Over the Rainbows at Niagara Falls

We’ve had a great week away.  It started off by doing a couple of university tours for our daughter.  The tradition of saying “we’re the best ever!” is still alive and well though the young gentleman at Cornell was funny and probably answered the most honest I’ve heard on any tour.  While our daughter went back home with her mother, my husband and I headed to Niagara Falls, Ontario for a long weekend.  A break was definitely needed!

The weather was just gorgeous though it was quite cold on the Sunday, particularly with the wind.  It was lovely to get out in fresh air and do a lot of walking.  We also went to Bird Kingdom which was fascinating.  The birds fly around free in the aviaries with trees, waterfalls, etc to keep them happy.  I liked it because if any human bugs them they can get away.  We went to a greenhouse floral show but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called.

I wanted to share with you some of the photos I took on our trip.

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Given the gorgeous weather the rainbows were out in force.  Just incredible.

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Here are some videos of the falls.  The power of the falls is so mesmerising.

This video is behind the falls in one of the two portals.

Bird Kingdom didn’t just have birds, there were reptiles and tortoises.  I have to say this guy could hustle faster than I thought they could.  Headed right for us.

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I just love birds and all the colours they come in.  It’s remarkable how varied and bright they can be.

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I was surprised how many there were pure white.  Against the backdrop they were beautiful.

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The greenhouse didn’t have as many flowers as I had hoped because they were redoing a significant portion of the greenhouses.

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We had a wonderful time recharging our batteries and spending time together.  I loved how friendly everyone was across the border.  It made for a great experience.

 

 

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Having Fun Deep in the Heart of Texas

My husband and I had a much needed getaway to Texas for the Texas RenFest this past week.  We’re exhausted after it all but it was good to have some fun and let our hair down.  It was also nice to catch up with friends.

Our friends have three horses and a pony and they are characters.  The funniest thing to discover was that there is a 1000lb horse who is an overgrown Murphy.  It’s one thing to see the antics in a 50lb dog but quite another to see it in a horse!

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You have to be careful because he’ll leap about with all four hoofs off the ground.  But he is really sweet and like Murphy he just wants to be loved.  Once he is comfortable with you he loves his face rubbed.  I was doing that and he slipped into neutral with just enough energy to try to nibble my ear.  Just like Murphy!

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These horses will do anything for a treat, especially carrots.  They see the orange sticks and it doesn’t take long for them to circle round.  At one point Major had carrot orange lips that matched his coat!

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There is all sorts of wildlife including this road runner.  Of course my husband quipped it was running from the Wiley Coyote.  Sad to say it took me a second to cotton on.  I must be slipping!

There are bits of Texas that show a kind of raw rough beauty.  I can’t lie, I prefer the rolling hills of the UK or the gorgeous colours of autumn in New England, the lush green, and the four seasons.  The crsipiness of the landscape I find harsh but it gives rise to spots of stark beauty.  This tree was about 200 years old when the drought killed it.

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Fortunately most survive and provide small canopies here and there, shelter from the harsh sun.

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One spot on their property I’ve never really noticed but should have is under the canopy of a very old and large live oak.  They set up a cosy area for relaxing and grilling.  It’s fabulous!  It’s like an adult fort to hide out in.  I want one.  🙂

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Of course we found time for good drink and food.  One restaurant we went to is called Sway in Ausin and it’s a modern Thai restaurant.  The food was out of this world amazing.  I had raw oysters for the first time and it had a spicy citrus cold “broth” with crispy shallots and micro greens.  I couldn’t get enough.  And their curries were very spicy but absolutely balanced in their flavour.  I will be trying to recreate some of the dishes.  I didn’t get any photos because I spaced but the lighting wasn’t good enough and they would have been washed out with the flash.

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As icing on the cake on a great trip we enjoyed this excellent French hard cider to finish our holiday.  I’ll have to see if we can get it here in NH at our liquor store.

We got back very late Tuesday night and it was back to reality yesterday but it was great to see the kids and now it’s back to the everyday routine.  Until our next adventure.  🙂

Over The Hills We Go…

The weather was up in the air today but it looked like we would avoid major rain so we decided to take the kids on a hike on the ridge from Swanage to Corfe. It’s a lovely walk once you get up the steep bit and you can see for miles. We did miss the path for the Nine Barrows from the Iron Age so the kids only saw bits as we walked by unfortunately.

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Dorset is such a gorgeous part of the world. You are hard pressed to find a bad walk. Purbeck is especially beautiful. You find all sorts of flowers on your journey.

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As soon as we get to the top the views are breathtaking as we overlook the bay.

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And we have to be mindful that we are walking through farmland and we encounter animals. This time we just saw some sheep but last time we had to make our way through a large herd of cows blocking a gate.

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It helps to be mindful of the tiniest of creatures, even the bane of English gardens everywhere. This one was pointing towards my mother in law’s but the rate it was going it would take at least a year!

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We had storms come through last night so it was still very gusty at the top. These trees are used to it though and present all sorts of bendy shapes.

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Despite the clouds coming in and some misting we were able to enjoy the walk keeping in mind there was cream tea at the end. The castle was the beacon getting closer and closer.

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After a several mile hike we rested at the base of Corfe Castle with the sparrows zipping in and out at high speed while enjoying the cream tea. Wish I could have gotten a picture of these birds but they were zooming about buzzing very close to us. I could feel the wings as they went by!

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When asked why we would move back to England I would point to this. Why wouldn’t we?

And then the rains came…

It was a case of be careful of what you wish for.  I wanted rain.  Just enough to fill the rain barrel.  We only have one.  Mother Nature thought we had a 100.

The spring started off wonderfully.  Some days was like an English summer.  We had some rainy days then some wonderful gorgeous spring days.  Then it got dry very quickly.  The plants were doing well but the soil got so dusty!  The wind blew and you got dirt in your eyes.  Ugh.  So I wished for rain.

And it came!  It seems we were on the thunderstorm path with showers and bucketing rain.  When it wasn’t raining it was unbelievably muggy and humid.  Ick.

The benefactor of all this?  Our garden.  It is doing amazing.  So are the weeds but that’s another story.  🙂

I love our peas.  Once they start growing it’s my favourite snack as I walk by.  We’re almost to the point where I can start harvesting and freeze the peas for our risotto.

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I am debating whether or not to plant broccoli next year.  We don’t eat it much but on the flip side the flowers are so pretty.  Tiny little yellow flowers just pop in the garden of a ton of green.

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I plant kale because you can get a ton out of a very small space.  My husband calls it rabbit food.  🙂  It’s become a little family joke “You’re feeding Daddy rabbit food!” LOL  But he’s a good sport and if I come up with dishes that incorporate it he’ll eat it.  And because so much grows I get to give a nutritious food to the community kitchen.  We plant about a 4 x 2 foot spot and the number of meals we get is huge.

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I’m looking forward to harvesting the leeks.  We usually get 5 foot long leeks and I hope that happens this year.  We do all organic gardening.  Miracle Grow and other chemicals have nothing on us!  I brought one to the community kitchen last year and they looked confused for a couple of minutes when I tried to hand them a 5 foot leek.  Wish I had a camera.  🙂  But it’s a great place right round the corner from our house.  They do such good work and I really hope there comes a time when what we grow might go to waste because no one is hungry.

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Zucchini.  Here’s the thing.  I am a supertaster.  About 25% of the population has some level of this.  What that means is we don’t like mushy food, overcooked veg, or some veg like zucchini, squash, or Brussels sprouts.  These types of veg taste extremely bitter to supertasters.  I keep reading about descriptions of Brussels sprouts being nutty and sweet.  They are one of the most bitter things I’ve ever tasted.  Most veg that I can’t handle cooked I enjoy raw so something in the cooking process really changes things.  Except zucchini.  I can not handle that raw!  But here’s the thing.  I also have to be a good sport.  Each year we ask the kids what they want planted and our daughter chose zucchini.  I don’t want to discourage them in anyway when it comes to gardening or healthy eating so we planted a bunch and I’ve been pinning recipes for when they are ready.  I’m wondering how much cheese is needed to cover the taste!

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I can’t wait for harvest time for the peppers.  We love to make hot pepper jelly.  It is so good on cheddar cheese.  I think we have about 6 varieties and 35 plants total in the raised bed.  We’ll freeze more when it’s time.  They work really well in sauces and chili.

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We went a bit crazy with the tomatoes.  We planted about 50 plants of 4 varieties.  I can not wait for harvest!  I love picking them fresh and eating them as I go by just like the peas.  And oh the sauce we’ll make!  Yum.  We do pick a few and make fried green tomatoes.  Such a treat.

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Last year we did one potato tower and this year we did four.  So far they are doing well and once the pile of dirt dries out a bit I need to add more to the towers.  You only want 1/3 of the greens sticking out so you add as you go.  Of course we’ll have to now figure out a root cellar system because I plan on having a lot of potatoes and I don’t want them going to waste.  But there is nothing like a fresh harvested potato.

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My son has a neat program as school where they give out cabbages to plant in third grade.  He is getting such a kick out of watching it grow.  Can’t wait to see how big it gets.  🙂

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Growing Alfalfa Sprouts

We came across alfalfa sprout seeds at our local gardening store and thought they would be fun to grow.  Thought this would be cool and plunked the seeds in soil and watched it go all wrong.  Turns out we should have read the directions.  You don’t plant them in soil but rather in a jar with water.  Even cooler!  🙂

It takes 5 or 6 days to get the harvest so it is pretty easy overall.

You will need some seed, water, a mason jar, butter muslin, and some bleach.  Store the seeds you don’t use in a sandwich baggie.

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To start it is important to sterilise the seed in a bleach solution of 1 tsp bleach in 1 cup of hot water.  The seed is gathered in fields with animals and you don’t want to risk e coli.  Soak for about 15 minutes.

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Pour into a strainer and rinse thoroughly.

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Rinse the jar and pour the seeds back into the jar.  Cut a small piece of butter muslin and place it over the opening of the jar and tighten the ring over it.  Fill with water and pour most of it out again and leave on the draining board upside down so the excess water can drip out.  Do this bit daily until it is ready to “harvest”.

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Using a large bowl tip out the sprouts and gently loosen the clump.

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Fill with water and let the seed shells float to the top and skim off.

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Drain until mostly dry then store in an airtight container in the fridge.  It is great on salads and sandwiches.

Planting Potatoes

We had heard over the years how wonderful fresh harvested potatoes were so last year we decided to give it a try.  We did pretty well up to the point tiny little bugs stripped the leaves.  Those little buggers eat really fast.  We did get a small harvest and they were delicious.  So this year we’ll be ready for the little twerps.

The potatoes being planted are Red Norland and German Butterball.  Because our plot isn’t big we needed a way to grow them without taking up a lot of space.  I found last year on Pinterest loads of information about potato towers and that seemed perfect for us.  And it worked very well.  They aren’t hard to grow but there is a bit of prep to do before planting them.

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The seed potatoes get shipped mid April to our area.  We get our stuff from High Mowing in Vermont.  They are great but I do recommend buying your seed from an organic source near your zone.  That way you know it is adapted for your growing conditions.  The potatoes need to be sliced so each chunk you have has some “eyes” on it.  This is where the potato plants grow from.

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The cut sides need to be treated with sulfur to prevent rot.  Now last year we were very careful to follow directions.  They had to dry completely before planting.  But then the next direction was to put them in the soil and water well.  What’s the point?  So this year I cut them all up and treated them.  I let them be in the sun while I put the towers together.

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As the potatoes grow more soil is added so you need enough height to accommodate the growth.  It is also good to have composted soil for this as the potatoes need lots of nutrients.  We had some old wire fencing so we use these for the forms of the towers.  Line the bottom with the compost and line the sides with straw.  Fill the tower with about 6 inches of soil, water well then place the potatoes in with the eyes pointing upwards.

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Cover with a couple inches of soil and water well.

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A friend gave us two small tower bags to try out so we used those and built a second tower.  We should get loads of potatoes without using a ton of space.  🙂

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Abbotsbury and their swans…

Awhile ago My Beautiful Things posted a picture of a swan which reminded me of our trip last year.  While they are beautiful creatures I have a bit of a mixed history with them.  My Grandparents lived in Fairford back in the 70’s and we were visiting one time when I was 3 or 4.  They had swans down by the river and I got a little too close.  At the time they were bigger than me so when one of them warned me off it was a bit scary!   I’m bigger now so it’s not a problem.  🙂

Last May my husband and I visited Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset.  A wonderful sanctuary for swans.  These are not owned by the queen!  Neither do they have their wings clipped.  They do wear leg rings so the swannery knows which swans belong and which don’t.  We were lucky to go about the time the eggs were hatching.  The little signets are adorable.  People need to be careful walking about as the swans can put their nests anywhere including the pathways.

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Apparently swans will mate for life.  Unless there is a divorce.  Interestingly enough they are similar to humans in this way.  abbotsbury 1 2013

They were just fluffy bundles of cuteness.  Sometimes the parents can’t care for them or there are too many to care for so Abbotsbury has adoption programs where they have other swans look after them.  Also, swans imprint on the parents voices and as it is a small area they can’t always imprint given the thousands of voices so that family may be isolated until the imprinting is complete.

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Thank goodness for a zoom lens and a nest near the pathway.  🙂

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There were still many eggs to hatch.  Both parents take turns keeping the eggs warm.

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Notice the interloper?  Yes, black swans are not native to the UK, they are Australian.  Once in a while one shows up and stays for bit.  Usually from somewhere local and they got loose.  If they don’t cause any issues they are ok, however, they get evicted if they are a problem child.

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This swan came out of nowhere to defend his lady’s honour.  There was a cad bothering her and her babes doing the “Hey, you come here often” bit that is so popular with the ladies.  The flying bugs in this area were horrible!  It was like bug season here stateside.  You don’t see screens on the windows in the UK as it usually isn’t a problem but here there were clouds of them!

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Swans are graceful looking when they are sitting or flying.  Walking, landing, or trying to take off is a whole other story!  They “crash” land more than anything else while just avoiding faceplanting in the water.  🙂

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Couple of times a day it is feeding time.  They know which side their bread is buttered on!  They love it and it was great to watch.

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This guy thought a few of us were close enough, thank you very much.  We were about 10 feet away but he gave us a lovely show.

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Another beautiful family.

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Every once in awhile we’d catch a glimpse of some pheasant.  I hope next year to take our kids to see this place.  It’s fascinating.

First seedlings of the year…

For me planning the garden makes the winter more bearable.  It’s snowing right now, not a big storm, but it’s not spring.  So a few weeks ago my husband and I figured out what we needed for seeds this year and got them on order.  It’s like Christmas in January when they come! 🙂

We learned quite a bit last year on what works and what doesn’t for seedlings so hopefully this year we will do really well.  I think we’ve sorted out which seeds need to start now and then to stagger the rest.  We planted our peppers, leeks, bunching onions, broccoli, and Brussels Sprouts.

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To start we brought out all our trays we had from last year.  Thank goodness they are reusable!  I fill the tray part way with organic seed starter and then water.  I use a spray bottle so there is an even spread of moisture.  You don’t want mud.

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I don’t want the drier soil to wick away moisture from the seeds.  Then furrows are “drawn” in the soil and the seeds are dropped in.  I try to match the spacing on the package as much as I can.  We’re limited for space in our setup so I want as much to come up as possible.

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Once the seeds are dropped in they get sprayed again.  Then the soil gets pressed down over them lightly.  Spray again!  Our house is quite dry in the winter time so it’s important that the seeds get the right environment.

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Pop the clear lid over the tray.  These are great for keeping the moisture and warmth in.

We set up a spot in the back room with grow lights and heating pads.  We learned the hard way last year that the heating pads should be on timers.  Our house runs 55-60F/13-18C and some seeds require soil temps of about 75F/24F.  So we bought heating pads that said they would raise the temps 10-20 degrees.  Perfect we thought.  Until the soil temp shot up to 110F/43C.  Great way to kill seeds!  So there was a false start there.

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It’s been a week and the broccoli and Brussels Sprouts are coming up!  We also have alfalfa sprouts coming up as well.  🙂

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Can’t wait for spring!!

First Frost of the Season

Where we live it can get brutally hot and bitter cold.  One year we had a range of -30 F (-34 C) to 110 F (43 C)!  It was a bit much.  So for the gardens we have to expect anything and everything.  Last week we had our first frost of the season and it got chilly, down to 24 F (-4 C).  Which meant we had to protect our tender veg that was still going strong.  And right now that is nearly half our garden.

It was time to tuck a few raised beds in.  When you do this you want to use breathable fabric so the plants get air but the frost doesn’t settle on the leaves and veg.  When the sun starts to hit the plants remove the sheets and blankets.

The plants we tucked in were peas, beans, peppers, and celery.  As it was quite windy we had to use clamps and lots of rocks.

The next morning was a very pretty morning.

We actually still had a few blossoms on our strawberries but the plants are still small so we weren’t overly concerned.

I love how the frost settles on the plants in different patterns.  🙂

I was thrilled to see the peas did well.

We were pushing it a bit with the peppers but most of the plants came through.

And I was equally surprised the celery did ok!  Which is good because we have a lot of it and don’t want it to go to waste.

Alas the growing season is coming to an end.  Soon the frosts will be too frequent and the warm days will be behind us.  It’s been a wonderful summer for the food.

Freezing Peppers

We planted a massive amount of pepper plants this year so we have quite the bumper crop.  I didn’t want the peppers to go to waste as the season winds down.  I did a bit of research this past month on the internet and found that you can just freeze them.  You can either freeze straight out of the garden or blanch them.  I choose the easy way.  🙂

I picked a bunch, washed them, and patted them dry.  I chopped them up into the size I wanted and put on a cookie sheet.

I just love all the colours!  I pop them in the freezer for at least 24 hours.

I then vacuum seal in the portion sizes I need.  This vacuum sealer has paid for itself many times over and it is relatively easy to use.  Needless to say our freezer is getting full!