Enough of winter!

I’m done with winter.  Like ending a bad relationship, I’m ready to pack my bags, take my lessons learned and move on.  I’m starting a rebound relationship with Spring and hopefully Summer will be kind and take me back again in a few months.  I can’t even explain the sheer joy I felt when i was at my favorite garden store last weekend and realized they had started selling spring veggies.  I have to give the hubs credit for managing not to laugh at me or roll his eyes when i packed up a cart full of plants, loaded them into the backseat of his car and yelled, “Jeeves, to the greenhouse!”

"Jeeves, to the greenhouse!"

And since last year was all about getting fruit trees all around the yard, this year, I’m focusing more on the food garden.  I’m thinking after all these years Square Foot Gardening hasn’t turned out to be a fad so now seems like a good time to try it.  I’ve been doing the traditional row planting every year up until now and figure it may be time to try the super intensive gardening style that has plants growing together in squares instead of rows.  I even got an app that helps you plan the whole thing out and was truly shocked that I actually need more plants than I ever needed before for just one 19′ x 3′ area.  Unlike my usual MO, I will not be doing the entire yard all at once this year.  I have actually “hired” the Hubs to use his skills as a Project Manager to manage my garden project this year.  Section by section seems to be the way to go. I suspect there is some secret joy there for the Hubs to have license to tell me to focus on one thing at a time (something a multi-tasker like me has no use for), but since I know it’s the smart way to go, I’ll give it a try this year.

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This spring is starting off the same way last spring did.  With me loading my 5 gallon buckets into the back of my SUV with my shovel.  It must have been fate that had me end up in a township that collects everyone’s leaves in the fall, composts them and piles it up in the Spring for free.  If not I think the added cost of dirt and amendments would have caused my husband to veto the amount of yard space I claimed for the garden.  (And the fact that it gets bigger every year). But sometimes a girl just gets lucky.  I did a few runs yesterday back and forth from the garden to the compost pile to get those shoveling muscles going again this year.  I was clearly a little too happy about shoveling compost.  I may or may not have said, “YES!” with a Tiger Woods style fist pump when I saw the compost pile was freshly filled. My poor car on the other hand is probably not thrilled at the prospect of being covered in compost again.  Thankfully it’s completely finished compost which doesn’t smell like anything and looks gorgeous and dark like that super expensive mulch I bought for a few years.  Live and learn…

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And onto my next oddball adventure for this year.  I’m going to give bokashi composting a try.  My dear husband likes to say that if it were up to me we would only have a recycling bill and not a garbage bill since I seem to think  you can recycle or compost anything.  Well, we’re getting closer to my ideal now that i found you can dump meat, dairy, and bread into the bokashi without any off smells. So I ordered by bucket and powder and we’ll see how it goes. They claim two weeks with the bucket then I can feed it to my worm composter. We’ll see how this works out. But as long as winter is done I’m happy!!

Summertime… Yeah it’s Summertime… Having some Pesto

I’ve been busy beyond my normal level of busy in the past few months, so I’ve been a bit neglectful.  I apologize, but here me out: Hubs had a crazy grad school schedule despite graduating in May (lol) then he started a new job then a new new job. I became Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certified and sifted through massive convoluted Access Database code to rehab a poor database. We got rid of our pool which had reached the put up or shut up moment in its life. I redesigned all our garden beds and have officially decided to convert the garden to a fully edible landscape.  Forgiven? (I’m going to assume someone said yes…)

So, as I sat at work this afternoon dreaming of dinner I kept thinking about the basil plants that were getting too big and would be in danger of bolting soon.  Oh and what was I going to do with all that tarragon?  Well, I wanted a caprese salad with tomatoes, mozzarella & basil, but I had too much basil for a delicate preparation. I figured a semi-warm summer afternoon would be the perfect time to make the season’s first batch of garden fresh Pesto. So, pesto with a tomato mozzarella salad was the final decision

Tomato-Mozzarella Salad w/ Pesto Shells

Basil-Tarragon Pesto Shells w/ Tomato-Mozzarella Salad w/ Garlic Spread on Toasted Bread

Tomato-Mozzarella Salad

1 cup mozzarella balls, bite size, sliced in half
1-1/2 pints grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 cloves garlic
1 pinch salt
2 tbsp white wine vinegar

About an hour before you are going to eat…. In a glass bowl with a cover (or you can just cover with plastic wrap) place mozzarella balls & tomatoes. Grate garlic cloves on a fine grater or use a garlic press. Add the garlic to the tomato mixture with a pinch of salt.  Cover & set aside. Every 10 minutes or so, shake the bowl so the juices get distributed evenly. Right before serving add white wine vinegar and shake again.

Basil-Tarragon Pesto

1 lb. pasta
3/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 cups Basil leaves (not packed)
2 cups tarragon leaves (not packed)
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lemon. small, juiced

Put the pine nuts in the pot that you plan to cook your pasta (…unless you have a free dishwasher on staff). Turn the heat to medium-low. You are going to toast the pine nuts in the pot so keep sniffing the air until you start to smell the toasted popcorn-like smell and the pine nuts are just starting to brown.  I wish I could tell you how long it takes, but I keep my pine nuts in the freezer so times vary for me.

NOTE: Pine nuts have low self-esteem. If you look away they will burn. Keep an eye on them and move them around the pan with a wooden spoon every few minutes or so until they are ready.

Take the pine nuts out of the pan and set aside.  Add the water to the pot to boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.

NOTE: You can use any pasta you want for this, but I figured shells would be easier for The Kid to pick up with the halved tomatoes.

Add the garlic to your food processor while it’s running. When all the garlic is chopped (and pressed against the side of the food processor), add the pine nuts. Stop the food processor and add  the Parmesan cheese, the basil & tarragon leaves and a pinch of salt. Process until it starts forming what looks like a ball rolling around the processor. Start pouring in the olive oil slowly. Watch carefully. You only want to add enough oil to stop the “ball” from rolling around the food processor. (You are going to use pasta water later to thin it down to the exact consistency you want. So, don’t add all the oil if you don’t need it).  Squeeze in the juice of a lemon, process, then begin the test & adjust.  Taste for more lemon juice, salt, etc.  Adjust as needed.

Add the pesto to the dish you plan to serve the pasta in. When the pasta is cooked, reserve about a cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the pesto and stir them together. (I think it’s easier to add the pasta to the pesto with a slotted spoon or spider than to drain the whole thing in a colander first.)  After you mix the pasta & pesto, add some of the pasta water if you want thinner pesto.  Adjust to your taste.

Serve immediately topped with the tomato-mozzarella salad and toasted bread topped with some warmed Roasted Garlic Mayo

 

Strawberries — Grow Your Own (Part 2)

Continued from Strawberries — Grow Your Own (Part 1)

 

Where were we?  Oh right… we covered June-bearing vs. Ever-bearing and Size.  Now for the last major question:

Strawberry Pot with Mignonette Strawberries & Cuban Oregano

Container or garden. Strawberry pots are iconic. They don’t make it easy to water the strawberries, but they look cool and they make harvesting the strawberries really easy. Of course you don’t have to use a strawberry pot. You can use any pot you want. If you use pots you will need to take the containers indoors during the winter. Planting the strawberries in the ground lets you regrow the strawberries each year.  If you are growing in the ground then you’ll want to get the bare root plants.  It’s less expensive that way, but you have to make sure that you plant it so the line where the roots meet the bottom of the plant is directly in line with the soil.   Some growers recommend snipping off all the strawberry flowers for the first year so the roots grow stronger.  I usually put the plants in the pots and the bare roots in the ground so I know which is which the first year.  Most of the plants you buy are second year plants so I eat those and snip off all the flowers on the ones I put in the ground.  At the end of the season, you will need to either plant the ones you had in pots in the ground to overwinter or take them inside.  They most likely won’t survive a winter in the pots.

Alpine Strawberry Plant in Hanging Container

So, despite all the info, the best thing to do is a little of everything. You should get both June-bearing and Ever-bearing so you have a constant supply and a big bounty in the summer. You should get both big and teeny so you can eat fresh & dip in chocolate and also make preserves & sauces. And lastly you should put some strawberries in the ground and pots.  I get my strawberries online from either Burpee or Gurneys.  Burpee has a great variety of teeny strawberry plants (the white and yellow ones are shockingly good).  And Gurneys has one called the “Whopper” that should make amazing strawberry shortcakes.  I’m trying it out this year and will let you know how they do and taste.  And most important: try a few different varieties.  They don’t all taste the same so feel free to just toss plants you don’t like and try a new variety.

Early warning: Squirrels and birds love strawberries so you may need to protect your strawberries with a net so you don’t lose your harvest. Of course, they are a good scape goat when you get in the house with no strawberries and everyone wants to know why there isn’t enough for them…

Strawberries — Grow Your Own Organic (Part 1)

I (like most people who aren’t allergic) love strawberries. I used to buy huge 2lb containers of them every week.  So, when I read a while back about how many chemicals are used to grow them commercially, it really hurt me to stop. I switched to organic only and of course, I started growing my own again.

There are three main things you need to figure out if you want to grow strawberries.

  • Ever-bearing or June-bearing
  • Size
  • Containers or garden

June-bearing strawberries come in all at once during the summer and are fantastic for having big bowls of strawberries or having enough to freeze or make preserves. Ever-bearing are good for having strawberries “year-round”.  Well sort of… They wouldn’t survive outside in northeast weather so I generally keep a few ever-bearing plants on a windowsill indoors through the winter so I can get an organic fresh strawberry in the winter. When you buy your strawberry plants make sure you either have your phone to check the type online if you are in a store.  If you are buying mail order then it should tell you in the description.  Do not buy strawberry plants that just say, “Strawberries.” You need to know the variety and the bearing type.

Strawberry Shortcake (yes, I made it)

Size matters in strawberries. Everyone loves the classic huge strawberry (because they’re good), but the teeny strawberry is the true joy of growing your own. The big strawberry is great for fresh eating, strawberry shortcakes or dipping in chocolate. The teeny strawberry has a more intense strawberry flavor than the big ones.  The teeny ones are best picked ripe but don’t ship well which is why you will rarely find it fresh in the supermarket, but you may find some at a farmers’ market.  If you want to add strawberry flavor to something, use the teeny strawberries.  Oh, and if you want something amazing you can sub in the teeny strawberries for blueberries in muffins. So good!!

Wow… this is getting long quick… I’ll post the second half later today.

The Winter That Wasn’t

Well, it’s been an interesting month… The oven has gone on the fritz and has left me to the mercy of the oven thermometer to determine the actual oven temp. The Hubs went to China and South Korea with his fellow grad school students where he had lots of food adventures. He will, of course, be starting guest posts about his food adventures soon. And, the weather has decided to tempt me into planting out of season, but I’m not falling for it. I did manage to get a lot of spring veggie planting done so far. So, there are a lot of seedlings popping out of the ground. Oh, and as with every spring, I’m currently obsessed with salads.

So far I’ve planted:
Agretti
Fava beans
Kale
Saltwort
Spinach
Peas
Radish
Carrots
Pak Choi
Epazote
Watercress
Beets
Belgian Endive
Lettuce

I’m starting to move some of the seedlings I started inside to the “greenhouse” stand I have outside. So now I have more room to transplant the other seedlings which I’m very excited to say includes passion fruit seedlings that I grew from the seeds of a passion fruit I got at the supermarket. I’m hoping this will give me a good haul of plants this season and summer, but since the weather has as much of a role to play as everything else I’m still keeping my fingers crossed.

Of all the seeds I planted outside, the one I’m most excited about is the Agretti. It’s an Italian bitter green that I can’t find much info about. I was on the email list for an Italian seed company and when I saw the word rare in the description I had to buy it. I will admit (unapologetically) to having a seed collection that numbers in the hundreds. If I have never heard of something I am compelled to buy it. Or if there is a new variety like the purple tomato. The best information I have so far is that it is best to treat it simply with olive oil like you would broccoli raab.

So I continue my kitchen and garden adventures where we left off…

The Garden — Your First Year

Basil

If you’re trying to dip your toe in the gardening pool, there are simple things I recommend for your first year. Buy a couple vegetable plants (something that you would eat) that look healthy at a garden center. I recommend peppers and tomatoes since (if chosen correctly) they will be big (but not too big) and give you something to show as well as something you can incorporate into a salad or recipe. Before we get to the plants, there are some things to consider. For the record, no one has paid me for any endorsement here, I’ve just used these companies because my mother ordered from these companies and now I do and that many years of success speaks volumes.

1. Organic. If you’re growing at home, then in my opinion, you should do it organically. What is the point of going through all the effort of growing at home if you’re going to put the same chemicals on your food that conventional growers use? Besides, there are too many studies coming out about the effects of all those chemicals on your endocrine and reproductive systems that it makes more sense to just leave them alone. I even tend to shy away from the soil that is produced by companies that produce other forms of non-organic products. I just don’t trust it. Call me nuts, whatever. All my fertilizers come from Gardens Alive. They have a fertilizer for everything and have sales all the time.

2. Watering. You know yourself. Are you going to check the water daily or are you likely to forget or get busy with work or something else and feel terrible when your poor plant is wilting in the heat. If you may be a bit forgetful, there are tons of options including water saving crystals that you can mix into the potting soil. My recommendation is to just start with a self watering planter. Gardener’s Supply Company has lots of options, including a kit to retrofit any existing round container. This is particularly helpful if you can find some containers on clearance (like I did) or already have a container that you’re partial to (like the one I “borrowed” from my mom).

3. Containers. Buy big containers. While it’s true that some plants (like dill) don’t play well in the same “sandbox” as other plants, starting off big means your plants have room to grow over the season. Small “cute” containers usually end up with roots circling the edge of the container and eventually choking the poor plants. Some of my smallest containers are only about 12″ wide and 18″ deep. Unless you have somewhere you can store the huge containers inside during the winter, find pots that are all weather. Glazed clay pots are gorgeous, but they’re not cheap and crack if you don’t take care of them. BUT, you don’t have to rule them out forever. You can graduate up to them. You have to start with a higher likelihood of success then increase your degree of difficulty. And they actually have plastic pots that look like clay now. These are your friends. They’re cheaper and lighter. Remember, the first year, the spot where you want to put the plants may not have enough sun. If you put your planter down somewhere and find the plants aren’t getting enough or in late summer too much sun, you can move them without investing in a chiropractor payment.

4. Independent Garden Centers. Find an independent garden center. Besides being trendy, buying locally is just a good idea. Independent garden center owners generally started the business because they like gardening. Once you know what you’re doing you can shop bigger stores, but the independent spots will usually have someone around that can answer your questions. They are more likely to have plants that work in your area and when they don’t work, they can help you understand why. When I moved I just made a list of every garden center in the yellow pages and visited each one. I ended up with my favorite: Primex Garden Center. They are my ideal — one stop shopping. They have information workshops, knowledgeable staff, bulk items, big shrubs, little herbs, seeds, tools, bulbs, garden supports, etc. etc. etc. If you can find a spot like Primex that has everything you need, then that’s the place to go. If not you may end up going to a few different places. Not all garden centers have the same things (which is good) so you can end up finding a good variety if you shop around.

Okay, this post is getting long so I’ll continue next week….

Endless Possibilities

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It’s seed starting time. I love this time of year. The garden is full of endless possibilities. In my mind I’m immediately transported to summer where everything is lush and growing. I’m outside with my garden basket gathering up tomatoes and beans and lettuce. I head inside and make a gorgeous salad with a perfectly roasted chicken and then I’m soaking up the chicken and salad dressing juices with a fantastic whole grain bread that I baked that morning. That’s garden romance for me.

 

To make that dream a reality, I always start too many seeds. Well, you kind of have to since not every seed (even the ones in the same packet) is the same. Some are stronger. Some won’t pop at all. And sometimes even the weakest seeds produce the best plants. So I don’t give up on any of my seeds. I feel the need to plant all of them. Some years… my dream is a reality. Some years… the garden is a mess. It’s ok. Because in my mind, next year will always be the better (and it is).

If you are interested in gardening, there is a logical stream of getting your hands dirty so to speak.

  • The first year, find an independent gardening center, buy a few plants, a few herbs and a few flowers. Grow them organically in containers. Decide if you like gardening. Join a CSA so you can get more organic vegetables. Start a compost pile.
  • The second year, buy a few more plants, a few more herbs and a few more flowers. Pick out a small area of the yard in a sunny location where you are going to put your in-ground garden. Find some free compost. (Many townships and high schools will have a pile where you can go get some for free as long as you bring your own containers or contractor bags to haul it away.) Dig up the soil in the small area and replace it with the compost. (You may need to go back and get some more soil over the season.) Grow the plants you grew in the containers last year in the ground. Try something else in the containers. Stick with the CSA. You’re not growing for the world… yet.
  • The third year, buy a few more plants, a few more herbs and a few more flowers. Expand your garden area a little (remove the dirt and replace with compost). Move the plants you grew in the ground last year to the new area, add more compost to the old area and try some new plants. Do a few plants in the containers.
  • Repeat over the years until you can in fact feed the world (or at least some of your friends & family).

 

Now, understand that I’ve dramatically oversimplified the process and there are a few other things that I’ve found out about over the years that can really boost your success. Over the next few weeks, I’ll do my best to lay it all out. One thing I recommend is finding an independent garden center in your area. In my opinion you’re better off getting plants from an independent garden center when you’re getting started. In general, most of the people who work there know something about plants. Some of the larger chain store employees don’t have the plant knowledge of people who “do this for a living”. I understand that gardening seems like a ton of work, but trust me, most people with a “green thumb” also have a big compost pile. And in that pile are all the things that didn’t work. The great thing about gardening is it’s easier than it looks and (if you have a compost pile) your mistakes feed your successes.

 

The Reorg

So, The Hubs’ grad school schedule this semester of three nights a week, plus some weekends has been depriving me of those now precious commodities… time and energy.  The Kid has simultaneously developed a severe objection to seeing me sit down.  So, I figured I had to get creative.   I started with running laps around the basement with him.  Then, I just got used to the idea that I don’t get to sit down.  On nights when he didn’t want to do laps I started reorganizing.  The Kid is usually willing to help carry things from one place to another and has no problem going up and down the stairs a million times so it seemed like a good idea.  I made the mistake of believing that the kid would eventually get tired and let me sit down, but it didn’t happen so I ended up reorganizing just about the entire house.  Every night, The Hubs would just come home from work or class and just shake his head as I reorganized something else.  The good news is that I’ve found tons of stuff that we aren’t using and will be able to donate it all just in time for the holidays (tons of baby stuff — seriously, how does someone so small go through so many clothes and need so much STUFF?!).  The bad news, is now I’m so close to reorganizing everything that I can’t stop.

This weekend, I reorganized the pantry.  My pantry serves three purposes: It holds most of my room temp food supply (the freezer is just another story), Holds all my platters and party supplies and lastly, it is where I start the seeds for most of the plants that my mom and I grow in our gardens each year.  So, the pantry has always had a lot going on.  The Hubs used to hate the pantry.  I would send him down to the pantry to grab… anything and eventually he’d give up after repeated trips up and down the stairs and just call me with the camera on his phone to figure out where to look.  Poor Hubs!  The Pantry reorg didn’t take nearly as much time as I thought it would and I found everything I swore I had and almost purchased over again.  Thanks to the reorg, I found my:

 

  • yogurt maker (I had an idea that making yogurt with organic milk would be cheaper than buying it)
  • bread dough container (I became a fan of the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes book and used to make bread, then just lost the time)
  • All my canning jars (I really need to bite the bullet and start canning this summer)
  • more than 25 boxes of pasta (don’t ask, if I had a coupon and it was a great price then I got pasta) … oh and this is after I gave boxes away to the food drive
  • the package of farro, I swore I had somewhere
  • …and so much more
Well now I guess I have to do something with all that wonderful stuff I “found.”
I came home energized for some crazy reason today and pulled off a masterful feat.  I juiced, made kale chips (dangerously addictive by the way), made my Curry Chicken and gravy and served it with the brown rice, beans & corn that the kid loves.  (The Hubs and I loaded the hot rice on the salad of course.)  I butterflied the other whole chicken and added garlic, lemon peel, cracked black pepper, salt & olive oil to the freezer bag so it can marinate while thawing.  I somehow had the presence of mind to clear out the vegetable drawer to make a stock with the remaining chicken bones.  And all this was preceded by me grinding wheat berries and rye into flour to set up the bread dough to rise for 2 hours when I got home according to the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes book!  There’s just something about a clear pantry that makes me want to really get going in the kitchen!
Every year around this time, the pantry has to undergo an overhaul (although I think I got the formula right this year) so I can get ready to start the seedlings for the next year’s garden.  In about a month, my mom and I will be studiously hovered over trays of seed starting systems trying to decide what we are planting this year and what we didn’t like from last year.  I know we are going to plant too much, but i never care.  Now that I have tons of space available, I’m going to have to sit down with my collection of seeds (It turns out that I have more than 600 [and still counting] flower, herb. vegetable or fruit seed packets) so since my greenhouse plans have been delayed, I might as well get started with the seeds so the plants are ready to go into the greenhouse whenever it materializes.  Apparently putting up a greenhouse isn’t a simple feat, but I have every confidence that the Hubs will be able to pull it off as an early Valentines/Mother’s Day/(isn’t there another holiday early next year) gift.  (Hint Hint, Hubs)


End of Year Garden Sauce

Every Spring, my mom and I start seeds for tomato and pepper plants. We always end up getting excited by the different varieties of seeds we have and start at least a couple seeds for almost every variety (we never learn). Every year, we end up with around 50 tomato & pepper plants and sometimes more. One year we’re going to get our act together and sell them since they’re all organically raised. So, at the end of every summer season, there are entirely too many tomato and pepper plants and people start hiding from us. So, every year, I end up with a bunch of tomatoes and a bunch of peppers and I make this sauce and throw it in the freezer. It’s not complicated, but it is delicious and it’s my backup to tomato paste. The sauce is a little different every time since the ingredients aren’t always the same, but it is yummy! I add tomato paste to a lot of dishes, but have a terrible tendency to always forget to put it on my shopping list. I’ve run out on several occasions so I just dig some of this out of the freezer and works as a great addition to sauces or soups. BTW: If you don’t make huge batches of food like I do (yes I know I am not feeding an army but I will be raising a teenage son, so I’m in training), freeze the sauce in ice cube trays then store it in the freezer in freezer bags so you can use a little bit at a time.


20111103-125853.jpg Roasted Pepper & Tomato Sauce

An equal amount of sweet peppers & tomatoes
2 Spanish Onions, cut in large pieces
Peeled garlic cloves from 1 head of garlic
Poultry seasoning or fresh herbs
1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Black pepper
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons Vinegar (Either Balsamic or Sherry Vinegar)
1/2 cup White Wine (or Vermouth, or Red Wine, or Vodka)

1. Preheat oven to 400F and move the rack to the top position.

20111103-125729.jpg2. Cut up all the peppers and tomatoes (squeeze out the seeds as much as possible). Add to a large glass baking dish (preferably 11×14 if you have it). Add the onions and garlic cloves. Make sure the garlic cloves are buried underneath the peppers and tomatoes.  Add the herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar and wine. Toss together. (NOTE: You don’t have to toss. I had to do this all one handed the other night while holding the Kid so I can tell you it still works.)

3. Roast for 60 – 90 minutes. This just depends on how much you have. At 60 minutes, take a look at the mixture. If it looks caramelized enough then take it out. Otherwise, just keep checking back for the next 15-30 minutes.

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4. Puree just enough that it’s still a little chunky then put it in a large soup pot to simmer on medium-low heat. After about 30 minutes, taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning. Then package it up and store it for the next time you forget to buy tomato paste. This works great in the Lazy Gravy Recipe too instead of tomato paste.

Empty Nesters

For all the years we’ve lived in our house, there has been a duck couple that visits the yard to splash around in our pool in the month before we open it. Every year, they splash around early in the morning for about a month, then we open the pool for the season and we don’t see them any more.  This year, they decided to stick around longer than usual, then a couple weeks ago we saw the male duck alone and thought there may have been a divorce, but it seems we were in for a surprise.  Ever since I learned that ducks eat slugs, I have wanted to have some as pets.  I hate slugs!  They reproduce at a ridiculous rate and leave ugly trails on my veggies… and they’re slugs.  I’ve tried all the usual methods to get rid of them, beer traps (who has the time to refill and empty them daily), copper strips (way too expensive) and have settled on slug bait which is supposed to work even after it rains.  I’d still prefer a much more satisfying method of removing them from the yard than just having the slugs stop eating and disappear.  Every year when the ducks showed up, I would hope that they’d stick around for a while to help whittle down the slug population, but every year, they flew away and I was left on my own to deal with the slugs.

Ducks

Recently, The Hubs joined a running club that runs super early on the weekends.  So, while he was doing one of their runs, I took The Kid for a 3-mile walk around the neighborhood to keep him entertained.  It was supposed to be just 2 miles, but then I realized I forgot to ask The Hubs to buy a paper on his way and he’s usually way too sweaty for stores after running.  It felt like a big hassle to take The Kid out of the stroller and get the pocketbook then load up the car so we just walked to the store to get the paper too.  When I got back to the house the first time to get change out of my car for the paper, I leaned down to straighten some fava bean plants that fell over.  All of a sudden there was flapping about a foot away from my face and a blur flew by me.  I screamed way too loud for 8am on a weekend morning and backed up with The Kid.  I saw a lady duck flying away and looked down to see a nice collection of eggs where she was sitting.  It took me a minute to figure out how I missed her, then it seemed really obvious why the female birds all look like dirt and the male birds who don’t have to hide with the eggs have the bright colors.

I was so happy about my new little duck family and checked on them (from afar) almost daily. Unfortunately, about a week later, I went to check on my little friend and she was gone and so were her eggs.  I’m guessing the eggs became dinner for one of the neighborhood animals.  The good and bad thing about our neighborhood is that there is a diversity of wildlife.  There’s never a dull moment with the hawks, cranes, blue jays,  outdoor cats, etc.  preying on the ducks, frogs, woodpeckers, finches, hummingbirds, etc.  I won’t even get into the madness of the insect populations.  I was at least fortunate that I have been spared explaining the nature cycle to The Kid, but I’m going to have to come up with something better than, “Well, birds eat birds.”  That’s probably not going to cut it.  Well, it looks like I won’t be growing my duck family this year as I hoped, but hopefully my duck familly will return again next year and chose a better hiding spot for their babies so we can try this again.  I need a duck army to defeat the empire the slugs are trying to build in my yard.