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.