Backyard Opossum, Oh No!

Tonight I got quite a fright when I went to check on my backyard flock of hens. There he was looking at me with his eyes flashing back like highway reflectors—a opossum! He just stood there frozen still with his mouth open. That saying, “playing possum,” is true. He didn’t even flinch when we moved suddenly in his close proximity.

Playin’ Possum is an involuntary response, like fainting. What would happen if you had both fainting goats and opossums?

 

I saw this devil-animal incarnate a week ago when I heard his scratchy paws on the tree bark, thinking it sounded strange for a neighborhood cat. (we have tons of alley cats around us). When I located the critter he was high in the backyard tree.

The opossum is often misspelled as “possum,” and is so common, that it’s an accepted way to spell it. Opossums are marsupials, not rodents. Like kangaroos, opossums give birth to offspring early in the gestation cycle. The baby opossum crawls into the mother’s pouch, attaches to a teat and nurses through the last stages of its gestation.

As for our backyard opossum, as soon as he had a chance, he ambled along and climbed the tree. I’m sure he’ll be back, so we’ll have to set a trap soon, because opossums and chickens are not simpatico.

Up, up, up into the tree he goes.

 

 

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Cooking with Kids: Apple Love Pie & Garlic Toast

When I was a girl I wanted an Easy Bake Oven so badly. My mother just said, “here, you can cook with a real oven.” And then she helped me make cookies. That began my love of baking and it lit my sweet tooth on fire. So when my son wanted an Easy Bake Oven, I guided him to cook for real.

We cook a lot in our household. And it’s natural that our son wants to cook too. I’ve always included him when he was interested, letting him peel carrots, helping him make “stew,” and just letting him create “concoctions” with our amply stocked spice cabinet. I’ve even used a box cake (dare I say it out loud) so that he can say he did it all by himself.

Today he really wanted to cook and create. He announced his after school snack should be garlic toast. So we made garlic toast.

 

He wanted to cook more, and I had several apples that needed to be used. He wanted to make a pie, but halfway through, he said he wanted to make cut-out cookies.

We came up with the best of both worlds by making a pastry top with cut-out heart shapes. We called it our Apple Love Pie. (Complete with the pie bird.)

Apple Love Pie

 

Backyard Chickens

Just a few photos from my backyard flock. I have a post series planned about how I went-and-lost-my-mind, and now-I-have-chickens.

 

Edna – soon to be the roo who goes to live with Nanny.

 

Buddy—the chicken who clucks a lot and sounds like a Kung Fu fighter.

 

One of the greatest photo bombs ever! Way to go, Sapphire. (And yes, that is my patio furniture doubling as a roost.)

November Gardening: Playing with Frost

November is here and with it comes the first frost for my garden. I live in north central Texas in USDA zone 7b with an average first frost around November 10.

But I always flirt with danger, hoping to extend my garden season for a few warm season plants. With the impending doom lurking with the first freeze, I will be spending my weekend preserving what I can for the winter.

What’s thriving in my garden at the moment:

 

Fall okra. No kidding. I planted okra at least a year ago, but it’s just now coming up. [soon to be killed by frost]

Cucumbers … another one waiting to be bitten by the frost… Maybe I can make a makeshift vertical row cover… I had bad luck with my summer cucumbers because the aphids and mites sucked them dry.

Of course my favorite volunteer Porter tomatoes, god love them, they are tenacious, if anything.

 

Tomatillos. My first endeavor with this plant. I had no idea it would go all over the place. It’s growing habit is more like pumpkins with how it spreads and takes over.

And the ever-resilient Swiss chard. This stuff is hardy and fairest of all. It grows in the winter, spring, summer and fall. It tastes the best in early spring and late fall. It’s frost tolerant to about 25 degrees, which makes it a perfect choice for my winter garden! It’s also delicious, bright and beautiful.

 

Extreme Hulabaloos, Blue Northers & Snowpocalypses

[Editor’s note: it’s been far too long since I posted to the blog. No time like the present.]

The Blue Norther commeth …

Extremes are the normal with North Texas weather. There is constant clashing of warm moist air with cool dry air. The dry air sweeps across the western U.S., over the Caprock then down the draw known as the Llano Estacado and collides with warm moist air coming up from the Gulf.

There is a diagonal  250 mile-wide strip where these prevailing winds smash into each other.

I live is in the center of this strip, so it’s common to have a 40 degree temperature change in a few hours. Friday, November 22, 2013 was one of those days. (it was also the 50-year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.)

It was still, warm and humid with a high in the 70s. Then what is called a Blue Norther showed up. The wind picked up suddenly and the temps dropped 20 degrees in 30 minutes.

My tree before the wind.
My tree 12 hours later, after the wind.

These days, any form of moisture is welcome, even if it comes in frozen pellets of rain or snow. In a day or two the weather will warm up and the frozen moisture will thaw into ground-soaking water—something we need desperately in North Texas.

It is ridiculous when you think about the hullabaloo made over winter weather in North Texas. Every year winter shows up, freezes and ices everything, then is gone as quickly as it came. Yet we are bombarded with severe weather reports and warnings to bundle up, be safe on the roadways, and bring outdoor pets inside.

Everyone is hopefully anticipating a day to blow off school and work. However it is the opposite for nurses, doctors, insurance claims processors, wreckers, firemen, police and ranchers and farmers. Don’t forget the U.S. Postal Service always delivers – rain, snow, sleet or shine.

There is ever-increasing hyperbole and drama surrounding the extreme weather. Handy Husband always jokes with the next door neighbors that we will resort to cannibalism since “snowpocalypse” is forcing everyone inside for three days. Now after two days inside … I think I’ll emulate the Canadians and go outside even with a 100% chance of snow. Because I, like the Canadians, have cabin fever, and must go outside weather be damned (seriously, it’s only 30 degrees –I have wool socks and thermal underwear, it’ll be ok.)

My Precious Tomatoes

A rainbow of fall tomatoes.

My compulsion to garden began with my quest to grow an abundance of tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes until I was about 22 years old. The first time I remember loving the flavor of a freshly-picked, salted tomato was when I lived in Chicago working my first post-college job. I visited friends in Champagne one weekend and bought tomatoes at the farmers’ market. That first bite of beautifully ripe tomato was like heaven on a plate and since then I’ve been hooked. Two years after that tasty bite, I moved to Michigan—where the climate is just right for tomato growing.

My first garden was a success in Michigan, which has a much milder climate than North Central Texas. The harsh Texas summers and drought conditions make gardening a challenge. I decided to approach the objective from a different angle by looking for the best-performing vegetable varieties for my area.

I consulted the Texas Agri-Life Extension Service’s list of recommendations but only found a few tomato varieties for sale at local vendors– Celebrity, Beefsteak and Big Boy are the most commonly available. So I started looking to seed sources and catalogs, hoping to find varieties that would grow well where I lived. Over the last few years, I’ve amassed quite an assortment of seed stock and catalogs. The more I learned about the plentiful tomato varieties, the more intrigued I became with open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of all plants, not just tomatoes.

Peppers: Jalapenos and Serranos

Even though Texas “technically” has a long growing season, the hottest part of the summer is about keeping things alive, not producing. So really we have two short growing seasons with fall being best of all. In the spring I try to grow bush-type tomatoes that ripens (55-70 days) all at once. In July I pull the spent vines and start seeds in the same beds. What sprouts and makes it will produce the best fall fruit. If a volunteer tomato comes up, I let it grow. Every time I’ve done that, it’s produced the most awesome fruit.

After three trial-and-error growing seasons of starting tomatoes from seed, I’ve found that Porter and Porter Improved are the top performing tomato cultivars in my backyard; Willhite Seed has the highest germination rate of all the sources I’ve used; and when a volunteer tomato plant starts growing, let it grow because you will be rewarded for it.

My favorite resources:

Texas Agri-Life Extension http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ — a great resource for all Texas gardeners. If you live in a different state, look for your local extension service. It will be affiliated with the land grant university in your state (Auburn, Michigan State, University of Illinois, Purdue, Texas A&M, etc.)

Willhite Seed
www.willhiteseed.com – everything I’ve ever grown from this supplier has been top notch. They breed their own watermelon seeds! The first year I grew their Porter tomatoes, I had a 98 percent germination rate – that is quality seed!

Botanical Interests
www.botanicalinterests.com – this company is part of the coalition of non-GMO growers and suppliers of seed. They have the best information on their seed packets – tons of information about each variety and cultivar.

Totally Tomatoes
www.totallytomato.com – the 2013 growing season is the first year I’ve used seeds from this supplier. So far so good. They have the most comprehensive selection of tomatoes I’ve ever seen. They also have a wonderful selection of other seeds, especially night shade plants (tomatoes are part of the night shade family).

RH Shumway
www.rhshumway.com – this company has the coolest retro-style catalogue and is one of the best sources for beans. 2013 is the first growing season I’ve used this seed provider. The germination rate has been excellent. It will be awhile before I can report on production.

Victory Seeds www.victoryseeds.com – one of the best sources for open-pollinated and heirloom seeds that grow in most parts of the United States. They produce their own seeds and are a non-GMO seed source.

Baker Creek (rare seeds) www.rareseeds.com – another comprehensive source for heirloom, open-pollinated and non-GMO seeds. I have not grown any seed from this supplier but they have great reviews.

Time well spent

Today was Mother’s Day. I spent the day with my family, as many moms do. My son was part of a tribute program to the mothers in our church congregation. Afterward, we went to lunch with my mom and dad, then my mother and I left with my son to visit my 83 year old grandmother and 94 year old grandfather.

It’s not how I planned spend the second half of my day, but it was worth every second. While I was with my sweet grandmother and grandfather we talked about nothing in particular—my grandfather was watching The Players Championship on TV . I had an opportunity to tell my sweet yet pious grandmother that Tiger Woods needed forgiveness too, just as King David did.

Even though my grandmother, mother and I all boast about our prowess in the kitchen, today we let Sara Lee do the cooking so that we could have quality time together. It was a beautiful day in May in North Central Texas, regardless of the long-standing drought.

After I got home at 5:45 p.m. I immediately began picking up the house, doing wash and other mom-like chores. My home needs cleaning, but I tried to remind myself that the house isn’t that dirty and that years from now I will cherish the time spent with my grandparents. The bathroom will still need to be cleaned but it can wait, for the moments that my grandmother and son are here on this Earth simultaneously are few.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Son and Dog-Daughter on Mother’s Day. Handy Husband taking the photo.