Category Archives: Country Life

Cupolas Installed!

Cupola installation completed!

And suddenly there were cupolas on top of the workshop, where no cupolas had been before. Ok, so it wasn’t all that sudden, but I am very happy with them.

My husband built and installed these cupolas. I am truly amazed at what he is able to do with some wood, screen, and a sheet of aluminum. Not only that but the act of getting onto the rooftop and installing them was monumental in my eyes. And they look nice too.

I learned a lot about cupolas that I never knew before. I thought they were ornamental but that is not so. Or rather, they are ornamental, but that was not their original purpose. Cupolas, are structures added on top of a building, and they are often domed. They are intended to provide light and/or ventilation. The purpose of cupolas in barns is to assist in the drying of stored hay. The purpose of our cupola is to provide ventilation. We needed a way to release moisture and heat, and we weren’t happen with what ridge vents would offer in this situation.

For some reason the cupolas remind me of Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby. Their cupolas are much larger, but there’s no accounting for my mental associations.

Close-up of cupola.

Our cupolas have screens behind all the louvers to keep out bats and other critters. We do have bats around here because of all the dead trees and woods in the surrounding area. While I like bats, I don’t want them in my building, especially when I hope to have an upstairs office there one day. I am perfectly content to have them living nearby though, where they can swoop through the air and eat mosquitos to their heart’s content.

So, there is more than you probably ever wanted to know about cupolas. Enjoy!

Making Plum Preserves

Strainer
Straining the plum preserves.

We hard a large harvest from one of our plum bushes this year! We purchased them from our County Extension Office as pencil sized twigs several years ago. The largest is now about seven feet tall. They are covered with sweet smelling white blossoms in the spring. I recently read that the type we have are called wild plums or sand cherries, among a few other names. They start to bloom after three years and produce fruit after four to six years. So we may have even more fruit next year if our other bushes kick in.

I made our first batch of plum preserves last week. I followed a recipe I found on-line which called for lime zest and juice to be added. I strained the final product through a colander which was a bit of work and had some waste. The result was tasty, if a little tart.

Just after that we went to our neighbor’s barn sale. She will be moving soon and was clearing out a lot of things. We will miss Shirley. She has been a good neighbor. And Zekie has certainly enjoyed chasing the geese off her pond. https://sanctuary-acres.com/2021/03/22/a-working-dog/ My husband and I had found a few items and were ready to leave the barn sale when we saw one last item we had to have. It was the colander type strainer with wooden pestle seen above. Our neighbor said she had used it for making applesauce. We knew that it would be perfect for making plum preserves!

I had four more pounds of plums from this week’s picking, so I made more plum jam this afternoon. This time I made plum cinnamon for one batch and the other was plum ginger with freshly grated ginger root. Both are delicious. I used the new strainer set up to remove the plum skins and it worked beautifully.

Preserves
Two flavors of plum preserves.

I also made a peach custard pie this morning with peaches I purchased at a local farm stand. It was a productive day and I am happy we were able to take advantage of local produce.

Peach custard pie
Peach custard pie.

New Friends

Mourning Dove

We have a couple new residents here at Sanctuary Acres. At least for the time being. We have two young mourning doves hanging around in the patio area. There is a small pear tree in one of our raised beds that has a bird’s nest in the top. There are so many leaves around the nest that we never got a good look at the resident bird although we did hear nestlings chirping at one point and noticed an adult coming back to feed its young.

It must have been a mourning dove. Occasionally we see an adult, but usually it’s two slightly smaller birds that must have been born this year. They don’t show much fear of us or the dogs, having grown up with their nest so near us. They grew up watching us sit on the patio, so we are nothing of concern to them.

A young mourning dove listening to me talk.

I am able to get within a few feet of the young birds. Often when I enter the patio garden the doves are there. One time they were sitting on the brick walkway sunning themselves when I came along. They moved to keep around 3 or 4 feet in front of me, but never flew away or seemed too concerned. I can stand there and talk to them and they listen to my voice, cocking their heads from side to side as if they find the conversation very interesting. I have come upon the a number of times and taken the opportunity to socialize with them.

Claire watching our two young dove friends.

The doves spend some time in the pine trees that surround the patio. They sometimes fly down to the patio as if they want to hang out with us. They have even come to the patio when I am sitting out with the dogs. The dogs do show some interest in the doves. If the doves stay still, then the dogs leave them alone. The doves will fly up into the trees if one of the dogs runs near them and barks, but they will come back later.

I am working on teaching the dogs not to chase the doves when they move around. It is going pretty well. I tell the dogs, these are our doves. If they move towards the doves, I tell the dogs “no no.” This is working well. Claire is our most active dog and likes to watch them. She likes to watch every thing. Even she usually leaves the birds alone at my request. They provide fine entertainment.

I worry that I am not doing the birds any favors by acclimating them to humans and dogs. I hope they stay around here where they are safe. We certainly are enjoying having them around. I had forgotten how much I enjoy watching birds. I recently learned that mourning doves usually mate for life. And that their diet consists of seeds, which they eat from the ground or from a tray style bird feeder. They are too big and heavy for other types of feeders.

I don’t know how long we will have are little friends, but we are making the most of the time they are here.

Beat the Heat

Patio view

This is how I beat the heat after working outside.

In the morning I worked in the vegetable garden, removed Japanese beetles from my roses and fruit trees, watered hanging baskets, and hauled one of the dog crate pans outside to clean it with the hose.

After lunch, I pruned the bad grapes from our vines and went on my second round of Japanese beetle patrol of the day.

Then I decided it was too hot for any more foolishness of this nature. Ie.: Working. So I went for a dip in the pool where the water was a pleasant 79 degrees. Refreshing!

Patio view

Then I spent the rest of the afternoon on a lounge chair in the shade and read while enjoying the company of some of our dogs.

My pup

Zekie is my constant companion. He is rarely more than a few feet away from me. This is just as well. Otherwise I have to keep looking for him to see what trouble he is getting into.

Shetland Sheepdog

Claire likes to be outside. She has made it her job to keep track of all squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. She also barks at loud motorcycles and cars that she deems to be going too fast. Her true bliss seems to be keeping an eye on rodents residing in the rock pile.

Greyhound Cassius is a momma’s boy too!

Cassius likes to hang out near to wherever I happen to be. He was supposed to be my husband’s dog, but it turns out he is a momma’s boy. Wherever I go, there he is. He especially likes to lay in the middle of the kitchen floor as I attempt to work around him while preparing meals.

This is a typical summer day here at Sanctuary Acres. And once again, life is good!

A Summertime Walk

Pink sweet peas
Pink Sweetpeas

We haven’t been walking much lately because, well, there’s just so much to do around here in the summer time. After weeding, planting, deadheading plants, fertilizing, going on bug patrol (hello Japanese beetles), transplanting, trimming bushes and trees, not to mention mowing, there are not a lot of hours left in the day.

Black eyed Susan’s
Black-eyed Susan’s

However this afternoon, the dogs were so insistent and hopeful, that we couldn’t bear to refuse them a walk. And they really needed the exercise after being cooped up from yesterday’s rains.

Day lilies
Day lilies

So, we loaded the dogs up in the car and went to one of our regular trails at West Branch State Park. It is interesting to see how the plants along the trail side change with the seasons. I took pictures of a few of the wildflowers that we saw today as walked.

Wild rose
Wild Rose

It was a cool day, so the flies weren’t even too bad. It was nice to enjoy an outing with the pups.

Sweetpeas
White/light pink Sweetpeas

Being a weekday afternoon, we had the trail to ourselves which made for a relaxing time.

Yarrow
White Yarrow

There were many more types of wildflowers in bloom than what I am sharing here. This means we also saw lots of bees, and my favorite, a hummingbird moth!

Sheltie
Claire and me, on the ride home

Here is a selfie of Claire and me on the ride back home. She always sits on my lap in the car. It is the only way I know of to keep her from getting carsick!

A Recipe for Fresh Turnip Sauté

A turnip, just minutes out of the soil

I came up with this recipe a few years ago when we were inundated with turnips from the garden. There must have been 50 turnips, all ready for harvest at the same time. I learned my lesson. Now, I plant a short row of turnips and replant as I use them, so we have only a few turnips needing to be used at any one time.

Sautéed Turnip with Greens

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 medium turnip with greens,

Cut the end and top from the turnip. Discard end and set the greens aside. Peel the turnip and cut into slivers, or do a fine dice. Cut the greens from the turnip top and discard the top. Strip the tender greens from the tough part of the stems. You can just pull and strip them off with your hand in one fluid motion. Discard the stems. Hold the greens in a bunch on the cutting board and cut into long strips.

In a medium size skillet, heat the oil on medium heat until it swirls freely in the pan.* Add the garlic and cook until golden brown and crispy. Add the white part of the turnip and cook until tender and edges are browned. This only takes a few minutes. Add the greens to the pan and cook until partially wilted. Add more oil if needed. Be sure to flip the greens and stir in the garlic and turnip so they don’t burn on the bottom of the pan.

Add the salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the greens are fully wilted. They are especially tasty if you let the greens brown slightly. At this point, the dish is ready to serve. It holds well if you need to prepare other courses. Just turn the burner off and cover the pan. Let it sit on the burner to stay warm.

Serves 2-3 people.

Finished turnip dish.

*You may have noticed that I always mention heating the oil in the pan before adding the ingredients. This is an important step. Foods cook differently if they heat up along with the oil and it will change how the dish turns out. Also, some foods make stick to the bottom of the pan if they heat up along with the oil. You must, however, not let the oil get so hot that it smokes or it will burn your ingredients. Oil at the preferred temperature has a nice glossy flowing look to it as it swirls around the pan. It will also easily move around the pan and cover the entire bottom with ease.

Bluebirds vs. Sparrows!

My husband made this bluebird nest box in the spring and mounted it on a pole that is easily visible from our kitchen window. We had a pair of bluebirds move in within a couple weeks. We took joy in watching them fly in and out, first bringing grasses to build a nest. Later they laid eggs and raised a clutch. We saw them spend a lot of time flying around, going in and out, carrying insects and other delicacies, presumably for their young chicks. This went on for a few weeks.

Recently, we experienced just how cruel nature can be. House sparrows and wrens started hazing the bluebirds. It was rather traumatic watching the bluebirds come under attack after watching them raise a family.

I did some on-line research and discovered that this is quite a common occurrence. House sparrows and wrens frequently chase off bluebirds. They will even break the eggs, or kill chicks, and sometimes kill adult bluebirds, so they can take over the nest. They are even known to build their nest right on top of the bluebird bodies.

House sparrows are an invasive species. That means not native to the United States. Hence, they are not protected by the Migratory Bird Act. Wrens are native and so are protected. I immediately employed some of the deterrents that I read about to help our bluebird friends. I found instructions for something called a “sparrow spooker” and constructed and installed one right away. This consists of the metal strips hung from a strip of wood or twine. It can be seen in the photo above.

The sparrow spooker seemed to confuse the sparrows for a bit. I did see them or the wrens enter the house a few times afterwards, but other times they shied away. I was back the next day ready to continue battle with the avian invaders after doing further research. Apparently, if you install monofilament fishing line vertically along either side of the entrance to the nest box, sparrows, and hopefully wrens, do not like it. The sparrows and wrens cannot see the line and when they bump into it, it confuses and upsets them. Hopefully, enough so that it will keep them away. I did see a wren bump into the line and sit in a branch nearby tilting his head and staring at the offending area. Bluebirds, being insectivores, are thought to have better eye sight and can avoid the fishing line. That installation is also visible in the photo above.

Bird activity in general is less at the nest box today. I haven’t seen the bluebirds since yesterday, and the number of sparrow and wrens sightings is less too. I am hopeful that the clutch of bluebird babies grew up and fledged before the interlopers showed up. We did not find any baby bluebird bodies in the nest, nor did we find any on the ground in the surrounding area. My research says that bluebird babies fledge in 17-21 days. We had been watching the box for some time so it is possible that the young left to live out their lives elsewhere.

There is one last thing to try at some point in the future. My delving into sparrow habits unearthed the fact that they are territorial. They will not allow other house sparrows in the immediate area of their nest. It’s not the bluebirds per se that the sparrows take issue with. They just want the nesting site. I read that if you install two of the “bluebird houses” within 10 feet of each other, the sparrows will use one and bluebirds can nest in the other. The resident sparrows will not allow other sparrows to use it, leaving it open for the bluebirds.

This experience gave us pause to think. We put up a birdhouse, but who are we to say it is a bluebird house? The sparrows and wrens do not see it that way. And although it was upsetting when “our” bluebirds were driven off, it was nature at work. Should we be allowed to specify who lives in a birdhouse just because it is our whim? Tough choices.

And following, is a photo of one of our flowerbeds that was recently enlarged. Just so there is something positive to report today. I planted gladioli in it, so it should be bright and cheery soon!

Garden Views

Rhododendron and Siberian Irises
Rhododendron and Siberian Irises

I thought I would use this post to show you some of what I have been working on that is keeping me so busy I haven’t had time for regular posts lately. Gardening, of course!

Another bed of Siberian irises

The perennial beds all require weeding. And then there are plants to be split and moved to other flowerbeds or even new ones to start.

Sunblaze Rose

And the roses are plants that have needs all their own. They need regular fertilizing, treating for pests and diseases and frequent pruning.

Sunblaze Rose with multiple blooms
Climbing Rose, America
Red Knockout Rose
Red Knockout Roses and Pink Drift Rose
Foxglove (Digitalis)

The foxglove, I started from seed. As finicky as they were to get started, they don’t require much upkeep now. And they reseed!

There is also much to do that I haven’t seen the pay off for yet. This week I planted 80 gladiolus bulbs and several dahlia tubers. These are all ones that I dug up last fall and wintered over in the basement. I planted seedlings that I started on the enclosed porch last month. And there were seeds and seedlings to get started in the vegetable garden too.

I’m no where caught up and don’t expect to be again until the first frost. Plants have the ability to grow faster than I can keep up with them. Even so, I vow to do better at keeping up with regular blogging!

Follow My Facebook Page to Keep Up to Date on This Busy Time!

Heirloom Peony

You may have noticed that I haven’t published many blog posts in the past couple of weeks. Time has been getting away from me. There is so much to do in the summer months that before I know it, it is time to cook dinner, hang out with my husband, and then off to sleep.

We have switched our hikes from the afternoon to the mornings. As it has gotten warmer (today excepted, rain and temperatures in the 50’s as June approaches!), it has been too warm for the dogs, and me!, to walk in the afternoons. Getting our walks in early has been good for several reasons. Besides it being cooler, it also helps the dogs burn off excess energy early in the day, so they are better behaved for the rest of it. Another plus is, there are less other walkers out and about when we go earlier. This is handy when you are trying to socially distance from people. It is also helpful when walking a reactive dog. There are less encounters that end with Zekie snarling and lunging at passersby which makes the whole adventure more peaceful.

And last but not least, walking in the morning has given us an opportunity to see birds and wildlife that we haven’t seen later in the day. Recently, we have sited a pair of scarlet tanagers, some orioles, some unspecified warblers, and heard birdsong that we hadn’t noticed before. I remember going birdwatching for ornithology class in college. We always left at 7:15 a.m. because that’s when you saw the most birds. Many birds are early risers. Silly birds!

We tend to get up earlier these days too. Claire the sheltie starts barking at first light and attempts at continued sleep become futile. It’s actually the cats’ fault. They know that as soon as one of us comes downstairs, they will get their breakfasts. So, when dawn breaks, the cats start tearing around the downstairs, chasing each other and wreaking havoc. This makes the dogs start barking, which was the cats’ plan all along. Once the barking starts, Claire continues until someone comes downstairs and puts her and the other dogs outside. Then all the dogs decide they are up and want their breakfasts too. No point in trying to sleep after all that.

Clematis

Once every member of the household, including humans, have had breakfast and a hike, it is at least mid-morning. That means it is now time for watering plants which takes up to an hour and a half. One of us does that and the other does some weeding, fertilizing, planting, or other plant maintenance. This takes us up to lunch time.

After lunch time, there may be errands to run. Going to the store for groceries, seeds, bedding plants and such. If there are no errands, we spend the afternoons on various projects such as moving or planting flowers, shrubs, greenery, or small trees. There is always something that needs weeding, and more gardening or mowing to be done.

Before I know what has happened, it is time for making and eating supper. We watch a bit of television and do some reading or crossword puzzles until bedtime. The days fly by so quickly that I wonder where they went and how I ever had time to work a 9 to 5 (or 6:30 to 3:00!) job. Occasionally, I miss that professional work life, but mostly having the freedom to do what I want without it, is great!

All these activities explain why I have been remiss in posting regular updates on the blog. In the end they will provide more subject matter for posts when I start taking photos of all those plants growing and blooming and share them here. If you want another way to keep up with what is going on here at Sanctuary Acres, you can also “Like” the page Sanctuary Acres | Facebook or follow us on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sanctuary_acres/ . It is easier for me to take a moment to post a photo or two during the day than to write a blog post, so you will find more updates there. The blog posts also publish to my Facebook page so if you follow it, you will be sure not to miss any!

Thanks for reading!

Roses and clematis currently blooming.

Did You Know There Are Many Types of Trilliums?

Great White Trillium

I find trilliums to be fascinating. I learned long ago that they were endangered, so I get excited whenever I see one. I had them growing in the woods behind my first home and I have one clump of them at the home I have now.

The type that grows here at Sanctuary Acres is the Great White Trillium. It is startlingly white and blooms faithfully each year. It doesn’t spread or reproduce, we just always have the one clump.

I learned on-line that there are 43 species of trillium known worldwide, with 38 of them occurring in North America. The majority of these are found in the Eastern States. All trilliums belong to the Lily family. This information is from the U.S. Forest Service.

Large groups of trilliums at a nearby park

My husband and I and the dogs were out hiking earlier this week. I was busy watching where I put my feet so I didn’t trip on a tree root or rock, when my husband pointed along the side of the trail. There were beds of trillium for about 200 feet along both sides of the trail. We just stopped and stared at them, soaking in the beauty. (Even though we hiked a different trail the next day, we hiked a short spur up this same trail again to see them.)

Pink (?) Trillium?

My husband pointed out that these trilliums are different than the ones we have at home. I’m not sure of the type. Possibly a pink trillium? I discovered that the types can hybridize, so it’s hard to be sure. Whatever type they are, they are beautiful. Apparently, trillium do not have true leaves. What looks like a leaf, is actually a bract, or part of the rhizome that grows above the ground. It does have chlorophyll and functions as a leaf.

Isn’t nature great?