Thursday, August 21, 2014

Checking on the Gourds in the Garden

It is still a slow time in the garden.  I'm waiting on it to dry up a little since it has been raining every day.  I'm going to work in some additional topsoil on the southernmost part of the garden as soon as it dries in order to raise up the level since the ground stays very wet on that side.  Once I have the ground ready, I'll transplant the Fall crop seedlings into the garden that I've been babying on the back patio.

I often say that I only like to plant things that I can eat.  I have a couple of exceptions to that rule that I'm trying this year.  I posted on it earlier, but I have an update on the two types of gourds I have planted on the last row closest to the barn.

The first type is Birdhouse Gourds.  Birdhouse Gourds grow fast and furious and you end up with a lot of them if your goats don't eat the ones that grow on the fence. Doggone Goats!  Here's a little one that is just starting to grow.  You can see the remnants of the flower on the end of it.

A Baby Birdhouse Gourd
Here are a couple more that are hanging off of the fence.  They are certainly some curious looking things, aren't they?:

As I was looking at the one below, I guess if you cut half of the bottom off, you could made a dipper with it. You know, like in the movies where you'd see people dipping it into a bucket of water to get a drink?  I've never grown these before, so we'll see how it goes.

The Big Dipper?
I have no problem growing them, but due to our tropical, oppressively hot and humid climate, getting anything to dry without molding, mildewing and rotting is next to impossible, but I'm going to give it a try and we'll see if we meet with success.  The gourds in the photo below are getting close to the end of the growth stage.  What will happen next is that the stem will turn brown.  At that point I'll get it off the ground and allow it to hang, getting plenty of airflow around it.  Drying and curing is not for the impatient as it takes several months of drying before you put a hole in it for the entry to the birdhouse. 

Maturing gourds
So homeless birds in the area, if you need a house, you'd better look elsewhere as it will be several months before I'll cut a hole in these.  Move in date is quite a ways off and I'm a novice at doing this, so your birdhouse might be a 'fixer-upper'.

Birdhouse Gourd
Another type of gourd I have growing in the same vicinity is the Luffa Gourd.  While the birdhouse gourds will be used by the birds, hopefully the luffa gourds will be used by us.  Once they are dried, you peel back the skin, shake out the seeds and they make wonderful bath sponges and are great for exfoliation. I'll show you that process when they fully dry. 

Luffa Gourds growing away
After reading more on luffa gourds, I learned that these CAN be eaten!  When they are 7 inches long are less, they can be used as a substitute for cucumbers.  I've got my eye on this one and I'll let you know how it tastes.

Bath & Body Works?
If it doesn't taste great, I do have some Fall seedlings of cucumbers that I'll be putting in the ground, so hopefully we'll have more cukes on the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gruene Beans

I'll explain the title of the blog post in a minute or two.  Although this is an agricultural blog and beans are an agricultural crop, this post is a little... eccentric, maybe.  It's not about beans you grow.  Do you like jelly beans?  I do.  I'm fortunate in that I love black jelly beans. It seems no one else in our family likes them, so they are the ones left after people pick out the red ones. I remember that jelly beans were President Ronald Reagan's favorite candy and he kept a candy jar full of them on his desk in the Oval Office.  Although very expensive, I like the Jelly Belly brand jelly beans because they have exotic flavors that taste exactly like the real thing, with flavors like: A&W Root Beer, Cantaloupe, Toasted Marshmallow, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry, Bubblegum, just to mention a few.

Well, the family took a quick vacation this past week.  It was the last hurrah prior to college and home school starting up.  We motored over to the Texas Hill Country and stayed in Austin and New Braunfels and tubed down the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers.  The water was cool and clear.  We relaxed, ate like kings and had fun.  While in the area, we went to a favorite place that Tricia and I enjoyed going to years and years ago.  It's a little town called Gruene, Texas. Gruene is a German name and rhymes with bean.  Now let me tell you about the beans in Gruene.

Gruene is a neat little town with the oldest dance hall in Texas, a neat restaurant called the Grist Mill that is in an old mill on the side of the Guadalupe River and it has a lot of little shops, antique stores, and an old General Store.  While browsing around in the General Store in Gruene, Benjamin stumbled across some Jelly Belly jelly beans in a box called "Bean Boozled."  They cost $2.99 for a small box of about 40 small jelly beans (WOW!!), but looked very interesting.  I'll tell you a bit more about the flavors in a minute, because there is a demented game that goes along with eating them - a game I won't participate in again.

First thing you do is pour them all out on a table:

Behold the Beans
Then you group them according to color:

Color coordinating

Then you assemble the partakers of the beans for the festivities that will shortly ensue:

Jelly Bean aficionados assemble 
Here is how it works (or how we did it at least).  There are several flavors in the box - some good - some bad.  No, let me correct that.  Some are absolutely the foulest, most awful thing you've ever put in your mouth.  Here are the flavors:

  • A speckled one might be Tutti Fruitti or it might be stinky socks,
  • A green one might be Lawn Clippings or it might be lime,
  • A white and yellow one might be Rotten Egg or Buttered Popcorn,
  • Toothpaste OR Berry Blue
  • Barf or Peach
  • Canned Dog Food or Chocolate Pudding
  • Booger or Juicy Pear
  • Moldy Cheese or Caramel Corn
  • Baby Wipes or Coconut
  • Skunk Spray or Licorice
Savor the Flavor!
The trouble is, you don't know which is which by looking at them, so each participant grabs a bean of the same color.

Here we go!
It is like Russian Roulette of candy eating.  You may get Chocolate Pudding or you may get Canned Dog Food!

Ready, Set, Go!
We popped them in our mouths and chewed and watched each other's expressions. Suddenly, those that chose the "mean bean from Gruene" took off running to the bathroom to spit out the corruption that was assaulting our taste buds.  Here I am mid-spit after getting a Skunk Spray flavored jelly bean.  I thought I was going to get licorice! 

Nasty tasting skunk!
Here is Russ gagging after consuming Canned Dog Food Flavored jelly bean when he was hoping to get Chocolate Pudding!  You can see Benjamin laughing at him.

Russ does not like Alpo
The taste was absolutely horrible and the smell was just as repugnant.  I don't know how they do it, but as good as they make some of their beans taste, they are able to make some of them taste horrible.  Eating Skunk Spray, Rotten Egg, Barf and Canned Dog Food Flavored Jelly Beans were life changing experiences and one we won't forget for a long, long time.  But that's what family vacations are all about, huh?  What's a family vacation without eating dog food or smelling that odious, noxious smell coming from the back seat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Removing Stitches

In This Post we explained that little Amy, our Jersey heifer, had to go to the veterinarian in Lake Charles to have a horn surgically removed.  We thought we were successful removing her horns with Horn Removal Paste when she was only a couple weeks old, but one of the horn buds evidently was not killed and it grew back.  It was too large to use a horn disbudding iron, so the vet in Lake Charles took care of it for us for about $113 bucks.  Ouch!  Note to self:  It is easier and cheaper to do things right the first time.

Well, her stitches were to come out after a couple of weeks, but there was no way I was going to take her back to Lake Charles.  Certainly this is a job that I can do, right?  I tied Amy's head real tight to the center dividing wall in the stall.  She knew something was up...

Snitches get stitches?
The veterinarian put a number of stitches on both sides of her head where he surgically removed Amy's horn buds.  The stitches he used weren't your typical "cat-gut" stitches that dissolve.  These were made of a non-dissolvable string that looked and felt like very thick dental floss.

Amy's stitches
I can't say that I've ever removed stitches before, but it can't be too hard, right?  I used some toenail clippers and clipped the knot on the end.  It must still be a little tender as Amy started thrashing around a bit.  I was by myself so I kind of put her in a head-lock and snipped away at every knot that I could see in the row of stitches.
A new use for toenail clippers
Once the knots were cut off, I pulled and the stitches came out pretty easily.  I checked real closely to ensure that I was getting all of them out.  I don't think it is a major problem, but I wanted to get them all out, nonetheless.

Pulling out the stitches after the knots were snipped off
Once I was done with one side, I went to the next.  It wasn't a bad job at all and I would've been done earlier had the 'patient' been more patient and stayed still.  All in all the veterinarian did a good job of closing up a couple very large gashes - about 5 inches on either side, I would estimate.  I think it will heal up perfectly.

Amy's Frankenstein impression
Here are a handful of stitches I removed from Amy's head.  We saved a little bit by doing it ourselves and also saved the time and gas money by doing it at home.

Stitches from one side of Amy's head
I was a little surprised that there was no blood as I had to tug a little bit on one side to get some of the stitches out.  All in all, it reinforced the lesson to me to make sure that the job is done right the first time. When Daisy and Rosie's calves come in March 2015, we're going to be sure to put enough de-horning paste so that the horn bud dies. I don't want to have to re-do the process.  One positive though - I learned that stitch removal is a piece of cake.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Making Lye (Part 2)

Here we are four days later since our first post here in: Making Lye (Part 1) and it is time to check on our lye water that has been soaking (leaching) in our fireplace ashes. The rainwater we poured on top of the ashes has been soaking for about four days and it is time to drain it out and test it to determine if it is strong enough for soap making.  I cut the bottom out of a gallon sized vinegar jug in order to make a funnel. Then I cut an old T-shirt up and placed it inside the homemade funnel to use as a filter. Then I pulled the plug.

Pullin' the plug
I prepared myself for a rush of water mixed with ashes, but I was wrong.  Only a drip, drip, drip of tea-colored lye water emerged and I realized that this was going to be a multi-day affair. The lye water was filtering through the ashes making the progress slow, but in the process making the liquid almost clear.

Drip, drip, drip...
Since I couldn't hold the funnel for days, I did the next best thing.  I put the T-shirt filter over the clean bucket, tilted the top molasses bucket full of ashes and rainwater at an angle to speed up the dripping and just left it there for a few days to completely drip out.  The T-shirt filter caught the minimal amount of ashes that drained through the plug.

Lye dripping out slowly (Patience is a virtue!)
Since we have friends and neighbors coming to get milk and eggs, we wanted to be sure that no one touched the liquid since it is caustic and will burn you.  Tricia made a warning sign to let them know to be careful around it.  I need to correct the sign to read that it is caustic.  Lye is alkaline, the opposite of acidic, and is caustic, meaning it will cause chemical burns.

I ain't gonna lye - this liquid will burn you!
Finally the bucket stopped dripping.  The result was a somewhat clear liquid, about the color of iced tea, and you could see the bottom of the bucket.  I didn't measure it, but I assume that we yielded a little more than a couple gallons of lye water.

Lye water
I learned by checking several places on the Internet that for regular soap making (which is our goal), the way you test the strength of the lye is by putting a potato or an egg in the lye.  If either one has a quarter-sized area to float above the liquid level, the strength is perfect for soap making.  Lye gets stronger each time you leach it.  As you can see the potato floated, but NOT above the level of the liquid.  That tells us that it is not quite ready yet.  It needs to get stronger so we'll soak it again.  We want to be sure and throw this potato away!!

Potato floating in the lye - Not quite strong enough yet.
So I put the rubber plug back into the big bucket of ashes and poured the lye water back into it.  We'll let it leach for another 3 or 4 days, drain it again and then check the strength again with another potato or egg.

Same song, second verse
The clear lye water quickly became "muddy" again when mixed with the ashes.  One side note:  I wore gloves handling the lye water, but when the test showed it wasn't strong enough, I took them off and picked up the T-shirt wet with lye with my bare hands.  I could instantly feel the burn on my fingers!  I will be more careful next time.  I'm okay, but it taught me to not let my guard down.  It is not called CAUSTIC by mistake.

Check back with us next week where we'll post Part 3 in our Lye Making Experiment where we'll test the strength of the lye again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Farewell to Sheltie, the Farm Cat

We have two farm cats, Sheltie and Christie.  They are sisters and joined our family about 13 years ago after I got them from a friend of mine.  They help us by controlling the rat and mice population around here.  We live in the country surrounded by woods on the south side and a field on the north side.  Both provide ample habitat for rodents and over the years, our cats have killed a number of them. These are strictly outdoor cats.  They haven't seen indoors but for a minute or two. We don't feed them a whole lot because we want them to be hunters, but we do feed them enough.  They've done a nice job and we are fond of them.

Shortly  after we got them as kittens, Christie got run over by our car as we were backing out.  She had gotten into a bad habit of sleeping on top of the wheel of the car.  As we backed out we heard a loud noise and saw her dash off.  To be honest, I didn't think she'd make it, but remarkably her leg healed up and she lived.  She still walks with a limp as a reminder of that day and I think we all can relate as we sometimes face the consequences of bad decisions that cause us to "walk with a limp!" Christie was always the weak one, a little skinny and timid and I always figured we'd lose her first.

Sheltie was the other cat.  She was the leader.  The strong one.  She had an independent streak and would venture out to the woods on her own, hunting and exploring.

Wednesday morning at 5:30 am Tricia and I ventured out to do our morning chores. As I passed by the refrigerator in the garage, I noticed Sheltie lying on the carport floor.  I thought she was just sleeping, but it did catch my attention as being odd. When we came back in, Tricia went to pour and chill milk and I began filling the water troughs.

Tricia came out to me and said, "Kyle, I think Sheltie is dying."  I walked in and Tricia petted her and she was meowing like she just didn't feel good.  Her breathing was labored and she wasn't moving.  There was no blood, no sign of foul play.  She was very weak and we both knew that the prognosis wasn't good.  We sat there on the garage floor and told her that she'd been a good cat, that she'd done a good job, and we enjoyed having her as a member of our family for the last 13 years.

Sheltie's final morning
I drove on to work after getting cleaned up and received a call from Tricia not long after I got to work, telling me that Sheltie had died.  It made us all sad.  Tricia and Benjamin buried Sheltie in the garden.  We'll miss her and I can tell that Christie is sort of lost without her sister to lead her around.  She'll have to step it up! She's got big paws to fill.  RIP Sheltie...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saving Cucumber Seeds (Part 2)

Several days ago in this PREVIOUS POST we talked about how to save cucumber seeds.  We left off at the point where we had left the cucumber seeds soaking in water to ferment.  Now it is 3 days later and we have a smelly mess percolating on the window sill.  It really smells foul and tells us that we have fermentation going on.  In reality this is what happens in nature.  If the cucumber is left alone, it will soften and ferment and the seeds inside of it will then sprout right out of it.  We've tried to mimic that on the window sill.  Right now, we need to clean this mess up.
Fermenting cucumber seeds
I pour all the smelly fermented cucumber seed liquid through a sieve and then spray water all over the sieve to wash away the foul smelling liquid.  The only thing left is our cucumber seeds that we're trying to save.

Cleaning the seeds
Next I get a paper plate and pour all the seeds on the plate.  I'll try to spread them out so that they will dry out easier and won't clump together.  I'll let this dry out for a few days until they aren't moist at all.

Drying out the cucumber seeds
After a couple of days, the seeds are all dry and ready to be stored.  I scrape them off of the paper plate and put them in a pile.  I try to check that none are moist at all and then I try to separate any that might be stuck together.

Dried cucumber seeds
Next I store them in supplement containers.  I find that they are perfect for storing seeds since they allow no light inside and allow no moisture at all inside.  I ensure that I label each container with the seed variety and the year in which they are saved.

Saved Cucumber seeds
Saving your own seeds is nice investment.  It is economical and enables you to prepare for the future.  I read on several websites that cucumber seeds saved properly will last up to 10 years.  Wow!  Talk about paying dividends!! Each seed will eventually produce numerous cucumbers.   

Friday, August 15, 2014

Our First Muscadine Harvest

We've always been offered grapes from our neighbor's yard.  They have Concord grapes along with two other varieties.  The vines have been there for a while and are as big around as your wrists.  We've made New Wine and jelly from the fruit we've gathered from their vines.  We enjoyed it so much that we decided we'd plant our own vines.  Russ brought us home a Muscadine vine that he purchased from the nursery that he works at.  Muscadines are a grape variety that grows wild in the woods around here.

We planted the vine in the side yard where we planted the corn this year and honestly the vine did not grow as quickly as I expected it to.  The soil is a little weak in this area and I'll do my best to add organic matter and chicken litter to build it up over the next few years.  We were able to get a harvest, albeit small, from the vines.  They are so plump and warmed by the sun.  The flavor is soooo good and sweet.  There are a few seeds in them, but it's not a big deal to spit them out.

Our First Muscadine Harvest
I built a simple trellis with an eight foot portion of a hog panel and two T-posts and the vine started to grow on it a little bit.  I expect by next year this entire panel to be filled.  Benjamin was the muscadine picker and searched among the leaves for those darkened, flavorful grapes.  I'm thinking next year I'll need to put some netting over it because the birds like the grapes as much as we do!

Our mini vineyard
New growth can be seen on the vines due to the plentiful rains and favorable growing season, giving me hope that this will be a good place for the muscadine to be planted for great harvests in years to come.  As it vines it sends out tendrils that wrap around the panels, giving support to the weight of the vine and clusters of fruit.

New growth on the muscadine vine
Here is a portion of the harvest and we've got about two times this amount still ripening on the vines.  We'll likely just snack on these. 

A bowl of muscadines for snacking on
The yield is not going to be enough to make new wine or jelly this year, but that's okay.  We're patient.
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