Friday, October 24, 2014

Weather report

September is supposed to be the rainy month.  Well, it pretty much went by without much of anything to get excited about.  Here mid-October we are now getting some much needed rain, the mountains are hidden in the mist and clouds and the grass is greening up before your eyes.  All-in-all, for the past couple of days we've gotten one inch (most of it within the past 24 hours) of rain with prediction of more in a couple of days.  We still have a list of stuff to get done outdoors but thank God for the rain.  It is truly a blessing.  You can hear the plants and the soil breathe a sigh of relief.

The goats, on the other hand, think it is a curse.  The dogs agree.  But both critter varieties are in need of a bath anyways so they can just adjust to a little bit of rain.  The waterfowl are delighted and the chickens (at least those who are not molting) really don't care as long as worms keep popping up and they can run back into the coop or carport if it rains too hard.


 
Seriously?  You want us to go OUT in this stuff?
Un, no, thanks.  We'll stay in here.


soggy horse



chores still need to be done
See how good we are?  Now, feed us!!!  We're getting wet!


happy duck

I'm a bad dog.... I not only inhaled my food but I ate my sister's food, too
volunteer romaine
It's dry inside-

So today is a good time to take advantage catching up on some indoor projects that have been set aside, along with the usual daily chores. And there is a bowl full of tomatoes screaming to be made into jam.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Deadline

 
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.


ominous....
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.