Monday, October 23, 2017

Outen The Lights

The switchplate cover that is on the main light switch in the barn is an interesting one with some history.  Each morning before daylight when I switch the lights on, I reach in through the gate, having to feel around until I locate it in the dark, and flip the switch on.  Over the years, most of the coloring has been worn off.  The Pennsylvania tulips originally were red and green and yellow.

It is at the very least 40-something years old.  When I was just a boy, we took a family vacation all the way up the east coast to the Pennsylvania Dutch country.  We drove through and saw the Amish riding in their buggies being pulled by a horse.  If I'm not mistaken, while touring the Amish country in Lancaster County, we purchased the above switch plate as a souvenir and I ended up inheriting it from my grandmother.  I promptly installed it in our barn.  The Amish people have always interested me.  I like their simplicity, devotion, and tight family units.

We can always tell when someone is in our barn out back because we can see the lights through the two barn windows that face north.  "Outen the Light" is from the Pennsylvania Dutch English dialect and simply means, "Turn out the Light."  Despite the admonition on the Amish switch plate, sometimes I forget to "outen the light" after walking back to the house with a bucket of milk.  Fortunately, you might say, the way we get electricity to the barn is by using 3 long extension cords.  What started as a temporary (and cheap) way to run electricity, has lasted for about 7 years now!  This electrical arrangement allows me on those forgetful days to "outen the light" by pulling the extension cord out of the GFCI outlet in the garage.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Shelling Ozark Razorback Peas

A whole lotta rain in August and then virtually none since then dealt a big blow to our southern pea crop this year.  That's a shame, too, because peas and rice is a favorite simple meal that we enjoy with some cornbread as a side dish.  Despite the poor crop, I did walk through the garden rows one afternoon last week and pick the (mostly) dried pea pods off the stalks.  I got a nice-sized basket of peas.

Shelling peas is a mindless pastime while you are watching TV or sitting in the kitchen visiting with family.  In no time I had one bowl of peas all shelled and then realized I misjudged and didn't get a big enough bowl.

I got out another bowl and filled it up, too.  Since these peas were mostly dried, they'll actually make a bigger meal than it looks like once we soak them and cook them, adding some smoked sausage to the pot for some extra flavor.  We have a cool front coming through next week, so a warm plate of peas & rice with cornbread will be satisfying comfort food.  Can't wait.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Harvesting Louisiana Purple Sugar Cane (Part II: Processing into Pure Cane Syrup)

In YESTERDAY'S POST we talked about our Louisiana Purple Sugarcane - both growing it and harvesting the first crop from our garden.  After cutting it, we put the cane in a wagon and hauled it to the back yard where we started processing it.  The first thing we did was to strip all of the leaves off of it.

As we finished, we dropped the purple sugarcane in a stack on the ground.

We used a rag to scrub the sugarcane clean.  There is a build-up of a black smut-like substance that must be cleaned off.  We don't want that or any dirt to get into our final product.

Once cleaned, we then use a machete to begin chopping the cane into two-inch long pieces.

We are going to be processing our sugarcane into pure cane syrup.  We also cut chunks into slivers that we chewed.  It was so sweet!  I can remember chewing cut up cane as a young boy.  It brought back good memories.  The more we cut, the more our pot began to fill up.

Before we knew it, we had 3 big pots full of cut up sugarcane ready to be processed into syrup.

I put the cane into our crawfish boiling pot, filled with water to cover and then lit the butane burner underneath the pot.

Pretty soon, there was sweet smelling steam emanating from our pot.  It boiled.  And boiled.  And boiled some more.

After about 3 hours, I pulled the basket of cut up cane out of the water and let it drain real good back into the pot.  By this point all of the sweetness has boiled out of the cane cubes and is now contained in the water as sugarcane juice.  The cut up cane will be trench composted into the garden.

We kept boiling the water/sugarcane juice as we watched the LSU football game and then went to vote in the election.  I'd say it boiled for another 2 hours while the liquid reduced due to evaporation.  I also skimmed foam off the top repeatedly.

Finally what was left in the pot was syrup.  I poured it through a fine sieve to filter out any pieces of cane and other particles.

After 5 + hours of boiling, not counting the time spent harvesting and chopping, we had a little less than a quart of homemade sugarcane syrup.  Okay, I'll admit it, from an economical standpoint, that is not a very efficient conversion.  It is much cheaper to just drive to the store and buy some Steen's Pure Cane Syrup.  But, I will also say (I'm biased, I know) that this homemade sugarcane syrup is delicious!  I love Steen's, but I think ours has a better flavor.

Meanwhile, we have more immature sugarcane growing in the garden that will be ready for harvest a little later.  I also planted two more stalks in the garden soil to keep our sugarcane crop producing next year.

It was a fun experiment to see if we could make our own syrup and we found that we could.  It was just a lot of work and time to do it and was a good lesson on economies of scale!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Harvesting Louisiana Purple Sugar Cane (Part 1)

Last year a friend of mine dropped by the house and pulled a gift for me out of the back of his truck.  You can read about that gift if you click here to read our post on planting purple sugar cane.  He had brought some stalks of heirloom Louisiana Purple Sugar Cane for me to plant in the garden.  He had some growing in his garden, but wanted to give me some to start in mine in the event that his sugar cane died and he lost it, he could get some stalks from me to re-start it.  Kind of like insurance, I guess.

So I planted it and a year later, here we are:

It isn't a huge crop, but it is just the right amount for us.  Some of the sugarcane leans over and the leaves are very sharp.  You have to watch out not to get cut when walking by it.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the sugarcane is 10 feet tall!  It is appropriately named "Purple Cane," as it is very purple.  It has a nice size to it, too.  All of the commercially grown sugar cane around here that I see is green, not purple, and it isn't as tall as the purple cane is.  Isn't the purple sugarcane pretty?

A quick look on the Internet gave me some more details about our sugar cane.  The following FROM THIS LINK tells some interesting information about its history:
Sugarcane harvesting came to the U.S. approximately 200 years ago, with prosperous mills being developed in Louisiana. Sugarcane was first brought to Louisiana by Jesuit priests in 1751. Here, Etienne de Bore produced the first refined sugar from a sugarcane crop in 1795. His variety, named “Creole,” was one of many, including Otaheite, Louisiana Stripes, Louisiana Purple, and D74, to be developed in Louisiana.
What a cool new crop to grow in the garden!  This past Saturday, Russ and I harvested some of the mature stalks of purple sugar cane.  Commercial sugar cane farmers have expensive equipment.  For our tiny patch of sugar cane, we got back to the basics and used an 'old school' machete.  Russ chopped each mature stalk of cane down at the base and handed it to me.

Commercial sugar cane farmers have large cane wagons that are pulled by tractors and line the side of the roadways during harvest season loaded with chopped cane.  Here is our sugar cane wagon "loaded down" on the side of the 'field.':

During sugarcane harvest, the sides of the road are littered with pieces of sugarcane stalk that has blown out on its way to be processed.  We were very careful not to let any of our cane drop out of the wagon.  So what do you do with fresh harvested sugar cane?  Well, you process it, of course!  Tune in tomorrow where we will have our concluding segment where we show you what we did with it.  (Actually we did two things with it!)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pickin' Up Hay

Each summer for about as long as we've owned cows, we've purchased square bales of good Bermuda grass hay to feed the cows over the winter.  We have a neighbor down the road who is in his 80's and always makes the cleanest hay and their hay baling is a family affair.  Everyone comes together to get the hay in while the weather is dry. 

Unfortunately, our neighbor who bales the hay had a stroke earlier this summer and is in the VA home here in town rehabilitating.  I visited with him last month.  Oh, how he wishes he could be out there baling hay!  We were called by his daughter letting us know that there would be hay ready for pick-up on Saturday.  We were thinking about Mr. Myers when we drove down the road a couple of miles to where his family was baling.  It was 1 pm and there were many bales already on the ground waiting to be picked up.

We hooked up the old cattle trailer to the back of Benjamin's truck and began loading it down with hay.  Tricia drove between two rows of square bales, Benjamin stayed inside the trailer and stacked, while Russ and I carried the hay and laid it inside the trailer.  We counted the bales loudly as we loaded to ensure that we kept accurate count.  It is on the honor system.  You tell Mr. Myers' daughter how many bales you picked up on the way out of the field and pay as you leave.

There was a tractor 'fluffing' the hay, followed by a tractor with a square baler that dropped bale after bale on the close-cut grass.

We were able to fit 46 bales in the trailer and 4 bales in the back of the truck and we drove back home.  Prior to getting the hay up into the hayloft of the barn, we waited until the late afternoon to do the job as it was hot!  We use a pulley system to lift the bales, one by one, up into the loft. 

Russ hooked the bales onto the rope with a bungee cord and I pulled the bales up.  Russ had his hands full as the cows wanted samples of hay to eat while he tried to get the hay out of the way prior to them eating it all! Every time he'd turn his back, they would knock down his stack of hay.

After I pulled the hay up, I unhooked it and slid it down to Benjamin and he stacked it neatly in the loft.  He had to really watch his step so as to not fall through the trap door in the floor.

With some good teamwork, we were able to get the 50 bales stored away quickly.  As we got ready to head back to the house for some supper, we were able to watch a peaceful sunset.

It's a nice feeling to know the hard work is done and the hay is in the barn.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sharing the Milk

Since Rosie calved and has freshened, we have milk once again.  Rosie makes more milk than her little bull calf can drink, but we have to have a plan to efficiently to share the milk so that we both get enough.  Over the years we've worked out a process that seems to work for us.  There are probably better ways, but this arrangement has worked, so we stick with it..

In the late afternoons at about 6 pm, we separate the little bull calf from Rosie.  They are on opposite sides of the fence, so he can't drink any of Rosie's milk.  From 6 pm until the next morning (5:30 am on weekdays and 7:30 am on weekends) all the milk Rosie makes is for us.

In the morning Rosie is waiting close to the fence.  She wants the dairy ration mixed with alfalfa and the molasses we give her.  She also wants to be milked to release the pressure of her milk-filled udder.

Rosie's little bull is on the other side of the gate and he is wanting one thing - MILK.  It has been 12 hours and he is thirsty.  He will be mooing and so will his mother.

Before we get them together, we bring Rosie quickly into the barn, brush her down, wash her udder and teats, put vaseline on her teats, pour her feed in the trough and milk her.  Then, and only then, we put Rosie and her little bull calf together.  She doesn't have any milk since we just got it all, but that doesn't stop the little bull from trying.  He'll bang on Rosie's bag with his head trying to get milk to drop.  He may get a little - but not much.

However, he'll be with her all day.  Rosie will make more milk throughout the day and he'll get it.  At around 6 pm, we'll separate them again and start the whole process all over again.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

We're Caught In a Trap...

Elvis Presley sang a song called, "Suspicious Minds" that started with the following lyrics:
We're caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby
Why can't you see
What you're doing to me
When you don't believe a word I say?
I found myself singing that song this afternoon and you'll soon know why.  After catching 6 rats in 5 days in a trap I set in the garden, I stopped catching them.  Perhaps I caught all the ones that were venturing into the garden, but I saw two in the barn the other evening.  I figured I would mix things up a little bit and move the trap into the barn to thin out the population there.  Actually, I want to do more than thin them out - I want to eradicate them.  This morning at 5:30 a.m. when I flipped on the lights in the barn, this is what I found:

"I'm caught in a trap.  I can't walk out..."
Not a rat.  A medium sized possum.  He was not happy.  He hissed at me with an open mouth like possums like to do.  While I do want to catch and kill all the rats, I have no qualms about catching and killing all the possums, too.  Since this guy is medium-sized, I know there is a Momma Possum and a Daddy possum out there.  I've re-baited the trap with 'Ol Roy dog food and we'll see if we continue being successful in our trapping.
"Why can't you see, what you're doin' to me?"
I dealt with our captive swiftly and humanely and he found himself amended into our garden soil where his remains will provide nutrients that will grow possum flavored green beans this spring.  Catching the possum also answered a mystery.  One afternoon this week I walked out to the pasture and saw the following: 

If you look closely, you can see a bunch of feathers from a Rhode Island Red hen.  I didn't find a carcass, so he wasn't successful in killing the hen, but the next time the predator comes around, our hen might not be so fortunate.  Maybe the possum in the trap was the guilty party.  Me and the Rhode Island Red hopes so.
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