Sunday, February 4, 2018

Winter Wildlife

I seem to have gotten lazy this winter about writing my blog articles, but there just has not been a lot to report.  The winter has been much colder than last winter, so there have been very few days when we felt like going out in the cold to prepare for the coming season.  Plus, it has been a very dry winter and I am very concerned that we may be headed for a repeat of 2012. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows our part of Oklahoma at the "severe drought" level.  

If this weather pattern keeps up, I may dwell on this topic again in the coming months, but for now I want to share with you some of the wildlife we've captured on our wildlife cameras this winter.

First, we have lots of deer to report.  We have the nice fellow below.  Also, notice the raccoon over by the tree.  

These 2 guys seem to hang out together.  The one on the right has already lost one of his antlers.  The one on the left has only a spike.

The younger bucks sometimes practice butting heads.

Then, of course, there are lots of does and yearlings that come.  Many of them even come during daylight hours.

Tom built the feeders attached to the tree out of PVC pipe.  The deer don't mind having to stick their noses down into the opening to get at the corn.

Occasionally, we get a close-up view.  I wonder if he was trying for a "selfie".

Squirrels are ever-present and probably eat a good deal of the deer corn, but we don't mind.  They are hungry, too.  There are 4 in the picture below.  Can you find them all?

We've been delighted this winter to have a flock of wild turkeys frequenting our place.  They enjoy pecking around the deer feeder and are not shy about coming up close to the house where our bird feeders are located.  They clean up whatever seed falls out of the feeders.  One day a car startled them when they were in the large grassy field in front of the house.  They all took flight and flew right over the house.  I was amazed such large birds could fly so well.  They flew quite a ways, too, over to the neighbor's property where there are more trees and brush.

And, one of the most exciting animals we have seen has been a bobcat.  He strolled right down the driveway in front of the house.  We've lived here 9 years and have never seen one of these.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Homemade Soft Butter

In my last blog entry, I showed how I make my own strawberry cream cheese.  The stuff you buy at the store may contain all kinds of artificial ingredients, such as food coloring and thickening agents.  If you missed it, here it is again:

This week I'm sharing how to make your own soft butter.  Here's what I used to buy at the grocery story.  Unlike the strawberry cream cheese mentioned above, this only contains butter, canola oil and salt.  

I like to use this kind of butter for several reasons.  First, it spreads easier than plain butter and, second, half the butter fat is replaced by canola oil which is healthier.  It is rather expensive, though, and I wondered if I could make the same thing at home cheaper.  Searching the internet I found several recipes and, with a little experimentation, came up with what I think is just as good.  

You need one stick of butter and a half cup of canola oil.  You can double these amounts to make a larger quantity.  You can also use olive oil instead of canola oil

Soften the butter and chunk it up in a container of some sort.  

Add the oil and mix it up with a hand mixer or an immersion blender, like this.  

Scoop this into a small bowl, cover tightly and store in your refrigerator.  

When you initially finish mixing the butter and oil, you may think it is too thin, but trust me, it will thicken up after it has been in the frig for an hour or so.  Then you'll have a product that is every bit as good at the store-bought kind.  See how nicely it turns out.

I've refined my method since if took these pictures.  I realized that I could avoid messing up the mixing container by mixing the butter and oil in the container I planned to store it in.

The container just needs to be deep enough to avoid having your mixer splatter it all over the kitchen!  I haven't put a pencil to paper to calculate how much I am saving by making my own.  But, I believe I can make this for about half of what I can buy it for.  Plus, if you live in a small community that does not have recycling facilities, there is no store-bought container to send to the landfill.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Easy Strawberry Cream Cheese

I've been a label reader for years.  I normally check the ingredients on everything before I buy it.  I never worried about the strawberry cream cheese because all it should contain is cream cheese and strawberries, right?  Nope.  Silly me to trust multinational food conglomerates to have my best interests in mind. 

Notice all the extra ingredients in this store-bought brand..... Xanthan gum, guar cum, carob bean gum, whey protein concentrate, whey.  Then you also have color added and "natural" flavor.  Good Grief!

I checked a block of plain cream cheese.  Many fewer ingredients.  I think I can probably live with Carob Bean Gum.  

So, I asked myself.....Why not make my own strawberry cream cheese?  Here's how I did it.

Put 4-5 frozen strawberries in a food processor.

Give them a whirl.  You may want to let them thaw just a little bit.

Add a block of softened cream cheese that has been cut into 4 pieces.  You may also want to add 2-3 tablespoons of powdered sugar, depending on the sweetness of the strawberries.

Process it until it is the consistency you like.

Put it in an air-tight container and store in the frig.

This is so much better tasting than the store-bought kind.  One bag of frozen strawberries makes several batches.  Come to think about it, I have never checked the ingredients on frozen strawberries.  Surely they only contain strawberries?  Sigh.  I better go check.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Winter Walk and Frost Flowers

Winter has finally arrived.  Last night it was in the teens and today the high temp is supposed to be in the 40s.  However, that did not keep Sally and I from going on our morning walk.  This is Sally.

She is patiently waiting for me to get my shoes on.  Once that is accomplished, we are off.  We usually head out to the road through our front meadow.  We mow this 2-3 times a year, but always leave clumps of grasses to add interest in the fall and winter when the wildflowers are not in bloom.

The cat usually tags along, as well.

This morning the grass was frosty and we could see some deer trails through the frost.

I also noticed some small icy clumps in the grass.  I've learned these are called "frost flowers".

Here's a closer look at one.

Sometimes these form into "ribbons" and are really beautiful, like this one.

There is a row of cedar trees across the road from us.  The female trees have berries, like those below, which are a dusty blue color.  Beautiful!

Finally, I love this picture I took a while back of the road that goes by our place.

It reminds me of the old John Denver song, Take me Home Country Road.  

Monday, November 6, 2017

After the Frost

We had our first killing frost about a week ago.  That doesn't mean all plants were killed.  There are plenty of things that are still going strong.  The pictures below show some of them.

The sage (back) and rosemary (front) that I planted in the cattle tubs did fabulously this summer and were not damaged by the frost.  (See my blogs on our cattle tub garden:   Cattle Tub Container Garden and Cattle Tub Update )

The pots of plants on our south porch are still looking good.  In the foreground are tarragon and parsley.  I grew these in fabric bags made especially for plants.  I bought these several years ago and they work really well.  I may move these into the greenhouse when the temperatures get really cold.  Behind these are some petunias that are still happy.  On a the colder nights, I move them close to the wall of the house and, so far, they have yet to freeze.

These containers are at the corner of the greenhouse.  The large one in back is a pot of thyme that I have had for several years.  The pots in front used to contain petunias and basil.  The petunias got too much sun this summer and didn't survive, and the basil began looking sick when the nights got cool.  I pulled them out and the small fern-like plants that were left are chamomile seedlings that come up volunteer every year from the previous year's plants.  

In the garden, the comfrey looks great.  Comfrey is an herb that is suppose to have  medicinal properties that make it good for bruises, sprains and broken bones.  I've never used it for any of those ailments, but it has beautiful flowers in the spring which makes it well worth growing.  

Out in the field, we've planted Austrian winter peas and oats for a cover crop.  These will be tilled in next spring to provide organic matter to the soil and the peas will provide nitrogen.  

The chickens have been scratching in the compost pile and have scattered it out.  We need to get the tractor, scoop it back into a pile and turn it.  Always something to do.

The bees are settling in for the winter.  The bee-keeper has been over a couple of times to check on them and make sure they have enough honey to get them through the winter.

I've saved the best for last.  Last spring we were given some raspberry plants by some friends.  They did well this summer and grew like mad.  We are hoping to have lots of raspberries next summer.  They tend to be somewhat aggressive and will root where ever they touch the ground.  So, we may have twice this many by the end of next summer!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Butterfly Metamorphisis

I enjoy growing leaf fennel because it is a beautiful plant with yellow flowers and fragrant foliage can be used in recipes.  It also produces fennel seeds that I gather and use in cooking and tea during the winter.  It is winter hardy and drought resistant.  A great plant for flower and herb gardens.

A side advantage of fennel is that it attracts Black Swallowtail butterflies like this one.

The butterflies lay eggs on the fennel and caterpillars, like this one, hatch.  They chow down on the leaves, stems and flowers, but do very little damage to the plant.

I've seen the chrysalises produced by these caterpillars, but have never caught a butterfly emerging from one of these.  So, a couple of weeks ago, when I found one of these I put it in a jar where I could watch it every day and hopefully see the butterfly emerge.

It is difficult to believe a butterfly could come from such a strange object!  Anyway, I put this in a jar and put it on our front porch.

 About a week later, I noticed the chrysalis began to darken.

The next day it looked like this.  You can actually see the wings of the butterfly inside.

I watched if for a while, but had to go to town on an errand.  About 45 minutes later when I got back, here's what I found.

I thought it would take the butterfly longer to emerge from the chrysalis than it did.  I may have to try this again.  I may have to carry the jar around with me if I want to witness the event!  However,  it is too late in the season to redo my "experiment" this year.  I've not seen any of these butterflies in several days.  It is the last part of September at this point and the forecast calls for much cooler weather in the next 24 hours.  I'll try it again next summer.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Native Orchid

I enjoy walking through our native prairie landscape that we have allowed to grow in an area between between our house and the road.

There are hundreds varieties of flowers and grasses out there.  Pictured above are clumps of bluestem grass and a variety of goldenrod called "Rigid Goldenrod".  But, those are not what this post is about.

A couple of days ago I noticed these small white flowers as I was walking out there.  

The flowers grew in a spiral design around the stem.  I fell in love with the little plant and immediately started trying to identify it.  I didn't have much luck on my own, so I posted a picture of it on a Facebook group called Oklahoma Native Plant Society.  Someone there quickly identified it as a native orchid called Ladies Tresses.  

Here's a picture that shows how the flowers spiral around the stem.

And a closer one of the delicate little flowers.

The stem appears to grow right out of the ground without any leaves.

What I've learned from the web is that the leaves of some varieties die before the plant flowers.  So, it must have had leaves at some point.  

This variety is Spiranthes lacera gracilis.  I found a lot of good information about orchids on this site:  North American Orchids

I'm delighted to know that orchids are not limited to the ones you see in greenhouses and that I have them growing in my own yard!  And to think that I've probably walked right by these little beauties many times and never noticed them!  The moral of this story is "Take time to go outside everyday and notice the wonderful plants and animals all around you". 

Sometimes you just need to look down.