Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas Tree and Luminaries

We spent a quiet Christmas here at home, just Tom and me.  We will be celebrating with our kids and grandkids this weekend.  So, I wanted to take a few minutes to update the blog before everyone gets here and the excitement and fun begins!

When I was a little girl growing up in southern Arkansas, I would go with my Daddy and we'd tromp off through the woods in the rural area where we lived to cut a cedar tree for Christmas.  Looking back on it, I'm sure I must have taxed his patience while trying to decide exactly which tree I wanted.  Cedar trees were plenteous and we could usually find a nicely shaped one. 

Alas, though, we gave up that custom many years ago and started buying our Christmas trees from one of the local stores that carry them.  I recall one year when it was very hectic and none of the kids were going to be home that we neglected to go buy one until the weekend before Christmas.  Do you know if you wait that late to get a tree, you can find some great deals!  I can't remember exactly how much the tree cost us that year, but it was a heck of a deal!  Granted it was not at the peak of freshness, but it had a good shape and was pretty once we got it decorated.

The last few years we have gone to various Christmas tree farms in the surrounding area to get our tree.  This year we went to "Santa's Forest" near Ponca City, OK.  It was a fun experience.  There was hot apple cider and hot chocolate to drink and we greatly enjoyed visiting with the owners.  The tree turned out lovely after it was decorated.


Also, this year for the first time, I made "luminaries" for our front porch.  Here is a picture of them.


All you need to make these are some white paper bags, sand and votive candles.  Put about half an inch to an inch of sand in the bottom of the sack.  Light a votive candle and carefully place it in the middle of the bag.  Oddly enough, the bags do not catch on fire.  I lit the luminaries for 4 nights before Christmas, ending on Christmas Eve, for about 3-4 hours each night.  I had to replace the candles once.  

The luminaries were beautiful, soft and peaceful, and evoked a quiet joy in my soul.  We've never been ones to decorate much outside at Christmas time.  But, this is definitely a tradition that I plan to continue.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rabbit Hole

We have  a French drain across the driveway into our shop building.  It terminates a foot or so from the fence.  Several times this fall I noticed some critter had piled up dirt in front of the opening to the drain.   Each time, I got the shovel and cleared away the dirt so the drain wouldn't backup should it rain.  

We have gophers and I suspected they were the culprits.  I've heard that traps rarely work and I refuse to use poison.  So, we've just tolerated them and try to get along with them.

One day, I noticed the dirt piled up in front of the drain and went to get the shovel.  However, I got distracted and forgot about it.  The next day I noticed the dirt had all been cleared away.  I figured Tom had done it and later told him I appreciated his taking the initiative to clean out the drain.  He looked at me rather strangely and said he had not cleaned it out!

Okay, so I had to know what was going on out there and set up the wildlife camera to record the activities around the drain opening.  Here's what it revealed.


It appears our friendly neighborhood rabbit did not appreciate the gophers piling dirt in his front door either.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Gray Ghost

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry about a little gray and white cat that we have been feeding and trying to make friends with.


I am happy to report that we were finally able to catch her.  Yes, I said "her".   Tom was right about her gender and he decided to name her Misty.   We took her to the vet to get her vaccinated and spayed.  Then, Tom kept her out in the garage for a few days afterwards.  She was still quite skittish, so I suggested we bring her into the house and keep her for a while to help her become better acquainted with us.

This worked out well.  She liked being petted and seemed to gain trust in us.  We eventually decided it was safe to let her outside.  So, we let her out early one morning, but kept her food inside the house.  She appeared to relish her freedom and disappeared into the weeds and bushes across the fence, but she was at the door again that evening.  Upon being let in, she high-tailed it up the stairs to the guest bathroom where her food was located.

We have kept to this routine and she has adjusted well.  Here is a picture of her being an indoor cat.


We want to keep her inside at night because there are too many dangers lurking after dark for a little kitty, like her, to be out.  Coyotes, foxes, bobcats and even owls will prey on cats.  So, for her own safety, we keep her inside at night.  Now, this is against her will, you understand.  She would much rather be out there in the dark herself.  In fact, if you are not careful when you open an outside door, she will slip out before you know it.  For this reason, Tom has taken to calling her the "Gray Ghost".  Fortunately, the times when she has escaped the confines of the house at night, we've been able to catch her or entice her back inside with food.  

Also, my allergies seem to be tolerating her presence very well.  Perhaps this is because she does not come in our bedroom, but prefers to stay in the living room or upstairs near her food bowl.  At any rate, "so far, so good" and I am enjoying having a cat around the place again.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chicken Feathers

One doesn't normally think of chickens are "pretty" birds.   When you think of pretty birds, ones like bluebirds, cardinals and robins come to mind.  However, I realized one day while I was watching our chickens that they are just as pretty as these other birds.  You just have to look closely to see their beauty.   I took some pictures to show you what I mean.

Here we have some neck feathers. 


More neck feathers.  This one would not hold still to have her picture made.  I finally had to grab her.



Tail feathers.


Rump feathers.


Covering their body, chickens have a layer of small, fluffy feathers that lie underneath the outer feathers.  These are called "down" and help to keep them warm.


On the underneath of their bodies, the feathers are so fine that they look almost like hair!


So, the next time you see a chicken, be sure to take a close look at it.  You may be surprised at how pretty they actually are.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to Make Sauerkraut

During the summer, I wrote a blog entry about the "country wine" that I made from peaches.

http://windyacresnaturalfarm.blogspot.com/2012/08/peach-country-wine.html

This endeavor was inspired by a book that I purchased titled "The Art of Fermentation".  The country wine was just one example of fermentation that is described in the book.  Next to wine and other fermented beverages, foods such as pickles are probably next on the list of the most widely known fermented foods.

Many people do not realize that sauerkraut also falls on the list of foods that are fermented.  In fact, the aforementioned book covers making sauerkraut as well and it is quite easy, so I decided to try it. 

The biggest challenge was finding a suitable container to hold the sauerkraut while it sits quietly and ferments.  I happened to have a large glass jar that I bought one time to use as a terrarium.  I don't remember how the terrarium turned out or why I dumped it out.  But, suffice it to say that I broke the lid at one point and it sat in a closet for years.  When we moved to this house,  I took a lot of stuff to the non-profit resale shops and gave other things away.  So, I  wasn't real sure it had made the move with us.  But, after a search, I was rewarded by finding it on a shelf in one of the upstairs bedroom closets!

I bought the largest head of cabbage that I could find (4 pounds) at Consumer's IGA.  Removed the outer leaves and cut it into shreds, like this.


I had to do this in several batches.  As I finished each batch I added it to the jar and sprinkled it with salt.


You can use any kind of UN-iodized salt.  I used sea salt.  The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of salt for each 5 pounds of cabbage.  I used 7 teaspoons for the 4 pounds of cabbage that I had.  It does not have to be exact.  After each layer of cabbage and salt, I took a wooden spoon and tamped it down tightly.  This is supposed to bruise the cabbage and help draw out the juice.

After the cabbage and salt were in the jar, I found a small plate that would fit through the jar opening to place on top of the cabbage.


And then weighted it down with a heavy object.  This needs to be a glass jar filled with water or other non-reactive material.  


Finally, it has to be covered with cheese cloth or a kitchen towel to keep out insects and dust.


The recipe says to remove the cover and tamp it down several times during the next 24 hours.  This should help draw the juice out of the cabbage.  The goal is to have the cabbage submerged completely in brine.  If, after 24 hours, this has not happened, then you should add salt water to the container until it covers the cabbage.  The salt water should be mixed at the rate of 1 teaspoon per cup.  I had to add a couple of cups of salt water.

As the fermentation proceeds, scum will develop on the surface of the liquid.  You can skim this off every now and then.  But, don't worry about the sauerkraut.  As long as it is submerged under the brine, it will be fine.  Fermentation length will depend upon the temperature of the room.  You can taste it occasionally to determine when you want to eat it.

More details can be found at the following website.

http://www.wildfermentation.com/making-sauerkraut-2/


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Bouquet

Tom surprised me yesterday with a bouquet of flowers.  Here they are.


He picked these flowers from the garden.  So what kind of plant flowers in December??!!  Well, if you look at the following blog entry that I wrote about this time last year, you will see.


Right!  These are mustard flowers.  However, they are not the "Mighty Mustard" that I wrote about then, but a type of mustard green that is suitable for cooking and eating.

To be honest, I have not cooked any mustard greens this year.  I got hooked on Collard greens a few weeks ago and have been cooking those every chance I get.  We have sold a few bunches of mustard greens at the farmers' market this fall, but they are not hugely popular.  However, I've become convinced that they are worth planting just to have fresh flowers this time of year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fresh Greens in Hoophouse

In September, I wrote a blog entry about Tom cleaning out our hoophouse and letting the chickens in there to help clean up the weeds.


After this was written, he planted lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale and arugula in there.  At this point he had to bar the chickens from the hoophouse because he discovered (the hard way) that they love to scratch around in newly tilled ground!

That was about 3 months ago and this is what the hoophouse looks like inside now.


Hoophouses are generally unheated and crops are planted in the ground inside them.  They are also called "high tunnels" and there is lots of information available about them on the internet.  Here is one good site:  http://www.hightunnels.org/

It has been so warm this fall that the greens are growing quickly and we have a lot of them.  However, as we get on into the winter, they will slow down a bit.  But, for the time being, we are enjoying the bounty and sharing it with our farmers' market customers at our local winter market.  We are fortunate to have a nice, warm indoor location for our winter market courtesy of Northern Oklahoma College here in Stillwater.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Eggs and Golf Balls

When the chickens were little, we waited with anticipation for them to start laying eggs.    Tom built them a set of nest boxes.


As they matured and began to develop their combs and wattles, we thought surely it would not be much longer.   It seemed like it was taking forever!   I even picked each chicken up and put it in one of the nest box compartments to show them they were supposed to use the boxes.  This only seemed to alarm them and they made as hasty an escape as possible.

Tom read somewhere that if you put a golf ball in the nest, then the chickens would get the idea of what they were supposed to do.  As luck would have it, we had an old golf ball that we put in one of the nest box compartments.  Still seemed like it took a long time, but finally we found our first egg.

http://windyacresnaturalfarm.blogspot.com/2012/07/our-first-egg.html

I can't remember if this egg was in the compartment with the golf ball or not.  However, as the chickens have begun to lay regularly, it appears that a majority of the time, they do lay their eggs in the compartment that contains the golf ball.

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have fresh eggs from chickens that have not been raised in an industrial setting.  Our chickens get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, fresh greens from our garden and whatever insects they catch.  And, their eggs show it.  The yolks are dark yellow and luscious.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Wildlife Camera

We bought a new wildlife camera a couple of weeks ago.  The digital screen on our old one  was getting to the point where we could hardly read it.  Without the digital screen, you cannot set the options, like date and time.  It still takes pretty good pictures so we kept it and put it on the tree by the birdbath to keep an eye on our feathered friends.

I ordered the new camera from Amazon and was amazed when we got it in the mail.  It is less than half the size of the old one and weighs a fraction of what the old one weighs.  Here is a picture of them side by side.


The old one is a Moultrie and takes 6 D-size batteries while the new one is a Bushnell and takes 8 AA-size batteries.

So far, I have been delighted with the new camera.  It has more options than the Moultrie, takes very good pictures and even takes videos!  Here is a video it took of a deer.

video

It seems that the most regular visitors to our feeder this year is a group of 3-4 deer.  Mostly does and/or immature males.  Although we had this nice looking buck visit one night.


We have not seen any of the raccoons that frequented the feeder last year.  Maybe they just have not discovered it yet.  They carried on a full-scale war with the deer last winter over the feeder as evidenced in this blog entry I wrote at the time:


Notice the black tub in the background.  We've filled this with water because we are still in the midst of a severe drought and felt the wildlife would appreciate it.  It appears that is the case in the following picture.



And here is something odd.  Notice the black on this deer's front legs.


It looks like it may have been getting a drink in a creek or pond and sunk up to its knees in the mud.  But things are so dry, I'd be surprised if there is mud that deep anywhere near here!  And it seems strange that it does not have mud on its back legs as well.  Oh, well, if that is the case, maybe it has found our tub of water by now and won't have to get mired in mud again.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Harmless Wolf Spider

I find spiders fascinating.  I've written a couple of blog entries about spiders.

This one about a beautiful little yellow spider:  http://windyacresnaturalfarm.blogspot.com/2010/09/can-you-see-me-now.html

And, this one about an Argiope or "garden spider":  http://windyacresnaturalfarm.blogspot.com/2010/08/black-and-yellow-argiope.html

A couple of weeks ago, I found this spider on the side of our house.


This is a Wolf Spider.  They generally live outside and "hunt" for their food, hence the name "wolf" spider. They do build webs, but these are for shelter and protection, not for capturing prey.  Their diet consists mostly of insects.  Wolf spiders are one of the largest spider families and vary greatly in size, anywhere from 3mm in body length to 30mm.  Some species live in burrows in the ground and most are nocturnal.

Wolf Spiders are harmless and pose no threat to humans.  They sometimes enter buildings through cracks, but generally they stay outside.

There are only two kinds of spiders in Oklahoma that one needs to be careful of.  Those are the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow.   Black Widows generally live OUTSIDE, although, cold and drought can drive them indoors. 

Oklahoma State University has a great fact sheet on spiders in Oklahoma.  

http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2294/EPP-7301webcolor.pdf

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dirty Hat

A couple of years ago Tom got a new work hat for Christmas.  It replaced an old hat that he had worn ragged.  He needs a hat that shades his ears and nose because he has red hair (or rather had red hair before it turned gray) and sunburns easily.  Here is a picture of the new hat at that time:


Here it is today.


Quite a difference, huh?  Time to be washed.


And, out on the line to dry.


It is a beautiful autumn afternoon with temps in the 70s.  I'm hoping his hat gets dry this afternoon because he sort of has withdrawal symptoms when I take it away from him to wash. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dogs Under Cover

I've written several entries about our dogs, Sally and Lizzy.   They are both pretty laid back.   But, they get excited when Tom takes them to town which happens several times a week.  Lizzy usually rides in the passenger seat of his pickup while Sally rides behind the seat in the extended part of the cab.  

They especially like to go with him to the drive-in bank because the tellers will send dog treats out to the car when they send back the deposit receipt.  Lizzy has trouble waiting and will sometimes climb over into Tom's lap in anticipation of the treat.

For the most part, though, they are happy to spend the day napping.  Lizzy likes to nap in Tom's recliner.  I have a throw blanket that has pictures of wolves on it.  The colors in this blanket are the same colors as Lizzy.  Many times we walk through the room and don't even realize that Lizzy is there because she is camouflaged so well.


The same thing happens with Sally.  She has a big black pillow that she likes to lay on.  Since she is black, too, she blends right in with the pillow and is difficult to see.  If the light is off, she is down right invisible on this pillow!



Monday, November 12, 2012

Surprise Visitor to the Birdbath

We moved our birdbath to where it is under a tree just outside our bedroom window.  This allows us to get close-up views of the birds that visit it. 

We have enjoyed watching them.  And, I was delighted to see a pair of bluebirds, a male and a female, the other day.  The male was sitting up in the tree preening himself.  He apparently had already finished his "bath" and was drying his feathers.  However, the female was in the process of taking her bath.  Here are some pictures of her as she attended to her ablutions.  





Tom decided to put the wildlife camera on the tree beside the bath so we could get more bird pictures.  However, he got it a little crooked and this is what we saw.



Notice that you can see the dove on the left side, but you cannot tell what kind of bird is on the right side.

The big surprise, however, was the following picture.



Keep in mind that this is only about 8 feet from our bedroom window.  So, this deer must have been pretty thirsty to come that close to the house!  The fact that it had ventured this close to the house to get water made me realize that due to the drought many of the creeks and other water sources are probably dry. 

So, today, Tom placed a large tub out by the deer feeding station and filled it with water.  I'm hoping this will attract deer, as well as other wildlife, to our property, and that we get some good pictures of them!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Saving Basil Seed

I wrote a while back about the frost we had that killed most of our summer crops or what was left of them after the heat and drought of the summer.  Here is what my basil garden looked like after that.



But there is good news.  Even though the basil plants are dead for this year, they still hold the promise of new plants for next year in the seed they have produced.

Each of these plants contains hundreds of seed on the stalks where their flowers were.  Here is a close-up look at some of these stalks.



Getting the seed requires a little effort, but it is definitely worth it.  Each of those flat, round object contains a couple of basil seed.  Here's what you have to do to get them out.  Take a stem between your thumb and finger and strip the seed off.  Put them in a plastic cup or other container.

Then pour a small amount of them onto a piece of paper or other surface that can be picked up and bent into a funnel shape.  I used one of those flexible plastic cutting boards.



Using your fingers, pick them up and grind them by rubbing them between your thumb and fingers.  Do this until they are broken down into a fine powder.



You will begin to see small brownish or black objects fall out of the mixture.  These are the seed they are very small.....smaller than the head of a straight pin.   Here is a close up of some of them.



Now the problem you have is how to get these tiny seed separated from the residue that is left.  Pour the mixture into a shallow container such as a cereal bowl.  Take it outside and gently blow into it while shaking it.  The residue is very fine and light and will blow away leaving the seed behind.  

To store the seed, you should put it in an envelope or zip-lock bag.  I have some small brown envelopes we got somewhere that I put mine in.  Then I store it in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator until I am ready to plant it in the spring.



Saturday, November 3, 2012

Collard Greens

We've grown a few collard greens in the past, but not many, and the ones we grew we usually sold at the farmers' market.  So, I've never cooked any for us to eat.  In fact, I've never had much desire to do so.

However, Tom is growing some again this fall, and after having some left over one Saturday, I decided to cook them.  I bought a smoked ham hock to cook with them and I've got to tell you they were delicious!  So delicious, in fact, that I had to know more about them.  Here is what I discovered.

Collard greens have been eaten for at least 2000 years, with evidence showing that the ancient Greeks cultivated several types of both collard greens and kale.  Collards are also low in calories and a good source of vitamin C and soluble fiber.   They also contain multiple nutrients with potent anticancer properties and have the ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract making it easier for them to be excreted from the body. Since bile acids are made from cholesterol, the net impact of this bile acid binding is a lowering of the body's cholesterol level.

Here is how I cooked them.  First I put the ham hock in a pot of water and brought it to a boil.  Even though ham hocks are usually already fully cooked, it is a good idea to simmer them gently for an hour or so to bring out all the flavor.  They do not have much meat on them, but they impart a deep, rich flavor to whatever they are cooked in.  Once they get to the point where the meat falls off the bone, then I remove what little meat there is and discard the rest (bone, fat and skin).



While the ham hock is cooking, I wash the collards and prepare them to cook.  Their leaves are huge.  Here is one on my cutting board.  Notice how it takes up the entire board.



Next, remove the thick stem from the leaf.  I call this the collard "bone".  To remove it, fold the collard in half like this.



Use a knife to cut the leaf from the "bone".



Do this for at least 10 to 12 leaves.  Once you have the bones removed, then you should roughly chop the leaves into large pieces.  You will have a rather large pile when you are finished.  But don't worry, they will cook down. 



Put these in the pan with the ham hock.



Then cook them until they are tender.  You can add salt and pepper to taste.



The rich broth that is produced while the collards cook is called the "pot liquor".  It is a southern tradition to eat collards with cornbread and to use the cornbread to soak up the pot liquor left on your plate.

I am a big fan of collards now.  They are one of my favorite vegetables!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Deer Encounter


It is a beautiful frosty morning here at Windy Acres.  The sun is coming up, warming the earth and melting the frost that has accumulated over night.  As usual, I took my morning cup of coffee out on the south porch to sit in the sun and enjoy the quiet of the morning.  I do this most mornings no matter what kind of weather, even if it is just for a minute or two.

Sally, our dog, is always eager to go out with me.  This morning while I was sitting there in the sun soaking up its warmth, I noticed her staring intently toward the garden.  So, I stood up to take a look myself.  There were 4 deer out beyond the garage near the compost pile.  They were apparently grazing on Tom's cover crop of Austrian winter peas, and Sally and I had interrupted their breakfast.

By the time I saw them, they were already alerted to our presence and were standing statue-still staring back at us.  I ran inside to get my camera and was able to capture some pictures of them.  I really need a better camera to get good pictures at a distance like this, but I was able to  get a few decent ones.  Here they are.

Notice how well this deer blends in with the background.

This is a youngster, probably a fawn born this spring.  Here it is getting ready to jump the fence.  You cannot see the fence very well, but it is where the tall grass is.  It is amazing how easily these deer appear to sail over obstacles, like this, with ease!

Across the fence is a gravel road.  This deer cleared the fence, crossed the road and is headed for a clump of cedar trees.  I think they use this grove of cedars for shelter because I've seen them enter/exit the grove many times.




Also notice how they hold their tail erect when they are alarmed.  The underside of the tail is bright white, giving them the name "White-tailed Deer".


Even though deer are plentiful around here, it is still a rare treat to see them during daylight hours and be able to observe their movements.  As for Sally, she issued a couple of minor barks and didn't bother to follow me out to the garden to take pictures.  It was a little chilly and I think she thought I was nuts for wanting to traipse around outside on a frosty morning in my house-shoes, when I could just as well be inside in the warm house.  Dogs are so practical!