News from the Coop at Pretty Bird Farm

We have a rooster!  Or at least two!  (Please don’t let there be more than two). Our Blue Ameracauna has been looking a little suspicious for the past few weeks. It’s nearly twice the size (at 4 months) of some of our older girls from last year!  I kept telling myself it must just be a big breed… it would crow if it was a rooster… and it hasn’t crowed yet – until it did!  Clear as day, cock-a-doodle-roo!  Now that I look at them I think at least two of our four Blue Ameracuanas are roosters.  (so much for 90% accuracy with sexing day old chicks!)  The few blue eggs we get will be extra special now!


These two Ameracauna are the same age.  The rooster on the left is much larger than the hen on the right.  See the subtle difference in tail feathers?  This rooster’s tail is going to be majestic when he’s full grown!

After doing a little research and consulting my friends from the Hunterdon County Backyard Chickens Facebook Group, we have decided to keep our two roosters – as long as they play nice.  Apparently there is such a thing as ‘gentle roosters’ that don’t fight and don’t beat up the ladies.  As long as these two behave themselves, they can stay.  And John came up with names for them so now they are pets!  The lighter blue rooster above is Stonewall Jackson and the darker blue below is General Sherman.  Wish us luck!


Is this a gentle face?

And, in case you were wondering, there is no difference in the taste or appearance of a fertilized egg versus a non-fertilized egg.  As long as the eggs are collected daily, they will remain just that – just eggs.  If we want to expand our flock one day all we have to do is let fertilized eggs incubate for 21 days!


Everyone else is minding their own business, but the roosters are keen to my plans!

If you would like to learn more about fertilized eggs, The Chicken Chick (one of my favorite chicken resources) wrote a great blog post on it: Facts and Myths about Fertile Eggs.

I was hoping to catch a rooster crowing by the time I posted this but he didn’t cooperate.  So here is a flashback to our little Violet checking out the chickens instead:

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Ball Field Day 2016

If you know us personally, then you know Pretty Bird Farm is not our full time gig (just yet!).  John and I both have full time day jobs.  John sells grape juice for David Bowler Wine and I work for Ball Horticultural, the industry leader in plant breeding and distribution.  Ball develops new plants and sells the seeds or cuttings to the greenhouses that grow for the garden centers you buy your plants from.

Each year, the last Friday in July has been reserved for Ball Field Day, where Ball opens their West Chicago facility to their customers and other industry professionals for a day of education and touring the Gardens at Ball.  Visitors spend the day in seminars, with product experts, tasting tomatoes and gaining inspiration.

Imagine working for a company with nine acres of display gardens right outside of your office window!  It is a good thing I work from my home office in NJ and they are out in West Chicago, Illinois.  I don’t know how I would get any work done if I had that tempting me to walk around every day!

The following collection of photos is just a quick glimpse of the beauty that is The Gardens at Ball.  I didn’t take that many pictures this year because it rained half the day and technically, I was working. Here are a few of my favorite views as well as a few plants on my wishlist for next year.  Please excuse my rainy day camera skills, these were all taken with my cell phone:



Every Garden needs a Skyframe!



I love seeing flowers mixed in in the veggie garden!


Who knew the flowers on Okra were this pretty!  This is Baby Bubba, a new compact Okra for small spaces.  These are only about knee high and growing a ton of fruit!



On my wishlist for next year: Rudbeckia Autumn Colors


Also on next year’s wishlist: Jolt Dianthus.  This would make a beautiful cut flower and the smell is divine!


These may not look impressive in late July, but the Brazelberries line of compact blueberries and thornless raspberries are awesome!  They are neat and tidy for small spaces and yield a ton of fruit (in June)!  We planted Pink Icing in our garden this year.


Even in the rain, the Wave Petunias tunnel is breathtaking!


In the trial beds, new varieties are planted alongside the old standards so you can compare new colors, habits, flower sizes or disease tolerances.


Have you ever seen Angelonia this color?  No, because it’s brand new from Ball Flora Plant!


This is probably my favorite new introduction from Burpee Home Gardens.  Cupcake Squash is a hybrid cross between Zucchini and Patty Pan.  The fruit is shaped like a Patty Pan but has the thin edible skin of a Zucchini!  As soon as these ripen I will be blogging how we eat them-it is such a fun squash for stuffing!  There are only 3 plants in this gigantic mound!   Garden Model: Mike Annes


Check out this three sided vertical garden planted by Ball Floral Plant!

And finally, this is the front entrance to the Ball Horticultural corporate offices in West Chicago, IL.  Every time I visit I am blown away at how beautiful it is!  What if all Corporate Offices planted flowers instead of lawns?





And that concludes my favorite photos from Ball Field Day 2016.  You would not believe how many plants and beautiful spaces I didn’t take pictures of.  For more pictures from Ball Field Day, see what my colleagues shared by searching for the keyword #ballfieldday on Twitter and Instagram.  Tiffany

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Tomato Everything

It’s August in New Jersey, and if you aren’t eating three square meals of tomatoes a day you are doing something wrong.  Okay, I’m exaggerating. However, as high season for tomatoes is upon us and we are picking daily.  And natural, we are eating them at least one meal per day.  We sell our prettiest tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with a split or cracked one, they just need to be eaten sooner.  And with that, here is a recap of our weekend of tomatoes.

Tomato Sandwiches

Nothing says Summer in Jersey like a sandwich with warm tomatoes picked just off the vine.  Make it a balanced meal with a few dollops of pesto or ricotta – or both!


Pineapple Heirloom Tomato, Fulper Family Farmstead Ricotta & Last Year’s Frozen Pesto

Tomato Sauce

In celebration of our beautiful Violet coming into our lives we are calling this year’s batch, Violet’s Blend.  And because she graces us with the occasional nap to give us time to preserve summer’s bounties, our first twelve pints of tomato sauce are under our belts!


While I would by no means consider myself an expert canner, we have been preserving tomatoes for about a decade now.  I think tomatoes are the easiest thing to preserve and they are one of the most gratifying things to open up in the dead of winter.  In case you were wondering how easy it is, this is how we preserve our tomatoes in a hot water bath:

  1. Peel tomatoes. You can skip this step if you don’t mind the skins in your sauce, they won’t hurt you, I just prefer my sauce without the curled up skins.  We have a food mill that cranks the meat of the tomato out quick, but you can also skin them the old fashioned way by dropping them in a pot of boiling water for a minute, and then dropping them in a bowl of ice cold water-the skins peel off super easy.
  2. We cooked down a big pot of peeled tomatoes for about an hour to thicken them up and evaporate off some of the water. You can skip this step too if you don’t mind watery sauce-you can always thicken it up when you use it down the road.
  3. Sterilize your jars. Boil clean Ball Jars for about 20 minutes.  Rings and seals I just dip in the boiling water as I am closing up the jars-you are not supposed to boil the seals because this could damage them and prevent them from sealing correctly.
  4. Fill the sterilized jars with your tomato sauce! Make sure to leave a ½ inch of head space at the top to give them room to expand during the sealing process.  Fill them too much and they might burst.  Each pint gets a teaspoon of lemon juice to guarantee they are acidic enough to prevent spoiling.  *Make sure your sauce and your jars are approximately the same temperature when filling.  You don’t want to put cold sauce into hot jars-this could crack them.
  5. Screw on clean lids and boil for 40 minutes. *Note this time works for us at sea level, if you are at a higher elevation I would check with a Ball Canning Guide for processing times.

Two good websites I would recommend you consult when canning are: and

Tomato Jam

Yes you can make tomato Jam!  It is great on crusty bread and I like to use it as a substitute for ketchup.  We made tomato jam a few years ago and we just ran out.  I roughly followed this recipe with a few changes.  They said the spices were optional, so I substituted what I had on hand: smoked paprika, cayenne pepper & ginger.  And I skipped the pectin.  I think it gives more of a store bought jelly appearance and I didn’t think it was necessary.  The jam came out great and I will definitely make another batch later this season.


Tomato Pizza

I am really enjoying this habit we are getting back into of a weekly pizza night.  Of course John does all the work, and all I have to do is agree to it, so it really is the perfect meal!  Check out this beautiful pie he created with our Black Krim, Pineapple, Nebraska Wedding and Wapsipinicon Peach Heirlooms!  This time we topped it with a mix of barrel Feta from the Stockton Market and a few dollops of Fulper Farm’s Ricotta:


For more info on how to make your own pizza, check out this recipe: strawberry pizza

Tomato Pie

And in case you missed one of our greatest creations, click here for tomato pie!

Have a great week! Tiffany, John & Violet


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What’s for Dinner: Stuffed Acorn Squash

My friend Stacey made this beautiful stuffed Cupcake Squash last week:


And anyone that saw it was literally drooling over the picture!  While our cupcakes are not ripe just yet, as soon as I saw these two beautiful white acorn squash in the garden yesterday, I knew we too were destined for stuffed squash!


White Acorn Squash

We cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, basted it with olive oil, and roasted it cut side up in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350F until the flesh was nice and tender.



No garden or kitchen refuse goes to waste in our house and our chickens were over the moon excited about their first squash seeds of the season!


What do our chickens eat?  Only the healthiest table scraps (no carbs 🙂 ), organic chicken feed, & organically grown bugs and weeds!

For the stuffing: a mix of quinoa, a chopped Black Krim tomato, local New Jersey sweet corn, minced rosemary and basil, and a pinch of salt-topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella. And then the squash goes  back into the oven until the mozz is a beautiful melty mess!  Optional: once the mozzarella is melted, turn on the broiler for about 20 seconds to give it a nice roasted mozzarella finish (don’t take your eyes off it, it will toast up quick!).


Tomato: Black Krim, Hand Model: John




Violet joined us via baby monitor.  In the decanter: Bandol – Tour du Bon 2010

It’s our first time growing this squash that we acquired from a seed exchange hosted by our friends from the Rosemont Café.  So far I like the compact habit and the stark white color of the fruit makes them easy to spot in our very green squash/melon patch.  After this meal, I cannot wait for more!

If you haven’t had enough of this beautiful acorn squash yet, click here for an adorable video of our Violet inspecting our first squash harvest:



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Rainbow Tomato Pie

Although we did make it out to the garden early for some tomato picking and cut flower arranging, the rain kept us inside for most of the day today.  Things sure do jump when we get a few days of thunderstorms sprinkled in between the sunny days.  And sometimes with all that growth you get cracked tomatoes, which calls for immediate consumption!


Fresh cut flowers for our farm stand!


A few of our favorite heirloom tomatoes: Mortgage Lifter, Nebraska Wedding, Black Krim, Wapsipinicon Peach, Pineapple

I’ve seen a few tomato pie recipes floating around on social media, but when I went hunting for recipes I decided to make my own without mayo, lard or shortening.  Here’s the how-to:

Hot Water Crust (Yes, this is a nod to The Great British Baking Show! If you haven’t seen it set, your DVR now!)

  • 6 tbsp butter-this mixes way easier if the butter is room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp milk
  • 1/8 cup boiling water
  • 1 & 1/4 cups flour

For the Filling

  • Tomatoes-about 4 medium sized tomatoes (In this pie: 1 Mortgage Lifter, 1 Black Krim, 1 Nebraska Wedding, 1 Pineapple, 2 Wapsipinicon Peach)
  • A handful of fresh basil
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • ½ lb mozzarella
  • A few dollops of ricotta



Make the crust: Mix butter, salt, milk and boiling water in a large bowl.  Go ahead and use the food processor if your butter is cold.  Once that is all together, mix in the flour until it all comes together in a soft, smooth dough.  Press the dough into your 9” pie dish.  There is quite a bit of butter in the crust, but I lightly buttered the pie dish as well-just in case!


John and Violet clowning around while I prepped dinner!

Preheat the oven to 400F

Slice your tomatoes and let them drain while the oven is preheating.  Arrange your tomatoes in a pretty layer with sliced mozzarella, tucking in bits of minced garlic, dollops of ricotta, and basil leaves as you make your way around the pie. Season with salt and pepper.


Bake for about an hour or until the crust is golden brown and the tomatoes and mozzarella bubble and bind together.  Cooking time may vary due to moisture content in the tomatoes and cheese.  Let pie set and cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.


I’d love to tell you that this pie feeds a lot of people, but the two of us just ate the entire thing.  And it was wonderful.

Pair with a rosé from Provence or a minerally Chablis. Stay away from wines that are overly ripe, as the more forward new world flavors often (but not always) clash with the tomatoes.

Enjoy! Tiffany & John

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What’s for Dinner: Strawberry Pizza

Last year we installed a huge strawberry garden, 800 plants or so in a 1,600 square foot space.  And then I got pregnant with Violet and found myself unable to help with any of the farm maintenance.  Our strawberry patch became overrun with waist high weeds and most of our plants didn’t make it over the winter.

I think it’s important to try everything 3 times before thoroughly giving up, so this spring we replanted 90% of the patch.  It is now a medley of varieties we picked up from a few different garden centers.  Some are June bearing, some are ever bearing, which means we are still picking berries right now!


This is us planting strawberries in May.  Shhhh!  The baby is sleeping!

Food & Wine Magazine posted this strawberry tart last week: which inspired us to make Strawberry Pizza for dinner at Pretty Bird Farm.  It was my idea, but really John did all the work, since he’s the one that has mastered the perfect pizza crust.

Strawberry Pizza



For the Toppings

For the Crust

  • Antimo 00 flour
  • a few pinches of sugar, salt, and a splash of water
  • 1 package dry yeast: I also think it is worth mentioning, that when you buy packaged yeast, make sure the ingredients just say yeast!  I don’t know who came up with the idea to add artificial flavors to packaged yeast, but it just isn’t necessary.  Good thing John reads food labels!


Preheat the oven to 500+ Degrees F

The Crust: John has never written down the recipe for the dough and it comes out a bit different each time he puts it together, but here is a rough idea how he does it:  First, mix a packet of yeast, a pinch or two of sugar, salt and water.  Let the mixture double or so in size. Then slowly mix in the flour – a bit at a time until the newly formed ball of dough is elastic and moist but no longer wet.  Allow the dough to rise and when you are ready to make the pizza, remove from the bowl and work it with a bit of flour on the pizza board. Be sure not to add too much flour or it will dry out. Roll or press out the dough into the shape of a pizza. The dough at Pretty Bird Farm isn’t an exact science, so take your time. Making a good dough takes plenty of practice and the good news is that even if it isn’t perfect, it should be delicious.

Toppings:  Cut the green tops off the strawberries and chop them up a bit.  Sauté about ¾ of the arugula in olive oil. Crumble or roughly chop up the cheese into small chunks.

Assembly:  Roll out the dough on a floured pizza board and slide it onto a preheated pizza stone.  Cook until the crust barely sets and then take it back out of the oven.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the crust and spread it out with a basting brush. Spread the toppings evenly over the crust: sautéed arugula, chopped strawberries, cheese chunks.  Top with the rest of the fresh arugula and cook until you see the crust start to brown and/or bubble – and make sure the cheese melts!  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar glaze (and I like to add salt and hot pepper) before serving!


Optional: Enjoy with a cold glass of sparkling wine!


Bon Appetit!
Tiffany & John


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Pretty Bird Farm’s Top 10 Plants for Attracting Butterflies to the Garden

It’s mid-July and I must admit our flower gardens are really looking pretty.  We have had the perfect balance of sun and rain and it is as if overnight all the butterflies in town have flocked to our gardens.  There are plenty of plants to pick from when planting a garden to attract pollinators, but here are just a few of our favorites out there in bloom now.



  1. Coneflower (Echinacea): Any variety will do, and these days there are so many colors and habits to choose from.  This easy to grow perennial likes a lot of sun and is also drought tolerant.  If they can handle being planted along the medians on the highway, surely they are easy enough to grow in your garden!  And if you like bringing the garden indoors, they make a pretty good cut flower!


    Swallowtail on Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

  2. Bee Balm (Monarda): This is a vigorous perennial that comes in an assortment of colors ranging from red to pink to purple.  Bee Balm is prone to getting unsightly powdery mildew on its foliage but there are new varieties available today that more resistant.  We planted ‘Marshall’s Delight’ which is supposed to be more resistant.  While it didn’t have mildew last year, the frequent rains we’ve had have led to a light outbreak.  Still, the flowers are pretty and the butterflies are happy.


    Tomato Hornwom Moth on Bee Balm ‘Marshall’s Delight’

  3. Catnip (Nepeta): This isn’t one I expected to include on this list, but when I stepped out in the yard to snap some photos today, I couldn’t help but notice these cabbage lupers thoroughly enjoying themselves on the flowers.  There are annual and perennial varieties to choose from and you should note that it can self-seed and spread aggressively in your garden.  If you want to keep it under control, plant it in a pot on your patio and remove spent blossoms after the butterflies have enjoyed them but before they go throwing seeds all over the yard.


    Cabbage Luper on Catnip

  4. Milkweed (Asclepias): There are a lot of different varieties of milkweed out there.  We have a wild one that Monarchs laid their larvae on last year. They get a white fragrant flower, and this year we picked up a new one with vibrant orange flowers that the butterflies are loving!  Milkweed is a perennial that tends to spread via fluffy white seeds.  This is plant that is critical to the monarch butterfly’s lifecycle and we highly recommend planting it and not pulling out volunteers when they come up in new places in your yard.

    Screenshot_2016-07-19-10-43-32_resized_1 (2).jpg

    Asclepias Butterfly Milkweed

  5. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia): Butterfly bushes are the gift that keeps on giving. As old blossoms fade, there is always a new set of flower buds behind them.  While this woody shrub is low maintenance and will still continue to grow without help, if you prune out faded out flowers, the new ones will bloom faster.  Do note that some varieties of butterfly bush are invasive, and some can also get enormous!  I wanted a lot of variety in our butterfly garden so we chose the compact varieties ‘Black Knight,’ ‘Buzz ™ Magenta’ and ‘Cranrazz.’20160719_150030s_resized.jpg


  1. Zinnia: Every year I plant more and more zinnias, and I still feel like there is room for more. Zinnias are an annual in our zone.  I grow most of mine from seed, but I am very impulsive when I see a healthy flat ready to bloom at a garden center.  My all-time favorite variety for cut flowers is Benary’s Giant, but this year we are also growing Oklahoma Mix, Cut and Come Again Mix, Peppermint Stick and a really beautiful bicolor one called Zowie! ™ Yellow Flame.  I could probably write an entire blog post about why zinnias are so amazing.  Stay tuned for that one!


    Monarch Butterfly on Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant’

  2. Petunia: Petunias are another group of flowers where there are so many varieties to choose from, but honestly my favorite have always been Wave Petunias.  The wave Petunia collection has so many colors and sizes to choose from and what’s great about them is that you never have to deadhead!  They are great in containers and in the ground and are so low maintenance.  Once established (and watered a few times) you can even plant them in places where you know you won’t remember to water them and they will still look great until frost hits them in the fall!


    Wave Petunias: Shockwave Rose, Easy Wave Yellow & Shockwave Denim

  3. Marigold (Tagetes): Marigolds are one of the easiest annuals to grow and the butterflies love them!  Most people plant them in their vegetable gardens because their pungent fragrance helps discourage bugs and other critters.  They also make a great cut flower once they start stretching tall in the summer sun!


    Swallowtail Butterfly on French Marigolds

  4. Nasturtium: We plant nasturtium every year because I delight in feeding it to anyone that happens to come over and visit our garden. It is a beautiful edible flower that adds a colorful peppery flavor to any dish.  It is one that is sure to attract butterflies to your garden as well.  You can pick up plants at a garden center or you can grow it from seed.  The seeds are a little tricky to germinate because they require scarification.  Scratch them up with an emery board or soak in water the night before you plant to speed up sprouting!



  5. Verbena: There are a lot of verbenas to choose from, some are short and compact or trailing and great for containers, and there is even a new one out that is great for landscape beds that doesn’t get mildew. This year we planted the tall verbena, Verbena Bonariensis, sometimes called South American Verbena, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the habit or flower power.  I picked up a flat of leggy plants from our local garden center and it didn’t take them long to explode with color.  Our Verbena patch is a very busy hub for pollinators and you can see bees, butterflies and moths out there hitting on the nectar all day long!  This is listed as a tender perennial in zones 7-10, so it I have it listed here as an annual for our zone 6B garden.


    Verbena Bonariensis

I think we can officially call our garden a butterfly breeding ground.  In case you missed recent the video we posted to Instagram, here is a link of Monarch Butterflies having a great time in our garden!

There are so many more flowers out there that are sure to attract pollinators to your garden, this is just a short list that is easy to grow, and is in bloom in our garden right now.  Each year we are adding more and more!  Have some recommendations for us?  Let us know in the comments below!  Tiffany


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Adventures in Pumpkin Farming

Before this week, we were rather inexperienced at growing pumpkins.  Last year we planted 100 seeds of the Small World of Color Pumpkin Mix super late in the season and after weeds, disease and the local wildlife took most of the crop, we grew two beautiful blue pumpkins.  We have also grown a number of rogue Jack Be Littles that were volunteers from pumpkins we had tossed out in the yard.  This pumpkin patch certainly is a new adventure for us!

After talking about it for more than a year, we finally committed to planting a dedicated place exclusively for pumpkins.  We measured out an area roughly 20’ x 80’ adjacent to our new strawberry patch (that’s another story) and tilled the grass under.  We’re pretty happy with how straw has been keeping the weeds down in other areas of the garden this year, so we elected to continue using it for weed control in the new pumpkin patch.

20160626_105739_resizedWe’ve never grown pumpkins on this scale before and we debated how best to go about it.  Should we plant them in hills as suggested on the seed packets?  That would be a lot of hills!  Or, plant them in raised rows created by a plow?  We don’t own a plow.  John voted to just plant them in a flat pumpkin patch, since that’s how you find them when you go pumpkin picking.  After consulting my friend Scott (who knows how to grow just about everything) my idea for some sort of raised bed was ruled out as impractical.  He assured us that farmers just plant them in the ground.  So, I think we are farmers now!

Since our space was so large and we planted so many different varieties, we didn’t really follow the rules on how far to space the plants apart.  Instead, we accepted that we were likely to lose a few plants to natural causes and we spread the plants out evenly along the length of the patch.  Survival of the fittest right?  Just as we were getting started to plant, our neighbor Duke (who by the way grows great cut-your-own Christmas Trees at The Rosemont Tree Farm) dropped by to check out our progress and offered to help.  I watched Violet snooze in the shade, and Duke and John planted two nice and even rows of pumpkins down the center of the pumpkin patch.6019_resized_1

What kind of pumpkins did we plant?  From seeds we grew Ornamental Fancy Gourd Mix, Jack Be Little Pumpkins, Small Sugar Pumpkins, Early Sweet Sugar Pie Pumpkins and Jack O Lantern Pumpkins.  We picked up Wee B Little Pumpkin plants and two unlabeled surprise pumpkins from our local garden center.

6028_resized_1And so begins our pumpkin growing adventure!  If all goes well we will be offering our best fruits for sale this fall.  Wish us luck!  Tiffany

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