Sunday, May 29, 2016

That’s For the Birds

Back in THIS POST we showed you some birdhouse gourds that I was growing in the garden.  I usually just plant things that you can eat, but these seeds were given to me at a seed exchange and I thought, “Let’s give this a try.”  Here’s a picture of them still green and growing, vining all over the place and producing oblong, odd-shaped gourds.

Yes, that was back in August 2014.  Well, I eventually harvested the gourds after allowing them to dry on the vine.  They have been sitting on my workbench for two years.  That is a crying shame, isn’t it?  I didn’t give them much thought other than moving them out of the way when a project required the use of the top of my workbench.  Every once in a while, I’d shake them and the seeds inside made sounds like maracas do.  Other than that, I had almost forgotten about them.  Tricia told me that she wanted to just throw them away.  I’m glad she didn’t.  Here are the gourds in the space they’ve occupied for much too long.

After procrastinating for about 2 years, I finally motivated myself to commence making birdhouses from our birdhouse gourds.  I’m not much of a craftsman, but I’m pleased with the final product and wanted to show you how the process went.  First, I drilled out a 1 inch diameter hole in each of the gourds.  The gourd exterior is hard, like wood.

The gourds are chock-full of seeds that look kind of like teeth!  I shook them all out.

Here are all the gourds drilled out sitting on a pile of seeds.

Lots and lots of seeds!

In fact, I saved a bunch of the seeds and stored them.  If anyone would like some Birdhouse Gourd Seeds FOR FREE, let me know and I’ll pass some along to you.  They are fun to grow and watch mature.  I think kids would get a kick out of them.

Next, I drilled three holes in the bottom.  This is important.  If you didn’t, they would fill with water in a rainstorm, drowning the bird family that occupied the birdhouse.  These drains will keep the birds high and dry within the confines of their home. 

Then I drilled holes beneath the entry hole to each birdhouse, added wood glue to the edges, and inserted dowels that I cut.  These will serve as the perch.  I can envision Momma bird standing on the perch while delivering food to her babies inside.

I hung the gourds on the clothesline outside to allow the glue holding the perches to fully dry, but I’m not done yet.

I opened a can of polyurethane and brushed several coats onto the gourds.  I wanted to seal the gourd from the weather since they’ll be outside.  Many people paint their birdhouse gourds.  I see a lot of them hanging around our area painted white.  I opted to just use a clear polyurethane as I think the natural color looks cool.

It was then that I realized that I should probably enlarge the entry holes to accommodate birds with larger girth.  While some of our birds are very small, some are ‘super-sized’ and may not fit into the smaller opening.  I inserted a grinding wheel onto my drill and enlarged all of the openings.

Nice weather arrived and I hung them in a pecan tree in a spot right outside our garage door that Tricia calls, “The Grove.”  Here are all four of them hanging in the shade ready for occupancy:

Here’s one birdhouse up close.

And here is the finished product.

If I was a bird I would promptly move into one of the “Our Maker’s Acres Manufactured Homes.”  It’s by no means a gated community, but the neighborhood is nice enough and there seems to be vacancy and plenty of room to spread out my wings and raise a brood.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

2016 Meat Birds at Thirteen Weeks Old

It is time to see if Saturday is going to be butchering day for the remaining 23 Red Ranger Meat birds in the chicken tractor out on the pasture.  As you know, we aim for a 6 pound bird as that yields a 4 1/2 pound carcass.  I walked out and picked up the rooster with the zip tie around his leg we've been weighing for the last 13 weeks and then also picked up one of the hens.  Hens grow at a slower rate than the males, so I want to see how much they weigh.

Last week I put them in a bucket, but they escaped and a had to run around to catch them.  We'll have none of that this week.

They didn't like this carrying technique much
The male goes up on the scale first, squawking and mad...

Red Ranger Rooster
Let's take a closer look.  Well now, Six pounds, 1 ounce.  He hit the target!  Saturday we'll butcher.

6 pounds 1 ounce
Now, it is time for the female to be weighed.  She doesn't feel like she's going to hit 6 pounds.

Female Red Ranger
And the scale says...

Four pounds and 9 ounces
The female weighs 4 pounds and 9 ounces.  That is short of 6 pounds, but you know what?  It is time. Saturday, we'll butcher all of them.

Let's look at our comparison table.  From last week to this week, the Red Ranger Rooster gained 11 ounces.  That is a solid weight gain.

So here is the plan.  We will feed them tomorrow morning and again tomorrow at noon.  Tomorrow night, however, we won't feed them and will move them to the cattle trailer near our butcher stations.  They will have water, but no food.  That is to allow all the food to work its way through their digestive tract and then the slaughter will be cleaner and "poop-free."

This will be the last weigh-in of the year.  Once they are all slaughtered, we'll report final statistics such as total weight, average weight per bird, cost per bird, cost per pound, etc.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Counting Cantaloupes

Image Credit
This afternoon I fed the meat birds out in the chicken tractor on the pasture and then watered the sweet potato slips that I planted in the garden.  By the way, I'll show you more of that in a couple days.  Things are looking good in our heirloom sweet potato experiment.  There are times when things work out.  There are times when things don't.

As I passed by the raised beds by the sweet corn, I checked on the cantaloupes that I have planted there.  They look sickly.  Although full of blooms, they are a sickly yellow color.  It looks like a soil issue to me.  I need to make time to take soil samples this weekend of the pasture, garden area and raised beds in the side yard. I'll be sad if we don't make any cantaloupes.  I was really looking forward to some cantaloupes soon.  As a variation to the old adage, "Don't count your cantaloupes before they're ripe", I guess.

I stood there by the spindly yellow cantaloupe vines and began to think about memories of the fragrant, sweet melons.  As a child we'd go to my grandmother's house (Bumby, we called her) and she would always have slices of ripe, sweet cantaloupe in a bowl on the Sunday lunch table that were picked out at the Supermarket.  That cantaloupe probably had a soft spot in it and it wouldn't sell, so Bumby would bring it home, cut out the bad parts, and put the remainder on the table.  Nothing went to waste!  I still live by that motto.  My grandfather (Poppy) owned that store. The Kinder Supermarket was established in 1947 and he had cantaloupes that were arranged in a prominent place right by the bananas in the produce department.

It's funny how my mind will run off and recall things from the past.  In 1993 we moved to Kinder and I managed the Kinder Supermarket.  There was an old fellow, I'll just call "Mr. Jo" for reasons you'll soon understand.  Mr. Jo sold cantaloupes for a living.  Each summer, we'd see him turn off of Highway 190 and drive into the parking lot, parking his truck in the shade underneath a big old oak tree.  He would then shuffle across the parking lot with a slow, almost painful, uncomfortable gait. He would step on the automatic door mat, opening the door and would make his way around the checkout counters and up to the office.

"Hey, I got some cantaloupes for sale.  Wanna come take a look at 'em?" he'd say. Mr. Jo talked in a voice that sounded like he had a mouth full of gravel.  "Yeah, I'll go look at them," I'd say.  "Oh, they're super sweet, Mr. Kyle," he would brag, "You'll never taste anything like 'em in your life."  I'd follow him out to his pickup truck. The sweltering summer heat would beat down from the sky, radiating up from the asphalt parking lot and into the soles of my shoes as I felt drops of sweat run down the small of my back.  Mr. Jo drove an old white truck with a camper shell on the back.  He had a crudely hand painted sign on the side of his truck that said, CANTALOPES.  (Spell check wasn't invented in 1993 yet, I don't think).

He would lift the back pexiglass door to the camper shell and ask me to hold it open since the little hydraulic arms on the door didn't work to hold it up.  He had an old broom stick that he had cut off at the perfect length to prop the door open when wedged against the bed of the truck.  He then dropped the tailgate.  The overwhelmingly sweet aroma of cantaloupes would overtake me.  It is a smell that I still associate with summer.  He would slide a wax-coated cardboard box of cantaloupes onto the tailgate and open it, pulling out a ripe melon and thrusting it to me.  "Smell that," he'd say.  I would put the broken-off stem end of the ripe cantaloupe to my nose and slowly inhale deeply.

"How much?" I'd ask.  You see, I wanted to be able to sell them at $0.99 a piece and still make money. Old Mr. Jo would tell me, "$10 for a case of 12 cantaloupes."  That math worked.  "Sold," I'd say, "Gimme 15 cases"  At that point in time I would go inside and Mr. Jo would get a cart, load it up with 15 cases and bring the boxes of cantaloupes inside as I'd go to the office and write out a check to him for $150.  I emphasized the phrase "at that point in time" because experience quickly taught me that Mr. Jo played a little trick to give himself extra cantaloupes to sell further down the road.  While I would be writing out the check, Mr. Jo would deftly remove one cantaloupe out of each case.  After he was gone, we opened the boxes to discover that there were only 11 cantaloupes in each box and not 12.

From that time forward when he drove up, we courteously provided an escort to Mr. Jo and 'chaperoned' him at all times.  We'd count the cantaloupes in the store prior to me giving him the check.  That way we'd end up with all the cantaloupes from Mr. Jo. In similar fashion, I'm hoping I end up with some cantaloupes this year from the garden.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Louisiana Tumbleweed

I normally “brown-bag” it for lunch and sometimes I’ll quickly eat leftovers from supper that we enjoyed the night before and I’ll grab my keys, leave the office and just take a drive.  Do you ever do that?  Just drive around with no particular destination in mind?  It certainly beats being indoors in a little office staring at four walls.  It doesn’t take me but about five minutes to be out in the country, away from emails and phones ringing.  There’s a lot to observe driving down country roads.  Not long ago on one of these same roads, I showed you IN THIS POST some coyotes hanging on a fence that a successful cattleman was able to kill.  Killing time and killing coyotes are just a couple of things you can do when you are on a back road in ruralville.

On this particular day a strong Gulf breeze was blowing out of the south bringing with it warm, humid air that smells salty, although I could be imagining that, but the Gulf of Mexico isn’t far away.  Clouds were building up on this day and the skies were darkening and as the day’s heating wears on, it almost guarantees an afternoon thundershower or two.  This is a pattern that plays itself out over and over again during the summer, so much so that it becomes redundant in the local weatherman’s report.

As the wind gusted, I noticed another pattern that happens every year at this time.  I don’t know the name of the grass, it looks like it may be in the panicum family or perhaps switchgrass or purpletop.  I’ll call them “Louisiana tumbleweeds” since I don’t know for sure what it is, but at this time every year, the tops of this grass that is native to this area blows off and flies through the air, and accumulates on any obstruction that might be in its way as it blows across the Cajun prairie, spreading its seedhead and seeds.

As I drive in a southwesterly direction on this back road, I observe the ‘Louisiana tumbleweeds” were caught in all five strands of a cattleman’s barbed wire fence, creating a pretty neat visual as far as you can see as the sun’s rays illuminated its golden color on the fence. 

Well, it is almost 1 o’clock and about time for the southerly breeze to blow this “Louisiana tumbleweed” back to the office…

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dream Weaver – Tomato Edition

When I think of the phrase “Florida Weave,” it reminds me of a hairdo you might get on a beach vacation to Florida.  Actually, it has nothing to do with hair care and everything to do with supporting indeterminate tomato varieties using a trellising technique.  In the past I’ve used various methods including staking and tomato cages with little to no success.

Since stumbling upon the Florida Weave trellising technique on the Internet, I’ve never been tempted to even try another method.  Before I learned of this method, my tomato vines were unruly, falling on the ground, and hard to find the fruit, much less pick it.  The Florida Weave solved all those problems and I’m thankful to whoever came up with this idea.

Every year I post how to do it in the hopes of sharing the technique with someone who doesn’t know about it.  All you need is some T-posts and baling twine.  It is a small investment that yields immediate results and pays for itself quickly.  Fortunately, I always have both T-posts and baling twine on hand.

The very first thing you want to do is get your t-posts and sledge hammer (or t-post banger) and drive a t-post on either end of your tomato rows.  My rows are 24 feet long so for extra support, in addition to having t-posts on either end, I drive a post right in the middle of the row also.

Driving in the t-posts to create the skeleton of the Florida Weave
Then about six inches off of ground level, I anchor some baling twine to the t-post on one end and weave the twine in and out of all of the tomatoes on the row in serpentine fashion.  In other words, after tying off at one end, you’d pass the twine around the left side of the first tomato plant and then around the right side of the second tomato plant, and so on and so forth until you get to the end of the row.

Then, you would alternate sides coming back to the original t-post you started from, passing the twine on the opposite side of the tomato plant that you placed the twine on the first pass.  It is important to keep the twine pulled very tight.  The twine hugs the tomato plant tightly on either side, creating a supporting structure that keeps the vining plant upright and off the ground.

Baling Twin hugs the tomato plant and keeps it upright and erect
Pardon all the weeds that are in the garden.  These will be covered with a thick mat of mulch soon.  I wanted you to see an example of the support structure of the Florida weave after the first level.

A look at the Florida Weave after the first level of twine is in place
Your work is not done, though.  Keep a close eye on your tomatoes as soon it will be time to put in the second level of trellising.  After a few days, your tomato plants will have grown another six inches and it will be time to repeat the process, only six inches (or whatever desired length) up from the first level.  I’ve shown the second level of trellising below.  Note the tautness of the twine and how I’ve wrapped the twine tightly around the t-posts.  As your plant grows and puts on fruit, it will be heavy and require a firmly fastened support structure, sort of like the cables on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Second Level of Twine
As you can see below the tomatoes continue to grow and it will soon be time to put the third level of trellising up.  You just keep repeating the process as the tomato grows.

Almost ready for level #3!
Sooner or later, though, the height of your tomato plant will exceed the height of your t-posts and the top of the vine will spill over into the row, making it hard to walk and harvest tomatoes.  In using this technique a few years, a friend suggested an expensive, easy solution to this problem.   Using lengths of rebar or ¾ inch conduit and hose clamps to fasten it down to the t-post, you simply extend the height of the t-post upward by several feet to accommodate the additional growth, adding more levels of baling twine.

Florida Weave.  I give this technique a 5 star recommendation and two thumbs up! Compared to other techniques, the Florida Weave is a dream.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Putting the 2016 Peanut Crop In

A couple of months ago, I walked into a Logan’s Roadhouse Restaurant for lunch.  Logan’s brings out those big hot yeast rolls with softened butter.  As if that doesn’t fill you up, they have buckets of salted and boiled peanuts on the table.  In the past, you could throw your shells on the floor.  The previous time I went, I began to throw the shells on the floor as I snacked and looked around and no one else was doing that.  Then I noticed another empty bucket on the table and put two and two together to determine that they now want you to put the peanut shells in the bucket and NOT on the floor.

But why?  Well, a quick Google search told me that a woman in Texas sued Logan’s Roadhouse after slipping on a peanut shell and breaking her leg.  I assume that liability concerns ended the practice of throwing peanut shells on the ground at Logan’s.

You can still throw peanut shells on the ground at Our Maker’s Acres Family Farm and that’s exactly what Benjamin and I did earlier this week.  We were planting them, though, not eating them.  You must remove them from the shells when planting, but we threw the shells on the ground as they compost quite nicely into the garden soil.

We were using an organic peanut that we’ve planted for the past two years, called Shronce’s Deep Black Peanuts.

Shronce's Deep Black Peanuts

They are called deep black peanuts because the skins are black instead of red.  Well, most of them, anyway.  We find a few of them to have red skins like the normal peanuts you get from the store or at ball games. 

The skins of the peanuts are black
They taste the same as normal peanuts and we’ve enjoyed experimenting the last couple of years planting a new crop.  I put down some chicken litter in the garden area where we had just harvested our Irish Potatoes, and Benjamin and I got busy planting the peanuts.

The 2016 Peanut Patch
We planted them an inch deep and six inches apart.

Planting the peanuts
The remaining seed that I had was from 2014, so I planted the rest of the peanut seed that I had left.  I’ll have to order more next crop year.  After all was said and done, we planted 85 peanuts on 2 ½ rows.

All done - 2 1/2 rows
We got an inch and a half of rain last night, so we’ll see how they germinate.  Peanuts mature in about 120 days, so on or about September 15th, we’ll be harvesting peanuts.  We’ll bring them in and roast them in the oven and eat ‘em up.  Like the new rules at Logan’s Roadhouse, I bet Tricia would look at us unfavorably if we threw the shells on the floor in her kitchen.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2016 Meat Birds at Twelve Weeks Old

Yes, it is once again time for the weekly weigh in of our Red Ranger Meat Birds. The Cornish Cross birds are all frozen solid in the freezer, but the Red Rangers take 4-6 more weeks to mature.  Our goal is a 6 pound live bird.  Let's see how we're coming along.

I walked out to the chicken tractor in the pasture with a big bucket to find our bird that has a zip tie around his leg to bring him in to weigh him in the garage where I have the kitchen scale set up on my work bench.  The Red Ranger is tall and lanky and wild.  He jumped out of my bucket on the way in and I had to chase him down in the pasture.  Finally got him and put him on the scale.

I'm tired of weighing every week too, bud.
And here we go: the scale says, 5 pounds and 6 ounces.

5 lbs. 6 oz.
So, let's take a look at our table.  Last week he weighed 4 pounds 13 ounces and this week at 5 pounds 6 ounces tells us that he gained 8 ounces (or half a pound).  Will he weigh 6 pounds next week and be ready for butchering?  It's going to be real close.

Here's something else to think about.  If you look at the bird we've been weighing, it is easy to see that he's a rooster.  Roosters grower bigger and faster than hens.  For that reason I also pulled out a hen from the tractor when I walked out to the pasture. I want to weigh her to see how far behind she is.

Red Ranger hen - first time on the scale
It was the first time she's been brought in the garage, but she wasn't as wild and crazy as the rooster was.  She sat on the scale like a champ.  Drum roll...

4 pounds 7 ounces
She's about a pound behind the rooster.  Will she reach 6 pounds by next weekend? No, absolutely not.  BUT, I want to butcher all the twenty-something birds at one time and get this done.  If we can get the roosters to six pounds by next weekend, I'll butcher the hens at five or so pounds.  It's a little less than our desired finished weight, but it is time to be done with the meat birds for the year.

We will know for sure next Thursday night when the butcher date will be.  Grow birds, grow!!  I'm ready to get the 2016 meat bird crop processed and in the freezer.

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