing chickpeas, hummus
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Looking to make a little money off the back 40? Wondering if pot is poised to be the new cash crop, taking over from tobacco? According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal, you’d be better off thinking about hummus.
Say what?!! Well, if you’re like Silence Dogood and our friend Ben, you always have a tub or two (or three) of hummus in the fridge, so you can salve your conscience if the munchies strike by dipping some veggies like carrot sticks, celery and broccoli florets in the good-for-you chickpea spread instead of reaching for the Tostitos or Triscuits and cheese. Apparently, we’re not the only ones: Hummus is now a $500-million-plus business in the U.S. alone.
But America’s hunger for hummus has created a little problem: We’re not growing enough chickpeas to meet the demand. And most of the chickpea crop is grown on the West Coast, leading hummus producers to worry about what would happen if the localized crop were to be wiped out.
As a result, farmers in Virginia are being urged to consider switching from growing tobacco as their cash crop to growing chickpeas. This may sound crazy to the non-farming segment of the population, but it makes perfect sense to our friend Ben. My ancestors in Kentucky had a dairy farm. The dairy operation broke even every year. What made a profit was the cash crop: burley tobacco. A few acres of burley made the difference between a little cash in the bank and no cash. It allowed my grandparents and their predecessors the luxury of continuing to farm the land.
It has been a long time since we grew tobacco on our land, and a long time since the farm did better than break even. Perhaps chickpeas might bring it back to profitability. Or at least pay for our friend Ben’s hummus habit.
(To read the article, look for “Hummus Conquers America” at http://www.wsj.com.)
Pay off your mortgage. April 27, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: avoiding debt, banks, car payment, credit, debt, interest, living debt-free, mortgage
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Our friend Ben makes a point of reading, or at least skimming, all the Yahoo! news articles on their home page every morning, after reading the local paper and The Wall Street Journal. It isn’t easy, but I feel that it’s relevant.
Admittedly, seeing a feature about the Boston bombings sandwiched between NFL picks and the latest celebrity gossip makes me sick. But apparently Yahoo! feels that a so-called news mashup will appeal more to their constituents than allowing them to choose their own categories to follow, as used to be the case. Apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lack of underwear is more relevant than Pope Francis’s determination to end the corruption of the Vatican Bank.
So today, I happened upon a headline on Yahoo! that informed people that the smartest possible financial move they could make was to pay off their mortgage. Our friend Ben heartily approves. When I bought Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home I share with Silence Dogood in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, I took out a 15-year mortgage. But, thanks to my beloved Mama’s premature demise, I could have bought the property outright. Yet everyone told me to take out a mortgage instead.
Don’t, if you don’t have to. Those so-called tax breaks are worth nothing compared to the security of owning your home outright and not having to worry about ongoing debt. Yes, this will mean buying a modest home that you can actually pay for. But oh, God, it’s worth it. The same is true of buying a trusty used car outright rather than mortgaging your soul and your future to pay for a new car. Peace of mind is priceless.
I have always bought used cars for cash. I sadly didn’t buy my house for cash when I had the chance. Instead, I listened to family, friends, and so-called experts and took out a 15-year mortgage. I did, however, pay not just the mortgage payment, with its then-exorbitant interest, but also paid down against the principle every month. Hawk’s Haven was completly paid off and ours in 12 rather than 15 years as a result. Now no one can take it away from us, despite our reduced circumstances, because we owe no one.
Okay, our house isn’t a palace, it’s a cottage. Our cars are well used and well loved, not the latest and greatest. But they’re ours, and no one can take them from us. Please consider this when you make your own investments. Being enslaved to a bank by living on credit is a pitiful thing. Our friend Ben just wishes that someone had told me this when it could have turned my life around.
Robins in the ‘hood. April 18, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: robin nest, robins
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Silence Dogood here. Living in a cold-winter climate as we do, one of the weatherizing steps our friend Ben and I take every fall is to put a cover over the outside portion of our one pitiful window air conditioner. We tie its fasteners to snug the cover against the a/c, but we also put a brick on top, just in case. This past fall, we added a log from our woodpile, since winds here can get rough and we wanted to make sure the cover didn’t budge.
With temperatures continuing to fall into the 30s and 40s here at night (in mid-April, yikes), we haven’t yet removed the a/c cover or the log. Apparently, this was a big mistake.
I guess the space between the log and my office window looked cozy and inviting to a pair of robins, since all morning, I’ve watched them bringing straw, leaves, twigs and the like and tossing them in the empty space. Not even our dino-sized cat, Linus, repeatedly launching himself against the window, has deterred them.
Now, we’ve had robins nest in some unusual locations here before, most notably in a nest built in a wreath we’d hung on the front of our house. But I’ve never had such an up-close view of their nest-building process. However, with the process going on a couple of feet from my computer, it’s impossible to ignore.
Prior to this backyard science experiment, I’d have assumed that when a robin appeared at the nest site with a beakful of nesting materials, he or she would have carefully added them to the nest and packed them in place before flying off to get more. However, it appears that robins actually operate more like human builders, assembling all the materials at the site before beginning construction.
I guess this is a lucky break for me. I can’t afford to let our pair nest on top of the a/c cover—I’m going to need that air conditioner!—and I’d have hated to move a nest, in case the parents abandoned it.
Instead, in an hour, when I go out to get the mail and put out the recycling, I’ll head to the side of the house, remove the log and cover, take the log to the fire pit, and bring the cover inside. I’ll leave the robins’ carefully accumulated nesting materials on the ground beneath the a/c. If they want to nest on top of the a/c itself, that’s their business. I can only hope that the nestlings will be big enough to fly before I have to turn the damn thing on!
‘Til next time,
Great balls of burning mulch! April 11, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
Tags: compost, gardening, landscaping, mulch, mulch fires
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Yowie kazowie! Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were visiting a friend on Tuesday when her neighbor stopped by to relate a horror story. She and her husband had just put mulch down around the deck on their mobile home. Then they’d gone to work. Then someone had been driving by, seen flames coming up from the mulch and setting their deck on fire and melting it, and called 911. Fortunately, the fire company was able to douse the flames before they spread to the home itself.
Normally, gardeners—and especially organic gardeners—regard mulch as a godsend, preserving moisture in the soil, suppressing weeds, adding organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. What could have happened to turn good mulch bad?
Our friend Ben and Silence speculated that perhaps the mulch contained moisture and was exposed to hot temperatures while still in its plastic bag, so it started composting, a breakdown process that generates heat. Confined in the bag, with nowhere for the heat to go, perhaps it built up and then exploded into flame once the mulch was finally laid down.
But research on Google seems to say that a too-thick layer of mulch combined with dryness and wind can start the mulch blazing, and that dark wood chips are most likely to catch fire. Their remedy is simple: Hose down the mulch regularly to make sure it stays moist and doesn’t dry out.
Wow, there must be nothing like the feeling of trying to do something good for your property and ending up with a fire. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we use compost produced on our own property rather than wood chips as a mulch, and we’ve seen wonderful results in terms of soil fertility and plant prosperity. And not so much as a plume of smoke. We recommend it.
The cicadas are coming! April 10, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: 17-year cicadas, cicadas, periodical cicadas
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Our friend Ben was delighted to read that the periodical 17-year cicadas, which have not been seen in our area since 1996, will be emerging from the ground when it warms sufficiently, probably in May, given our unnaturally cold spring here in scenic PA. Admittedly, most poeple wouldn’t be thrilled to hear that dozens, perhaps even millions of the fat, 1 1/2-inch-long, red-eyed creatures would be emerging from the ground like the risen dead. But our friend Ben has a huge, nostalgic fondness for these particular cicadas.
That’s because they don’t emerge from the ground as the winged, black-bodied, red-eyed, shrieking insects whose mating cacophany can reach jackhammer intensity as they compete for females. Instead, they emerge as beetle-like nymphs, climb trees, and molt their shells, leaving the intriguing empty shells still attached to the trees. Sort of like butterflies emerging from the chrysalis, but butterflies are a lot better looking and the chrysalis is a lot more boring.
It’s this nymphal shell that brings back our friend Ben’s fond nostalgia for cicadas. When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a naturalist, someone who knew everything about nature. And of course, that included insects. Those empty carapaces clinging to the trees intrigued me no end, especially when I discovered that they could easily be detached, but that their remnant claws would attach easily to other surfaces. Such as my younger sister’s and brother’s clothes. Let’s just say that they were by no means as enchanted by these cicada overcoats as I.
Sadly, this tendency to use the natural world’s discards to my own ends did not diminish over time. One year at summer camp, I discovered to my horror that dozens of toads had been run over in the parking lot and had dried into black, leathery effigies. I love toads, and was crushed (so to speak) by their demise. But I was also fascinated by their leathery remains, and pinned several to the camp’s official bulletin board, to the officials’ and fellow campers’ dismay. (The culprit was never identified.) Strangely, I have never seen another toad in this condition since, and still wonder why it happened then.
Anyway, I have to say that I’m looking forward to this year’s cicada emergence, at least from the point of view of attaching a few empty carapaces to Silence Dogood’s clothes. But there’s one thing I’m definitely not looking forward to, and it’s not the deafening screeching: The expert entomologist interviewed for the article noted that the slow-moving cicadas are prey to everything from birds and squirrels to dogs and people.
Say what? Rip their legs and wings off and fry them up or sautee them, and you’ll have a high-fat, high-protein snack. Thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, dogs don’t rip their legs and wings off, they just wolf them down whole, as many as they can. And then, according to the researcher, they throw up and immediately wolf down more.
Our friend Ben can see our black German shepherd, Shiloh, intent on this very quest. I can also see Silence’s reaction when various cicada parts were spewed up in our house. To say that this would not go well would be to say that the Titanic encountered a small ice cube. I’ll have to try hard to make sure that no cicadas are consumed by Shiloh during their emergence.
For those of you who might be facing a cicada emergence but don’t have a dog-related issue with same, here’s what the experts say: You may not love the big, fat, red-eyed cicadas, but they’re pretty much harmless. The only real damage they can do is when the females lay eggs by ripping up branches to insert their egg masses. They particularly target fruit trees, so if you have any, cover them with bird netting for the couple of weeks when the cicadas are active. And by all means, crank up the volume on your boom box.
Spring: radishes and scallions. April 7, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: fresh spring fare, radish recipes, radishes, seasonal fare, seasonal recipes, spring crops, spring fare
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Silence Dogood here. It’s spring, and for me and our friend Ben, spring means garden-fresh radishes and scallions (green onions)! Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love radishes, and we like ‘em hot—when we bite into a radish, we want it to bite back. We also want our radishes to be crisp and crunchy, not rubbery or woody, and nothing is crisper than a freshly pulled radish.
We not only love eating radishes, we love growing them, too. They’re about the easiest crop there is, after onion sets. (See our earlier post, “In praise of onion sets,” for more about them.) Toss the seed on your garden bed, water it in, watch for weeds, and wait for radishes. End of story! Well, maybe not quite the end: You need to thin the radish seedlings when they come up so the ones you leave in the ground have enough room to make nice, fat radishes. But when you pull up the extra seedlings, you can put them (washed, please) in a salad, leaves and all, for a nice, spicy treat.
Radishes are easy to grow, and they mature quickly (some in as little as 20-30 days from sowing). Whether you plant a classic round red radish like ‘Early Scarlet Globe’, a red-and-white bicolor like ‘Sparkler’ or ‘French Breakfast’, a mix of white, pink, rose, and purple like ‘Easter Egg’, or even a yellow radish like ‘Helios’ (or all of the above!), you’ll get an abundant, foolproof crop.
One of our favorite ways to eat radishes, after the French fashion, is sliced on buttered rounds of crusty baguette with a little salt. (Admittedly, unlike the French, we prefer these as appetizers rather than for breakfast. And, while we love ‘French Breakfast Radishes’ on our baguette slices, any radishes are good.) Our friend Ben and I also love to eat radishes in their simplest form, whole, also salted, and of course we love them sliced in salads.
But you don’t have to just eat radishes whole or sliced. You can also use them to make a luscious dip or spread, a great way to put a bumper crop to good use. We were introduced to this recipe by the farmers at our local CSA, Quiet Creek Farm. Thank you, John and Aimee!
Spring Radish Spread
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill (leaves, not seeds)
1-2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained (optional)
1 cup finely chopped or grated radishes
salt to taste
Mix all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours. Serve with crackers, on crusty bread (baguettes, rye, sourdough), with tortilla chips, and/or with veggies like carrot sticks or chips, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes, or even freshly sliced cukes for dipping. Makes about 2 cups.
Yummy as this dip is, it only scratches the surface of radish possibilities. (We’re not even going to talk about daikon radishes, with their infinite uses; maybe next post.) If you matchstick radishes, you can add them to coleslaw for delicious bite, or to an omelette, or use them in a topping for a barbecue or roast beef sandwich, or a textural addition to hot sauce for seafood, or to kick up fried rice or stir-fry or sushi. And there are endless other options.
For those who seek to reduce calories, radishes are a pretty much no-calorie but satisfying option. And, as Saturday’s Wall Street Journal reminded me, there are many, many ways to use radishes to satisfy your cravings, whatever they are. Radish-related recipes in that issue ranged from Radish and Fennel salad through Pea, Radish and Ricotta Bruschetta to Roasted Spring Radishes and Potatoes with Radish Puree and Daikon Radish Cake. They all looked yummy (though I’d have served the radish and fennel slald over greens). See for yourself at http://www.wsj.com.
Ah, radishes. Coupled with spring’s other delights, scallions, asparagus, emerging greens, what a delight! Let’s celebrate the season.
‘Til next time,
The upside to a cold spring. March 27, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: cold spring, spring birds, spring bulbs, winter birds
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Yuck, it’s almost April, and the temperatures here in our part of scenic PA are still dropping into the 20s every night. Brrr!!! What happened to global warming?!
However, as all gardeners know, there’s one great thing about cold spring weather, even if it makes you want to hide indoors: It makes the blooms of spring bulbs and flowers last longer. Our snowdrops and crocuses are still in bloom; our hellebore flowers are still pristine. We’re hoping to see a long daffodil, tulip, and grape hyacinth season, as well as a fabulous year for our chionodoxas (glories-of-the-snow), Spanish squill, and windflowers (Grecian anemones).
Bulb blooms can wither in a day if the temperatures are unusually hot, and seldom last more than a week in normal weather. But cold, for whatever reason, keeps them vibrant, and we appreciate that.
The cold has also kept our winter birds here. We still have juncos, chickadees, and titmice, along with our year-round residents, the woodpeckers, wrens, goldfinches, cardinals, mockingbirds, and the like. (Sadly, I think our bluejays have left us.) And we also have the spring arrivals, robins, starlings, and grackles. I can’t recall a time when I’ve seen juncos and robins together on the ground!
So, despite the cold, this spring has its own gifts for those who have eyes to see. Now, if we could just persuade the juncos to stay year-round…
Coleslaw sees red. January 13, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: coleslaw, coleslaw recipes, recipes, red cabbage coleslaw, red cabbage recipes, slaw
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Red cabbage and red onion, that is. Silence Dogood here, continuing my series of winter coleslaw recipes. This one is easy, very quick to make but very good and hearty, just right to accompany a warming winter meal. Mac’n'cheese, anyone? I call it Royal Coleslaw because both red cabbage and red onions are actually royal purple.
Silence’s Royal Coleslaw
1 head red (purple) cabbage, shredded, or 2 packages pre-shredded red cabbage
1 large red (Spanish) onion, diced
1 container crumbled blue, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, or feta cheese
1 tablespoon caraway, fennel, or cumin seeds, or to taste
fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste
salt (we like RealSalt), to taste
extra-virgin olive oil
bunch scallions (green onions), chopped (optional)
To make the slaw, mix the shredded red cabbage and diced red onion. Add the seeds of your choice, black pepper, and salt, mixing a second time. Add enough olive oil to coat the mixture. Gently add the crumbled cheese (if you prefer a milder flavor, use feta; otherwise, go for one of the others, which I prefer, as they stand up well to the red cabbage and red onion), tossing to mix. Taste and adjust seasonings, olive oil, and etc. as needed. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. If you’d like to add a splash of contrasting color, just before serving, sprinkle chopped scallions (including both the green and white parts) over each serving like confetti. Enjoy!
Note: This slaw is robust enough to stand up to considerable experimentation. You could add a pinch of chipotle powder to give it some heat, or a pinch of ground clove, cinnamon, or garam masala to add an exotic depth of flavor. (But in all these cases, just a pinch, please.) You could add fresh-squeezed lemon juice to give the slaw an acidic touch (which probably sounds awful but in fact perfectly complements the olive oil and crumbled cheese). You could add fresh-squeezed orange juice or golden raisins for a note of sweetness. You could even add diced pickled red beets to up the royal color scheme and add rich earthiness to the flavor. See what variations work best for you and your family, and have fun!
‘Til next time,