Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hard Work is Paying Off!

Thought I would share some updated photos of the garden bounty around here.  The squash have literally taken over my garden, and I have been getting about 2-3 zucchini and 2-3 yellow squash daily.  My tomatoes have started to ripen on the vine too!  As soon as they begin to turn red, I pull them, and bring them inside to finish ripening in a sunny window.  I have been saving the tomatoes in the refrigerator, and hope to have enough tomatoes to can this weekend!

The sunflowers are doing great.  The smaller variety have bloomed out and the weight of their blooms is causing them to droop a bit.  I think I'm going to have to get some string to tie them up, so that they can hopefully continue looking toward the sun, and ripen the sunflower seeds.

Just a few days ago, we had a trio of storms come through.  For three nights in a row, we had three storms that hit around 1 a.m. On the second morning, when I went outside, I saw the damage from the storm. It had shredded the plastic all the way from the front of the greenhouse to the back.  As I tried to pull the plastic back over, more of it shredded, and it is very brittle. Unfortunately, I think this brand of plastic wasn't able to hold up very well. I was hoping it would at least make it for one season.  Looks like I'll be trying to figure out what to do to cover my plants when the frost hits... which really could be any day now.

Yes, I'm going to have to get busy deciding how to keep my plants covered very soon.  This morning the temperature outside was a crisp 38 degrees!

Here is a picture of one of the larger zucchini we have pulled from the garden.  It is as long as my son's arm!  This zucchini ended up in the food processor, and we were able to get 8 cups of shredded zucchini from this fine fellow!  Not bad!

One of the largest, prettiest strawberries I've grown this  year.  My strawberry plants are happier now that the weather is cooling down somewhat, and are beginning to produce again. 

Here is a close-up view of my beautiful sunflowers.  I can hardly get close to them, because of the wasps, and the honey bees vying for their attention.

Here you can see a honey bee just wallowing all over the sunflower seeds.  As I zoom in with the camera lens, he completely ignores me, content to happily continue his busy bee business.

He was an industrious fellow, much unlike the nasty wasps flying around.  All they do is flit and zoom, and cause trouble.  I love honey bees.  I wish I had more of them, and far less of the nasty wasps that have invaded us!

A picture of the blooming sunflowers from a bit of a distance.

I love how these cheery sunflowers always have their faces turned to the sun.  They even move throughout the day to follow the sun as it moves through the sky to the western horizon. 

I have finally begun to see okra take off in the garden!  Yeah!  We'll be enjoying this okra quite soon in a big pot of steaming gumbo!

With the cooler weather upon us, I'm sure the okra won't be quite so happy, but I continue to be hopeful that the tomatoes, squash, okra, and peppers will be able to continue to growth for a few more weeks before the cool fall weather arrives! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It's a Plague!

Yes, I think we have an insect plague going on around here!  Yes indeed. 

You see... some little yellow and black monsters have invaded us. I don't know where they are coming from, but they have taken over every inch of ground in this area.  It is not just a problem here at my house, but in this area.  In fact, the local stores can't hardly keep the wasp traps on their shelves.  You are in luck if you find a trap for these buggers, and many people have taken to making their own wasp traps. 

We were lucky to find and be able to buy one of these wasp traps, and it was a good investment.  I couldn't wait to get the trap set.  So, I followed the instructions for setting the bait and preparing the trap. 

Only thing was, I didn't realize just how good the bait was...

As I walked outside to find a place to hang the trap, I instantly had a swarm of wasps flying around me.  I was in a hurry to rid myself of the trap, and let the wasps get busy being trapped instead of trying to sting me, and so I hung it on a stick that we use for a bonfire that was sticking out of the back of the pickup.  It was the closest hanger I could find in order to get away from these very determined creatures!

This was the trap just an hour later, almost HALF full of trapped wasps!  It was crazy to see the swarm of wasps fighting to try to get into this trap. Whatever the bait consisted of... it was working!

I went back and read the directions again, and in small print it says "Be sure to set trap late at night or early in the morning"... well so much for reading those directions!  There is a reason you put it out late at night, or very early in the morning, so as to not get yourself stung by all the angry little fellows trying to get a piece of that bait!

There is something morbid about watching the swarms of wasps just flocking around this trap!  I do not know how many wasps it can hold, but they just pile in there, and die on top of each other within hours of setting the trap out... incredible how many of these things are flying around everywhere, and that is why I am calling this a plague!!! 

I brought the trap in at night, as the little monsters go somewhere ... who knows where... at dusk, and it is safe to handle the trap then.  I need to make sure all these wasps die tonight, so I can dump them in the morning, and reset the trap. 

As you can see, some are still alive when I brought them in...  but most of them have passed on... shall we have a funeral... or a celebration!

I set the trap out early this morning, and just a few minutes later, the sun was up, and the wasps were buzzing around their trap of death.  It seems that the more you kill, the more they keep coming! There seems to be no end to them!

And wasps don't have any qualms about eating dead things, not at all.  I had dumped the dead wasps into the field, and just a few minutes later, all the wasps were swarming over the dead wasps  - what morbid creatures they are! I could hardly get close to take a picture of the dead wasps for fear of being stung by the live ones swarming the dead ones!

So, I walked away from the trap a few feet, and took a video of them, and thought you might like to see just how many wasps we have swarming the area right now...

Right now there are lots of different ideas and theories out there about why the wasps are so bad this year. Apparently people who have lived here all their lives have never seen the wasps this bad.  So one of the theories ... of course... is that it means we are going to have a bad winter.  If that is the case... at this point, I am ready for winter, just to be rid of these evil little bugs!  I can't even water without them attacking and chasing me any more.  It has become a battle of wills to get myself outside in the morning and fight off the wasps in order to water my plants and flowers, and tend my garden.

However, I've learned that usually as long as you keep moving, they usually won't bother you...  but if you stand still too long, or swat at them or jerk suddenly, then they think it is time for attack.  All of us have had our turn at being stung this year, and it seems that a cut onion works the best for keeping the itch and sting at bay.

So, here's to hoping that this plague of wasps ends soon!  I've learned not to act or feel scared of these guys, but just to keep moving, and they usually won't bother you.  That seems to be the best plan of action around these morbid, mean, bothersome wasps!

Dinner that Beats the Heat

I don't know about you, but cooking/baking in the summer is tedious work. We have had an exceptionally hot summer here in North Idaho, with little relief from temperatures in the 80s, 90s, and even up into the 100s.  Usually I like to grill out during the summertime, but we have no covered porch, and so our grill sits in the direct sunlight, so... this means that you bake too if you have anything on the grill.  Every time you open the cover of the grill, you feel like you are being roasted on all sides.  So, I've been looking for easy things to cook on the stovetop that don't take a lot of time, space, money, or heat, and yet taste good.  Here is one dish that remains hands-down one of our summertime favorites. 

Tex-Mex Chicken Spaghetti

First, the ingredient list you need is very simple.  I keep all of these things on hand, just in case I need to whip up a Tex-Mex dish like this one... life is good if you've got Rotel and Velveeta cheese!

Here is the ingredients you'll need:
3-4 chicken breasts
1 onion, diced (optional)
1 green pepper, diced (optional)
Fresh chopped basil (optional, but adds amazing flavor!)
2-3 tomatillos, skins peeled off, washed and quartered
2-3 Tbsp (or so) butter
2-3 cloves squeezed or sliced garlic
1-2 tsp chicken bouillon, or to taste
1-1/2 cups shredded Cheddar/Monterrey Jack cheese

First step is easy.  Just melt the butter in a large skillet, throw in the chicken breasts, onions, tomatillos and garlic, and then sprinkle with the chopped basil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Add just enough water to allow the chicken and veggies to simmer.  Cover, and cook slowly on low to medium heat, turning chicken once or twice. 

When your chicken breasts are nice and tender, it's time to add the spaghetti or angel hair noodles.  My kids prefer spaghetti, but I happened to have whole wheat angel hair on hand, so that is what I used.  I've been using the whole wheat spaghetti, and it is awesome!  But, you can use whatever choice of pasta you have in your pantry...

So add the pasta and make sure there is just barely enough water to cover the noodles.  You don't want too much water, as it will be runny.  The noodles will absorb most of the water while cooking.

Stir the pasta once or twice while it cooks... for the amount of cooking time on the pasta box... and then get ready to add the good stuff...

I have found that if you use both Cream of Chicken, and Cream of Mushroom soup together when making Chicken Spaghetti... and of course Rotel Tomatoes... it is simply a divine combination!
Then, we can't forget the Velveeta cheese!  I  added about 1/8 to a 1/4 pound diced cubes of the Velveeta.. 

Stir gently, and let simmer for a few minutes to allow the cheese to melt.  Then add in some chicken bouillon to taste. 

Now its time to sprinkle with some shredded cheese (I like to use Cheddar and Pepper Jack).
Cover and let simmer a few minutes more, and then ta.. da.... dive in to its cheesy goodness!

The best part of this chicken spaghetti is that the cooking all takes place in one large skillet, so cleanup is quick and easy too... now this is a meal that makes cooking during some of these hot summer days a breeze! Serve it up with a crunchy green salad, and a slice of garlic bread ... and your family will thank you!  (well... at least mine did!)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Little But Mighty.... Hummingbirds

The hummingbirds have been very busy around here lately! With all the hot weather, they have been busy as beavers humming around, keeping me busy as an ant supplying sugar water for them. I've had to change their sugar water almost daily!  I think I have between 5-6 hummingbirds that have nests close by. 

These amazing birds have gotten quite used to me being around their feeders, and now, instead of them being scared of me... it is me being a little scared of them! They have gotten quite comfortable having me around them, that they zip and fly around me so that I can almost feel their wings touch me at times! 

Since they are so comfortable around me now, they even allow me to snap pictures of them, and it doesn't bother them a bit.  They just keep drinking happily away.

Sometimes they stop what they are doing, and watch me, as I watch them.  But things are never quiet for more than a second  or two... as I've learned!

There is always another hummingbird hovering nearby waiting for its chance for a drink, and he'll have to fight off the current hummingbird to get a drink of his own.

But for now, this cute little fellow is content to take a drink, sit and let it digest, and then dive in for another big gulp!

Once in a while I've noticed two hummingbirds will drink together.  I haven't quite figured out the logistics of it all. But, I've never seen more than two at a time at a feeder.  If a third one shows up, all three go to fighting. 

Hummingbirds are very VERY territorial.  In fact, fighting and drinking go hand in hand for them.  And their little "squacks" let you know exactly where they are, and they really go to "squacking" when they are fighting for their chance at the feeder.

This little guy really drew my attention a few days ago.  I have a hanger for a bird house right below the hummingbird feeder. He seemed to think that this all was his.  He would fly up for a drink at the feeder, and then back down to his perch and just wait.

He would flit from flower to flower around the feeder, and then back for a drink... 

and then he would fly around to his favorite flowers in the area.... 
if you look closely, you can see Mr. Hummer perched on the table immediately center to the black pot...

 ... and now he is back to guarding his feeder and taking a long deep drink.

Back at the other feeder, another hummer is manning the fort.

He sits still long enough for me to get a great shot of him as he fills up his tank..

Our cat, Mr. Simba is not far from the action.  His head is on a pivot trying to keep up with all the activity of the hummingbirds. Luckily for them, they are far out of reach of Mr. Simba's claws, and all Simba can do is watch the action intently.

 Another shot of a hummer coming in for a drink...

 ... circling the feeder to make sure the coast is clear, and there is no fight to fight...

 ... and then its time....

... to refill the tank.

Now, I wasn't able to get a picture of the fight that goes on between the wasps and the hummers... but they do fight too!  I did not realize this before.  But, the wasps spend quite a bit of time around the feeders trying to figure out a way to get some of the sugar.  And I have seen those wasps chase the hummer away!  The wasps do not like any interference from the hummers, and certainly the hummers are more than willing to put up a fight, but I have seen the wasps literally chase the hummers away.

I put together a video below for you to get in on some of the action going on around here, and maybe you'll understand why I am more afraid now of the hummers than they are of me!  I think a pair of sunglasses are in order when out in the yard with these guys!  One wrong move on my part could really hurt if their beak flying at a high rate of speed were to connect with any part of my body! Ouch!