Squirreling Away

Early yesterday morning while I was enjoying a cup of coffee on the back porch, I noticed some odd movement down in the canyon near the dry creek bed. Fetching my binoculars I observed a fox squirrel rolling around, flipping, jumping straight up, and then back to rolling in the red dirt. I wondered if fleas were irritating him, and he was taking a dust bath? Or could he just be having fun? After all, this time of year is coasting time for the squirrel population. But I also knew it would not be long before they would be busy harvesting pecans and acorns and burying them for winter eating. And they would collect and build a cache of dried berries and other edibles near their winter nests. We would also observe them eating a lot, to fatten up for the cold winter months.

Ronnie and Emma helped me pick blackberries this spring.
I worked at planting the garden while Emma and Ronnie did a little ruminating.
Emma waits patiently for me to pick her a few cherry tomatoes. Ronnie, however, is not very fond of them.

During the months of June and July, even I have been getting in touch with my inner squirrel. As the gardens worked at providing a bumper crop of produce, I kept busy foraging and gathering wild edibles from the woodlands, and then freezing vegetables from the gardens, and fruits and berries from the trees, vines, and shrubs. And again this year, I have spent hours preparing roasted tomato sauce for freezing. My dehydrator has kept a constant hum, drying herbs for cooking and baking, and drying hot peppers to create interesting spice blends. Racks of onions lie curing in the computer room. Baskets of acorn squash, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash take up space on the dining table. Sweet bell peppers in bright colors – yellow, red, orange and green – fill the crisper drawers of the refrigerator. And now that the intense heat of summer has arrived, my garden is looking very stressed. Most of the tomato plants have dried up. Only a few of the squash plants continue to produce, along with the bell peppers. All of the more tender plants have bolted, gone to seed, or simply withered away in the sun. And for the first year ever, more than half of my sweet potato crop has been attacked by some sort of vine-eating varmint. One by one, something is gnawing the vine off at the root, leaving vine and leaves left to wither in the sun. I wonder if I will have any sweet potatoes to dig in October.

I enjoyed foraging for wild onions in the pecan orchard this spring. Traveling all along the buggy path and throughout the orchard, the fragrance of wild onions hung in the air until mid-July.
What a delicacy these wild onions turned out to be. I cannot wait for next year’s crop!
My garden onions were small again this year, but they pack a lot of flavor. I prefer them to the organic onions I find at the store.

Every year is a gamble with a garden, and I never know what kind of turnout I will have. Still, I spend time planning the layout, purchasing the best seeds, and shopping for tried and true starter plants. I am like every other gardener (or farmer) out there – griping about the hail stones that pelted the crop, or torrential rains or wind that laid everything flat.  I surely lament about how little rain we received this year, and how dry everything is.  Crops flourish some years, while others are a complete flop. A friend of ours swears it is cheaper to just buy what you need at the store.  I have no doubt that could be true, but just being cost effective does not figure in to the equation for me. I  believe farming/gardening is a calling. It takes a lot of faith and trust that something good will come of it. Gardening is also a tradition I grew up with. I came from a big family and we raised a big garden every year to help make it through the winter months. And I suppose, now that we eat clean and healthy, gardening could be about nothing more than knowing where my food comes from and that I am creating something I know is nutritious. I also like knowing that I have total control of the preserving process. But to be truly honest with myself, I think the real reason I do this is because it is such an amazing process and it just feels good – a true joy of life!

I use a lot of dill, especially when making homemade mayonnaise or ranch dressing.
I create many whole and blended spices from hot peppers. Dill, oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon, and rosemary are some the herbs I enjoy drying. I have not found a store-bought brand to compare!

Maybe I will be a bit like that squirrel in the woodlands and take a few weeks to relax a little and enjoy these dog days of summer. I should be able to coast a little now too, with not having as much gardening to tend to, at least until we see what kind of harvest we will have in the pecan orchard this year. There are pecans on the trees, but we have yet to locate a company who will come here to harvest the pecans. Even if that does not happen, I have no doubt that wildlife in the area, including a huge population of squirrels, will enjoy squirreling away the nuts for winter! And there will be plenty for everyone… I am sure of it!

I raise mostly yellow- and orange-skinned tomatoes since the acid content is lower than that of the red varieties. But I raise a few reds too, as they really help make my roasted tomato sauce a nice bright color, while also creating a thick, rich texture.

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 

 


37 thoughts on “Squirreling Away

  1. I love the thought of you tuning into your inner squirrel Littlesundog! Today the grey clouds have parted here and I can see my first daffodil bloom for the year. It must like my north facing veranda and despite the severe frosts and nearby snow-capped mountain, there is a welcome hint of spring to come. Must go and capture the image for all my on-line friends! I must also get organised with my garden plans. The pea and ham soup made from local produce is in the slow cooker ready for tea tonight. Thanks for sharing and inspiring others.

    Like

    1. Thank you! I love when other readers share about what is going on in other parts of the world! It brings about realization of how much in common we have, yet we’re operating in different seasons! I am always excited at the first “hints” of spring. Your soup sounds lovely and very comforting! 🙂

      Like

      1. Another frosty start to the day and early morning fog. Outside my bedroom window this morning I was eye-balling a rather large kangaroo! I love having seasons because each one brings its own unique character and a sense of wonder. I love hearing about your part of the world too. I feel like I have penfriends again like I did as a child from all over the world including the USA. Home-made lamb casserole today! Might start with porridge for breakfast before hitting my studies!

        Like

  2. Oh man …. you know how much gardening is a calling for me! I love you trials and tribulations, and the beautiful photos of dried herbs and chilies, your tomatoes and dear deer “helpers!” Thank you!

    Like

    1. Yes, it was a good year, although those sweet potatoes are dwindling. I’ve done some online research and it seems it could be squirrels of all things!! Ha ha! Oh well, we’re good about sharing with wildlife.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed this post so much especially reading about the garden and all the wonderful vegetables that you grow. The spices and herbs look incredible. You are quite the gardener. It wonderful to have the space to grow just about everything that you want. Loved the photos of the deer and of the dried herbs and peppers. If I may ask, what varieties of yellow tomatoes do you plant each year? I’ve not tried any yellow ones before and would like to try a few to see if they’ll grow in my amended/composed cliché soil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Yvonne. I have only had good luck with Lemon Boys and Golden Girls for nice size and shape, and the plants seem to tolerate the extreme heat. We have a sandy soil, and clay in some areas and these two types of plant seem to do well in either soil. Often in the autumn I will get a second, smaller crop. I have tried a few other names in the yellows but they did not produce well at all. The Golden Girls are more of an orange color. Both kind are more juicy than red tomatoes. They take forever to cook down when I’m making a thick sauce which is why I like adding reds to the batch.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds and looks wonderful Lori. My Mom always used yellow tomatoes to make her ‘preserves’ (jam) and it was delicious. Those herbs look so good, and I have no doubt they surpass anything I can buy. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Ardys. Our eating lifestyle promotes less acid, so the yellow and orange tomatoes are perfect for us. They are not as meaty as a red, but I think they are more delicious… and such beautiful, bright colors! Drying herbs and peppers is a labor of love really, but the end product is worth it. I just can’t find any store-bought to compare.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think this might be the first time I’m commenting here, though I’ve been following for a while. It’s been a doozy of a year here in Missouri. The insects really have loved my garden. All of my brassicas have been skeletonized by some kind of caterpillar, I saw my first (and second) tobacco hornworm this year, and the Japanese beetles have made a mess of our trees. But we had a good first year, still.

    Do you plant hybrids, heirlooms, a combination? Also, what peppers do you like? I’m trying to expand beyond just the jalapenos that I’ve got this year. Your herb storage looks so pretty and neat!

    Like

    1. Lots of good questions! I used to have a lot of trouble with insects, and of course we always battle them to some extent. I do not use pesticides at all – I either use diatomacious earth (but it clumps in humidity so it is not very effective) or I plant marigolds or keep other “smelly” plants around to deter insects. Marigolds come back from seed every year so that really helps. Otherwise, like beetles or tomato worms, I do a lot of picking by hand, and feeding those to the chickens! My gardens are no huge so it is not too difficult to keep pests under control by hand.

      I do plant both hybrids and heirlooms, but I would say mostly heirlooms. I used to raise a lot of very hot peppers but we have gotten to where we can’t tolerate those like we used to. For seasoning I like the Golden Cayenne, Cayenne, Serrano, and Thai. I always put in Jalapenos too! They’re a mainstay around here!

      I only had a Japanese beetle problem one year. Those things are wicked with fruit. Have you found anything effective to combat those?

      Like

      1. Our local extension program has suggested hand picking if there aren’t too many, or putting up a perimeter of traps away from the plants you don’t want them to eat. Our neighbors put up traps and we have seen much fewer beetles since they did that.

        One if my friends suggested tearing up a marigold and adding it to a spray bottle and spraying down the tomato pants with it. I think next year I’ll just plant marigolds in the edges of the tomato bed. Good to know they come back from seed!

        Do you notice a difference between the hybrid and heirlooms for taste? We’ve got about 3 acres with the house we purchased in February, so this is the first year I’ve tried to garden with the intent to put away for winter. We’ll be a family of four come November!

        Thanks for the pepper recommendations! I’ll have to get some to try for next year’s garden.

        Like

    1. You are not the first to have this problem. I talked with a WordPress expert last week. We looked at my settings and everything looks fine. I have heard other’s mention quirks with WordPress… aggravating, isn’t it?

      Like

      1. Probably you more than me. Unlike you, I don’t have a garden (only tomatoes and a few herbs in pots) due to no space. And I never did learn to can on my own. I certainly did that work when I was growing up. I admire how you have stayed true to your roots.

        Like

  6. I learn a lot about nature from your writings, Lori. For example, I used to doubt that squirrels actually buried nuts for digging up later, even though I had heard they did that. All I see of squirrels is their efforts to shake out seed from the bird feeder and the hide-and-seek games they play on my cat. Same with wild onions–they’ve just been a nuisance in my yard. So I really like the larger view you provide, along with the interesting photographs. Buthe big “takeaway” for me today was this part: ” . . . I do this is because it is such an amazing process and it just feels good – a true joy of life!” Sometimes I fear the loss of amazement, not to mention joy. Particularly in the everyday down-to-earth parts of life. So good to be reminded of the goodness close to home.

    Like

    1. Albert, I learn much from you too, and your perspective tells me that you do not just read a piece, but that you consider and ponder the content deeply. You know, before we moved here, I am not sure I saw “the larger view” either. There is much of the experience of life that we will not absorb until we are ready. As a young girl I disliked working in the garden, and for that reason my mom allowed me to work in the house more than outdoors. Now I am thankful for that outdoor exposure – even though I did not spend as much time as my siblings at gardening, I still learned the basics. It was trial and error from then on, but it’s interesting to see that now I find it to be a joy.

      And it is the same observing nature. There was a time I did not see the intricate workings of nature. It was not until I raised Daisy deer, that I became interested in her world, and I noticed the things she noticed. While she ruminated and rested quietly, I sat beside her and watched squirrels bury their nuts. And in winter – out there with Daisy, I observed the squirrels digging those nuts up!

      Thank you for your kind comments, Albert. They are much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Absolutely LOVED the post. The picture of the spice in the bottles is amazing. Brought back so many childhood memories when my mother used to dry or freeze anything that was in season so we could have those throughout the year! Being so resourceful is rare these days. Hats off to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mandeep. It isn’t common to see people raise gardens and preserve foods anymore. We have become a people of convenience and fast foods. I enjoy gardening (except maybe weeding the garden – but our chickens LOVE getting the weeds) and find it very satisfying and therapeutic!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Lori, I enjoyed reading this post about your productive garden and the abundance of herbs and vegetables it provides. My ‘productive garden’ in winter is a group of pots sitting under my verandah where they catch the northerly sun and warmth. I am growing ruby chard which has done well in previous years, a variety of lettuce which hasn’t done well and is now going to seed, baby beetroots which have had to contend with my cats lying on them and I am growing a purple broccoli for the first time. There is a small selection of herbs in the garden and in summer, tomatoes in pots in the backyard. Castlemaine has a strong culture of fruit and vegetable growing and I got infected despite my tiny garden.

    Like

    1. I hope someday I am down to a “tiny” garden. These bigger plots are a lot of work, but for now I can manage them. It sounds like you enjoy trying new plants from year to year? I do that too – and it’s fun to experiment. Most of the time I find the cool weather plants just don’t have enough of a season here before the heat torches everything and it bolts. This year was an exceptional year for all of my vegetables. That helped counter the “nibblers” that cam along to help themselves to the goodies (Emma and the birds). We share here of course!
      I must look at the temperature ranges in Castlemaine. It almost sounds like you have a very short season for growing plants.

      Like

  9. It tickled me to see your wild onions. They were thick here this year, and while I didn’t harvest any, I might next year after seeing your photos. I’m sure you know that squirrels put away more than nuts for winter, too. They actually will dry fungi and stack them in little “pantries” that they set up away from their nesting spots. Without too much trouble, I can imagine a squirrel in a little apron doing exactly what my grandmother did: putting up goodies for the winter to come.

    It’s strange how life in hurricane land has shifted my priorities and habits. While I feel the impulse to freeze and dry, I’m always aware of what would happen in the case of an evacuation. The thought of having to leave a freezer full of blueberries and peaches and such is just more than I can deal with. So, to cope, I’ve gone more and more to local, seasonal eating — while crossing my fingers that all goes well through another season!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda, I didn’t know about squirrels putting away fungi. I knew they had “pantries” not far from their nests but have only observed them running off with dried berries and shriveled odds and ends from the garden. I have only seen acorns and nuts stashed in tree crevices and knot holes. The oddest thing I saw was when our squirrels were little, we fed them hunks of corn on the cob. They often buried the half-eaten section and a month or two later dug it back up and ate the very black leftovers! They seemed to eat the whole cob! I can’t imagine that being very good, but I suppose there was something to it that provided nutrition. We also have various skulls that we find while hiking to the river, and squirrels nibble on those all winter long for nutrient and filing teeth. I am sure if I had plenty of time to observe mammals, I would discover all sorts of edibles!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh for space and better soil for a real garden…I know, you can container garden, but it’s not the same….dad’s gardens were always 2-3 times bigger than out living room. Mom used to sweat all summer canning veggies
    Like Shoreacres we don’t want to have to worry about losing a freezer load of food, but we have been wondering about those drying gadgets
    Be the squirrel! Rest up for those first cool days- and refreshed energy

    Like

    1. Ha ha! Oh how I remember my mom’s big garden – it was HUGE! Of course we were a family of seven so there were a lot of mouths to feed, and we still went out to western Nebraska to get 500 pounds of potatoes to get us through the winter. Mom did some canning but not a lot.
      If you are going to get a dryer, go for the Excaliber. It’s pricey but does a most excellent job and is easy to clean. I use mine all year long.
      Squirrels are hilarious and so entertaining. I really need to get in touch with my inner squirrel more! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s