Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fresh mustard

I've never cared much for mustard greens. The canned variety just tastes nasty, I think. The fresh ones gathered in the pasture when I was a kid weren't much better. Still, they were on the list of cold hardy greens likely to do well in an unheated hoophouse, so I tried them.

Surprise! They're yummy! When picked in cold weather, the fresh leaves taste much milder than I remember. They add a little zip to a winter salad. They're even better sauteed with bacon. Then again, what isn't good with bacon?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

World's best carrots

It's true. The best carrots ever come from the winter garden in my greenhouse. Trust me. I just picked one. I'm eating it right now.

For years, I've heard how wonderful winter-harvested carrots taste. Since my sources were level-headed, reliable people, I believed them despite my own frustrating attempts to grow decent carrots in any season. I carried within me a grain of hope that someday I, too, would experience the glories of a freshly picked carrot, crisp and cold, in my own garden.

Happily, I've had a lot of those 'somedays' this winter. The small, experimental patch of carrots I planted in the big hoophouse the last week of September has yielded a steady crop of snacks since early January. I planted a pelleted Nantes type in two sections, and the regular seed of the Purple Dragon variety in two short rows of another section. When the temperatures in the unheated hoophouse dropped into the 20s (Fahrenheit), I added a floating row cover over all the growing beds. The Nantes type has yielded better than the Purple Dragon, and the rows in the center of the greenhouse have done much better than the one along the edge where it's often colder. Those hardy edge-dwellers have nice looking tops, but the root growth has been much slower. I'm hoping they'll speed up now that the weather's warming up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Egg sizes

Here's a comparison of various egg types, just to give you an idea of the size differences. Eggs from left to right: goose, 6.5 oz.; duck, 2.6 oz.; chicken 1.8 oz; chicken 2 oz. I put the goose and duck eggs into the incubator, and the chicken eggs were breakfast.

Normally, I don't weigh the eggs to grade them -- we aren't a commercial operation and don't need to comply with the commercial grading requirements to stick them in the refrigerator until we need them for breakfast or baked goods. It is interesting, now and then, to check the flocks's performance against commercial standards. The information can be helpful in deciding whether it's time to cull non-producers, bring in a new bloodline, or change their feed formula.

These chicken eggs are in the medium-to-large range, about normal for pullet eggs from Wyandotte hens. Pullets, the younger hens that are just starting to lay, tend to produce smaller eggs. The eggs tend to get a bit larger as the hens mature. By the time a hen is several years old, she might lay an egg every second or third day, and those eggs tend to be noticibly larger than the others. I don't get many double-yolk eggs from my flock, but those I do get come from my two oldest hens. I also get an occasional extra-small egg with no yolk. I haven't figured out yet which hen that comes from.

The duck eggs fits nicely into a Jumbo egg container. The one pictured is on the small size and likely was laid by one of the Golden Cascade duck hens. They're a newer breed, introduced in 1984, by Holderread's and were bred specifically for their reliable egg production. I also have a couple of Pekin duck hens. Their eggs are larger, but they don't lay as many as the Golden Cascades.

A duck egg can be used just like a chicken egg. The taste is a little stronger, and the texture of the cooked eggs is firmer. I especially like to use duck eggs in my bread recipes for the subtle improvements in taste and texture.

The goose eggs are safe to eat, too, and one would make quite a meal. I've never had one though because the geese aren't prolific layers like our other poultry. American Buff geese aren't that common, and we'd like to increase our flock from three to . . . well, more.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Turkey shine

Here's a close-up of the tom turkey in yesterday's black & white photo. Note the coppery sheen of the band of feathers on the left side of this photo, just above the bold black and white bands. The Bronze turkey takes its name from the coloring reflected in the sunlight, and that copper band diffentiates it most clearly from the coloring of wild turkeys. Their feathers reflect pretty colors in sunlight too, but they don't gleam like new pennies. This tom is a pretty good example of the Kardosh strain of Bronze's coloring, but not the best I've seen.

A few years ago, I had the good fortune to visit Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Kansas. The owner, Frank Reese, is well known for his work in preserving the Bronze and other poultry strains. He selects for both utility and beauty, and he has some of the best-looking birds I've ever seen -- Bronze toms with strong, sturdy legs, meaty breasts, gentle natures, and that new penny shine. If he ever offers breeding stock for sale to the public, I'll be first in line with my checkbook.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Black & white challenge

Kacey over at Wine on the Keyboard issued a couple of days ago -- she showed us a great bridge photo and challenged her blog readers to play a little with Photoshop to convert a favorite photo to black and white. A big thank you to Kacey for this challenge because I had so much fun. It's been years since I did much black and white work, and digital makes it so much easier than what I remember doing in the darkroom. It smells better too, and best of all -- no rash from the chemicals.

Here are my favorites from an afternoon's session of tinkering:

My daughter shot this photo with my camera as the wedding guests were filing out of the church. I like that the happy father of the bride dominates the photo, but enough of the church's interior can be seen to allow a feel for the setting and circumstances. In the original color version, there's a blaringly bright red exit sign next to his head and a couple of other red lights that detract. Switching to black and white erased them.

Black and white gives a vintage feel to this photo of a heritage breed turkey. He's an old-fashioned Bronze of the Kardosh strain, and beautifully formed.

This one looks nice in color, but switching to black and white puts the focus on the light sparkling through the ice. It brings back fond memories of my youth and the many rolls of film I burned through while I was learning how to compose photos and manage light. It's much simpler and cheaper these days to experiment, thanks to digital technology.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Silly goose

Our American Buff geese seem to laugh at the cold. They'll even bust the ice on their wading pool so they can bathe and play in the frigid water. They'll come into the barn during the dark of night, but otherwise they like having open sky above their heads. Not that they do much flying in that sky -- on a good day they might manage to get five feet off the ground and coast 50 feet or so. Even so, you'd think that a nice bed of fresh straw in the barn that's not twenty feet away would be a better place to rest than an inch-thick layer of sleet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Walking on ice

Today's favorite things:
Bog Boots
Snow Grippers

We didn't get a lot of ice and sleet, just enough to make walking to the barn an adventure. Luckily, I remembered where I'd stored the new Snow Grippers. I ordered a couple pair of the pull-on ice cleats because I'm not as graceful on the ice as 30 years ago, and it hurts a lot more when I fall.
These nifty little traction tools are great - I was outdoors for an hour and didn't slip once. It's a good day when a middle-aged clutz can carry 4 eggs in her pockets across the ice without fear -- including the first precious goose egg of the year.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A little weather

Some days it's nice to stay inside and watch the birds from the comfort of a warm house.