Friday, October 24, 2014

From Planting Alliums to Protecting Brassicas

I remember in elementary school learning about the different biological classifications.  We learned a mnemonic device to help us remember the following:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species
I have forgotten the mnemonic device (I think it started with "King Phil") but for some reason can still remember the actual classifications.  Weird, huh?  I can remember that, but can't remember phone numbers to save my life.  If I ever lost my contacts on my phone, I wouldn't know how to reach anyone since I don't need to know their numbers - I just press their names on my phone.

Anyway, onions are in the Allium Genus which include a lot of flowers that grow from bulbs like lilies and also garlic, chives, scallions, and leeks.  Last year I purchased some red onion seeds.  I love red onions.  I planted them all, but did not have any success at all growing them from seed.  This year Tricia picked up some onion sets for me from the feed store.  They aren't red onions, they are yellow, but they'll eat just fine.  I'll educate myself more on growing onions from seed over the winter, but for now, we'll plant these sets.

Onion Sets
Planting onion sets are very similar to planting garlic cloves.  You simply plant them an inch deep and four inches apart, pointy side up, roots down, cover with dirt, water and they'll GROW.

One onion planted...
That didn't take long to get them in the ground.  While I was in the garden, I'll generally pull weeds that are competing and attempting to crowd out our vegetables.  While I was weeding I came across the following troubling sight:

I have a lot of Brassicas planted and every row of my brassicas had damage like you see above. Plants in the Brassica Genus include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.  For some reason a pest really likes them.  They weren't touching anything else in the garden.  We've experienced some success with applying lye soap spray to the leaves of plants that bugs are eating. All we do is grate some lye soap into some hot water to dissolve and then mix a few cups of water to the emulsion and put it in a spray bottle and spray the damaged areas.  So let's get that started.  

Lye Soap Spray
I didn't see at first what the pest was that was feasting on our plants, but while spraying, I spotted one of the perpetrators.  Can you see him?

The culprit!
I plucked the guilty party off of the plant and acting as judge and jury, sentenced him to capital punishment.  The hens were all too happy to be the executioner.  I tossed him over the fence and pretty soon the 'eater' became the 'eaten.'

Guilty Worm
I applied a liberal dose of lye soap spray to the vegetables on the Brassica rows to hopefully 'clean up' the problem and bring an end to the damages.

Leaves with a good application of Lye Soap
I'll diligently check the plants to ensure that we've discouraged additional damages. If this doesn't work, I'll try to go through and physically remove the worms.  I've heard that some people put some chickens in the garden for pest eradication and while I'm sure that works, my experience is that they cause more harm than good by scratching the ground and unearthing roots and eating the plants. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Planting Garlic

Garlic is something that we cook with a lot.  We absolutely love the flavor.  We've grown it for several years and have almost perfected growing it, but we continue to have problems with storing it due to the high humidity during the time of the harvest.  Our yield is very good, but we lose an awful lot of our garlic while trying to dry it.

We have tried to put the garlic we harvest on top of fans that continually blow air over it, but when you are blowing hot, humid air, it has little advantageous effects on drying it.  We have brought them indoors right after harvest into a less humid environment, but still have a high loss rate. But we'll keep on trying and I'll be reading lots of information and will be ready for next summer when we harvest the garlic crop we are about to put in the ground.

Tricia purchased six garlic bulbs at the local feed store.  We grow softneck garlic in the South and although they weren't labeled at the feed store, I think this is known as the Creole variety.

"Seed" Garlic
I broke up the garlic bulbs by separating the individual cloves that make up the bulbs.  There were a few bad cloves, but when all of them were separated, I had 80 individual cloves, which equates to about 13 cloves per bulb.  Some were big and some were small, but I've found that most all of them will sprout and eventually grow into a garlic bulb.  According to what I've read, you need to plant them in the Fall so that you are assured of two months of cool weather growth that stimulates 'bulbing.'

Separating out the cloves
I normally plant garlic 4 inches apart, so I made a little guide for Benjamin using a big tent peg by marking four inch increments and using it as a planting guide.  This will keep the planting uniform and accurately spaced.  I had previously worked in a little composted chicken manure into the soil to assist in making the garlic jump out of the ground.

Homemade Planting Guide
We dug slight indentations one inch deep and placed each garlic clove in the hole, pointy side facing up, and covered the garlic so that the very tip was just covered with dirt.

Planting Garlic
Here is a view of part of the garlic row all planted with the cloves in the hole.  We planted them in rows of three.  I like them planted like this because you can straddle the row when harvesting them.

All the cloves are planted
Benjamin followed as I dug the holes with a knife and dropped the cloves in each hole and then he brushed dirt over them to cover them up.  In no time, we were done. 

Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty
A day after we planted, I drug the water hose across the pasture and thoroughly watered the garlic row, hoping to imitate a good rainfall.  It has been pretty dry in October.  As the garlic grows, I'll mulch heavily between the growth with hay to discourage weed growth that competes with the garlic for soil nutrients.

Now that the garlic is planted, I have 7 or 8 months to read up and learn on how to store garlic better! This year we will hopefully have better results in garlic storage.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October Weather - Windows Open!

October weather is always spectacular.  We get our first cool fronts that push the muggies out into the Gulf of Mexico and the temperatures range from the 80's during the day to the 50's at night.  We've taken the opportunity to pull our screens out of the attic and put them on the windows and then open up the windows on opposite ends of the house and let the breeze blow through the house.  We wouldn't try that during the summer because we'd be soaking wet with sweat due to the heat and humidity of our locale.  We wouldn't try that without putting the screens on the windows because we'd be carried away by the mosquitoes!

Opening the windows and 'airing out' the house is so pleasant.  The cool breeze is refreshing and brings a nice, clean smell into the home.  I was reading the other day about how our homes these days are so insulated and sealed up that it creates an unhealthy environment and actually can make us sick. The author of the article was talking about how she opens the windows each morning to allow fresh air to blow through her home and pulls back the comforter to freshen her sheets each day. Unfortunately, we don't live in an area where you can do this except on rare occasions - October is usually one of those months.

As I was reading that article, it prompted me to remember something that I hadn't thought about in years - an attic fan.  My grandmother and grandfather (we called them Bumby and Poppy) had an attic fan in their house.  I haven't seen those installed in any other home around here that has been built recently.  I guess this was mainly a thing in older homes?  I recall that thing being so effective in pulling a breeze through the house.  Right inside their front entry-way, in the ceiling between the living area and the attic, was a louvered grate that looked somewhat similar to the photo below:

Image Credit
They would lift the windows and turn that thing on and it would make a rumbling noise and then the air would circulate through the house, creating a stiff breeze!  If I recall correctly, it was called an attic fan, but the real term for it was the Whole House Fan.  If I read correctly, an attic fan just exhausts the hot air in the attic out to atmosphere, whereas a whole house fan is used instead of an air conditioner to move a whole lot of air throughout the home.

During the day you keep the windows closed and at night the outside temperature and humidity drops, so you open the windows and turn the fan on.  This forces air in the house up through the attic and out, drawing cool air from outside into the home.  It is more economical to run this than an air conditioner and depending on the outside temperature, you'll want to have a quilt handy because it gets mighty chilly!  While we don't have a fan like Bumby and Poppy did, opening the windows on opposite ends of the house is the next best thing and brings refreshing air circulation into a house that has been sealed up all throughout the preceding summer months.

Anyway, while we're talking about attic fans, or whole house fans, it reminded me of one quirky thing that I used to do without fail every single time I passed it.  Do you remember the pull-down stairs that lots of people have in their homes to get into the attic?  We don't have one because we have an entry door to our attic, but some people have the string that you pull down in the ceiling that reveals a fold-out ladder.  The string has a little white, plastic end piece that looks kind of like the top to a bottle of Elmer's glue, like shown in the photo below:

Image Credit
The string with the end piece hangs down like shown below and always seemed to beckon me to jump up and hit it with the tips of my fingers.  (This is probably documentation of some sort of a mental disorder, I'm sure.)

Image Credit
I don't know why, but as a kid every time I passed by it, I would jump up and hit it with my hand. Like a moth drawn to a flame, I'd hit it every time.  Is this just me or did anyone else do this?  If I had a dollar for every time I did this, I would be able to retire tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mulching our Fall Potato Crop

I wanted to do a little update on our Fall Potato Crop.  For the first time ever, we're trying to raise a Fall Crop of Irish Potatoes that will replenish our potato inventory from the Spring crop.  We harvested the Spring Crop of Irish Potatoes back in May and I think we only have about 8 scrawny ones left in the bottom of the bin.  But that's okay.  We had a bumper crop this year and they have stored well throughout the summer.

We picked out a few from existing inventory that were shriveled up and had some nice sprouts on them and planted them in a 12 foot bed.  I didn't want to go overboard, because goodness knows, we'd rather eat them than put them in the ground if the frost is gonna get 'em.  They all sprouted and are looking mighty healthy. Now that they are up out of the ground, I want to be sure to get some mulch around them to discourage weed growth and conserve soil moisture.

That's where an old hay bale comes in handy.  Bales of hay that are more than a year old can often be found in the corner of someone's pasture, decomposing and shrinking back into the land from whence it came.  I like to cut the baling twine off of it and use it to thickly mulch around all the vegetables in the garden, whether in Spring or Fall.  I break off swaths of hay from the bale, trying to leave it in long pieces that I'll lay across the ground as sort of a mat.

A wagon full of year-old hay
And here is the row of potatoes that we planted and posted about on September 24th in This Post.  They stand about 10 inches tall right now and a relatively dry October has the soil dried out.  You can also see a few weeds creeping up that will compete with the potatoes if we don't do something about them.  I hate weeding.  Mulching is much easier.

A row of Fall Potatoes
I laid the hay around the potatoes like you'd pull a heavy quilt over you on a cold winter's night. With the potato plants all tucked in, we're good to go.  Irish potatoes take between 90 and 120 days until they are ready to be dug up, so that means that somewhere between December 23 - January 22nd, they'll be ready.  We'll have some frosts before then, so I'll pile more hay on top of the plants on those days to see if we can get some more potatoes before the frost kills them.  It is a gamble, I know. We'll see how it goes.  

All tucked in bed
They are very healthy, happy potato plants right now.  I'll give them a good sprinkling of water and the hay mulch will retain that moisture and slow the evaporation that you experience from bare ground.

Since we had success storing our potatoes throughout the summer, next year I'm going to plant more potatoes so that we maintain a strong potato inventory year-round.  If the Fall potatoes are successful, I'll begin growing my own seed potatoes for the Spring crop.  Right now all is looking good.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The 2014 Sweet Potato Harvest

Every year in October we harvest sweet potatoes in our garden.  The coolest thing about this is that we never planted sweet potato slips.  Ever.  They come up on their own each and every year and the vines stretch out and totally cover about a 25 foot by 10 foot area.  They are sort of like weeds in that you don't have to plant them, they just come up every year.  The best we can figure is that the sweet potato crop started from a composted sweet potato many years ago - the gift that keeps on giving!

The vines reach out and grow and intermittently extend roots into the ground which become the sweet potato tubers that we love to eat.  The vines are full of moisture and when broken, emit a milky white 'sap' that must be sweet, because the cows gather around the garden fence to eat them up as we throw the vines over the fence. It's like the cows look forward to the day we harvest sweet potatoes each year because they bunch up by the fence and beg.  Truly funny to watch!

Sweet Potato Vines
So I got a couple of buckets and a shovel and hollered at Benjamin and Tricia to come help me unearth the sweet orange treasure that lay just beneath the surface in our garden.  We pulled back a portion of the vines, cut them and through them over the fence to the cows and then dug up the entire area, being very careful to not cut up the sweet potatoes, but gently dig around them.  Benjamin always likes to sort through the dirt and find them.  The sweet potatoes range in size from very small to gargantuan.  The small ones we feed to the cows and listen to them crunch them up with their teeth and gums.  The bigger ones go into a bucket for us!

The first sweet potato of 2014
As we toss the vines over, the girls make quick work of the sweet, moist leaves and vines.

Cows gotta eat, too.
Here is a beautiful sweet potato.  It's always exciting to pull a nice one like this out of the ground. We place them in buckets and marvel as the buckets fill up.

A good one
And here is another good sized sweet potato.  You can see some of the other smaller ones around it and see how big this one is in relation to Benjamin's hand.  This year's crop enjoyed beneficial, timely rains which allowed the vines to run and the ground to stay moist.  The vines shaded out all competing weeds enabling a good crop to grow, but you never really know what you've got until you start digging.

A nice, fat sweet potato!  Sometimes the potatoes get too big and this results in a sweet potato that is a little hard and 'stringy.'  Fortunately, all of them were of good size this year - not too big, but just right.  The little roots you see just over the sweet potato are the roots that the cows love to eat.  Some of those get left in the ground and I'm sure that is what becomes next year's sweet potato crop.

Can't wait to eat this one
We've learned not to wash them once we're done.  We merely hang them in an onion sack in the garage where there is good air flow around them and allow them to cure.  According to an LSU AgCenter pamphlet, sweet potatoes aren't very moist or sweet when they are first dug.  They have to be cured for six to eight weeks to achieve maximum sweetness.  Curing allows the cuts in the tubers to heal and further develops the sugars.

Curing Sweet Potatoes
Once cured, they can be stored for months in a cool, dark place.  We'll store them, but most importantly, we'll eat them - mostly by making sweet potato fries, mashed sweet potatoes, and sweet potato pie during the holidays.

And here is the 'after' photo once all the sweet potatoes have been dug, leaving barren ground that will soon be planted in turnips.  We'll eat a few of the turnips, but they are mostly for the cows to eat on in the winter.

The end of the harvest
I'll add some composted chicken litter to the soil to replenish the nutrients that the sweet potatoes used and then we'll plant a new crop so we always have something growing.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Planting Winter Ryegrass in the Pasture

The first cool weather of October is always a signal for me to get rye grass planted for the cows.  Now, we haven't been successful in getting a decent stand of ryegrass since I began seeding one third of our pasture with ryegrass seed, but I'm not a quitter and I'll keep trying until we have success.  In the past, I've cut the grass real short, seed the acre paddock, drag a post across the planted area to make the seeds get down to the ground and wait for germination.

Trouble is, I've always had a sparse stand.  I wanted to learn what others were doing, so I asked around and got another method.  This method involves the same steps, but in a different order, so I'm going to try it.  I'll seed the acre paddock first, then I'll mow the grass.  This will allow the grass cuttings to cover the seed and after a rain, the seed will work its way down to the ground and will pop up through the grass cuttings.  The cuttings will protect the seed, somewhat from predation from birds and our chickens.

Before we got started, though, I thought it would be a good idea to incorporate a quick, easy Home School lesson for Benjamin to show him how math has some very practical uses.  We needed to measure out an acre in our pasture.  I had Benjamin research to find the number of square feet in an acre.  When he determined that there were 43,560 square feet in an acre, we showed how the equation 'x' times 'y' = 43,560. We needed to eliminate one of the variables so he measured from post to post along the road and determined that it was 224 feet wide.  Now he needed to determined how far deep we needed to walk back to set our temporary fence to enclose one acre.  All he needed to do at this point was divide 43,560 by 224 to determine that he needed to mark off 194.5 feet back for the fence to create a one acre rye grass paddock.  Not only did we learn the answer to our question, but we reinforced the fact that math has practical uses in everyday life.

Here is the one acre paddock measured out of our little pasture:

Where the rye grass will (hopefully) grow
I purchased a 50 pound bag of ryegrass at the hardware store and pulled out my little spreader.  Yes, there are easier ways to plant rye grass, but I like a little exercise after sitting in an office all day!  I simply filled the little hopper with ryegrass seed, put the setting on the appropriate setting, and we're ready to start planting.

The seeder and the seed
Ryegrass seed is very small and very light.

Ryegrass Seed
The seed falls through the opening at the bottom of the hopper and falls on a spinning plate at the bottom of the spreader that broadcasts the seeds evenly across the pasture.  I walked back and forth in straight swaths.  I could see where my previous path was due to the marks in the grass left by the wheels.  The best time to do this is in the morning while the dew is on the ground so that your wheels leave marks in the wet grass.  I planted in the evening but was still able to see the marks in the grass to gauge where my next swath would be.

According to something I read ryegrass seed will take between 5 and 10 days to germinate.  It has been dry around here so I would assume it will take a little longer. Hopefully we'll have success this year with ryegrass.  I will always have our Plan B in the event we are unsuccessful and will have plenty of hay for the girls to fall back on.  We'll keep you posted on the ryegrass progress and whether or not we get a successful stand.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mulligan Stew

A week ago I got a phone call from my neighbor.  Our neighbors are great.  We love them.  It is such a blessing to have good neighbors.  They allow us to pick figs, satsumas, grapes, muscadines and lemons off their trees and we'll give them milk and eggs.  We also assist one another with yard work or limb pick-up after storms. They are great cooks and we'll often get a knock at the door and will be greeted with a warm loaf of Amish bread or a plate lunch of fresh fried catfish, lima beans and coleslaw.

So it was nothing out of the ordinary when they called and asked if we had any plans for the Saints game.  I said no and they invited us to come over to their outdoor kitchen to help them eat Mulligan Stew and watch the Saints play.  Tricia made some homemade cookies and we eased over Sunday after we got back from church.

Now, I had no clue what mulligan stew was.  It sounded Irish, so I assumed that it had potatoes in it. I was right - partially.  When we opened the screen door, my neighbor asked if we had ever eaten mulligan stew and we said, "No."  He sort of smiled.  He was browning a huge pile of meat in a pot on the stove.  It smelled great!  He said that every Fall before hunting season, it was customary in their house to make Mulligan Stew.

Mulligan Stew is something that his Daddy started as a tradition, of sorts, to clean out the freezer to make room for the wild game that was about to be killed during this hunting season.  All different types of meat would be thrown in the pot, browned with onions and garlic and then have stock and chopped mixed vegetables and pasta shells thrown in and stewed down.  When done it would be served over rice.  I searched for a picture and it best looks like this one I found on a Google search:

Image Credit
According to Wikipedia, Mulligan stew was served in hobo camps in the early 1900's and was made with whatever could be "begged, scavenged, found, or stolen." So the aroma filled the outdoor kitchen in the shop and at around 2 pm, it was time to eat.  We lined up, got our bowls, filled them with rice, ladled a heaping portion of mulligan stew over our rice and went and sat down.

When we sat down, our neighbor's wife and her sister, smiled and said, "Y'all eat that?  We're not big on eating squirrel heads.  We're gonna eat something else."  I looked down in my bowl and saw something that looked very similar to this staring back up at me:

Image Credit
They would take the handle-end of a butter knife and crack the little skull and then pull out the brains and eat them.  Now, I'm fine eating squirrel.  And I enjoyed the taste of Mulligan Stew.  I just can't bring myself to eat the head or squirrel brains!  I politely ate around the head until it was the only thing left in my bowl.  I think I heard my neighbor's son say, "Aw man, you left the best part!"

Benjamin and I will be doing some squirrel hunting in our yard to thin out the squirrels so they don't get all our pecans.  We will skin and clean the ones we kill, but the heads won't make it into our bowls.  They'll be buried in the garden along with the skin, guts and tail.
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