My Garden Thief!

Who stole my sunflowers?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren't they?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren’t they?

I had six beautiful large heads of sunflowers growing in my orchard.  The bees were enjoying them, I was enjoying them, and I had the perfect recipe lined up to use the seeds. Then, one night, the largest sunflower disappeared.

Harrumph…  🙁

Well, I never…

Do you see something missing here?

Hmmmm…   something seems to be missing.

Do you see how it looks like the top of the stalk has been chewed off?  That was the first piece of evidence I saw.

who stole my sunflowers 4Then, throughout the orchard in no less than six separate spots, I found piles of cracked seeds. Strange that the thief would move from spot to spot to eat the seeds, but then (of course) there may have been more than one culprit!

It’s a real shame because I have a really neat recipe I couldn’t wait to try out using the sunflower seeds.  I was going to use the honey from my beehive, with ground almond flour from my almond trees, along with chopped toasted almonds, dehydrated apricots and cherries from my orchard.

I was going to use egg whites from my neighbor’s chickens (we will be getting ours next year) and some pine nuts from, well, pine trees!  We are surrounded by Sugar Pines and if we can get to the cones before the squirrels do, the nuts are mighty fine!

I found this recipe many years ago when our homestead was just a dream.   I didn’t write down the name of the book, so I can’t give credit to anyone.  Sorry.  Then, in my shortsightedness I didn’t write down specific amounts either – just ingredients.  What was I thinking? So, this recipe will have to end up as another one of my experiments. Apparently, however, the base of the bar was to be made with frothy egg whites into which almond flour is folded, then poured into the base of a rimmed cookie sheet and baked  for some amount of time. I would assume about 8-10 minutes – just to get it to set.  A mixture of chopped dried fruits, seeds (my missing sunflower seeds), chopped nuts and honey is spread on the base, then baked for another amount of time until done.

Doesn’t that sound good?  The best part is that I will be able to produce every single ingredient called for in these delicious (I think) and nutritious bars!  I may even add pumpkin seeds to the mix.  For a different variety, wouldn’t dried apple and pear chunks be good with toasted walnuts?  Maybe even acorn flour!  Yum.  I can’t wait to try this, but alas, I have no sunflower seeds.

Speaking of squirrels…who stole my sunflowers 8

I think this may have been our thief.  We have lots of them in our trees.  In fact, our neighbor lady (who recently moved) fed them!  I know this isn’t a great picture, but the silly things won’t stay still for a photo!  😉

 

However, this may have been the culprit…

Steller's Jay

Did this Steller’s Jay eat my sunflowers?

The Blue Jays have been hanging around a lot lately.  We have had a terrible drought here in California and it seems our bee waterer may be one of the only sources of water around for all the forest critters to slake their thirst. Sometimes they go through more than a gallon of water every day!

Nonetheless, I would assume the bird would have just landed on the stalk, eaten the seeds and dropped the shells below the plant.  Besides, chewing the entire seed head off the stalk would have been difficult for a Steller’s Jay. Since there are no shells directly below the plant, and Jays don’t have teeth, I don’t think the culprit was the Jay.

Yeah - right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

Yeah – right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

The evidence speaks for itself –

Mr and Mrs Squirrel enjoy sunflower seeds!

I am glad that right now I don’t have to feed myself and my family completely on what my dear hubby and I grow and raise here on our fledgling homestead. I would like to be food self-sufficient soon, however, and if TEOTWAWKI happens (as many people think it will) we will need to protect our food sources more carefully.  So, the squirrels gave us a valuable lesson today. (Um – thank you?)  We need to protect our permanent garden much better than we have protected the temporary garden we have set up in our orchard.

If we plan to be self-sufficient when it comes to fruits and vegetables, nuts and herbs, we must build our permanent vegetable garden like a fortress and reinforce our orchard!  The garden will have metal fencing at least 7 feet high (so my tall hubby Ray can walk upright in the garden) with a metal roof (chicken wire?) over the top, and at least 1 foot deep into the ground to prevent tunneling critters.  This should keep out the squirrels and Jays.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I believe at this point it will be an absolute necessity!

Especially after we found jack rabbits in our compost pile!

How do you keep critters out of your vegetables?

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Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Harvesting SunflowersCaden’s sunflower seeds were ready to harvest, so I had his mom and dad (my son) bring him over to cut the heads off the stalks.  The sunflower plants were more than twice his size, so he cut the stalk in half first, then cut the stalk closer to the head of the actual sunflower.  We set them in an open paper bag outside to finish drying.  Harvesting Sunflowers

I also cut down the four sunflowers that I had growing.  The largest head turned out to be 15″ across!  These were the Mammoth Sunflower Seeds I was given for free from Barra Vineyards in Mendocino County.  I can still taste their Moscato ……..mmmmmmmm

Anyway, I also put these sunflowers in a paper bag to dry a few more days.  From what I have read, it is very important to thoroughly dry the sunflower heads by keeping them in a warm, dry place (outside in an open paper bag), turning them over once or twice a day, until the seeds start to fall out by themselves. The last thing you want is for the seed heads to start molding!Harvesting sunflower seeds

Once I could tell the seeds were dry, I sat in front of the TV one evening and literally rubbed over the seeds with the palm of my hand and they just fell out of the seed head. It was this easy because once the seeds are dry they shrink just a little and the head releases them.  I did have to pick out just a few, but not many.  The seeds were all placed in a colander so they could dry on the kitchen counter just a bit more for a couple of days, giving the seeds a quick stir every time I passed by.  I left the center of each head intact because those seeds were pretty small, and I figured the birds would benefit from them more than I would, so I gave them to Caden to place on the bird feeder in his backyard.

Soaking sunflower seeds

I had to put a pie plate over the seeds soaking in the salt water so the seeds would stay submerged.

I tasted a couple of the seeds and they were pretty good raw, but I decided to roast them with some salt because that is the way my dear hubby likes them.  I found some simple directions on the National Sunflower Association‘s website on how to salt and roast the seeds.  I soaked the seeds overnight in two quarts of water with 1/2 cup of sea salt, as directed, then roasted them at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes the next day.

We had a lot of seeds and I didn’t want them to go bad before we could eat them all, so I decided the best thing I could do with all those seeds was to share them!  I thought it might be fun for Caden to give away two bags of the roasted, salted seeds – one to Ms. Stewart, his 1st Grade Teacher last year, and the other to his dad for his birthday. It was in Ms. Stewart’s class that Caden first planted his sunflower seeds, that we later transplanted into my garden.  You can see those poor, sun starved seedlings HERE.  Those spindly plants survived thrived in my backyard garden, growing two decent sized seed heads!   Harvesting and Processing Sunflower Seeds

To present the seeds, I thought it would be fun to make a label that could then be attached onto the front of a closable sandwich baggie.  I used the computer to print “Caden’s Sunflower Seeds”  and underneath “Roasted and Salted” (see below), overlaying his picture, essentially making a custom label!  The label was printed on paper that is sticky on one side.  All Caden had to do was to stick the label onto the sandwich baggie and then fill the baggie with the roasted and salted sunflower seeds.  This was a fun way to finalize his experience growing sunflower seeds.  I think Caden is proud of his final product and I hope Ms. Stewart likes her gift!  I know his dad will.Harvesting and Preparing Sunflower seeds

Hmmmmm…… This was a such a fun project for me and my grandson, perhaps we can do something similar with pumpkin seeds next month!

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White Carrots and Red Potatoes

Two of my precious grandchildren, Caden and Emery, helped me harvest some produce from my garden a few days ago.  I had a couple of beets ready, more squash (and more, and more squash) and there were also a few carrots that needed to be thinned out – again.  It was fun to pull up some carrots.  I had planted a rainbow mix – white, yellow, orange, red and purple – so until you pull them out you really aren’t sure what color you are going to get!  Life is like a box of chocolates   carrots ………    oh you know the rest!

red and white carrots, beets

Here are Emery and Caden helping me harvest some vegetables from the garden. I planted a rainbow mix of carrots, so it is a surprise to see what color we get when we pull one up! Today we got a red one and a white one. We also pulled up a couple of beets, one red and one golden, and another yellow summer squash.

Caden is so proud of his sunflowers. I wonder if any of his classmate’s sunflower plants are doing as well?  When I asked Caden if he wanted to harvest the sunflower seeds when they were ripe, or if he wanted to let the birds eat them, he replied that he would rather the birds get a good meal.

Blooming Sunflowers
One of Caden’s sunflowers in bloom. You can see the other just ready to burst into color next to it. The plants are about ten feet tall at this point. Caden would enjoy allowing the local birds harvest the seeds. Perhaps we can allow the birds to have one head to enjoy!

His dad (my son) has other ideas, however, because he is fond of eating sunflower seeds!  After all, sunflower seeds are an excellent source of calories, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Since it looks like there might be two good heads of sunflowers from Caden’s plants (the third one is kind of scrawny), perhaps we will harvest one head for dad and let the birds harvest the other.  That should make everyone happy!

 

On Sunday morning we traveled up to the future homestead to refill water tanks and check up on the orchard, which is doing well. We have been so busy with weddings and birthday parties the past few months, we have had precious little time to spend working up on the future homestead.   We found that some of the potato plants in the compost heap were dying, however, and I assume their demise was due to the lack of water.  So, I pulled up one of the withered plants that had died and a small red, round potato popped out and rolled down the compost heap!   I decided to poke around with a pitchfork to see what else I might find.   Lo and behold, I found a bigger bright red potato peeking out at me!

Growing potatoes in compost

Here is what I found when I started to dig around in the compost pile where a potato plant had once been – a nice red, round potato! It was so exciting to see that pieces of a potato I had discarded in the compost pile last fall made a whole new plant and more potatoes! Potatoes from heaven?

I am absolutely amazed at how easily these potatoes grew!  Until this year, I have never grown potatoes before – either by accident or intentionally.  I did plant some purple fingerling potatoes in our backyard garden this year as an experiment, in one of those cloth-type bags that are just for potato growing.  However, the ones in the compost heap were not planted there on purpose, but instead were cast-off end pieces from a meal last fall.  When I noticed them growing a few months ago they were already pretty big and I wondered if they would be safe to eat.  Several people assured me that they would indeed be edible, so I decided to water them every week or so this past spring and see if we could actually get any potatoes.  Unfortunately we don’t have an automatic watering system for the compost heap (of course not!) and a few of the potatoes succumbed to the summer heat we have been having lately while we were away.  So, I pulled up one of the dried up potato plants and off rolled a little red potato!  I quickly ran to the shed to get a pitchfork so that I could see if there were any more in the heap.  I had to be careful while digging around, however, because there was a colony of red and black ants right in the middle of the compost heap, and boy were they mad!  I found several more little red potatoes and one little white one! I think there may be a few more potatoes in there, but after getting some painful ant bites on my feet and ankles,  I gave up digging around in the heap.  I will have to try digging some more out later, but I’m not sure how to deal with the ants. Any suggestions?

Heaven sent potatoes

Here are the potatoes I found in the compost heap! I’m pretty sure there are more, but I will have to figure out a way to fight off the ants before I can get any more potatoes. I can’t believe that these volunteers look just as good as, or even better than the ones I get from the grocery store!

Have you had success with “recycled gardening”?  Apparently it’s a way to garden that is extra frugal – where you replant a green onion after chopping off most of the top, or the bottom end of celery, and the plant will re-grow for another harvest!  I guess just about any type of onion can be re-grown as long as the base, where the root comes out of, is intact. In fact, I am trying this technique with a leek, and it’s working!  Now I see how this can also be done with potatoes!  Eat the whole potato except for one piece of it that has an eye, plant it, and you get a whole bunch more!  Of course, I know mankind has been doing this for eons, but it’s pretty new to me – and exciting!

The red and white potatoes, together with the red and white carrots, along with cubed beef will make a great crockpot meal!

white carrots and red potatoes

Red and white carrots and red and white potatoes! What could be better than this with cubed beef in the crockpot! We’re having beef stew for dinner tonight!

Wouldn’t it be great if I could harvest more of the red and white potatoes from the compost heap, along with my purple fingerling ones in the bag, and have a patriotic red, white and purple blue potato salad! 

Don’t  judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you  plant.
                                          Robert  Louis Stevenson

 

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