Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Harvesting and Canning Starts

The drought that has hit the Mid and Southwest continues unabated and agriculture is in the beginning stages of big trouble in our area. We are down 7 inches of rain for the year and at our farm we have had 1/5 of an inch of rain since April 1. Temps have been record breaking with this week having 3 days of over 100 which is unheard of here in June. The first cutting of hay in the area was about 1/3 normal and no one expects another cutting unless the weather really changes...even the weeds are dying! I was talking to a cattle farmer today that is thinking of selling off a good portion of his heard because he is now having to feed supplemental hay.

I relate all that so you can appreciate the effort that we have expended in keeping our truck garden irrigated and producing. But even with irrigation the corn is stunted and with the high heat wont be very sweet, the sorghum is only about 6 or 7 inched tall when it should be a couple feet tall, and everything else just needs constant attention. So far water availability is good from both the county we are connected to and our two wells but who knows what late summer will result in. And on top of that, I am a fireman and the fire danger is extreme. But our gardens are producing and we will at least have enough to freeze and can  til next year...just not much to sell.

I really dont know why but our cucumbers are doing great in all this heat and they dont taste bitter. We are making dill pickles, sweet pickles, relish, we eat them in salads, and I like to make a greek spiced yoghurt with cucumber and minced garlic....good stuff.
Each year we try different dill recipes and this year we added garlic cloves. We are pickle people..we like all kinds of pickles and its satisfying making your own.
These black berries we picked yesterday and some others from a couple days ago will go into jam. I plan on picking some more tomorrow but the heat is really drying up the berries on the vine and the vines themselves look like someone sprayed Roundup on them.
Another thing in this heat is you have to harvest when the crop is at its peak and delay of even a day or two can ruin the crop. This was our first harvest of peas and we will have to pick again tomorrow and then a couple days later to keep them from getting ruined on the vine from the heat.
I shucked the bowl on the right and Holly did the one on the left.....hmmm.
We blanched all these today and put up 7 bags in the freezer. I used to hate peas and still cant stand the thought of those gross things we used to get in school lunches (remember those and the memory of the kid who vomited in the lunch room on a warm day? or is it just me?). Now I love fresh peas, just lightly blanched or steamed with a bit of butter and salt and sometimes some miced mint.

Today we also harvested leeks (will be for a roast chicken dish and sauce), beets (canned some and the small ones will be lightly pan roasted and eaten tomorrow) and yellow onions for the larder and for a customer.

And finally, this is our second crop of peaches but I forgot to take picturees of the first bunch. We have a couple more trees of peaches loaded but not ripe yet, the pears are hanging on, and we have two apple trees loaded with apples though they are really small this year. These peaches are soft and juicy, they taste like your imagination thinks a peach should taste like, and you can smell their peach smell from about 5 feet away.

Soon we will be awash in tomatos, our cabbage will have to be made into Kraut and slaw, the cauliflower looks good and then we should be harvesting corn soon after....but man we need some rain.

Charlotte Comes to Visit

Our good friend and Holly's former co-worker Charlotte was down from Alaska visiting family in Arkansas and she stopped in for a couple days to visit. Charlotte is a character and drives by herself down the ALCAN highway through the Yukon, British Columbia into the US because she doesnt like to fly. Like I said...she is a real character and fun to be around.

Charlotte has followed the blog since we started it if for no other reason than to see if we really would go through with complete retirement, giving up fairly high paying jobs, and moving to the Ozarks. She has always been a good sport but at the going away party I detected a look of skepicism!
One of the things she said when we gave her a tour of the place is that now she will be able to orient everything in her mind when she sees it on the blog.
We went for a drive down an old road through a holler that leads to our small mom and pop store (also known as "Liquor in the Woods") when we came upon a couple of hen turkeys with their polts so at least Charlotte got to see some wild life during her short stay.
She had to get going for the 6 day drive back to Alaska too soon but she owns a place down in the Arkansas Ozarks and retires soon (if we can convince her) so she and Holly will see a lot more of each other in the near future.
While the gals were in the living room gabbing I tried to relax in the family room and take a nap but Judy's cat Piglet would have none of it. She is the one that was a few days old when we found her after some jerk had thrown her from a moving car. She has a nose that healed crooked, broken teeth, she is cross eyed, and when she breaths she sounds like some one with a bad cold and stuffy nose. She is so homely she is cute and though she is skinny as a rail she seems happy and is very affectionate. Holly didnt catch the shot but she had just come up and started grooming me like she would another cat, licked my beard from one side to the other and then laid her little head on my shoulder and went to sleep. To be honest I have never been much of a cat person and I am allergic to the things but Holly, Judy and the kids like them so I suffer....and maybe, just maybe I have come to enjoy their unique personalities and companionship....maybe.

Last weekend we also worked the County 4-H Fair that was held at our Lions Club Fairgrounds; Thurday - Saturday and as the incomming President of the club I had to be there the whole time to make sure things we going well....and they did.
The turnout was a lot bigger this year than last and it was gratifying to see the kids involved with their various animals and projects and not tied to a computer game or cell phone. These kids were all hard workers, the parents were involved and you couldnt ask for a nicer group of folks. I also met the Ag teacher for the local HS and if the rest of the teachers there are as dedicated as this guy there is hope for the future of these kids. I you have the opportunity to get your kids involved with 4-H do it, I sure wished we had.

Holly and I helped out in the cook shack a lot and the club did well with the concessions. Its pretty gratifying to be part of a community organization like the Lions that offers so much to the community. All of us are in the Lions, our farm sponsors a competition class during the Foxtrotter horse show and the best advice I can give to those who move to a new area and want to fit in is to just be part of the community. Join a church, join community organizations, participate in community events even if your not a joiner, help your neighbor when you can, spend your money locally if possible and finally.....leave your complaining and bright ideas about how there ought to be this or that at home.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day Lillies

We cultivate many different types of flowers for sale and as a hobby and Day Lillies in particular offer so many varieties that we find we really enjoy  their colour and collecting the various types. So this post is just an indulgence since we are in the middle of the Day Lilly bloom.

Some of our Day Lillies are tall (4 foot or so), some grow low to the ground, some are singular colour and others are multi colour.

I tend to prefer the single colour delicate varieties like this yellow one (yes they all actually have names but we arent going there with this post because I am too lazy to look it up!).
Day Lillies arent as fragrant as some flowers (like roses) but they do have a nice scent and the butterflys, bees, and hummingbirds are attracted to them.
You will notice that they have very pronounced stamens and a long pistil which to me makes them even more interesting.
We have some near white cultivars but we are trying to find a pure white and a dark royal blue varietal.
Some types give you a double flowerhead and ruffled petals..
While others are thinner and simpler.
We have many more types and colours but you get the idea. They are easy to grow and propagate through division, they are fairly drought and heat tolerant, and we even like the foliage in mass plantings.
We have several mass planting beds like this one that is just starting to bloom and we are adding more every year. I first became aware of and a fan of Day Lillies when I was stationed in NC back in the early 80s and bought my first house. I remember the mass plantings that were popular back then and vowed someday to have my took over 30 years but now we have them.
Now that is a funny looking Day Lillie isnt it? Actually, I just find these cone flowers to be cool looking. They remind me of a bad mitten birdie and the stamens are very hard like a bristle brush so its fun for kids (and adults) to touch.
And speaking of touch and other sensory pleasures of a garden; we try to plant things that have a pleasing look and attract wild life, we like things that smell nice or have smells that trigger memories, and we encourage people who visit to see, smell and touch things in the garden. This honeysuckle on the back of the well house can be smelled as your walking through the grape arbor and the scent reminds me of my boyhood summers at my grandfathers lake house in Michigan. The Lilacs that bloom in early spring reminds me of my favorite Aunt Isa, and the smell of freshly turned earth in the garden is just pleasing on a visceral level that probably goes back a few generations.

We even have a Prickly Pear cactus that somehow took hold on the farm.
And for Holly, here is one of her frogs. We have frogs everywhere here, they make noise, they are always around and they are very interesting creatures. We have huge bull frogs in the ponds, we have smaller frogs like this guy and we have little tiny tree frogs with suction cup feet. If your in a bad mood go find a frog and watch him for a while....its hard to be angry when you watch a frog.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Project Completed and Picked Up Another Acre

In between various community projects we are involved in (we are pretty much busy through the first week of August..had the truck anf tractor pull, next weekend is the 4H Junior Fair and Draft Horse competition, 2 weeks later the Missouri Foxtrotters horse show) and combating the annual Japanese Beetle invasion we finished the rock garage endwall and door project and bought another acre from a neighbor...which of course will mean more fencing.

The original doors were severely weathered and flexed a great deal because they were not adequately braced but they were in just good enough shape to preserve. As you can see we added "L" brackets at the corners and pressure treated 2"x4"s as zee bracing and it stiffened them up considerably.

We added some more pressure treated wood on the outside as well which added stiffness and cleaned up the rather ragged edges. You cant see it in these pictures but we also cleaned up and strengthened the door opening and framing. 
So here it is finished. We sealed and painted the wood, added new hardware, and re-tuck pointed all the mortar (and sealed it) on the stone end wall. We think it came out nice and complements the rest of the house.
Again you can see this looks like it belongs now with the rest of the house we have redone and this is what we had envisioned when we bought the place. Re-doing the rock garage was on the list of projects for this year we posted back in January and we have now just about completed the outside save for the roof. When we bought this place this rock garage had broken windows, no electricity, the side door was just a screen door and of course this end wall was all but shot. All of that has been corrected and its a very useful structure for us now.
One of our neighbors got in a pinch and offered to sell us an acre of pasture and a small copse of woods and we decided to take the offer. From these corner posts that we still need to finish fencing the new acre goes to the right of the trees in the background (left) in this shot...
All the way to the back woodline in this picture (which is taken from the other side of the woods in the last pic).
Its hard to convey in pictures but this is halfway to the back lot lone from the previous picture.
You can see the survey stakes at the back of this picture and to the left is a peach tree we gained. Behind all this is 70 acres of pasture and woods owned by our only other neighbor who surrounds us on two sides. We had asked about buying some land from them but his wifes folks used to own all the land around here (and they built out house) and they just didnt want to sell what she considers part of the family homestead. They went on to relate they bought the 70 acres so no one else could encroach back there and we couldnt be happier. They are great neighbors about our age with grown kids and they like their privacy so we dont have to worry about any future development. They also offered that we could walk and enjoy the piece whenever we wanted since we are in to photography so we feel like we really are fortunate. 
This is looking from the back of the new piece towards the copse of woods shown in the first photo and our shop is in the background right.
And again, midway up looking towards the copse of woods we just bought. Its a long narrow strip of mostly pasture that we are pretty happy with. The cedars in this photo show our existing fence line and now that will have to be moved over to the left in this shot to the outside left of the trees in the background. The old fence posts will be used for cross fencing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

An Evening Walk

10 June; kinda hot and muggy but the evening is breezy and drier. We took a walk around the place and saw  turkeys, ducks, a deer, rabbits, turtles and a few other critters. We werent able to get pictures of everything but the turkey had younguns as did the duck and we heard the yipping of coyote pups close by, its that time of year. (Yup, I used "younguns" in the above paragraph.......making my professors proud there eh?)

We tried candy sweets this year and they are so sweet you can eat them like an apple. Your either an onion lover or your not....we love them.

We have taken to harvesting one or two when we need them and we seem to need them a lot so I am not so sure how many we will be putting in the root cellar. Definitely a crop we are going to expand next year. We harvested this baby at the end of our walk and it went into a savory meat loaf and some will be in a frittata for breakfast.
Our various butterfly gardens attract a wide variety of beautiful creatures. These Swallow tails are very gentle and we have had them land on our heads and stay for a good while. We are going to start documenting their sightings like we do birds.
Our "herd". Actually, with the price of beef right now this represents about $4500 worth of animal and we are just waiting for Maybelle to get a little bigger to breed them.
We discovered that the blackberries in the back woodlot where it stays dark were starting to ripen a lot quicker than our main blackberry patches we use for U-pick or than in the other more open wood lot.....seems strange but thats whats happening. It looks like we are again going to have a bumper crop and we have about 2 weeks to go before we start harvest in earnest which will be about a month earlier than normal.
This elusive cat lives in our barn and is completely wild. He seems to get along with the other cats but he wont let any human close and we infrequently get a glimpse of him this close. As long as he goes after snakes and rodents he can stay (not that we could stop him anyway...and we dont have the heart to shoot him).

To the right along the tree line in this picture we were startled by a hen turkey and her poults. The poults couldnt fly so when we came up on them (we didnt know they were there or we would have gone the other direction) the hen started squaking and they all ran down the tree line. On the way back from our walk we scared up a hen duck (couldnt determine type) and her young who for some reason was in the woods on the left of this picture. They all ran to a pond which is just through the woods in the back in this view. To top all this off a doe was laying in some brush near here and she flushed when we walked by.....we feel like we were really intruding here but it was nice to see variety of wildlife.

And so we started heading back, the upper pasture is on a hill an there is usually a nice breeze and it didnt disappoint this warm evening.

According to the Ag people we have enough pasture to support 6 to 10 cattle on pasture without supplemental feeding....but, our second year of drought has all the pastures around here producing half or less than normal and I am glad we are not stressing our pasture. Our girls have plenty, we can still put up a little hay, and we dont have to be too stressed out ourselves over the drought. We are in the process of buying another acre of pasture which adjoins ours and we are going to be leasing some pasture land from a neighbor to grow the herd.

We have ATV trails around the property to check fence lines and I must admit..just to have fun.
Here is another ATV trail and we use them daily. We are more interested in nature than anything else and we often see things on our rides that we wouldnt otherwise see.
Our isolation pasture has a whole bunch of these Queen Anne lace plants which are actually weeds but they are common in praries in this part of the world. Click on it and you will marvel at the intricacies and beauty that nature even provides for what we consider weeds.

We have many projects still hanging out there like this gate to the isolation pasture we need to install. The posts are bedded in concrete and we just need to get around to it....

Our large Day Lilly garden is just starting to bloom as you can see in this picture. These have grown so much we will be dividing them up and planting additional day lilly gardens. Part of that process though is to document the placement and colours of the various types we have in this bed and Judy is busy getting that down so we know what we have. Trust me, once they quit blooming you cant remember what is where.
Our banana trees are spreading and some of the locals are really curious about them. We like the tropical look, Mexican resterants will purchase the leaves, and we will eventually get small "dessert" bananas.
We planted 6 varieties of tomatoes and all are from heirloom seeds we started in our greenhouse. Hybrids often have more vigor and desease resistence but only an heirloom in my opinion gives you the flavour we seek.

We havent harvested any yet but most of the plants are loaded with tomatoes. Like most others around here, we have been attacked by Aphids (you can see some in this pic) and Japanese Beetles. We have had great success with Neem Oil which is an organic extract of a tree bark and in planting sacrificial plants that draw these insects away from our gardens. Hollyhocks seem to draw the Japanses Beetles away their distress.

Knee high by the Fourth of July? Check.

Cabbage and Cauliflower are trucking right along and we should be able to harvest in a couple weeks. We want to try Sour Kraut...or I should say I want to try it. I can eat a bowl full of Sour Kraut just by itself while Holly and Judy think its gross. Thankfully they dont like sadines either but thats another subject!
It took me a while to get this picture because these baby birds move so fast but this nest in in an old molassas barrel we have by the green house. You get dive bombed and harrassed by the mother when you get to close but we pretty much let birds nest where they do. If nothing else we benefit from their insect gathering to feed their young.
Our pea patch is really coming on strong and looks the best it ever has. I dont know how it is for others but fresh peas are hard to beat.
We had a fairly severe storm with some much needed rain sweep through and we found this box turtle up in the orchard. We have these all over around here along with Snapping turtles and we find them worthy of much study. Click on this picture and look at the bigger shot...they are actually extremely interesting creatures.
If you notice there is a hole unde this guy and what looks to be a nest. We left him alone but will be watching the site to record any hatching or other activity.
And finally, the storm that swept through here came with heavy rain and 60mph+ wind gusts that snapped this tree in our wood lot in half about 20 feet in the air. We were lucky, a bunch of folks had flooding, lost crops, had big trees down etc. So that was one evenings walk and some of what we enjoyed. It was very satisfying and I hope we conveyed the breadth of animal and plant life we are fortunate to live with.