Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Smoking Compost

On December 4, I wrote about Tom and I working together to build a large "heap" compost pile out in our field.  It's been about 3 weeks since then and Tom has turned it once or twice.  He has also added a lot of leaves and some rabbit manure he got from a neighbor who raises rabbits.

A couple of days ago I took our compost thermometer out to see how hot the pile was.  Here was the result.

Any pile of organic matter will eventually decompose if left long enough.  But, it is best to build your compost pile in such a way as to produce aerobic decomposition.  This method produces heat, and heat is beneficial in order to kill pathogens and weed seeds that lurk in the organic material.  Ideally, you want your compost to reach 140 degrees.  As you can see above, we are well above that! 

In order to produce this much heat, you want to have both carbon and nitrogen organic materials. The optimum ration is 25 or 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. But, we don't worry about the ratio that much. Examples of carbon sources are leaves, wood chips, and sawdust. Examples of nitrogen sources include grass, food waste, and manure. These materials are decomposed by organisms utilizing oxygen, thus the name "aerobic".

The heat being produced is evident when the pile is turned.  Here is a picture of Tom turning it with our tractor.  Note the steam being emitted.

This is the first year we've really made an organized effort during the winter to produce compost.  At least for now, it looks as if we'll have enough to get us started next spring.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Homemade Baking Powder

Most baking powder you buy in the store contains aluminum compounds, like sodium aluminum sulfate or sodium aluminum phosphate.  In the past few years, alarms have been raised due to the possible negative long term health effects of aluminum, such as bone degeneration and Alzheimer's Disease.  Although, the association between aluminum and Alzheimer's has yet to be proved, I have decided NOT to take any chances.  So, a couple of years ago, I started making my own baking powder.

The ingredients are simple and easily obtained - baking soda, cream of tartar and arrowroot (or cornstarch).  Recipes are readily available on the internet, but the one I use calls for 1 part baking soda to 2 parts each cream of tartar and arrowroot.

The white powder in the jar on the right is arrowroot.  I bought it several months ago in a large cellophane bag and put it in the jar for long-term storage.  When I need to make up a batch of baking powder, I generally use 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons of arrowroot.  This makes 9 teaspoons of baking powder.

I keep the mixture in the plastic container below.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

HIS Meeting - January 2012

The last few years we have attended the Horticulture Industry Show.  It is a joint venture between colleges, universities and foundations in Oklahoma and Arkansas that gives anyone who grows fruit, vegetables, Christmas trees and flowers, either for pleasure or commercially, access to a wealth of information on many topics.  The meeting rotates between Fort Smith, AR and Tulsa, OK.  This year it will be held at Tulsa Community College.

This year the featured speaker is from Seed Savers Exchange:  http://www.seedsavers.org/
We have been members of SSE for several years and order a lot of our seeds from them.  They are dedicated preserving and sharing heirloom seeds.  Why should we care about saving these heirloom seeds?  As stated on the SSE web site:

"The genetic diversity of the world's food crops is eroding at an unprecedented and accelerating rate. The vegetables and fruits currently being lost are the result of thousands of years of adaptation and selection in diverse ecological niches around the world. Each variety is genetically unique and has developed resistance to the diseases and pests with which it evolved. Plant breeders use the old varieties to breed resistance into modern crops that are constantly being attacked by rapidly evolving diseases and pests. Without these infusions of genetic diversity, food production is at risk from epidemics and infestations."

We have come to depend on a handful of commercial varieties of fruits and vegetables that are promoted by the large seed companies.  A study conducted in 1983 by the Rural Advancement Foundation compared USDA listings of seed varieties sold by commercial U.S. seed houses in 1903 with those in the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983.  It found that 93% of the varieties studied had gone extinct.   That percentage is certainly higher today!

I would encourage you to attend the HIS meeting this year.  Even if you only have a small flower bed or grow a few tomatoes in your back yard, there is something for everyone at the HIS show.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Watch the Birdie

The fence around our property leaves something to be desired and it certainly would not keep sheep, goats or horses contained.  Part of it is woven wire and part of it is barbed wire.  Then there is a section near the house that is chain link.  It appears that this part may have been left over from some past owner's attempt to have a yard to corral small children or pets.

So, I am walking along this part of the fence the other day and I notice a large hole that I am sure was not there when we moved here.   I have no idea how long it has been there.  I believe it may have been covered up by a trailer that belonged to our son-in-law that was parked here most of the summer.  At any rate, I think something made it by crawling under the fence and placing enough pressure on the chain link to gradually make the hole big enough for a dog to go through.  It is obvious that it is used by some type of critter(s) regularly because the grass is beaten down around it.

I was getting a little tired of seeing deer, raccoons, squirrels and crows on the wildlife camera while it was positioned at the deer feeding station. So, I got Tom to move it over near this hole to see if we could figure out what was using the hole as a gateway into our yard.  The only thing we saw was a possum .... probably the one that comes to eat our cat food if we leave it out at night.  I think raccoons may have used it earlier this fall.  Raccoons have been noticeably absent from our wildlife camera ever since the weather turned cold.  I read where they tend to hibernate during parts of the winter when the temperatures are below 40 degrees, but wake up during milder periods of weather and forage for food.

Anyway, most of the pictures on the camera were of birds feeding on seed that fell out of our bird feeders that Tom placed over by the fence.  Like the beautiful male Cardinal below. 

And his girl friend.
There are also a lot of Mourning Doves too.  It is interesting how well these birds blend in with their surroundings, like the 3  in the picture below.

Here's a good picture of a Junco. These birds are only here during the winter.  My mother used to call them "snow birds".

Here's another bird that is sort of difficult to see.  It is a Harris Sparrow.  The black rod on the right side of the picture is the bottom part of the pole from which one of the bird feeders is hanging.  The Harris Sparrow is on the ground just to the left of this pole. The most striking part of this bird is the black cap on his head and black beard under his beak.  Clicking on the picture will make it bigger.

Finally, I had to laugh when I saw this last picture.  Squirrels will try anything to get into a bird feeder!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Deer vs Raccoons

For a couple of months now, I've been collecting pictures of deer and raccoons from our wildlife camera.  I don't remember seeing many raccoons at our deer feeder last year, but that is not the case this year.  Here's what I mean:

They were having quite a party out there on the night above.  Sometimes, something will capture their attention, like this:

I suspect they may be looking at some of the deer that frequent the feeder each night.  Here's a picture of a herd of deer that seem to be having a party too.

At any rate, it is interesting to observe the interaction between the two species.  Here are a few pictures to show what I mean.

In this picture, the deer appears to be somewhat apprehensive about approaching the feeder while the raccoons are there.

These deer appear to be yearlings that were born this spring.  Looks like they have decided that "discretion is the better part of valor"!

But, in this picture, we see a deer and a raccoon are eating together.

There seems to be some sort of "stand-off" happening here.  I'm not sure who won.

Notice in this picture the deer has her foot in the feeder itself.  It sort of looks like she is claiming the feeder for herself and warning the raccoon not to come any closer!

You can see in the above pictures that these raccoons are pretty big.  I have heard that raccoons can be ferocious when cornered and that they can inflict terrible wounds on domestic dogs if attacked.   I tend to believe this because in most of the pictures where the deer and raccoons are present together, the raccoons are the ones eating while the deer are hanging back waiting for them to go away.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Compost Team

When we moved here to the farm, Tom built a composting system that consisted of three bins made of wood frames covered with chicken wire.  You can see a picture of them if you look at my blog from March 14, 2010.  That system worked for a while, but it became apparent pretty quickly that if we were going to have to do something different to make enough compost for all our needs.  For one thing, it was way too much work to try to turn it by hand.

So, we began looking for a way we could use our tractor to help with the work.  The solution we hit upon uses one of the chicken-wire compost bins and a large "heap" compost pile out in the field.  The chicken-wire bin is used as a "catch all" bin where we dump kitchen waste, garden produce that is too low quality to eat, dead plants of various sorts, used potting soil and so forth.  It is hinged on the sides and opens up to allow us to use the tractor to scoop up its contents and haul them to the heap in the field.  We then use the tractor's front-end-loader to turn the pile in the field.  Here are pictures of our chicken-wire pile.

During the Thanksgiving holidays, Tom and I teamed up to empty the this compost pile (it was full at that time) and mix it in with the compost pile in the field along with some leaves that Tom gathered with our lawn sweeper.  Here is Tom with the lawn sweeper.  The nice thing about this sweeper is that you can dump it without getting off the lawnmower.

My job in all this was to drive the tractor and, using the front-end-loader, move the material from the chicken-wire compost pile to the area above.  Since I couldn't take a picture of myself on the tractor, I did the next best thing.  I took a picture of my shadow!

When we were finished mixing the leaves in with all the other compost material, we had the big pile shown below.  It is difficult to judge how big it is, but it is easily 5-6 feet tall.

We will get the tractor out a couple of times before spring and turn it to help it decompose more readily.  Hopefully, by the time we get ready to plant this spring, we'll have lots of good compost to mix in the soil.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mustard Varieties and Flowers

This afternoon I took Sally out for her physical therapy (walk).  She had a ruptured disc in her back and had to have surgery.  So, now she needs to have limited exercise 3 times a day for 4 to 6 weeks.  Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I've been able to help with this.  After I go back to work, most of this will fall on Tom to do.  But, anyway, today she seemed to feel like walking farther than usual and we ended up walking all the way to the east end of our property.

While on this excursion, we past by Tom's "mustard experiment".  At last year's Horticulture Industry Show (HIS), he picked up a free packet of Mighty Mustard seed, http://www.mightymustard.com/.  Mustard is a strong green, similar to turnip greens, that can be eaten raw or cooked.  We often add young mustard leaves to our spring salad mix that we sell at the farmers' market.  However, Mighty Mustard varieties have been developed to use as cover crops and contain glucosinolates that act as natural chemical agents to help control many soil borne pathogens and weeds, making them an effective, all-natural alternative to chemical pesticides and herbicides.

So, Tom planted his free packet of seed this fall.  There were 2 varieties of mustard in the packet, Pacific Gold and Ida Gold.  He planted them side by side.  When Sally and I walked past them a little while ago here is what they looked like.

Notice the variety on the left looks rather sick.  That is because it is not as cold-tolerant as the variety on the right and the frosts we have had thus far this fall have taken their toll on it.  Tom can't remember which variety is which and I guess it does not make any difference.  Neither variety is supposed to survive through the winter, but, none the less, they will add nutrients to the soil when Tom tills them in this spring. 

Another thing I was amazed to find, especially at this time of year, was the following flower.

It looks as if Mighty Mustard is determined to flower and try to produce seed until the weather finally gets cold enough to do it in.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Colors of Autumn

The trees have outdone themselves this year in showing off their fall colors.  I first noticed the pecan trees on the east end of our farm turning to yellow at the end of October.  See below.

Then I began to notice the sumac along the roadsides turning red.  They were spectacular this year!  There is one little sumac bush across the road from our mailbox.  Here it is as it was beginning to show its fall colors.

Finally, I about a week ago, as I was turning off the road into our driveway, the sun was getting low in the west and was shining on some cottonwood trees across the road from us.  It looked as though the heavens had picked these trees to spotlight at that moment.  I stopped the car and took this picture before I drove on to our house.

Today it is cloudy and supposed to rain later on, and I noticed these trees have lost all their leaves in preparation for their winter sleep.  It has been a hard year on the trees here in Oklahoma.  The hot, dry summer took its toll on them, I'm sure.  But, none the less, they have rewarded us with a beautiful display of color this fall and, now, they deserve to rest.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Meatloaf

We were planning to go to Texas to be with our kids and grandkids for Thanksgiving, but a couple of weeks ago our dog, Sally, had to have surgery.  She had a ruptured disc in her back and we ended up taking her to the Oklahoma State University veterinary teaching hospital to have emergency surgery.  It was her left hind leg that was most affected, but she is doing well and looks like she will regain most, if not all, use of it.  However, for the next 4 to 6 weeks,we have to keep her crated and quiet and take her out 3 to 4 times a day for 5 - 10 minutes for limited exercise.  Long story, short - we couldn't leave her in a boarding kennel and couldn't take her with us.  So, we stayed home.

With just Tom and myself here, I didn't want to do the whole turkey and dressing thing, so I did the next best thing.  I cooked meatloaf (Tom's favorite main dish).  I bought the ground beef for the meatloaf from a vendor at our local farmers' market.  I like to buy it from them because they raise their calves on pasture.  You see, almost all of the beef sold in grocery stores comes from a feed lot somewhere. 

A feed lot is a nasty place.  The cattle stand around in their own muck and are fed a grain-based diet (mostly corn).  Grain is not a natural food for cattle.  They have multi-chambered stomachs that evolved to digest grass.  The first chamber is the "rumen" and it is the primary site for microbial fermentation of ingested feed.  Grain-based diets cause acid buildup in the rumen which, in turn, causes abscesses through which bacteria can enter into the blood.  Antibiotics are routinely fed to cattle in feedlots to counteract these ailments.  This routine feeding of antibiotics helps to produce resistant strains of bacteria.  Not good for cattle or people.

Finally, grain-based diets can promote Escherichia coli (E. coli) within the digestive tract, and these E. coli are more likely to survive the acid in the human stomach and make us sick. It has been shown that cattle switched from grain-based diets to hay are less likely to shed harmful E. coli.

So, that's why I buy locally grown, grass-fed beef.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Corn, Crows and Squirrels

During the day, the crows and squirrels raid our deer feeder and have quite a feast.  I have erased thousands of pictures of crows and squirrels from our wildlife camera.  It is really interesting to see how they react with each other. Here are some pictures of them.


Sometimes a squirrel will try to chase a crow away from the feeder.  The crow will fly a few feet away and then slowly walk back toward the feeder.   But, they have no need to worry. Tom is faithful to keep plenty of corn on hand and sometimes refills the feeder twice a day.  So, there is plenty to go around!

Today, I noticed something a little bizarre about some of the corn kernels on the ground around the feeder.  In the picture below, notice the 3 kernels on the left.

They have the germ part eaten out of them.  I feel certain the squirrels are the ones responsible for this.  They are the only ones in my mind that would be able to hold the kernel of corn still enough to nibble the germ out of it.  I'm assuming that, to squirrels anyway, the germ of the corn kernel is the most desirable part, sort of like the icing on a cupcake.   And maybe it has certain nutrients that the squirrels need as winter approaches.

No matter the reason, this just pointed out to me that we can learn something everyday just by taking notice of the small things around us.  We only need to take time out of our busy lives to "smell the roses", or in this case, "notice the corn on the gound".

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good Dog, Bad Dog

Lizzy Dog has to be "supervised" when she is outside.  Otherwise, her beagle nose will lead her astray.  We wish we could let her run free, chase rabbits and squirrels and do all those other "hound" things that beagles are born to do.  But, we know there are people around here who will shoot stray dogs that wander onto their property.  (See the blog entry for April 19, 2010, "Dogs and Cats", the story of how we got our dog Sally.)  So, for Lizzy's own good, we make sure we watch her closely if we let her outside without being on a leash.

Tom will usually let her go out to refill the deer feeder with him.  She likes to sniff the ground around the feeder where the deer, rabbits, racoons and other wildlife have been the night before.  Here's a picture of her taken by our wildlife camera.

But, after she "reads" the ground around the feeder, she will usually follow her nose off to the next scent.  That is okay as long as she does not go under the fence and off into the big world beyond.  It is a barbed wire fence and, therefore, easy for her to go under. 

Tom says when she starts getting close to the fence, he will call to her to come back.  This works about half the time.  He says sometimes it seems as if she has a little devil on one shoulder telling her to go under the fence and a little angel on the other shoulder telling her to mind him.  On the day the above picture was taken, the little devil won and Tom had to go after her.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Walk with Me

My doctor tells me that I should get 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week.  That doesn't sound like much, only an hour and a half out of a whole week.  But it sure is difficult for me to do.  I have a membership at the OSU Wellness Center and I try to go by there 3 times a week after work, but I rarely make it that often.  It seems like I always have errands to run or need to get home for some reason. 

When I go to the Wellness Center, I usually try to walk a mile and a half on the treadmill.  My pace is about 20 minutes per mile.  So, it takes me 30 minutes to walk 1.5 miles.  I decided  I'd see if I could map out a path around our farm that was roughly 1.5 miles.  Then, on days I didn't go to the Wellness Center, I could still get in my 30 minutes of exercise at home.

Tom drove the truck around the perimeter of our 5 acres and it is just about half a mile.  So, if I walk around the perimeter 3 times, then I will have walked 1.5 miles.  I thought it would be fun to take pictures as I went and share them with my blog friends.  So, here goes.

I start my walk just south of the house at our metal outbuilding.  This is where we store lawn mowers and various other pieces of equipment.

From there I walk east along the south fence line.  To the left you can see a pile of dirt.  Tom had it brought in to fill some holes around the yard and to put around one corner of the metal outbuilding where the dirt has washed away.
At the southeast corner is our pet cemetery.  This is where Kelsey Dog is buried.  (See A Tribute to Kelsey Dog - March 13, 2011).  She is buried there along with 3 other dogs and a cat.  I planted some irises and daffodils here which bloom in the spring. 

At this point I turn north and walk along the east fence line (above) to the northeast corner where Tom has an area plowed up and planted with a winter cover crop (below).

Then I turn west along the north fence line.  When I took the picture below, it was in the late afternoon and there is some glare on the camera lense from the sun. 
Along this stretch of my walk I pass a row of sand plum bushes that we planted last year.  Sand plums are native to Oklahoma and make the best jelly.  I'm hoping in a couple of years they will be mature enough to produce fruit.  Also along this stretch of our property, we have allowed the native grasses to grow and didn't mow it this past summer.  The picture below shows what it looks like.

At this point I turn south and walk along beside a field where our neighbor's sheep graze.  Here they are.
At this point, I have walked about 3/4 of the way around our property and I turn east again after passing the sheep.   In quick succession I then pass a bluebird house that Tom built and our deer feeding station.

A few more paces and I'm back where I started.  Now, I just need to do this 2 more times and I'll have walked my 1.5 miles.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Solar Clothes Dryer

No doubt about it, doing laundry can be a chore.  But, it is one of my favorite chores.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe because I get a feeling of accomplishment from seeing the pile of dirty laundry get smaller and smaller and then putting away nice clean clothes to wear next week.

Another thing I like about doing laundry is hanging clothes out to dry on my solar clothes dryer.  Here is a picture of it.

My mother used to call this a "clothesline" and I suspect that is what most people still call it.  I used to have one when we lived in town that looked like a big umbrella attached to a pole that was sunk into the ground.  It was amazing how many clothes I could dry on that at one time.    

We didn't  bring that clothesline with us when we moved to the farm.   I figured that I'd just go to Walmart or somewhere and buy another one to put up here.  However, in the mean time, Tom rigged up the one above for me between the poles of the carport.  That has been over 2 years ago and I'm still using it. It will only hold one load of clothes.  But, in the summer time, most clothes will dry before the next load of clothes is ready to hang out.

I've never done any research to determine just how much energy (and, therefore, money) it saves to dry clothes outside.  But, it has got to be quite a bit, because a load of jeans will dry much faster outside on a hot summer day than they will inside.

Unfortunately, the heating element on my solar clothes dryer is going to go out this week.  We've already had several days this fall when it was too cold to hang clothes outside and this week we have a cold front coming that is suppose to drop the high daytime temperatures into the 40s.  I imagine it will be next spring before I'll be using my solar clothes dryer again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

First Frost

We had our first frost this week.  It is kind of sad in a way because everything had perked up nicely after the hot, dry summer was looking really nice.

Now the basil is dead as a doornail.

The same thing is true of the climbing okra.

As well as the tomatos.

Oh, well, by this time of year, we are really pretty tired and need a rest.  So, I guess it is just as well.  Besides, Tom has radishes, turnips, lettuce and swiss chard ready to harvest.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sticker Weeds on Fire

We have these little weeds that produce pretty little yellow flowers.  They were one of the wildflowers I spotlighted in my blog entry titled "Windy Acres Wildflowers" on June 1 of this past summer.  They are called Buffalo Burr and are the second picture in that posting.

They really do have a lot of stickers and you DO NOT want to step on one of them in sandals or barefooted!  This fall these little sticker weeds have been very prolific.  So, I've gone out every couple of weeks and pulled up all the ones I could find.  Note that you DO NOT do this with your bare hands.  I have a pair of leather work gloves I use for this chore and occasionally one of the little buggers even sticks me through those.

Here is a basket showing one of my harvests from a couple of weeks ago.

As pretty as they are, they get thrown on our "burn pile" and burned when the weather permits.  If you have lived in town all your life, the idea of a burn pile is probably foreign to you.  However, if you live outside of town and don't have trash service, then a burn pile is a necessary part of life.  Seems like we always have brush, boards, feed sacks and the like that need to be disposed of. 

Here is a picture of our burn pile.  Notice the sticker weeds.

Most of the summer, a burn ban was in effect for our county.  So, we couldn't burn anything outside.  But, last week the ban was lifted and we were able to burn it.

We are always very careful when burning our burn pile.  We try to pick a time when there is very little wind.  It is also important to have a shovel and garden hose ready just in case. 

If we can time it right, I like to roast wieners or marshmallows over the fire.  And, if there are still some flames going after dark, there is something mesmerizing about sitting there watching the fire.  It is a sort of primeval feeling that does not occur when watching a fire during daylight.  I figure it is something that is innate to our nature.  Something that we still retain from our early ancestors to whom fire was an essential element of life that kept them warm at night and safe from wild animals.