Wildlife

Newly acquainted pest patrol team

I made a few friends last few weekend!

First is the elusive “Eastern Pretzel Snake”:

In all seriousness, it is an Eastern Milk snake on the verge of shedding its skin. I find milk snakes to be especially pretty but I realize I am in a minority, possibly due to 40+ million years of evolution.

Whether humans are instinctively fearful of of creepy crawlies is an area of active research that has been finding some conflicting results!

Regardless, milk snakes are in the king snake genus meaning their diet includes other snakes, even venomous ones. Logic indicates that those who fear snakes should be internally conflicted at that fact, but phobias rarely allow rational thought; especially if it is literally in our DNA.

Acquaintance 2:

There used to be a large, white and orange-tabby cat that patrolled the barn and surrounding area. I have not seen that individual in some time but now there is this white cat. It appears even larger, but it has fluffier fur so a true size comparison is hard to make.

I’m conflicted about outdoor cats, both domestic and feral. One study estimates 1.4 to 6.9 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals are killed by cats just in the US. Additionally, an increasing amount of video documentation is capturing a sport hunting behavior where cats kill other animals for amusement rather than sustenance.

While I assume feral and strays are most responsible, there are products available to keep domestic pets from contributing to the statistics. Although the product basically makes your cat look like a clown, it is affordable ($10) and fairly effective. This study found effectiveness at reducing bird kills, but not mammals.

 

Mostly because I anticipate lacking the fortitude to address the moral hazard presented by the cat but also because I have no scientific way to measure the effect it has on local wildlife, the cat will remain unmolested and considered a pest suppressant with full awareness that the latter point is likely delusional.

Standard
Garden

Forgotten Garlic Mystery

Has anyone ever planted garlic and left it for 2.5 years?

I actually entirely forgot they existed until the weed whacker emitted the distinct aroma.

I’m going to harvest them like normal but the subterranean growth is a complete mystery. Hopefully if not in an edible state, the bulbs will be viable for planting next year!

Standard
Garden

Current Currant Hormonal Situation

The roots are sending out new leaves which is not a good sign for the existing stems. It indicates a hormone imbalance of cytokinin over auxin. Auxin is greatest at the tips of woody-stemmed plants and travels from top to bottom. Its relationship with healthy buds prevents dormant buds from activating in the stem as well as the roots.

Cyokinin originates in the roots and is the hormone responsible for telling the undifferentiated cells in buds to start dividing. I’m not sure what mechanism is responsible for differentiating what those cells become. The process occurs when cyokinin from the roots is not kept in check by auxin: when plants are young or when the auxin flow is broken in the instance of a damaged stem.

Basically, new growth from the roots indicates that the stems are not producing auxin which in turn shows that they are dead (or at least extremely stressed) ūüė¶

Non-herbaceous plants fascinate me in that regard. Hormones act like logical conditions in artificial intelligence programming!

Well, except for the artificial part.

Standard
Garden

They survived…kinda

All of my non-herbaceous perennials dropped their leaves during a poorly timed dry spell last summer. Of course the first weekend that I could get out there, the rain clouds opened up while I was en route. Last year was a terribly executed attempt at absentee gardening.

At least the goosberries survived fully which may have something to do with their location receiving the most shade:

One of the raspberries survived as well. Nothing from the blackberries so far.

The hops are sprouting out of the soil like the most vigorous asparagus I have ever seen. I’ve read the tender shoots can be harvested and prepared exactly like asparagus:

Asparagus itself shows no sign of life.

The currants clung to life:

The current currant situation is a great opportunity to nerd out in plant biology in the next post.

Mulberries, filberts, blackberries and grapes are all lifeless currently. The blueberries are in the same state. A thick mat of an unknown, lush sedge (maybe a grass?) that I could not find them until after multiple winter weeding sessions. I believe that lush, unknown sedge has me eating the words published in this exuberant post.

To end on a positive note- Constant winter skirmishes in the war to regain territory lost to the occupant weeds in the previous year of neglect has made the garden beds visible at last:

Standard
Garden

First visit of the year summary

On my first visit of the year, I made 2 new friends and knocked out a slew of tasks:

  • Replaced failed and failing segments of garden bed walls.
  • Made the acquaintance of two volunteers of the pest patrol team.
  • Cleaned up the residual hops from last year.
  • Installed ~ 20 hops trellises.
  • Sprayed all garden beds with an herbicide that targets foliage
    • Just diluted vinegar
    • I avoided spraying the hops, currants and gooseberries as they were flushing leaves.
    • My strategy is spray everything else indiscriminately since the herbicide works by desiccating foliage without harming the stems of perennials, the soil or roots.
    • Next weekend will be followed up with a planting of buckwheat and clover to outcompete anything that tries to come back

Then turkey season will keep me occupied until my next visit in May. Until then, I have plenty to keep me busy posting in the meantime!

Standard
Uncategorized

Turning the tide of the battle

En route to the farm, I drive (literally) through the of the Field of the Lost Shoes where a battle took place in 1864.

My garden is the Shenandoah Valley in the dramatized day dream resulting from the long drive.

The weeds are Sigel’s army moving in to disrupt agricultural production.

Intensive mowing efforts at the end of last year pushed Moor’s weed brigade back. Offensive efforts were subsequently launched and repulsed by both sides.

Now I am deploying my untested reserves in the form of vinegar herbicide to march through the mucky orchard and will be reinforcing them with a supply line of buckwheat and clover.

Standard
Uncategorized

Getting back into it!

The bad news: neglect left the garden indistinguishable from the surrounding pasture. Varying shades from the asparagus and hops were the only discerning features in the mass of green.

Extensive mowing efforts over the winter have revealed the garden beds! Unfortunately it was too cold, too wet or I did not have the mindset to take any pictures during each of my winter work days.

Except for this one:

I picked up a new companion since my last regular updates!

Standard
Garden

War against weeds – Long overdue update

A campaign was finally launched to regain the ground lost in the garden due to 2 years of neglect. With all of the rain this spring, the garden was overrun by chest-high grasses, weeds and even a few trees consisting of locust, walnut, ailanthus and an elm of some sort. It was in such bad shape that the terraced garden beds could not be located!

Three hours with the weedwacker is what it took to be able to find the original garden beds. Then another 2 hours was spent pulling weeds by hand.

The invasion of one interesting weed seems to have been beneficial. It had a fleshy stem from which many spatulate leaves originated. It formed dense thickets that collapsed into dense mats. Shallow roots allowed single-handed removal of entire mats. The uprooted mass could be rolled into a self-containing bail resembling hay. Some sort of barb scratched the daylights out of skin and caused a mild reaction to the irritation that lasted a few hours. Water content of this plant seemed to be incredibly high as it felt very lush and fleshy, easily bruised but very heavy. They should compost beautifully!

On that note, the massive amount of uprooted plant matter was piled at the end of the garden beds. Or more accurately, the bricks/bails of the aforementioned weed were used in a weird sort of biological masonry. The two purposes of this exercise were providing a marker to locate the garden beds during the next battle as well as to burn out the invading weeds as decomposition produces heat and nitrogen.

Over 3 yards of mulch was used in the garden, to reclaim the boundary mulch bed that contains the grapes and brambles, and to supplement the vacant tree beds created 2 years ago. More grapes and Rubus brambles were added. Five pounds of buckwheat was spread in the garden beds as a biological weapon against re-encroachment of the weeds that were just cut or removed.

Many of those tree beds are no longer vacant!

Those new trees plus a surprising find after completing the cleanup efforts will be in the next posts.

Standard
Garden

Absentee Gardening was more absent than I intended…

Apathy and laziness turned my plans of absentee gardening into a feral patch of land. Installing hops trellises was the last time the garden received any attention whatsoever. Thankfully the individual who mowed the small barn yard area had the foresight to just steer clear of the garden as he did not know the exact locations of the boundary plants. As a result, the grass in the walkways is knee to waist high. I made quite the mess for myself!

Luckily I was able to get some lines in the ground for hops. Otherwise the garden ran wild this year

Luckily I was able to get some lines in the ground for hops. Otherwise the garden ran wild this year

I could blame being busy but the undeniable truth is I just did not make the time to get out to the farm. To be fair to myself, I did make it out for the first scheduled maintenance to find my weedwacker unable to remain running. Blisters and a torso that was sore for a week speaks to my frustrations with having to start the machine so often. After taking it to an expert, I learned it was pretty much shot as too much air was mixing in due to non-replaceable parts wearing with over a decade of use. From then on, I just ignored the problem. Rest in Peace friend (despite requiring a constant battle of having to constantly change line only for it to get stop feeding when it melted together only to run out of fuel when everything was finally working properly).

The major negative points:

  • Pokeweed. Pokeweed everywhere.
  • Ailanthus.¬†Tree of Heaven’s everywhere.
  • Walnuts. Yes…walnut seedlings in the garden. I love walnuts so I may just try and transplant them, but the production of allelopathic juglone in fruit and veggie gardens is concerning.
  • Asparagus are utterly thriving. However it is now apparent that a few of the plants are female despite the nurseries best effort to provide only males. With 47/50 crown survival rate, I’ll still so¬†satisfied with the plants that I am happy to give a recommendation for Nourse Farms.
  • Cascade hops are thriving, centennial are decent, all other are “meh”. No training was done beyond leaving the¬†hops¬†to find¬†the trellises so there are huge ground level mats of hops vegetation which inefficiently consumed large amounts of nitrogen and nutrients. Next year, ruthless pruning will be done.

However a few positives came of my inaction:

  • Where I originally thought invading¬†grasses were knee high in the garden beds, I found most of those were plants from the aisles whose immense weight caused them to lay down over the beds preventing further weed invasions. Similarly, the wild mat of hops growth served the same role.
  • The vast amount of grass clippings created with my borrowed weed wacker gave me plenty of nitrogen and potassium-rich material to pile on the now-unrecognizable boundary bed. The hope here is that the clippings will burn away all the vegetation that has encroached into the mulch.
  • After mowing the aisles I found yet¬†another¬†healthy and happy volunteer pumpkin. I’ve planted exactly zero pumpkins and have had more than 80 successfully grow!
  • I thought a late frost killed my 1 year old mulberry trees, but they rebounded beautifully with nearly full leaf sets. Even the hazelnuts are bouncing back although with much less vigor.

Now that hunting season is back, I have more motivation to go to the farm and generate some fresh content.

As soon as I can get my thoughts written down and organized into a series of posts, I’ll share a hunting trip that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far!

Standard
Kitchen Adventures

Many uses for whey

So you decided to try out making cheese or yogurt for the first time. Now you have a disappointing amount of your desired product, and an alarming amount of whey byproduct. Fear not, whey is so useful, that industrial production of this once waste product has surpassed production of actual cheese!

A word of warning, whey contains a concentrated amount of the substances that cause dairy and lactose allergies/intolerances.

Nutrition

Most of the fats and proteins have been removed from the whey when the solids were extracted for cheese/yogurt. While the remaining nutrition is mostly sugars, the vitamins and minerals are valuable. A cup of weight contains 60 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrates and numerous micronutrients (source).

Ways I’ve used Whey

Yogurt whey is fermented thus packed with the probiotics that many people (including myself) pay good money for. I drink a few ounces of whey when I wake up in the morning on an empty stomach. It has a weird combination of savory with an acidic tartness that I’ve acquired a taste for…likely from my love of sour beers and kombucha. Expect the same effects as probiotics…especially if you are relatively new to the scene! Mozzarella whey is not biologically active however if I am running low on yogurt whey, I will inoculate the former¬†with the latter.

While cheese whey lacks the good microbes of yogurt whey, it is still full of nutrition. Furthermore it’s acidic properties pull great amounts of calcium, collagen and flavor from animal parts when used as the base in a stock (my observation, no scientific basis). Before I discovered whey, I used a vinegar water base to try and achieve the same effect.¬†With¬†the boost in nutrition¬†comes a boost in calories as well that should be accounted for. I usually wake up with yogurt whey and go to bed with whey-based bone broth.

Similarly, when I still ate bread nothing was better than a loaf of sourdough with the the water replaced by whey. I can’t even describe the change in flavor but it was irresistible. If I could comfortably digest the products of baking, I would be trying whey in everything!

Seeing as protein is the most expensive food source for any creature, I have fed whey to livestock as well as pets. Fair warning, introduce whey slowly and incrementally into an animal’s diet to prevent having some loose messes to clean.

As a last resort, whey can be added to the compost pile or to the soil as an acidifying fertilizinger. If you have neither compost nor acid-loving plants, find someone with a compost pile or who grows blueberries or tomatoes!

Ways I want to use whey

Whey reduced the occurrence and rate of progress of powdery mildew in squash and cucumber plants (source). It seems weekly applications of 25% whey are the most effective, but more research is needed for exact timing and quantity determinations. I may try it on my grapes for the intended purpose and to see if there is any effect on the devastating japanese beetle populations.

Next time you make yogurt or cheese, smell your hands a few hours later. They will smell like those expensive cosmetics made with lanolin. In fact the smell is such an exact match, I would not be surprised is news broke that these products were being falsely advertised. Next batch of soap that I make, I will add some whey!

I’ve come across quite a few recipes for whey-based beverages ranging from simple, refreshing lemonade to creative cocktails. Citrus flavors and whey would be symbiotically complimentary in my opinion so I am going to try them out! I will surely report back.

Lastly, I am inexplicably eager to try out fermenting food. Everything from mayo, to krauts and kimchi to salsa to anything that can be brined or pickled is on the radar. Whey is known to kickstart those processes but I’ve read some foods are better suited for whey inoculation than others. Until I can report back with real experience, I have to defer this subject to your own research.

Conclusion

These are the options I’ve encountered or¬†researched but I am sure there are many more. Putting whey down the drain is a water pollutant and a waste of a good resource so I hope you can find a way to put it to use!

Standard