July 14, 2018

Solar Roasted Corn on the Cob

We've gotten a lot of rain so far this summer, which has meant a lot of cloudy days. On sunny days, though, I like to get out my solar oven and put it to work. One summer favorite is solar roasted corn on the cob.


Roasting ears of corn in a solar oven is absolutely the easiest way to enjoy corn on the cob! No husking, washing, or trying to pick off corn silk. Just put them on the rack and let the sun do the work.

As with all solar cooking, time varies according to oven temperature. Mine usually gets up to about 350°F (180°C), and I think I left the corn in there about an hour. Since solar is even, moist heat, there is no worry about burning.

When you're ready to eat, remove them from the oven and cut the bottom end off.


Grasp the leaves at the top and peel them off from the bottom up.


They come off easily including the silk.

And that's it! No hot steamy pot to heat up the kitchen, just tender delicious corn to eat and enjoy. Nothing could be easier.

July 10, 2018

Sometimes I Miss Having Pigs

Waldo and Polly. Photo taken June 2015.

I think of the various farm animals Dan and I have had, pigs have been a hands-down favorite. We had American Guinea Hogs, a small heritage breed native to the South. They were good foragers, friendly, excellent at turning all food scraps into manure, but hard on fences. So when our fences began to experience a lot of collateral damage from falling pine trees ...

A lot of them fall over roots and all. This one
made a handy get-away hole under the fence.

This one fell on top of the fence.

As did this one.

This one is leaning just inside the fence corner!
Another fence disaster just waiting to happen.

... we decided to sell our Waldo and Polly until we could deal with the problem and repair our fences. That seemed a better alternative to keeping them penned. Eventually, we will have pigs again.

I miss them most at times like now, when I have a surplus of milk.


I'm currently milking three does, one twice a day and the others once a day because I'm milk sharing with their kids. Total, they give me a little more than three-quarters of a gallon per day. That isn't much by cow standards, but for two people who don't drink milk, it's a lot. And it accumulates quickly! I use it to make cheese, kefir, and ice cream, but sometimes I have more than I can attend. Feeding it to the pigs was an excellent way to deal with a surplus.

The other thing the pigs were excellent for was consuming whey. Whey is a byproduct of cheese making and since there is more water in milk than milk solids and butterfat, cheesemakers end up with a lot of whey.  The chickens and cats aren't interested in that, but the pigs loved it!

Whey leftover from 3 half-gallons of milk

There are a number of things can be done with whey. I use it in place of water for all my cooking and baking. (As it sours it is excellent with baking soda as a leavening agent). It can be used to water plants. My favorite way to use whey is to make gjetost and primost.

Gjetost is Norwegian goat whey cheese and it is absolutely divine. You can read my "Gjetost (Norwegian Goat Whey Cheese)" post for details and the recipe. Primost is similar, the difference being that it isn't cooked down quite as long as gjetost and so is spreadable. I make both, which one depending on how far along it is by bedtime (in other words, I don't want to let it continue to simmer down overnight). Besides being delicious, both products use up all the whey.

Makes a wonderful sandwich spread on toast with jelly.

I also like to make the more traditional whey product.

Whey Ricotta

I use ricotta for a lot of things. Lasagna and cheesecake are traditional favorites, but I also use ricotta in my no-fat ricotta biscuits, gnocchi (Italian dumplings), and gelato (Italian ice cream without the cream). You can read how I make whey ricotta in my "A Simple Ricotta Cheese" post.

But! Ricotta still leaves whey, and that brings me back to missing having pigs. Looking forward to the day they can be part of our homestead again.

July 6, 2018

Goat Barn: Delays and Discoveries

I had hoped to have photos of the completed hay loft door and barn quilt by now, but we had so much rain during June and this first week of july that Dan didn't want to take down the tarp that's covering the hay loft door opening. That would risk rain blowing in our our hay and we don't want that! Delays are always disappointing, but in this case, the rain was a blessing because we discovered this...

Front door

We had drainage problems. Not only in front of the barn, but in the back too.

Rain runoff also drained in under one of the back walls.

The runoff was coming in under the back wall facing us below.


If we hadn't had so much rain we wouldn't have known. I would have moved the goats in and their straw bedding would have hidden it. Not good.

Part of the problem is the roof on that side.


It has been collecting and dumping a tremendous amount of water on the ground. Putting up gutters is on the to-do list, but we hadn't gotten that far when all the rain came. Even so, Dan wanted to direct runoff away from the barn. So he started in the back and began digging trenches.


Next, gravel and perforated pipe were laid in the trench with filter cloth covering the pipe.


Filter cloth is used to prevent the perforations in the pipe from getting clogged with dirt.

Sheets of filter cloth are also available, but our Lowes only had sleeves.

The pipe extends under the fence, in front of the double door, and out toward the fig trees.


The last thing he did was to level off a spot for a rainwater collection tank and fill that and the trenches with stone.

After we put up gutters they will drain into a future rainwater tank.

The very next day we got another inch of rain and so could see how well this arrangement worked. No more water finding it's way into the barn.

Next the front. Some of the runoff was coming from the barn roof, but most of it comes off the roof on the house. The downspouts empty onto the driveway, which slopes gently down toward the barn. All that roof runoff made huge puddles in front of the barn and drained into its front door. So Dan dug a trench in front too.


Beyond the barn the ditch angles away from it and down the hill.




Dan's handiwork was tested the next day, when we got another inch and a quarter of rain. No more water in the barn! That was a relief.

We're pretty sure the problem is solved now, but gutters will go up next.

July 4, 2018

Interview

I'm really pleased that reviews for my new Prepper's Livestock Handbook are starting to pop up around the internet. I especially wanted to share this one with you by Yvie over at Gypsy Road. She interviewed me and included that interview at the end of her blog post. She asked some very good questions. Click here to go take a look-see!

Interview © July 2018 by Leigh at

July 1, 2018

Mulch Days

While I was on blog break last month, I was busy mulching the garden. Our summers can be  hot and dry, so it's imperative to preserve as much moisture in the soil as possible. We had quite a few rainy evenings toward the end of June, so with the soil moist, it was the perfect time to mulch.

Most years I seem to run out of mulch before I run out of garden. This summer, I made a commitment to myself to get the entire garden mulched. That has meant using whatever mulch materials I can get my hands on. Here's my rundown on mulching materials for the hot, muggy, no-tellin'-when-it's-gonna-rain South. I've listed a few things I avoid at the end of the post.

Dried Leaves

Dried leaves mulching corn.

Dried leaves are my old standby, mostly because we have a lot of them! They do make a good mulch, but they aren't perfect.

Pros:
  • plentiful (if you have deciduous trees)
  • a good way to recycle them
  • decompose quickly (build soil quickly)
  • not as ugly as a few other things
Cons:
  • have to be raked and hauled (time consuming)
  • usually full of acorns, pecans, etc (which sprout and grow)
  • also usually full of sticks
  • can harbor fire (and other biting) ants
  • usually needs a 2nd layer later in the season
  • doesn't deter wiregrass

Summary: Dried leaves have been my primary mulch for a long time. They are the traditional earth mulch and build beautiful soil in the forests! Because we have lots of trees, they are plentiful here and using the leaves as mulch is certainly better than stuffing them in plastic bags to be thrown away.

To simplify the two-part process of raking/hauling and mulching, we've taken to doing the raking in the fall and winter and storing them in our future laundry water recycling bed.

Convenient for leaf storage.

Paper Feed or Seed Bags

Paper feed bags mulching aisles between rows of okra.

I showed you how I was using these to mulch aisles in my "What's Growing in the Garden" post last month. Like everything else, they have their good points and bad.

Pros:
  • excellent way to recycle them
  • if plentiful, can cover an area quickly
  • last the entire summer 
  • smothers grasses 
  • help conserve other mulches like wood chips if not plentiful
Cons:
  • can blow away in a strong wind (have to be weighted)
  • needs a covering layer of fine mulch
  • not good for mulching small areas, such as between plants
  • can be hard to find. Many feedbags are either plastic or plastic lined
  • far from aesthetic!

Summary: I like these for mulching aisles. They go down first and then the plants are mulched with dried leaves or wood chips. The top layer of mulch helps hold them down and hide them.

Wood Chips

Wood chips mulching beans with feed bags in the aisles. They
are deepest around the plants, with a light layer over the bags.


If you've watched the Back To Eden video, then you may think wood chips are the perfect mulch. Maybe that's true in some parts of the country, but in other parts it has both good points and bad.

Pros:
  • can be readily available for free
  • slow to decompose
  • attractive
Cons:
  • if you can't find them for free, they are expensive to buy
  • slow to decompose
  • harbor fire ants and black widow spiders
  • doesn't deter wiregrass

Summary: Wait a minute. Did I put "slow to decompose" under both pros and cons? Yes I did. I like that they last an entire gardening season (or longer), but if the soil must be worked at the end of the season they are in the way. I usually rake them into the aisles until I need to use them for mulch again. Wiregrass growing in wood chips is particularly annoying, and if it isn't removed it will continue to grow until it covers and consumes the wood chips. At the end of the season I rake them into a pile so I can pull the wiregrass. This is why I like first putting down a layer of feed bags or ...

Cardboard

Cardboard between rows of tomatoes

Pros:
  • readily available (usually)
  • slow to decompose
  • can quickly cover a large area
  • smothers grasses 
  • earthworm friendly (used in compost worm beds) 
  • help conserve other mulches like wood chips if not plentiful 
Cons
  • have to remove tape, labels, and staples
  • can't fit them around individual plants
  • can blow away in a strong wind, must be weighted
  • not aesthetic 
  • needs a top layer of mulch to cover
  • flaps can create slits for weeds to grow through

Summary: I really like cardboard for covering walkways or large areas, because cardboard smothers well and helps me conserve my other mulching materials. Large corrugated cardboard boxes works best. I don't use cardboard with glossy color pictures on the box. Most stores are willing to give it away, but sometimes they have contracts with a company that collects and hauls off their boxes.

Straw

Wheat straw mulching tomatoes.

I don't often use straw, because I don't have a free source for it. But I had some leftover after we used it as bedding when hauling goats. So it made its way into the garden as mulch.

Pros:
  • easy to handle and work with
  • quick to mulch with
  • not usually free, but can be cheap
Cons:
  • can contain seeds which introduce more weeds
  • doesn't deter wiregrass
  • price has been going up and can be expensive to buy from a garden center.

Summary: I first used straw for mulch when I had rabbits. In winter I'd stuff their hutches with straw, which would fall out the wire cage bottom along with their manure. What I learned, however, is that all the grain seed is rarely removed. I inadvertently introduced oat grass all over my garden and had a heck of a time getting rid of that!

Newspaper

I admit I haven't used newspaper in a long time, because I don't have a free source for it. Most of our newspaper is saved for fire starting.

Pros
  • decomposes quickly
  • good way to recycle it
  • can be readily available for free
Cons
  • must be sorted to remove glossy ads
  • requires a lot to get a good thick layer 
  • needs less fine mulch materials for a covering layer

Summary: Newspaper works best in a thick layer. A couple of sheets decompose quickly in moisture which means it doesn't keep weeds down for long.

Living Mulch

This photo of clover as living mulch was taken last year.

AKA ground cover, I call it living mulch if it's growing in garden beds and aisles.

Pros:
  • builds the soil
  • aesthetic 
  • can be used as green manure after harvest
Cons:
  • have to buy seed every year
  • not always dense enough suppress weeds
  • has to be timed properly so that ground cover and crop grow together and weed seeds don't get a head start and dominate 
  • seasonal, i.e. grows either during warm or cool weather
  • hard to maintain in perennial beds. For example, my chicory bed is mulched with violets, but I've had blackberry and honeysuckle vines coming up there.

Summary: I love the idea of living mulch but have had mixed success. If it grows densely, like in the above photo of my melon bed last year, then it works well. If the seed doesn't germinate well, then I only get a sparse covering which isn't much help as mulch. Timing is important too, and that's something I'm still learning. If the seed isn't planted at the right time it can either interfere with crop seed growth, or can be overtaken by weeds first. I think it's best use is with field crops where the area is too large to mulch, but I'm still negotiating a learning curve with that.

My biggest mulch mistake...

... was using landscape cloth. It was expensive to buy and time-consuming to put down. Then, even with a good thick layer of wood chips the wiregrass grew right on up through it. And if that wasn't bad enough, the wiregrass secured the cloth to the ground! It was impossible to remove. Dan finally put the tiller to it to chop it up, but four years later I'm still picking up bits of the stuff. You can read all about that fiasco in this post, but needless to say I do not recommend landscape cloth!

Plastic is another one I don't recommend. I know commercial organic growers use it, but it IMO it has more counts against than pluses to outweigh them.
  • It's a petroleum product
  • It doesn't decompose, it deteriorates
  • Must be discarded when replaced (not good repurposing material)
  • It doesn't breathe so when it heats up, I can only imagine that it kills every soil organism beneath it. 
  • Rain can't penetrate it so
    • can't renew soil moisture
    • where does a gullywasher go when the ground can't absorb it???

So that's the rundown on my experience with mulch. Now it's your turn. What's your favorite way to mulch? Any lessons learned? Any tips for the rest of us?

Mulch Days © July 2018 by Leigh