September 29, 2015

Late September Garden Tour

It's that time of year when the weeds have taken over the remains of the summer garden, busily going to seed to assure me of another weed war next year. My valiant summer efforts to keep them at bay can only be chalked up to another annual lost cause. Even so, the garden is still producing. Here's a late September tour of the remains of the summer garden and the fall garden's beginnings.

Okra is doing well, although the harvest isn't huge. Just
enough to enjoy oven fried okra several times a week.

My Ozark Razorback cowpeas have grown a lot.
I've tried growing them as a companion to corn,
but they seem to do better in full sunlight.

I pick them by the bucketful. We like them and the chickens & goats do too.

I planted white cushaw for my winter squash, but it doesn't look very white!

Radishes were kind enough to volunteer for me.

This potato plant is a volunteer too. It's tucked away under the branches of a
huge lambs quarter plant, which I'm letting go to seed for next year's greens.

Fall turnips are doing well. These need to be thinned. And the flower?

The flower is to a nutmeg melon plant, the one I thought was cucumber.
Like a number of things the melons seem to be getting their 2nd wind.

My tomatoes have knocked down their cages and completely overrun them
along with everything else in their path. This doesn't make for easy picking.

But they've gotten their second wind too, so I should get another round of
tomatoes to harvest. This one's got me thinking, "fried green tomatoes."

Carrots coming up. I've also planted parsnips, beets, and collards. So far I've
seen one beet & one collard, but no parsnips yet (they are slow germinators.)

This is Egyptian wheat, which I'm growing for a seed crop. It isn't really
a wheat, rather, it is a large seeded sudan grass. I may try to grind some
of the seeds, but mostly it will be another hay crop for the goats. 

Sweet potatoes have yet to be harvested. I planted as a companion to
my okra, but I think they got too much shade and haven't vined well.

The chicory likes the cooler weather too and has bloomed again.

The Jerusalem artichokes are blooming now too. These won't get harvested
until winter after the plants die back. Then, I'll dig them as we need them.

Do you remember where the asparagus patch used to be? Well, here it is now.

Dan's been making a hoop house in that spot. He has two cattle panels up in the above photo, with room for two more. The raised beds have lettuce planted in one, and arugula in the other.

That was a rather long-winded tour. How is everyone else's gardens doing?

September 26, 2015

Ricotta Gelato

Vanilla Ricotta Gelato & Cinnamon Apple Pie

Here is another recipe in my series of ricotta experiments. The very first recipe was for the ricotta itself, a true whey ricotta with no added whole milk. Click here for that. My recipe for ricotta gnocchi (Italian dumplings) can be found here, and my recipe for no-fat ricotta biscuits is here. Gelato is another recipe that we really like and it will probably become the summer recipe for my ricotta cheese.

Is it a true gelato? It seems to fit the bill. These Italian ice creams are said to be dense and low in fat and sugar. According to David Lebovitz they are typically made without cream and eggs, just like this one. It's an adaptation of several recipes I found, and I have two variations to offer - vanilla and raspberry. I hope you like them as much as we do.

Vanilla Ricotta Gelato

3 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
pinch salt

In a saucepan combine the milk, sugar, and salt. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then chill the mixture. In a blender combine the sugar milk mixture and ricotta. Add vanilla and blend; it will be thick. I poured it into my little Cuisinart ice cream maker and had gelato in 20 minutes. Delicious!

Raspberry Ricotta Gelato

3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup of raspberries, hugely rounded (or your favorite fruit)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
pinch salt

Directions are the same as for the vanilla gelato. Combine milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan; heat until the sugar dissolves, then chill. In a blender combine cooled sugar/milk mixture, ricotta, and raspberries. Blend and freeze in a small ice cream maker. It's a beautiful raspberry pink color, but sadly, my camera doesn't do it justice.

This second recipe was a real treat for me, because this was the first year I've harvested raspberries (thanks Anna!). Not a huge harvest, but enough for some raspberry goodies and confidence of better harvests to come.

I love these recipes, because I don't need to use my precious cream and so can save it for making butter. Either way, I figured I'd better get it posted before it's too chilly for ice cream in the Northern Hemisphere!

September 23, 2015

Corn Stover

This year's field corn - "Truckers Favorite". We planted about a quarter
acres-worth. Electric netting keeps goats & chickens out of the corn. 

I'm always looking for things to grow to feed to our goats. Every year we grow field corn for the grain, and then turn the goats into the field after the harvest. But I've also learned that the leaves and stalks can be fed another way, as stover.

Stover is the remains of a plant (stalk and leaves) after the grain has been removed. As livestock feed, term usually applies to corn and sorghum. F. B. Morrison's Feeds & Feeding (an excellent book, by the way) states the leaves, especially, are quite nutritious. I know for a fact that the goats love to eat them.

We got a late start on our field corn, so it isn't ready to harvest yet. What I have been doing, however, has been thinning out the smaller and spindlier plants. The ones that don't look like they are going to make ears.

My corn stover, which is corn plant thinnings. 

Morrison also mentions that when the corn doesn't produce grain, the leaves and stalks will be higher in protein and total digestible nutrients than usual. So those thinnings should be really good for the goats. I can either dry them and add them to the hay, or run them through our goat chow maker.

And how is the corn grain doing? Even  though it isn't sweet corn, the ears are still young enough so that I could pick four ears to boil for dinner the other evening . 

4 ears of our corn. It isn't sweet corn, but it is delicious nonetheless.

I was so happy to see the ears filled out so well. That indicates good pollination. The taste is wonderful. Not super-sweet like sweet corn, but a delicious corn flavor. This variety makes tasty corn meal too, plus the kernels are small enough that the chickens can eat them without having to crack them first.

Now we wait until it dries on the stalk, then we harvest. Hopefully it will be ready before first frost.

September 20, 2015

A Little Progress on the Front Porch

It's been awhile since I've mentioned working on the front porch (because it's been awhile since we've made any progress on it!) Once we got the bay window in, we concentrated on finishing the window interior and then finishing up the living room. Last weekend, Dan made a little progress on the front porch, motivated by cooler weather and anticipation of winter.

Of course, now's a fine time to realize that I don't have a proper "before" photo. This one was taken last November, right after Dan finished the new porch floor. 

Dan had removed the screen door when he replaced the porch floor.

This second front porch door accessed the "sun room", which became my studio.

The room that was to become my studio after we moved in

Since there was no wall space in this room, the door ended up being covered with shelves and storage units. Of the door itself, it was ill-fitting and allowed for wind to blow through. When we discussed what to do with this door during our porch brain-storming sessions, I decided I didn't need it. We did discuss replacing it with a window, but finances and the need for wall space ruled that out.

I decided I didn't need the door.

After Dan removed the door he ran a stud down the middle of the opening and covered it with particle board. Here it is from the inside.

I was working in the garden that day, so I did
a poor job of photographing the progress.

The challenge was that the exterior trim on that door wasn't flush with the siding.

On the right, you can see that the old door trim isn't flush with the wall.

The door trim jutted out just an eight of an inch, so Dan made his own furring strips to make up the difference. Our siding went on top of that.

Also you can see that we finally got the porch floor painted.

My job will be to get it primed and painted. We'll finish the rest of the wall plus the trims when we replace the front window in the studio.

Lastly some insulation was added.

That's as far as we'll take it for now. It was an afternoon project that is another step toward a snugger house.

Continued here.

September 17, 2015

Lost & Found - One Rooster

I'm a big one for routine when it comes to our animals. We try to work out a routine that accommodates both us and our animals and then stick to it. When they know what to expect, things go so much more smoothly. One thing that seems to be a challenge for our chickens, however, is when we change their free range area.

The green stars are where the chicken gates are located.

We have two chicken gates in the chicken yard, one leading to the front pasture, and one allowing them back into the doe pasture. Every couple of months we alternate where the chickens are allowed, but for some reason, they've never caught on to this. It takes many weeks for them to catch on to which gate is open, especially if they have established some favored egg-laying spot. A few of the persistent ones never catch on. These insist on making it into the "off" area, and then get into a dither about trying to get back to the coop at night.

The other day this happened to one of our two roosters. He somehow managed to get into the buck pasture, currently being used by the pigs and off-limits to the chickens. At dusk, he and one of the Buff Orpington hens were in that pasture, running frantically back and forth along the fence nearest the chicken coop. Now, the most obvious solution would seem to be simply open the gate and let them out. However, with pigs in one pasture and piglets-in-weaning and goats in the other, this isn't so simple. Opening the gate means every critter rushing to get through it to where we don't want them. That meant everybody had to be lured away from the gate and distracted long enough for the chickens to go through.

Our two Black Australorp roosters

It took Dan and me several minutes to accomplish this (feed being the distraction), and then we set about trying to tend to those fretting chickens. The hen ran right through the gate, but the rooster absolutely was not going to go through it. It didn't matter how wide open the gate was or how we tried to herd him through it, he instead ran right by it a number of times. Apparently our wanting him to run through it was reason enough in his chicken brain to not do it! Once the distraction was consumed, all the critters made a beeline for the gate. It was getting dark, so we had to give up.

The next morning the rooster was gone. Dan looked all over for his remains, but never found anything. After getting rid of the first skunk another showed up, so there was that to worry about, plus we have owls, opossums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and hawks. I looked for him to show up all that day, but he never did. Not that we need two roosters, but it was still a shame to lose him that way. Oh well, life goes on.

The next afternoon there was a knock at the front door. It was a neighbor from across the street. "Have you lost a black rooster?" he asked. "It's next to my house hiding in the bushes. It's almost gotten hit by a car twice."

Needless to say, I was surprised! I thought that rooster was a goner! With my neighbor's help we were able to herd said rooster back across the street and toward the chicken coop.

How he managed to get from the back of our property to across the street while bypassing the chicken yard is a puzzle. How he managed to survive those two nights is another. It's nice to know he didn't have an unfortunate demise. All's well that end's well, I'd say.

September 14, 2015

Pigs Don't Need Mud & Other Sounds-Goodisms

This post started out as a duck update. We've been observing our Muscovies as they adjust to their new home and those initial observations are always a lot of fun. For example, they do fly, but unlike the guinea fowl who noisily wandered all over the neighborhood, the ducks simply make a trip several times a day to the top of the chicken coop or the goat shed.

Early morning trip to the top of the chicken coop.

Also, they sure do love their wading pool.

Unfortunately, the wading pool began to leak, so we had to find an alternative

I was told this breed doesn't need swimming water and that was the selling point for me, because we don't have a pond. Dan loves to accommodate our critters, however, so he set about to give them some splashing water, at least. We have learned that they love it.

The temporary alternative to the wading pool. 

Along those lines, I've also read that pigs don't need a mud wallow, that scientifically it isn't necessary. I can tell you with great certainty that the pigs disagree. And if we don't keep a mud hole ready at all times, they will make their own on hot days by knocking over all the water buckets. I would say that mud for pigs and water for ducks is akin to electricity for humans. Yes, we can survive without it, but it sure does make life pleasanter for the living, and we're the happier for it.

I tried to get a photo of Waldo in his mudhole, but he
decided to get out just as I ran up with the camera.

All of this has got me thinking lately, about how often I choose to do a thing or take a certain path simply because it sounds good, or even because it sounds right, yet without actually thinking the thing through. Dare I mention the skunk in the live animal trap as an example? Recently, I heard on the radio that folks will readily accept information that agrees with their preconceived notions, but reject anything that contradicts them. I can see that in myself, even though I pride myself on being analytic in my approach to things and a researcher by nature. I don't think this is the norm, however, as most folks simply rely on the so-called experts to do all that for them. I can't help but think of how easy it is to influence people because of that tendency; just make it sound like something they want to hear. It also explains why it's useless to talk with some folks about such things as politics. The spin has already been spun.

On my own behalf, I have to say that I did do my homework before agreeing to take the ducks. My research confirmed what I had been told about Muscovies, so we went ahead with the trade. But you know what? Expertise is not necessarily the same as experience, not by modern standards, anyway. And if we'd never offered those ducks a bit of water, we wouldn't have known that they love it so much. I sure am glad Dan didn't listen to the experts.

September 11, 2015


No photos for this post, because the photographer wasn't in a daring mood. :)

For several months now we've been awakened during the night by skunk odor. It hasn't been every night, and some nights it's stronger than others. Sometimes it's just a faint awareness, sometimes it's so strong you can taste it. The odd thing is that there isn't a lingering smell as though the skunk sprayed something. It just comes and goes.

Dan has gotten up every time to go see if he could find this mysterious skunk. We've been pretty sure the cats know all about it. In fact, one night they were all piled up at the backdoor, howling desperately to get in. No sign of anything out there, however.

Last week something started digging in the garden. We figured it might be an opossum or a raccoon. Less likely a cat, because cats cover their business once they're done with the hole they make. Dan decided to set out the live animal trap.

The first night - nothing, except ants all over the bait. Dan relocated the trap for a second try. The next morning while I was milking Helen, he came up and said, "Got it."

"What was it?" I asked.


Whew. A skunk in a live animal trap. The "humane" solution is to go take the varmint somewhere else and drop it off (to become someone else's problem. I think this solution only makes the humans feel better, because I always imagine a terrified animal dropped off in the middle of unfamiliar territory, uncertain as to where food, shelter, and safety are. How humane is that?) However, who would risk loading up a skunk in a cage into their vehicle and handling the cage to let them loose? Well, what would you do???

Needless to say, the critter was disposed of as humanely as possible, i.e. shot. The only concern is, where there's one, there's likely more.

September 8, 2015

Harvest Wheel

In a previous post I mentioned I had read Masanobu Fukuoka's The One-Straw Revolution. It's a very interesting book for a number of reasons. One is that he has developed a very good work-smarter-not-harder system for growing grain. Our situation is different, so I have not figured out how to fully utilize his techniques on our homestead, but it's encouraging to see it done.

In one chapter he shows two diagrams of what he calls "Nature's Food Mandala". I really liked that idea and adapted it to what I'm calling my "Harvest Wheel".  Mine is based on my regional growing season and what I've been able to harvest over the years and when. It does not include preserved or stored food, only fresh. That means it isn't a complete picture of being food self-sufficient. Also it is somewhat idealized because it assumes ideal growing conditions, which don't happen every year. Still, is a valuable visual tool to help me plan my planting.

Click for a better look-see

I'm still working on it and I'm sure there are some things I've forgotten; shell beans for example. Even so, it is encouraging to see how much of the year we're able to grow and harvest food. Also it gives me an idea of where the harvesting gaps are so I can focus on filling them, for example winter gardening, hoop houses, even a greenhouse.

My goal is to grow more fresh and preserve less. As an analysis tool, I'm hoping this is a step in that direction. Next I'll work on a planting wheel.

September 5, 2015

Ricotta Biscuits & Sausage Gravy

A few weeks ago I showed you my simple way to make ricotta cheese and shared one of the ricotta recipes we really like, Gnocchi. I also promised few more recipes and here's another keeper - ricotta cheese biscuits.

Ricotta Biscuits

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 large egg
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup yogurt, kefir, or whey

Mix dry ingredients, then mix egg, ricotta, and whey. Stir both mixtures together with a fork. Shape into biscuits and bake at 425° F (218° C) for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve right away.

The gravy has nothing to do with ricotta cheese, but biscuits and sausage gravy are a favorite supper for us. Someday soon it will be our own homegrown sausage!

Sausage Gravy

1 lb ground sausage
a couple tablespoons flour (white works best)
2 cups milk (there abouts)
salt and pepper to taste

Brown sausage in a cast iron skillet. Scoop out and set aside. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of melted sausage grease. Whisk the flour into the hot grease, stirring for several minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps. Return the sausage to the gravy. Stir and cook until the gravy thickens. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Serve hot over those biscuits.

September 2, 2015

Dan's Huntin' Partner

Valentine aka "Meowy"

This has been a prolific year for squirrels. And with pecan season at hand, the pecan trees are loaded with them - both pecans and squirrels. It's actually hazardous to walk to the goat shed because the squirrels drop so many bitten or half-eaten pecans that they can hit you in the head. Or maybe they're throwing them at us. I swear I can hear a diabolical squirrely laugh when those pecans fall.

Most of our cats have figured out that squirrels are fast and hard to catch. All except Meowy. She's on auto-hunt 24/7 and she's fast too. Plus she wants to catch one sooo badly.

Tracking a squirrel

One day Dan said that if we didn't do something about all these squirrels we'd have no pecan harvest. So he got out his .22 and bagged a couple. Well sir, Meowy figured out real quick that with Dan's help, she could get some squirrels! They'd fall from the tree and she was on them. In fact, that was the only way Dan could find them when they fell in the tall grasses and brush.

The next day, when he got out his .22 again, Meowy charged to the pecan trees and waited for him. Now when she sees squirrels, she runs up to Dan and begs him to go hunting.

Scanning for squirrels

The only problem is that she doesn't retrieve them. Instead, she grabs them and runs in opposite direction. But since he knows where she is he can find them. He's offered the heart and liver as reward, but she'd rather go chase down another one.

So our freezer is getting loaded with pecan-fattened squirrels, and Meowy is one very happy cat.