Saturday, October 18, 2014


Well, it finally happened.  The dreaded day has come.... not tax day, but almost as bad, if you're not prepared.  The first real good frost came in at a whopping 32F and then the following morning it was colder.  Down to 28F for a few hours.  Oh the joy!  BUT thankfully we had pulled all the tomatoes and the last of the tomatillos out the day before and put them safely in the greenhouse.  As of today, the garden harvest is nearly done.  All that is left are the carrots and they are safe in the ground for now.


So now I'm canning/freezing/storing as much as time will allow along with my own daily chores.   I will be awol for a while as I catch up and get things organized.

Winter is around the corner, snow has fallen (and melted) on the mountains across the valley and the leaves are falling fast.  The lawn has been mowed for the last time.  Garden machinery will be drained or ran dry of any fuel and then be stored away, safe from the weather.  Garden hoses need to be drained one last time, rolled up and put away.  Exterior faucets need to be winterized (frozen pipes are not on the list of fun things to do in winter).  The chicken coop has been painted and needs the interior prepared, too, as does the run.  Miss Mama hen (Jiji) with her peeps have had their little pen moved into the run for some shelter from the upcoming weather.  Wood still needs to be brought into the shed and the irrigation ditch is getting some long needed preventative maintenance before the winter and spring rains.  When the ground freezes and is covered in snow not much will get done before the thaw.

potatoes did better than expected :-)

The list goes on.  Oh, and don't forget to add in a few 'fire drills' to the mix, just for some variety.

snow blowing in on the mountains

I'll rest when it snows.... well, at least after it is shoveled off the drive.

Winter fires

It seems that stacking firewood is an art form.  Or at least requires some sort of skill.  I do not possess neither the skill nor the artistic ability to stack wood like those picture perfect stacks shown below.

 If you do not know how to pack firewood for the winter, here are some ...  Decorating, Owl Wood-stack and The Snow Dog  Alastair Hesletine Fallen Tree Wood Stack

None of the above are done by my hand (sure would cause a stir in town, eh?!) but I do my best to stack it so it doesn't come down onto my pointy head when venturing out to haul it to the porch. And it is stored in a shed to keep it dry.

One of the requirements when we looked for property was that it either had a good source of firewood or, at the very least, nearby access to firewood where you can buy a permit for a fraction from the forest service to cut wood.  Being that parts of the property have been neglected we have quite a bit of firewood.  Some of it is rotted, twisted, gnarled, green or dry.  It's not 'pretty' firewood.  And it doesn't stack nicely but it will burn (except for the few stragglers of green wood which, as a general rule, get stacked on the back part of the shed, on the bottom of the stack or left out in the field for next year).

Again, it ain't pretty but it will serve us through the winter.  Not too sure it is a 'savings' by doing it ourselves but right now the deadwood needs to be cleaned up anyways.  And we still have about a cord of fir and walnut that is left over from last year.

Do keep in mind that the rotted, bug-infested wood will burn a lot faster than the good stuff since it light and porous from the borers.  The rotted, buggy stuff I suggest not to bring into your house unless you are going to burn it at that very moment - last year we had some wood that had wasps hiding out in them.  Best to keep them cold and slow moving!  

And certain varieties of trees burn differently.  Here's a link of BTU's for different woods, if you are so interested.  Hardwoods such as oak, walnut, eucalyptus burn good and hot and for longer periods of time.... if you live in an area with eucalyptus, find a firewood seller and buy several cords.  We burned both oak and eucalyptus where we used to live and the well seasoned eucalyptus leaves very little ash as compared to the oak.  Oh, and be sure to have lots of sticks and kindling (and some softwood pieces) because hardwoods don't light off easily.  Softwoods would be trees like cedar, pine or fir which burn pretty quick but they are handy to have in the fireplace along with a chunk of walnut or oak.

To help keep the fireplace and flue clean during the season I add a product called 'creosote conditioner'.  The conditioner is a dry powder that I add to the fire twice a week per the manufacturers instructions on the container.  You may be able to purchase an equivalent product from your local hardware store or feed store (if they carry fireplace products).  It seems to have helped tremendously in keeping the chimney clean (not completely clean of the glazed creosote that has built up over the years but it is helping to break it down and it keeps the fluffy creosote from building up). Go to this link here for an explanation that may help explain creosote buildup better than I can try to explain. 

But before we start to use the fireplace, a couple of weeks ago we inspected the top of the chimney for any cracks and looked down the chimney to be sure there are no blockages, such as a bird's nest.  According to family of the previous owners, the original home burned down due to a rat's nest in the fireplace (and an unattended fire).  And a home down the street burned down several years ago due to a chimney fire.  So needless to say, we are cautious when using the fireplace!

We also ran a wire brush down the sides of the chimney to remove any loose soot and ash.  I have cleaned out the fireplace of the soot that fell down, inspected the inside of the fireplace really good for cracks or loose brick, wiped down the door window and then checked the gasket to be sure it was secured and in good condition.  Next I checked the blowers and cleaned out any cobwebs and dust in or around the fan.  I go through the fireplace inspection routine every time I clean out the fireplace when we are burning fires and at the end of the season.  It is important to keep an eye out for any potential issues.

Sweep's has a good FAQ Library which I have referred to quite often over the past couple of years.  I have no affiliation with them but think their advice is good since fireplaces and chimneys are their job and I wanted to share it with you. So be safe with your fires during this winter season cause if you live in a place that gets snow, that white stuff will be here soon enough.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ball BLUE Book of Canning

As I posted previously, here's my "important" post on canning/preserving.  Well, at least what I wanted to share with you that I felt was an important part of being self-sufficient.

With all the gardening activities winding down or completed for the season now is a good time to assess your efforts, whether some things need to be changed or if you are going to grow the same varieties next year or not, order seeds for next year (taking advantage of the end of season sales) and get your equipment ready for next season by cleaning/oiling your tools and draining or running the fuel dry from your tillers and mowers.  (Old fuel will cause a bunch of headaches come spring!)  And getting your produce stored or canned for the upcoming winter months.

Now, since I have been canning and freezing stuff like a crazy woman, I have a few canning books that I refer to.  Ball Blue Book of Canning is one of them.  Well, actually I have two of them.  One is a newer release and the other is an older book.  Even though both books have the same recipes (the yellow one has some additional ones), I really like the blue covered book with the last publishers date of 2001 and mostly because at the end of the book are a some (in my opinion) very important charts in helping you plan your garden (which, by the way, I had initially overlooked for several years).

Like I stated in my previous post, I did not plant enough to supply the family with a years' worth of preserved produce.  I have been focusing on what varieties of vegetables grow well in my temperature zone (5b) and length of growing season.  It has been a learning curve!  I think I am getting them narrowed down.

But the question has been for me is how the heck do you determine how much to plant to provide a certain yield for a family of 5.  Seed packets don't give you this information. And, yes, I do know that even if the packet did state that Tomato Plant XYZ would yield 100 pounds of tomatoes per plant that would also vary based upon soil conditions, weather conditions, water schedules, fertilizer, soil temperatures and number of days in your growing season.  And, yes, the packet numbers would also be based on the seed growers' "perfect growing conditions" in a "perfect environment".  Like that ever happens.... can't say I've ever had "perfect" gardening conditions.  I think that is called an oxymoron.

So before I get completely off-topic, the answer I found to my question is at the end of the Ball Blue Book of Canning (blue cover), publisher date 2001 (Volume 1, Alltrista Corp). The charts in the back are for determining how much to plant for a family of 6, canning guide for family of 4, jar estimates and recommended freezer storage for certain lengths of time.  I don't know why Ball didn't include them in the later book.  It is an important piece of information that has been left out especially if you are planning for your family.  It may be because people just don't can or preserve foods like they used to.

So below are pics of the charts for your reference.  And I highly recommend that if you do run across this edition in a used book store or thrift store, grab it (make sure that all pages are intact - don't want to be surprised when you get home only to find that some pages have  been removed).  Check those yard sales, too.  Not only because this book contains a wealth of canning information and recipes but also for the charts.  They are a very handy reference in planning your garden or when you swing by that farmer's roadside produce stand or when your market has a good sale on meats.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

On the run....

Have a post that has been in draft mode for a week.  It will get posted at some point, but not this week.  Maybe over the weekend - when it rains (I'm being positive). ;-)

I think this will be the last hurrah of our Indian Summer.  We've had temps up into the 70's-80's with cool nights.  Even a few mornings of light frost but the tomatoes and tomatillos are covered.  Today (or tomorrow) they will come out.  I've left them to let the crop ripen up.  I have two test sets going - one in the greenhouse and the ones outside - to see which set ripens best.  So far, greenhouse is winning the charge.  Mind you, the greenhouse is not being heated (yet).

Weather guessers predicting some rain and a lot cooler temperatures over the next several days so we are scrambling to get some painting done plus the gazillion other projects that are on the list, too.  All of them rated the same priority. Ha!

So I will leave you with a few pictures before we start our charge out the door to begin the day.  Sun not quite up over the hills yet but light enough to start getting some of the larger critters out.

Enjoy your day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Garden assessment

What to do on a rainy day when you can't get out into the garden or do much of anything that requires to be out of doors?? 
Start planning next years' garden, of course.  And possibly take advantage of the end of season clearance sales the online seed companies are doing now.

The other day I spent time researching short growing season vegetables, along with ones that are not only short season varieties but also heat resistant, too, and double checking the varieties I planted this year.   I won't be replanting some of them next year ... like the Straight Eight cucumber, not that it did not perform well, I just didn't like the taste or texture.  I think the excessive heat played some part in that.  And I will replant some, like the Danvers carrot.  I planted them last year and they have performed well each year and have a nice flavor.

When moving to a new place, or new state, sometimes the best decisions as to what to plant in your garden, or yard, are what your neighbors are growing in their gardens and yard, or what is being sold in the local seed peddler's store.  Not always, but usually.  The hardware store here in town sells a few seeds and what I purchased from them have been a good choice.  The store that is 30 miles away has been hit and miss since the area is not quite the same. 

Please note, that if you purchase online to check out the reviews, gardening forums or blogs on the plants you are interested in (and note where those posters are from.... you don't want to plant plants that won't do well in your zone).   If you are unsure of your hardiness zone go here.

And don't always bet on your neighbors being, um.... well, neighborly.... because if you come from a state that they just plain don't like, they still won't like you based only on the fact that you came from there.  Seriously, there are some small communities that have some small minded folk living there.  It may take a while for some of them to warm up to you but there are many that will stick to their opinion of you and at you are just plain not welcome into their little community.

So on with my assessment.

Corn:  Haven't been too successful with it mostly because of the wind.  I had similar problems in our old state.  It howls on down from the mountain and into the valley so this year I crowded the first row on the side where the wind comes from.  It not only protected the young seedlings but it sure did keep the inner rows from getting bent over and damaged.  I will do the same next year.  Surprisingly enough that outer row had a lot of corn. It was some kind of hybrid the local co-op sold and it was probably the sweetest corn we've had in a long time.  I have about 15 half gallon bags of cut corn in the freezer, not too shabby considering the hot winds dried the tassels out pretty quick.  Next year I will plant Country Gentleman, or possibly Yukon Chief Early Corn, and Painted Mountain flint corn (for corn meal).  These will all be staggered in their planting so as not to cross pollinate.   The test plot of dent corn did very well and held up well to the wind.  Not a lot of ears, but with all the heat and wind it did as well as could be expected and I will plant it again next year.  The only thing that bent it over was the gourd vine that grew up into the stalks.... and the horse when he discovered that I moved the (un)electric fencing.  Little brat.

Peas have not done well at all.  Between wind and early heat, it has been a disaster.  Wando should have done well but I will try Alaska Sweet Pea next year.

Beans:  Blue Lake bush bean or the pole bean variety have done very well.  I don't stake them up because the wind which would just pulverize them and there is really no need to stake them up except for easier picking and weeding.  But with the mass of foliage on the ground it prevents weeds from taking over.  The only issue I had was that there were a few of the pole variety that appeared to revert to their parentage (which upon research seems to have been a problem for other gardeners in the past, too) so I may eventually grow another variety.  We'll see how the seed does next year but I may purchase another variety to try out.

Cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower:  I need find non-hybrid varieties and plant sooner in the year. I will prepare the beds now and then will have a quicker jump in the season (at least that is the goal!).

Cantaloupes & melons:  Crimson watermelon tried to perform well but I transplanted them too late and the heat really affected them.  None of the cantaloupe seedlings made it past transplant.

Pumpkins:  I thought it was a bust (compared to last year) but the major problem was I did not add enough cow pies to the soil.  And I will narrow down my 'grow list' so I don't end up with cross pollination.  I like the Jack Be Little pumpkins since the dogs like them as snacks.  Howden Field pumpkin does well, as does the Rouge Vif d'Etampes (or Cinderella pumpkin).  The chickens love pumpkin and the Rouge Vif d'Etampes has a nice flavor and pretty color.  And all have been good keepers.

Tomatoes/tomatillos:  Shoot for earlier transplant next year.  Heat wave did a number on the viability of the pollen when they bloomed.  Did the same as last year but the heat wave didn't last as long then.  I may even attempt to put shade screen over it (without it blowing into the next state!).  Otherwise, I will plant the same varieties next year (Roma, Mortgage Lifter and Abe Lincoln.... Black Krim did not do well this year and though I do enjoy growing it I may not plant it next year).  I may even add a cherry tomato to the mix.

Peppers:  Winter over the survivors (they were not 'happy') and plant next spring. And put a mouse trap in the greenhouse (or one of the cats).  The rodent did a number on my pepper plants before the trap got it.

Carrots:  Danvers.  No other variety needed unless I want to grow purple or yellow ones.  I will leave a few through the winter for seed.

Beets:  Detroit Red did well last year but they were bitter.  Cause:  HEAT.  But I have been told that if I would have soaked them overnight in salted water, the bitterness would have gone away.  Too bad I found out so late - the chickens had a wonderful feast!  Next year, I will plant them again along with mangels for the critters.

Radish:  Cherry Belle.  No other variety needed.  22 days - can't beat that!  And the heat did not affect their quality.

Lettuce of all kinds does well regardless of variety.  Just have to choose what kind to plant.  We go through a lot of iceberg, some romaine and looseleaf so we will keep with what we have planted.  Going to experiment with a grow tunnel over the winter to see if I can have any success of growing during the snow season.

Potatoes:  Research is needed. The variety we planted last year from the hardware store were fantastic.  Had spuds until the end of March.  This year (mainly due to where I planted them) ... well, we'll be buying potatoes in a few months.  May even try growing above ground next year but research is needed for that.

Onions:  Nearly all the sets planted grew.  Not overly large but did have many small ones.  These will be sliced and dried for powder.

Zucchini/crook neck squash:  Crook necks were in overdrive this year.  Green zucchini was not stellar but did produce a good quantity, as did the yellow ones.  And, of course, there were the monster squash that magically appeared overnight.  Chickens are delighted.  They are still feasting on them, even after a few weeks of harvest.  Squash bugs did not appear until within the past few weeks.  The chickens were quickly dispatched into that part of the garden for some insect control.... until the Speckled Menace discovered the tomatoes.  She ended up being banished from the garden for her bad behavior.

Well, that is about it for the review.  Gardening is always a learning experience and sometimes it never goes as planned!  All-in-all I need to add MORE cow pies and organic material, especially to the back half of the garden.  It is a work in progress and will take a few years to get it back in shape.

OH, and the most important thing I did learn is that I did NOT plant enough.  Stay tuned. That is another post....


I thought this was pretty cool.  The entire machine this fellow built is made of wood.... gears, chains, crank.... everything.  How fun! :-)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

This & that

Racing around getting the outdoor stuff done before the predicted cold air is going follow the storm front that is passing through.  Winds prevent much getting done yesterday but have slowed considerably today, so best get on with it. So I will leave you with a tale of pictures while we are out & about.