Friday, May 28, 2010

A boom year for the garden

So far this is turning out to be a boom year for the garden.  Everything is growing like crazy.  In part this might be because we amended the soil by adding compost and manure before we planted while we were tilling the soil.  I think it may be either the weather or the amount of pollen that was in the air this year as well.  Even the fruit trees and blueberry bushes are putting out way more than they did last year and I don't really know why.  Last year the peach tree had maybe twenty to thirty peaches, most of which were eaten by deer, this year there is at least a hundred maybe a hundred and fifty.  The girls and I picked cucumbers and green beans for dinner tonight and they ate every bite. 
This is the first of the squash to grow in the girls little garden.  These are the biggest plants out of everything we planted.  This area that had a large chicken tractor over it for months is well fertilized and doesn't have to many weeds.  By planting everything close together the veggie plants have choked out a good portion of the weeds.  This seems to be working so well that I am planning on moving chicken tractors onto areas I want to garden and letting the chickens eat everything inside before using it as a growing area.
Last year our tomatoes were devastated by bugs.  The little bastards made me so mad I could scream.  So far I have only seen a few and I am trying to catch one so I can show it to the extension agent.  I am hoping she will have a good suggestion as to how to get rid of these things with out using to much DDT.  Watching a small crop get torn up blows big time.  This year we have eighty or so tomato plants so we have even more to lose.  Between some new tomato cages, the starter plants, and compost I figure we have about two hundred bucks invested in the tomatoes.  I never liked gambling in Vegas because after I lost a hundred bucks I wanted to kick myself.  I certainly don't want to lose money, time and hard work.  That is the real difference  between a farm and garden, accounting.  I am not a the point yet a which I am trying to make money, but I at least want to break even while providing healthy food for the kiddo's.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Two feet in sixteen inches

This is all that is left of one of our Dominickers.  A couple bones, a pile a feathers and two feet.  Last night we were out late and when we got home we had to try to get the kids to bed because it was already 11pm.  Since we were so late I forgot to  do my usual check on the chickens to make sure they have water.  In the morning I often leave the bungee cords that hold the roof down unhooked on one side because I know I am going to open it again.  When we went outside this morning we found this pile about fifteen feet from the chicken tractor.  Something had managed to get through the top or crawl under and drag this one out.  Raccoon, maybe a fox, I am not sure if possums will go after the chickens or just the eggs.  Whatever it is it will be back since it had nice chicken dinner.  I kinda feel bad for the chicken, but if I think of the amount of chickens I have eaten in my  life it would be silly to stress over this one.  Mostly I feel bad we didn't eat the little lady.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Worm Roundup

A couple of years ago we tried to a little worm farming using an old turtle shaped sandbox that the kids have outgrown.  The worms didn't last long and although we have talked about trying again in order to have plenty of worms for fishing we just never got around to it.  This is the thunder stick that Luci made this morning.  It is an old rake handle with notches cut into one side.  The other piece of wood is an old broom handle that is rubbed  back and forth across the notches to make noise and vibration.
The worms just come right up out of the ground.  Not sure if it is the noise or the vibration, but it works. If anybody know why this works let me know. Luci said this is how her grandfather would get worms for fishing and I think we saw something similar on DIRTYJOBS one of the girls favorite TV shows.  The harder part will be finding an area of the property that has a larger variety of worms.  The chickens thought these were a great snake and the handfull chucked into the garden into the garden will help loosen up the soil, but these little guys would be hard to thread onto a fishing hook.

Monday, May 17, 2010

If you don't like the weather....

Down here, everyone says if you don't like the weather in Texas, wait an hour and it will change.  At noon it was hot sunny bright day, but by two o'clock it looked like this:
The storm hit hard and then by four it was hot and sunny again.  In the hour it rained, I collected about sixty gallons of rainwater, filling the rain barrel and all of the buckets.  If we have another long dry spell, this will help water the figs, blueberries, peach and pear trees.  I never paid much attention to the weather until we moved here, but if you want to a grow anything you have to hope for the best.  The wind and the rain battered the garden pretty hard and the chickens all hid in their boxes.

Spent the evening standing up and staking the tomato plants and standing up the squash.  I can't imagine watching an entire crop get wiped out from some crap weather.


Quirky is probably my favorite website.  The site is a crowdsourcing product-development site where users submit ideas for new products and then try to guide the products picked for production by voting, rating and leaving feedback.  Normally Quirky charges a $99-dollar submission fee, but participating is always free.  Every member who influences a product gets a small percentage of the profit from those products when they go into production.  I have tiny amounts of influence on nine products and my account goes up by a few cents every day.

Right now they are looking for an idea involving composting--this being one of their special promotions, they are allowing free submissions, so there is nothing to lose if you have an idea. With no registration fee, Quirky is one of the few sites that really allows you to make money with no initial investment.  Some of the ideas are good, some are interesting and some submissions are so ridiculous that they are hilarious. Even if you don't care about compost (although how is that possible??)  Quirky is worth the time to check out.


May 17
Launch idea submissions
May 17 - 26
Submissions accepted
May 26 - June 4
Ideas evaluated
by community
June 4
Announcement of
winning product
June 4 - 15
Regular product
development cycle
June 15
Product launch

Sunday, May 16, 2010

a reconnaissance mission to the east

Tonight, not under the cover of darkness I slipped through a wide-open hole in a fence that has been down for years to check on the great berry patch to the east.  Right now, what I am picking are called dewberries in East Texas. They are different than true blackberry vines--their canes are soft and trail on the ground...not that the prickles are any different.  My oldest always says, when she gets a thorn, "Ow!  The berry picked me back!"

On our property we have tons of these things and the bags of frozen berries are piling up.  Off the road we have several patches where the vines have been growing and producing for years where they will be covered in slightly larger blackberries.  These patches are a little harder to get to and require that I  tromp off through the grass and weeds to get to the patch.  These ripen later than the dew berries, so after I start picking dewberries I have to keep an eye on the them to make sure I don't miss them starting to ripen.

I actually find the easiest way is to check the berry patch growing on the hunting lease next to our property.  This is not something one does during hunting season.  That's a good way to end up with your head stuffed and mounted on some dillweed's wall.  The land is pretty much vacant except near hunting season,  so I figure I'm safe--although I should have pulled out the orange vest I have left over from my FEMA job after hurricane Rita.  The berries are just starting to have a little blush of red so it should be only a few days before bucketloads are ready to be picked.  I know where the patch is because I have had to go take a look to see where our gun-happy neighbors had set up their hunting stands.  A couple were way too close to our house and I asked them to pick a different spot.  They agreed and we try to keep things friendly. Since at certain times of the year we are thirty or forty yards away from each other with hunting rifles, so it is best to keep things civilized.

Friday, May 14, 2010

EndAll at the beginning

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of SaferBrand. All opinions are 100% mine.

Last year we tried go totally natural and not use anything for insects except squashing them with our fingers (which is just plain gross).  This plan really didn't work out very well and we lost tons of tomatoes, corn, and squash.  All that hard work for nothing.  I could have cried.  Enter my new favorite organic pesticide, my new best friend, EndAll Insect Killer.

This year has been slow for the bugs to appear, probably because it has been drier than last year, but when we lost a Roma Tomato plant--totally loaded with tomatoes, of course--to cutworms, we knew we wanted to try to prevent the losses we had last year.  I decided to go with EndAll Insect Killer from Safer Brand.
EndALL insect spray

Since I sprayed a week ago, I haven't lost another plant to cutworms, haven't seen the little green and brown things that ate the tomatoes last year and something has stopped eating the leaves. I didn't find EndALL Insect Killer to be a skin irritant the way I found the stuff I tried when we lived in Las Vegas. 

EndAll has Neem oil in it, which gives it a smell that is familiar, but which you just can't place. Because it kills the larva and the adults, I am hoping it will prevent a lot of problems by reducing the population this early in the season.  We've also increased the amount of Marigolds and Basil in the garden, because they are supposed to keep insects away too, but I think the EndAll might be give us the firepower needed to keep the veggies from being destroyed.  If you're going for a pesticide, I would have to start with EndAll.  When I sprayed with it last week, I noticed that it killed aphids and slugs too.  It also killed the infestation of little bugs that were hanging out on the 70's Scarecrow.  Woohoo, go EndAll!

Of course if you're looking for something old-school you could go with this guy, the Insect-O-Gun. Ever since we moved here I have seen this thing hanging on the wall of our barn and assumed it was a paint sprayer.  Yesterday I took it off the nail it was hanging on because I was cleaning out the barn.  It is a bug sprayer that you hook up to a water hose.  On the handle it is actually embossed "INSECT O GUN".  The top is an all-brass fitting that still has nice movement.  This screws onto the same kind of jar you use to preserve food.  This thing has probably been hanging on that nail for forty years and there's no telling what kind of Agent Orange you're supposed to use when you load it up.  God help ya if you lost track of which jar you used with it and accidentally filled it up with peaches.

Visit my sponsor: EndALL: Organic Insect Spray

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Broken Glass, Shattered dreams

Ok,  maybe it is not that serious, but when I saw the end of the Clorox logo sticking out of the grass I got excited and thought I found another bottle to add to the collection.  It is not that old, but it has been a while since they sold bleach in glass bottles.  I try to keep as much of the old junk as I can especially if it has logo's or branding.  I even kept some of the little boxes that nails were in that had probably been bought in the late sixties early or early seventies. Fishing lures, bottles, tools, duck calls, dishes are all on the list of stuff I look out for to keep.  I really love the stuff from the sixties.  At some point we will take all the junk out of the Rubbermaid tubs that we have and make a display for all this crap.  This hunk of glass will end up in the trash instead of in the keep pile.  Probably for the best as we have too much junk anyway.

A camping trip you don't forget

What do mean you don't want to go camping this year kids?  Hiking around the lake, playing in the streams, making smore's on the fire. Afterwards we battle the undead. It's a family tradition.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dying for some rain

Every morning for about a month the weather  has been cloudy and cool with high winds.  Even on the days we have been warned that violent thunder storms are coming we haven't gotten but a few drops of rain.  The dark clouds just don't open up and let it out.  The good side is that with the wind the heat and humidty are tolerable, but the bad side is that the garden is requiring a lot of water.  I decided that since this may keep up I should try to get ready to increase the amount of rain I can use at once buy setting up a rain barrel.
For twenty bucks at the feed store I got this plastic barrel that is labeled Diet Coke Base.  There is also a CORROSIVE  label, but since I couldn't survive without diet coke I have been pretending I didn't see that one.  I rinsed the barrel and left the caps off to let the smell evaporate.  I put the barrel under the eave of the house and cut out a ten inch hole to let the rain flow inside.  I drilled a 1/2 hole in the bottom side and threaded in a PVC spigot. The next ones I buy I won't cut out a hole in the top.  I will figure out way to get the water to flow through the holes that have caps so that I can reseal the barrel.

Unless the electricity were shut off there is no way that rain fall would become our primary source of water.  We are so lucky when it comes to access to clean fresh water when other people have only access to unsafe water or have to pay a price that forces them to choose between food and water.  I know in some states and worse in some countries where the world bank has privatized water it is illegal to collect rainwater.  I know I would break that law in a heartbeat if I needed the water.  I can't imagine depending on a product like the Watercone to have some clean fresh water.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The dwindling junk pile

Most people who have gardening or county life blogs have pretty pictures of flowers, sunsets and cute farmyard animals doing adorable things.  Not this guy.  I spent the morning trying to get rid of one the last pieces of junk out of the yard.  This old cistern has probably been in the same place since the 40's when the house was used as a hunting cabin.  I thought for sure when I knocked it over I would find at least on snake under it or inside the rusty hunk of junk.

The damn thing weighs a ton and since I don't like to ask for help I had to figure out how to get it in my truck by myself.  Well, my five year was with me, but when we carried it she kept dropping her end.  Luckily I had pulled all these old tires out of various piles of brush and junk only to find out that it is a pain to get rid of tires.  I had to stack them up like step and roll one end onto them.  When I had the tip on three tires I had to move the others closer to the middle and roll it from one stack to the next in order to get a steep enough angle.
Of course it wasn't quite steep enough so I had to let a little air out of my tires before I could back up with the tail gate underneath it.  When I got my tail gate a little closer than this to the center I was able to shove it inside the bed of my little truck.
I am pretty sure that this is the same way they moved the Easter Island heads, but they may have had more old tires and a bigger truck.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

the 2010 garden

Tomorrow we should be planting the last few things for the garden until the summer planting when a few things have died off.  We still need to plant sunflowers, gourds, and a couple more rows of green beans.  This year we left out the corn which just did not do well,  the watermelons and cantalopes because I think they need a patch to themselves, and the okra, lets face it okra is just plain nasty.  In the main garden we have around seventy tomato plants, a row of cucmbers, two rows of squash about fifteen pepper plants, and eight eggplants.  We probably should have gone smaller with the tomatoes, but if we don't get destroyed by bugs this year we will have a bumper crop and probably have to put a bunch up as sauce.  Since we planted we have had little rain and so everything is growing fast in the unusually hot weather.  Last year when we had rain every couple days I thought that was great because we didn't have to water much, but the guy running the blueberry farm told me he would rather have all the sun all the time.  He said he could get water, but couldn't make any sunlight. 

The kids wanted their own patch and were happy to take this spot that had five tomato plants that had grown up on their own.  I had to put up a male shift fence in order to let the chickens out.  They could easily get over the little fence, but they won't bother because they have plenty of other easier things to eat.  Unfortuntatly something already ate one the pumpkin sprouts in the corner, but I know it wasn't the chickens because the soil around it was undisturbed.  Because this is where the chicken coop was for a long time, the small area is heavily fertilized and may end up producing the best plants.  I am going to go off into the dark forest behind the house and get enough pine straw to heavily mulch this small area so that the weeds will die off.

We decided to grow onions and potatoes this year, but maybe should have put something else in the raised beds.  The beds also have garlic and shallots as well as rhubarb and asparagus which will take years to produce.  Onions and potatoes are so cheap it almost seems silly to grow your own, but a few people have said that the fresh potatoes will be great so I will have to wait and see if it was worth the effort.  I had to take the herb containers and move them all inside the area because the chickens had decided they were the best place to dig.  I wish I had put a little more thought into this and set it up in such away I could cover it with plastic to make a green house and extend the season.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

While I was out

When I came back from taking the kids to school two tractors were busy clearing the high line for the power company.  The lines cross our property in a couple  places, go across our neighbors land and then go back onto our place where it ends at our house.  We're the the last on the line.  Sam Huston Electric Cooprative or Sheco as it is known here has and easement that allows them to clear a certain amount of feet on either side of the line.  The phone company has some type of easement that allows them run lines on certain areas and we also have a oil pipeline that cross piece of land that they keep clear pretty much all the time.  If the world turns into some sort devastated post apocalyptic danger zone where the road was too dangerous to travel I would use the pipeline as a hiking trail to get around.  Those guys are good at clearing brush.

They haven't been out here for at least two years so of course they had to come about a week before one of our best berry picking spots was ready.  There is an area right along the dirt road by the old hay pasture where we picked all of our berries last year that they mowed down just like this section that leads from the mailbox to the old barn.  That was the best place for the kids to pick berries because they could stand on the side of the road with me and pick without having to tromp off into the thicket of thorns. Both kids found it horrifying that someone would come along and mow down a patch of berries nearly ready to pick, but when I asked if they wanted to go home and turn off the AC they declined.  Fortunately, This year the rest of the property is covered.  I picked a couple pounds in about forty-five minutes while I listened to the tractors and waited for them to ask if they could get around behind the house.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

the battle for the bottle

When we first came here to visit I new we were kinda going to the south and I was vaguely aware that this was the inside the bible belt.  I did not realize that as we drove down here from Dallas that we were  traveling backwards in time.  Back to a time before prohibition ended and you couldn't buy or sell any form of alcohol.  I had no idea what a dry county was and when it was explained to me I couldn't help making tons of jokes about how I was gonna round up the Duke boys and run some shine down here in Hazard County.

Moving here from Las Vegas where it is perfectly acceptable to walk down the street with 64 oz  Margarita,  (hardly any booze in it, but don't tell the tourist that) I still find this entertaining.  Now of course if you travel in any direction there is a liquor store just past the county line which  means that tax dollar from the sale of booze goes to the counties in which it was sold.  For the first time since we have lived here the county is going to vote on weather or not to lift the ban and allow business to sell.  Of course those for it are local businesses including Wal-Mart which is the principal supplier of everything in Tyler county.  Those opposed say it will encourage more alcohol related problems.

Personally, I don't really care either way.  If they passed something that allowed only locally owned business to sell then I think it would make a slightly larger difference in the local economy.  Either way I am planning on making some wine this year and I am not really sure if that is legal or not.  Since I couldn't sell it anyway I don't think it matters, but since I was planning on calling it Dry County Wine it will spoil my fun if they allow liquor sales. 

This year is the year of the berry.  Our place is covered in wild black berries.  Last year at this time you could pick a couple cups of small berries and it was only later on that I could could go out and fill a big bucket in couple hours, but in hour a picked these from a spot right next to our driveway that didn't even have berries growing last year.  All the way down the 1/4 mile of driveway on both sides is fields of berries growing around the pine trees. Even the coyote poop that is normally full of rabbit fur is absolutely black from the coyotes snacking on berries. 

I am not sure what caused them to take off so much this year, but we are going to have more than we know what to do with. Last year Luci took the berry's and made jam, but it wasn't until the end of picking season that we really had enough for her to make a batch.  Even with the kids eating a ton we should have plenty for me to learn how to make my own wine.  I hate for them to go to waste.  When I was picking this morning I could imagine what it would have been like to find a field like this if you were a hunter/ gatherer tribe.  It would be like wandering into the candy store.