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.

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.

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:

And, this one about an Argiope or "garden spider":

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.

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!