Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lonely Basement

The basement is a lonely place these days.  It is hard to believe that just a few short weeks ago it was overflowing with tomato and pepper transplants.  Remember this picture.

I'm happy to report that most of those plants have either been sold at the farmers' market or planted here on Windy Acres.  We still have a few left, but we have quite selling them at the market and have about run out of places to plant them here.

The only activity occurring in the basement now is growing sunflower sprouts (see previous post).

We'll continue to grow these until next year when lack of room forces them to take a back seat to the tomato and pepper transplants.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Have Some Sprouts

We've been growing sunflower spouts off and on for a couple of years.  Here's how we do it.  

First, get a large jar or jars.  We use half-gallon jars, but quart jars will work just as well.  Add a cup of sunflower seeds to the jar.  You can just use black-oil sunflower seeds like you feed the birds.  Add enough water to cover them and let them soak for an hour or so.   Drain the water off and cover the mouth of the jar with a lid that has holes punched in it.

Set the jar(s) on your kitchen counter where you'll see them everyday because you will need to rinse the seeds once a day to keep them moist until they begin to sprout.  

After 2 to 3 days, they should begin to sprout, like this.

At this point, get a shallow pan and fill it with potting soil.  I just use one of those flats that comes with those cheap seed-starting kits you get from Walmart or the garden store.  Sprinkle the sunflower seeds from one jar over the soil.  If you use 2 jars, like we do, you'll need 2 flats of soil.

Water them well and cover with a plastic cover.

I poked holes in the lid because if the sunflower sprouts stayed too wet, they will mold.

The seeds will start sending roots down into the soil and after several days you can remove the lid and set the flat under a florescent light.

You might be able to set them outside under a covered patio.  But, you'd need to watch them closely to make sure they don't dry out too much.

In a week or so, they will look like this.

After they are a couple of inches tall, I just use a pair of scissors to "harvest" them.  One flat can easily yield a large bowl of sprouts.  

Eat them as snacks or throw them in salads or stir-fries.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spring Flowers

I took this picture today of the field in front of our house.

This area lies between our house and the road.  I call it our "meadow", even though in my mind the word meadow evokes images of mountains of which Oklahoma has very few.  We only mow this area once or twice a year because we enjoy the wildflowers that bloom here

As you can see, the predominate flowers are yellow ones, like this.

But, there are several other yellow varieties, too.  Here's one a picture of one of them.

And, here is another one.  The flowers on this plant are tiny. 

And, finally, this one.  The foliage on this plant is ugly, but the flowers are pretty.

Even though the most prevalent flowers are the yellow ones, there are other kinds, as well.  You just have to look closer to see them.  For example, there are white ones, like this.

And, light purple ones, like this

Even the grass has flowers.  I noticed these very tiny orange flowers growing on a stalk of grass!

Spring is a beautiful time of year.  We should all take more time to stop and see the beauty around us.  Stop and smell the wildflowers!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chickens and Dirt

I have learned a lot about chickens since this time last year when we decided to buy 6 chicks from our local farm store.  

We had never owned chickens before..  So we had a lot to learn.  

One of the things I've learned is that they dig holes everywhere ...... DEEP holes.  Their pen now looks like a war zone.

Last week I noticed a couple of them sort of sitting or squatting in some of these holes.  

They kept squirming around and kicking up dirt with their feet.  Sometimes they would even lay over on their sides as if they were trying to turn completely over.

 Finally, I realized they were trying to get the dust and dirt onto their backs.  Like this.

They were so absorbed in what they were doing, they pretty much ignored me which is unusual because they usually run over to the fence to see if I am bringing them any goodies (like fresh greens, bugs, caterpillars and the like).

I searched the web and found this web site that talks about chickens and why they take dirt baths.  

I've seen wild birds taking dust baths before and knew it was to help eliminate mites and such.   So, I shouldn't be surprise that chickens are any different.  At any rate, they were very entertaining to watch!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mud Daubers

There are some chores that one neglects until the situation becomes so bad it can no longer be  ignored.  Sigh.  Such is the case with cleaning the area just outside our laundry room door.  This is a covered porch that is enclosed on 3 sides.  The nice thing about it being enclosed on 3 sides is that it is shady and is protected from the weather.  Therefore, it is a good area for the dogs to take refuge in on days that we have to be gone and they have to be left outside most of the day. 

The bad thing about it being enclosed on 3 sides is that leaves and grass and other wind-blown debris collects in the corners and around the trash cans and other "stuff" we have stored there.  So, once or twice a year, I get the broom and tackle the task.  This involves moving all the "stuff".  Today, when I moved a set of shelves, I found the following.

You may recognize these as mud dauber nests.  Basically, they are built by a type of wasp called a mud dauber.  These wasps range from solid black to blue-black to yellow and black.  They are not aggressive and, even when they sting, it is usually not bad.  They are, however, a nuisance in that they build these mud nests on walls, like this, and it makes quite a mess when they are removed.  

The wasps collect small balls of mud with which they construct the nests.  The nests are very hard when they dry.   Inside each mud nest are chambers where the eggs are laid.  One egg is laid in each chamber and then sealed with mud.  When the young wasps emerge, they are somehow able to break their way out of these enclosures, thus leaving a small round hole in the end.

Oh, did I forget to mention that before the wasp seals each chamber, it catches small spiders which it paralyzes with its sting and seals a couple of spiders inside to provide food for the egg when it hatches.  Here are the ghostly remains of the unfortunate spiders that ended up fodder for this nest.

Usually, the outer cover of the pupated wasp is left behind as well, such as the following.

Today, I found a couple of young wasps that were still encased inside the nest.  Here is one of them.

The life-cycle of these creatures is fascinating, but I'd rather not think about the poor spiders!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ice Bottles for Cooler

At this time of year, we have a lot of lettuce and other spring greens, like I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

It is important to keep these cool on warm days at the farmers's market.  Sometimes this proves to be a challenge.  But, Tom has found a way to do this and reuse plastic soda bottles in the process.

First, he fills a bunch of bottles with water (after drinking the contents, of course).  Then he freezes them.

We have an old refrigerator out in the garage.  He uses the freezer to keep the ice bottles between uses.   They can be reused many times.

The night before we go to the market, he places a layer of these bottles on the bottom of our coolers, like this. Obviously, he drinks a lot of green tea! 

Next, he places a towel over the bottles and it is ready to fill with greens or anything else we need to keep cool.

This helps keep plastic out of the landfill and saves us having to buy bags of ice every week for the coolers.   Plus, when the ice melts, it stays in the bottles and does not end up making a slushy mess in the bottom of the coolers.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Naughty Chickens

Last time, I talked about how we had allowed the chickens out of their enclosed pen that has bird netting over the top and into an adjacent pen that has a lot of grass.  They are enjoying this new area tremendously.  However, this new freedom has led to a new problem.  

One day recently, Tom told me the chickens only laid one egg that day.  We have 4 chickens and we normally get 2 to 4 eggs a day.  So, only getting one egg was alarming.  The first thing to run through my mind was that they were sick with some terrible chicken disease.  As chickens get older, they will quit laying as many eggs, but these are only a year old.  So, they should not be going into chicken menopause or whatever!

The next day there were no eggs in the nest boxes.   So, he got suspicious and started looking around.  We created the chicken coop by partitioning off one end of a shed.  

The part to the right is where their coop is located.  We go in and out of the coop through the screen door.  The area to the left is a storage area where Tom keeps unused T-posts, PVC pipe and various things.  The chickens now have access to this part and like to prowl around in there.  They go in through the opening beside the gate.  There are mice in there and they will kill and eat a mouse if they can catch it!  I'm sure there are lots of tasty bugs, as well.

So, Tom suspected maybe they were laying eggs in this part of the shed, and sure enough, he found 7 eggs in a wallowed-out place between 2 trash cans.  Now, we know to check there, as well as the nest boxes.  They don't lay over there very often, but occasionally we find an egg, like this.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Free Ranging Chickens

For months now, even through the winter months, we have enjoyed fresh eggs from our chickens.  In return, we provide them with plenty of fresh water and food and greens to eat.

During this time, I've written several blog entries about how we have enlarged their pen.  Starting out with this entry about their first outside pen:

Then this one about how we enlarged it:

And finally this one about adding another extension that allowed the chickens entry to our hoophouse:

We've had to shut them out of the hoophouse this spring until the lettuce we are growing for the farmers' market is finished.  They LOVE lettuce.  And, in the mean time, they have picked their pen clean of all grass, weeds and other green growing stuff!  I got to feeling sorry for them and asked Tom if he thought it would be okay if we let them out of the enclosed area into an adjacent pen that did not have netting over the top.   We decided to try this on a trial basis to see if they would fly over the fence. Granted they cannot fly very high or very far, but they can fly.  Here's the area I'm talking about.

We opened the gate and they tentatively checked out the new area.  Notice all the grass in this new area.  Notice all the bare dirt in their pen.  I am happy to say that they have not tried to fly over the fence.  They tend to travel back and forth between the old pen and the new one.  And, they always return to their inside coop to roost at night.  

So far, no hawks have tried to get them.  That is another reason for the netting over the old pen. It not only keeps them in, but it also keeps predatory birds out!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lettuce Assembly Line

Every Friday evening we work on getting our stuff ready to take to the farmers' market on Saturday morning.  One of my jobs is to package the spring lettuce mix that we sell. 

For the spring mix, Tom plants loose leaf lettuce.  He mixes 5 different varieties and plants them thickly in rows.  The row closest to the camera is the spring mix.  

Tom harvests the lettuce  with a pair of scissors.  That is the hardest job.  He leaves about an inch and it will regrow from what is left.  In this way, he can harvest several bunches off of one row.  In order to keep it from wilting while he is harvesting it, he fills a tub with cold water and dumps the lettuce in the tub.  Then, it is my turn.

I remove the lettuce from the water and put it on a wire draining rack.  If it is still very wet, I spin it with my kitchen salad spinner.  Then it goes onto a clean towel on the kitchen counter and I set up my "assembly line" for packaging the lettuce.

We use official "Oklahoma Grown" produce bags.  Our Stillwater Farmers' Market is a proud member of this state organization.  

I weigh the lettuce on a postal scale.  It measures to a tenth of an ounce.  We are not allowed to sell "by weight".  To do so, you must have an expensive scale that has to have been approved by state inspectors.  So, we just sell the lettuce "by the bag" and do not post a weight on it.  However, I like to make sure that all the bags weigh about the same so that all our customers get the same amount of lettuce.

Once the lettuce is bagged, it goes into one of our coolers to keep it cool.

Tom uses bottles of ice in the bottom of our coolers that he covers with towels.  These work really well and can be reused many, many times.  He has an old refrigerator in the garage where he keeps the ice bottles between uses.