Sunday, December 16, 2018

New Chicken Pen

When we moved to our new house, not only did we have to move ourselves, but we also had to move the chickens.  It was difficult to decide where to set up their new digs.  In the end, we built a pen around an old bodark tree with their coop serving as part of the fence on the north side.


We used our old peacock shed as the coop and used sections of old dog fencing for the pen.  Only one of the hens, the Americauna, has figured out she can fly over it.  She is half wild, anyway, so I'm not surprised.  Here's a look at it from the other side.

We didn't have quite enough dog fence to completely surround the tree, so we filled in with 6-foot woven wire.  The nice thing about the dog fence is the panels have built-in gates, like this.

The peacock shed has plenty of room for the hens.

We used 2X4s for the roosts.  These work better than round roosts because it allows them to sit down and cover their feet with their feathers to prevent frost damage to their toes.  We built shelves inside to store various things.

We store their food in metal trash cans in the corner and put up some hooks to hang rakes, etc. that are used to clean their coop.

We installed their nest boxes on the opposite side from the shelves.  

Annie, the Americauna hen, has decided a nest on the floor is much better than the man-made nest boxes.  We discovered this nest over behind one of the trash cans after Tom observed her going behind the can several times.

It was difficult to get a good picture of it, but she had collected nesting material from the nest boxes, along with feathers, and built her own nest on the floor.  We have to check there for eggs everyday.  Quite often, there are one or two.

We put a bale of straw for them outside every couple of weeks.  It doesn't take long for them to tear it apart and keeps them occupied for several days.  It also serves the purpose of covering the bare ground with mulch and keeps it from getting muddy.

All in all, we must have done a good job of building the new pen because a wild turkey hen has taken up residence there, as well.  She roosts in the bodark tree, but spends a great deal of time in the pen with the chickens.  They don't seem to mind her company.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Jerusalem Artichokes aka Sunchokes

Before I begin, let me say that Jerusalem Artichokes are not artichokes at all, but are tubers produced by plants similar to sunflowers.  The name, in fact, comes from the Italian word "girasole" which is the Italian word for sunflower.  Here's what they look like while in flower.

This past month we had some for Thanksgiving dinner.  The chokes are best if you wait until after frost before you dig them.  In fact, you can just leave them in the ground all winter, digging them as needed.  As you can see below, we had a bumper crop this year and this is just part of them.

The tubers are knotty and require quite a bit of cleaning to get the dirt out of all the grooves.  Tom had his work cut out for him, but it was a nice day, so he got some fresh air and sunshine.

When finished he had a large bucket almost full.

I roasted them in the oven using a very simple recipe.  I cut the larger ones in two so they were all about the same size.  Doused them with olive oil.  Added salt and pepper and cooked at 375 degrees until soft.  I stirred them a couple of times during cooking.  Here's a before picture.

Here's after they were cooked.

They are quite tasty, having a somewhat nutty flavor.  I have a friend who made "chips" from them by slicing them thin and cooking them in the oven at 450 degrees.  I've not tried this, but that is on my to-do list.  

Friday, November 30, 2018

New Garden Spot

I ended last my post about our new house with the following picture and a promise to update you on our new garden.

One of the things I love are the paved walkways between the beds.  We had enough paving stones for a couple of walkways.

And, we used bricks left over from the house for others.

The raised beds we built are taller than the ones we had before.  These make weeding so much easier.  This one contains carrots which have done very well this fall.  We've had several nights with temperatures in the teens, but the carrots have not been hurt.

Another of these beds contains lettuce which has done great. The tops of some of the plants did get nipped by the cold weather, but not too badly.

This bed is only 2 concrete blocks tall.  Nothing was planted (intentionally) in it, but we used some of soil from the garden at the old house in this bed and we have a bumper crop of cilantro!  

We moved our cattle supplement tubs from our old house and will be using them this spring.  You may remember in the past, I wrote a couple of posts about using them in our backyard garden.   Cattle Tub Garden

We took down our large hoop house (high tunnel) when we moved and have yet to decide whether we want to put it back up.  We are looking at the possibility of selling it.  However, we have built a small one.

We planted peas in it, along with a few onions and a couple of rows of lettuce.

We are experimenting with how we can make the most of gardening in this small area.  I'm sure we have a learning curve ahead of us.  But, I think this is going to be just right for our new "down-sized" life.  We still have a larger "in-ground" area for things like corn, tomatoes, okra and peppers.  However, we do not plan to continue gardening on a large farmers market scale, like we used to.  

Saturday, November 17, 2018

New House and Garden

It's been several months since I updated this blog.  In March, we divided 2 acres off from our property and started building a house.  We were getting to the age where navigating the stairs in the old house just didn't feel safe anymore.  The house plan we chose was a small one-story 1500 sq ft plan.  We asked the builder to make it handicapped accessible.  This included wide doorways and a walk-in shower.  We had a lot of rain this spring and summer, so it took longer than expected to build it.  However, it was worth the wait.   We are now moved in and settled.  Here's a picture of the house.

One of the features I love about this house is the breezeway which separates the attached garage from the living part of the house.  We have moved our recycling containers and a potting bench into the breezeway.  We also park the Gator there.  The garage is over-sized, so there is room for both vehicles, along with an extra refrigerator and a workbench for whatever farm projects we have.

You may be wondering what we did with the rest of the farm.  We sold it along with the house and outbuildings to our daughter and son-in-law.  It puts him much closer to his work.  So, it worked out well for all of us.  The two acres we kept has plenty of room for a big garden, our chickens and raised beds. 

The biggest reason I didn't write anything for the blog during this period of time is we lived in an RV for 4 months while the house was being built.  

It wasn't easy with the two of us, a dog and cat, but we survived.  The RV is 20 something years old, but is in good shape and we got a really good deal on it.  The best thing about the experience was we parked it in the back yard and could check on the new house progress everyday.  We got to know most of the workers and gave them extra produce and tomato plants.  In turn, they built us a deck for the RV out of scrap lumber.  We do not plan to use the RV anymore.  It runs well, but we are not comfortable with driving it.  So, we are looking for a buyer.  If you know of anyone who would be interested, please contact us via the blog.  

While I spent most of the summer inside the RV trying to keep up with the garden produce in the small kitchen, Hubby was busy getting the chickens moved and building some new raised beds.  I'll write more on these topics later, but I want to share a little about the raised beds he built.  

As you can see, he made them 3 concrete blocks tall.  It was amazing how many concrete blocks we had when he disassembled the old beds and collected others we had laying around here and there!  He also put paving stones around them to help keep Bermuda grass out and it is nice to have paved walkways between them.

We also have plenty of room for an in-ground garden, as well.

I'll write more in the next few weeks about our new scaled-down life.  But, for the time being, I just wanted to give you a summary of the last few months and to let you know we are still alive! 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tomato Varieties for 2018

Windy Acres Tomato Varieties for 2018
$2 each at Farm, $3 each at Market

Homestead (Red)
Heirloom. 80 days. Open Pollinated. Produces good yields of 8 to 9 oz red tomatoes. They are very sweet, meaty, juicy, and flavorful. Good foliage that protects tomatoes from sun scald. Does extremely well in hot and humid regions. Known for its reliability to set fruit at high temperatures. Heat tolerant. Plant requires support, either staking or cages. Developed by the University of Florida in 1954.  Disease Resistant: F, A. Semi-Determinate.
Rutgers (Red)
Heirloom. 73 days. Open Pollinated. Early maturing.  Produces high yields of 6 to 12 oz bright red tomatoes. Sweet and flavorful. A cross between a J.T.D. (an old New Jersey variety from the Campbell Soup Company) and a Marglobe. Crack resistant. Heirloom variety developed in 1934 by the New Jersey Experimental Station, New Brunswick, New Jersey.   Disease Resistant: V, F, A, St.  Determinate.
Cherokee Purple (Purplish-pink)
Heirloom. 85 days. Open Pollinated. Plant produces high yields of 8 to 12 oz purplish-pink beefsteak tomatoes. Rich old-fashioned tomato flavor. Consistently ranks very high in taste tests.  One of the best tasting heirloom tomatoes. To maximize yield potential, either stake or use cages. Grown over 100 years ago by the Cherokee Indians. Indeterminate.
Arkansas Traveler (Pink)
Heirloom. 85 days. Open Pollinated. Produces good yields of 6 to 8 oz deep pink tomatoes.  Grows well everywhere. Rich old-fashioned tomato flavor and is considered to be one of the best tasting tomato around. Tolerant to heat and humidity. Crack resistant.  Heirloom variety dating back to the late 1800's from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.  Indeterminate.
Virginia Sweet (Bi-colored yellow/red)
Heirloom. 80 days.  Open Pollinated. Plant produces high yields of 1 to 2 lb bi-colored golden yellow beefsteak tomatoes with red stripes that turn into a ruby blush on top. It has the rich full tomato flavor. One of the best tasting, most beautiful, and best producing bi-colored tomatoes. Excellent choice for home gardens. Heirloom variety from Virginia. Indeterminate.
Black Krim (Dark mahogany, blackish-red)
Heirloom.  80 days. Open Pollinated. Produces high yields of 10 to 16 oz dark mahogany, blackish-red beefsteak tomatoes. Has rich old-fashioned tomato flavor. Very sweet, juicy, and flavorful. Heat tolerant. Suitable for containers and patio gardening. Heirloom from the Black Sea region of Russia. Indeterminate.
Kellogg Breakfast (Yellow/Orange)
Heirloom. 85 days. Open Pollinated.  Produces excellent yields of 1 to 2 lb bright orange beefsteak tomatoes. Very sweet, meaty, juicy, and flavorful. Heirloom variety from Darrell Kellogg and originating from West Virginia. Indeterminate.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Planting Strawberries

If you follow my blog, you know that last year I tried growing strawberries in some cattle supplement tubs we obtained from a friend.  They flourished in the tubs and this spring I thinned them rather drastically.  I wrote about that in my blog last month.  Today, I want to show you what I did with the plants I that I thinned.

In my raised bed garden, I had a empty bed in which I had grown cilantro last spring.  The cilantro went to seed and died during the summer.  And, I didn't get around to planting anything else in the bed.  I thought this would make a good bed for strawberries, so a couple of weeks ago I cleaned it out and worked the ground up.

I had quite a few strawberry plants from thinning the cattle tubs, more than I could plant in this one bed.

The important thing to remember when planting strawberries is to not plant the crown of the plant too deeply.  In the picture below, the part of the plant above my thumb should be above the soil level.  This is the crown of the plant.

It didn't take long to dig a few holes and get the plants in the ground.  I spaced the plants about 12-16 inches apart.  As they become established, they will send out runners which will root and make new plants.  So, you want to leave enough room for the runners.

I didn't remember until afterwards that I had to do something to keep the chickens from getting in the bed and digging the plants up!  It is funny, but they will be completely uninterested in a garden bed until they notice me digging in it.  This acts as a magnet for them and they can't resist scratching in a bed where they see the soil has been recently disturbed.  

See what I mean.  Fortunately, I found a cattle panel that fit over the bed just before this hen came to investigate.  The grid is too small for her to scratch much.  Plus, it is not evident from this picture, but the panel is raised about an inch off the ground.

That didn't stop her from walking across the bed trying to figure out how she could manage to scratch between those wires in that nice soil.

In the end, she lost interest and went elsewhere.  However, when these strawberries bloom and set fruit, I will have to come up with a better way to keep them out of the bed because this will definitely not keep them from eating those nice red berries.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thinning Strawberries

Last year I planted some strawberries in three of the cattle supplement tubs that we got from a friend.  The following link contains a picture of one tub of strawberries in May of last year.

After that picture was taken, the strawberry plants in these containers went crazy, sending out runners which made lots of new plants.  I was actually quite surprised by this.  The tubs are black and collect a lot of heat during sunny summer days.  I thought they would be too hot for strawberries, but I was wrong.

Winter is almost over and we are beginning to have quite a few warm days and I decided it was time to clean out and thin my strawberries.  Here's one of the strawberry tubs before I started.

As you can see there are a lot of dead leaves, so I had to remove those before I could see where the strawberry plants were.  

Next, I selected certain plants that I dug up.  You have to practice "tough love" when thinning strawberries.  Sometimes that means getting pretty rough with them.  I removed the big clump in the middle.  It took some digging and hard pulling to get it out.

It consisted of several plants crowded close together.  I saved these to plant somewhere else.

I tried to leave plenty of room between the remaining plants in order for them to have room to grow. Here's the tub after I finished.

After I thinning all three tubs, I had almost a whole Walmart bag full of plants that I will give away or plant elsewhere.  

My work was made a lot easier by this garden bench.  It is just the right height to use with the tubs.  You can also turn it over and use it to kneel on.

So, one spring chore is completed, but I have a lot more to go.  Wish me luck!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Spring Planting

It's still rather early to plant summer yielding vegetables, but for cool season crops, like onions and potatoes, it is the perfect time.

Last week Tom planted onions.  He usually buys onion plants.  These come in bundles and can be obtained at many grocery stores, although he bought these from our local farm store.  He bought 5 bundles that included sweet onions and red onions.  He also bought 3 kinds of seed potatoes:  Kennebec, Yukon Gold and Red LaSota.  He spent an afternoon planting these.  They sure look tiny in the field, but they will grow big and round in our compost enhanced soil.

While I was down there taking pictures of the onions, I checked out the garlic we planted last fall.  In Oklahoma, you plant garlic in the fall and harvest it in June.  We mulch it with leaves for winter protection.  It's looking good.  

Tom had just finished planting potatoes when I was out there taking pictures.  Here he is mulching them with leaves.  Note the black trash bags full of leaves in the background.  These are some of the ones he rescued from the trash trucks in town last fall.  We use them for mulching the garden, as well as adding them to our compost piles.

Our chickens saw him out in the field and thought they would come see if they could help.  Actually, they were looking for bugs and whatever goodies they could find in the freshly tilled soil.

After they grew tired of that, they checked out the new compost pile and found that much more interesting.

The chicken in the foreground is scratching around in the remains of a pile of finished compost.  It was several feet tall before Tom spread most of it on the onion and potato patches.  There are still several buckets of compost here.  I plan to use that for some of my raised beds near the house.

We will not be doing as much gardening this year as we have in the past.  I am having some back problems and Tom is going to have to have eye surgery.  Getting older is NOT fun!  Never the less, I always see us having a small garden, if only to grow herbs and a few tomatoes.  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Winter Wildlife

I seem to have gotten lazy this winter about writing my blog articles, but there just has not been a lot to report.  The winter has been much colder than last winter, so there have been very few days when we felt like going out in the cold to prepare for the coming season.  Plus, it has been a very dry winter and I am very concerned that we may be headed for a repeat of 2012. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows our part of Oklahoma at the "severe drought" level.  

If this weather pattern keeps up, I may dwell on this topic again in the coming months, but for now I want to share with you some of the wildlife we've captured on our wildlife cameras this winter.

First, we have lots of deer to report.  We have the nice fellow below.  Also, notice the raccoon over by the tree.  

These 2 guys seem to hang out together.  The one on the right has already lost one of his antlers.  The one on the left has only a spike.

The younger bucks sometimes practice butting heads.

Then, of course, there are lots of does and yearlings that come.  Many of them even come during daylight hours.

Tom built the feeders attached to the tree out of PVC pipe.  The deer don't mind having to stick their noses down into the opening to get at the corn.

Occasionally, we get a close-up view.  I wonder if he was trying for a "selfie".

Squirrels are ever-present and probably eat a good deal of the deer corn, but we don't mind.  They are hungry, too.  There are 4 in the picture below.  Can you find them all?

We've been delighted this winter to have a flock of wild turkeys frequenting our place.  They enjoy pecking around the deer feeder and are not shy about coming up close to the house where our bird feeders are located.  They clean up whatever seed falls out of the feeders.  One day a car startled them when they were in the large grassy field in front of the house.  They all took flight and flew right over the house.  I was amazed such large birds could fly so well.  They flew quite a ways, too, over to the neighbor's property where there are more trees and brush.

And, one of the most exciting animals we have seen has been a bobcat.  He strolled right down the driveway in front of the house.  We've lived here 9 years and have never seen one of these.