Saturday, November 28, 2015

Drying Basil

Basil does not do well with a frost.  The leaves turn yellow and die and all it is good for is to pull up the whole plant and compost it.  We have made lots of pesto with our basis this year and have numerous containers frozen, ready to be thawed out and mixed with pasta for a quick, delicious healthy meal.  If you can't have fresh basil, dried basil is the next best thing.

Prior to the frost, Tricia harvested the leaves remaining on the plants, brought them inside and washed them in the sink to get all the bugs and dust off of them.  We like to dry basil and store it in the pantry in ZipLoc storage bags for use in cooking various recipes.  Once the leaves are washed and dried, it is time to put them in our dehydrator.  We load them in a single layer, filling each tray, and turn it on.

Filling the dehydrator tray with basil leaves
We just leave it running until the leaves are dry and "crispy."  I think it took a day and a half, but we turned it off when we left the house for safety reasons.

Plugged in and drying the basil
There's no mistaking it when the basil is dried.  

I poured the dried basil into a storage bag and then we'll seal it and put it in the pantry.  If it is truly dry, it will have a good, long shelf-life.

This bag should be plenty to get us through until next Spring when we plant another row of Genovese basil and have fresh leaves to pick again.

Dried basil is great in soups and pasta dishes.  With the cold 'soup weather' coming up real soon, we'll put a serious dent in the dried basil inventory.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Year Without Pecans

After the Thanksgiving feast was over yesterday, the coffee was set to percolate and we prepared to eat dessert - traditional pumpkin pie and pecan pies.  It is hard to beat a homemade pie.  It is also hard for me to name a favorite - they are all good in my book!  Since I can never make up my mind, I always say, "I'll have a little slice of each."  C'mon, I bet you do that too.  I enjoyed my pumpkin and pecan pie immensely!

Speaking of pecans, This morning I walked across the yard to our Husband and Wife Pecan trees in the front yard that I wrote about in THIS BLOG POST last year. Since we've only had one frost, the leaves are still clinging to the trees and have started to turn yellow a little bit.  The wind was blowing softly and I witnessed a few leaves beginning to fall.  Pecan trees are notorious for dropping limbs. After each rainfall, we pick up bunches of limbs that we use for fuel in our fire pit.  We enjoy sitting out around the fire pit, watching the fire and talking on cool nights.  The smell of pecan wood burning is a nice fragrance.

Our "Husband and Wife" Pecan Trees
I walked under the canopy of the pecan trees and began searching on the ground. Last year we picked up hundreds of pounds of pecans.  I sat in front of the fireplace throughout the winter, cracking and shelling pecans, then packing them in gallon Ziploc freezer bags for storage.  This year I'll pick up exactly ZERO.  That is too bad, but not entirely unexpected.

Nothing, Nada, Nil, Zip...
The phenomenon that takes place with pecan trees is called alternate bearing and it simply means that you can count on a really good crop one year and then a poor crop (or no crop) the following year.  It is all based on nutrition.  After a really good pecan crop, the trees are nutritionally depleted.  They'll store up their energy to produce a good crop in the next year.  You can do things like fertilize the trees with nitrogen, spray zinc and make sure the tree is sufficiently watered, but we tend to just let it be.  

We just make sure that we put up enough pecans in the freezer to last and you know what?  Pecans will keep in the freezer for exactly two years.  I think we have enough stored to make it until then, but we may have to institute a pecan pie ration program if our inventories dip lower than we'd like.  

Thanksgiving 2015

Image Credit
A Psalm for Thanksgiving.
100 Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His loving-kindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.

As I go to bed tonight at the close of a nice Thanksgiving, I am truly grateful to God.  He is so good.  Although we may not be rich by the world's standards, we do not lack.  Our bellies are full, we are in good health, and we are blessed with loving family and friends.  Even though chaos is swirling in other parts of the world, we have peace and tranquility at home. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

YEC 2015

I didn't get to post an update yesterday or the day before.  I left my good wife with the chores around the homestead and took our church Youth Group to YEC 2015 (Youth Evangelism Celebration).  It is held each year in the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana and is a great time of worship, teaching, and fun.  Our young people really enjoy it and I think it is an investment in our future.  Sometimes it is all too convenient to look at our culture and get really cynical about the future.  A trip to YEC is a perfect antidote for that!

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We teamed up once again with our sister church in Elton, Louisiana and took over 20 young people to YEC, arriving Monday evening around 6 p.m. where we unloaded all of our sleeping bags and baggage into a church on University near the Cajundome, prior to making our way to the dome for the night's events that started at 7 p.m.  Christ Church Lafayette graciously allowed us to sleep on the floor of their fellowship hall and that saved us lots of money.  The guys and chaperones slept in one room and the girls and chaperones slept in another.  There was much excitement and energy in anticipation of what lay in store at the conference.

After attending the first night's events, we ate at Raising Cane's and then returned to the church to drink hot chocolate, visit and then bed down for the night.  As it neared midnight, the lights were off and it became very quiet in the guys' room.  We could hear a buzz of talking, giggling, etc. coming from the girls' room with no end in sight.  The pastor of the Elton Church said very seriously, "You hear that, gentlemen?"  We all listened intently as he continued, "It has been scientifically proven that women speak on average 20,000 words per day, dwarfing and nearly tripling the mere 7,000 words per day that men speak.  They're trying desperately to get their 20,000 words in before tomorrow!"  We laughed and went to bed, being awakened only a few short hours later by someone's cell phone alarm that blared bagpipe music louder than one might expect at 6 a.m.

We woke up quickly and ate a breakfast of cereal & milk and loaded up the van and cars and headed to the Cajundome for a full day of events, including praise and worship music by Voice of the People, a music group from Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, a Christian illusionist, Jared Hall and special guest speaker Acton Bowen, all intermixed with a DJ and a preacher/poet. Finally we were treated to a concert by The Vertical Church Band before heading home, returning to Jennings at midnight.  The conference was very well planned, with a nice mixture of Truth from God's Word, great Praise & Worship music, and hilarity from the MC/illusionist.

YEC 2015 Lafayette, Louisiana
Students were so moved by the teaching that they streamed down to the arena floor during the invitation time in numbers that reminded me of a Billy Graham Crusade.  Final numbers aren't in, but after the first night, over 130 students had made first time responses to Jesus Christ, asking Him to be their Savior and Lord. Hundreds more restored their commitments to Jesus.

In the conference, they passed out glow-in-the-dark necklaces that everyone wore. We watched a Youth Group in the top of the dome that re-arranged their necklaces to make:
A smiley face...
This one is hard to read, but it says, Praise!:

I could go on and on about the conference, telling you about how Acton Bowen explained what it means to "Take up Your Cross and Follow Him" or about how he talked about how the culture, the media, the world, wants you to believe that everything is all about YOU and how destructive that is, and it keeps us from living life as our Creator would have us live.  I'll leave you, though, with a powerful story (paraphrased) that he told the students, about how much Jesus loves them.

Acton Bowen said that after one of his speaking engagements, he was met by a man recently retired from one of our military Special Forces units.  Mr. Bowen was very interested to talk to him and asked him if he had any interesting stories that he might share.  The man told him the following, leaving out, of course, some of the information that was still classified:

Four missionaries were imprisoned in a country in which we don't have diplomatic ties.  The missionaries were thrown into a dungeon-like cell in the ground where they were given just enough food and water to keep them alive.  They didn't allow them any restroom facilities and the cage in the ground became very foul - like being imprisoned in a septic tank.  From time to time the guards would get bored and play cruel mind games with their captives, saying, "Hey the Americans have come to rescue you.  You are free!"  They would have them climb out of the cell and allow the missionaries to run through a field toward freedom. Then the captors would shoot above their heads and at their feet and catch them, beat them severely and throw them back in the sewerage-filled hole.

Pretty soon, the four men decided that embracing no hope was better than to have hopes that continued to be crushed time after time, not to mention the beatings. They decided that the next time they heard the guards telling them that they were free, they wouldn't believe it - they would instead kneel down, lock arms, look down and refuse to believe them.

After three years, America obtained intelligence that showed them the location of the four men and in the cover of darkness, special forces (including the man telling Acton Bowen the story) would fly in on a Blackhawk helicopter and rescue the men. Their commanders gave them 5 minutes to get in and get out.  If it took longer than that, they were to leave without the captives.

They quickly neutralized the enemy, found the cell in the ground, cut the lock off and yelled down to the captives that they were Americans and they were there to give them freedom.  The men knelt down, locked arms and wouldn't budge!  The special ops forces were stunned and pleaded with the 4 men to come quickly, but it was to no avail!  Finally, with the 5 minutes almost up, the man telling the story removed his helmet, weapons, and belt and descended into the hole.  The stench was overwhelming as he waded through human waste and bent down, getting on the captives' level, telling them, "We're Americans.  We're here to rescue you and give you freedom!"

Finally one of the men believed him.  The other 3 captives rebuked him, saying, "It's just a cruel joke. This is not real!"  The one captive said, "No, this is real.  Our captors would never do this.  Our liberator is the only one who would come down amidst our messy, vile filth and get on our level." The men were saved by their liberator and left the nasty pit of confinement and moved to freedom!

And that is exactly what Jesus did for us!

Acton Bowen with some of our Young People
YEC empowered and emboldened our Youth and the Leaders as well and all left with a renewed spirit.

Monday, November 23, 2015

First Day of Frost - November 23, 2015

Last night was a good night.  We had a potluck supper at church to celebrate Thanksgiving a little early.  We always enjoy fellowship meals at our little country church!  The church provided the meat, which in this case was pork tenderloin stuffed with smoked sausage and the traditional fried turkey. Everyone brings their favorite side dish, cabbage roll casserole, corn maque choux, dirty rice, along with a full range of pies, cakes, etc. that are sweet enough to put you into a diabetic coma.

Our preacher pulled out a well-worn Bible and read to us from the Book of Philippians about living the Christian life and being thankful for what we have, especially our great salvation!  We lined up and fixed our plates with delicious food and then sat down to fellowship with our brothers & sisters. We enjoyed the food and each others' company and finally proceeded home with full bellies.  We did not go to bed hungry, that much is true.

We woke up to the sound of roosters crowing, ushering in a new day at a little after 5 a.m., and we walked out to the barn to milk Daisy and Rosie.  We walked in silence and heard the soft mooing of Daisy as she woke up from her slumber and followed us to the barn, eager to be milked to relieve the tightness of her udder.  I looked up at a beautiful sky, illuminated by millions of bright stars.  It didn't take long to feed the chickens, mix up the feed for the cows, wash the cows' bags and milk them. Then it was on to feed the dogs and then feed the chicks in the chicken tractor.  They are growing quickly.  I'll post a picture in the next few days to show you.

As I walked across the pasture with a bucket of Chick Grower, enjoying the peace before a busy day, I noticed something glimmering in the moonlight.  I bent over and touched the grass.  Yep, a layer of frost, the first one of the season, covered the ground.  I googled the Average First Frost date for our zip code and it showed November 10th.  This year we're almost a full two weeks later.  I like to note this in order to protect sensitive plants that we have.

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The fall frost means that any additional growth in the pasture will come to a halt and while the cows have been continuing to eat on the pasture, over the next few weeks, their nutrition will come increasingly from the hay that we have stockpiled to help them make it through the fall/winter.  The frost also means that our green bean harvest will come to an end, along with that of the basil and peppers.  I'll cover our lettuce to protect it until we're able to harvest and consume all of it.  As the nights get colder, I'll bring the sensitive houseplants into the garage.  They are still somewhat protected from the frost by a canopy of live oak limbs.

One other thing thing that the colder weather also means is that I'll need to set out some traps and try to catch predators that attack our flock of laying hens.  With the onset of fall/winter, the prey of predators must be increasingly hard to find and they resort to eating our animals.  Just yesterday I was walking around the perimeter of our pasture locating a place in our electric fence where it was grounded and saw this sad sight!:

Thou Shalt Not Kill!
One of our Barred Rock laying hens fell victim to a violent end last night.  She was intact except for her head.  This method of attack appears to be the calling card of either a possum or a raccoon.  When I find something like this, I always think to myself, "If you're going to kill the thing, don't waste it! Eat it all!"  It won't be wasted by me.  I picked up the poor old girl and buried her in the garden where she'll grow some nice vegetables for us next spring.  I sure will miss those nice eggs she laid, though.

Composting a Laying Hen
I'll pull out the cage trap that I have and bait it where I found the chicken.  The predators are creatures of habit and will return for more and in doing so, will make a fatal mistake.  I'll then compost the predator in a hole right next to the laying hen. Preparing for the change in seasons takes planning and adapting.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Our Fall Tomatoes Experiment

Back on August 22nd, we embarked upon a new experiment for us - planting fall tomatoes.  We plant a lot of tomatoes in the spring.  I try to get them planted as early as possible in the spring, usually planting them from seed during the cold, gray days of January.  I nurture them indoors under grow lights until the lasts frosts have passed.

It is a race to harvest them before the stink bugs and other pests take their toll on the quality of the tomatoes.  Once it heats up, swarms of stink bugs descend upon the tomatoes, stinging the fruit, making them ugly.  We still get a decent crop, but we were affected in a negative way by the very wet spring, very dry summer, and intense bug pressure.

So I wanted to see if we could grow some fall tomatoes.  I'm not talking 'hot house' tomatoes.  I'm talking tomatoes planted outside in the garden in the late summer/fall that will grow and produce a crop before the frost knocks them out. Sounds like a good experiment to undertake!  I planted my tomato seeds indoors on July 16th and then on August 22nd, the tomato plants were transplanted into the garden.  I experienced about a 20% mortality rate on the plants, attributable to some bug or worm that immediately cut the stems of the young plants in half.  The rest kept growing and by October 26th, the indeterminate vines of my heirloom tomatoes were loaded with tomatoes and blooms!

The plants were nice looking and due to the cooler temperatures, there was no competition with stink bugs.  The majority of the fruit was blemish-free, fat, and shiny.  I did pull a caterpillar off of one of the tomatoes that was eating, but that was the only one.  Sometimes in the spring, I'll have birds that like to eat on the tomatoes, but none of that so far this fall.

On November 19th, I harvested the first fruits off of Our Maker's Acres Family Farm's inaugural fall tomato crop. Big, fat beautiful tomatoes!  Overall, I'm pleased with the results so far.  There are many more green tomatoes that are burdening the vines right now.  Even if we catch a frost before they are ripe, I told Tricia we can have some fried green tomatoes.

Tricia cut the first tomato in half and it was meaty and (she said) very flavorful!

Review: I'm pleased with our fall tomato crop, and the results of the experiment tell me that we should definitely do this again next year.  I'll only make a few changes.  First, I'll plant more tomatoes.  This was merely a test plot to determine if we could do this successfully.  Next year, I intend on planting many more for canning stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce.  This will be insurance in the event that weather or bugs damage the spring crop.  I'll also plant the seeds a little earlier, setting my target seed planting date for July 1 - roughly a couple of weeks earlier than the July 16th date I planted the the test plot.

Sometimes our experiments don't work out.  This was one of those occurrences where we found success.  It only makes sense to do this.  Living in the deep south has its share of downsides with the heat, humidity, pests and mosquitoes that make enjoying the great outdoors almost intolerable for a gardener during the summer months.  BUT, the long growing season is also a blessing, enabling us to plant fall crops of tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, etc. to fill our pantries with delicious homegrown produce!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Boy and His Calf

Clarabelle has proven to be a stubborn little Jersey heifer. Halter breaking her was a real chore.  After tying her to an immovable object and letting her pull against it until she was either tired of the struggle or realized that 'resistance was futile,' she finally saw things my way.  It took longer than I thought, though, and longer than other calves I've broken.  I spent several weeks leading her (translation: pulling her) until she figured out that life was much simpler to walk along with me when tension was applied.

Some days I would be real encouraged and she would walk along with me like a champ - other days, she would regress and pull against me until I was sweaty and exhausted.  At long last the task was done and little Clarabelle became a compliant and obedient little heifer, walking along at a leisurely pace, enjoying her surroundings and making the afternoons more pleasurable for me too.
Clarabelle and Benjamin
This is the time of year when the days are getting shorter.  The sun seems to be hitting the landscape at a different angle than the harsh beat-down it assaulted the land with during the long, hot summer. Tricia had Benjamin put the halter on Clarabelle on the days that he doesn't have track practice and he walked her around the perimeter of our little homestead.

Benjamin put on a cowboy hat for the task and he and his heifer went walking.  I cringe looking at him barefooted, because even though she's a small heifer, her hooves are sharp.  If she were to step on Benjamin's foot, it would be very painful and he would not be happy.

This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me that I need to start the same process of breaking little Luna - our most recent calf born to Daisy.  It is best (much, much easier) to halter break them to lead when they are small.  Also on the to-do list for Luna is to de-horn her.  The dehorning process with Clarabelle was the smoothest and best job we've ever done.  Her head is all healed up and horn-free.

When I was Benjamin's age, I showed sheep.  Every afternoon I would walk them. They became very tame and gentle.  Some would even follow me around.  As the livestock shows approached, I would walk them for longer distances and time so that they would be at their very best come showtime.  I became very attached to those animals and each year it was hard for me to let them go. Livestock shows taught me a lot about responsibility, work-ethic, and growing up and I treasure the years I was involved in 4-H and FFA.  I hope my kids feel the same way and are able to learn valuable life lessons like I did in their involvement with livestock.
Walking around the pumpkin vines with Clarabelle
With Clarabelle halter-broken and the process about to begin to break Luna, I was thinking that just around the time that Luna is done, Amy (our third Jersey heifer that is 2 1/2 years old) will have her first calf.  She is due right around December 31st.  So far this year our two girls (Daisy and Rosie) have given us two heifers. Both of those heifers have A2/A2 genetics.  We're hoping for 3 out of 3! We'll know in a month and a half.

Training a calf is a lot of work, but once the work is done, the dividends pay for a lifetime as the cow will respect the lead rope and will follow you wherever you lead her.  There's a good life lesson in there somewhere.
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