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.....

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hot off the press...

As of 5:30 this morning our herd has increased by one.

Calving season is now officially over (for us, that is).

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spring rush is on

Yikes!  It's been quite a while since my last post.  Time flies when you're having fun.  A lot has been happening and, well, with the warmer temps the gardening has been picking up.  Slowly, but surely, it is getting planted.  Seedlings transplanted into either larger containers or into the garden.  Seedlings such as cabbage that can handle the cooler overnight temperatures.

Wildflowers, daffodils, tulips and the fruit trees are all in bloom.  Even the sage brush is blooming.  The bees are busy at work and we split the remaining hive last week.  We took their candy away so hopefully they won't get mad and leave like they did last year.  So far we still have bees coming and going out of both hives.  We'll have to check the one hive in about a week to see if they have started to make a queen cell since the one hive has the original queen.  We split the 2 hives last year but the high temps we had last year greatly affected the success of those splits to make it through the winter.  Another learning experience.

One vegetable that I have had trouble with in the past growing are peas.  I just cannot get them to do well.  Sprouting generally is not a problem, just production.  So this year I used seed inoculant to see if it would improve their performance.  Legume inoculants contain a beneficial bacteria for peas and beans.  It will be interesting to see how the peas (and beans) perform this year.  I added it to the beans, too.

The second cow is due to calf so we are on 'calf watch'.  She looks like a hairy barrel with stubby legs.  Today may be the day, at least I'm sure she is hoping so!  The month-old calf is growing like crazy.  It will be nice for her to have another calf as a playmate instead of the chickens.

Speaking of chickens, the last of the Original 5 passed away a couple of weeks ago. Chick-A-Dee was 8 and the ol' gal still laid eggs up until last year.  She never really slowed down, just got old.  We had separated her from the rest of the flock so the young cockerels wouldn't pick on her but she showed that she could hold her own and beat the tar out of them.   She also would go out of her way to wallop the 6 year old Silver Wyandotte hen!  So for THEIR safety she became a yard bird and slept in the mud room in a cat carrier at night.  It was quite the sight to see the back door open and Chick-A-Dee come walking out or turn around while getting breakfast ready to see a grumpy hen standing in the doorway as if to say "WHERE'S MY COFFEE!"  If a boot wasn't set in front of the carrier door she'd push it open and wander out to see what was going on.  The mud room is too quiet now.  We miss her.

7 yr old Feathers
We have one of the 7 year old hens left but the majority of the old girls are around 6.  And still laying.  Just another reason to give your birds time off during the winter and not burn them out by giving them artificial light during the winter months to promote egg laying.  The flock is aging so it will be time to get some new hens.

While cleaning up the greenhouse and the surroundings I found this little fellow hiding under the board going into the greenhouse.  It is called a Long-Toed Salamander.  I'd much rather have the salamander hanging about than the mice that have been trying to make up residence in the greenhouse.  It has been so warm and dry that it will probably venture over to the irrigation ditch. 

Well, too much to get caught up on so I'll leave you with some of the sights in and around the greenhouse.  Hope you are getting your gardening together and keep an eye out for canning supplies.  Some of the local stores here already have them on sale.  Take advantage of those sales!

Citrus trees recovered well from the freeze

Old girls hard at work

Taking a well-deserved nap

And, finally, after all the hard work, tilling, weeding, planting and watering, some snacks are on the menu.....

Until next time.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Goat Hoof trimming

Well, this is on the list of things to do today....

OSU has some other great videos, too.  Check them out.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Busy work

It has been a while since my last post.  We are getting some much needed rain so with it being so boggy out, what better time to drop a quick post?  This season has been fairly dry in terms of snowfall and rain so I will keep my complaints of the mud at bay.  We sure need it... the rain, not so much the mud.  Unless you're a duck or goose, or even a chicken looking for some worms.

We've been a little busy around here these past few weeks with getting things ready for the growing season and several road trips, during which we have acquired a few more critters.  One is a little black cat we named Minnie.  She is a mini version of the other two black cats and she has the loudest purr I've ever heard.  She loves to play and has made a good friend with Liza also likes to play.
Minnie, Opal, Winky & Liza

The other addition was the purchase of 5 Hereford cattle, two that were bred.  We had not planned on purchasing cattle this year but we had the opportunity and it all worked out in the long run. Now we are getting a crash course education on what to expect or what we may experience.

The youngest cow calved early Tuesday morning.  A few logistical problems between mama and calf in the nursing department, but all has been settled out and the two of them are quite the pair.  

Nap time
All of the tomato seedlings and the jalapeƱo seedlings have been transplanted into grow bags.  There were a few that didn't make it but overall the transplanting has been a success.  Now to keep the damn mouse out of them.  They always nip the tops off the seedlings, sometimes killing the plant.  Greenhouse needs to be entirely cleaned out to see if the cats can flush out the culprit!

I did get more tomato seeds started as soon as the tray became available and the cabbage seeds I started have sprouted.  By the time they are ready to transplant it should have warmed a bit more outside and be safe to transplant. And I still have about 75 more pepper plant varieties to transplant into their grow bags.  The kids help put dirt into the bags and I move the seedlings into the bags. A team effort makes the job go much more quickly.

And I really like the temperature controller for the grow mat.  It does a great job in keeping me from cooking my seeds during the daylight hours and keeping the mat warm during the night.

Raspberry and gooseberry plants have been trimmed and the few strays have been transplanted back into their respective spots and the area mulched.  The flower patch have been weeded, mulched and ready to go.  I have some more raspberry plants to transplant, as well as some marionberry plants acquired from a dear, sweet neighbor lady.


The garden has been tilled and awaits another pass at a deeper depth.  It started to rain before I had a chance to go another round so it we don't get any more significant rain within the week I'll be able to give it another pass and get some more straw tossed into the mix.  I have a new plan to try this year that will involve more mulch in the garden and planting more companion plants together.  I am hoping it will improve the soil and help keep moisture in during those hot summer months.

Now all I need to do is to finish up my planning out the garden on paper while using my old plan from last year so as to not plant the same or similar plant families in the same spot.  GrowOrganic has a good list of plant family rotations that can be found here.   I can't wait to get into the garden, how about you?