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2014 Lambs for Sale

Meduseld had lovely lambs again this spring and we are making some of them available for those who would like to purchase diverse breeds with good fleeces.

Blue-eyed Friesian Cross

Blue-eyed Friesian Cross

Breeds represented include Romney and Romney crosses, Dorset Down Crosses, Friesian crosses, and Jacobs.  The Romney are known for their luxurious shiny wool.  The Dorset Downs are not to be confused with Dorset meat sheep.  The Dorset Downs produce an exceptionally soft wool.  The Friesian are dairy sheep with soft, shorter fleeces and they have contributed to the soft yarn made here.  Finally, the Jacobs and Jacob crosses show the characteristic spots as well as resistance to parasites.

Romney

Romney

Some of these are extremely tame bottle fed babies, and others have been raised here by their mothers.   White, black and spotted sheep are available.  All have been wormed.  Prices range from $100 to $350.

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Please call (304) 496-9502 to set up an appointment to see our lambs!

 

 

 

 

Early Signs of Spring

Spring is still dawdling although there are encouraging signs.  A hint of green is showing itself in the lawn and pastures, and buds are forming on fruit trees. 

Buds forming on apple tree

Buds forming on apple tree

Last night we enjoyed the delightful sound of tree frogs around the pond.  Get close to that pond at your own peril, though!  The geese have made their nests and do not welcome intruders!

Inside the conservatory Spring is well advanced.  Small vegetables are already forming.  We have selected parthenocarpic (self-pollinating) varieties so that we do not need a pollinator.

Zephyr Zucchini

Zephyr Zucchini

Some vegetables, such as beans, do not need a pollinator either.  Here are some pole beans in a hanging basket, ready to be harvested.

Assorted pole beans

Assorted pole beans

The Jabuticaba berries have grown so quickly you can see the change overnight.   These were not pollinated either, showing me that they will do well in the greenhouse environment, and I won’t have to pollinate these by hand with a small paint brush.

Jabuticaba berries

Jabuticaba berries

My gardenia bush normally blooms right around Easter.  Since Easter is late this year, these beauties are already in full bloom before the holiday, filling the conservatory with its sweet fragrance.

Gardenia

Gardenia

And, our experiment with growing potatoes indoors in stacking boxes is going rather well.  Here, we are already on the third layer, and the plants are still reaching up.  Since they have not set blossoms yet, I hope they are still putting out additional tuber shoots.

Potatoes in stackable boxes

Potatoes in stackable boxes

There are only two more days to use Meduseld’s exclusive discount at Sustainable Seed Company.  Remember to use Meduseld14 at checkout to get ten percent off your order!

 

 

 

 

 

Meals at Meduseld – Easy Mayonnaise

Thick, creamy mayonnaise

Thick, creamy mayonnaise

Making mayonnaise from scratch can be daunting.  The oil has to be incorporated very gradually into the eggs or it will separate.  I’ve avoided making it in the past because of the mess it would make with my blender.  Oil and eggs would spray all over the kitchen as I poured oil into the running blender.  What a mess!  It seemed to take more time to clean than to make the mayonnaise!

Recently, I decided I had to commit to making mayonnaise from scratch again.  The list of ingredients on the store brands, not to mention the exorbitant price, was enough to convince me to find a better way to make this delicious treat.  And did I ever find one!    A hand blender!

I have  an inexpensive Hamilton Beach hand blender (in Meduseld’s Amazon store) that I use for making Smokey Pumpkin Soup (recipe for that soon).  Using this nifty tool, you can make your mayonnaise in a wide mouth quart jar that can go straight in the refrigerator.  The only thing to clean is the hand blender attachment. 

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First, the list of ingredients for a very basic, thick and creamy mayonnaise.  Then I’ll provide some variations.

In the bottom of the jar, place:

4 egg yolks (try to get local free-range eggs for freshness)

scant teaspoon salt

Blend these together briefly.

With the blender running, very slowly pour a trickle of one cup oil into the jar.  Oil options are: olive, sunflower, grape seed, and blends of these and other oils.  I do not recommend using soy since it can increase estrogen levels (http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/whole-soy-story).   This is very serious for men!

As you pour in the oil, you will notice that the mix will start to get thicker.  When you have added all the oil, you should have a thick mayonnaise.  Now, add two tablespoons apple cider vinegar and blend.  Voila!  It’s that easy!

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That is a very basic version, not unlike the brand Dukes.  It you want to add some flavor, you can mix one teaspoon mustard in with the eggs.  You can add seasonings such as herbs and garlic.  Or you can substitute half a freshly squeezed lemon for the vinegar.

Sustainable Seed Company – Discount Code

 UPDATE:  Sustainable Seed Co may be offering a new code!  Check for a new Blog Post February 2015!!!!!!!

Recently I wrote an article comparing seeds purchased from two different seed companies.  What proceeded was an interesting conversation with “Farmer John” of Sustainable Seed Company about seed dates, quality, and their commitment to their customers.  Not only did they offer to do everything in their power to make sure that I am content with their product and service, they want YOU to be happy too.

They are offering a ten-percent off code just for Meduseld blog readers!  Go the their website at sustainableseedco.com and use this code at checkout - Meduseld14 – no quotes and no spaces.  This code is good for readers of Meduseld’s blog only, and expires April 6, 2014.  Thanks much Farmer John for extending this offer!

While you are at their website, read up about their heirloom seed varieties and about their committment to sustainable agriculture.

Click here to go directly to their seed potato page!

And while we are discussing seeds, here is our own garden, which I have raked and trimmed, all prepared for planting.  First in will be onion sets, fava beans, and spinach.

Permaculture garden with key-hole beds ready for 2014 planting

Permaculture garden with key-hole beds ready for 2014 planting

 

Irony at Mount Vernon

Irony: a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected.   Merriam-Webster Dictionary

As part of a recent trip to Alexandria, Virginia, my son Gavin and I made a quick stop at Mount Vernon, home of President George Washington on the Potomac River.  I have been to see it several times since arriving in the DC area in 1987, and it has changed substantially since the last time I was there by adding an enormous visitors center and underground museum.  These new buildings and exhibits expanded on the view that I had held of George Washington, a view shaped by history books in public schools.

Elaborate Boxwood Garden at Mount Vernon

Elaborate Boxwood Garden at Mount Vernon

Gavin and I waited in line with hundreds of other freezing people to see a glimpse of the house.   We noticed a sign that explained the siding of the house.  While it has the appearance of a stone facade, it is actually wooden siding that had fine sand sprayed on the paint while it was still wet, giving the illusion of masonry.  Our own home has HardiPlank siding, a concrete siding that is imprinted to look like wood.  And I laughed and thought it was ironic; George creating the illusion of  making wood look like stone,  and all the modern homes with vinyl and concrete siding to look like wood. 

It was nothing compared to the next observation.

The tourist line wound through the opulent two storyed dining room with its ornate ceiling and carved marble mantle, back out onto the veranda overlooking the Potomac River, and back into the main hallway.  The main hallway has another of George’s illusions.  Not content with the inexpensive look of pine and oak that were available, the walls had been faux finished to look like mahogany.  I scanned the room and heard the docent describing a key hanging in a prominent position in the hall – the actual key to the Bastille in France

The Bastille is a symbol of the French Revolution.  In July 14, 1789, revolutionary protestors stormed the Bastille, freeing prisoners and killing the governor.  People protested the alleged mistreatment of the peasant class by the aristocracy, and thus ensued a horrid period in history, where people were beheaded solely for who they were.  The revolutionaries promised a better life and living conditions for the common man.

And suddenly I saw George Washington in a completely new light.  Here was a man who supported the French Revolution, to the point of holding the Bastille Key as one of his most prized possessions.  As in this country’s revolution, he supported the rights of common man over the so-called abuses of the crown and aristocracy.  He joined in those condemning the excesses of the aristocracy, their opulence and comforts.

EXCEPT AT HOME.

This advocate of the common man had 123 slaves at his death.  Their treatment was terrible and their living conditions worse.  A newspaper advertisement from his time showed that four of his slaves had escaped their abysmal conditions and he was advertising for their return.   Here is a picture of the men’s slave quarters at Mount Vernon.

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The irony struck – hard.  This revered man condemned aristocracy for their treatment of PAID workers who were FREE and could own their own PRIVATE property, while perpetuating a system where he OWNED people, never giving them a day’s wages, providing the barest necessities while he lived in opulence, and only freeing them in his Last Will and Testament.  How convenient.

From the moment of that revelation, the rest of the tour was not enjoyable.  From my new perspective, the luxurious objects from France throughout the home and museum just reminded me of that hypocrisy, and the irony that this nation holds him up in high esteem while condemning a class that treated its subjects better.  King George the Third is hated and reviled, although he had no slaves and all who worked for him were compensated, while history books in this country hold up as a hero a man who rejected that system and treated people even worse.

The museum was filled with priceless treasures, Mrs. Washington’s jewelry, furniture and objects de’ art dating to the French Revolution and before.  Quite frankly, George lived like a King.  And I could not look at these treasures without thinking that many of these  stolen objects were looted from the homes of  innocent people.  People decapitated without trials, held in the temple prison  without charges, phony witness and false accusations being the norm.  And I thought of the slaves under “King” George Washington, required to live among these exquisite stolen items, wishing for their own freedom. 

Isn’t it ironic…

 

Growing Potatoes in Stackable Boxes

Potatoes are one of the easiest and most versatile vegetables to grow.  Even apartment dwellers can grow them if you have a balcony with several hours of sunlight.  They can also be grown in greenhouses, high tunnels, or even an enclosed porch, allowing you to harvest delicious potatoes year-around.

We used to only grow these in our garden, but have discovered how little space several plants can take if you use a stackable system.  Several options include using old tires, trash bins with drilled holes for drainage, or wooden stackable boxes. 

We prefer not to use tires due to the chemicals and petroleum product residues that can leach into food – and the same goes with plastic tubs and containers.  I saw a picture recently of someone planting lettuce directly in a plastic Miracle Grow soil bag, and it seems to defeat the point of growing something yourself.

You can buy stackable boxes and raised beds from garden centers, but these can be exorbitantly priced.  We have solved this with inexpensive and durable rough sawn oak boards.  You can make these boxes with any untreated wood from the hardware store.  Please don’t make the boxes out of pressure treated boards, that will also leach chemicals into your soil.

Take the boards and cut them into equal lengths – approximately 2 feet long makes a good-sized box.  If you have a dirt floor to grow this on, you won’t need a bottom, otherwise, cut a piece of plywood to fit your dimensions.  Make extra bottomless boxes in the same dimensions.  These will be your sides as your plants grow. 

We mix a soil mixture of approximately one-third top soil, one-third compost, and one-third seed starter mix with lots of peat.   Potatoes don’t like to grow in hard soil, so the peat mix makes the soil considerably more lofty.

Take seed potatoes, or even store potatoes that are beginning to sprout.  Don’t use potatoes from the store that are not sprouting since they may have been sprayed with a substance that will prevent them from sprouting.  These will never grow.  You can order seed potatoes.  Buying organic ones is also a good option.  Buy late season potatoes since they will continue to send out new potato shoots throughout the growing season!

Plant the potatoes in the lowest layer and cover with soil.  Before long, you should see potato plants pushing through the dirt.  Keep them evenly watered but not soggy.  As they grow.  Add anther wooden “box” and start building the soil around the base of the plants always leaving a portion of the plants exposed for photosynthesis.

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These potato plants have pushed up through their second layer and are now ready for a third box.  As they grow, they will put out extra roots that will form potatoes, filling the box as it grows taller.

You can start harvesting the potatoes when the plants have bloomed.  This is the baby potato stage.  If you want larger potatoes, wait another month or two.

Starlings

The other day I was on the phone with my friend Esther and observed that the starlings were starting to check out our house for crevices in order to start their new nests.  The conversation turned toward the way that people see them, mostly as a nuisance for farmers.   Even the Audubon Society’s website does not mention anything interesting or spectacular about the birds.  Esther  was surprised when I shared some stories of starlings I have raised.

First some background.  The name is actually European Starling or Sturnus Vulgaris (hardly complimentary).  One hundred of them were released around the turn of the last century in Boston, MA by an individual who wanted to introduce to North America all the birds that had been mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays – at least that was one of the versions I have read.  And the story would be consistent – since Shakespeare does mention the starling in Henry IV.

The Washington Post carried an article in which they show the efforts to annihilate this bird from this continent.  The article discusses shooting, poisoning, and trapping these amazing talking birds.  Yes, I said TALKING.

I have raised several of these delightful, intelligent companions.  They are a member of the Mynah Bird family and capable of imitating speech.  Even in the wild, if you listen to one in the morning, you can hear them imitate the calls of assorted birds.  Well, they can imitate the human voice even better than parrots.  I have raised a macaw, a Senegal, an african grey, and none could come close in speech to the starling.

The first was a rehabilitation project given me by “Joan” who was a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Overwhelmed with animals to care for, she apprenticed me for several.  I brought home “Francis” who had suffered enough that he promptly lost all the feathers on his head.  With care they grew back.  What we did not expect though, was his intelligence and conversation skills.  Francis quickly learned his name, calling “Francis, Francesco” through the house.  He learned all our habits, and could anticipate where we would go in the house and would fly there before we got there.  He even learned to land on a water faucet – any of them in the house – as a signal to us that he wanted water.  I would cup some water in my hand and he would drink straight from it. 

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Years later I got another starling baby,and this one I named Terpsichore after the muse for song and dance.  It suited her personality perfectly.  She was joyful and sang constantly.  Her favorite words were “Terpsichore, Terpsichore, I love you Terpsichore,” said in exactly my voice, which unnerved visitors who did not know about her.  It was strange for them to look at me in one room and hear my voice coming from another.  One morning I was drinking coffee outside  and something startled her, and she flew away.  She never came back, but I felt in my heart that she was alright, and most likely causing a sensation in someone else’s yard.

I once raised a batch of three babies together and since they were raised with other birds they did not acquire the speech.  But they were endearing and closely bonded.  Once they fledged they were free to fly about outside.  They would greet me when I came home from work by flying out of the trees and landing on my head. 

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It turned out I was not the only person with the talking starlings.  I learned about another through a book called Arnie the Darling Starling by Margaret Sigl Corbo.  It was a beautiful story about her saving, and becoming attached to this little darling bird.  I was privileged to have a brief correspondence about our birds with Margaret.  Here is a link to her Amazon Biography page and I strongly recommend the book. 

Starlings are not protected, so you can raise them.  And you may even be doing a farmer a favor by having less out there eating their crops (and save it from poisoning…).  But the biggest winner is the person who gets to share the companionship of one of these incredible birds.

 

 

Jabuticaba

Exciting news in the conservatory!  First jabuticaba blossoms starting to push out!  These are the small greenish white “nubs” you can see on the branches below.

 

Jabuticaba

Jabuticaba

Jabuticaba is an unusual tree in that it bears its dark purple grape sized fruits on its trunk and stems.  The tree is native to Brazil and attempts to naturalize it in warmer regions of this country have failed.  It is excellent fresh, and can also be used for wine and jams.  There are even claims of cancer fighting properties in the fruits.  The tree has a graceful shape that can that be trained as bonsai, and the leaves are similar to the olive leaves.

Elsewhere in the conservatory, the orange tree has a few lingering blossoms, but look at what’s next; Gardenia!

Gardenia buds forming

Gardenia buds forming

And while the hibiscus does not have a fragrance like the oranges and the gardenia, it is stunning none-the-less. 

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Frugal Tip – Plant Tags

When starting seeds trays, it is very important to label the seeds.  This is especially true with plants like cucumbers that have different picking requirements – some need to be picked small or they turn bitter, others can be left to grow long.  A “Paris Pickling” needs to be picked at gherkin size, and a “Bella” at ten inches.  How can you tell this looking at a vine?  Sometimes you can’t.  This is just an example.

Identify your seedlings

Identify your seedlings

You can solve this frugally by reusing your sour cream and cottage cheese containers.  We are very fond of Daisy sour cream and cottage cheese because they use no fillers or stabilizers or anything that you can’t pronounce.   With a large family, we eat a considerable amount of these weekly.  While many of the tubs are used over and over for leftovers and my husband’s lunches, we still end up with stacks of them that I am reluctant to throw away.

So I have found another use for them.  Using sharp scissors, I cut the base off about 1/2 inch up from the base.  This forms a little “dish” that you can use as a tray under small pots.  With the remaining sides, I cut strips just wide enough to write on with a permanent marker.  If you have seen the cost of plant markers in nurseries and gardening catalogs, you will see that your savings can be substantial.  When I am done using them, I put them all in a pot and often reuse them.

Frugal Plant Labels

Frugal Plant Labels

 

Happy Gardening!

Daisy Plants Labels

Daisy Plants Labels

Dear Winchester

Dear Winchester:

You are ruining my view.  Not in the way you’d expect.  I actually can’t see you from where our farm sits, but you affect my view day and night, none-the-less.

You see, it’s your lights.  Years ago when we bought this farm, we choose it for its remote location.  We didn’t want city lights obstructing our view of the stars and the Milky Way at night.  Our view was stunning.  In your artificial light filled nights, you can’t imagine the display of the heavens you are missing, the frequent meteor showers, the mysterious glow of the galaxy.

And then Walmart put in a new store on Route 50 near the Hospital.  This Walmart is open 24 hours a day and they light up that sprawling concrete parking lot all night long.  Since, other business have been built along that area.  Now, to look east at night is reminiscent of seeing the lights coming from Mount Doom in Mordor  in the Lord of the Rings.

During the day, we have a daily reminder of Winchester’s electrical consumption.  Our formerly pristine view is now scarred by enormous power lines that cross the mountain, in response to the increase demands of Winchester and the DC metropolitan area.  You have no idea how many acres of woods and farms were stripped to make way for these lines.  It just hardly seems to be “environmental.”

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There are lots of options for those who wish to conserve energy, and the view for that matter.  Lights for security at night can be switched to motion detector lights that do not have to be constantly on.  Human beings used to live more closely tied to the cycles of daylight, and now many stay up late and start their days even later.  Perhaps living more closely to Benjamin Franklin’s advice:  “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” would apply here, with the added advantage that it might save thousands of miles of electric poles and preserve the views of the stars and night sky.

Dear Winchester, could you please turn off your lights?