Monday, July 29, 2013

Where Have we Been?

We haven't purposely forgotten to update the blog but lots of things have been going on and time just got away from us. We have been selling lots of vegetables, we have been harvesting and canning for our personal needs in the next year, and our various volunteer efforts have taken a lot of our time.

The reality of how fragile life can be came to us since the last update as well when during a not too severe (seemingly) structure fire a Fire Fighter from another department was trapped and burned to death. I was not initially on that fire as we were only providing tanker support as mutual aid but when my radio went off for an all call and that a Fire Fighter was down I knew it was bad. You know you train and train but sometimes things just happen when they shouldn't and once I got there and looked at the fire it didn't look that bad; but it turned out to be deadly and I think the best thing we can do to memorialize that Fire Fighter is to study and learn from that tragedy.

Next month I start advanced level Fire Fighting school which runs through December and then I am going to continue my EMS training at the EMT level. I find that I gain far more from belonging to the Fire Department than I am able to give and I highly recommend it to anyone who moves into a rural area and wants to give back to their community.

I don't think its a secret that we like old things or that we enjoy hitting yard/garage/farm sales and we scored pretty good a couple weeks ago.

This Huot roller was sitting in the yard of an older couple who were moving to Texas and Holly saw it driving by and so we turned around and checked it out. Everything works on it, the drawers slide smoothly and i got it for $65 which is a pretty good deal as these are highly sought after by shop rats.

This will go up in the pole barn shop and will probably become my socket wrench box and I couldn't be happier with it. The pickle fork on the box was a buck and will be used to replace the steering knuckles on the IH tractor.

And then we saw these two shelving units with boxes of screws, bolts, nails, and electrical connectors and we got the whole shebang for $35. I can now find fasteners and its like having our own hardware store in the garage.
On top of everything else the work continues on the Blue Dodge that has now become our daily driver. We put new tires on it so it drives very smooth now and if you have been following the blog you may remember how this front quarter panel was caved in when we bought it but I managed to get it mostly pounded out and it will soon see a grinder and some Bondo.
This is a tomato horn worm....

They are big, ugly, and destructive and we kill them by cutting them up with scissors rather than using chemicals. But its gross as they have a green goo for insides and I must confess its not my favorite activity.

There was some angst by folks around here because the Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies were very late in arriving but they are now here in large numbers and we enjoy watching them. Besides Hummingbird feeders we ensure there is a source of water for these creatures and we have flowers and other plants to attract and nourish them.

This was my attempt at taking a picture of a bee in a Hibiscus flower just to prove to the doubters that the bees have indeed arrived.
This time of year is great because we get to not only see the fruits of our labor we get to eat pretty darned well too.

We have cured onions and are making onion marmalade this week...

We have eaten and canned lots of beets...

We got a good crop of both Yukon Gold and Pontiac Red potatoes...

And of course its tomato time and we eat them with just about every meal. Unfortunately we sell so many we probably wont be able to can any this year.

Also, the corn is finally starting to show some decent progress

Another week or two and we will be eating fresh corn. Its actually not very cost effective to grow your own corn since you can get it for about $.25 an ear here right out of the field but it sure is satisfying.
One of the things you find when you grow your own food is that you have to plan for how your going to preserve it and that isn't as easy as it sounds. It takes planning, a little creativity, and you just have to buckle down and do it on top of everything else. 

We have canned pickled beets, frozen peas and beets, canned relish made with onions, beets and cabbage, made blackberry jam, and canned potatoes.

The old pantry just isn't big enough so we have decided to move the freezer to the garage (on the left in this photo) and put in new cupboards along this wall.
So what does canning entail? In this case we decided to show family how we were canning potatoes and I wont be posting a recipe because my personal view is that you need to get ideas about canning from a blog like this but actual recipes need to come from your local cooperative extension office or something like the Ball Blue Book. We are over 1000 feet in elevation so canning times and pressures are different than say someone below 1000 feet and there are other variables to consider. Canning is a safe way to preserve food but you need to follow instructions carefully.
In this case we canned a mixture of Yukon Gold and Pontiac Red potatoes. First we wash them thoroughly.

Jars need to be hot but not sterilized since we will be pressure canning and we heat our jars in hot water, some people heat them in the oven.

We have seen people can potatoes with skins still on them but I think your flirting with potential bacteria contamination so we peel ours then wash the potatoes again

Insert smart alec comment about all my time peeling potatoes while on KP duty in the military....or as Holly says...I ought to be good at it.

We keep small potatoes whole and cut bigger ones into what I describe as chunks...I dont know how esle to describe it. Then we cook them for about 3 or 4 minutes but you still want them fairly firm. Notice the yellow pieces in the pot? Those are Yukon Gold and they are the most creamy and tastiest potato around and I think next year thats all we will plant.

You pack the potatoes into hot jars, fill with boiling water, wipe the rims and then put on the lids and rings and place into the pressure canner.

We use a pressure canner with a series of weights to adjust pressure and its pretty straight forward. Lots of people are intimidated by pressure canning but its actually a good way to preserve low acid foods (we can acidic foods with a water bath canner) and come this winter when we open a quart of potatoes we canned and make soup or stew or have fried potatoes we will be glad we made the effort to learn.
Judy started some Geraniums by seed and they actually grew and she is proud as punch of them. I guess its hard to start Geraniums from seed but she didnt seem to have much trouble so who knows?

And what would post be without at least one picture of my buddy Bandit

Okay two pictures of Bandit....look at the look on his face back by the stove!
So that brings us up to date and just about closes a tough month. The weather here has been mild (its gotten down in the 50s several times at night lately), we have gotten some good soaking rain on a fairly regular basis, two of our heifers are getting ready to drop calves soon, and we traded an old golf cart for a couple of sheep....August should be interesting.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Quick Garden Update

We are in the middle of harvesting and selling and this weekend we start canning. Its a great time of year and there is nothing finer than going out into your garden and harvesting something for dinner.

The corn patch. Its coming along but again due to the weather its later than we expected.

We planted an heirloom variety called "Country Gentleman" which is a super sweet white shoe peg variety and I am not real happy with it. We got spotty germination and it seems to be rooting kind of shallow so its prone to blow down but we will see.

We have sunflowers all over the farm, some planted like these on the edge of the corn patch and others deposited through bird seed and they all seem to thrive.

This type has a red flower and multiple heads per plant but wont give us much in the way of seeds.

We have baby sweet watermelons coming along like this one as well as passion melons, cantaloupe, butternut squash, lemon squash, pumpkins and gourds.

I mentioned last year that we almost cut down these small trees that we thought were weeds until we were informed they were Mulberry bushes. They are loaded with berries and we have found a few more so we may try some type of jam with them.

We have Day Lillies all over and though some have been in bloom for about a month our bigger Day Lilly gardens are just now blooming. Once the bloom is off we will divide this garden and greatly extend it.

The terraced planters we built this spring have done very well and we now have the wood for the third segment. This problematic slope looked barren to us before so we are happy with the outcome.

And speaking of sun flowers, look at the size of this one. Same variety as the ones by the corn patch but this one has the benefit of being in a raised bed and a much more fertile soil mixture.
We have enough cucumbers to make pickles but they seem to be hot sellers so we haven't been keeping to many. We have both green cucumbers and a yellow variety and of course no one wants the yellow ones (even though they taste great) so we will probably use those to can pickles and relish. Lesson learned.

Beets, onions, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, peppers, and mustard greens in this shot.

We find Broccoli hard to grow here and we aren't sure why. We do have some but they don't seem to be the big robust florette's we envisioned so we will replant for the fall garden in a month or so.

This mild weather hasn't helped ripen the tomatoes which need warm evenings and hot days to ripen. Last night, as in the night of 1 Jul, it was 54 degrees here which was a record low. We are still enjoying it though and we know the tomatoes will ripen soon.

We also planted an heirloom variety of sweet peas and again had spotty germination but they have finally come on and are very popular with customers who seem to prefer to come and pick their own. So far, they have been so popular in fact that we haven't gotten to eat any ourselves let alone can any. Another crop we are expanding for the fall garden.

We planted a few zucchini plants thinking it would mostly be just for us as we like breaded zucchini fries (with Parmesan cheese on top right out of the fryer) and we like to use the blossoms for various dishes but we have been selling the heck out of them in the store we contract with...who knew?

The cabbages have done well this year and are steady sellers. We will have enough to make saur kraut but our efforts last year was an epic fail so we aren't sure we even want to try. In the mean time we enjoy a lot of cole slaw!

We sell a lot of beets, we eat a lot of beets, and we are canning beets this weekend. In fact, a couple nights ago we made Borscht in the Ukrainian fashion..good eats. We also grow and sell two varieties of carrots and they are super sweet. We like to actually harvest them a little smaller and then either lightly steam them or use them raw in salads and as an edible garnish.

The sweet onions have been very successful and we sell them as fast as they are harvested but we also like to use them ourselves. They are sweet enough for an onion sand which...and I am not kidding.

And finally for this post, our experiment with growing potatoes in the tires we had in the barn has been a qualified success. They matured earlier (due to the extra heat) than the potatoes that are still in the conventional rows but the limited space they had didn't allow them to reach their full potential. These are Yukon Golds and they too are big sellers but we also really enjoy them so its a struggle to part with them! They are a soft skin potato that is very creamy and I can make a meal just eating them with a little butter and salt.
So that is what is happening on the farm garden wise. We work every day selling, harvesting and of course tending to the plants which in my case means weeding. We don't use herbicides in the food gardens and weeding is accomplished by hand or with a weed eater (works pretty good actually) and we just tolerate a certain amount of weeds and don't get too wrapped up in it. But you cant let it go, if we skip a couple days of weeding it goes wild in a hurry.

Haying Time

Last year we got 65 bales of sad hardly worth baling hay on our first cutting and we didn't even bother with a second or third cutting. This year, with the drought solidly behind us we got 369 bales of quality hay.

We couldn't have picked a patch of better weather to do our haying. This spring and summer has seen mild temps and rain about every three days which is great for growing but not so great for haying because we didn't have a tedder. We cut, let it dry, rake and then bale and it usually takes 3 or 4 days where we need no rain.

You cant imagine the relief we felt with this years harvest after the terrible drought of last year. We were spending $300 a month on hay for the cattle last year from about mid Nov - March of this year.

We would have preferred to harvest the hay a little sooner as it was getting past its prime but its still very good hay and you cant rush mother nature.

This was a virtual dust and weed patch last year at this time.

Maybelle has to check everything out. Some people say cattle are dumb but I find them to be fairly intelligent and they have a curiosity that disputes the dumb tag.
Holly and I and later with the help of our neighbor Roger got all the hay bucked and into the barn before the rains came which happened a few hours after we were done...whew!

The southern pasture had more hay production because we aren't running cattle on it this year.

Holly is a trooper and real partner. We are both somewhat crippled up so it takes us a bit longer than it would other wise but we get great satisfaction from doing for ourselves. In this picture you can see the difference between this years hay which has a green tint and the junk hay we had left from last year. Also, those are Alaskan King Crab pots on the left that we brought from Alaska....I wonder how many Ozark farmers have King crab pots in their hay mow?

So this is what we ended up with. Enough to carry us through the winter without buying hay and we should be able to sell a good bit...and we also expect to get at least one more cutting in a month or so.

Happiness is a full hay mow. We have traded the golf cart with our friends Susan and Blena from Bowen Creek Farm for a couple soon we will be expanding to sheep. 

And finally, the orchard is coming along nicely. We have plans to greatly increase the size of the orchard but like most things, time and money are in short supply so its taking longer than we would like.