Thursday, December 26, 2013

Odds and Ends

I've taken several pictures over the last year that I have not published, mainly because there just wasn't enough information on any of them on which to write a whole blog entry.  So, I thought I'd publish them here at the end of the year for an "Odds and Ends" entry.  Here they are.

A flower on one of our "thornless" cacti we have set out around the farm.  The original one came from Texas courtesy of our son who lives in the Dallas area.  We have started many new ones by planting the pads that fall off.

Cracks that appeared in the ground after an extended period without any rainfall this summer.  I was afraid we were in for another drought.  But, fortunately, it rained and has continued to rain periodically since then.

A frog that I found hiding in one of the cement blocks around my raised beds.

A funny looking potato that we harvested this summer.

Some of our onion harvest this summer.

Some of the potato harvest this year in our new "Tub Trugs".

A wasp dragging a spider he has stung and paralyzed.   Poor spider!

A deer in the snow caught on the wildlife camera.

Some wild Beautyberries growing along the fence line this fall.

One of our chickens when she was molting.  

Sally and Misty out exploring around the chicken pen.  Misty, the cat, catches quite a few mice out there.  The mice are attracted to the chicken feed, so the hen house affords her with abundant hunting grounds.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Retirement and a Gator

I have officially retired.  Let me rephrase that:   I have officially retired from the paid workforce.   For most of my working life I was engaged with various aspects of computing.....programming, analysis, databases, etc.  But, finally, after 30 some years I called it quits, and for the last 2 months, I've slowly been settling into a different life style.

When I started seriously thinking about retiring a couple of years ago, I thought that I'd be more active in our farming venture when I retired.  But, it has become obvious to me over the last two years that I won't be able to do much heavy work.  I have some osteo-arthritis in various joints and just can't do much bending, squatting and lifting.  So, I've been looking for ways to make work easier and here is what I came up with.

That's right we are now the proud parents of a John Deere Gator.  It even has a cup holder!

It is very heavy duty and the bed can be used to haul a lot of stuff.

This picture was taken one day when I used it to haul a bunch of hoses to the garage and some fruit tree trimmings to the burn pile.  It was so nice not to have to drag the hoses all the way from the field to the garage.  

It even came in handy during the Thanksgiving holidays for entertaining visiting family members.

Yep!  I think we are going to get a lot of use from it, both work and play.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Greenhouse in the Winter

In my last entry, I posted a picture of our small greenhouse.  It has icicles hanging from its roof due to some recent snow and cold weather that has come our way.  

We have set a small electric heater in it this winter.  This is the first time we have tried to heat it in the winter and were not sure how much heat it would take to keep things inside from freezing. But, this small heater seems to be doing the trick, because even on days when the sun doesn't come out, it seems to keep the temperature at around 50 degrees.

Normally, we only heat this greenhouse in the early spring when we have tomato and pepper seedlings started to sell at the farmers' market.  But, this year I grew some tomato plants in large pots outside and couldn't bear to let them freeze when we had our first frost, so I moved them into the greenhouse.   Here they are down the middle on the gravel floor.  

As you can see, we have a few other plants in here . . . some aloe vera on the shelf to the right and some prickly pear cactus plants on the ground under it.  These are a thornless variety that has pretty yellow flowers.

We also have some planter boxes full of leaf lettuce that we are enjoying this winter.

I find it so nice to go in here on cold days.  If the sun is out, the temperature inside will quickly climb to 75 or 80 degrees.  And, it is wonderful to enjoy the green growing plants in the greenhouse when everything outside is brown and drab.

Monday, December 9, 2013

December Snow

Normally, we don't get snow in December, but this year is an exception.  Last week ushered in an Arctic cold-front that dropped temperatures down into the single digits and brought some snow as well.  We only got and inch or two, not really enough to cover all the grass, but it made for a pretty landscape.  Thankfully, we only got snow here in our part of Oklahoma.  The southern part of the state, along with northern Texas, got a lot of ice which has brought traffic to a stand-still in places, caused numerous wrecks and just made life miserable for folks trying to travel.

To make matters worse, the daily high temperatures have not gotten above freezing for almost a week, so the snow has not melted much to speak of.   This has led to a severe case of cabin fever for me!  So, I bundled up and ventured out.  Rubber boots were a necessity!

There were lots of tracks, like these bird tracks in the snow that drifted in under the carport.

There were also tracks from our cat.  I'm hoping the birds were alert and got out of her way.

I walked down to the deer feeder and found lots of deer tracks around it.  So, apparently, it is a popular hang-out for the local deer population.

There were icicles hanging from the roof of our small greenhouse.  

Venturing farther afield, I took this picture.  Looks pretty frigid, huh?

A couple of weeks ago, I turned the compost piles with the tractor.  One of them was so hot with decomposing matter that it was steaming.  The black plastic bag that Tom has in his hands is a bag of leaves he is getting ready to add to the compost.

We have lots of bags of leaves that we've collected to use in compost and for mulch this summer.  The contrast between the black bags and the white snow made for an interesting picture.

The compost pile above is also covered with snow, but you can bet that deep down in the center it is still pretty warm.

Speaking of warm, by this time my toes were cold and I had an icicle on my nose (not really). So, no more pictures, I'm going inside for a cup of hot chocolate!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Recycling Center

We've been avid recyclers for years and our recycling efforts have grown bigger and more organized over the years as well.   Here is our home recycling center.

These are trash cans we have collected over the years.  I think we purchased a couple of them new, but others were picked up at resale centers, such as our local Habitat ReStore.  They are located just outside the kitchen door so they are handy and easy to get to.

The first one (leftmost) holds our regular non-recyclable trash.  The next one is for plastic.  The black holds tin cans and the last one is for aluminum cans.  You can just barely see the container that we put glass to the left of the regular trash.  Finally, we collect paper inside the house in a regular paper grocery bag.

Since we recycle so much of our waste, it takes a couple of weeks to fill a trash can.  About once a month, Tom loads everything into the truck and makes a trip into town to the recycling center.  They take all the glass, plastic, tin, aluminum and paper free and charge a fee of $1.50 per bag for regular trash.  That is just pretty darn cheap for trash disposal!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cedar Berries

Autumn is the time of year when the Eastern Red Cedars in Oklahoma produce their fruit.  You've probably seen them.  The trees have this bluish-gray color which is the result of the hundreds of berries on their branches.

If you take a closer look, the berries are rather pretty.  Only female trees produce berries.  

Male trees do not produce berries and, hence, do not have the bluish-gray appearance that the female trees have.

Instead of berries, male trees produce tiny tan-colored "pine cones".  These are the pollen-bearing structures and are about the size of a sesame seed.  They will release the pollen near the end of winter.  They are one of the first trees to flower every year.  When the pollen is flying, you can make a tree "smoke" by gently swatting the branches.   Here's what the cones look like.

While the Eastern Red Cedar is considered an invasive species by many, it has many good attributes.  For one, the tree is a vital source of shelter for many birds and mammals.  Another good characteristic of the tree is the berries provide a food source for birds and mammals, including: American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Bobwhite, Mourning Dove, Northern Mockingbird, Purple Finch, American Crow, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, skunks, opossums, and raccoon, among others.

The USDA has a lot of good information about these trees, along with the medicinal uses the Native Americans had for them, in their plant database at the following link:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wild Persimmon Harvest

Facebook can be more than just a time-wasting social experience.  Last spring I learned about a Facebook group called Oklahoma Wildcrafting.  They are focused on edible wild plants and things that can be made from them.  It sounded interesting so I joined.  I've learned a great deal about wild plants from this group.  The group has over 800 members from all over the state.  The members appear to range all the way from novices, like me, to college professors.  You can bet that if you ask a question or post a picture of a flower or plant on their Facebook page, there will be someone who can answer the question or identify the plant.

A while back a fellow posted that he had a lot of wild persimmons on his farm and that anyone who would like to have some could contact him.  I messaged him, got directions and Tom and I took a road trip to gather persimmons.  Since neither of us has ever seen a persimmon tree, I wasn't sure what to look for.  But, the guy gave excellent directions and we found them easily.  The trees were small, but loaded with persimmons.  There were several trees.  Here is a picture of Tom picking fruit from the lower branches of one tree.

Here's a close-up picture showing the persimmons on the tree.

We gathered quite a few.  Here is about half of them in my kitchen sink after I washed them.

These are much smaller than the persimmons you may have seen in the grocery store.  Here's a picture of me holding one.

A friend gave me a recipe for persimmon cookies.  It calls for a cup of persimmon pulp.  Getting a cup of pulp turned out to be much more difficult than I expected because there are a lot of seeds inside each fruit.  The seeds are somewhat flatten and elongated and cling to the pulp inside.

First I removed the little "cap" from each fruit and then processed them in a food mill like this.  As you can see, it has a handle that is attached to a blade which is set at an angle.  As you turn the handle, whatever food is in the pan is forced under the open side of the blade and pushed against the bottom and through the small holes in the bottom.

On the underside, there is a wire that turns as the handle turns and scrapes the food off as it is forced through the holes.

I had to process the persimmons in small batches and it took a lot of elbow grease to turn the handle because of all the seeds.   Each small batch produced only a couple of tablespoons of pulp.   It was quite frustrating and I forgot to take pictures.  So, I don't  have any pictures to post of the process.  However, I processed enough of them to get the cup of pulp I needed for the cookies.

I think part of the problem may have been the persimmons were a little past their prime and were beginning to dry up so there was not as much juice in them, making it more difficult for them to go through the food mill.  Whatever the case, I would like to have some wild persimmon trees on our land, so I took the persimmons I had left and threw them in a hard to mow place where any seedlings that come up will not get cut down by the mower.

I'm not sure how successful I'm going to be in growing my own trees, though.  I think deer may have eaten the ones I threw out.   I walked by there a few days later and they appeared to be all gone.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Garden Cleanup

We had our first "killing" frost a couple of weeks ago and the garden is ready to be put to bed for the winter.  Tom has been working on the dead plant matter out in the field, while I've been working on the raised beds.  I try to do a little bit every time the weather is nice.

This weekend we had some beautiful fall days and I tackled the tomato vines.

These are the ones pictured from behind in the following post about the stripped tomatoes.

First, I had to round up the appropriate gear and tools.

And, since I'm basically lazy, I had to have a stool to sit on.  This is my "rocker" stool.  It does not sink down into the dirt like a stool with legs would do and, since it "rocks", it also allows you to lean over to reach things easily.

Here's the pile of tomato vines I ended up with.

It is amazing how big some of the stalks were.  Here's an example.

The vines all went into the compost pile there by the bed.

The black plastic bags there contain leaves that Tom collected from a friends house.  These got put on top of the tomato vines.  

This is a concept that I learned about composting many years ago.  It is good to "layer" your compost ingredients.  I like to use fibrous material, like tomato vines, for at least one of the layers to introduce air into the compost.  This layer traps air pockets that contain oxygen, one of the essential ingredients to have aerobic decomposition take place.  

It is best if you can also "turn" your compost pile ever so often to mix everything up and introduce more air to help keep the aerobic process going.  I don't usually do that with this compost pile, since it gets mixed in with the BIG compost pile that Tom has going out in the field.  Here is a link to one of the posts I have written about that one.  It gets so hot from the decomposition process that it produces steam when turned in cold weather!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chicken Pics

It's been a while since I posted anything about our chickens.  So, thought I'd share a few comments and pictures of them.

Chickens are incredibly curious.  I was out in the pen, sitting on the ground, trying to get some good pictures of them.  (They don't hold still and pose very well.) This one came right up to the camera and I got a good shot of her looking straight into the lens.  Shortly after this, she gave the camera an inquisitive peck to check it out, but then decided it was not good to eat and went her way.

Below they are "helping" Tom work on the fence.  They come right up to him and peck the buttons on his shirt and anything else that looks interesting to them.  Tom has all of them named.

This chicken is a New Hampshire Red.  They are "kin" to Rhode Island Red chickens, but are bred to be a little meatier (in case you want to eat them).  We started out with 3 New Hampshire Red chickens, but a snake got one of them when they were little chicks and one of them died for no obvious reason.  We just found her dead in the pen one day.  This chicken is named Gertrude.

The chicken below is a hybrid.  I'm not sure what two breeds were bred to get this hybrid.  We purchased the chickens from our local Atwoods store in the spring of 2012.  They were just a couple of weeks old when we got them.   Atwoods sells baby chicks and ducks in the spring and fall each year.  We bought 3 of these hybrids and 3 of the New Hampshire Reds above.  We still have all 3 of the hybrids left.   Not sure if that means they have better luck than the New Hampshire Red chickens or what.

Here's another picture of Gertrude.  Chickens are constantly looking at the ground for bugs and other goodies.

Here they are taking dust baths.  This helps them rid themselves of mites and other pests.

Chickens have very good eyesight.  They can easily detect a grasshopper or caterpillar that is camouflaged in the grass.  I understand that scientists have come to the conclusion that birds descended from dinosaurs.  I can certainly believe that.  Just look at the chicken's eye below.  Doesn't that remind you or a T-Rex least what Jurassic Park led us to believe a T-Rex eye looks like? 

It is difficult to capture a picture of a chicken scratching in the dirt.  Notice the chicken in the picture below has scratched out a hole.  She sort of does this little dance where she steps forward and scratches the dirt with both her feet, then steps back right quick and looks to see what has been uncovered.   It is amazing of how deep these holes can be.  Their pen looks like a war zone with huge bomb craters!

 And, finally here are 3 of them parading around the pen.   You can see my shadow where I am sitting trying to take their picture.  

Chickens are fascinating creatures.  I could sit for hours and watch them.  But, alas, I really need to get busy and get something useful accomplished today, so I'd better stop writing and get on with the day.