Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Grow Your Own Healthy Sprouts

 Although I love fresh sprouts on salads and sandwiches or as an ingredient in stir fry meals, I don't like buying sprouts at the supermarket because they are expensive and there have been several incidences of illnesses attributed to bacterial contamination in commercially grown sprouts.  So with a few inexpensive supplies and a little research I learned how to grow my own. If you haven't tried growing sprouts before, after you see how easy it is, you'll want to grow your own, too.

Fresh homegrown sprouts

The supplies needed for growing sprouts are minimal.  Sprouts are high in nutrients, which will vary somewhat depending on what type of sprout, but most sprouts are high in vitamins A, C and B.

I used a wide mouth canning jar, organic sprout seeds, water, a tablespoon for measuring and some  lids with screens.  Some people also use cheesecloth as a screen, but I prefer these plastic jar toppers that can be easily cleaned.  Since there is some risk of bacteria growing with sprouts, I make sure to keep everything as sanitary as possible.

Sprout-Ease - Econo-Sprouter Toppers Set - 3 Piece(s)

They are dishwasher safe or can also be disinfected with bleach or hydrogen peroxide and fit both Kerr and Ball wide-mouth canning jars.

Kerr 0519 wide mouth jar quart, 32oz (case of 12)

Ball Quart Wide Mouth Mason Jars, Silver Lids pack of 12 (32 OZ)

Easy DIY Instructions for Growing Sprouts

I usually start my sprouts in the evening since to get them started they should initially soak overnight.  Measure out the sprout seeds and pour into a jar. Since it is easy to start a new batch, I tend to grow my sprouts in small amounts that we can eat within a day or two.

Measuring sprout seeds

Add 4 parts warm (not hot) water to 1 part seeds.  For this batch I used one tablespoon of seeds, so I added 4 tablespoons of water.

Measuring water and pouring into the jar

Add the screen top.  For most types of seeds, start with using the smallest screen lid.  The medium size screen can be used for wheat and bean sprouts.  Let the sprouts sit at room temperature in a dark place overnight.

Sprouts and water in a jar

The next morning, drain the water from the sprouts.  The screened jar topper makes it easy.  Although for this particular batch, I just poured the water down the drain, it is very nutritious and can be used in soups, teas or for watering your plants.

Draining water from sprouts the first morning

Next rinse the sprouts under tepid running water.

Rinsing sprouts on the first morning

Replace the strainer cap and drain out the water. The strainer cap makes it easy to drain the water while keeping the seeds.

Draining water after rinsing the sprout seeds

Set the jar at an angle over  a bowl or some other container to allow any water to continue to drain and provide air circulation.  Set the container in a relatively dark place at room temperature.  I just leave mine in a corner of the kitchen counter. 

Setting the sprout jar at an angle over a container
If you don't have a dark place available, you can always just cover the jar with a clean, dark colored dish towel.

Cover growing sprouts with a dish towel to keep them in the dark

Rinse the sprouts every morning and evening in tepid water. The photo below was taken as I rinsed and drained the sprouts the 2nd morning.  You can see they are already beginning to germinate.

Seeds starting to sprout on the second morning about 32 hours after starting the sprouts

On the third day, many of the seed hulls will separate from the sprouts so then switch screen tops to the one with the medium sized screen to allow the hulls to be rinsed away.  The hulls are perfectly edible, but removing them helps to prevent mold problems.  I also moved the sprouting jar from the dark location it was in for the first 2 days to a location near a shady window where the sprouts could get some indirect light.

Sprouts on Day 3 placed in indirect light

After a day exposed to indirect light, the sprouts will begin to show some green.  Remember to continue to rinse and drain the sprouts each morning and evening.

Sprouts Day 4

After another day of indirect light and a total of 4-5 days after I started them, most of the hulls have been rinsed away, the sprouts are starting to form green leaves and they are ready to eat.

Sprouts Day 5

Nothing like some fresh sprouts on a pita bread sandwich.

Fresh sprouts on a sandwich
I prefer to grow small batches that we eat within a day or two, but once your sprouts have started to grow green leaves and shed the seed hulls, you can store them for a few days in the refrigerator.   Just continue keeping them in a jar with the screen top upside down over a bowl. Freshen the sprouts up daily by rinsing in cold water and then draining well.

Where to buy organic non-GMO sprouts?

My favorite place to purchase sprout seeds is from Seeds Now.  They are very affordable (at this time 99 cents for a sample package) and they have an excellent germination rate.  I have also purchased good quality sprout seeds through Amazon, but they are typically in larger quantities than I need.

We're linked up to the Homestead Blog Hop where you will find links to other great blogs.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Blooming in My Garden Today - January 2016

With the start of the new year, I  decided that this year I will be participating in the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  Garden Bloggers from all around the world post a photo of what is blooming in their garden on the 15th of each month.  Since some us live in cold climates with everything buried under snow, the "garden" can include indoor plants, too.  My garden in USDA zone 6a is currently under several inches of snow, so at first glance there doesn't appear to be a bloom anywhere.

Moss on a branch
Looking a little closer, I found a tree branch with an unidentified species of moss (or some other bryophyte) with what looks like a bloom.  Note to self: Since it is winter and there isn't much to do in the garden, time to get out your field guides to identify the species.

Alder Catkins
 As I wander further through my bleak winter landscape, I see something else that had earlier escaped my notice.  The alder trees are growing their catkins.  They aren't quite blooming yet, but almost. Since none of my indoor plants are flowering right now either, the moss and the alder are what I have discovered in my garden on my January 2016 Bloom Day.

If you would like to participate and see the photos of gardens each month visit May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My First Christmas Bird Count

Although I've enjoyed watching birds since I was a young child, I had never participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count.  Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 and is the oldest continuing citizen-science project in North America.  This year in a new home and community, I decided that the time was right to get out and learn about the bird species in the area and meet others who are interested in nature and birds.  So here are some observations after doing my first Christmas Bird Count.

Pileated woodpecker at Willeth Farm
I wanted to start out with a decent bird photo so here is one of a pileated woodpecker on a snag at my home at Willeth Farm.  In the interest of full disclosure, this bird was not included in the count because I did not take this photo on the day of the Christmas Bird Count in my area.  It was taken a few days later.  The bird count is conducted throughout the US and Canada every year during the two week period between December 14th and January 5th.

The bird counts are done in a defined 15 mile diameter "circle".  Volunteers in each circle decide on one selected date during the Christmas Bird Count time frame between December 14th and January 5th to do their count.

Over the years, new circles have been created when enough people in an area commit to volunteering for the count.  Each group must have a volunteer compiler who usually leads the group and at least 10 additional volunteers to cover the circle.  To make the count scientifically valid, once a circle has been created the count area has the same boundaries every year.  The people doing the count may change over the years, but each year the volunteers travel along the same assigned routes to try to cover as much of their circle as possible,  Some people living within a circle may sign up in advance to count the birds in their neighborhood, yard or at their bird feeders.

The day of the count I woke up at 4 am because I was so excited and looking forward to this adventure.  Our group was to meet at a local restaurant at 6:30 am to divide into teams to cover our area and then set out to look for birds by sunrise.  I had packed my backpack the night before with my wallet, gloves, hand-warmers, extra socks, camera, binoculars and my old trusty bird ID field guide.

The Sibley Guide to Birds
After arriving at our meeting place, introductions were made and people who were newbies like me were assigned to carpool in a vehicle with experienced participants.  Our 15 mile circle was divided into three areas with one vehicle of counters assigned to each area.   We arrived at the boundary of our area at about 7:30 am and spotted some ravens flying shortly thereafter.  After driving along our assigned route for a few more minutes, we spotted a yard with numerous birds attracted to several feeders.

A backyard bird feeder at the Christmas Bird Count
 It was here that I learned how challenging it can be to count the number of birds in a flock that are in constant motion.  We saw numerous black-capped chickadees, but to avoid counting the same bird twice, the rules for the count are that we only record the maximum number of birds of a specific species at each location that we could see at the same time.  As I recall at this location we came up with seven, but there were probably actually several more flitting back and forth from the trees.

Farm and Pasture
Our circle boundaries were set up to include a variety of habitats including farmland and pastures.  My monochromatic photos show how winter weather and light conditions can make spotting and identifying birds difficult.

Wild turkey in Pend Oreille County, WA

 We stopped at several cattle ranches where we counted large numbers of ravens and wild turkeys.

A Marsh in Pend Oreille County
We scanned several marshy areas and with patience were often rewarded by the sight of a song sparrow.   We also we also saw two Northern Shrikes.

Northern Shrike

Included in our circle were several forested areas.

Dead snag with bird nesting holes
Unfortunately no birds were seen at this dead snag, but the holes suggest it has been used as a nesting site in the spring and summer.   Our travels took us past several small streams.   We spotted a common goldeneye swimming along in one.

Common Goldeneye

Then we looked downstream and saw a dipper to add to our count.

American Dipper

Our area also included some sections of the Pend Oreille River where numerous waterfowl were present, although the falling snow and cloudy day made identifying all of the species difficult.

The Pend Oreille River in Winter

We also spotted a bald eagle perched at the top of a tree across the river.

Bald Eagle
The photo is obviously of poor quality, but is another illustration of the challenge of spotting and counting even large, easily identified birds in less than ideal weather conditions.  Another bird of prey seen was this Red-tail Hawk who was sitting in a tree until I tried to take a photo.

Red tail hawk in flight

Perhaps not surprisingly, we saw the largest number of different species and were able to see the birds close-up to easily make accurate identifications and counts in backyards with bird feeders.  After our compiler tabulated all of the counts from the groups traveling along the established routes and those who signed up to stay home and tally birds in their own yards,  there were 53 different species of birds identified in our area for the 2015-2016 Christmas Bird Count.

Despite the cold and challenging conditions I enjoyed meeting some fun, friendly local birders and had a really great time.  I saw several species I had never seen before including Northern Shrikes, Pine Grosbeaks, and Common Redpolls.  I definitely plan on participating again next year. If you are interested in learning more about the Christmas Bird Count or participating next year, go to the Audubon Society website.

I've also been inspired to participate in another upcoming annual citizen science project, the Great Backyard Bird Count which is held each year in February and is co-sponsored by the Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Please feel free to comment about your experiences with birding or citizen science projects.

We're linked up to the  HOMESTEAD BLOG HOP!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Building a Snow Lady for Wildlife

Since living in a climate with lots of winter snow is a new experience for me,  I've probably only built a snowman about twice in my life.  My knowledge and skill is very limited but I decided to get out there and enjoy and embrace my inner child so I created a snowman, or more accurately a snow lady.

Snow Lady with apple eyes
The snow didn't pack very well so she is a little blob shaped. I didn't have any buttons or coal for eyes, so I used yellow apple halves which made her look a little like a space alien

Snow lady with apple eyes and corn cob nose
For her nose I used one of my frozen corn on the cob that I harvested from our garden.

Snow lady edible face
For her mouth I added a slice from a red apple.

Snow lady with tray

I built up the base of her body to support an old wood shelf I scavenged from our wood scraps which created a tray for her to offer her gifts to our wildlife neighbors.

Snow lady with gifts for the wildlife

I added some sunflower seeds, peanuts and apple slices to the tray and set up one of our PIR motion-activated trail cams on a tripod to see who would visit our snow lady.

Bushnell trail camera mounted on a tripod
We have used this trail cam for several years to have all sorts of fun. There have been several surprises when a camera has captured images of a wildlife species that we had never seen or known were wandering so near.  Last fall we used our trail camera to identify who was eating our pumpkins. (That story is posted on one of my other blogs, The Adventures of Border Collies in the Burbs )

During the night it continued to snow and when I looked at my snow lady the next morning, obviously her eyes and nose were missing along with most of the items on her tray.

A snow lady missing some features

Time to pull the chip to see who had paid her a visit.  The camera can either be set-up to record still shots or videos and on this particular day we had set it up to take photos and here is one that clearly shows who ate one of her eyes,

A deer captured on a trail camera

Later that day I repaired her face and set out her tray with more goodies for the wildlife.

A snow lady for the wildlife

This time we set up the camera to take videos.  It was only about two hours later that the camera captured these visitors.

We enjoyed sharing goodies during the holiday season with our wildlife neighbors.  Do you enjoy watching wildlife in your neighborhood?

We're linked up to the Homestead Blog Hop!