5 Months At Smokey House

At first I didn’t want to come here.  My mom told me it was here, or nothing.  So I came here, and at first I didn’t like it.  Then I liked it because it was different from regular school.  How?  Everything! Instead of sitting in a classroom, getting frustrated and bored and sleepy and fidgety, I am being active in the garden and around the pond and in the woods, learning about stuff as we do it, not just listening.

Some of the things I like here are being in the woods, noticing stuff happen, hands-on learning, a lot of being physical instead of sitting and watching.  Some of the things I’ve studied are about the plants and bugs in the garden, tree identification, about macro-invertebrates, tapping maple trees, baking bread, and woodcrafts.  You’re learning as you’re doing it.  You stop and talk about why certain things do this and other things do that, for example, how beavers build their dams and how they affect roadways and fields.

There’s nothing I dislike about this place.  I plan to stay here for future years.

Pond view IMG_8436

What’s Eating the Mint?

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Mint attacked by four-lined plant bug

 

Mint and other herbs generally should be pest free, so it really “bugs” me when I find something has been eating them.  The damage seems worse than usual this year, perhaps because of the cool, damp spring.  It’s only this week that I figured out what makes those annoying black dots on the upper leaves of my peppermint, as well as on the lemon balm and sage.

 

 

Four-lined plant bug
Four-lined plant bug on sage

Some internet sleuthing got me to the answer – “four-lined plant bug”.  I’d never heard of it before, and I had never caught it in action until I knew what to look for.  It’s a small bug, about the size of a striped cucumber beetle, and depending on its stage, has yellow and black stripes with orange or red coloring as well.  It feeds on leaf tissue, leaving spots and holes, sometimes causing leaves to shrivel up.  The good news is that the bug only goes through one life cycle each summer; the damage to the plant is finite and mainly aesthetic.   There is not much one can do for management beyond cleaning up leaves and stems at the end of the season, so there is no place for them to overwinter.  I will just continue to snip and discard the affected plants, and in the fall cut back and clear the bed more carefully.

This Year’s Garden At Smokey House

This year’s garden at Smokey House is dope.  At first I wasn’t excited about it, but eventually I started to enjoy gardening.  It’s like tacos – you don’t know why you like ’em, you just like ’em!  Or, it’s kind of more like a cake.  You have eggs, flour, sugar and other stuff.  Each is one thing that doesn’t taste good at all.  Then you put them together and it’s enjoyable. Some of the ingredients for a garden are tilling, weeding, digging, compost, fertilizer, starting seeds inside, transplanting them outside.  It’s very satisfying when the seeds sprout up from the ground.  It’s gonna be my new hobby!

 

The War on Crops

Something’s been eating the pea shoots in our garden, and it won’t let them grow. At first I didn’t even know there was anything wrong with them until my teacher showed me. So I went out and looked at them, and it turns out there were little bites being taken out of them. I didn’t know what it could’ve been. So, I did my research and found out that it could be a finch in this area. I went on Google and googled what could be eating my pea shoots. I found an article about this one guy who was struggling with his pea shoots for


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eight years. He didn’t know what was eating his pea shoots either, so he tried a few different things over eight years. On one day, he was sitting on his porch, drinking a beer, and saw the pea shoots moving in the garden. So, he went and got his binoculars and looked down at his garden and saw a little finch eating away at the top of his pea plants. So, he made a hoop house with bird netting on the top high enough so the plants could grow, which also made it hard for him to get into his plants. So, hopefully that will work for our garden as well as yours if you try it.

In another part of our garden, we noticed that something has been eating at the leaves of our radishes and kale. So, we went straight to flea beetles because we’ve suspected that we’ve had a problem with them in past years. We googled them, and it turns out that their favorite foods are kale and radish leaves and that they are really small and jump like fleas. So, we went out to the garden and looked to see if we could determine what exactly they were. We determined that they were flea beetles.

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How do you get rid of flea beetles?  There are many different ways.  We don’t know how well they work.  But a few are:

  • Trap crop – a crop that you don’t really need, but they’re attracted to.
  • Coffee grounds – sprinkle around the seedlings
  • Crushed egg shells – just sprinkle them over the flea beetles
  • Soapy water – spray it on the plant
  • Ladybugs – let them live in your garden.  They eat or kill ’em.

We aren’t really trying any of these, but we have some ladybugs and some trap crops in our garden, and we’re hoping we don’t have to do anything!

 

 

The Sourdough Breads

At Smokey House we made sourdough bread from yeast that Juanita grew, which I had no clue was even possible.  It turns out that yeast is a living thing, a microscopic fungus. The “starter” is just flour, water and yeast.  It looks like regular dough, with bubbles and little craters in it, kind of like the moon.  It smells sour.

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We made two different batches to see what the difference was between leaving the yeast in the fridge and out on the counter overnight.  The dough that was on the counter overnight was a lot more sour-smelling than the dough in the fridge.  It grew a lot more than the other one did.  The dough that was in the fridge overnight didn’t smell as sour and was nowhere near as high as the other one.

We scooped the dough out of the “bucket” and stretched it gently.  Then we cut it in half and folded the cut in, and let them sit for two hours, IMG_0058lightly covered with plastic wrap.  After letting the dough rise, we baked it for 12 minutes on the bottom rack and 12 minutes on the top.

The baked bread was delightful.  I liked the one that was left out overnight better because it had a stronger taste and more flavor.  The other one was kind of bland. They were both very good with my home made dandelion jelly in the end.

Pickled Ramps from the Forest to the Fridge

 

Do you want to make some pickled ramps?

You can find them at the beginning of spring, when the ground is still moist, in early May. First, look for a patch in the woods in a damp area around trees.  There might be maple, black cherry, hop-hornbeam or birch in the vicinity.

What are they and what do they look like?

IMG_1631Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are part of the onion family.  They grow in the ground and every part of them is edible.  The leaves are thick, green and flat. They grow right from the ground with a very short, red stem.  To make sure they are ramps, you break a leaf off and smell it.  If it has an oniony smell, it’s a ramp.

 

 

 

How do you harvest them?

IMG_1629You dig them up at the base of the plant, like six inches deep, making sure you get the bulb.  Make sure you put the dirt back, and leave some ramps for someone else and for them to grow back.

How do you pickle them?

First, clean them, shake the roots in water to get off all the dirt.  Cut the roots off at the end of the bulb.  Cut the leaves off at the top of the bulb. (You can use the leaves for stir fries, and other things.)  Then, boil vinegar, salt, sugar, and water, according to the recipe you are using.  Pour it into a jar with however many ramps you have ready, plus a full dried jalapeño for a little spice (optional). Put in refrigerator for a minimum of 3 days or longer to enjoy your wonderful pickled ramps.

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I thought they would have been spicier but they were pretty sweet. I would definitely recommend these to anyone who likes pickles or ramps.

White above the Green

IMG_0036 May snow
Snow above Smokey House

You don’t usually see green grass and budding leaves against a backdrop of snow, but that’s what we have at Smokey House this week.  As beautiful as it is, we’d prefer to be dealing with warmer temperatures!

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Wild leeks (aka ramps) headed to the kitchen

However, the chilly weather hasn’t stopped the signs of spring in the woods.  We dug up some ramps (aka wild leeks) and used one in an omelet yesterday after sautéing the greens and bulb in butter.  We plan to pickle the rest tomorrow.