Wednesday, August 31, 2011

 Things still are hopping around here and there just never seems to be enough time to tackle it all!  I try to get back to the house to catch up whenever I can. A bit of hope is out there as there may be a job opportunity. I'm not holding my breath, but I am crossing my fingers.

 Meanwhile, I've been trying to keep a handle on the tomatoes which means every other day I am making sauce. I'm grateful for every jar as this is one thing I use a LOT.

  The imperfect tomatoes go to the chickens and the rest gets used fresh or into various sauces. This morning I just made a plain stewed tomatoes. I love adding tomatoes to beef barley stew or I use it to smother fish (I lay out a bed of veggies sliced rather thin.. then whatever firm white fish I may have on hand over it.. top it off with crushed stewed tomatoes and bake it.) 

 The Queen Anne tomatoes are rather juicy, thin skinned, seedy.. which lends well to eating fresh, but not too great for sauces. The Goldman's Italian American ( GIA ) are much less seedy, drier, well flavored.. and a bit thicker skinned. Blanching the GIA's was fast as they easily slipped out of their skins and are rather large tomatoes too. 

 I of course could not stop myself..
  I am still awaiting the Jersey Giants. No wonder that strain is "rare" if it is almost September and still the tomatoes are green. A strain I will try again next year should I get seeds from them, and I will make sure to start them well ahead of the rest.

 The hornworms successfully nailed all of my other paste/ sauce type tomatoes. The yellow pears have been in high demand.  They are the perfect snack size and are great to toss into various dishes. I've tossed them in with carrots, potatoes, garlic, onions that were around a roasting chicken (the gravy made from that was fantastic. We brought some to DV and he came to the house the very next day to ask how I made it.)  I'll typically put a dash of olive oil in a pan (although my husband likes the bacon version better.. chop up a few lean slices and crisp up in a pan.. set bacon aside and use the drippings instead of olive oil).. thin sliced onions, sweet peppers (sometimes I'll toss in a chili pepper with the sweet), thin cut carrots, and several handfuls of the yellow pear tomatoes. At the end I'll put in minced garlic and pour this over pasta. The yellow pear tomatoes will soften and break to create a lovely sauce. I can make endless combinations (beans, corn, edamame, mushrooms.. almost anything works!)  The bacon version.. the bits go on top as a garnish usually with chopped chives and parsley.

 I haven't yet jarred up any salsa. That is on the list for next year. We can eat a lot of salsa when it is around.

 I have several good sized squash stashed away. Many winter squash are best eaten after they have had some time to cure. Fresh off the vine many seem bland and water.. their flavor improves as they dry out a bit. They will be wonderful in the middle of winter!

 This is my latest treasure..
      Pink old fashioned hollyhocks courtesy of yet another neighbor. His Grandmother planted this stand of hollyhocks before he was born. That puts it sometime before the 1940's. I have collected up enough of these seeds to plant an entire city block. Hollyhocks are biennial and in some areas will keep reseeding themselves quite happily. After drying.. these seeds will go into the freezer for 2 weeks to remove any potential weevils. 

 The honey bees have been happily visiting these flowers all day long. (Unfortunately.. so have the Japanese beetles.. munching on the foliage.) The seed pods remind me of wheels of cheese. A long sleeved shirt and gloves are helpful if you have to mess with these a bit as they have irritating hairs all along the stems and stalk. His hollyhocks are not staked up (they are planted along the wall of a free standing shed).. so in the crazy wind storms they got knocked over. They are well over 7 feet tall and still putting out blooms. 

 Today we have apple picking to tackle.  I need baskets. Those old apple baskets of woven wood slats would be incredibly helpful right now. Many of our apple trees on the bigger farm have been nailed by a blight. Flowering very well.. heavy fruit set.. and then BLAMO! A few trees didn't blow their load, but most did. (Quite a few fruit trees will probably need to be removed. Sad.. but necessary. Fruit wood is quite lovely for smoking meats..)

 The pears are still going crazy.. but they are a wild sort that nature planted. Small, heavy producing, highly russeted.. they won't be winning any beauty contest. They do however taste very good and are sweet.. even though I sampled them while they were still very unripe. 

 Black walnuts should be along soon. A few have dropped unintentionally, but they are not ready for picking yet. It should be a decent year for them, but in no way great. There are not nearly as many nuts on the trees this year.. but still more than enough to keep me busy. The husks smell lemony.. a good thing as I forgot I had stashed several of them in my backpack.

 It rained most of the day yesterday.. so gardening is not going to happen. In the next day or two I will be keeping my eyes peeled for puffballs. Mushrooms are triggered by both moisture and temperature fluctuations. It is kinda like playing a slot machine.. just with better odds of a pay out. I swear I have been dreaming about these mushrooms..  with wine, caramelized onions & garlic, and steeping in a beef broth.. and a crusty bread to dip into it. That can be made with any mushroom.. like button.. and it still is very good.  

And to my surprise.. I found that Guineas and chickens can cross.  As Roy, the Americauna rooster has displayed his vim and vigor... in the front yard...with what feels like every time a car passes... I am not concerned. Mainly because Roy... likes guinea boys.

 Back to work I go. I hope you all get a moment of more to enjoy summer while it is still here!

Japanese Beetles.. how far they have spread

 I thought I would pop this up quick to show the range of these beetles. A 100 years ago they were spotted in New Jersey. Kentucky has also popped up several times as one of the areas from which this pest was introduced.

  That was 2005. This next one is the range over the last decade.

 This map is from NAPIS (National Agricultural Pest Information System.)

 The Japanese beetle tirade here hasn't quite slowed down yet. The chickens and guineas were doing an incredible job keeping the beetle numbers down. I did not realize how big of an impact they were making until we moved them to the coop. 

 3 days away from the garden and the beetle numbers just exploded. Gently shaking a leaf of a wild grape vine and dozens would tumble into my awaiting hand. The pole beans which finally made yet another surge of growth.. was now a lacy wreck.

 It did make me pause a moment and consider how much food my chickens and guineas were foraging. 34 birds are consuming about 50 pounds of feed a week (50% scratch and 50% layer feed).. although much of the layer feed gets wasted and the scratch is like candy to them. It works out to be about 3.36 oz of food per bird per day including the wasted feed or the veggies I give them.

 They really do not like the bagged feed. I made the mistake of mixing some scratch in with it to encourage them to eat out of the feeder.. the results were a massive mess in the coop. They about emptied the 30 pound feeder just picking out the seeds. If I only offer pellets, then a 50 pound bag would probably last almost 2 weeks. 5 pounds of cut up dinged garden veggies lasts 2 minutes. The only time their crop is empty is in the early morning. No chubby chickens either as they run around all day long.

 Milky Spore is on my want list.  Kinda further down on my want list.. as my husband has noticed the bug devouring power of our feathered fiends. 

 It is hard to see Japanese beetles as a blessing, but as chicken feed.. I suppose they are. I couldn't imagine how bad the beetles would have ravaged the garden had we not had the birds. 3 days without them and many things in the garden almost were eradicated.

 Maybe... I just need more chickens. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Under the cover of darkness...

 We (and by we, I mean my husband) slapped up 1 hand made screen into the window, noticed the sun had set long ago and said "Screw it, the other 3 will go in tomorrow!" We (again him.. but I like to feel involved) packed away the tools, and set out to meet the task on hand...  moving day for the birds.

 Imagine the relay race in the Olympics..  except set out in a farm, in almost complete dark, with 2 "runners" (again him.. I'm too endowed to run and remain conscious, but I am great at living vicariously through his athletic achievements).. a 5'+ tall fence.. oh.. and the "baton" is actually a chicken.     
 Some how when designing the fence to the yard, "someone" coughMomcough put in 2 gates.. on only 1 side of the fence. To move the birds quickly, and without the extra time or potential issues that occur when chickens freak out in the living room when cutting through the house..  we had to do the hand-off over the fence. A tangent but... scotchguarding the couch was the best move my Mom ever made.
 When it is dark out, the birds settle down. They are basically blind in the low light. I was grabbing them from their comfy place, racing to the fence and handing them off to my husband. He ran them to the coop and lined them up on the roosts. Moving 34 birds took a little over an hour. We had the drive and the motivation.. provided by a skunk. 
 Closing the coop, we patted ourselves on the back and headed in to bed. 

 Anyone notice a problem with our setup?

 The next morning a major storm blew in, and we didn't have to worry. SWEET RELIEF! The winds howled and blew.. no chickens sliding across the patio like weather reporters covering a hurricane. About noon it cleared up and we could check on the birds. That's when we noticed the problem.
 While the roosts were measured, and they had enough room to be on them and not touching... we (and by we, I mean my husband) forgot to measure the ass to head overlap. The 2nd stringers were sporting crap caps. 
 We have to adjust that feature.. or add a bird bath to the coop. The birds are avoiding being a 2nd stringer in the meantime.
 Most of the chickens have figured out the coop is home. The guineas (stew pot gang) and their minions... have not. The relay race happens every night and will continue to do so until they get a clue. We (not my husband) realize that this may take up to 6 weeks. 

A labor of love I tell ya.

 Not to be confused with this...
A test of love.. fermenting tomato seeds.

  The picture isn't out of focus.. it is just that the stench is powerful enough to warp the lens. These are tomato seeds that are ready to be cleaned. The aromatic output wafting off this is enough to test any marriage.. or cover that pesky "improperly stored corpse" scent still lingering in the drapes. Container with a lid is a must.

 At this rank stage, the gel coating around the seeds has dissolved. Add water to fill the container near to the top, wait a few seconds, and pour the floating gunk off. Repeat filling and pouring off several more times. The "fleshy bits" tend to float.. as does tomato seeds without an embryo. Viable seeds are typically sinkers, but they need a couple seconds to do so.
 I then finish washing them off using a strainer under the tap (cold water). They get laid out on wax paper or coffee filter to dry. Avoid putting wet seeds on to a paper plate, napkin, glass.. unless you plan on watching them and moving them a couple of times in the next few hours. Otherwise the seeds will cement themselves to the paper or glass. 
 Drying.. I let my seeds dry out for a couple of weeks in an area that has good air flow and is out of direct light. Do NOT use a dehydrator. Heat over 100 degrees and you are starting to cook the seeds. Cooked seeds don't sprout.
 If you dry a larger seed at the same time as tomatoes.. you can test the bigger seeds and get an idea how far along they are. Seeds that are dry enough to be stored will snap when folded in half. If they bend (still pliable) they have too much moisture. If you get the moisture content to 8% or less (breaks in half when folded).. they can be frozen and still hold viability for decades. Otherwise these seeds can be stored in air tight containers, out of light, and in a cool location (constant temperature a big bonus.. want to keep the glass stage of the seed).. they should retain very good viability (80%+) for 10 years and longer.

 The "glass stage" of seeds is essentially when the seed is dried enough that it almost freezes time. It is a stage of dormancy.. with each strain of seed having their own activation triggers (temperature). This is how seed vaults are able to hold on to strains for decades before needing to grow the crop out to refresh their stores.

The sun is setting.. I have to head back to the farm and prepare for the nightly relay race. I am hoping to update you soon on things I have been foraging and collecting. 

I am hunting for a good applesauce recipe to jar up the mini mountain in the kitchen. If you have a good recipe.. please share!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

the Z4c

 Sometimes, to get a job done right, you need the right equipment. Other times, you make due with whatever you have on hand. Changing an angry chicken's mind or thwarting a mob of feather pulling guinea fowl from a distance is not easy. 

  I find this situation often as 2/3rds of my flock are rather randy males bent on being the "Commander-in-Peep"... I am not a fan of their prison style attempts at adoration with my under aged chicks. 

 Being a chicken chaser on dew slicked grass while wearing crocs is dangerous to say the least. More than a few times I have found myself flailing with limbs somehow all able to head in opposite directions. Flat on my back.. wind knocked out of me.. I stared at the happy fluffy clouds and wondered how many turds I managed to slide across while trying to save Doink.

 Doink is a black and white Americauna hen who has been desperately trying to save her namesake, the lone feather on her tail that curls to the side. She's rather skittish unless oatmeal is involved, at which time she will risk anything to have some. 

 Which brings me back to needing to be properly armed while attending the feathered deviants. Squirt guns no longer effective.. I needed to find another non-lethal "mind changer" and in a hurry.  This brings me to the happy chance of discovering a new talent.. and a new arsenal. I am an amazing shot (up to 20+ feet) with my trusty Z4c.

   Yep.. the Ziplock 4 cup container flies like a dream. I am able to bean a bird from what once was "too far away." Able to stop the mental mob of 6 guineas bent on beating up someone in seconds with a rump shot.. I am no longer defenseless. I've become adept at "issuing the warning shot" by bouncing the container over the offender.

  I am.. Ziplocked and loaded and ready to go.

 We are as well starting to look into actual means of protection. The clincher happened the other night when we had an issue of my husband being in the new chicken coop.. and coyotes just outside of it. Yelling did not deter them. He did get them to leave by turning on his saw as he cut the poles for the roosts.

 That situation is not cool. In rural areas you tend to be reminded that you too.. are potential prey. I think my husband may ask DV (the neighbor) for some guidance. Land owners here can also get a permit that allows them to get 4 deer per year. 

 My thoughts are.. my Z4c may need to be upgraded should the obnoxious neighbors at the big farm keep up their antics. We fixed more of the fencing.. and boy will I be mad if they cut our fences and tear through our fields on their 4 wheelers... again.

 I suddenly have.. a lot of neighbors. Of which one in town has asked my husband to fix his porch after he took a peek at the coop. Although not exactly a steady job.. it is work. Any work in a town this tiny is hard to find and no luck in the surrounding towns either so far. A chance to get some bills paid is a happy thing!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

farm mornings and lesson learned

 Most mornings there is a heavy fog that covers the farm. Everything is drenched in dew. 
  The world just ends at the treeline. No traffic, no sirens, no neighbor honking the car horn.. grasshoppers, birds and the cow bellowing out like an agricultural lighthouse. "North pasture today ladies.."

 I like routine and predictability lately. I take a few minutes to grab my coffee or tea and sneak out through the well oiled front door. My usual perch on the porch.. 
  My favorite time of the day is very fleeting.  Very soon we'll be back to staying in the small house in town as the Maternal Unit will make her return. Insane situation.. but so it goes. How long she'll stay is a mystery. Not long is the general guess. 

 Right now is kind of an odd time for foraging as there is a bit of a lull. Very soon elderberry, black walnut, chestnut, hickory, puffball mushrooms, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, apples, pears, plums and several other goodies will be ready. 

 We've still had no luck in finding work. To be blunt.. I am rather amazed at what we have lived off of for this long. Just the whole pride issue keeps me from getting assistance as I keep telling myself.. we're doing ok for now..  

 I am for sure doing better than I have been in a very long time. Granted the nerve damage from the diabetes has limited me.. but after spending tens of thousands on medical and insurance.. losing almost everything.. I seem to be gaining my health back. I've lost 30 pounds.. without intending to do so. 

 Losing weight with type 2 diabetes and poly-cystic ovarian syndrome.. to name just 2 things wrong..  that's flat out hell. That's like bailing out Lake Erie with a slotted spoon. 

 But we don't eat processed foods right now. If I drink coffee, maybe a 1/2 cup. No sodas, no conventionally grown foods.. no gmo...    None of this intentional.. and the effects are amazing. Most of what we eat is from what we have grown, what we have foraged, and what we have traded. It is almost entirely local, it is entirely organic.

 This blog is my luxury I guess. No cell phone, we've got to watch Falling Skies and maybe the weather.. but nothing else.. Too busy to be bored, and zero time for video games.  It does mean a lot more time prepping meals.. especially when it is hot out. I find I can make several meals at once, or darn close.

 Somehow.. even with this financial vortex we are in.. I still am able to feed others. Weird I know, but doing something like that makes me happy. Yesterday.. I had to roast a turkey. Had to.. power line got nailed and the freezer thawed before we got home in that last storm. 

 This odd year is teaching me a lot.. and teaching me the hard way. Always learning I suppose.

For right now.. I am collecting alfalfa seeds for AJK and wild bergamot seeds. Here's a bouquet of alfalfa flowers to show their range in color. Really a lovely and yet under appreciated plant!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Queen Anne and the derecho

  The hints of fall being right around the corner can be felt in the air. While I can, I am savoring tomatoes as often as possible.. starting with my favorite breakfast sandwich.
Queen Anne tomatoes thrived for me this year when many of the others struggled.
  Toasted bagel with cream cheese, thick slices of tomato, seasoned with onion powder, a pinch of salt and pepper. YUM!! A family favorite, my husband also has been busted repeatedly scarfing this down.. and he constantly professes his dislike for fresh tomatoes. Queen Anne's seem to be the exception to the rule. They are mild almost sweet. While I personally love a tomato that is acidic, smacks you in the face with flavor, I understand that's not everyone's desire.

 What you might notice missing.. are the seeds. The plant this tomato came from has been putting out some hefty fruit, and the blush is also more pronounced at the blossom end. Any tomato my husband happily eats fresh is a keeper. So the seeds were removed and set aside to ferment.. as I pray they didn't cross with the yellow pear. I have enough of a stash from this variety to last me several decades, but I can't help grabbing up more.

Standing out on the front porch, making my husband hold the plate so I could actually capture the tomato's color.. he says "look at the sky!"
 I glance up.. and take a picture..
"Oh wow... pretty!"  I heard myself say.
 "Didn't you just feed the chickens?" he asked.
 I grabbed one of the sandwiches and inhaled it as I fled to the backyard. Just as I was speed waddling agilely sprinting across the lawn.. and half way to the feeders, the sky let loose. 
   Meanwhile, my husband sat down on the bench and snapped a shot of the neighbor's from the porch.. while he ate the other half of my sandwich. When I came back he shot me a huge grin, handed me the empty plate and announced the camera was dry. I fought the urge to channel all 3 Stooges. The rain had stopped, the sun was back, the pellets were squishy (but oddly the birds were loving them like that) and it could have been worse.
  The first wave of rain passed pretty quickly and it was a mild summer shower. I snapped a few shots of the flowers in the yard.  

Shortly after this, wave 2 hit fiercely. Winds strong enough to slam me into the side of the house and almost knock me off my feet! No joke.. chickens were sliding across the cement patio. The door was violently blown open dousing several antique table ends and a couch with sideways rain as I tried to shut it. Drenched in a New York second, I ended up huddled in the corner attempting to protect the birds from the onslaught with the only thing I had... myself.

 Sometimes, 15 minutes can feel like an eternity. The inside of the temporary coop was soaked, patio chairs were launched into the yard.. but I managed to keep most of them safe and maybe 6 of the chickens got drenched. The rain let up, the birds raced to the yard to hunt for worms. I slogged into the house the way only someone in super cold wet jeans can.

 I had to rummage for some dry clothes as mine were all wet. "Need to make a trip home to get changed." I muttered to my husband. It worked out well as he had to get more hinges in town.

  Dropping me off at home as he ran off to the boy's toy depot hardware store, he told me he took an interesting picture too.

   I totally forgot I had opened the windows. He thankfully, remembered as he saw the storm front moving towards us. When we got home, I made him his own tomato sandwich complete with bacon.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Survivalist Neighbor

 With the massive rain storm that dumped over 16 inches in under 12 hours, came a really wonderful surprise... meeting a neighbor. To give you an idea how much water came down and what it can do, this is a farm 2 "doors down"
  When a farm becomes an island...

  Thankfully... their hives are on high ground...
  I was wondering from where all these honeybees were coming! Now these are not the "new" neighbor's bees (he actually has a bit of a "time" with the bee family.. due to 30 hunters somehow wandering on to the wrong property.. a story for another time.)

 The "new neighbor" is a blast. He's 71 and all go all the time. He has 150+ acres of heaven complete with 2 spring fed ponds (which hold many 4 pound plus large mouth bass), acres and acres of wild black raspberries, gooseberries, chestnuts, black walnuts, elderberries, a massive garden, deer, turkey... everything he needs and then some. He rarely buys anything from the grocery. Coffee and beer (because although he has made his own beer, wine, brandy, etc. he's too busy to "screw around with that right now") and this vanilla oil.. that's his grocery list!

 His house is underground. It is small but absolutely amazing. In winter it never drops below 50 without heat, and in the summer it is 68 without air conditioning!! He cans and preserves everything he hunts, picks, gathers. I'm flat out swooning. His storage room is just gorgeous. Floor to ceiling jars of gem colored veggies and a huge section of venison, turkey and other meats. I am getting canning lessons from him! 

 I just have to laugh, because last year... learning to cook squirrel and 'coon was not on my radar. Did I mention he hunts from his living room?  Stand fixed to the window and ready to go at a moment's notice. He also makes wicked amazing biscuits on his wood stove. The "right way" to field dress deer, turkey, 'coon, and squirrel is also on the curriculum... after proper gun care lessons. That comes after 'shroom hunting.

 Seriously.. he's amazing. He made a jalapeno coring thingy from a (ammo)shell, a bolt and some nuts. While he doesn't have a sweet tooth, he looooves cinnamon rolls. Oh yes.. rolling pin in hand.. I am ready BRING IT ON!!!!

 He's an optimist living like a pessimist. Prepared for the worst, enjoying every moment. He has a "rep" for being... well.. gun crazy and nuts. He finds that hilarious and wants to keep it that way. He's a self proclaimed recluse but is anything but solitary.

 The lightening in the storm hit a tree a foot away from the propane tank. (This tank btw would heat a house for 1 winter.. his set up.. he has to refill it every 10 years!!!) It went through the lines in the ground, blew up the phone box (sending the cover and parts 50 feet from the house.. as well some decor on the house also launched off into the yard), fried a bunch of electronics (in particular his gas stove! It punched 2 holes in the gas line by the stove and "it was like fighting 2 flame throwers!" He had to shut it off with a hammer at 3am.).. so he came over to us when he realized the other neighbors were not home. When we got back to town we called in to get his phone back on (still down.. as well the "other" neighbors still have no phone).

 We chatted for awhile and he invited us over. Best day ever!! It is like finding out you moved in next to Santa Claus!! For being a "recluse" quite a few of his buddies fought their way through flooded bridges to make sure he was ok. One of his hunting buddies (I'll call Dozer), a small guy (in a wife beater, Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots.. and looking like he was fresh out of kindergarten) was there with his bulldozer fixing his road the next morning, even though he had already done most of it! 

 The rain nailed his garden, washing away over a foot of dirt. It looked like someone pulled all of his root crops out for harvesting. We spent a couple hours in boot-sucker mud rounding up as much as we could before the scorching sun did more damage. Much of his zucchini, beans and tomatoes were swept away. He shrugged it off as he has a 2 year supply of garden goodies still stashed away. 

 After tackling his garden we hopped into his Kubota to check on another neighbor's farm he was watching while she was out of town. Totally washed out with a brand new 6 foot ravine crossing her driveway.. in 2 places! We helped take care of the chickens, dogs, horses while Dozer sent her some pictures. It seems Dozer just last month put in new massive culverts. While it would have handled the 13 inch record breaking rain storm last year, this year's 16+ incher uprooted huge trees everywhere. Her ancient barns were well placed in one of the few spots that these torrents of rain did not reach. 

 So tomorrow, after I try to tackle my chores, I will go visit the neighbor and bring him some tomatoes I just picked a little bit ago.
  Yellow pear x Black Krim = really tasty plum sized funky colored tomatoes. 

 Not a long visit as we are almost done with the coop. Sorta. Nest boxes will be done tonight, the brooder box will go underneath it.. then paint the floors.. and put in the roosts.. after the walls are closed up. This is what it looks like so far.

  The front of the nest boxes will be hinged to flip down so that cleaning is easier. The ceiling and walls are insulated, but we have 2 walls to finish yet and ran out of materials! The coop only has 1 coat of paint on it so far. Then.. on to fencing in a pen. They have a huge area to run around in right now, and oddly the guineas never leave it.. it will be some time to retrain them to get off the patio. There are also 4 red tailed hawks and several bald eagles.. so the pen is for when we can't be outside with them.

 Speaking of which, night has fallen and I need to run back to put them in for the night. Right after a quick call back to the realtor. It seems someone is still breaking into our house and stealing more things. *sigh* I wish it was sold already. A constant downer as we have to deal with banks, police reports, mortgage companies.. and still no work. I wish unto our "tenant" the same things he has brought us. 

 At some point.. I hope.. we catch a break. Until then.. I'll be making a jalapeno corer from an ammo shell, a bolt, and some nuts in the slice of heaven right next door.