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.