Canning Tomato Sauce at Pretty Bird Farm

Hey! It has been too long since we have updated the blog, but we are still here! We have been living life instead of writing about it! We are still growing the farm, still growing our little Violet and we added a new baby to the family! Wyatt William Kafarski was born on December 20, 2017!

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Burping the baby!

If you want regular updates, check out our Instagram feed! But without further ado, we bring you a new blog post from the Kitchen at Pretty Bird Farm:

How to Can Tomato Sauce

When we got married (long ago) in 2010, we gave away jars of tomato sauce that we canned ourselves in our sweltering hot Highland Park apartment. We used to hang a sheet between the kitchen and the living room when the stove was going all day, just to give the window unit AC in the living room a fighting chance.

 

Since then, our sauce and our techniques have evolved to become more efficient and create a better end product. And, now we are all grown up with central air in our little ranch on Pretty Bird Farm.

We get asked often how we can tomato sauce so I thought I’d put it down in writing so we can look back at our antique methods another 8 years from now and share what we are doing then!

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  1. Gather all your tools:
    • Canning jars
    • New lids and rings
    • Ladle
    • Big soup pot
    • Lemon juice
    • Tongs or jar lifter
    • Jar funnel
    • Tomatoes!!!
  2. Peel and clean your tomatoes: While peeling isn’t necessary I think it makes a nicer sauce. We have done this a couple ways and here they are ranked from slowest and cheapest to fastest and more expensive:
    • We first started making sauce peeling the old fashioned way by blanching our tomatoes and then dropping them into a pot of ice water. This gets the job done, but it takes a lot of time, and you will go through a lot of ice.
    • Then we upgraded to a hand crank food mill using a salsa blade. This works too, but hand cranking is a lot of work, and you have to find a place in your kitchen where you can attach the mill somewhere to your counters with a vice.
    • We recently purchased the vegetable strainer attachment that goes with our Kitchenaid Mixer and this has revolutionized sauce making for us! This strainer is surely the fastest method for squeezing out all of the pulp from your tomatoes and removing the skins. It also now gives us the option to remove seeds from our sauce!
  3. Cook down your sauce: Cook to the consistency that you would want it for a quick pasta dinner in the middle of winter. For us, this means cooking the sauce until it reduces by about half. We typically use a mix of paste and heirloom tomatoes and this is what works for us. If you are using exclusively paste tomatoes, your cook down process will be much faster! This process for us takes anywhere from 4-10 hours depending on how juicy our tomatoes are and how big of a pot we are starting with.
  4. Seal in canning jars :
    • Start off with clean jars by boiling to sterilize-even if they are brand new. Do not boil the lids. Jars can be used from year to year if they are undamaged, but you will want to buy new rings and lids each time you can.
    • Fill jars with sauce leaving one inch of headspace from the top of the sauce to the top of the jar. Add one tbsp of lemon juice for pints, two tbsp for quarts. Dip lids and rings into boiling water and seal your jars.
    • Process pints for 35 minutes, quarts for 45 minutes in boiling water. And ta-da you did it!
    • Pro Tip: Often canning projects in our house run over more than one day. When processing in a water bath, make sure you are not putting ice cold tomato sauce into a recently boiled jar. You risk the jar cracking, losing all your hard work and making a bigger mess to clean up.

Troubleshooting

If you burn the sauce: Hey it happens! If you notice some burnt bits from the bottom float up when you are stirring, don’t keep stirring them into your sauce! If you catch it soon enough, you might be able to save it. Sometimes it is just burnt on the bottom. Pour your sauce into a new pot leaving the burnt bits in the old one and get back to work.

If your jars don’t seal: Did you cook them long enough? Is the lid on straight? Try a new lid and reprocess!

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A Secret Garden Birthday Party

A Secret Garden Birthday Party

If you’ve been following along on Instagram or Facebook, you know our little Violet just turned 1!

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The last year has been the fastest one of our lives, packed full of learning new skill sets and making new memories all with our beautiful baby on board!

Since Violet couldn’t pick her own 1st birthday theme yet, we picked a Secret Garden Birthday Party theme for her!  We scoured Pinterest for ideas and came up with a few of our own!  Here are some pretty pictures to remember this beautiful day!

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Décor

I knew I wanted flowers – flowers everywhere!! But it was important not to break the budget!  We made a few small cut flower arrangements in Ball Jars and I am especially proud of the living room window which may stay adorned for a long time!

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I loved the idea of sending our friends and family home with a little piece of Violet’s Secret Garden.  Our party favors included potted ranunculus, gerbera daisies, grape hyacinths and tête à tête daffodils.

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Every kid birthday party needs helium balloons!  If you are throwing a party for kids, just double the amount of balloons you think you need!  They really liven up a room and there isn’t a kid around that doesn’t love carrying a balloon around the house.  The crepe paper streamers are inexpensive and really went a long way!  We surprised Violet with a streamers in her door way and a few of her other favorite places on her birthday morning and she loves being flown through them like an airplane.  Big thank yous go out to my mom and Aunt Lisa for adding the final touches to all the thresholds around the house!

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Food

In keeping with the Secret Garden theme, I opted for foods that might have come from the garden: veggie dip, spanakopita, ghost chili cornbread, tomato jam, pepper jelly and a cheese plate.  Ok I know that last one is a bit of a stretch to tie back to the garden, but hey, it’s March!  Friends and family also contributed to our spread adding deviled eggs and Irish soda bread (thanks Aunt Lisa!), fruit salad and spinach dip (Thanks Jackie!) and Stromboli (thanks Erica!)

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Smash Cake

My Mom made cupcakes for dessert and adorned them with gummy butterflies and worms, and she has the cutest recipe for making acorns out of Oreos, Hershey Kisses and chocolate chips.  The grand finale was this beautiful Smash Cake crafted by our local bakery, Factory Girl Bakes.  This was Violet’s first experience with cake.  She was very dainty in the beginning, licking a little bit of chocolate off her fingers here and there and feeding her daddy and grandma.  It wasn’t long before she had had enough and she decided that it was time to pound that cake into oblivion.   She grabbed and threw, and smashed that cake until there were no crumbs left!  And a big thank you to everyone that contributed in cleaning up the highchair, floor and walls as we gave Violet a quick shower and changed her into birthday outfit #2!

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Gifts

Violet was showered with so many thoughtful gifts!  I was surprised and delighted when many of our guests continued the party theme in their gift giving!  Violet received garden themed clothing, a birdhouse to paint, a water table, a Lego Duplo Farm and SO many garden themed books!  Who knew that there were so many children’s books centered around gardening!  If you are looking to inspire a little one to get out and love nature, here are just a few from Violet’s bookshelf:

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins

Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson

The Little Gardener by Jab Gerardi

The Night Gardener by Teri and Eric Fan

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

The Puddle Garden by Jared and Laura Rosenbaum

And don’t forget The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett-now available in a picture board book by Jennifer Adams!

Thank you to all that shared and celebrated with our little Violet on this very special day!   Love Tiffany, John & Violet

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Sunday Flurries

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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Let’s be honest, it’s been looking a lot like Christmas at Pretty Bird Farm since the week before Thanksgiving!  I took three days off work in November to make garland, decorate our tree and sew Luffa sponges (what?).  John reminded me this morning that it’s Winter Solstice, so what better time to do the winter update I have been planning all month!

And now we have Violet in our lives, it’s the best Christmas yet at Pretty Bird Farm!  We have been living every weekend to the fullest – walking the local river towns, baking cookies with family and friends, and learning how to sit on Santa’s lap for the first time!

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I love Christmas.  I start living and breathing it, planning Christmas cards, shopping and thinking about decorating right around Halloween.  This year I started dreaming of the holidays much earlier when this behemoth started growing in the garden:

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Not every experiment in the garden turns out so successfully.  Growing luffa was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed making my own luffa sponges to hand out as party favors.

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Most Christmases we put up a spruce tree because I am always attracted to the shape and promise of the strong branches holding our heavy ornaments.  This year a Canaan Fir at Rosemont Tree Farm caught our eye.  We have never had a tree drink so much water and drop so few needles.  I think fir is our new Christmas standard!

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Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a countdown.  A few years ago I saw this beautiful Advent Calendar in a store that was literally $99.  I thought to myself, I could totally make that for $20. So I did! I gathered felt, embroidery thread, paint and some Martha Stewart stencils and got to work. Each year I wind up a garland with greens from the yard.  This year’s garland is made of yew and cedar.

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We hung our stockings by the chimney with care, and decorated the mantle with more greens from the yard, a few paperwhites (I love these!!!), some leftovers from our Thanksgiving mantle (apple gourds: I could totally grow these), a few lemon cypress I hope to keep alive and some good old fashioned gold glitter pinecones:

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The farm stand is also still in service, but not quite as full as it is in the summer time.  We have been making wreaths and swags all month, and selling a few of the birdhouse gourds we grew last year.  The chickens have really slowed down their egg production. We are only getting 2-4 eggs per day from twenty ladies. However, when we have eggs to share we put those out on the farm stand as well.

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So, it’s four sleeps until Christmas and you would think we are all set right?  Well, we are mostly.  The gifts are wrapped, Christmas dinner is planned, the house is decorated and clean (shhh the baby is still sleeping!) but I have one last Christmas craft on my to-do list: Christmas Crackers.

I bought Christmas crackers years ago and I remember thinking they were a lot of fun.  I feel like every retailer is selling them this year, but I am not that excited about the contents.  Apparently a tissue paper crown, cheap plastic toy and cheesy joke is tradition!

Anyway, I have decided to make my own for Christmas dinner and as the winter solstice sun rose this morning, I did some inspirational web browsing.  I thought they were just made from a tube and some wrapping paper, but there is also a small stick called a cracker snap that is only sold outside the US that adds a popping sound when the cracker is pulled a part.  I tried searching for how to make my own but that just lead down a rabbit hole to making your own fireworks and other things we aren’t going to blog about.  So, we will have to make our own enthusiastic popping sounds at Christmas dinner this year!  Photos coming soon-wish us luck!

We hope Santa treats you well, and that you have a Very Merry Christmas!

Tiffany, John & Violet

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Holy Moly!

A Mole Sauce Recipe

What an election this has been.  This post isn’t about politics though, there is enough read about that right now.  This blog post is about the delightful mole sauce we made to upgrade our Taco Tuesday dinner last night!

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We did rock the vote though.

Mole is a chocolate pepper sauce used in Mexican cooking.  You don’t find it at just any Mexican restaurant though. Because there are quite a number of ingredients and a fair amount of time goes into creating it, you don’t see it that often.  It isn’t common like tomato sauce or pesto; I don’t think I have ever seen a can of it in the store!

I have been feeding my mole obsession lately at a little Mexican restaurant called Viva Mexico that we accidentally stumbled on in Flemington.  The food is excellent, more than reasonably price and the staff is super friendly.  We went there this past weekend with Violet. And of course I had the cheese enchiladas with the house made mole sauce.  We ordered a plate of sliced avocado on the side for Miss Violet to snack on.

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And, she tried her first lime!

With all the election drama yesterday I was craving comfort food.  It was Taco Tuesday for us, and the addition of mole sauce on top really dressed it up.  I searched around on the web for a recipe, but everyone seemed to have a different take on it.  Who knew there were so many ways to make a mole?  Below is the Pretty Bird Farm take on mole, using up ingredients we already had on hand, and allowing our final tomato and pepper harvests to really go out with a bang!

This is a huge batch of mole that is going to complement at least a dozen dinners this winter for us.  You can cut it in half or quarters, but with all the love that goes into creating it, I think it is best made in mass.  We froze our extra batches in freezer safe containers and ice cubes for easy add-ons to the next Taco Tuesday, Eggs & Potatoes Night or Pasta Dinner.

Makes 3-3.5 quarts of mole:

  • 6 Cups Vegetable Broth
  • 6 Cups Sweet & Hot Peppers (cored but not chopped)
  • 2 Tortillas
  • 6 Cups Quartered Tomatoes
  • 1 Large Onion
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 1 Garlic Bulb
  • 6 Allspice Berries
  • 2 Cups Hazlenuts
  • 2 Tbsp Cumin
  • 10 oz. Chocolate
  • ¼ Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Salt

Directions:

Core peppers and heat in a dry pan searing them until they become heated and aromatic:

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A handful of Anchos, a handful of Sweet Bells, a few Cayennetta, a few Lemon Dream

Then blend them with 2 cups of vegetable broth.  Work in batches if your food processor or blender only fits small quantities.  This is all going into one pot to be mixed together, so don’t worry about each element mixing perfectly together as you go.  As my food processor filled up, I emptied it out half way storing what was blended already in a bowl on the side.

Chop up and toast 2 tortillas in the pan you used for the peppers. Throw them in the food processor, mixing them in with the pepper broth mixture.  Roughly chop your tomatoes and heat them up in your same frying pan. Cook them for about 15 minutes.

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Go ahead and be daring and throw a few green tomatoes in there!

You want to bring out a roasting flavor but not completely cook them down to sauce.  Then put them in the food processor mixing them in with the peppers and broth.  Heat up some olive oil in your frying pan.  Roughly chop your onion and cook it down roasting the nuts, roughly chopped garlic, cinnamon sticks, allspice and cumin.

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Sizzle Sizzle Sizzle-By the way, these hazelnuts are special: they were grown, picked, shelled and flown back to the US by our neighbor Irene all the way from Italy!  Thanks Irene!

Add more olive oil as necessary so nothing sticks or burns.  When the onions begin to caramelize and nuts start toasting, remove the cinnamon sticks and allspice and discard them.  Blend the onions and nuts and mix in to your tomato pepper mixture.

In a large soup pot (at least 5 Quart size) heat 4 cups of vegetable broth, 10 oz chocolate, (treat yourself to something nice like the baking chocolate we picked up from Sciascaia Confections at the Stockton Market) ¼ Cup Sugar and 1 Tbsp of salt until the chocolate melts and everything mixes together. Then transfer all of the other blended ingredients into the big pot and mix well.

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It might not look pretty, but this sauce is a little bit of heaven!

Allow this to heat and thicken up a bit and mix thoroughly.  If you are happy with the consistency of your mix, go ahead and enjoy it like it is.  You can also transfer it all back to your blender in batches.  I used an immersion blender and just mixed everything up a bit more in the pot that it was in.20161108_184301

Top off your Tuesday Taco bowl and enjoy!

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Mashed Avocado, Quinoa, Mexican Cheese, Refried Beans, Lime, Cornbread and One Pretty Bird Farm Egg Over Easy

Want to learn more about Mole?  Check out the wiki-there is a ton of history and folklore about this beautiful sauce!

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And don’t forget to make the kids do the dishes!

Love Mole?  Let us know!   We would love to hear if you give our recipe a go or put your own spin on it!  Tiffany

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Adventures in Baby Food

One of the things John said he was most excited about when we discovered we were pregnant was making our own baby food.  We love growing our own food, cooking it and preserving it to enjoy when it’s not in season.  Now that our Violet is 7 months old (already!!) we have started introducing her to pureed fruits, vegetables and soggy cereals with mashed bananas.  Here are a few of our recent creations, I can’t wait to see what she will eat next!

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I know the good stuff is in there somewhere, I just have to figure out how to get it out!

Apple Sauce

It seems like only yesterday we went apple picking and announced to everyone we were pregnant.  In fact, Facebook just reminded me it was about a year ago!

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Fall 2015: there was a pie in the oven!

Now Violet is eating and loving applesauce almost daily.  So, while they are in season we figured we better stock up.  We went apple picking last month at Solebury Orchards.  Violet loved being outside and was a great sport posing with the apples!

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If you are a local, I highly recommend visiting Solebury Orchards during the week – it is much less crowded and they offer the same experience.  We ended up picking 10 lbs of Pixie Crisp apples which translated into 8 pints of applesauce.  We used the applesauce recipe at PickYourOwn.org recommended by my friend Scott.

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Pixie crisp apples made a pink applesauce! 

Plums!

We also picked up a few quarts of plums while we were out at Solebury Orchards.  As you can see in the video below-they were a hit!

Carrot Puree

Cereal check.  Apple Sauce check.  What else is in season?  Carrots!  I love carrots any way you cook them and thought Violet would love them too.  Ours are not quite ready for picking so I picked up some Jersey Fresh carrots (actually I bought all of the carrots they had) at Homestead Market last week.  I cleaned, roughly chopped, boiled and pureed them and they came out beautiful!

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Don’t they look pretty?

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mmmm carrot puree

Violet did not agree.  She closed her mouth and turned her head!  This was the first time she’s refused food from us.  Oh no, but I love carrots!  It’s okay.  We can try again another time.  Their sweet early flavor is a lot different than her Pixie Crisp Apple Sauce.  On to the next thing and maybe we will reintroduce these again later.

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The snapdragon and quinoa didn’t help sell it to Violet, but doesn’t it look pretty?

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The picture is a bit blurry, but Violet’s utter disgust is not.

Butternut Squash Puree

Next up: Butternut Squash Puree!  John has been hoarding butternut squash-every time he drives past Farmer Bob’s stand he comes home with three more!  We grew a few cute little Butterbush in our garden this year, and combined them with the ones we picked up locally.  We made a huge batch of roasted Butternut Squash puree – enough that we have stockpiled a bunch for Violet and we can have some for dinner too.  Now that it is all cooked, pureed and put away in Violet size portions, I think I will run out and pick up a few more!  As our friends the Starks would say, Winter is Coming!

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Coming Soon: Coming soon to Violet’s dinner plate: pears, peaches, avocados, sweet potatoes and maybe that pile of green bell peppers John just picked!

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Growing up is exhausting!

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Autumnal Equinox at Pretty Bird Farm

Autumnal Equinox at Pretty Bird Farm

I wanted to share some pictures of our garden as it transitions into fall.  While this blog post is a couple weeks late, the pictures are from the Fall Equinox in late September.  The sunflowers are no longer exploding with color, the tomatoes are no longer staked and tidy, but as our summer garden fades there are new colors to see, new plants to anticipate and still so many things to still be grateful for.

I took a yoga class a few weeks ago where the instructor talked about that period of transition in between the poses.  Often we are in such a hurry to get from one place to the next that our focus is either on where we are going, or where we have been, and we don’t take the time to soak in the beauty that lies in that transition.  So, as our garden transitions into Fall, here are a few pictures to capture the moments.

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The Grand Entrance

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John planting a second batch of radishes

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Are those furrows too deep?

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These were planted 2 weeks ago and will be ready for harvesting in about 2 more!

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They’re still pretty because the gold finches love them!

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So much for tidy rows!  Best performer this year way down at the end is the new Cloudy Day.  It had the best disease tolerance and it is still producing in the cold short days!

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This nasturtium is still working hard!  I recently used some in cut flower arrangements.

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The carrots are sure taking their time!

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Late season winners: Ageratum, Snapdragons, Marigolds

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1st year growing Gomphrena Fireworks!  Great cutflower and looking good so far dried.

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Let me tell you about this luffa!  It is definitely the most unique thing out in the garden.  I am really excited to make sponges!   Handmade sponges!  Who knew?!

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Benary’s Giant Zinnias aren’t exactly giant anymore, but they are still mildew free and still cranking out vibrant beauties.

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This kale has been feeding us all summer!  I grew it on a whim from seed planning on tossing it to the chickens but we have had a dozen or more beautiful dinners (and so have the chickens!)

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The pumpkin patch was a bit of a flop.  It was destroyed by vine borers and stink bugs.  This is going to be a new cut flower bed next year.

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New foundation planting!  Wait until you see these beauties grow up: variegated red twig dogwoods!

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Another foundation planting in the back.  We moved these hostas out of the blazing sun and created a shade bed.  There is also astilbe and bleeding hearts in there hiding under the vibrant coleus.

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Oh hey moonflower, I almost forgot about you!

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A few of our lovely ladies: Black Marans, Lavender Orpington, Polish TopHat

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We started a legit compost pile this year.  We make too much compost for the neat and tidy black box!  I hope to use some of this in the coming year to enrich our soils.

 

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And look at this guy!  Feeding on and being fed on a tomato growing out of the compost pile!  Those little grains of rice are actually wasp cocoons which are eating the hornworm from the inside out!

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The autumn splendor of golden rod.  This is the primary food of our honey bees this time of year.

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Sometimes the prettiest flowers are the ones that volunteer to grow.  This little tickseed is growing in what is left of the melon patch!

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And one final photo: the Little Monarch that Could!  Our garden was so full of butterflies this summer, I love that we provided them with a breeding ground for the next generation!  Hurry up little guy!  Winter is coming!

 

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