Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Buckets and cans

Now that the garden is cranking out the veggies we have more than we can possibly eat.  Not enough to set up a stand on the corner of the highway, but definitely more than a family of four can use in a couple days.   Luci has been busy in the kitchen putting everything in jars.  So far the stock of pickles is filling up with bread and butter pickles, green tomato dills, whole garlic dills, dill hamburger slices and pickled peppers there is salsa, tomato sauce and blackberry jelly and strawberry jam. We also picked plums and squeezed out a gallon or so of bright hot pink plum juice that's in  freezer until were ready.  These pickles got put up tonight and in the morning we sauce the tomatoes and use half for salsa half for pasta sauce. 

We use a lot of pasta sauce and salsa so if nothing else this will mean a whole bunch of jars will no longer end up in land fills. I tried to keep all the jars we buy when we are done so I could recycle them, but there is no where to take them with in an hour of us so I ended up pitching them out. I have wonder if it uses less resources to can at home or to have them centrally mass produced. For instance if everyone made pickles at home the vinegar has to travel to each house in small containers rather to one location in a huge container.  The cost of making it ourselves is definetly effective on the second round.  If you add in the cost of the jars, you are probably just barely under what it would cost to buy things like pickles at the store, but the second time around when you already have the jars you begin to save some money.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What's in your yard?

Since moving here I found all kinds of crap in the yard as I am clearing brush, digging or mowing.  The most common is broken glass and spent shotgun shells, but I have also found bottles from the forties, a tractor spedometer, tools, baseballs, coffee tins and bones. We have a really old metal detector that I Luci and I used around the front once just to see what we would find, but instead of coins we pulled up a good size pile of bottle caps, shell caseing, and sockets before we called it quits.

Today as I began to clear an area near the garden I came across this little skull.  Not sure what it is, but I am sure it made a fine meal for something.  Before I moved here I would definitely been grossed out by this type of thing,  especially the wavy part where the two halves of the skull meet in the back,  but now I just regard it with a mild curiosity. When I started cleaning out the old garage it had two or three deer skulls with antlers sort of hanging in the rafters that had not been completely stripped of flesh and had bits of leathery hide clinging to the cheeks and scalp. That was way nasty and all I could imagine was what it would be like to touch the skin of a mummy which I have seen people do on TV a thousand times. I never gave it much thought, but that is seriously disgusting.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A New Hunt

When we moved here, I had no idea that one of my neighbors would be Bigfoot. Like most people, I foolishly believed that Bigfoot only existed in the Pacific Northwest or in Yeti form somewhere in the Himalayas.

 Apparently the nearest and most recent Bigfoot sighting in our area was in 2008, about ten miles away.  Ten miles is nothing for Bigfoot.  If he can survive for a few hundred years in North America without someone dining on his flesh and not taking a picture of it first, then a ten mile hike over to my neck of the woods should be a piece of whatever Bigfoot eats. 

I just finished checking out the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy's map to see where he has been sighted. My first thought is to call them up right now and get some of these guys out to my house in the middle of the night to listen to my tale of an angry Bigfoot shaking his fist at me as wanders out of the yard while ripping his sharp teeth into one of our chickens, but that would be rude. Hilarious, but rude. My other thought is how could I get one of my neighbors convinced that they had just seen Bigfoot.  I'd make a big Ape suit, but I think I would end up taking a bullet to the head.

This comes just a few days after the game wardens told the kids at the library that the black bear population is rising in East Texas.  Now, they were very clear that one is not allowed to shoot a bear unless it is about to eat your face and you better have some claw marks to prove it was about to eat your face.  They never mentioned Bigfoot, but I figure that if he's out there it's open season on any tall hairy things that come within range.  Much like Bigfoot, if you see a bear or bear tracks or bear poop you're supposed to give them a call so they can track them to estimate population and their movements.  I have never seen a bear that wasn't going through a dumpster looking for Cheetos and discarded Bar-B-Que chicken, so it would be kinda cool to see one roaming wild (except I suspect they are just looking for a reliable source of Cheetos). The Black Bear Conservation Committee is trying to help provide education for the public who might encounter these bears in order to keep them alive.  I would love to see both the bear and the Bigfoot population skyrocket so that we can once again dine on these magnificent creatures.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Purple Wall

Although I have spent  a good deal of time sweating to death in the nasty hot weather trying to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, our real crop grows silently and unattended on the rest of the property that we own with my wife's sister.  The property is actually a tree farm or timber plantation.  This gives us the tax status of Agricultural land without having to do much.  The trees really grow without much help and what help they did get came from the timber management company that planted them for us.  Recently I have been wondering if there is anything else we should do to encourage this long term investment to pay off so I have been looking through forestry and timber websites.

Since our property was logged three years ago I have learned a bit about the subject and was aware that timber is marked with paint to indicate which trees are to be harvested and which are off limits to the logging crew.  Accidentally harvesting a tree on the wrong property can cost a logger quite a bit so they often avoid taking the trees on property lines to prevent problems.  When trees are marked they should put a mark around eye level and then one on the base so after the tree has been cut you can be sure it was a tree that was supposed to be harvested.  What I didn't know is that purple marks mean stay out.  The old fences on our property have been down in some areas for so long that you can barely find them in the underbrush even when you know that they are there somewhere, but often large tracts of forested land are impossible or unnecessary to fence so they created the purple paint law.  You can mark your property against trespassers with signs, fences, or purple paint.

(2)  "Notice" means:

(D)  the placement of identifying purple paint 
marks on trees or posts on the property, provided that the marks 
    (i)  vertical lines of not less than eight 
inches in length and not less than one inch in width;
    (ii)  placed so that the bottom of the mark 
is not less than three feet from the ground or more than five feet 
from the ground;  and
    (iii)  placed at locations that are readily 
visible to any person approaching the property and no more than:
     (a)  100 feet apart on forest land;  or                                    
     (b)  1,000 feet apart on land other 
than forest land; 30.05.           

In some areas this is how  land owners mark the line between national forests and bordering private land.  I am curious to know how much paint I would have to buy in order to mark our property, but if I was going to do it I would use a can of Design Master Loganberry.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Not even enough to make pancakes

This is the result of four years of growth for our blueberry bushes.  This is the second handful of berries the girls have eaten this year.  Last year the birds got most of the berries, but for some reason they have left them alone so far.   To be fair, this is only the second year that we really watered them, we have never used fertilizer on them and only once a year do I pull the weeds out that surround them.   Now each bush has around two hundred berries.  Luckily there is great pick-your-own blueberry orchard about fifteen minutes away where it costs $1.50 a pound if you pick, so we will going there for a few more years. If I could wind it back and have a do over we would have planted differently.

First, I would have at least  planted another ten to twenty bushes, possibly as many as forty.

Second,  I would plant them close together instead of spread out around the yard like decorations.  There location makes them take more time to water and harvest.

Third, I would plant all them on the slope instead of on level ground.  The bushes at the bottom of a slope are so much easier to water using a rain barrel and gravity to move the water.

I am thinking about ordering some pecan trees from Willis Orchard Company, but I am trying to figure out what regrets I will have in four years.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Eating the Profits

We are eating something from the garden every day.  Cucumbers are probably the fastest-growing, most productive thing we grow and it is hard to pick them at the size we want because they grow so fast.  Most of these will end up as pickles which the kids will eat all year.  I don't get it personally.  A little pickle on a hamburger maybe, but I can't just eat a pickle by itself.  I am not sure if it is a southern thing or what, but people love pickles here.  You can buy pickles in the movie theater and in the elementary school they have a Pickle Day every week as a fund raiser. When we took the girls to the movies in California they were both upset that they couldn't get a pickle.  This year Luci has also put up a couple jars of pickled peppers.  Using both cherry peppers and banana peppers, these have also become a big hit with the kids.

This is the first and possibly the only crop of potatoes.  Something messed up the plants and we're not sure they are going to live.  A lot of homesteader/ farm blogs write about trying to produce 80% of their own food which means they grow a lot more and eat lot less than I do.  Not eating things in season or trying to store things like potatoes for months a time would be a huge shock for us.  We are, like most people, in the habit of buying tomatoes in December.  We are harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes, squash (which seems to grow second behind cucumbers), potatoes,  and peppers.  I am still waiting on the eggplant.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Crab before the storm

Right now the Texas coast is clear of oil, but we figure the first hurricane of the season should blow in a nice thick layer of death.  Before that happened Luci wanted to take the girls crabbing down at the coast.  We went down to bridge city with an ice chest full of chicken necks and got directions from a bait shop to a good place to go with the kids.  I felt bad for the guy running the bait shop because he knew his business was gonna get screwed and that it was just a matter of time.  We bought a couple of bait fish and were on our way.

We caught a dozen or so before we gave into the intense heat and headed home.  The girls had great time trying to scoop em up with net while they try to eat the chicken neck.  Emma learned the hard way not to try to play with crab in the cooler and got a pinch that drew blood.   This little fellow that Hannah caught got a free pass because he's not five inches wide.  Seems a shame since it'll just end up covered in black gold.  12 of these little guys doesn't give much food, but it was one of the best things I have ever eaten.  The girls can't wait to go back.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Finally, a real rain

I suppose I should get a rain gauge because whenever I talk to other gardeners they always seem to know how many inches of rain they have gotten lately, but I simple measure how much rain by weather or not I can fill up my rain barrel.  It has been much drier this year than last and I am glad I bought one rain barrel and I wish I had stopped by the feed store this morning and picked up another one like I had planned on doing.  Hopefully this will not be the last rain for a while, but I would hate to depend on the weather.  One of the gardeners I know pumps water out of a creek on his property but the creek has gotten so low he was going to have to give up the garden if we hadn't gotten this rain.  In Texas surface water belongs to the state, but as long as you are not interfering with the flow of water you are normally allowed to use water that flows through your property.  Of course if we suddenly had a loss of infrastructure and every property owner was pumping water for crops it would be a problem.

By the end of the summer I would like to have at least five rain barrels set up.  This way I could water everything outside the garden as well as have enough emergency water in case another hurricane comes this way.  After hurricane Rita we were out of power, and since we have our well, out of water for almost a month.  Luckily we have relatives in town to stay with who had water even if it was freezing cold.  A solar system for the well would cost around two grand, but would probably be well worth the investment. We can hook the generator to the well compressor and pump, but after the hurricane gas was impossible to get for a week or so.  The dirt roads will be tore up tomorrow, but I am always glad to see the rain.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Battle Racoon

There is a raccoon outside right now happily snacking on what was supposed to be the bait for the my trap.  If my wife didn't have to go to work at five in the morning I was try to slip out and take a shot at the little fellow, but that will have to wait until a Friday or Saturday night.  After he killed the chicken I moved the chicken tractors under the bedroom window and twice I saw him on top of those trying to pull open the corrugated plastic roofs, but he couldn't get in.  A few nights ago my youngest saw him hanging on the larger chicken coop, before every one went to sleep so I went out with the 20 gauge, but I he was moving and I missed.  I guess more target practice is in order. 

I have been trying to trap the creature for a couple days now, but of course I can't bring myself to drop the sixty bucks to buy a ready made metal trap from the hardware store.  Sadly our last Basset Hound died the Christmas before last and we have a couple of these old crate laying around the house.  I decided to try to make a trap out of it, but if it actually worked he might be able to chew his way out pretty quick.  At first I put eggs in it for a few days to get him comfortable going in and out and then I put peanut butter on some sticks attached to strings. This didn't work.  So tonight I used a chicken carcass, a delicious lemon pepper I must say, which the raccoon is currently enjoying out in the yard.  How,the hell, the little bastard got the damn thing off the string I can only guess at while I listen to his faint laughter and the jiggle of his full tummy.

Battle Raccoon Score
Blood thirsty homeowner: 0
Crafty little creature just asking to made into a hat: 3