Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Weaning Luna

Luna is our little heifer (Daisy's little girl) that was born on October 27, 2015.  She's 8 months old and past time to be weaned.  Tricia and I had been talking about it and finally decided to get the job done on Monday night.  Normally in the evening, we let the calves nurse and then separate them from their mommas so that we have the milk in the morning.  But on Monday night, poor Luna got no milk.  I milked Daisy while Luna stood at the gate and moo'd... loudly.  Something was wrong. This was not her normal routine.  What is going on?

Well, she was soon to find out.  We normally install what we call a weaning plate that makes it near impossible for the calves to get to their momma's udder.  We usually use a plate that you tighten down with a wing nut.  Here is a post about that style plate in this post: Weaning Clarabelle  Although we've used that weaning device numerous times, the crafty calves always figure out ways to pry it out of their nose.  Then when we go to milk the cows in the morning, we discover that the calves have robbed our milk.  (I'm sure they see it from a different perspective.)

This time with Luna we determined that we'd try a different style weaning plate.  At $2.65 it was half the price of the metal one.  It is made entirely of plastic and has pointed spines on it.

Calf Weaner
We held Luna securely and took the weaning plate out of the package.  It came with no instructions, so I figured that you twist the plate until the prongs separate and then install in her nose.  We'll give it a try.  As you can see, Luna is not exactly thrilled about this exercise.

"What are my people up to?"
After a couple minutes of me sweating, Luna mooing, and general chaos in the barn, the device was in place.  The nose is a very tender, vulnerable place on a cow. That's why you see a lot of rings in bull's noses.  I wouldn't like anything in my nose either.  Luna did not like this thing in her nose at all. She stomped around in disoriented fashion and at one point, went down to here knees.  No sir-ee. She didn't like this a bit.

Cmon Man!
Here is an up-close photo.  As you can see, the plate blocks her from opening her mouth to suck milk. It does, however, allow her to reach her head out, flatten the plate on the ground, and pull her head toward her to eat grass.  You'll also notice the points.  If/when she does try to nurse, the points will poke Daisy's bag and she'll promptly get a kick or a nudge to say, "Git!"

Testing a new-style (for us, anyway) weaning plate
In a few minutes, Luna seemed to calm down.  She still looked at me suspiciously, but overall, I think she was coming to grips with this change.  Growing up is tough, huh girl?

Normally, I would separate her, but now she is free to join the rest of the herd.  No more separating her each night!  This will save some time, although we'll now be milking Daisy in the morning AND the evening.  Luna promptly ran up to Daisy and tried to nurse, but it was to no avail.  The weaning plate did its job.  After a bit, she tired of trying as Daisy tried to console her by licking her on the neck.

It's gonna be alright, Luna.
As we left them together, Tricia and I wondered if Luna would pull a "Houdini" and figure out a way to get Daisy's milk or figure out a way to pry the nose plate out. We would know first thing Tuesday morning.  Well, Tuesday morning came and Daisy had a full bag of milk and sad Luna still had the nose plate in.  So far, so good.  We'll give it a while and report back to give a full review of the plastic weaning plate.

One benefit we always see when weaning calves is that the cream content of the milk goes up significantly.  We find this is due to the fact that the calf is getting all the 'hind milk' which is richer in cream.  Once weaned, we get all the cream.  That is a big plus for us!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Southern Peas Can Take the Heat

When it is hot outside, most garden plants like squash and cucumbers droop in the sun and heat similar to what I do after being outdoors for any length of time.  Southern Peas or Cowpeas, or Field Peas or whatever you may call them seem to love the hot, oppressive dog days of summer.  I like peas and rice with a little sausage or tasso cooked with them for some flavor, so we always plant a row or two of peas.  This year I planted some Blackeyed Peas and Ozark Razorback Peas on the row I had allocated for cowpeas.

The Blackeyed peas were the first to ripen so I went out in the sweltering heat and picked a bowl of peas.  They were of varying stages of ripeness, but they’ll all get cooked in a pot quickly, so it doesn’t really matter.  I like to pick them when I can see the big bulges of plump peas marking the pods, so that means I’ll pick them from the green stage of the hull color all the way to the brown stage.  I find they are easiest to shell when the pods are yellow.  Here you can see the peas ready for picking.

The Pea Patch
This closeup photo shows some blackeyed peas in every stage of development, from bloom (center), to tiny pods just forming (at the 11 o’clock location in the photo), to green (center left), to yellow, to brown.  Although some critter is eating holes in some of the leaves, it really doesn’t bother the pods or production of the peas.  The only thing that you have to be careful for is ants.  The pea pods must be extra sweet, because fire ants like to climb the stalk and bite you when you are picking them.

Peas ready to pick!
As you can see below, the cowpea row has weeds that should be pulled.  However, I’ve shifted my priorities to other areas as weed pressure at this point doesn’t really affect the production.  Besides, it is doggone hot out there! 

A few weeds, but so what?
There are so many peas it doesn’t take long to pick them.  I straddle the row and quickly fill a bucket with blackeyed peas.  Our Ozark Razorback Peas aren’t quite ready yet.  I’ll give them another week or so.  Normally, I plant purple hull peas, but (gasp) I didn’t have any in my seed inventory.  I made a mental note to be sure to get some.  I’m thinking about planting some in another week or so.  Some years I like to plant Holstein peas, too.  They are named as such because of their distinctive black and white markings, similar to the milk cow.

A nice mess of blackeyed peas
I brought the bowl of peas inside and sat it on the counter.  Benjamin and I enjoy shelling peas together, so we tag team them and in no time at all we have a nice bowl of blackeyed peas shelled.

Now they are shelled!
This will make a nice meal served over rice.  It is a healthy dish as it is a good source of protein.  Whatever you may call them, they are delicious and are always grown in our garden. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Colony Has Collapsed

We walked outside the side door of our home Saturday morning and immediately noticed a funny smell.  It was kind of sweet, but mainly smelled like something was spoiled, molded or mildewed. We looked around to find the source of the foul odor and it didn't take us long to find it.  There was a black, sticky substance oozing from the bottom of the column on the side porch.

Tricia reached her hand and swept a finger through the substance and looked at it closer.  Honey. This column is home to our colony of bees that have lived here for the past 3 or 4 years, maybe longer.  At night when they calm down, you can stand outside, and put your had on the column and listen.  There is so much buzzing with all the bees inside the column, it is as if the whole thing is vibrating.

Substance oozing out of the column
Here is a little bit of a closer look at the sticky, stinky substance.  As you might imagine, it was attracting ants and plenty of them.

So what's going on here?  I can't say I'm really sure.  If you look at the top of the column, there are normally bees spilling out of the top or you can see numerous bees flying in and out of the column. I'm sure that the entire column is filled with honeycomb.  The trouble is there are just one or two bees flying in or out.

I'm not a beekeeper, nor will I pretend to know anything about them.  Because the bees aren't in a traditional beebox, we've not been able to rob a drop of honey.  We just enjoy them living in there because they do a great job of pollinating all of our fruit trees and the garden.  If I had to guess, I'm assuming that maybe they ran out of room in the column and moved out to find a new larger house since they outgrew their "starter home."  That would explain the few bees I still see flying.  Perhaps they are just going in to eat the honey.

Worst case scenario is that the colony has collapsed and died.  We do have mosquito trucks that drive around weekly spraying pesticide to kill mosquitoes. I've heard that this pesticide can kill bees, too, although I'm not certain.

No more bees!
This is not good news.  We enjoyed having the bees even though we didn't get any honey.  I'll wait for a short time to see if a new colony moves into the column, but if they don't, I'll need to remove the column, lay it on it's side and use a pressure washer to remove the honeycomb/honey.  I've heard that if you don't remove the abandoned honeycomb and honey, it will attract all sorts of varmints and vermin like roaches, mice, and rats that come around to eat the honeycomb and honey.

If that is the case, I'll also talk to a couple of beekeeper buddies of mine to see if they can put one of their beeboxes full of bees in the backyard.  I don't want to get into the beekeeping business, but I do want to have some bees around the house.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cade’s Cove Beans

The other night at supper as a conversation starter, we asked each member of the family to say what their favorite family vacation destination was.  That’s a tough question.  We had as many favorites as there are family members, so there was no consensus.  All of the family vacations have been fun and scenic and we spent some time talking about each of them.

One of the places discussed was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Sitting in the middle of the Park is Cade’s Cove and is in a valley surrounded by mountains.  There is an 11 mile loop that you can take to enjoy some really scenic sights, stopping along the way to hike and explore.  Cade’s Cove was settled in the early 1800’s by settlers, and you can tour the old restored buildings, mills, churches, barns, etc.  Those were some tough people – no cell phone coverage or WI-FI to be found anywhere! 

Anyway, I was happy to be given a small envelope containing maybe 10 seeds at a seed exchange at a Sustainable Agriculture conference a few years ago, and the handwritten label said “Cade’s Cove Beans.”  “Awesome,” I thought and couldn’t wait to plant them.  Since it is a pole bean, I planted them at the end of my trellis that contains Snow-on-the-Mountain and Multi-colored pole beans.  You can see the Cade’s Cove beans on the bottom right in the photo below.  The leaves are yellowing as they are about finished.

Pole Bean trellis
Here is what the pods look like as they are ripening.  They are fat beans.  The pods are green at first, but as they ripen, they turn a yellowish color with faint pink markings.

Ripened Beans
Once you pop open the pod, you can see some plump white beans with brown speckles on them.  Interesting! They shell quite easily.

6 Beans in a pod
So we picked the ones that were ripe and Benjamin and I began shelling the beans.  Okay, mostly it was Benjamin.  He really likes to shell beans and peas.  He found that they had mostly 6 or 7 beans per pod, with the most having 8 beans per pod. 

Shelling Beans
In fact here is a nice shot of the Master Bean Sheller in all his glory, proudly showing off his handiwork.

Benjamin's Beans
We had a nice container of shelled beans ready to be cooked.  I was anxious to try them.  I like rice and beans – any kind of beans.  Our preacher grew up in the depression and likes to say that they were never hungry and ate a variety of food – one day they would eat rice and beans, and the next day they would eat beans and rice.

Ready for cooking
Tricia cooked them with a little bit of smoked sausage to impart a smoked flavor and I gotta tell you, these beans were good!  They were creamy and delicious served over some rice.  The only thing missing was some cornbread.  Settling Cade’s Cove was a hard thing, I’m sure, but if Momma had a pot of Cade’s Cove beans cooking for supper over the fireplace, life couldn’t have been that hard, could it?

In a search to find out more information about Cade’s Cove Beans, I found that that area also yielded another heirloom bean called “Turkey Craw Beans.”  It was named that because a settler in the early 1800’s killed a turkey and when gutting and cleaning the turkey, discovered a bean in the turkey’s craw.  He planted the bean and it yielded some beans that look somewhat similar to Cade’s Cove Beans.  See, I love stuff like this and it’s why I try to grow heirloom stuff.  Not only are you growing and eating a delicious thing, but you get a history lesson as well!

While reading about this, I learned that Cade’s Cove Beans are rare.  For that reason (and the reason that they are doggone good), I purposed that I would do my best to save some seeds and continue to plant them year after year.  I let some pods dry on the vine as much as possible, but daily thundershowers caused me to go ahead and pick them and put them on the windowsill on a paper plate to dry further.  Over the course of several days, I moved them around to ensure even drying.

These we'll dry and save for seed
Hopefully the germination will be good on them and I’ll be able to continue growing Cade’s Cove Beans in our own little “settlement” to the south and west (and in much flatter topography!) than Cade’s Cove.

Dried Cade's Cove beans for seed - For the Future 2017 Crop
Maybe I’ll have to search for some Turkey Craw Beans as well!  For now, though, I’m more than happy with our Cade’s Cove Beans!  Here is evidence that this old boy might have too much time on his hands on some evenings:

God is Good.  Life is Good.  Cade’s Cove Beans are Good.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Praying for the Crop

My work life and my home life couldn’t be more different.  I work in an office at a desk sitting behind a computer for five days a week from 7:30 to 4:30.  When I am home, I am seldom indoors, always outside unless it is dark or storming.  During my lunch breaks at work while I’m enjoying some leftovers, I search through the Internet for stories of interest that I might consume along with last night’s delicious meal.  Those stories are largely about gardening, homesteading, agrarian blogs and such. 

Although I’m by no means an art critic, nor do I have good taste in fine art, I do know what I like when I see it.  On this particular day I think I Googled “Agrarian Art” or “Old Agriculture Paintings” and came across some artwork by an author named Jean-Francois Millet that I liked.  I looked at a lot of his work and I like this one the best:

Image Credit
It is a very simple painting that depicts a couple in the midst of solemn prayer.  If you look closely, you can see that the gentleman has a digging fork and the lady has a basket.  There are potatoes in the basket as well as strewn around on the ground.  There is a wheel barrow loaded with what appears to be sacks of potatoes that they have already dug.

It is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon by the lighting and this tells you that this peasant couple is hardworking.  I think it is nice that they work side by side.  I would imagine that they talk to one another and share their thoughts all day.  Either they are laboring early or they have put in a long day in harvesting the potato crop.  If you look off in the distance, you can see a tall church steeple.  The steeple prominently shown in the background coupled with the couple’s reverence lets you know that faith was of foremost importance to this couple and this rural community.

I wanted to learn more about the background of the painter and the painting so I visited This Site and This Site.  Jean-Francois Millet was from France and was born in 1814.  If you look at his work, you will see that he painted many depictions of peasant agricultural life.  Many of his paintings feature simple farming folk bent over in work and capture the strong work ethic of a people tied to the land and its produce for their very survival.

The painting I posted above was originally named “Prayer for the Potato Crop.”  The art collector who commissioned the painting didn’t pick it up and Millet renamed the piece, “The Angelus.”  The Angelus refers to the ringing of the church bell at 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm, calling Christian people to prayer.  The bell ringing is interesting to me, because my surname, Sonnier, is French and was the occupational name for a bell ringer (Late Latin sonarius, an agent derivative of sonare ‘to ring’) according to what I learned here.  It may have been an ancestor of mine that was up in the bell tower, overlooking the fields and ringing the bell, calling the couple to prayer – although I would have rather been in the fields!

I think it is important that the peasant couple humbled themselves and recognized that their success and survival was dependent upon the Almighty.  They toiled in a hardscrabble existence and performed manual labor that had been in effect since the Curse of the Ground in Genesis 3:17-18.  They were fervently praying for a bountiful harvest.  You can bet that they were doing the same when they planted the potatoes and worked the fields up until the harvest.  You can’t help but hope that their prayers were answered.

Millet’s painting is a good reminder that we would do well to answer ‘the bell’ and its call to prayer in our daily lives.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dill or No Dill

In THIS POST from back in March,we showed you how we dried our dill that we grew in the garden.  It was our first successful venture in growing dill and it was a success.  Tricia has used both the fresh and dried dill to make some homemade pickles that fill the shelves in our pantry as well as the fridge.  She also used some of the fresh dill to cook with some carrots.

In order to make sure that we have plenty of dill for next year, I wanted to be absolutely certain that I saved enough seeds.  With the amount of seeds that the dill produces, I didn’t think that was going to be a problem.  Dill blooms in a big cascade of little yellow flowers all over the tops of the plant that contrast against the green plant.

Fresh dill in bloom
Here is a close-up shot:

Each one of those flowers makes an individual seed.  You can see in this photo how the flowering ends and then you can see the swollen part that becomes the seed.

I simply let them dry in the garden on the plant until the plant dies and turns brown.  I check the seed heads each day as I don’t want the seeds to get over-ripe and then shatter on the ground.  Here’s what it looks like when the seeds are completely dry and ready for picking.

All dried out
The dill seeds kind of hang, waiting to be gathered for next years’ crop. 

Dill seed dried and ready to be removed from the stalk
I simply take my fingers and gently rub the seeds and they fall off into a container or into my hand.  The seeds give off such a nice fragrance!  They actually smell a little like licorice.  Some might think that is not a nice scent, but I do.

A handful of dill seed
Just to make sure that the seeds are totally dry, I collect them in a dish and set them on the window sill to dry a little more off the stem.

Further drying on the window sill
We won’t know how good the germination will be until next year, but I always like to save seeds and build my seed inventory.  A bird in the hand beats two in the bush OR Dill Seed in the hand beats thousands on the bush!

Add caption

Other than the photos you see above, I’ve saved lots more dill seed.  So much so that I’ve been wondering what I can do with all this?  Well, other than using dill for making pickles, I learned that you can do the following:

v  Sprinkle dill seeds on top of boiled new potatoes,
v  Use them as a topping for homemade bread similar to what you would do with poppy seeds,
v  Mix dill seeds with butter,
v  Sprinkle them on top of fish dishes,
v  Use dill seeds as a salad topper,
v  Add dill seeds to cooked cabbage,
v  Add them to potato salad or coleslaw.

Finally, I learned that dill seeds can be used as an aid to relieve indigestion if you chew on them.  According to what I read HERE, the conqueror Charlemagne had dill available at his banquet tables so that his guests who over-did it while feasting could benefit from dill’s stomach-healing properties.

We have plenty of dried dill and dill seeds.  That’s a good dill deal, in my book. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Few Father’s Day Thoughts

The Fam - Father's Day 2016
Father’s Day was a nice, relaxing day with all my kids coming in to visit and my Dad and Mom driving over as well.  We opened old photo albums from when the kids were young and reminisced.  We sat around and ate ice cream and peaches and bread pudding with rum sauce.  Overall, it was just a really nice day.  I hope that you enjoyed yours.

Saturday (Father’s Day “eve”), I was out in the barn doing a little work and just thinking about things.  The current state of affairs in our world is such that it can be really discouraging if you dwell on the issues facing us for any length of time.  In fact, trying to come up with solutions to our problems is a daunting exercise that often leaves me feeling that we are powerless to change anything.

In the 80’s President Ronald Reagan, in his election-eve address entitled “A Vision for America,” dismissed the fact that our days of greatness were over and that we were in a national malaise.  He was a great communicator.  While not a perfect individual or president, he inspired me and I thought he was a great leader.  Still, when dealing with the large issues we are faced with, I wonder how we as citizens can do anything to change our current course.

Ronald Reagan had another quote in which he said:

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

I think it goes without saying (or should go without saying) that all great change begins on your knees in prayer to our Great God.  While it seems impossible to grapple with the issues of our culture on an aggregate level, we really don’t need to.  Our foremost ministry and greatest responsibility is for the family that is seated around our supper table.  As Fathers, we are charged to be the spiritual leaders of our homes.
When I think about it in those terms, it is easier to get my head wrapped around it.  I find it is a great practice to hold hands and pray at the supper table, thanking the Almighty for his provision and praying for each other.  Then, as the family eats, engage in conversation.  Talk about dreams, plans, and goals.  Reminisce about good times and things that draw us together.  We like to pose questions to each other that spur thoughtful conversation like:

Ø  “If money was not a constraint and you could travel anywhere, where would you go?”
Ø  “Of our family vacations, what was your favorite destination and why?”
Ø  “What is your favorite candy or dessert?”
Ø  “What is your favorite food?”
Ø  “If you could have any super-power, what would it be?”
Ø  “What is your favorite movie?”

You get the picture.  We’ve started a new family tradition that we discussed IN THIS POST
in which we divide up the verses in the chapter by the number of people dining and take turns reading one of the Proverbs each evening at the end of our meal.  Since there are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs, that means you read the entire book each month.

Things like this will hopefully build family unity, harmony and togetherness in a world that seems so fragmented, divided and antagonistic.  Does that mean that things in the family will always be serene and conflict-free?  Well, I’d like to tell you that these ideas will insulate your family from conflict, but they won’t.  The idea is that we’re trying.  We are very imperfect people that fall down repeatedly and try to get back up again and stay in the fight to reclaim territory that may have been claimed by the Enemy.  We hope to instill a sense of unity, a place of refuge, and a family identity.  We may never know if we’ve been successful, but we must continue trying.  I can’t comprehend as an individual how to have an effect on the national debt, gun violence, illegal immigration, abortion, Social Security, foreign policy, etc. etc.  But I can, as a father, at least try to have some effect on those that sit around the supper table.

I also think that the family is of utmost importance to God, as He created the institution of the Family.  I find that whenever you part from a family member, the last things you say to each other are usually things that are the most important.  Things like: 

“I love you.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“Take care.”
“Please let us know that you’ve arrived safely.”
“Keep in touch.”
"Can't wait to see you again!"

I find it very interesting that the last book of the Old Testament is Malachi.  Between Malachi and the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, there was a span of 400 years.  These were called “The Silent Years.”  The last thing said in Malachi before the 400 silent years was the following:

Malachi 4:5-6 (NASB)
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

Our God is in the restoration business and it seems He is very interested in restoring the family – fathers to children and children to fathers.  And that gives me great hope.

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