Homestead News, Volume 8

Sometimes it seems as if there is not much going on here to report, but once I really stop and think about it, I can usually come up with something. This time the news is full of a number of small things. Take the goats for instance.

Last night I started penning up our two youngest kids again. They are both four months old, but are still nursing. We had separated them into the old weaning a pasture for about a month, but then the pigs came and took over that pasture. Then for a while, the kids just nursed through the fence after we put them in with the buck and wethers. As the young doe approached four months we didn’t want to leave her in the buck pasture, so we brought her back out with the does and hoped in vain that her mom wouldn’t let her nurse. She did. Now the young buck comes through the gate to be with his mom and nurse. We haven’t been able to block off the gate yet, and even

Lady Bug has a nice udder for a first freshener

if we did, he would still nurse through the fence. Both of these moms are first fresheners and we still want to develop their udders as much as possible this first season, so last night I started penning up these two kids again. This morning I got over three quarts of milk instead of one. 

That’s good since we are eating our cheddar cheese a little faster than we have in the past. It’s a great part of our low carb diet. So with this increase in milk, we will make more cheddar to replace the six wheels we have already consumed. The wheel I opened yesterday was waxed the end of April and is quite good. Did you know that room temperature cheese is better than refrigerated? Quite by accident we discovered we like warm cheese better, and it doesn’t taste the same as cold cheese. When we open a new wheel of cheddar, I leave it out on the counter in a bowl. The rind will dry out more and harden, then eventually the oils in the cheese will begin to coat the outside of the wheel. In times gone by, cheese was stored at room temperature, maybe covered by a towel or cloth. In a strange way it seems this is yet another small step we’ve discovered that will be one less thing to change when the power goes out and stays out.

The temperatures here continue to be at or over 100* with dangerously high heat indexes. Any outside work is accomplished early in the day, with very few exceptions. I have been having some serious sinus issues for about a month or more which have greatly impacted the work I do in the garden. The heat and humidity, not to mention bending over, many days make the headaches I’ve been having intolerable. Has anyone out there had a sinus balloon dilation procedure? I am scheduled to have this performed in a week or so. At this point, with the headaches I have been having, I am ready for some relief. The headaches have definitely impacted accomplishing things around the homestead as well as writing here on the blog.

In the last few days we have canned the last of the winter squashes. The bugs have killed all of our squash plants and it’s too late to grow any more winter varieties, so we won’t have any fresh to store for winter, but we’ve ended up with 41 quarts, which we are happy with. I have replanted yellow summer squash which should be able to produce before frost if I can keep them alive and win the war with the bugs.

We also made 11 quarts of salsa yesterday. It’s our favorite way to eat canned tomatoes, and I hope we can make another batch. Even with all of this heat, the tomatoes are still producing very well. Frank just walked by the thermometer and told me it’s 104* outside. We closed down some of the blinds to help the AC try to keep up. Now Frank just told me it’s been 106*!

It’s nice to have a few fresh things from the garden in the crisper. I started chopping and freezing fresh peppers today. We really enjoyed using them through the winter last year and I hope to freeze a number of quarts. I’m also doing an experiment with fermenting a few jalapeno peppers. I took the last batch of sauerkraut out of the crock today and put it in the frig. We started this batch on June 20th. It smells and looks great. When we first started eating kraut, Frank wasn’t very fond of it, but like many people predicted, we now really enjoy our daily portion. He even asks for larger servings of it now. 

We got this plastic strainer spoon to use with the crock to prevent scraping the ceramic finish. It works very well.

After I emptied the crock, I strained off a bit of the juice to use with a few jalapeno peppers. I read somewhere, sorry I don’t remember where, it could have been a comment here, that fermented peppers were crunchy and very good, so I’m going to try it. I added a few peppers to the kraut juice then covered them with salt water. I discovered this small jar fit just right into the pint jar, so I’m using it to keep the peppers submerged. For now, it will reside on the cabinet on a plate. I will be very interested in how this turns out since we prefer crunchy to soft peppers.

I used a half gallon of milk. This bowl wasn’t big enough.

I’ve also decided to take the plunge and try the cottage cheese ‘recipe’ from The Organic Prepper several people suggested. Even my aunt wrote and told me what she remembered about how my grandmother made cottage cheese. Thank you for that email, Aunt A.N. The only ingredient is milk, and all you do is leave it in a covered bowl on the cabinet for two or three days. When the cream rises and sours, it is skimmed off and eaten. That’s it. It’s almost too easy, so we will see how it turns out. I will let you know.

 

Our chickens are doing well. The young hens are blending in with the main flock just fine. The young roosters will be ready to put in the freezer soon which is good since we are ready for some fresh fried chicken. The youngest batch of birds are growing well and will soon need to take over the young rooster pen for more space.

They all like the tomato skins from the salsa.

Young roosters

Youngest flock

I made a new batch of lotion this morning since the last one was starting to turn brown in places. Tewshooz left a comment for us early on about using a preservative to prevent this problem. When I made the last batch I forgot to add the vitamin E, so it didn’t last as long as it could have. This time I wrote vitamin E on the recipe I got from Leigh at 5 Acres & A Dream, so I won’t

forget it next time. Since this lotion is made from olive oil, herbal tea and beeswax, I fed this old portion to the pigs. It’s nice it didn’t totally go to waste. The other thing Tewshooz taught me with a comment was to keep working the lotion until it emulsifies, that way the oil and water won’t separate. To do that now, I place the pan of warm oil, wax and tea into a sink of cold water while I stir it briskly with a small whip. It works great. Thanks for the tips, Tewshooz, they have really paid off.

 

Peppermint and lemon balm for the herbal tea ingredients


 

Takes about 20 minutes

Cooling in cold water

For lunch today we had a no taco, taco salad. It has most of the normal ingredients a taco salad would, just no corn chips or shell. A serving of kraut goes well with this meal. We used some of our canned jalapenos from last year, the salsa we made yesterday, a fresh sweet pepper from the garden, some lettuce, spinach, onion, olives, and room temperature, grated, cheddar. It was great! 

Tonight some of the members of Frank’s radio class are taking tests for their ham licenses. We are excited for them and hope everyone does well. We’ll let you know how it turns out and give you an update on how the class went in general. Now that it is over, we’ll see if our hopes of a local communications network materializes. 

By the way. Has anyone been having trouble with their internet service? Our internet service with Verizon over the past few months has gone from good, to a few glitches, to terrible. We get disconnected or ‘frozen’ numerous times a day now. Then we had someone tell us that Verizon and AT&T are having issues nationwide. Then we found out some other folks in this are are having connectivity issues with Verizon. Then we found out a medical clinic in Fort Smith, Arkansas has been having issues for a month. It would be interesting to hear if anyone else knows anything about this or is experiencing any difficulties.

We have taken to carrying a small bat with us into the pig pen for training purposes. The pigs have responded well and no longer crowd around right behind me when I am walking to the feed pan. We will continue to be very consistent in shaping their behavior. So far, so good.

Life on the homestead is good, very good. We continue to keep tabs on the world with a growing certainty that things will not remain as they are for much longer. The stock markets continue to exhibit the roller coaster pattern that many leading economists have been predicting. The media continues to distract the populace with the same mindless drivel they

have served up for years now. Every so often they intersperse their drivel with small tidbits of real news, news of increased violence, intolerance and suppression of the freedoms we once took for granted. Maybe that’s part of the problem. We have taken too much for granted for too long. Now the pursuit of pleasure and recreation is the end goal and the means justifies the end for a large portion of our world’s population. When this pursuit is no longer an option, what knowledge or skills will exist that can be utilized for survival? I’m afraid it will be like looking into the bottom of an empty barrel. There will be nothing there.

You’ve heard this many times before and here it is again. Learn all you can. Experience what you can now when failure is still and option and you can go to the store and obtain whatever it is you will need. Every single thing you can learn now will increase your possibility of making it yet another day when everything around you has changed. If some of the things we read and hear are anywhere near accurate, the beginnings of major upheaval or change may not be far away, not far at all. Do everything you can. Prepare yourself mentally to see and experience the unthinkable.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 7

There is not a lot going on here right now, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We have told you about many of our latest activities, so we thought we would give you a run down of our general, everyday homestead life. I waited until evening chores with the sun going down to take the pictures for this article. Just as we were wrapping up and I was going to take the last pictures of the pigs, the camera batteries died.

And speaking of pigs, our American Guinea Hogs are doing very well. They are pretty friendly, and now come running anytime they here one of us holler, “Come on pigs!” They know that means we are carrying a bucket with something good to eat. The contents of the bucket tend to vary

widely depending on what we’re harvesting from the garden, whether we have whey from making cheese, or just getting rid of some older staples that have sat on the shelf for too long. I’m starting to eye the barrows and think of the future meat and lard they will provide. We really look forward to butchering one of them so we can see how they taste. Lance, the boar, and Liberty, the gilt, like to greet me in the morning with mud on their noses. They have become very adept at putting a nice big nose print smear on my jeans, especially if I have just put on a clean pair. I like to think they are just bumping me with their nose in greeting and not wiping their faces. What is it about pigs and shoes? Why does Lance think he needs to taste or try to bite my shoe when I go in there?

One Stripe. See it right there on her side?

We have been putting two of our does, One Stripe and Cricket, in the ‘boys’ pasture during the day for about a week. Cricket has fully recovered from the scours she had earlier in the month which prevented us from trying this a few weeks ago. Our temperatures have hovered just under or over 100* for a couple of weeks now, and we think that has, and will, prevent them from breeding. We had hopes for them to breed in July for December babies and a winter milk supply, but I just don’t think that will happen. Next year I will breed two does in May for October babies. That will require the does to breed not long after they kid, but then we should be on a more even cycle of once a year again. We will see. It is a real challenge to keep ourselves in milk year round, but continues to be an important goal.

 

We are still picking tomatoes, green beans and cowpeas from the garden. The last of the squash plants have succumbed to the squash bugs, and I have already replanted a few hills. The pepper plants are finally growing well and starting to produce. I will pick a few jalapenos next week to make salsa. Tomatoes are filling up my crispers in the frig awaiting enough company to can salsa for the pantry shelves. We have been out for a while and have missed it. We eat a lot more salsa than canned tomatoes, so it will take first place in the canning process.

 

The cucumbers are gradually growing and starting to bloom quite a bit. There aren’t many plants so I don’t know how many pickles we can make. I’d like to ferment them, so it may be in individual jars. I’m just not sure how well they will keep on the pantry shelves. I’m still hesitant to leave them there instead of refrigerated. We only have one refrigerator, and no other cold storage for jars of fermented food, so I just don’t know what to do. I’ve read that fermented veges will be fine on the shelf after they complete the fermenting process, but I don’t trust that practice yet. Any advice you may have for me would be appreciated.

 

In our efforts to clear the weeds and grass from parts of the garden for fall crops, Frank used the disc on the tractor (like we showed you in a previous post). Well, today we went out to work on it again and Frank got a great idea. Instead of raking and removing the dead grass, he scraped it all together with the bucket on the tractor. It made quick work in the hot sun, instead of using a rake and wagon. That was one of those time and body saving ideas that really paid off. Now after one more session with the disc, the ground will be ready to plant. 

Work on the greenhouse and other slated projects will resume before long when our one man crew returns from vacation. Frank’s list of things he wants to complete grows a few more items from time to time.

I continue to do contract work for the school district we both retired from, and with school starting before long, I will be more involved in that process than I have been for the past few months. I will be attending training on a new computer program that the state of Oklahoma is adopting, then spend a day at the school training the teachers how to use it as well.

Frank’s Ham Radio & Survival Communications class is going very well. They have two more weeks of class before some of the members will be testing for their ham radio licenses. The local county emergency management office has arranged for Volunteer Examiners to come to the class location to administer the tests instead of the students having to go 60 miles to another testing session being offered by an area radio club. This is the first time the local Volunteer Examiners have administered a test in this area. The ARRL requires them to administer four test sessions before they will be recognized as a certified testing group. It’s great that Frank’s request for a local test session has lead this group to start up their own program.

Once the radio class is over, the real work will begin. There are several class members that want to set up towers or antenna poles to begin the process of creating a communication network in our area. This is the whole purpose of this class and we are excited to see the interest that is being expressed. Many of these folks know that there are hard times coming and want to be able to look out for each other when they arrive, and for that, we are truly grateful. So even though we expect the deterioration of our country and world to continue, it’s comforting to know there are those that are willing to create a workable communication network in this area.
 

 

This morning we turned 16 of our eight week old hens out with the adult flock of birds. This gives the 17 or so young roosters more room in their pen to grow a few more weeks before they take up space in the freezer. We look forward to having fresh chicken again. We rationed out the last few from last year and are now out of chicken meat. 

 

The young batch of chicks are now a month old and will soon need both ‘baby’ pens to prevent overcrowding. We will be looking at the hens in this group of birds also to see which ones we want to keep. We plan to keep about 20 young hens to replace the current laying flock. We will also choose two young roosters. In about three or four months, the older bird will find their way into jars once the young hens start laying. Then the cycle will start once again.

Scruffy drinking fresh squeezed milk

 
The heat keeps us inside during the hot afternoons this time of year. Our busiest times outside have waned until the weather starts to cool in September. We will continue to work on our projects in the mornings, or when the heat allows. There is still so much to do, and we feel the time gets shorter everyday. 

Until next time – Fern

Canning the Garden & Other Stuff

It is HOT! Sorry to yell, but it really is hot here. There are some clouds forming and we might get some much needed rain, even though there’s not a great chance of it. We had record rainfall in the spring, but with these hot temperatures, we are definitely in need of more. Since the afternoons are way to hot to work outside, we have been canning up a storm, not everyday, but more often than not lately.

We finally finished canning the four bushels of peaches we bought. We broke about four or five jars by trying to put them into a hot water bath we had just taken a load out of. I was thinking that since we were putting boiling water over the peaches they would be fine. They were not. Room temperature peaches and boiling water isn’t really all that hot. The last batch of peaches we heated up and didn’t lose a jar. Lesson learned. 

Peach sauce on the left, then plums and garlic

We made a batch of peach sauce from a recommendation in one of the comments we received. Thank you! It was simple, it just took a few days of simmering to cook it down to the consistency we wanted. Wash the peaches, pit, cut out any bruises or bad spots, cut up and cook it down. That’s it. We did add some fruit fresh to prevent darkening, but the sauce does darken some naturally as you cook it down and run it through the water bath. From a half bushel of peaches we ended up with 11 pints. I like the idea of including the peels instead of taking them off. Has anyone canned peach slices with the peel on? I wonder if that would work? I know there are nutrients in the peel just like with apples and potatoes. I may try it next time.

We have continued to can our Cushaw and Buttercup winter squashes because the ones we’ve picked so far aren’t keeping well. They developed during the really wet weather and are getting soft spots or outright starting to rot already. 

We have one hill of yellow squash left alive that the squash bugs haven’t killed. I probably squished about 30 bugs this morning. I have also sprayed them with a water, baking soda, Dawn soap combination followed by a dose of diatomaceous earth. They have killed all of the Buttercup winter squash and are working on the Cushaw. This morning I planted more of all three kinds of squash in an attempt to grow a fall crop. We will see how they do.

 

We get enough cowpeas to can about once a week for now. Once the new patch of peas starts producing we will have many more. After we fill the shelf with all we want we will start drying them to use for winter feed for the goats, pigs and chickens. 

We haven’t canned very many green beans, and I was hoping for about 70 or 80 pints at least. The leaves on most of the plants look like lace from the beetles and worms. What a year for bugs. I will be planting more beans in an attempt to get a fall crop from them as well. We plan to disc up quite a bit of the garden tomorrow so I can start planting turnips, carrots, potatoes, green beans, beets and I’m not sure what else. Some of these crops will do well after a frost and some won’t. I will start some cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprout seedlings before long as well.

We tried our ‘new’ canner that we had problems with again, we found out it is a 2008 model, and it still leaks around the lid. After two calls to the factory the technician recommended we go over the seal with some ‘000’ steel wool and lubricate it with olive oil instead of Vaseline. When we started using our first All American the recommendation was Vaseline, now they are finding the lid sticks less with olive oil. We have yet to try this out, but will let you know how it goes when we do.

In the meantime we got out our tertiary All American and it works great. You know the saying, three is two, two is one, and one is none? That’s why we have three canners, two of which had never been out of the box until a few days ago. Since I have been very serious about filling our shelves with food this summer, it was time to get out a second canner so I can run both of them at the same time. It saves a lot of time. Like today.

We have some old pinto beans that are getting hard to cook. It takes a long time. So I decided to put a big batch on the stove last night and cook them for a while, let them soak overnight, cook them for a few hours this morning, then can them in pints. Well, there were a little more than 32 pints, so we will eat some for supper as well. Our model 921 All American canners hold 16 pints, and I would highly recommend them. As we were putting these beans in the canner, Frank made a great recommendation. The next time we are at the big box store, we’ll pick up a 50 lb. bag of pinto beans to can. Then, if the time comes that we need to eat these old beans, we will, but for now, we’ll use fresh ones. We can always grind the old beans into flour as another way of accessing the nutrition they contain.

So far, our canning efforts this summer have produced this yield.

  •  7 pints of green beans
  • 20 pints of yellow squash

  •  5 pints of beets
  • 10 pints of carrots
  • 12 pints of cowpeas
  • 11 pints of peach sauce
  •  7 pints of plums
  • 16 pints of minced garlic
  • 68 quarts of peaches
  • 34 quarts of winter squash

The canned minced garlic turned out fine even though it browned as we canned it. The texture is very soft, not really a minced texture anymore, but it smells fine and works well cooked into a dish. I look forward to using it and may do another batch, just to have it on the shelf. I have neglected to include enough garlic in our diets, and this has turned out to be a good option for me.

I’m glad we have put up this much food, but it really isn’t very much food if I stop and look at it. If we were to have to depend upon what we are stocking away as our sole source of nutrition, we would be in trouble. Big trouble. So, I will keep trying to add as many things to the shelves as I can. Before long our oldest baby chickens will be ready to butcher. We will freeze a few for

convenience and because we like fried chicken, but many of them will end up in a jar on the shelf along with some chicken broth. We still have wethers that should have been butchered long ago out grazing in the pasture. They will probably wait until fall. They’ve waited this long, what’s another month or two? Some of that meat will also end up in jars on the shelf. And then there are the two barrows, castrated pigs, that are wondering around in another pasture. In time, they will make their way into the freezer and into jars on the shelf. That will help with our preserved food supply. I still count them now even though they are still out there walking around. I call them meat on the hoof, or I guess in the case of the birds, meat on the foot.

It is a good summer. There is much to do everyday. Do we get it all done? No, not even close. But what we don’t get done one day waits for us the next day. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? Things just don’t get done by themselves. We find it hard to prioritize things sometimes since there are a number of things that need our attention. The squash bugs really got the upper hand while I was canning peaches. I noticed this morning that some of my elderberries have already ripened and disappeared, probably into the mouth of a bird. I want to make some elderberry syrup this summer since it’s so good for colds. Yet another thing to put on the list. Then I wanted to check on the apple tree next door, and then……..

This thing we all feel coming gets closer everyday, do all you can to be ready.

Until next time – Fern
 

Great Hatch

Hello Everybody, Frank here.

It’s chicken time again. The current flock of birds we have, have not been good birds, they have been egg eaters, not great layers, and they’re not pretty either. I’ve been fighting with these birds ever since we bought the first batch of Black Australorps. If your memory is good, then you might remember that these birds had a cannibalism problem when they were young. So I butchered all the

males, well maybe butchered isn’t the right word, but I got rid of all the males. But the problems with these birds never really stopped. The whole time I’ve had them, they’ve been anti-human. One of those things where you walk into the chicken house and they run like terrorized animals upsetting everybody. In six months, all of the adult birds I have right now will be gone. I use the 6, 12, 18 month rule, and a couple of days back I hatched a batch of baby birds. In about six months, let’s say Christmas, they will start laying. That’s when the adult birds will go in the canner. Then six months later, I will hatch a batch of birds, which will be one year from the time these were born, which was about two days ago, and the cycle continues. When the birds hatched two days ago are one year old, I will hatch their replacements which will start laying in six months, making the birds born two days ago 18 months old. Wa-la! 6, 12, 18 months.

These birds I just hatched got off to an unusual start. I was starting to gather eggs for this hatch, and put them in the little cardboard cartons, then tilt one end up and down. Kind of the poor man’s version of an egg turner. So, I got out one of my egg turners and started using it, just not inside the incubator. A couple of days before I was going to start the eggs

in the incubator, I got out one of the old ones and set it up to try it out. Well, the fan didn’t work. I tried cleaning it, blowing it out, even put some 3-In-One oil on it’s little plastic bearing. Well, it was determined to die, and it did. But, last year I had an incubator, same style, that the heating element went out. No big deal, just take the motor out of it. Well that motor had a missing screw, and at that particular time we were extremely busy. Then I got out my brand spanking new third incubator. I told you about it a while back, it operates off of 12 volts DC. I put the two old incubators back in their boxes, marked on the boxes what was wrong, and maybe someday during the cold of winter I’ll dig those two things out and try to make me one happy incubator. Maybe.

Okay. New incubator, 12 volts DC, new turner, 12 volts AC. Make sure you read the small print. I plugged in the turner and incubator separately to

make sure they both worked. The egg turner did what it’s supposed to do, and so did the incubator. Life is great. I put my brand spanking new turner inside the brand spanking new incubator, filled up the water trough, put the eggs in the turner and set my clock for 21 days. Being the good chicken hatcher I am, I checked the temperature meticulously every time I passed the incubator. This is one of those new fangled type of incubators, electronic. You set the temperature and it does everything else. Well, actually, the temperature was preset, but you can adjust the temperature if your conditions vary. Life’s good.

Three or four days later I notice that eggs are in the same position every time I check the temperature. So, I started checking not just the

temperature, but the egg turner position. Guess what? The turner is not turning. We opened up the incubator, took the turner and eggs out, put the eggs back in the incubator and observed the turner for a couple of days. The turner turned it’s little heart out. Put the turner back in the incubator with the eggs in the turner, watched it again for another day, and you’re right, it’s not turning the eggs. The turner is not a complicated little gizmo. I checked all of the logical reasons why it wouldn’t turn. It wasn’t crimped anywhere. There was nothing blocking it’s movement in any form or fashion. It just wouldn’t turn with eggs in it. Out comes the turner again, the eggs go in the incubator, and we do it the old fashioned way. Took a pencil and marked an ‘x’ on one side of the egg and a ‘0’ on the other. We started turning the eggs by hand.

The problem is we had gone for about seven days not knowing if the eggs had ever been turned. We talked about it. Do we just abandon the 42 eggs we have in there and start over? Or do we let them go for another two weeks and see what we get? We decided to go ahead and let them finish their cycle. We knew that we might get a terrible hatch rate, or deformities, or both. 

The big day comes. Well, actually, the big day came one day early. We heard a cheeping sound, looked in the incubator, and guess what? We had

what would appear to be a nice, healthy, little Buff Orpington. That was Friday morning. Before Saturday morning we had 34 healthy, vigorous baby chicks. That means we only had eight that didn’t hatch. This is the best hatch rate we have had since we have lived here for seven years. They are probably the healthiest birds we have ever hatched. We did all the usual things. We quit turning the eggs three days before the scheduled hatch. We only removed the baby birds from the incubator about twice a day. You don’t want to let out too much of the moisture or heat, you can chill some of the birds that are still wet. But at the same time, we also removed the empty egg shells.

There is a sad part to this story also. Of the eight that didn’t hatch, three had large peck holes, and you could hear cheeping and see movement. It’s real tempting to help these birds out of their shells, and I know some people do. But it’s just not a recommended practice. I took the eggs that didn’t hatch, put them in a plastic bag and put them in the trash. The next morning I took them to the trash dumpsters. I know some will disagree with that. I’ll leave it at that.

Now we have the 34 healthy baby chicks in their temporary brooder, which was very temporary. Baby chickens put off a very fine dust that plugs my head like a stopper. This morning I had a smashing migraine. So the baby chicks are now in their permanent quarters in a secure section of the chicken house. They have heat, they have shelter, food and water. These 34 birds will be part of our replacement flock. We have started gathering eggs for the next hatch, and will probably start them on Wednesday. Three weeks from then, hopefully, we will have another good hatch. This should round out all of the female birds that we will need, and give us another large batch of males to process for the freezer and canner. If we want more meat, then we’ll do one more batch in the incubator for just meat. That’s the plan anyway.

Here in about 10 weeks, we’ll be butchering some friers, and we’ll let you know how things go. I almost forgot something. Last July I had lower back surgery. The surgery went fine and I’m doing well, but I will never in my life tote another 50 lb. bag of chicken feed again. For years we have always mixed our own chicken feed, ingredients were rolled oats, sunflower seeds, sweet feed, and a portion of laying pellets. Those days are over. We have gone to a standard laying pellet that has been formulated by chicken gurus, and this is what our adult chickens will be eating in the future. We do supplement their food daily with greens and other forms of herbs that come from the garden, along with whey from our cheese making. Someday, we will let the birds free range again, but not just yet. 

Sometimes you have to streamline life a little bit. One example, as just mentioned, is going to a standard chicken feed. But we’re also doing the same thing with all of the livestock. The day’s of mixing 500 lbs. of feed are over. Sometimes we just have to accept certain facts of life. But the good news is that I have 34 healthy, baby chicks. For this, I am truly thankful.

We’ll talk more later, Frank

Life’s Little Trials

There are times recently that we feel like we’ve been given the chance to practice the future. The future that doesn’t contain all of the wonderful modern conveniences we have grown so fond of and in some cases, dependent upon. There are skills we can practice now, some by choice and some by circumstance, that may increase our success and comfort when the chips are down for good. Here are just a few things we have had the opportunity to experience in the last few weeks and days.

  • How to garden with too much water

 

 

       

      • Preparing to have the water shut off due to flooding or contamination of the public water supply (this ended up being rumor, but was good mental practice) 

       

        • Power outage involving a fire at a regional substation (found out a transformer blew; odd it didn’t happen during one of the major tornadic thunderstorms we had on Monday, it happened in calm weather; we found this strange)

        • The main ham radio repeater in our area was down due to a power outage. A generator that was donated to the radio club has not been installed, and there is limited battery backup to keep the repeater operational. This repeater is the main source of communication for our regional storm spotter and emergency communications hub.

        So, what does all of this teach us? Many, many things, which is good. Let’s start with the garden. We have had historic, record breaking rainfall amounts in this area for the month of May, with this came muddy soil conditions for planting which is far from ideal. A few years back we were in serious drought conditions and when we tilled the garden it was in a cloud of dust, literally. This year, it was really too muddy one time, but we knew our window of opportunity was very narrow, so we took it, and now, I’m glad we did. There are still folks waiting to plant or replant their gardens, and what they did get planted may or may not make it.

        Yesterday, in the beautiful, rare sunshine, we noticed a few of the squash plants were wilting, which immediately made us think of squash vine borers. We have applied two batches of green lacewing eggs and nematodes in hopes of combating the vine borers, among other insects, so we were very disappointed. But upon inspection, we could find no damage from vine borers, so we pulled one small squash plant. The only conclusion we could come to was that it rotted in the ground from all of the rain.

        Slugs. The slugs are proliferating at a phenomenal rate in all this moisture, and eating everything. We are in search of some iron phosphate which is supposed to be deadly for slugs. We are now finding tiny little new slugs everywhere. We have been putting out eggshells and coffee grounds, caffeine is supposed to be fatal to slugs as well, when we have them. We could also apply diatomaceous earth, but with daily rain, it would just wash away again and again. If we get a few days without rain, we will apply it everywhere. The cabbage worms have also showed up in mass, even with the lacewing applications. It has been a tough year for gardening.

        Along with our record rainfall this month there have been a number of days that we spent in very, very stormy weather with too many tornado warnings for comfort. We’ve had neighbors that have been flooded in for days, remember we live in hill country. There are some houses that when you have a heavy rain, you just can’t get out. As of May 20th, we had record rain for the month of May and it has been forecast everyday until the end of the month. Most of the folks we know that have been rained in, or conversely rained out, are doing fine, but not everybody has been so fortunate. We have lost a few rescue workers, and that’s really tough on a community. We’ve had people’s houses washed down rivers, thousands of acres of pasture land and cattle ranches are under water. There are still a handful of people that are unaccounted for. These are just some of the tragic stories. 

        As mentioned earlier, our local ham radio repeater, and every antenna tower on top of a mountain was without power for about two days. Most of the commercial towers had reliable backup power. Somebody made an intelligent decision to shut the repeater down. The reason being, it is the primary radio communications system involving severe weather, and since we have severe weather forecast almost daily, it can be turned back on if needed for severe weather use.


        Other types of communication needs. We were told by a reliable source that our local water treatment plant had been compromised with flood water. Then we started hearing the same thing, via the rumor mill, from multiple sources. The fact is, it never happened. We contacted our local water distributor the next day and they told us to listen to the local country stations for any announcements. Well, we don’t get AM radio where we live, and our main local little town, which is 25 miles away, had a 12 hour power failure. So, how are we supposed to know? 

        Next, we had a power failure in our area. As a general rule, during the worst weather, we seldom lose power, but it does happen. We called a couple of nearby neighbors. No power. We called some neighbors five miles down the road. No power. We called some friends 10 miles away. Get the picture here? This was not just a little power outage, the entire area was black. So, here come the rumors. The good news is, we could get rumors. The bad news is, they were also false. There was a fire at a local transfer station, not sure how it happened, it was not a hot day, there was no bad weather in the area. But we didn’t have a way to communicate, not effectively anyway.


        Before it got dark, we went around and gathered up lanterns. Fortunately, the day before I had charged up the rechargeable batteries and lanterns. By the way, all of our lanterns are battery operated. But the reason they were all charged is because the day before, on Memorial Day, we had four separate tornado warnings one right behind the other in our little neighborhood. Thank the Lord this happened during the daylight hours. But, all of our batteries were charged. 

        We have some interesting pictures for you, of some of our local flooding. This is the highest I have ever seen the water in this area. If it’s a low lying spot, it’s got water sitting in it.


        So, that’s what we’ve been dealing with for the last week. But the whole month has been a down pour almost everyday. We’ve learned a lot. Sometimes people can get a little edgy when they don’t get enough sunlight. In the northern climates they have a condition called SAD, seasonal affective disorder. When we lived in Barrow, Alaska they used a special type of fluorescent tube in the classrooms that provided kids and adults with a broader spectrum of light. We also had a special light in our home, for some people it worked and for some it didn’t. But there’s been a lot of folks in this area that have been a tad bit edgy lately. I guess that lack of natural vitamin D will do that to some folks. 

        We have some eggs in an incubator right now and they’re about four days away from hatching. We’ve had some incubator issues lately, which I’ll discuss more in a chicken post in a couple of days. But when you have eggs in an incubator, and your power goes off, you better act quickly. In this case we grabbed a bunch of blankets, wrapped up the incubator, and hoped for the best. Our power was only off for three or four hours, but if it had been like the little town close to us and it was off for about 12 hours, then that would have been a different story. More on that later.

        And to add to it, we went up to take a peek at how the livestock were doing, and discovered that the pigs were out. At first it was a serious concern, but like most animals that you feed, with a small can of feed, you can easily coax them where you want them to go. That was a great learning experience.


        Part of what we’re talking about here is how you deal with things. When life is great, and everything is going along well, then it’s easy to deal with life. But we all know it’s not like that everyday. We didn’t lose any animals to flooding. Nobody got hurt. Our chicken pen is in sad shape, but someday it will dry. Overall, we are doing pretty good. It’s easy to deal with things. But the last few days have been excellent practice. Today the power is back on, we don’t have any real issues with our drinking water, the stores are still open, my retirement checks are still coming to the bank, and the shelves are still full of items that people need and don’t need. But tomorrow that could all change. One of us could slip and break a leg. We still have severe weather just a hundred miles west of us and it’s got to go somewhere. So, take advantage of the good days, because someday, maybe someday soon, the days are not going to be good. Practice today while you can. Learn your weaknesses and your limitations. And if you’re of this persuasion, then thank God for what you have.

        We’ll talk more later, Frank

        Pictorial & Ponderings

        While we were visiting a 91 year old relative the other day, he made a comment that stuck with me. He is having some health issues that may end up being significant before long, but his take on the state of our country and our world was interesting to me, to say the least. 

        I don’t remember what we were talking about at the time but he said he just didn’t know if he wanted to stick around in this world too much longer. Considering the state of his health, that comment is not too unusual, but it was the reasons he gave that caught my attention. He talked about the rioting, our open borders and the unconstitutional state of our government. He said, “There is just no telling how all of this is going to turn out and I don’t know if I want to be here to see it.” It does make you stop and think.

        Carrots and green beans

        The mustard I planted last fall is blooming. I hope it spreads.

        With all of the rain we have been having there are many wild things on the move. We’ve seen many more snakes on the roads and have heard of people finding them on their porches. The bugs are trying to move indoors and find a dry place to be. The mice are trying to follow them in as well. Since the cats can’t find a dry place out in mother nature to use as a litter box, they’ve decided my dishpans full of seedlings is a great place. Somehow, I don’t agree. I planted our pepper seedlings out in the mud today because the cats had stirred them up like spaghetti. There are still a few tubs out there that we are going to cover with frost cloth in the evenings to see if we can discourage that practice.

        You know, they are kind of cute, aren’t they?

        Easter and Bo, almost ready to wean

        Next Saturday is hatch day

        Cushaw squash

        Cushaw has beautiful leaves

        Flower pot on the porch

        German chamomile in the herb bed

        Wild yarrow by the barn, I hope to harvest these seeds

        We think Pearl likes her haircut.

        There are more and more people talking about things falling apart this fall. It makes me more anxious for this incessant rain to depart and give us some sunshine for the garden. I’m also finding the unusual amount of cloudy, rainy days difficult. If there is even just a little sunshine it makes a difference. The dewberries are turning, but there is little flavor, they need some sunshine to sweeten up. I hope we get some before they are past their prime.

        Muddy footprints

        Coming in from the garden

        Wild dewberries

        Beets

        Luffa squash in a pot on the porch

        Too wet to work on our new garden area in the pasture, it’s growing over

        Stinging nettle in the herb bed

        Stevia

        Frank is giving lots of thought to the radio class that will be coming up at the end of June. There are so many possibilities that can come out of it. We are excited and very hopeful. He has already heard of about 10 people that are interested. We pray for blessings and success with this class.

        The grass in the pasture is as tall as the goats.

        I think some of the parasitic wasps have already hatched.

        Grapes

        They have really grown in just one week.

        Elderberries in bloom

        We have rain forecast for the next seven days. Yippee! I can hardly wait. Sarcasm is in full bloom also, along with a little crankiness. It appears that congress has once again sold us down the river without a paddle with the new ‘secret’ trade deal and Patriot Act Part II. Keep your eyes open and watch your back. Hope all is well with you and yours.

        Until next time – Fern
         

        Gardening, Chickens, Goats & Organizing

         
        Yesterday before the arrival of yet another week of possible rain showers, we were able to till part of the garden with the tractor. The day before, we went out with a shovel and dug around a little to see if we could possibly till it up. Some of it was still too muddy from the last few weeks of rain. Although this is not best practice, we knew that if we didn’t take advantage of this small window of opportunity, it would be another week or two before the ground would be dry enough to work. 

         Before we tilled the garden I went out to dig up the wandering strawberries that had made it out of their bed and into the garden area last summer. I thought I would order more and use these to start another bed. Little did I realize that there were probably 50 plants that needed to be moved. The more of them I dug up, the more of them I found. Now I don’t need to order any more. I think this is plenty for the new bed I have in mind. They too, will have to wait until the ground is dry enough to work.

        Their new home will be back there by that fence.

         

        I also pulled up the last few turnips that we have been eating on and feeding to the chickens all winter long. I really hated to see the last of them go. Since the place I have planned for a new turnip crop is still very muddy, I sprinkled a bunch of seeds in an area in front of the herb bed. I’m not sure how well they will do in the summer, but it is early enough that I hope to be able to harvest greens both for us and the animals into at least early summer.

        Another turnip patch will be here in front of this shed.

        Cabbage

        Broccoli

        We planned on getting our cole crop seedlings into the ground a couple of weeks ago, but the rain and rain and snow had other plans. The weeks long cloudy weather has also put a damper (pun intended) on the growth rate of the seedlings. They have grown rather leggy, but are still pretty vigorous. Because of that, I planted four or five plants together in the hopes that one or two of them make it. I prefer to have larger plants to transplant, but that just didn’t happen this year. When I

        Spinach

        went out to check on them this morning, they hadn’t disappeared and most of them were upright and looked good, although rather small. A few of them looked a little limp, but that’s to be expected. The carrot and beet seedlings are still quite small, which is okay since the area they are destined for is still very muddy.

        Frank has been working on getting a few things out of the garage and more organized. He came up with this idea for holding some of the extra pvc we keep on hand, as well as some of the extra antenna poles we have here and there. Great idea, and very effective.

        Today while I was dressing out our two extra roosters, he also put up this board to make a place for some of our frequently used tools. This area is under a carport that is attached to the garage. It will keep our tools organized and off of the ground. Once he got the places ready for them to hang, we also cleaned them all very well with the drill with a wire brush. It is simple, effective and looks great.

        Yes, the roosters. We ended up with three roosters and 19 hens from last years young birds. Two of the roosters are Buffs, either Buff Orpington or Buff Rocks. The other is was red, not Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire, but some kind of red. Well, Red matured first, but one of the Buffs had basically taken over the hen house, causing a lot of daily ruckus and much commotion. Time to get down to one rooster. Besides that, we want to make sure that all of our eggs are fertile because come the first of May we will start saving eggs to fill up two or three incubators. This will give us meat for the table and replacement hens for a new flock. The cycle continues.

        Wethers

        So, Eagle Eye Frank dispatched the roosters so we could have them for dinner. They were six months old and a little tough, but pretty tasty, too. I will put all of the left overs into a pot tomorrow and simmer them for most of the day to make broth and soup. That will make for an easy meal, which is good, because tomorrow we plan to butcher two of our wethers. We are out of red meat again, so it’s time to replenish the freezer. Our plans are to dress them out tomorrow, hang the meat overnight, then, besides the hind quarters, we will grind, wrap and freeze the rest the next day.

        This evening when we fed the goats we moved the does to a different pasture that has more new green to eat. Things are starting to grow quickly now, and even with that, the does had really made a dent in the pasture they were in. This will give the young does some good grazing these last two weeks before they kid. We also moved the ‘boys’, the billy and the wethers to a different pasture. The primary motivation for this was to escape the large mud hole that is right in front of the gate of their previous pasture. If we are going to dispatch two of them tomorrow, we don’t want to have to drag the carcasses through a big mud hole to get them out. We will have to watch for a window of opportunity when it is not raining to kill them and bring them down to the garage. Then we will hang them under the carport to dress them out and wrap them in a meat bag so we can leave them hanging overnight in the garage. Once we get them down here, it won’t matter if it is raining, which it probably will be.

        Life’s routines come and go with the seasons and we enjoy them all. Some are a little more work than others. Some make our bones a little more achy than others. Planting time is always a lot of work, sometimes back breaking work. Tending and harvesting, not so much. Raising animals is not generally a lot of work, although we do need to mix feed again. And then again, we would like to raise a whole lot more of our animal feed, which would entail more planting, tending and harvesting. I really admire our forefathers that raised what they ate, year after year. It is a lot of work to do the little we do. We are so much softer, and less skilled at it than they were. They did it out of necessity and we do it out of a desire to be more independent and less dependent. And folks think we’re nuts for living the way we do. But that’s okay. I usually think the same of them.

        Until next time – Fern