Monday, January 16, 2017

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

I like candy.  I'm not gonna lie.  I am like a kid when it comes to shopping for it.  I like sour candies, especially, but also like dark chocolate and licorice.  I like finding old fashioned candy at places like Cracker Barrel.  I'm trying to slow down on the candy, though.  There's only one thing I like shopping for better than candy - SEEDS!

Ever since I've been a little kid, I've always loved to grow things.  In a story I've probably told more than once (sorry), I can remember being just a little boy and running outside and planting my fruit cocktail.  It didn't grow.  Imagine that!  I can remember sticking toothpicks in the side of an avacado seed and placing it in a jar to watch it grow.  I can remember school projects where we sprouted green beans in paper cups.  Growing things has always interested me - always has and always will.

There's nothing better than to get out the latest Seed Catalogs from heirloom seed companies and stretch out in front of a fireplace on a cold winter day and order seeds.  The varieties of different seeds are interesting.  The photos within the pages of the catalogs make you want to fill your shopping cart with one of each!

I pulled out my seed inventory in which I maintain our records of both purchased seed and saved seed and then determine which seeds I need to order and/or replace. After reading through each page, I made my order online.  Saturday when I went out to check the mail, yep, you guessed it!  I had a package waiting!  It was sealed up tightly in a bubble-wrap envelope to keep the contents safe.

I ripped open the package feverishly and pulled out the contents one by on and laid them out on the table.  This year I replaced some of our old favorites, but I also found a few new things to plant.  I want to try my hand at growing black beans.  I also want to grow some red kidney beans.  I've never grown them before, but I'm going to give it a try.  In looking at our disaster plan, I realized that if TEOTWAWKI happens, some of my preparations are lacking, namely, how do you cook red beans and rice if you don't have red beans?  I hope to remedy that this year!!

Here's the other thing that I like about ordering seeds.  One of the companies I order from, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, sends several packets of free seeds in with your order.  We call that lagniappe or "a little something extra or free."  I laid all the seeds on the island in the kitchen and admired them.

Looking over the seeds - the variety and beauty and promise of new, interesting vegetables, I got excited to get out and start working the soil.  Still too early for that,but I am reminded the Thomas Cooper said, "A garden is never as good as it will be next spring!"  I'm already planning! It is going to be my best garden yet...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

At Time to Plant - A Time to Reap

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.  - Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Yes indeed, a time to plant - a time to uproot.  This past Saturday we uprooted the tomato plants and on the very same day, we planted more!  The previous weekend it was twenty something degrees and now, well, it was in the seventies and I was in shorts on the patio with seed starting mix and a bunch of seeds planting the spring 2017 crop.  I try to get a very early start so that I can get the seedlings transplanted in the garden as soon as I'm confident that we won't experience a frost.

I plant all of my tomato, eggplant and pepper seeds in January, and I nurture them and baby them until it is time to transplant them out into the garden.

Here is an inventory of the different heirloom varieties that I planted:
Eggplant: Louisiana Long Green and Florida Market Eggplant
Peppers:  Criolla Sella, Hot Jalapeno, Craig's Grande Jalapeno, Banana Pepper, Emerald Giant, and Horizon Peppers
Tomatoes: Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter, Black Vernissage, Black from Tula, Big Rainbow, Pink Brandywine, Thessaloniki, Amish Paste, and Valenciano 749 Yellow Tomatoes.

Seeds always strike me as such a miracle.  Each tiny seed holds so much promise, so much potential, so much life will spring forth from that dead-looking seed!


I normally plant two seeds in each seed pot.  That gives me the possibility of getting 8 seedlings from each variety.

I cover the seeds with soil and give the soil a good sprinkling with water to simulate a soaking rain.  In a few days they will germinate and then I will install a florescent light above them.  We'll peek in on them in a few days to check our germination percent.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's Not Easy Being Green

Yesterday we chronicled the fate of our fall tomato crop that was planted a month and a half late due to the floods of August 2016.  Because of the delay in planting, the fall tomatoes never ripened and instead froze solid overnight, still green as a gourd on Saturday, January 7th.  I began researching what you can do with green tomatoes.  Obviously you can fry them, but once they freeze, their cellular structure is compromised and don't stand up well to slicing.  What a waste!  Or was it?

It's not easy being green
I took the biggest ones and froze them on trays.  That way they can be frozen individually and put in gallon ziploc bags and can be used to cook with as you would ordinary red tomatoes.  I froze about 6 pounds this way.

Freezing them whole in the deep freeze
I found a neat article about something called Pomodori Verdi (essentially green tomato sauce) that educated me that you can use green tomato sauce the same exact way that that you can red ripe tomato sauce.  It is very simple to make.  I simply took 10 pounds of green tomatoes and put them in a big pot and added 2 cups of water and began to cook them over medium heat for about 45 minutes.

At about the 40 minute mark, I got a potato masher and began crushing the green tomatoes right there in the pot.

I used the immersion blender to really liquefy the green tomato sauce.  This is perhaps the neatest tool ever made since Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.

Then I added 2 Tablespoons of  dried basil, 1 teaspoon full of minced garlic,2 teaspoons full of salt and some fresh ground criolla sella pepper we just made.  The immersion blender pureed all the tomato sauce and spices.

I used my canning funnel to pour the green tomato sauce into the sterilized canning jars.

I used the measuring stick to allow for 1/2 head space in the jars.

Finally, I added one Tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice onto the top of each jar of green tomato sauce.

I then put the gaskets and tattler lids on the jars, put the rings on and put them in a water bath canner for 35 minutes.  I pulled them out after the allotted time and let them sit for 24 hours.  The jars were sealed nicely and the color was an odd, but beautiful green - kind of strange to think that this is tomato sauce!

In all the 10 pounds of green tomatoes made 8 pints of Pomodori Verdi.

And added another variety (and color) to the canning pantry.

We've already used some of the pomodori verdi added to the chicken stock base for a homemade chicken noodle soup.  Very Good!  I'm anxious to try it over spaghetti. Although it is a shame we didn't get the tomato crop in earlier to be able to harvest a huge crop of RED tomatoes, I'm glad that we were able to find a delicious way to salvage the GREEN tomato crop.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Very Cold Weekend - For Us At Least

Saturday morning we woke up to temperatures hovering around 23 degrees.  That is a little cold for us. I was out the night before wrapping pipes on the cattle trough so the pvc wouldn't break.  Speaking of the cattle trough, our cows were standing in front of the trough with a very puzzled look on their faces. They couldn't understand the ice, I guess, and why they couldn't take a drink.  I solved their problem by breaking the ice on the trough so that they could get to the water.

Breaking the Ice
I put on my insulated overalls and Tricia and I went out and did the morning milking.  We use Vaseline petroleum jelly as a lubricant on the cows' teats.  In the summer time, the vaseline is almost in a liquid form from the South Louisiana heat.  That was not the case Saturday morning.  In fact, the vaseline was almost a solid consistency and was hard to spread on the teats for milking.  We got it done, though and finished up milking the cows and goat.

After pouring, I got a roaring fire going in the fireplace to warm us all up.  I went out to the wood pile and filled the wagon full of firewood.  Once I lifted up a few pieces of firewood a strange sight caught my eye.  A whole bunch of roaches and a poor gecko had succumbed to the frigid temps.

The 'clean-up' crew was quick on the scene to quickly devour all of the roaches and the gecko, too.  It didn't take them long to eat all of them.

Switching gears a bit, back in August we received over 25 inches of rain.  This delayed the planting of our fall garden by over a month.  Due to this delay, I knew that our tomato crop would not mature and be ready for harvest before being killed by a freeze.  But with our really mild winter, I was surprised when I actually pulled a red tomato off of a vine in January!  Can you believe it?

A January tomato (not grown in a greenhouse)
Sadly, though, that would be the only red tomato that we would harvest.  Just 3 days later, this hard freeze burnt our tomato plants to a crisp and freezing the nice looking tomatoes into a solid chuck of tomato-ice.

Just a day earlier the tomato vines were healthy, vigorous with lots of green growth. The freeze wiped them out.

I like this picture because it represents the "against all odds" spirit of our heirloom tomatoes.  Here it was January and our tomatoes were still growing, still blooming and ready to grow nice fruit.  Until, of course, the north winds began to blow.

That picture is sad in a way, but then it also shows a defiant spirit and gives a testimony, of sorts, about never giving up.  Speaking of that, I'd like to talk a bit more about the fall (frozen) tomato crop tomorrow.  It dovetails nicely with the 'never give up' theme.  By this time, it was time to go inside and warm up.

If there is a better way to warm up besides enjoying a nice bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo, topped with fresh green onions and a a side of sweet potatoes, I'm unaware of it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

One Size Fits All

We have found that a halter for a cow generally will last one year - tops.  The primary hobby of cows, that being eating grass, is very hard on a cow halter.  The act of eating grass is a very repetitive process for the cow that involves stretching the neck out, grabbing a wad of grass with the tongue and pulling the head back, ripping the grass out, chewing and then doing it all over again.  Same song, second verse.

Believe it or not, doing this numerous times a day takes a toll on the halter.  The chain on the halter that runs underneath the cow's jaw is shiny from continuous rubbing on the grass and the chain rubbing together against the grass will cause the chain to wear.  Over a year's time, the chain will become thin and eventually break in two like Clarabelle's halter did below.

Oh, sometimes I purchase a small chain link or I'll use some tie wire to mend the halter for a while, but the patchwork repairs don't hold up for long and then it is time to purchase a brand new halter.  We get the halter at our local feed store here in Jennings as we like to support our local businesses.

I was thinking that the halter is pricey at $24.78; however, for competitive pricing, I checked around on the Internet and $24.78 at our local feed store is actually a pretty doggone good price.

Here's the problem, though.  As the cows grow, you must purchase a new halter. The halters are sold in three sizes - Calf, Yearling, and Cow.  We have calf halters that we keep on the calves to break them and walk them, but they don't stay on the calf long and they aren't eating much grass, so they last for a long time and the calf halter is rotated from calf to calf and used over and over.

We don't even buy a yearling halter.  We have figured out a way to make the Cow Halter be a "one size fits all."  When I was probably 10 years old, I got a wood burner for Christmas.  You've probably seen them.  You plug them in and they get very, very hot.  You press the tip into a piece of wood and you can create all sorts of beautiful art, plaques, and signs.  At least that was the general idea.  My artwork and signs did not turn out like the pictures on the box and my creations were things that only a mother could love.  Besides that, the thing was dangerous.  It would heat up hotter than a blast furnace and give you third degree burns or burn your house down.  I loved the wood burner.  I just never got past the 'pre-novice' stage of wood burning.

My old wood burner
Hold the phones for a cotton-pickin' minute.  Forty years later (I don't throw anything away!), I have found the perfect use for a wood burner.  It makes a Cow Control Halter into a "one size fits all" halter.  By plugging the halter into an outlet and allowing it to reach the temperature of molten lava, you can gently push the wood burner tip through the nylon halter creating extra holes well past the ones that are factory made.  Once I have many holes added, I use the tip of the wood burner to melt away the hard nylon 'blobs' that are created by the melted nylon as that might scratch the cows' neck.

Adding holes to the halter
I added seven evenly spaced holes to the halter, turning this cow halter into a yearling halter.

Right now Clarabelle has a long strap that I simply tuck underneath the halter. She'll have plenty of room to grow into it as as she grows, I'll loosen the buckle as she grows until she is into the "Cow" Size.

Clarabelle is very happy with her new blue halter and quickly sticks her tongue deep into her nostril to show her exuberance with her new accessory.

I've always thought that is one heckuva trick!  My tongue won't reach that far.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Looking Back at 2016 Rainfall Totals at Our Maker's Acres Family Farm

Now Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower." 1 Kings 18:41

Hmmm...  The roar of a heavy shower.  Like Elijah and Ahab, we experienced the roars of many heavy showers in 2016 as our area received an extraordinary amount of the wet stuff.  But we'll get back to discussing that in just a minute.  We began keeping detailed records back in 2013 and each year in early January, we compile our records from the year to give us historical data that we can compare to previous years. Click HERE to read last year's post showing our records from 2015.  Detailed data helps us to identify trends and better manage the garden and livestock.  In prior years we reported our records for several items, but this year we are going to split them up into their own individual posts, starting with rainfall.

If you look at rainfall totals for our zip code, you will find that our average annual rainfall for Jennings, Louisiana is 60.35 inches.  If you average 2013 and 2014, the average of 60.35 is right on the money.  However 2015 rainfall and especially 2016 rainfall totals have skewed the average so that our average from 2013 - 2016 is actually 67.21 inches of precipitation per year.  The record-setting 2016 rainfall total was 79.30 inches or 6 foot 6 inches of rainfall for the year!  That shattered the previous years' record by a whopping 10 inches.  Check out the table I put together below:

March continues to be our driest month on average and the monsoons that fell in August 2016 made August the new wettest average month.  The August rains actually had disastrous effects on the fall garden this year.  The fall garden wasn't in at the time that the deluge hit, but that much rain delayed the planting of the fall garden until about a month later than it should have been planted.  I think later this week, I will further explain.  The rainfall amounts convinced me of two things:  I need to raise the level of the garden higher by having some additional topsoil delivered, AND I need to construct better drainage on parts of our pasture and the barn area.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Dead" Prayers

Many times when we get cardboard boxes in the mail, I'll tear off the tape and any stickers and I'll flatten out the boxes.  I will take the flattened out boxes to the garden and lay them down on the ground where they serve as a barrier to weeds growing up.  Over time, with sun and rain, they deteriorate and become part of the garden soil.

The other day when walking out to pick some fresh lettuce for a salad for supper, my eye caught something lying atop one of the cardboard boxes - a dead Praying Mantis.

A Dead Prayer
This Praying Mantis was huge and on his back and very dead.  I began wondering what happened to the old boy.  He didn't seem to have been killed by a predator. He was a fat dude, so he was in good health.  He was quite large. so maybe he died of old age.  Old age, in this case, would be 14 months as that is the top end of their lifespan according to what Google told me.

Seeing a dead Praying Mantis is not a normal sight and as I picked lettuce, my mind began to dwell on the dead praying mantis and think of what causes our (my) prayers to die - or to go unanswered.  Have you ever prayed for something for a very long time and it feels like your prayers have died?  I have. What causes prayers to die?  Or seem to die?  Good questions.

I went to THIS LINK as well as some others to find some answers in this non-exhaustive list:

1. Wrong Motives.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3  Maybe our motives involve greed or selfishness, or revenge.  The Bible says God will not honor those prayers.

2. Timing.  Sometimes no answer may be a delayed answer.  God's timing is best.

3  Not God's will.  Maybe what we are praying for is not what's best for us.  God knows best.  In fact, Garth Brooks used to sing a song called, "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." We must trust Him and be patient.

4. Repetitive and Not heart-felt prayer.  And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Matthew 6:7 Sometimes in prayer, my mind wanders.  Sometimes I will go on "auto-pilot" and merely say words similar to the way as school kids we'd recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Our heart isn't in it and the Bible says God will not hear these prayers.

5. Unconfessed sin.  Behold, the LORD'S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. Isaiah 59:1  Maybe our prayers feel like they are dead because we need to get things right with God and/or our fellow man.

I don't want to end up like the dead praying mantis in the garden, nor do I want my prayers to end up like him.
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