Saturday, August 29, 2015

Knee deep in harvest

Finally, a day that is not hot and smoky. The smoke has been strong and persistent.  It appears that most of the state has been under poor air quality warnings from the fires here and across the border.   For the past few weeks we have not been able to see the mountains because of the smoke.  And it has been hard to stay outside too long before your eyes and nose start to burn from it.  I hope and pray that the fires will be put out soon and all that are involved are kept safe.  Today a storm is rolling through but has delivered more wind than rain.  When it does rain, it downpours and is accompanied with thunder and lightening.  Just what we don't need.... more lightening strikes.  A restless night, it will be.

Sauerkraut has been canned and now working on a small batch of fermented pickles.  Day 3 and so far, so good.  Has some good bubbles and smells pretty good.  The jalapeƱos and yellow banana peppers have been pickled and canned.  I have at least another canner full of each and will can them after the storms pass.  Hopefully, the wind won't knock too many off.  They seem to be the only two varieties of peppers that are doing really well at this time.  The others  (Kimchee, Red Pimento and Ancho) are kind of struggling but if they don't freeze with the forecasted cold front, I should be able to harvest what is on them in a few more weeks.  If the reports are true about the cold weather I will have to cover them up, along with the tomatoes, and hope for the best.

Made up some Hamburger Dills and used a nifty little canner that doesn't take a whole lot of water to heat up and quick cleaning up.  I had never heard of one and I was loaned this one by the wife of the son whose parents used to own the homestead. It is nice to use.

It is called an Ideal Fruit Canner and it uses steam to process fruits, jams, jellies or pickles.  NOT TO BE USED FOR CANNING MEATS OR VEGETABLES.


Harvested two Collective Farm Woman melon.  Very sweet but they did not grow very large.  I think because they just didn't get enough water.  The casaba melons are doing well, though.  I will replant both next year and see if the Collective Farm Woman melon does better in a different location of the garden.

Squash bugs have worked over a couple of pumpkins.  So far, they are only in one spot so hopefully I have gained control of them and they won't spread to any of the other ones.  I have an organic spray that worked wonders on the spider mites I had in the greenhouse late fall last year. 

Another surprise was with the pea seeds.  I had a bag full, inspected and had quite a surprise inside.... BUGS!  Some kind of flying weevil/beetle that had bored through most of the seed.  Even the ones out in the greenhouse had been damaged.  So now I have to find the ones I saved for soup!  I hope it hasn't met the same fate.  Maybe I should have froze the bag first before storage.  I don't know.  Never had problems with bugs in saved seed.  If I had been relying on the seed for next year it would have been a complete failure.

No blooms on any of the citrus trees this year but I believe that is due to them getting zinged pretty hard by cold temps in the greenhouse over the winter.  They lost all their leaves but recovered really well.  Just no blooms this year, so no fruit.

The rest of the potatoes need to be harvested and sorted.  Lots of potatoes but a lot of them are small.  About half-dollar sized.  So the small ones will be tossed in a bucket and I'll cook them up for the chickens and turkeys over the winter when they can't get out and forage.  I'll also sort out some to plant for next year.

Some new additions to the homestead are Bourbon Red turkeys. They are very curious and, well, weird.  Someone is always on 'broom duty' to shoo them out or off of something.   But they are good foragers and clean up scraps pretty good.  Better than chickens, but they are still kind of goofy.

The weather appears to be about a month ahead of 'normal'.  Some of the trees in town have started to change color.  Maybe we'll have an autumn this go around unlike last year when the snow came before the leaves dropped off the trees.

Autumn will be here soon, things need to be prepped and fall vegetables need to be planted.  Wood needs to be sorted in the wood shed and a trip is planned to get a load of logs to add to the mix of wood.  It sure doesn't seem like there is enough time (or funds) to get everything done that we need to do.  But a blessing in the mess is the rain that is pounding on the roof, thank God for that wonderful gift! 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

This & That

Why does it always seem to heat up when you have to do a boat load of canning to do??  No air conditioning so I have to do one batch a day.  I'll be lucky if I get done by December at this rate.  Some day an outdoor kitchen will be in the works.  But the weatherguessers say it will cool off.  Now if only the smoke will abate, too.

The weather actually lessened up a bit a week ago then another round of monsoonal moisture came up from the south and with it fire weather warnings to the state.  And it has delivered as promised.  The southern part of the state is on fire.  We have had smoke-filled skies for nearly a week.  The neighboring state has sent some smoke and now the northern part of the state is getting their share of fires, too.  I read that there are evacuations are in effect and some homes have been damaged or destroyed.  With all the monsoonal storms that blow up from the south give us high humidity (don't get much rain with them anyways) and temperatures pop over 95F degrees.  And we get lots of lightening which in turns burns up landscape.

The low humidity/high temperatures are not good conditions when you are trying to hatch out chicks under a poor ol' broody hen whom we allowed to set on a batch of eggs.  August is usually the hot month and even if it did get hot in July, that the temperatures would be combined with the humidity.  That just did not occur.  Four hatched normally, 4 needed assistance (they pipped the shell but the membranes were so dried out that the poor things were literally being shrink-wrapped inside their shells), 2 died while hatching (weak chicks) and 4 died in the shell.  The lack of humidity appears to be the blame for the poor incubation.  We lit up the incubator near the end when we were seeing the shrink-wrapped chicks to increase humidity to help them hatch.  Out of the two that hatched in the incubator (with assistance), one is a little on the small side but she is doing much better today.  Both have now been put out with the other chicks.  The one chick we'll still keep an eye on her since she is a little slower than the rest (in growth) but she is active and eating/drinking. That is a plus but you never know with nature.

Well, best get onto my 'projects'.... I did get the corn cut and processed in the pressure canner, sliced the jalapenos for pickling (they needed to sit overnight),  but didn't get the yellow pear tomatoes scalded and peeled for jam and only the laundry was done.  And who knows what other unforeseen project(s) will pop up, disrupting the 'schedule'. 

Below is a photo 'log' of the projects at the ol' homestead.... stay cool, and don't forget to keep an eye out for those end of season seed sales!!!  And all the canning supplies sales that are going on, too!

"Go away... it's nap time"

Tomato patch


Last of the potatoes and corn

Rattlesnake pole beans in the corn

Corn stalks bent by wind

Pumpkin hiding in the corn
Morning harvest

Morning glory in the pumpkin patch

cherry and yellow pear tomatoes... make a pretty salad by themselves!


corn waiting to be cut for canning

Friday, August 7, 2015

Cabbage and bacon recipe

Couldn't find my picture of the dish but the title says it all.... hope you enjoy it.

Cabbage and Bacon

3 pounds cabbage - cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes or you can slice thin
1/2 to 1 pound of hickory smoked bacon, chopped/diced
1 tablespoon honey (or sugar)
1 tablespoon salt ****  (if the bacon you use is really salty, you can omit the salt completely or use less according to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Cook bacon in 10 qt Dutch oven pot over medium heat.  Remove bacon when crispy.  DO NOT EMPTY DRIPPINGS - there should be about a 1/4 - 1/2 cup of drippings in pot (add a little oil, if needed).  Add cabbage into the pot with the drippings and cook without stirring until it browns, about 3-5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, stir to combine and cook until cabbage is tender.  Approximately 20 minutes.  Add the cooked bacon and stir.  Serve.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mid-season garden assessment

After a few days of 100+ degree days, today gave a bit of relief and in a day or two will drop back into a more reasonable temperature range of around 90.  Hard to believe about a week ago some of the mountain regions had frost.

With parts of the garden being harvested now is a good time to assess the garden's success or failure at this point in time.  The corn did not do as well as last year and I can only guess that it was because when it went to tassel we had some crazy storms that went through that brought a combination of extreme heat and high winds that it affected pollination.  There are some stalks that are bent over from wind damage, too.  So not many ears of corn this year.  Too late to plant another crop but that is okay because we do not eat a lot of corn.
Peppers are not doing as well as I had hoped but I do have peppers on them.  They are mostly of the hot variety but they are plugging along.  They did start to grow pretty good upon transplant but those few days of cool night temperatures may after transplant may have affected them in their growth.  A lady in town has the same problem - small plants with small fruits but her friend who lives on the hill has good sized plants with nice peppers that set.  So go figure.
Like I stated before, gardening is a crap shoot!  I'll just dig out the peppers later in the season and overwinter them so they can be transplanted next year.  Sometimes peppers will do better their second year, anyways.

Tomatoes are starting to take off so will be canning and freezing them soon.  The cherry tomatoes have really taken off.  The yellow pears were a little behind but they are giving the cherry tomatoes a run for their money.  I staggered the transplanting of the larger varieties to see if I could control the harvest time a bit only so we're not overwhelmed with canning and freezing.  So far, so good.  I just hope we don't get an early autumn.

Beans, well, they got zinged by the heat wave earlier and despite regular waterings did not recover as well as during last year's month-long, 100-degree plus heat wave.  They are the Blue Lake variety and have done really well in the past, even in the heat.  The wax beans did not like the heat either and performed okay.  Seeds have been saved and some replanted because they grow fast and I should get a few more harvests in before the season's end.  The only thing I did differently was that I used inoculant on the seeds.  I did a test plot of inoculated seeds and non-inoculated ones, so we'll see if that was the issue or something else (like the need for more compost?).

Carrots are doing great with the exception of the small part of the patch that is showing rot.  Water sits there and is affecting one part of them.  Next year they won't be planted near corn or beans.  The potatoes are ready to harvest.  Lots of potatoes but on the small side of things.  I think every single seed potato I planted grew.  The really small ones will get cooked up for the chickens and I'll save some decent sized ones for next year.

Squash and pumpkins are happy, as are the bees who LOVE the blossoms. There are even a couple of pumpkin plants dying off and the pumpkins will be harvested.  Did run across some squash bugs so will have to get the poultry netting out and around the tomatoes since it appears I'm going to have to employ some hens.  None of the melons are ready yet so will have to wait a couple weeks for them.

The dill is just about done with so will harvest the patch and dry it for later use.  I don't know what variety it is but it's from saved seed that I got from a lady in town last year and it did very well.

Cucumbers are starting to produce so will be pickling an a couple of weeks.  One variety is not doing well (Russian Pickler) so if it doesn't perform it won't be in the garden next year.  It appears that only the hybrid cukes are going to save the day.  I'll have to do some research for a good heirloom pickler and salad cuke.

onion (weed) patch
Lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli were a bust this spring.  I will plant a fall crop of lettuce so hopefully it will go better than the spring crop.  This is the first time I have planted mangels (like a giant beet).  They have struggled but that was from inconsistent waterings since my 'assistants' did not know they were planted and skipped watering them for about a week.  What did pop up is now competing with the weeds that went crazy during the last heat wave and the lack of my attention due to it being focused elsewhere on the ranch. The onions are buried in weeds, too.  But, I must admit, I don't pull all the weeds like clover or the 'volunteer' tomatoes, buckwheat or tomatillos since the bees really like those blossoms... unless they are competing with another plant.  Then they will get pulled.

Cabbage.... well, got a crock of sauerkraut started and have already feasted on a few (cooked with bacon, of course).  Still have several smaller heads and to prevent them from getting damaged by this latest bout of extreme heat I covered the heads with some of the large leaves from the harvested cabbage.  My mom said when she was a kid that Grandma used to cover them with old rags to keep the heads from getting sunburned.  Hope the leaves will work the same.

The little barley patch has been harvested and most of the heads cut and stored in a bag.  Grasshoppers decided that the grains were delicious so had to get the patch cut before the insects had a grand feast.  Once I can get the poultry netting up around the tomato patch a (supervised) gang of hungry hens are going to be sent into the garden, but if it heats up again they will seek shelter in the tomato patch and that would be another set of problems.  Hens + ripe tomatoes = bad hens (with their crops full of tomatoes!)

This year's weather seems to be about a month ahead of 'normal'.  We don't usually see a lot of praying mantis or grasshoppers until around the end of August.  And I've already seen a woolly bear caterpillar.  It will be interesting to see if the hummingbirds disappear soon, too, since they usually leave around the first week of September.

If you planted gardens or container gardens, now is a good time to assess your mid-season successes/failures since it is time to get those fall gardens ready and going.  The first frosts will be here before you know.

Minnie... wanting some attention

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Harvest time = busy

Harvest time means canning time.  The peas were a success this year.  Not as many as we would consume in a year but a lot more than we have ever had before.  I got about two pint bags of dried peas and 7 pints of canned. I think next year I will blanch them then toss in the freezer.  I have already canned 10 quarts of green beans and 6 quarts of wax beans with a few more to go.  The peas have been replaced with more green beans and I'll start some broccoli or cauliflower here in a day or two before the heat comes on again.  The tomatoes are starting to ripen pretty good and, hopefully, soon some larger ones will start to ripen instead of just cherry or pear tomatoes.  The little patch of barley has been gathered in and even some dill.  Harvest, harvest, harvest.... And all that between the other stuff that needs to get done. 

But with the garden starting to take off into harvest mode, lots has to be done to preserve the bounty and thus requires a good warning to anyone not familiar with canning your garden's surplus.


You are tempting fate and asking for serious trouble in the form of BOTULISM!  If you do not own a PRESSURE CANNER, then save up your money to buy one.  In the meantime, freeze your vegetables.  And while you are saving your money, do your research in what will suite your canning needs. I recommend purchasing a new pressure canner and not a used one.  One reason, it will be covered by the manufacturers warranty (for a certain amount of time upon purchase, of course) and you would know that the gauge has been tested and works.  Personally, I would not purchase a used one. 

Most pressure canning books recommend that you take your pressure canner in annually to the local county extension office to have the pressure gauge tested but as with our extension office they do not perform that service. Ask them if they know of any place that does and they may be able to tell you.  If not, contact the manufacturer and ask for their recommendation.

Also, DO purchase a good reliable canning book - Ball Blue Book of Canning is one that I recommend.  You can easily find newer versions but do add to your collection an older version that has a blue cover on it... the main reason is for the pages that have some charts in the back that will tell you how much of certain kinds of vegetables you need in order to can for a years' supply of food for a family of 4.  I have a post here about the information on the blue covered Ball Blue Book of Canning.  And for general canning instruction and recipes go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  My pressure canner also came with a booklet with complete instruction charts for canning and altitude.

Follow the instructions on canning and preserving for the safety of you and your family.  They are not there to annoy you. They are there to assist you in preserving safe food for you and your family.  The local cemetery has recorded history of a family that lost a good portion of them to poorly canned greens.  Don't you add to the statistic.

The weeds in the garden are mocking me, so I best be off.  Until next time.....

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Heatwave and other things

It's been quite a while since the last post.  Sorry, but we've had our share of busy!  Hard to believe that it is mid-July already!  Time flies when you are having fun.  Weather-wise, everything is about a month ahead of schedule so I wonder if we will have an early autumn.

We had about two weeks of 100+ degree temperatures but since then we have gotten some cooler temps and some much needed rain.  Not enough rain, but we'll take what we get.  It is promised for some warmer temperatures again. Hopefully it won't last as long as last time.

Heatwaves can create some challenges if you are not prepared.  We don't have air conditioning but we're not new to hot summer temperatures with or without AC.  A few tips on keeping your home cool (even if you do have air conditioning)  is to close up all the windows early in the morning and keep the shades or curtains pulled until you can open them up later in the day when the temperature outside cools down.  Once the shade cools off one side of the house we may open those windows up to let the cool air in unless it is still hot   And there is minimal indoor cooking on the stovetop or in the oven just to keep the heat out of the house.  The grill gets a good workout during those days.  I'm hoping that we'll have get the mud oven up this year.

Your gardens will also suffer from the heat.  Water your gardens really good. I  soaked the garden over night and rotated watering around the yard and livestock tanks during the day.  If you don't have a good layer of mulch around your plants, I highly recommend that you do so before the ground dries out too much.  Grass clippings work really well and also keep the weeds down, too.  Weeds will compete for water in your garden.  If your plants don't have much cover over the soil it will loose moisture quickly.  I put some shade screen over the peas but the heat was just too much for them.  I pulled them  out a couple days ago.  The cows appreciated them.

Consider making sure all your critters have plenty of cool, fresh water.  Change their water often.  You feel refreshed with cool drink of water and so will your animals.  And, if possible, put up some shade to get them some relief from the heat if they don't have any places to hide from the heat.  Some animals could care less but some do require a bit of relief.  If you put up any kind of tarp or shade screen do make sure that air can still move freely around and under it so not to trap hot air beneath.  We prefer shade screen since air can move through the holes.

If you own chickens you can also give them a shallow pan (like a plant pot saucer) full of water in their runs.  (NOTE:  Not recommended for Cornish-crosses that are ready for butcher in 6-8 weeks for they are too heavy of a breed to have pans of water that they can walk into. They may drown if they collapse.)  We have a few girls that LOVE to cool their chicky toes in a shallow pan of water.

And remember to check on your hens often to be sure no one is getting overheated in their nests while on egg laying duty.  It is not uncommon for a hen to have difficulty laying eggs in extreme heat.  They almost get 'egg constipation' due to dehydration.  If a hen does appear to be heat stressed move her into a cooler area or indoors where she can cool off.  We have had to cool a poor heat-stressed hen in front of a fan.  Pull her wings up and out, moved some of her fluffy feathers up and away from her body and legs to allow the moving air to flow under her wing pits and by her body to help cool her off. It is not uncommon for this gal since she is thickly feathered though her sister does not have any issues with the heat.

Another way to give your flock some relief is to freeze water in something like a small yogurt container.  Then drop the frozen lump into their waterer or pan of water.  This will keep the water cool for longer time.

I don't recommend misting your chickens because all you end up with are wet, smelly chickens who are still hot, and mad, because you got them wet.  You could mist near their pen to cool the air around it but I wouldn't get your birds wet.  A fan can also help circulate air in your coop or pen areas to keep the temps down.

Wetting down their runs and pens also help in keeping them cool.  Usually what happens around here is that after the area has been dampened they promptly start scratching around and the next thing you know they are happily dirt bathing.  I had tilled their run before the heat came so they would have loose soil to dirt bathe in and it didn't take them long to start on making dirt bathing pits.

Not so white chicken after a cool dirt bath
Oh, and do skip giving them corn during this time.  It is a 'warming' food.  A great treat in the winter time but not recommended during hot weather.  If you do,  give it to them sparingly.  Frozen peas are a great treat, if your birds like them.  You can even give them shaved ice, too.  And, most importantly, check on your birds (and your other critters) often during the heat wave.  Older birds and heavy breeds may not fare well with prolonged, excessive heat.  And don't forget to collect eggs each time you visit the coop.

All your animals need some sort of shade and relief from the heat but most importantly be sure they have plenty of fresh cool water and for your livestock that require some additional minerals or salt, be sure that those are kept available.  The cows have been hiding down in the small hayfield but visit the barn area to hit the minerals in the evening.  Or just hang out by the barn just to be sure that giant hay 'pez' dispenser is still 'out-of-order' or you can find them out by the garden hoping that I get with program and weed the garden.

Keep cool and stay hydrated!  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Transplanting tomatoes

It has been difficult to post with all the activities around here.  We've been on the go repairing and maintaining equipment or structures, researching all things critter related, heading to town to pick up needed materials and working on getting the garden set up.  With all the planting and transplanting seedlings into the garden, we've also been starting some of the seeds that germinate very quickly inside.  Like cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins.

You really don't have to spend a lot of money to get seedlings started.  Especially the larger seeds like the ones mentioned above.  I have purchased some flats for seed starting but I have also saved those plastic clam-shell containers from store bought strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes or mushrooms.  My mom gave me some of those plastic egg containers a couple years ago and I still use them.  Just punch a hole in the bottom of each cup with a nail so the excess water can drain out otherwise you'll end up with soggy soil (which will rot your seeds). These plastic containers make wonderful seed starting trays, they are reusable and stack nicely when not in use.  If you need containers that are a little larger than your average vegetable can, look into purchasing grow bags.  They come collapsed and after use, you can reuse them.  A good rinse or wash in a diluted bleach solution and thoroughly dried before storing for the next season.  The yellow ones I've used for about 7 years but my parents had purchased them, well.... a long time ago. Probably 30 years ago when they had bought them to start eucalyptus seedlings for wind breaks.

But the most important thing in starting seeds in trays is the soil.  A good seed starting soil can really improve your success.

If the weather gets any cooler I'll have to put the seed starts on the seedling heat mat but it had been warm enough to set on the shelves in the sunshine in the greenhouse.  So far only the cucumbers are sprouting.  Tomorrow I may have to move the others to the heat mat since we are forecasted for several days of overcast and possibly rain.  We really could use some good rain showers so no complaints here!

I have had a couple of 'volunteers' that popped up in my existing potted plants in the greenhouse this spring.  A bean plant, some kind of squash or pumpkin, buckwheat and possibly an eggplant.  I really hate pulling them out and letting them die, so when I pulled the squash plant I damaged the roots pretty good.  I then put it in a jar of water.  It is rooting, bloomed and I'll transplant it here soon.  The buckwheat and the others were pulled an re-potted into cans.  You can plant just about anything into a can and transplant it later.  Just be sure to punch some holes in the bottom of the can, too.

Buckwheat in a can

So let's take a look at transplanting tomatoes.   They were getting leggy and starting to yellow so into the ground they go.  Chances of getting a frost are still possible but I can always cover them at this time of year.  The main problem for us is wind. We get winds in the late evenings/afternoons during the summer when the valleys cool off or when a good storm passes through.  With the lack of wind breaks it sure can cause some damage to your plants. 

So here's a tip for transplanting tomatoes in windy areas where you cannot put a cover over them that won't end up two counties over.  When you dig your hole for your plants, dig it at an angle.  Like you are going to let the plant lie on the ground instead of upright.  It will greatly reduce the chance of the wind twisting your tomato plant apart.  I will also cover the stem of the tomato plant so about 4"-6" of the foliage is exposed.  This will cause the stem to set out more roots.  (Cut a tomato stem, set it in water and you'll see it set out roots.... a good way to get more plants out of one!)  The additional roots will help keep your plants firmly rooted in the ground and keep the wind from uprooting them.

Please note that you would take the seedling to be planted out of the can or grow bag before you put it into the soil.  I left the can in place so you could see the angle of the planting better.  It looks like it is taking a nap but they are doing quite well and as the plant grows you'll never know that you put the root ball in at an angle.  If the wind wobbles the stems loose from their covering of dirt, just pack more dirt on top or add a small rock to hold it in place until roots can start to take hold.

Oh, and don't worry if you break off a piece of the leggy stems you can always put the broken piece into a jar of water and it will take root.  Then just transplant later.  Tomatoes are a rather forgiving plant to grow.

Hope your gardening adventures are going well!  Until next time.....