Friday, November 28, 2014

Fall Potatoes - A Review

In This Earlier Post we discussed our first ever Fall potato crop.  We talked about how this was an experiment for us to see if we could get two crops of potatoes.  The problem is, I waited about two weeks too late to get the seed potatoes that I had saved from the Spring crop into the ground.  I knew I was risking it, but also knew that even if we got an early freeze (and we did), I would still be able to harvest some new potatoes.

Well, the early freeze came and our potatoes were burned back by the cold.  They were droopy and the leaves were brown and crispy on the ends.

Freeze-burned potatoes
In hindsight I should have covered them up with a tarp prior to the freeze in order to try to keep them growing,  I didn't do that and so I'll have to dig them up.  Not a big deal.  I only planted a dozen seed potatoes, so this won't take me long at all.  I simply pulled back the hay that I mulched them with and gently pried upward on the plant with my shovel.

Digging up Potato Plants
The hay mulch kept the soil moist and easy to dig.  Each plant had several potatoes on it that averaged the size of a golf ball.  This wasn't the yield that we experienced in the Spring, but we only planted 12 seed potatoes.

Freshly Dug Potatoes
We roasted the potatoes with butter and rosemary alongside a rack of goat meat.  The goat meat melted in your mouth and the potatoes were a perfect accompaniment.

Although the bucket shown above is sort of sad looking, it's okay.  I learned through this experiment that when the planting guide says that the cut-off date for planting is September 10th, they're not joking.  That date is there for a reason.  Planting 13 days after that date was not a wise idea.  Next Fall I will definitely plant potatoes, only I'll plant many, many more and I'll plant a couple of weeks earlier.  This will enable us to eat potatoes until the Spring crop comes in.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Random Thanksgiving Thoughts

Image Credit
Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, His lovingkindness is everlasting.
From my distress I called upon the LORD;
The LORD answered me and put me in a large place.
The LORD is with me, I shall not fear.
What can man do to me? Psalm 118:1,5-6
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Oh sure, anyone who knows me knows how much I love food and we began preparing a feast that we'll be consuming over the next several days - all our favorite stuff to eat.  But it's not really about food.  Our two college kids drove in and tonight when we said grace before the meal, we gave thanks that all five of us were once again under one roof.  It doesn't happen often and I relish every minute.  We laughed, talked, and played Scrabble in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace.  Quality time indeed.  I am thankful for our family.

This past week I spent some time with a gentleman who lost a son to cancer a couple years ago.  The pain of his loss was still evident as his voice cracked and tears welled up in his eyes when telling me about it.  Life with our loved ones is so precious.  We really don't know how much time we have on this earth.  Each day we wake up and inhale is a blessing.  I often take health for granted.  I am thankful for health.

This afternoon Tricia and I had a cup of coffee in the early afternoon.  It was a picture perfect day with the rays of the sun shining through the trees and a nice breeze blowing.  For some reason I began to think of how fortunate we are and remarked to my wife that we are surrounded by family that are so generous to us, supporting us, and praying for us. They are there in our times of need and they bless us much more than we deserve. We have a church family and friends that are so giving to us.  It is embarrassing how good God has been to us.  I am thankful for loved ones that God blessed us with.

{Honesty Alert} And yet, I complain about our lack.  I compare myself to others, I envy other peoples' lives, their experiences, position in life, and things, and it is shameful, really.  On Dave Ramsey's radio program, when he takes calls, people will ask, "How are you doing?"  And he always answers, "Better than I deserve!"  I can relate to that.  We always have been taken care of.  We've never gone hungry or lived in squalor.  We have a (new) roof over our heads, and (good) food in our bellies.  We're living the life.  I am thankful for provision.

My God is a good God.  He has so richly blessed us.  I am thankful for my God who reached out to me, forgave my sins and saved me.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us "In everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A New Roost

We haven't given a report on the chicks that are in the chicken tractor lately.  These are the birds that we hatched out in our incubator at the end of August.  They are growing nicely and just yesterday we heard the first awkward crowing coming from the tractor.  It is funny listening to young roosters learning to crow for the first time.  It is not the familiar 'cock-a-doodle-doo' that you are used to hearing.

As the birds grow they've outgrown their roost.  If you look in the picture below, you can see that there is a 2 x 4 support that runs down the middle of the tractor.  When the birds were smaller, they could all fit on the board that acted as a roost and they would all line up on it and sleep for the night. Now only about half of them fit and the rest pile up in a corner to sleep.  That's not a good thing. We've lost birds before because the suffocate each other when they pile up like that.

The existing roost
This particular morning I decided that I had to do something about that. In years past, I would purchase a 2 x 4 and rip it in half to make two 2 x 2's that I would fasten along the side braces to serve as roosts.  I have found that it is unnecessary to spend any money at all on chicken roosts.  All you really need to do is go out in the woods and cut some straight small trees that are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.  Appropriately, I found a couple 'chicken trees' (Chinese tallow trees) that would fit perfectly, so I chopped them with my axe.

Above you can see the small trees I'm using.  I have them leaning inside the tractor.  I grabbed some nails, my cordless drill and bit and a hammer and climbed inside the tractor.  The first thing I noticed is that the birds seem to be mostly hens.  That is odd and a welcome sight since we're looking for more egg-layers.  Usually the percentage of hens/roosters is about 50-50%.  We'll allow the roosters to grow for a while longer before we butcher them and use them to make gumbo.  As far as the hens, well keep them to increase our egg production.

After measuring the width of the tractor and chopping the trees with my axe to fit, I drilled a couple of hole on the ends, inserted the nails and hammered them down.  This fastened down the new roosts on each side of the sloping braces.

Anchoring the roost
And here we have it: two new roosts in addition to the one existing roost.  Now we have capacity for all the birds to roost.  They were a little nervous with me being inside the tractor working, but as soon as I got out, they moved about curiously, checking out the new accessory.

New roosts
Later that evening I walked out to the chicken tractor and every single bird was roosting and not piling up on one another in the corner.  This was a quick project that the chickens appreciated.  It won't be long, though, before we move these chickens into another tractor and move the chicks that are in a brooder in the garage into this one. This time, though, we'll be ready for roosts for the new birds from Day 1.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

We're not the only ones who dehydrate foods

The goats have been sneaking into the rye grass paddock and eating the tender shoots of ryegrass that are coming up.  We're saving that ryegrass for later in the winter and are trying to let it get lush and thick prior to putting the livestock in there.  So the first order of business today was to run a second strand of electrified poly-wire to attempt to keep those goats out.

As I was attaching the poly wire to the perimeter fence, something caught my eye on the top strand of barbed wire.  I walked closer and this was the macabre sight I observed:


Impaled on the barbed wire fence
It's kind of interesting that just yesterday we blogged about dehydrating bell peppers to preserve them and store them for later use.  Well, it seems we aren't the only creature that dries food to save it for later.  While this might look like there is some sadistic psycho on the loose that is torturing frogs by impaling them on the spikes of barbed wire, no human is responsible for this treachery.

Who is doing this?  I didn't see the perpetrator, but I google searched and found that there are at least two birds in Louisiana that do this - the loggerhead shrike and the butcherbird.  I'm not much of a bird watcher so I can't say that I know what those birds look like.  Who knows, it could be any number of birds.  It's gotta be a bird.  This frog didn't commit suicide.  But why do the birds do this?

Poor Kermit
This unfortunate fellow was a rain frog.  As kids we always called them "pee frogs" because if you catch them in your hand, they pee on you.  This rain frog met his unfortunate end at the hands (err... feet) of a bird that stuck him on the fence so that he could come back and enjoy his meal at a later time. I've also seen small garter snakes impaled on this same fence.

It's not easy being green!
It's not easy being green, indeed!  The frog sits on the barbed wire spike and dries in the sun.  He actually turns into 'frog jerky' and the bird will come back to eat him similar to the way we reach into our pantry to enjoy food we've preserved.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Drying Peppers (and a review of our new vacuum sealer)

Yesterday we picked a peck of frost-wrecked peppers.  What to do with them all? We cooked some of them.  We chopped and froze some more and today we'll dehydrate some peppers.  I like to diversify our storage methods to offer some 'insurance' in the event we lose power and as a result, lose everything in our freezer. That would not be good.

Dehydrating offers another method of preserving the harvest and a way to hold the fruits of your labor in a shelf-stable way.  Drying peppers is easy.  I guess the most time consuming part of the task is slicing the peppers to a 1/4 inch thickness.  I washed up the peppers, got out a knife and the cutting board and got busy.

Slicing Peppers
Once sliced to the appropriate thickness of 1/4 inch, we arranged them on the drying racks in the food dehydrator.  You can see the green color of the peppers as well as the red color and the deep brown color of the chocolate peppers.

Arranged on the drying racks and ready to dry
We set the dehydrator on the Vegetable Setting which blows air at a temperature of about 135 degrees Fahrenheit and turned it on.  According to the directions, you let it blow for anywhere between 4 and 12 hours or until the peppers feel "leathery." Here is a tray of leathery peppers all dried after staying in the dehydrator overnight. These dried peppers can be added to soups, gravies, or any other dish. They are packed with flavor and once re-hydrated and cooked, make a great addition to your meal.

Dehydrated Peppers
And that's all there is to it.  Except for, of course, storage.  You just have to make sure that the peppers are kept airtight and you can store them on a shelf in your pantry for whenever you are ready to cook with them.

This is a perfect opportunity to showcase our new vacuum-sealer.  This unit was relatively inexpensive and was easily to assemble.  It is an energy star appliance that actually uses no electric or hydrocarbon-based energy to operate.  Let's take a look at the vacuum sealer.  All you do is put the dehydrated peppers in a Ziploc bag and seal it tight except for one side on the end.  Insert a drinking straw and seal the ziploc seal tightly around the straw.

The Vacuum Pro Sealer XL
To operate the sealer one must put the straw into your mouth and inhale.  Hold the ziploc bag tightly around the straw and suck deeply.  This action turns the sealer on and you can observe the air being evacuated from the ziploc bag.  Once there is no more air to suck out of the bag, while you are still sucking on the straw, quickly pull the straw out of the bag and simultaneously seal the ziploc bag completely, preserving the vacuum.

Powering up the Seal-A-Meal
And there you have it, folks.  One tightly sealed bag of dehydrated peppers.  The bag is labeled and dated and will be stored in our pantry until ready for use in Tricia's kitchen.

The Finished Product
Our vacuum sealer is useful and comes recommended highly.  A few users of this product have complained about the lack of the bag to hold a vacuum, but that is more a function of a poor airlock on the bag and not a poor reflection on the operator of the sealer, also known as the sucker.  Ha Ha.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The First Freeze of Winter

Well, Jack Frost visited us a little early this year.  The average first frost date for our zone is November 21 - 31.  We had temperatures dipping down to 30 degrees on November 15th and again to 30 degrees on the 18th and 19th.  It gave us an opportunity to get a roaring fire burning in the fireplace and we sat in the den and enjoyed the cozy evening.  When the fireplace is roaring, I like to go outside and just smell the oak wood burning.  Smells great!

I actually like the cold weather.  It is a nice respite from the hot, muggy days of summer.  Some vegetables in the garden don't like it, though.  I walked out to survey the damage.  Our yellow squash plant's broad leaves were burnt by the cold. Those leaves acted as a broad blanket as they sheltered the younger foliage underneath it, but once the next freezes come, this plant is toast!

Frostbite
There was a number of young yellow squash that we were hoping to eat once they matured; however, we'll have to eat them as "baby squash."

Baby Squash
The Contender Green Beans didn't like the cold weather either.  The leaves and blooms on this row took a beating and are all curled and withered.

Cool Beans
There were some green beans ready for picking so I quickly snapped them off the plant.  The plants won't make it, but the beans will certainly make it into the pot for supper.

Mmmmm!
The volunteer tomato plants that grew up from seed from tomatoes that fell to the ground during Spring and Summer shrugged their shoulders and surrendered to the frost.  Never fear, I planted parsley right next to them and the parsley will overtake the area that the tomato occupied.  I snipped off a handful of parsley and cut it up to top a delicious bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo last night. Parsley really adds a nice fragrance and taste to a warm bowl of gumbo.

Tomato is gone, but here comes the parsley
On another row of beans I noticed a stark contrast between the large green bean leaves that were burnt by the freeze against the kelly green tender smaller leaves of the same plant.  I won't pull them up.  Maybe they'll produce a few more beans.  If not, their roots are still setting nitrogen in the soil. If the beans won't feed me, at least they'll feed the soil. 


I did meander down the rows and picked produce that was in danger of being lost. That's the thing about gardening - you've got to stay on top of it.  If you wait one day too late, you risk losing some of the items you grew.  We love homegrown vegetables too much to allow them to waste.  So I brought the colander out and picked a few green beans and baby yellow squash.  We won't see this again until Spring 2015, so we're going to savor every bite.

Fresh Picked Goodness from the Garden
I also picked 8 packed cups of basil leaves off the plants and turned it into pesto.  I froze it in individual family-sized servings as we've found that thawing out a container of pesto and boiling some pasta makes for a quick (and delicious) meal.

Washing basil leaves in the vegetable sink
Finally, I picked all the green bell peppers, chocolate bell peppers, cayenne peppers, and jalapeno peppers off the plants as those plants will be gone after the freeze. Tricia has been making stuffed bell peppers with rice and ground meat inside topped with homemade salsa and the whole family has been enjoying those things.

A peck of picked peppers
I'll show you something else we did with the remaining peppers tomorrow.  Even though some of our plants can't make it through the cold weather, we can!  Stay warm friends!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Nemesis - Fire ants

I hate fire ants.  Seriously.  Our pasture is full of them.  Mounds and mounds of fire ants litter the landscape.  In the yard, I've thrown up the white flag and will purchase a bag or three of Amdro and poison them as I don't like to be bitten by them.  The pasture and garden, though, is another matter. We try not to use any pesticides where our animals roam and eat since we don't want the chemicals around things that we're going to end up eating.

This has led to an interesting dilemma.  The fire ants build huge mounds.  Some of them are over a foot tall.  Being that chickens love to eat bugs, I thought that maybe the chickens would eliminate them.  That proved to be a faulty assumption.  The ants don't seem to bother the cows, goats and chickens, but they bother me.  When it rains the ants ball up and float until they get to higher ground and inevitably I'll step in them and my ankles will be covered with bites.  Or they'll seek someplace high and dry like the nesting boxes in the chicken tractor.  When we go to collect eggs, the nesting box will be full of fire ants.

A huge fire ant mound
Even when they aren't biting you, they cause other problems.  For one, their tunneling pushes up weed seed and bitterweed and other pesky weeds will grow from the middle of the ant pile.  I'll pull those so they don't produce seed and proliferate across the mostly weed-free pasture.  Then, and arguably the most troublesome is just the existence of the mounds.

I have 3 chicken tractors in the pasture that are on wheels.  The meat birds will reside in one and the pullets will reside in the others until they are old enough to lay and then I'll open the doors and let them free range.  The problem with the ant mounds is that when you go to push the chicken tractor to fresh grass each day, you hit an ant pile and you must either lift the tractor up and over the pile or move the tractor to avoid it.  It's just troublesome.


Dadgum ants!
I've tried several 'natural' ways to eradicate them.  Someone said sprinkling instant grits on the ant pile would get 'em.  The theory is that the ants eat the grits and then when the grits get wet in their stomach, the grits expand and blow up, thus killing the ant.  We tried it and had no success.  Not only was it not successful, it was wasteful and blasphemous for a Southerner to do such a thing to grits!

I tried another method that told to use the ants' territorial nature as a weapon against them.  This was indeed a 'shovel-ready job' but wasn't funded by any government stimulus dollars.  You were to take a shovelful of dirt and ants from one mound and put it on a neighboring mound and vice versa.  The theory was that the ants from neighboring "tribes" would battle each other and kill each other off.  No noticeable effect.  Benjamin and Russ have been known to put firecrackers in ant mounds and light them.  This is great fun.  The mound is blown up and it kills many ants, but this isn't really an efficient way to get rid of ants.

We tried putting fresh cow poop on top of ant piles.  We have plenty of that around! You know what?  This actually works - not to kill them, but they all pack up their little suitcases and move (to another location nearby), so it is not a real panacea. One thing that works is pouring boiling water on the mounds.  I'll boil 8 cups of water in the microwave and then carefully carry the bowl outside and pour on top of the mound.  This cooks the ant pile and ants and kills the colony.  This is loads of fun if you are bored, but really isn't practical if you have numerous ant piles spread out over acres of pasture.

So bottom line is, I'm still looking for a natural way to kill all the fire ants on Our Maker's Acres Family Farm.  At this point I'm still searching for a solution and I can't seem to find one of these guys for sale on Amazon.com.
Image Credit
If you have any natural ways to kill fire ants, I'd love to hear from you.
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