Thursday, December 24, 2009

Love at first sight

Last night we had a massive thunder storm with severe thunder storm warnings and tornado warning all night. One daughter and my wife had been up since three am and me and the other kid got up at five, but it was still raining so I couldn't go out hunting as I had planned. As the clouds broke and the rain stopped my wife went to take a nap. I was about to go out hunting when she went to lay down so I stayed in with the kids.

I kept thinking that the deer might be out for a wander as the sun came out, but since I don't know what I am doing I didn't think much of it. After about a half hour I cracked the front door open and and standing next to a small pile of corn right in the center of the road is a deer. When I open the door her little ears pop up and she looks straight at me, but doesn't bolt. I slightly shut the door and grab the rifle out of the gun case. I tell both kids to hush since they are sitting on the couch about twelve feet from the door. When I open the door her head whips back around and looks straight at me, but she doesn't bolt.

Now the deer has turned side ways and I aim the rifle out the door and have a nice clean shot, but I know if I try to go outside through this door the deer's gone. I should have took my shot standing in the entry way, but I thought the kids would freak. I didn't know if would effect their hearing and since my oldest already wears hearing aids I didn't want to risk even a tiny bit of hearing loss for them. So I drop the rifle down and gently shut the front door. Looking out the window I can still see it so I try to go around back.

When I pull open the back door it lets out a big ol' SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAK. Crap salad, now I know it's gone and when I get to edge of the car port the deer has bolted. I don't know how to guess how much they weigh or how old they, but this one looked Delicious.

Next time, I would make the kids go in the back bathroom and shut both doors. I would also listen to my father who said we needed to WD-40 the hinges on the door, just the day before.
I must admit I was excited. I have been hoping to get a shot since I started putting out corn, but this was the first time I even got a look. I never thought I would see the point of hunting, but now I get it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Something likes the deer corn

I have been putting out corn for a few weeks now, and this feeder has been up for a few days. So I don't know what happened today that the bees decided they had to swarm the corn. This picture was taken about one oclock, by three oclock the bees had at least doubled if not more. Not only are they trying to get into the feeder so aggressively that the corn is spilling out all over the ground, but the corn on the ground is covered with bees.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A new hope

So far, no venison has hit the table and my loving wife has mocked my powers as a warrior hunter. To be fair this is my first season hunting, no one has ever taught me how to hunt, and I don't own any camouflage clothing. So really I got like a three stroke handicap to use an analogy from a sport I have no idea how to play.
I see tracks all the time, but have no way to control or know when they are coming to eat the corn. So I had to go for the upgrade. As cheap as I am I shelled out the forty bucks for a bucket feeder that uses a photocell with two preset feed times. The little metal plate spins an hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Hopefully, this mean that hungry deer will know when it is breakfast and dinner time.
After the snow that we had a few weeks ago the ground is covered with dead grass. This should make the corn even more of a draw for the deer. Now that school is on holiday and the wife and kids don't have to leave in the morning soI can slip out the door before sunrise if I can drag my fat ass out a bed and brave the cold. I only have a few weeks before regular season ends and black powder season begins so I have step up my effort. I don't own a musket and unless I find myself joining the continental army I don't have plans to buy one. Besides deer hunting the only thing else I don't know how to do is stop writing in italics.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Welcome to my nightmare

As far as gardening goes I don't have much to do now during the winter although I probably should be tilling more and if I had space clear this might be a good time to plant some trees. During this time the focus is turning to two things. Clearing fence and land and the old garage. Call it a shed, barn garage whatever this thing has some serious problems. Probably built in the early forties it is a miracle that it is even still standing since I don't think any work has been done to it for forty or fifty years. The pine tree right next to it is about two and half feet wide and maybe 150 tall and located directly between this building and my house.

I think as long as this tree has been growing people having been dumping trash in and around this thing.
We probably should have had it knocked down and burned, but one it is to close to the house and two I can't bring my self to get rid of something useful, just because it is ugly. Amazingly the roof truss are still solid and haven't begun to rot. So I intend to spend a couple hundred bucks on 4x4 posts and 2x4s to shore it up so it wont collapse and use it for storage of equipment like the mower, tiller and hopefully a tractor one day.

The big problem is that before I can fix it I have to clean out all the junk. I am almost positive that some of the items hanging on the walls have been on the same nail since the 1940's. For some reason the whole inside area is covered with layer upon layer of crap. Not just junk, because if you pick up a layer of trash you uncover a layer of junk and when you pick up that layer of trash you find another layer of junk.
As bad as this picture is this is after countless trips to the local trash collection dump. I do realize that thrash man don't come around here, but this is ridiculous. Why when we are surrounded with all this no land why would everything be piled up right next to the house.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Dark Forest

That is how I always refer to area behind our house. The ten acres was a nice clear pasture when my wife was a growing up out here. Slowly the pines have crept up and and by the time we moved here they had gotten large enough that they could no longer be mowed down by a tractor with a brush hog. This is the area closest to the house an extremely high density Field of pasture pine which you can barely walk through. Over time I have gone for enough walks with a machete that I have a fairly clear path back into the second part of the pasture.
I am not sure why, but at one point the pasture was divided by a fence and along the fence line these large pine are towering above the field of small trees that choke each other. It is only around 30 yard from the fence around the house, but the small pines are so dense you can't see where that fence line is anymore until you are right next to it. When we first moved here this area of the property didn't bother me, but now it drives me nuts. I want to clear the whole area, but the cost is going to be big. If I had a better idea of what I was doing I would have insisted that the loggers clear this area when they logged the rest of the property even if we had to pay them to take the timber. If we hire a bulldozer to come out and level it then we have burn massive piles of timber or let it rot which would take fifteen or twenty years.
Past the fence line the trees open up into a much more spread out field where the trees have grown much larger and you can walk fairly easily through the woods. I do love to wander through this part of the property and watch the birds freak out as the have lots of low nests that spend most of their time undisturbed. There are often large patches of grass matted down and covered with deer droppings where they are bedding down.
If we can ever get it clear we want to replant most if it with trees, just not pines. The problem is pines are not good for much except pulp and timber. It doesn't even make good firewood, because it has too much pitch and your chimney will catch fire if you burn it too much. My ultimate goal would be to plant a small orchard of pecan, peach, pear, walnut, and maybe a few other things that grow well here. Not a for a commercial operation, but so that when my kids are old enough to have their kids the trees will be mature and producing fruit and nuts. Looking around I found the West Texas Nursery run by the Texas forest service which sells packets of seedlings which should help attract either deer or Quail & Pheasant Wildlife Packet which I would like to plant. Most of the land in our county is being logged and replanted with pine timber, so I think in twenty years it might be a good idea to have a few other types of trees around. The strangest thing however is that while I am trying to figure out how to get rid of these trees my brother in California has just started working as a logger. Maybe next time he comes to visit I can put him to work.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Only the carrots weathered the storm

After a rare bit of snow the only thing left is the carrots. Small as these ones that my daughter picked might be there is still hope they will grow into real carrots.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Salvage from the old Garage

So far I haven't managed to get a take a deer yet. They were eating the corn and leaving clear tracks but, two days a go we were coming home much later than usual when we saw a big fat racoon happily munching on the corn I had laid out for the deer. Now that the racoons have found it there will be no way to stop them except by making it so they can't get to it. hopefully I can get the old timer to work, but if not i have hung it low enough so that if they try to to eat the corn out of it more should come out as they bang it around. We shall see.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Waiting with a deadly weapon

This morning I got dressed and tried to quietly go out into the dark and wait at the edge of the front porch with the rifle. I have a clear view of the place I have been putting out my corn. I know that the deer have found it because it is being eaten and there are clear fresh tracks right around the pile every day. Right now the thing I don't know is when they are coming to get it. Although, two days ago it was still on the ground when my wife left for work and gone when I left to take the girls to school.

I watched the stars slowly fade and the light come up while I listened to the owls. I did not realise how cold it would be before sunrise by the time I came in my finger tips were aching and I didn't see anything. I did learn a couple things while I was waiting out in the darkness.

1) I gotta find some gloves I can wear that will be easy to shoot with.
2) I need to bring out some kind of towel or cloth because the lens of the scope gets fogged up in the cold.
3) I need to clear, clear, and clear more brush to open up my Field of view.
4) I have a hard time waiting and hour or two without coughing, sneezing, fidgeting, etc.
5) This hunting thing could take a while.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fall Harvest

Not bad for a day with frost on the ground. At this point I think I need some kind of hothouse tunnel made out plastic sheeting. Have to wait I while before I have time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

VIctory is mine, again

Another battle with my mower won. The pulley I ordered from sears finally arrived yesterday. I have been waiting for a month. I waited two weeks then called to check and they had forget to order it even though I had already paid so I had to wait another two weeks. Opening the box was like opening a treasure. When we can't mow the yard feels like it is closing in around you and the minute you cut the foot tall grass it is as if it had doubled in size.
I have been battling with the mower since last April when I got back from Vegas and tried to get it started and running after a long time not being used. Finally when I had almost the whole yard mowed smoke came pouring it from under it and after a few seconds the belt that drives the mowers blade shredded. I was so mad I considered showering it in gas and set it on fire.

I put the mower on hold till my folks came to visit and worked on the garden. My dad thought it ridiculous that I hadn't bought a new belt yet so he drove me up to Sears and he bought one. Thanks, Pop. Back with the belt I stood it up and tied it to a post. Resting on the back wheels is the best way to access the blades, belts or front tires. I don't have a manual, but most riding mower's will have a diagram on the deck as to how the belt goes. Since there is no tension until the mower is engaged it is easy to install the belt. I quickly had the mower back down and was drove it out to start mowing. In the yard I engaged the mower blades and started to go when I smelled the familiar burnt rubber smell and watched tiny sparks coming from under the mower. Thankfully, I managed to get it shut off before the forty dollar belt was torn to shreds. Once again I considered going for the gas can. Standing it back up again I found the problem was a mishapen drive pulley. Then I waited in frustration for a much to long before I went back up Sears and ordered another pulley.

Now after a very long wait I have the new pulley in and all
is well. The grass is mostly short and the grasshoppers fled like locusts as I destroyed thier habitat. I probably should have taken the whole mower down to Tyler County Tractor eight months ago and had them do the work like I have done in the past, but I was determined that I was going to do this myslef and get it running. Or drink a few beers and watch the damn thing burn.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The deadliest weapon known to deer: CORN

Ah the sweet taste of corn. Today I bought my first two bags of deer corn, extra clean, as it says on the bag although they eat it off the dirt so I don't know why that matters. I feel committed now like there is no backing out once the corn touches the soil. Even if I don't manage to shoot anything I feel like I will have to at least get up before daybreak with the rifle and pocket full of shells to see if anything is wandering about. I don't have any camo yet and since I am hunting on our property I don't need the neon orange vest that you are required to wear when hunting on public lands. I am also just old enough that in order to get a hunting liscense I did not have to take a hunter's education class. I was a if I was born in September in stead of July I would be required by the state to take the class.
The two spots I have picked to put out corn on are only about thirty yards from the house. Basicly I will just have to get up and go sit in my front yard or on my back porch. Walking my shooting lane I see fresh tracks all the time and I don't think I would need to put corn out down there. I can use that spot on the weekends and use the ones near the yard during the week while Luci is getting ready for work and the kids are sleeping. Not quite sure how the kids will react to waking up to the sound of gunfire.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Slash Today, Burn Tomorrow

Yard work starts to take on new meaning when the yard is a couple of acres. Especially being warm and humid, small trees and brush grow so fast you feel like you could sit on the porch and watch them grow. With the gray sky's and light rain this morning I decided to get ready for burning time. Global warming is not gonna happen unless we all contribute a little, so I will do my part to raise the sea level and the property value for millions of Americans. People burn around here all the time. The county issue's burn bans when it is dry and as far as I can tell most people observe these restrictions.

I am pretty nervous about a lighting fires out here because I grew up going to the woods once or twice a year where many a ranger station posters of Woodsy Owl assured me that only I could prevent forest fires. So I try to only burn when it has been or is pouring rain. I try to cover a pile so it will dry out. Then the pile dries out and I can burn it when everything else is soaked. This pile had been here a while but I uncovered it and piled on some new stuff I cut up with the chainsaw.
Getting a pile to light up can be a pain when it is to wet. Personally I find the best way to get em going is diesel fuel topped off with a little spray of carburator cleaner. Yes, I will admit that in the beginning I used gasoline and may have burned a large amount hair off my arms once. Drive around here at night and you will see piles burning in peoples yard all through the night. I can't bring myself to do that I have to take a hose and put it out before I go to bed or leave the house.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A fist full of beans

Our oldest daughter tore through these beans before I could even get them out of the pan. Wasn't very much but she loves fresh green beans. Most of the beans I planted didn't sprout for some reason, but the ones that have are putting out well now. I they had all come up, I would be having the bean fest o9 that I had been counting on, but instead I will have to settle for a seven year old with a happy tummy tonight.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bell peppers,at last

I trudged out to the garden this morning through the rain to see what is going on out there. I haven't had much time to fiddle with things lately so I wasn't sure what I would find. The weeds are insane the entire bottom half has given over to weeds. I need to follow the example of the neighbors I see when I drive the girls to school. Everyone I can see has plowed there garden under. I can't get rid of anything until it totally gives up the fight and dies completely. It's the cheap bastard in me. What I planted a few weeks ago is growing slowly, except for the beans which must need hotter weather or something because they put out one small bean and then start to die right away. Thinned out a few carrots and the ones I pulled has small little roots that looked like a good start.

There is still a few things from our spring planting still hanging in there. Finally some bell peppers, all during the summer I don't think I ever got more than one or two at a time and mostly those were thin, small and light. These aren't huge, but they are thick and heavy and smell great. As long as they are putting out I will try to show a little concern, so I pulled a couple weeds right around the base. I probably shouldn't have cause I don't think your supposed to weed when it is wet, but how should I know.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A view from the sky

Last night I went on the Remington website to look for 3 inch 20 gauge buck shot shells, which they don't have, but I did find there custom map service. You can get either color Ariel photos, black & white photo's, topo maps, or a topo-photo mix which is pretty nice because you can see the roads and streams through the trees and brush, but having the photo image makes it easier to figure out what your looking at.

The ones for our place must have been taken around 2006 after it was logged, because has grown up quite a bit since this was taken. So far I few different sources for ariel photos the Microsoft TerraServer, Google Earth, and the Remington custom map feature. I am still on the fence about order a map or some photos. I could see how is you bought a really big piece of acreage that you didn't know much about you could you the photo's to locate things that my now be so overgrown you wouldn't know it was there.

The blue x is where Luci's cousin is bow hunting. His spot is right across from the small branch next the property line. I don't know if he has taken anything this season yet, but last time we talked he said he was having a problem with the pigs eating all of his corn so he put out a timed feeder. He has a couple of game camera's set up so he can see what is coming to feed. I can't imagine it will be long before the tech will be cheap enough that remote web cams will be put out and hunter's will be able to get a look at there blinds in real time. If it wasn't for security concerns I would think you would be able to do the same with satelite imagery to locate game for hunting. The technology already exsists, but the only thing hunted with it are people.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A little test fire

This morning I walked the shooting lane pulling out all the large branches and cutting up a small tree that was laying across it. I need to get the whole area clean enough to mow the lane flat and give myself a good view. The row slopes down from the road where my blind will be to the small branch that cuts through our property so I will have a downhill view and I shouldn't need a raised blind. This is not how I imagined hunting all the years I lived in the city, but wandering through the thick brush and weeds that are often four or five feet tall you see pretty quick it would be damn hard to hunt that way. Besides this way I control the area into which I will be shooting. Walking past where I pour out the Buckjam I noticed it has already had some attention the dirt was spread around and right in the middle are two hoof prints.

Back at the house I got out our rifle and went out to make sure the scope is sighted in properly. I filled up four old milk jugs with water and set them on and old pile of logs. Only needed one because it was dead on and water went a spraying. This is of course no testament to any skill on my part as a marksman. Any credit would go the guy who designed this rifle and scope. Part of me would really like to take the scope off and take some target practice without it to see how much harder it is, but I know it would take me forever to get the scope sighted in again. One thing you learn quick when you start shooting is why wars cost so damn much. Bullets ain't cheap and you can burn through cash in no time. So of course I pop off the other three milk jugs, but each time all I could think was there goes a dollar.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My first bottle of BuckJam

Driving the girls to school this morning we saw deer crossing the road three times. I realized that it won't be long before rifle season starts so I need to get ready. After dropping the girls off at school I went to the store to stare at the wall of deer bait, I guess would be the term. Even after living here for a few years I never realized how much stuff they have to try to attract deer. Everything from the fifty pound bags of corn you see everywhere to freshly squeezed juice of some kind of gland from a doe, which actually warns not to put it on yourself or you will rudely assaulted by a randy buck.

I decided to start with a bottle containing a gallon or so of BuckJam, some kind of syrupy mix of sugar and salt. You clear a spot in the dirt and simply pour the thick goo on the ground. Apparently deer are not opposed to eating a salty dirt snack. Well see.

On my way back to house I stopped about half way down from the road to the house where the corner of a forty acre plot meets our a section of our place. The forty acres is land locked and has no access except through our place or one of our neighbors so it is on of the few that has not been logged. I think half the critters in twenty mile area are hiding out there. My wife's cousins is bow hunting alone one edge, the dillweeds who have a hunting camp down the road are hunting along the far edge and I am going to set up a shooting lane down another edge. I'm not really sure what a good range is for my 30-06, but I picked a spot about sixty yards from the corner figuring that I can move my blind a little bit either way. Raking off the leaves and sticks about six or seven feet from what I think is a path that the deer have been following through the brush I made I pour out my bottle of goo. Now have to wait and see I will go back in a day or two and look for tracks. Of course not being a good gnarly mountain man tracker I can't tell the difference between a hog track and a deer track, but I figure a track is track either way I will have something to shot at.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The October Easter Egg Hunt

We haven't had any eggs for a three, maybe four days now. The chickens ussually lay there eggs in the corner of the chicken coop, but for a few days we haven't had anything. Once and a while they pick a spot and make a nest to lay in. Sometimes it is in the middle of the yard, last time is was under the Ford Explorer we don't drive much anymore.

Normally it is pretty easy to find, but I can't seem to figure out where they laying this time. So now I have to head outside and dig through the bushes and the overgrown fence line to see if I can find anything. wish me luck.

Meanwhile I will keep the chickens cooped up for a few days till they get used to laying inside again.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Buried in the barn

Not far from any country house there seems to be some type of old barn, shed, garage, root cellar or whatever might be needed in that part of the country. In our case it is an old garage not far from the house that was filled with junk. I have been slowly trying to get rid of all the trash for years.
I think the reason we didn't rent a dumpster and pitch the whole lot at once is that there is good stuff buried along with the mounds of junk. All of T-post I built my garden fence with came out of the garage. Today, while I was pulling out a few thing to take to the trash collection I came across these two old Dr. Pepper bottles. Since moving here we have gathered a large collection of bottles from all over the property. Three years ago I was exploring around and I came across about twenty five bottles in an old pig pen! Around half are medicine bottles and the others were snuff bottles why they were in the old pig pen I will never know.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

the big chill is coming

Rain had been coming down for a few hours when night fall began. The two combined made for the first cool, even slightly chilly evening. For a while I considered starting a fire, but realized I'd be sweating soon after, besides we don't have much firewood left. Soon we will have to buy another cord. My parents found this hillarious. Yes, we live surronded by woods and we buy fire wood. Partly, this is because firewood is one of those things you have to plan ahead of time. I should have started looking for trees to cut up in the spring so it can be split and left to dry for at least one summer. Even one summer may not be long enough. Really I should be cutting, splitting and stacking now for next winter or the winter after. The other reason is that the wood around us is mostly pine. Pine has lots of pitch and when burned this can build up in your chimeny and eventually catch on fire. Of course if you were dependent on wood for heat you would just have to be diligent about cleaning your flu.
The house we live in was built before power lines came out here way before the time of central heat and air. Personally, I don't think I could hack it. It's just to damn hot in the summer and cutting enough fire wood with a buck saw and an ax would be a nightmare. What I need to do is use what is use at least what is around us. Our pear tree had a big limb fall off a couple years ago after the huricane. This should have been cut up and stacked, but I left it until it was half rotted and had to cut it and dump it into the woods to finish rotting.
Not much I could do tonight as far as cutting, so I dug around in my tool boxes for a while until I found my chain saw file. I sat on the back porch and listened to rain while I sharped the teeth on my chain and cleaned off the pitch with acetone. The same day you get a chain saw you should get a file to keep the teeth sharp. It doesn't take long for them to dull and start bogging down. I would at least give teeth quick once over every morning I was going to be cutting.
On a sad side note the man who we have bought firewood from the last two years was murdered last spring during a robbery at his firewood operation. Even in a place that sometimes seems like Mayberry, the real world rears its ugly head.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The good, the bad and the ugly

Well, The rain gave way to a few hours of sunlight a day and my most of my seeds have sprouted. The beans, carrots and brussell sprouts seem to be coming up in there rows, but i guess the peas got moved around during the rains. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I will get some peas.
The bad news is this little pile of dirt. I am afraid it is wood ants. Normally, we get mounds from the nasty little biting fire ants that pop of every where. This is much worse. These are almost impossible to get rid of and they eat all the plants around the mounds. This could be very bad.
This is my attempt to tie up what is left of our tomatoes. Most people around here seem to have already given up on tomatoes, but I am hanging in till the very end.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Raining at last, of course

We have been waiting for rain for months. Everything here is dry and crunchy, but now finally, the rain has started to fall. This is what I would have expected because the rain started the day after I started my fall planting. I am not sure what will work so I just started with some of what the feed store had in right now. I planted carrots, peas, more beans, lettuce, spinach and brussel sprouts which I am hoping will taste better if I grow them myself. I started up the tiller and took out the dead corn to make room for the carrots and brussel sprouts, the peas went under the fence that we trellised our pickling cucumbers on. Really the soil probably needs more compost, but were doing this on the cheap so I mixed a bag of compost with the remnants of our worm growing colony that Luci had in the old turtle sand box that the girls had out grown. Into this I chucked a little shake and feed fertilizer and a little bit of chicken stuff. If we are going to be serious gardeners we will have to start our own compost pile.

The ground is still warm so if the sun comes out in a few days hopefully most of it will sprout.
The squash and zucchini are really just now starting to produce a significant amount and I am hoping they will keep going until we start to get some of our new planting.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I didn't see this coming

I am not sure which of the following statements I would have believed less, back in my younger days as a California slacker-generation D&D-playing headbanger:

A) I would someday have a hunting license (bought my very first one yesterday).
B) I would be excited about a trip to the feed store (they got fall gardening seeds in).
C) My brother would be a gold miner at the same time I was doing the above (yes, somewhere in California my brother has become a gold miner).

I can't imagine I ever thought I would be asked the question "sir, do you want a duck stamp with that license?" . And although the answer is no, I may try to hunt turkey this year. I do know alot about Wild Turkey.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hijackers and traders

So I have beeen having a hard time getting anything written lately because a browser hijacker has taken over internet explorer on our computer. I got the goofy thing looking for garden blog directories of all things. If you can't safely look for that what can you look for these days. Everytime I open a link from internet explorer it directs me to a bogus search engine called Toseeka. If I could find the guy who designed the damn thing I would choke the crap out of him. Now it is gonna cost me a hundred bucks to have to some tech from Norton support to tell me how to get rid of it.

Thats my bad news.

The good news is we had a visit from one of our few neighbors out here. After a quick visit they left with some squash, cucumbers and relish. All of which we have been eating a ton of this summer. The next day we found a bag of eggplant, bell peppers, and jalapeno's hanging from our mail box. Good stuff.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Listening to coyotes with my shotgun

It's almost midnight in Texas right now. The coyotes are out in force. I can hear them howling like mad.
Before we had chickens, I never gave much thought to the coyotes and strangely I don't think the howls have every really bothered the girls as they went to sleep before. After I got the call from Luci last year (while I was out of town) telling me that there are wolves in the yard I have paid more attention.
Now I listen for a while. I know they are close to the house tonight because they usually like to leave their, shall we say, droppings in the road just past the cattle guard. The chickens are quiet tonight, so I know if they start clucking and going nuts the coyotes must be in the yard again.
About a month ago, my parents came to visit and my dad gave me the shotgun that he has had forever. I can remember my dad wrapping this 20 gauge Mossberg up in an old orange and black blanket and tucking it into the trunk of our car along with the thirty year old shells whenever we went camping. Growing up in the suburbs, my brother and I found this to be extremely funny because we couldn't possibly imagine any need for a gun. We also figured that the shells were so old they would explode rather than fire properly.
I ditched the old shells at the police station a few days ago and test-fired the shotgun. I had wanted to shoot it as long as I could remember, knowing that it was stashed in the closet, but really couldn't see any reason to actually do so. Now, sitting up listening to the coyotes, waiting to see if they will come and look to see if any chickens are out of the coop, I have a reason to know that my dad's old shotgun works just fine.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Luci's most popular creation - Squash Relish

Tasting somewhere between dill relish and sweet relish with just a hint of squash flavor, this relish has become Luci's most popular creation this year. Our two girls love the relish and everyone Luci has given it to has gone through a jar or two on the first night and asked for more.
Our pattypan squash has been just cranking out squash faster than we can eat them, so this is a great way to use the produce overproduction. Besides putting it on a bun with the typical hot dog or sausage, mostly the relish is eaten with beans and cornbread. Kind-of like a not-hot version of chow-chow.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Gourd That Ate the World

I think that my yard and garden may be consumed by the dipper gourd we planted.
We planted two kinds of gourds: bottle neck (hoping to make bird houses) and dipper gourds. The bird house gourds took off at first, producing a maybe seven or eight medium-size gourds. Meanwhile, the dipper gourd slowly crept along, not doing much of anything. Until a few weeks ago.
The bird house gourds have died off and started drying out while the dippers have expanded beyond the confines of the garden. I have been moving them from the garden rows back along the fence for several weeks now, but I hadn't realized that they were creeping outside the fence and had begun to climb the small tree that sits about six feet from the garden. The vines have spread out in all directions and seem to be growing at an alarming rate. This picture I took yesterday and today they are visibly larger. I really don't want to pull them out of the tree. I want to see how much they will entwine into the branches.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hunting season comes to the the garden.

Lately, the signs that hunting season is right around the corner have been popping up all over the place.

We're seeing lots of deer on the roads and even a few in the yard--apparently, deer like their peaches and pears straight off the trees.

The neighbors who have a deer lease that borders our property have been out clearing brush and riding their four-wheelers. I had to ask them to move their stands because they had them right at the corners of the property line, about as close to our house as you could possibly get without actually being on our property. (They were very nice about and said they would move everything before the season opened and were clearing some new spots last time I talked to them.)

My wife's cousin called to ask if he could bow hunt out on our place down by the creek. We said of course, I may rifle hunt in the same spot when bow season is over. I think he has another place he goes for rifle season. This is the first year I will have been home during hunting season and I would like to get a deer or two so we could put up the meat. I don't have any interest in hunting for trophy antlers. I want trophy burgers.

Archery Season is from Sept. 27 through Oct. 31; General Season is Nov. 1 through Jan. 4.

So basically, unless I am gonna bow hunt (which I won't) I will have two months to get ready and could take up to four deer. That would be enough to keep us in meat for most of the year, but I will be lucky as a first-timer to get even one. I'm told that as of November 1, deer get pretty crafty.

I think most people don't learn how to hunt on their own. Usually, you learn from your dad or uncle...So I am on my own, as my dad lives in California and hasn't hunted since he was 11 and lived in Oklahoma.

Before we moved to the country, I had a very different image of hunting in general. I had an image of hunting from the movie The Deer Hunter with Robert Dinero, where you drive out into the woods and wander around trying to be sneaky and quiet until you see something to shoot at, or even possibly following the occasional track or two like Daniel Boone. This is not the case. No stealthy wandering here. Nossir. Apparently, folks around here are smarter than Robert Dinero.

Here are some basic steps for hunting in East Texas.

1) Buy a fifty pound bag of dry corn.
2) Pick a spot. Figure out where you think the deer are close by.
3) Pour out some corn so the deer can come get a snack on the spot you picked.
4) Set up somewhere to sit where you can see aformentioned spot. (Best if they can't see you.)
5) Get a weapon: Rifle, Bow or Musket, depending on the season. I also believe there should be a spear season.
6) Get a License. Very important.
7) Repeat steps 1 & 3 until the season begins.
8) Get up before dawn and wait in your seat.
9) When the deer, who are coming to get the snack you so kindly provided, come into view, take aim.
10) FIRE.

To make this experience even better, set up an automatically timed deer feeder that dumps out corn at a specific time. This is like sending out a deer invitation, telling when the party starts every day. You can even set up a night-vision motion-activated deer-cam, to see if deer are actually eating your corn and what time they show up. I'm not kidding. This is totally legal.

This is not the way I thought people went hunting. However, if you are trying to put up some meat to feed a family, this is more effective.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Straight Cucumbers at last

Now in the middle of the summer our garden is winding down. We should be getting lots of tomatoes, but the heat and the bugs did them in. We planted two kinds of cucumbers long straights and short picklers. The picklers have come to the end. They were the most productive of anything we planted. Between what we ate, what Luci turned inot garlic dill pickles and what got fed to the chickens we had more than we could have asked for by far.
At the same time right next to them the long straight cucumbers that we planted barely eeked out at a couple of squat half green half yellow cucumbers. That is until now. For some reason they have finally started to produce nice long straight cucumbers as the picklers are dying.
We had talked about not planting them again, but maybe they are just coming into thier own now.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Guard Chickens On Duty

We have seven chickens. When I got home from Vegas three years ago Luci had twenty four chicks. A few were killed by other chickens, some died from unknown causes or wandered off, and a bunch were eaten last when the hurricane busted up the chicken coop. They spent there nights hiding in the bushes until the coyotes found them and quickly began thinning the herd. The coop is made of PVC pipes bent over in a hoop covered with chicken wire and a tarp. When it was intact we could move it around to let them plenty of grass and keep them in the coop all the time. Now that it is busted up it has to be staked to the ground and stays in one place, so in order for them to have grass we let em out every day.

What we did not know in the beginning was that the chickens would simple return to the coop every day when it got dark outside. If one straggler does not return you just don't put any food out the next day. The day after that they will all come running when you put the food out. So tonight as the sun was setting and we started to put the kids to sleep we heard the chickens clucking like crazy. Since they usually only make noise at night Luci figured something was trying to get at em before we closed them inside the coop. I grabbed the shotgun and headed outside. Standing in the middle of the yard,neck stretched as high as it could go one the big brown chickens is clucking like mad. As I stepped off the porch I see a big brown deer staring right at me. For a second I thought about taking a shot, but deer season doesn't start for another month or so. Then he took off running followed, by a second deer that I hadn't seen coming from the direction of our peach tree. They were out there looking for some fruit to eat. The peaches are just about ripe, but I am willing to bet they will be gone one morning when we wake up.

It's not really worth the money to buy fencing material to protect twenty dollars worth of peaches, but I am considering moving the chicken coop right next to the tree to keep a beek on it for me. I guess it's is only fair if they eat the peaches this year since I am hoping to eat one of them this year.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mid-summer Planting, Bean fest 09'

I've been trying to figure out what I should plant right now.

Walmart doesn't have any seeds; the feed store is not carrying seeds right now; and everyone tells me I should wait three weeks or a month and then start planting lettuce and broccoli for my fall garden. But I feel like I need to have something in the ground trying to grow or I am just wasting time.

I dug through the box of seed packets we have (some of which were packaged for the 2003 growing season) -we must have bought those when we lived in Las Vegas and still dreamed of having a lush garden in the desert.

Carefully reading the back of the packets, I saw the a few types of veggies that said they could be planted this time of year in our zone: corn, squash and green beans. The corn we had this year did not do well so I am going to skip that one.

BUT I am going to plant all the green beans. We have six or seven packets, so I have been clearing rows all morning in order to make room for them.

Seeing that our garden was a patch of grass when we started, the grass is trying to regain its position with vengeance. I sharpened the hoe with mill file and went to hacking. When everything was ripped up, I used a rake to pull grass roots from the soil. Hopefully, the green beans will take off before the grass comes back full force.

Go beans!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cutting sunflowers in the thunderstorm

The temperature dropped around twenty degrees from when I went outside with the kids to when we came in a few hours later. It was nice and cool working in the garden under the cover of the thick black clouds that were rolling in. The girls played on the porch when the thunder started and I began cutting down the sunflowers. A few have turned all the way brown around the edges and probably should have been picked earlier since birds are eating out the seeds.

Sunflower seeds are probably not worth the effort to gather, sort and roast, but the girls will get a big kick out of eating them. It was hard to keep them from eating them now, but I need to let the seed heads dry more before I harvest them. I tied a couple of groups of flower stems together and covered the heads with bags that have holes in them. After a couple of weeks the sunflower seeds should be ready to remove and roast.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Structure in the garden

Today was the fourth day in row we had rain.

In between thunderstorms, I spent some time pulling weeds and cleaning out the rows of beans that have died. I weeded all of the zucchini and squash and spread them out. They had grown much larger than the rows we had allowed for and were sort of hemmed in by the rows of beans. I picked a couple more burst open watermelons, as well as one that I think might actually be ripe and intact.

Our Straight Eight slicing cucumbers seem to be coming into stride as the picklers start to die off, but I realized that I should have paid more attention to them. The vines of the slicing cucumbers had not climbed the trellis the way the picklers had done on their own. I untangled all of the vines and wove them up through the wires. Only one had worked its way up the trellis, and on the end of that vine was a long straight cucumber...the rest had short round cucumbers lying on the ground. It was like we had green golf balls growing. Very odd, but they tasted good.

Anyway, when I looked around, I realized that the cukes were not the only thing in need of support. One of the gourd vines was creeping along the base of the fence and the bell peppers have outgrown the bent coathangers we used to support them before a storm. The cherry tomatoes have outgrown the stakes or grown out the side of a tomato cage instead of the top. I guess we should have been more vigilant, but with the drought, our main focus was watering everything.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Our Squash Runneth Over

Luci's in the kitchen again, trying to use up our enormous supply of squash. If a body could live on squash and cukes alone, we'd have it made. Nothing else made much in the garden in the drought conditions---but the squash are happy.

I'm posting Luci's squash relish recipe. If you're in the same situation as we are, you have to try this. I hate squash, but I love to eat the relish. It tastes like a combination of sweet pickle relish and chutney. Great on grilled sausage or hot dogs, and great on beans and cornbread.

Squash Relish

10 cups finely chopped squash (we used a combination of pattypan, yellow straightneck, and zucchini, and we do it in the food processor)

4 finely chopped onions (we do this in the food processor, too)

2 Tablespoons pickling salt

4 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 jar chopped pimiento peppers

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Place all ingredients in a nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low boil, and keep it rolling for 30 minutes. If it's a little thin, let it simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal with sterilized rings and lids. Place in boiling water bath, and boil for 10 minutes. (If you've never processed jars before, bring a big pot of water to a boil, making sure water is deep enough to completely submerge upright jars.) Remove jars from boiling water bath and set aside to cool. Before storing, make sure jars are sealed. (The lid will not "click" up and down if you push it--it will be vacuum-sealed).

This recipe makes about 12 half-pints, or 6 pints, with enough left over to put some in the fridge for immediate eating.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Forecast: No rain, plenty of snakes

This little fella had to die today. I went out to the chickens to feed them a pile of carrot peels, and this one was wrapped up in the corner happily swallowing a nice brown egg. Probably harmless, but with my kids around I don't take a chance. I tried to chop the head with a trenching shovel, but the snake slipped through the chicken wire to the other side of the pen where I couldn't get at it.
Foolishly, the snake stayed in the same spot while I went into the house and got the shotgun. I'd feel bad about killing this guy except I draped him over the fence next to the cattle guard and I know that by morning one of the woodland creatures will be happily digesting a free lunch. The last snake I killed only lasted about a hour before being dragged or carried off. Everything's gotta eat.
As for the garden, we are dying for a rain. Today we had 80 percent chance of rain. We got the twenty. With those odds we should have stayed in Vegas. Hasn't rained here in about a month. The grass is dry and brown and every county has a burn ban. I think the heat has just been to much for the tomato plants. They look dry and wilty no matter how much water they get. I have been waiting for a break in the heat to plant a few things for the fall garden. I went to the Extension office yesterday and got a list of plants that do well in fall gardens. The next couple days I am going to prepare for those plantings by re-tilling some rows like my green beans that are totally done for.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What the F, man! All my melons are bursting open!

Not a pretty picture. No, it's really freaking not.
Right now we probably have twenty to twenty-five watermelons of different sizes, but every time one gets to be a good size, the watermelon splits open.
Everyone I talk to says this is due to overwatering. Ok, it's like 9000 degrees outside and I haven't been watering that half of the garden...So how is it possible that the melons are getting too much water???
The only advice I have found is that I should snap off the ends of the vines so that the melon grows, not the vine. This seems like it would just make them split open faster, but as it stands now, we are not going to get any melons out of the garden if this keeps up.
The only good news is that, like the corn, the chickens are more than happy to eat the ruins. At least the melons are being enjoyed on a hot summer day, even if it is not my kids getting to have watermelon juice dripping down their chins.
Next year we will have a separate patch for melons and another for corn. This will allow us to better control the water and maybe we will be more sucessful.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Processing Tomatoes on the 4th of July

A long day started with picking the biggest batch of tomatoes we have had so far. In addition, spread out on the counter were tomatoes we let ripen in the house. We had too many to eat, although there is one tomato Luci has set aside for a BLT. No one can touch that tomato. She's threatened us with bodily harm. The most of the rest we processed into tomato sauce using our handy-dandy tomato mill.

Luci bought the mill on Ebay for twelve bucks a few years ago. It is pretty nifty. As you crank the handle the cylinder inside turns with a scraper/smasher, and it separates out all of the skin and seeds from the pulp and juice.
You can do it with completely uncooked tomatoes, but it takes more work to turn the mill. If you quarter the tomatoes and put them in a pot with a little water you can cook them until they are a little a soft, and then the mill is much easier to to turn.
We put the watery tomato sauce in ziplocks and will cook it down when we are ready to use it, but you could go straight from the mill to the best tasting pasta sauce you've ever had. Our older daughter begs us for a glass of fresh tomato juice every time we do this. She even scraped out the pan after we finished.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to make garlic dill pickles

Hot Garlic Dills

4 quart jars, rings, and lids

Sterilize and keep hot rings and lids.

In each quart jar, place:

1/4 tsp. alum

2 peeled garlic cloves

2 heads fresh dill, or 2 tsps. dried dillweed, or 2 teaspoons dried dill seed

1 or 2 dried hot peppers

2 peeled pearl onions

Pack cucumbers tightly on top of all this, and place in open stock pot; bring to a boil and remove.

Also, in a separate non-reactive pot, bring to a boil:

2 cups white or cider vinegar

1/2 cup pickling salt

4 cups water.

Ladle hot vinegar mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Place lid and ring on top to seal. Make sure jars are sealed tightly before storing. Pickles will be ready in 6 weeks.

NOTE: We left out the hot peppers since our little ones are the pickle-eaters in our house. That'd just be a dirty trick.

If man could live by cucumbers alone.

The corn may be messed up, the okra may have gotten too big to be any good, but we have cucumbers.

I mean, we have more cucumbers than we know what to do with. Over the last couple days we have been hatching our plans for next year's garden. We have realized that we have more than enough cucumbers to fill our kids' pickle cravings, eat plenty of light cucumber and tomato salads, make some spreads for crackers, give away a ton and feed a few to the chickens.

The plan was to pickle the okra too, but with four or five plants we haven't gotten enough to pickle. My youngest loves pickled okra, I mean LOVES pickled okra, but we get a couple ripe pods, and then we have to wait until the next ones are ready--so by then the first ones aren't good anymore. We have to plan on lots ripe at the same time in order to get a jarful.

Selecting plants for your garden based on what you plan to eat or preserve is as important as what will grow. I have eight banana pepper plants that have cranked out piles of great peppers, but next year I will plant more bell peppers and poblanos and less of the banana peppers.

The radishes are a good example of having too much of something you don't really need. On occasion, I like a radish, but I don't eat 'em enough, so most of them have waited too long to be picked and have gone bad.

We definitely need to get our balance right of what to plant and when. Next year we will plant more rows of green beans and stagger the planting times so they produce over a longer period of time. We need to do as much planning as digging.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Corn for us, corn for the chickens

We picked the corn today. This is what was usable out of all the corn we planted. I don't know much about growing corn, this I am sure of.
We have about fifty corn plants. Sounds like lot; doesn't look like much. Out of all that, this is our harvest. If we were depending on us growing a crop of corn to get through the winter we would be like burnt toast, done.
Most of the corn was eaten by some kind of worm, some destroyed before it produced, a little ruined by ants as far as we can tell and this is what is left. This has led us to spend lots of time discussing what to do differently in the garden next year.
Next year we will try to find a local variety that
produces well and is possibly more resistant to local conditions. On the One Million Gardens site, a few people suggested putting a drop of mineral oil on the silk as it emerges and using a clothes pin to tighten the husk to keep critters out.
The up side of our corn disaster is that our chickens will love to eat this corn, including the worms, which they will find a tasty treat. My kids actually took a couple of the worms off and hand fed them to the chickens. I feel a strange sense of pride seeing my kids pick up a worm and feed it to a chicken without being squeamish about it.
Living in Las Vegas you get a weird sort-of santized reality where everything looks clean but really, it probably has hepititis. In the country lots of things look nasty but are totally harmless.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No rain again, prepare for less tomorrow

Today, the rain came down for about a minute. Too bad, I ran out of water that I had been saving from rainfall on Father's day. I finally had to break out the hose to water the blueberries, the raspberries, fig trees and the peach tree. Each rainfall I have been collecting about 80 gallons of water. The rain came spaced out just enough that right when the buckets and the five gallon jerry cans that I have been using were empty we would get a down pour. I have been collecting since the beginning of April, I figure I have used around 2000 gallons of rainwater this year. I need to get a couple of plastic barrels and make some good rain barrels. They sell for around fifteen bucks at the feed store. I think I need to be able to store around four hundred gallons to get through the driest parts of the summer, maybe six hundred.
Like many people I talked to my dad on fathers day. He told me he only had two little cucumbers this year which amazed me cause we have already make eight jars of pickles and we pick bucket full every day. He thinks it is because it is not hot enough in northern California and they are not getting enough water. He also thinks they are going to raise the water rates. Living in any densely populated area the cost of water will soon outweigh they cost of gardening. Any kind of micro agricultural enterprise just wont be feasible on a large city lot because no one will be able to afford the water. There is a blog I like about homesteading in downtown Houston and starting what they call the high density home orchard, but water costs are just going to get exponentially higher over the next couple decades.
Orchards are the kind of thing you have to think of in terms of decades. They just don't happen in a year or two. We are really lucky to have plenty of water here. We have lived in the desert so we know what it is like to have a water bill that can double in a year. Living in the country growing some of your own food does make you think about the resouces around you what can you do with them? how do you sustain them? what are they worth? what I am doing to protect them for my self and my kids?
The colors in the garden are so bright it is hard not to get out the camera and start taking pictures of what is growing. I always find that the even good pictures don't really do justice to what is being photographed. I am not really a wonder of nature kinda of guy, but it is hard not have a sort "hey, I grew that, look, look at what I did" feeling when you pull apart some leaves and find something new in the garden.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dig It - in the garden with Jane Mcbride

After taking my kids swimming at there Nana's house I came home and spent a few hours reading. This is not my normal routine. Luckily the kids obliged by playing nicely together so I got a chance to check out this blog by Jane McBride who writes for the Beaumont Enterprise.
Dig It gives tons of useful information about gardening and living in South East Texas as well as feeling like a glimpse into a private life. The blog is punctuated with beautiful photographs that inspire you to get into the garden and start growing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Luci's Chinese Dumplings

Every once in a while, we start craving food we can't get in the tiny burg where we live. A big food culture we miss is Chinese--and there's not a Chinese restaurant for at least half an hour in any direction. Luci's been playing with different recipes and cookbooks since we made the move to the country. It's always edible, but some experiments are better than others. Let me tell ya, this time we have a winner. She just made this for our family tonight, and really, it's even better than we get in our semi-local Chinese buffet line. Wish I'd taken pictures--they were really beautiful, but they disappeared way too fast to snap a photo. Thought I'd post the recipe in case anyone else is dying for potstickers.

Luci's Chinese Dumplings

1 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground turkey OR ground chicken
1/2 lb. thawed, peeled shrimp (can use cooked or raw)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 can sliced water chestnuts
3 or 4 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon garlic/ginger mixture, or 1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic and 1 1/2 tsp. minced ginger
Whiz above ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

1 package refrigerated round dumpling wrappers (or square wonton wrappers with corners cut off)
1 small cup of water for moistening
Lay out six wrappers side by side. Drop a teaspoon of the meat mixture in the center of each wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with water and fold together, pleating as you go. Place finished dumplings on a cookie sheet and cover with a moist paper towel. Repeat until you run out of wrappers. (Freeze the rest of the meat mixture for another day.)

You can either cook these as steamed dumplings or as potstickers.

For steamed dumplings, place in a bamboo steamer over boiling water and cook for 20 minutes.

For potstickers, heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet. Place dumplings in the skillet with 1/3 cup water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until the water has evaporated. Remove lid and cook until undersides of the dumplings are brown.

Serve with dipping sauce, recipe follows.

Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili sauce (we like Sriracha) OR a few drops of chili oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil

MMMMMMMMMMM! Be jealous, we also had lettuce wraps and grilled chicken with peanut sauce.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Smashing tomato bugs with my fingers

Some days life in the garden and in the country is nasty, just plain nasty. The amount of bugs that live out here is insane. We're trying to stay as organic as possible, resisting the temptation to spread massive amounts of pesticides, but the bugs are putting the hurt on. We have lost some tomatoes and, in an effort to solve the problem without chemicals, I turned to man's greatest gift: the opposable thumb.

Yep, trying to catch little beasts and smush 'em between finger and thumb.

You kinda gotta squish a couple and walk away 'cause after a minute, they notice and fly off, but when you come back they are at it again. This would be the old-fashioned way. Before I had kids I might have been too grossed out to do this, but you have to lots of gross stuff when you garden, live in the country and raise a couple of kids. I'd say squishing bugs in your fingers ranks somewhere between a diarrhea diaper and vomit down your shirt...not the worst by a long shot.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Success so far

The sunflowers are booming. The leaves are covered with little golden flecks of pollen.

Luci wanted to plant the gourds. The plan is make some birdhouses out of these.

This what I am most excited about: the first signs of melons. This one is a little bigger than a golf ball. The rest of the melons are like gumballs.

Still planting. Maybe it is too late to plant, but I have the seeds and they were cheap so what do I have to lose. I have been trying to water the seedlings in the morning and at night. The days have been are getting long and hot. I don't think our watering system is effective enough and I am afraid some plants will die. The sprinklers are just too inefficient for the size of a garden we put in this year. I think next year we will have to do something else; we may even have to do something else this year to keep everything alive. I put in cucumber seeds that have sprouted, and the garlic bulb in the kitchen window needs to be split up and put into the ground. So it keeps going.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Victory is mine

Today, I won a battle. Our Craftsman riding mower and I have been at war for months now.
After sitting around for almost a year while I was in Vegas, the engine wouldn't start. I have been monkeying with the thing since I got back. I started working on our mower even before I tore apart the tiller that I got working to put in the garden.
Machinery is just part of living out in the country. Often you drive through the country and see these houses with big open fields of grass around them and think how nice it would be to have so much open cleared space...but you don't notice the tractor sitting back in a garage behind the house that has a payment as much as a car. Right now we are just happy to have the mower going again. After taking it half-apart, changing the spark plug, cleaning the carburetor, sanding the rust off the flywheel, cleaning the fuel lines, sanding the battery cable terminals and spraying an assload of carburetor cleaner in the spark plug chamber, the mower finally fired up.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

the accidental coyote hunt

Living out here, I find that I have done a few things I never thought I would do.

This morning, Luci went out to check on the garden, and after a few minutes she started hollering for me to come outside. When I went out, she said she had just seen a coyote chasing down a baby deer just outside the opening where our back gate should be. I rushed back in the house to grab my boots and the shotgun. (We have a .410 Remington semi-automatic shotgun that we inherited from Luci's father. It is probably too small to kill the coyote from any distance, but the wound might do it in.) So I ran off into the woods where they were headed, assuming I would not find anything in our overgrown back pasture.

I walked to the edge of the first fence that separates what used to be two pastures and figured whatever was going on had moved on. BUT! As I turned to walk down the fenceline to get into the far back pasture, the coyote came around a corner through a little animal trail that snakes through the woods. I stopped, and he stopped, and as he started to growl or snarl or whatever I raised my shotgun and took a shot. He turned and darted in the bushes. It lasted about a second.

My wife says I should leave out the part of the story where I shoot at him (since I missed) but that doesn't bother me any. I know it is harder to hit a moving target than people often think, and I don't spend a lot of time shooting. I would have been happier to hit the little bastard, but I was just happy I had the gun.

See, that's a first for me. Never before today I have thought "Hey, probably a good thing I had a gun with me." The deer was about fifteen feet from me on the other side of the fence--I could see it bolt when I fired at the coyote. I realize coyote's gotta eat, but I won't feel bad killing 'em either.

I would imagine that the coyotes have been snacking on the rabbits in our yard, and now that they're all gone, the coyotes have had to start in on other food sources like the baby deer. On one hand, the coyotes keeping the deer away from my garden could be a plus, but I think these guys have to die. Either I am gonna have to man up and do it myself or get someone more experienced to do it for me. I just don't like the idea of my kids outside with them so close to the house.

Oddly enough, I know a genuine coyote killer. I met him a couple of months ago when I was working for the Census Bureau. We started talking after I entered his address into the computer and I mentioned that a few of our chickens had been eaten by coyotes while I was in Las Vegas last October. Luci called my one night after I had been out having a few drinks with the guys to tell me that there were wolves in the yard. To be honest it took me a while to wrap my head around that. This is not a call you get every day. Anyway, most likely they were coyotes. Department of Wildlife said wolves are extinct here so go ahead and shoot 'em. Anyway, Al-the-coyote-killer told me he only hunts coyotes and foxes anymore. He enjoys it because they are not easy and well, kinda dangerous.

Al explained the basics of coyote hunting. I guess you can either use a call or (and this sounds like more fun), a gut bucket. A gut bucket is exactly what it sounds like. Find a metal bucket or other container that you can close but has holes in it, and fill it with the nasty guts of something else you killed and leave it to rot and smell where you can wait a little ways off and get a clear shot. The calls come either electronic or blown. The problem with blown is that you are drawing a pack of hungry coyotes to yourself. Could be problematic. The electronic you set where you can get back and get off a clear shot.

I never pictured myself with much interest in hunting, but I must say it is kind of exciting. There is something about being out in the woods with a gun that makes you feel as if you need it. The same way a walk with a walking stick in hand has different feel to it.

I wouldn't really want to kill anything just to kill it, but to put food on the table or protect my kids, I wouldn't feel bad about it.

A few years ago I was working in Vegas and I told one of the guys that I was broke. He was an old timer and he asked if I was going home to go hunting for food. When I said no, he shook his head and said, "You ain't even close to broke yet."

As for protecting my kids, someone from the city might think that the coyotes are not really a threat, but I doubt they would want their neighbor's angry Rottweiler hanging around their front yard.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The kids are eating as fast as it gets ripe.

Everything is growing really fast now. The cucumbers are growing so fast that every few days we find a small pickling cucumber that is way bigger than we would normally pick it and eat it. We have had a couple of green bean dishes with dinner and the girls eat the tomatoes and cucumbers with a little salt within an hour of most pickings. That is, if I can keep them from munching the veggies still warm from the sun in our garden.

One of the corn stalks has a little baby corn wrapped up in a husk. A few other stalks have that silky looking stuff that preceeds the corn. I can't wait to have fresh corn cooked on the grill or roasted in the husk. I know the girls will love it. They are so much more excited about eating veggies fresh from the ground than they are from the store.

Most of the stuff you get in the store doesn't even begin to hold up against what you grow, but if you're not around the good stuff, you forget. A couple of days ago I was walking through the garden and I was overwhelmed by the smell. I could instantly remember being in my grandparents' garden as kid, which is kinda odd cause my memory blows chunks and I didn't spend much time in there when we were kids. We usually went to Delano for a week at Easter and a week in the summer as I recall.

I am not sure how it is that tomatoes in the store don't smell. Why is that? Where did the smell go?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

life and death in the mower's garden

After waiting for the rain for a few days, it came with vengeance today for about an hour and then was nice and sunny. Totally jacked our garden. Our poor corn looks like somebody's trying to make a crop circle in our garden. I will have lots of work to do in the morning, standing everything up. I may have to take the machete and make some stakes out branches off the fallen walnut tree to hold things back up. The corn, the squash, the okra, and the wax beans all got hit hard. This guy is still going though. This is what I am waiting for: fresh peppers. Oh I can't wait to butcher this sweet green pig.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Waiting for the Rain, Happy to not depend on it.

Any form of agriculture depends on the weather, and you just can't count on it working out the way you want it to.

So far, the weather has been great for us this season. The switching back and forth from rainy to sunny is perfect for the garden, the berry bushes and the fruit trees. We haven't had to water much, but the last few days it has been dark and cloudy, but a couple of drops is all we have been getting. Luckily for us, we live on a well, so water only costs us the electricity it takes to drive the pump.

Water is one of the most important elements to any piece of rural land, and water also determines what options are available to a landowner. Our water is clean and flows easily into the cistern when the compressor is on, coming out cold and fresh.

When we lived in Las Vegas the water from the city had so much chlorine in it that if you filled up the bathtub in the small bathroom, the fumes would hurt your eyes. The price was high. Our place was built in the 'fifties and was on a corner lot with a big lawn. Trying to water it could cost $150 a month. That doesn't include electricity, that was just for the water/sewer/garbage bill.

If you're looking into a place in the country, you should find out if putting in a well is permitted. Some places with water shortages keep raising water costs until people started putting in their own wells. Cities and counties in some places have placed restrictions on new wells, so you should find out if this applies to your place. Even if it has access to a water supply company, you should find out if a well is an option. If the property already has a well, you should have the water tested to make sure it does not contain harmful bacteria or pollutants. Our tests were done through the city offices, and either they or someone in county administration should be able to tell you where to get a test. You should also inspect the well to see how quickly the water is flowing into the cistern. Ours fills up in about an hour, but the pump determines the pressure in the house, the compressor and the volume of water available determines how fast it comes out of the ground. You don't want it to take all day to fill a cistern.

Having some form of flowing water on your property greatly increases the possible uses. Even the small branch that flows through parts of our property could be used to provide water to livestock or be diverted to water crops. Understanding your water rights might very important for future development. Because whatever you do to the water on your property affects the people downstream. Of course, large water supply companies have no problem damming up a flow, but doing it down in your back forty may have you in a feud with a neighbor. Feuds are fun and all, but its hard to develop your property when someone is shooting at you.

During the recent swine flu scare we talked a lot about what would happen if there was a serious pandemic. It would be possible, but not easy and certainly unpleasant, for us to hole up here and survive. Between hunting, gathering, trapping, and raising livestock and crops, we could keep the kids fed even if we couldn't keep the lights on. We don't intend to try this anytime soon, but if we had to we could.