Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's ain't a bigun, but it's legal

       Took my second deer this afternoon, a decent sized spiked buck.  I glanced out the back window and spotted a single deer alone.  Since I shot the first doe, just about the only deer I have seen are the tiny button and doe that were with the big doe.  They come every morning and every night. It's as if it is there way of saying "hey, this corn tastes great, sure would be better with mom".  I can almost here their conversation.  We have named them Nibbles and Snack after I mentioned that they are barely big enough to be a hundred calorie snack pack. Luckily, if they are big enough to shoot next year they won't be recognizable.

        My youngest kid had a doctors appointment at 2:45 and I shot the deer at around twelve so I had to move my but to get this thing skinned gutted and in the cooler, before I had to go to town.  I never imagined myself driving my daughter to the pediatrician moments after cutting off an animals head.  Fortunately I was able to use the arbor at my wife's aunt's house to skin it which makes it a lot easier.  They have a nice winch hooked up allow the deer to be raised to a good working height depending on what your doing. Even still for me it was definitely and experiment in speed skinning.  I have seen videos of people skinning the deer by hooking the skin around a golf ball, tying it to a truck, and yanking it off, but that actually seems like a hassle.  You still have to do most of the cutting and pulling it off isn't that hard if you can raise the deer high enough.

     I did cut myself when I mere moments from being done as I cut the neck off and I did get stung by a bee, but I managed to get the deer skinned, gutted and in the cooler with a few minutes to spare.  I was very happy to not open any of the intestines or stomach in the process and overall for my third deer skinning it went pretty well. There is definitely a fair bit of work involved, but I am starting to enjoy it. I kept the skin and head in the cooler and hopefully I can scrape the hide tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Hunting Party

      This last weekend was the beginning of open hunting season in Tyler county.  From a tree stand out behind the house I shot a medium size doe.  The shot went right in behind the shoulder where I was aiming but came out at an angle and punch a hole in the stomach.  Not terribly happy about that, but I was happy to kill something and put up some meat.  The deer was with two small bucks not legal to shoot yet. When I shot the doe they ran off with it as it headed into the woods to die, but the funny thing is that about twenty minutes later, before I went out to track down the doe, they came back and kept eating.  That is how docile and dependent on corn the deer in East Texas have become.  The shame is that hunting should be one way to get out of the corn based agriculture system, but with everyone here pumping corn out of feeders they are almost as corn feed as the beef from the store. 

     Now I know why indigenous people go out in hunting parties.  This thing ran about forty yards out in the woods through thick saw briers and berry vines. We had to hack through the thickets  with a machete, following the blood trail, in order to locate the doe.  Since my wife had surgery she can't lift anything and I had to carry this thing back to the cleared area by myself.  I thought I was going give myself a hernia trying to carry her.  I tied the front legs together and the back legs together which made it a little easier, but I could see how having someone to hoist up the other end of a pole would make this process easier. Once I got to the power line I could load it into the wagon.  Most guys here like to ride haul there deer in there four wheelers, but it takes a real man to use a Radio Flyer.

      After we got it back we took it to my wife's aunts house to cut up. They help show me how to skin and gut the deer since I have only done it once before.  This time I actually managed to get avoid throwing up, although my stomach did twinge a little when I had to stick my knife through the ear in order to tie on the deer tag.  I really have no idea how much this deer weighed or how much meat we will put in the freezer from this one.  I have three more that I can take this year.  According to the hunting rules here I can take one more doe and two more bucks.  The bucks either have to have one unbranched antler or have a rack with a spread of more than 13 inches.  I am not looking for a trophy, so I will go for small deer with unbranched antlers unless something huge wanders up.
     While not really sporting the whole thing seems like contest to see who can sit the longest and wait for deer.  After a few hours my ass was killing me and I was ready to be done.  The real work though is getting it out of the woods and cut up which is a good deal of work especially if you don't know what your doing. Unlike most people in Tyler County I don't own any camouflage clothing. This is all I have two camo bandanas I got from Wal-mart for two dollars.  Mostly they just helped keep me warm and the bugs off my face.  I did later change from my early morning black shirt to a olive green shirt, but  most of the deer could clearly see me.  Even the one I shot stared at me for around a full minute before it rambled off down the path to its demise.

     Hunting really doesn't seem like the appropriate term for this process. I watched this show about some guys in Africa who would chase down an animal.  They would all scout around until they found an animal they could separate from the herd, then one guy would chase after it. He would just keep chasing it until it collapsed and died from exhaustion. That sounds like hunting.  I guess it is possible because the person can carry water and drink while they run, but the animal won't stop to drink while it is being chased.  By possible I mean, possible for a guy who is in the kind of shape one gets into when your hungry enough to chase down your dinner.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Great Halloween Flood of 2013

       After the severe drought summer, we have had around ten inches of rain in two days the creeks and branches are flooded, dirt roads are washed out and the kids got out of school early today so that the buses could try to slog threw the mud to get kids home.  Our drive way is completely trashed and it is going to take forever for me to try and repair the erioson.

I went out today and cut channels across the ruts and down into the lower side of the road so that the water could run down the hill towards the branch.  Every hundred feet or so I cut a channel with a pick and a shovel so that the water in that section could run off.  This should reduce the volume of water and slow it down, so it should lesson the erosion.  Some of the ruts have been stripped deep and I will have to keep smashing up concrete to fill them up.


The Long Branch runs on the side of the property is completely swollen.  It had finally gotten a tiny trickle flowing again after the drought, but this rain has it moving like a little river. The one nice thing is that the water did clear away a portion of the brush I had cut for my new hunting spot.  This will leave me a nicer area with less brush to clear away. Low budget deer hunting tip number 2: have a flash flood clear away your dead brush. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

six dollar hunting blind

       Out here in East Texas hunting is just part of life.  Probably half the people living here either hunt or eat meat that someone got from hunting.  This year I am determined to try an take my limit in deer and fill the freezer.  Hopefully I will be able to make some jerky and if I kill a pig too then I can make some pork / venison sausage.  A lot people fill huge feeders full of corn, spend hundreds on the feeder and a blind, a full set of camo gear, and all sorts of other hunting accessories.  For me hunting has to be an economic plus or I can't bring myself to do it. 
       The first day of open rifle season starts next Sunday and I have been preparing a new spot near a tiny creek, known as a branch, where I know the deer and pigs come to drink on well established game trails.  I started by cutting down as much brush and small trees as I needed to in the area where I hung my small feeder. I had to cut down at least twenty pine trees, but they were all four inches around or less at the very base of the tree.  This will give me a clear view of anything coming into the area as well as allowing the bigger trees to grow larger.

       I thought about going full on primitive and constructing my blind entirely out of the brush and trees I had cut down, but I wanted something with a roof to keep some rain off.  I used some old poles that have been here since we move in, corrogated tin off a rotting pig pen built in the sixties, and some pieces of corrugated Lexan left over from the chicken coops I had to take apart.  The only thing I paid for was the box of self tapping sheet metal screws that I need to screw in the tin.  After putting it together I cover the top with leaves and pine straw and piled the brush I cut down around  the blind.  I need to pile on a little more brush and spray a little paint on the non rusted spots on the tin.

      The blind is just big enough for me to sit in and only has tin on three sides.  I piled enough brush behind it that from the back you can't see it, but the point of that was for me to be able to blend into the  brush behind me through the window.  With mostly my head being the  thing showing I spent two bucks at Wal-mart for two camo bandanas to cover my head and face.  Add in the one bag of corn and my total investment would be 16 bucks, if it works it will be a great investment for a couple hundred dollars worth of meat.

At some point I would consider building a better, more comfortable blind that would keep me warmer and drier, but if this works I don't know if I could bring myself to spend the money.  I would probably be more likely to try going the other way and trying the full on primitive and use only brush to make a blind.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Finally Rain

           The long dry summer has turned into a tough drought for Tyler County.  Even though the mornings have become cool and the beginnings of fall are barely visible, the damage from the lack of rain is apparent.  Everything around is us brown and crunchy, but yesterday we did have about a half inch of rain out here.  The clouds and rain feel like manna from heaven as it breaks up the heat.  My tomatoes have been wiped out, unable to hold out against the unrelenting sun.  Many of my other plants have actually thrived in the sun, merely requiring more water to grow, but have been stifled by the lack of bees.  I have no way to directly link the drought to the lack of bees, but just by observance it seems pretty clear.
            For one thing it is not just bees that have taken a loss in the new dry climate.  The first few summers we spent in East Texas were filled with mosquito bites from the never ending swarms that feasted upon us and our kids.  I remember rushing the kids from the car into the house and still finding several bites on their legs.  Both kids were mildly allergic and the bites would swell and drive them insane.  One year it was so bad we had to hang a mosquito zapper inside the house by the front door. Every time anyone opened the door the house at least a few of the ravenous critters would get in.  The kids would wake up covered in bites that they had scratched into open wounds.  We practically had stock in Benadryl those years.  Besides the mosquitoes, another benefit is the number of garden pests which has dropped dramatically.  
          No matter how nice it is to not have the mosquitoes and garden pests, the lack of bees is disturbing and directly effects the productivity of the garden.  This year I will have to looking getting my own bee hives. I will almost certainly try to use mason bees because they are supposed to be easy to manage. I don't know how many dry summers will follow this one and the effects may only be get dramatic if the weather continues.  I know of one home owner in Tyler County who already has pine beetles destroying a tree in their yard.  Since pine beetles are most likely to effected damaged trees or those weakened by drought they could spread quickly if this continues. The economy of this area revolves around pine trees, the combination of drought and infestation could be tragic.
           According to the us Drought Monitor many parts of Texas are in the extreme drought range, while we fall between moderate and severe. It is frustrating since we moved here in part to escape the long dry summers of Las Vegas. In the seven years we have lived in Tyler county we have had two hurricanes and three years of drought.  Both of which are uncommon for this area.  As the weather drives up food prices, the need for a productive garden becomes more apparent and more challenging.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

La Aventura Cigarbox Guitar

        There are a few things you have to have to live peacefully in the country; a shotgun, a dog and a cigarbox guitar.  I made this a while ago, but I finally got a great old bridge off a busted up guitar and now my guitar is almost complete. I still need to spend about five bucks at radio shack to get the transducer so I can soder it to a 1/4 in jack and turn this sucker electric.  There is however one slight problem in that I don't exactly know how to play guitar,  ok so I don't know how to play guitar at all.  I am going to the music shop in town tomorrow to talk to the guy who gives guitar lessons to see if he thinks he could teach me to play slide guitar. I am actually more into making these than I am into playing.  I just want to get to where I can build a nice one that any guitar player could enjoy. That's all I want,  just to be able to play a little bit so I can sit on the front porch and play once in a while. Of course if ya have the porch, the shotgun, the dog and cigarbox guitar well then you gotta have the mason jar full of moonshine.  Guess I better start working on the still.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

East Texas Black Panther

        Around the the end of the school year my two kids and I were headed out to school, near the end of our 1/4 mile crumbling dirt driveway I had to stop the truck and sit quiet for a minute.  My oldest daughter saw the same thing I did a large black cat about fifty feet away.  This is no house cat.  Our drive way has two ruts separated by a grassy patch down the middle. The cat was crossing the road and had  the grassy patch between its feet, but what really jumped out was the long waving tail that seemed like it was three feet long.  The cat paused for just a second, looked at us and then darted in the woods.  My youngest was fiddling with her school stuff in the middle of the truck and didn't see it but my oldest had her eyes fixed on the cat.  I couldn't believe my eyes I hadn't seen anything like it before. 
       According to some of the old timer that I have talked to these cats were more common thirty or forty years ago and that they them-self had seen on or that there father or uncle had seen these while deer hunting.  According to the ol' internets there are no black panthers in Texas and much of what I found was related to cryptozoology, which according to my spell check is not even a word,  and the study of the Bigfoot.  After a quick internet search I just put it out of mind and went about my day.  What brings this back the front this morning is my wife saw the cat last night.  This time the cat was down the county road a couple miles, between the deer hunting camps and main county rd. SHe was headed back form work and saw the cat about 7:30.
       Last night I began looking again and considering if there is some sort of wildlife agency that we should report it to just in case someone is studying large cats in East Texas.  After reading a little more the probability is that this is a Jaguarundi, an endangered species that does exsist in this area.  If I ever happened to get a chance to shoot at this fellow, then it will be personally endangered,  although in all fairness I am not that good a shot so it might have nothing to fear.  There is an interesting blog relating to these things Texas Cryptid Hunter, which I will definitely be reading.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Alternative Deer Bait

Hunters have different reasons  to take deer, some are after a big rack of antlers so they can have the head stuffed and mounted.  I don't really understand sport hunting, I partially understand bow hunting because of the skill involved, but for me anything I shoot would be about economics and meat. I am usually out of town working during deer season,  but this year I should be home so my goal is to take my limit and fill all my tags.  When everything is finished the meat has to cost me less then it would to buy at the store.  Most deer hunters in East  Texas use a feeder to spray corn once or twice a day for the deer to eat which not only helps bulk them up a little, but conveniently gives the hunter an idea of what the deer are coming to dinner.  I have a small five gallon bucket feeder that takes less then one bag of corn to fill up.  Each bag is around $8 so each fill costs about five bucks.  For a cheap feeder it has worked well and lasted a long time, but I have also had problems with corn.  Once I filled my feeder with a fresh bag and it was swarmed with bees.  They flew into the cone and their movement quickly drew all the corn out and by the next day I had a pile of corn on the ground swarming with bees.  This was later in the winter when there is little pollen and the bee keepers have brought their bee hives down from Wisconsin for the winter.  About a week ago I filled this same feeder with corn and the squirrels went insane.

The corn is funneled through a cone down to the spinner which distributes the corn into the surrounding area once or twice a day.  A couple days ago I went and checked the area to look for tracks only to find the cone was completely gone.  At first I thought some hunter had come onto my land and torn it off, but a closer look revealed the teeth marks.  They had chewed the through the cone and eaten every last kernel of corn.  If I can find a new cone to buy I will fix my feeder, but the drought does provide an easy alternative. Stringing together three hundred feet of hoses, half of which are covered with electrical tape to try and hold them together, I filled this old turtle sand box  with fresh cool water.  The first time I did this everyone goofed on it, but I have seen tons of deer drink from this source.  Everything is bone dry around here creeks, branches, springs. Any animals have to go all the way to Big Cyprus creek to get a drink until now.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

DIY Biodegradeable planter cups.

          I am one of those people that will go the cheap route whenever I can, and when it comes to my garden I am no different.  I want to grow my own vegetables, but it has to be economically beneficial.  That means watching every dollar, to make these cups all you need is newspaper, a tube from paper towels and some newspaper.

Step 1:  Take a newspaper and cut it into strips in which every direction makes the strips the longest.

 Step 2:  Roll strip of newspaper around the card board tube leaving one inch hanging off the tube.

Step 3:  Tuck the rolled newspaper into the tube, slide the roll off and tuck the other end.

Step 4:  Place the tubes in a small box that will hold them tightly together.

 Step 5:  Fill with soil, water and plant seeds.

          I used these for tomatoes, peppers and zucchini this year ad I won't be buying seed cups ever again.  Some gardens recommend saving all your toilet paper rolls, but that makes me feel like I am going to end up on an episode of Hoarders and it doesn't help if I  want to plant right now.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Begining Growing Indoors

       This is the second or third summer of drought or near drought in here in East Texas.  The long hot dry summer is rough on the plants and with on old well compressor it is difficult to get enough water on the plants to sustain a large garden.  I have a rain barrel and in normal weather conditions this would give me enough water to supplement the rain and I would rarely have to turn on the hose except for a deep soak.  This year all the plants are struggling to survive with intense sun baking down every day.  Even still I can feel the days growing shorter and the air is light and cool in the morning.  The unseasonable temperatures may allow me to grow a full crop of tomatoes and peppers during the winter if I prepare for the occasional cold snap.

       Starting plants out in the heat might be too much so I put up the grow light my wife got me for Christmas and set up an area to grow.  Hopefully I can get nice thick well grown tomato plants growing in the house and keep them inside until the temperature drops enough to plant them out in the garden.  Using some pipes that I already have in the garden for tomato stakes I have a plan to build a simple green house and all I should have to buy is one roll of clear plastic sheeting.  If I buy some quality compost and mulch it will keep the soil temperature higher and help them last longer.  By that time the bee keepers who winter their hives down the road will be back and the area should  be full of bees again, currently the bee problem is as bad as the heat and the drought.

Get 10% off sitewide when you shop at
 "http://www.accesshydroponic.com" and www.AccessHydro.com
 Valid until September 2013.

        With the weather as bad as it is and according to the current US Drought Monitor there is no end in sight.  Rain water collection will have to be increased out here at the Longbranch Ranch, but moving some growing indoors may be necessary.  If I live all the way out here in the middle of nowhere and can't have fresh home grown tomatoes I am gonna be mad as hell. I don't know much about growing indoors, but at least I wouldn't be sweating to death in the heat of the summer.  The grow light is the first step in turning to some indoor growing in the summer and some green house work in the winter. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

19th Annual Pine Country Gem and Mineral Show

The 19th annual Pine Country Gem and Mineral show in Jasper Texas Aug. 24 & 25

I never had much interest in this type of event until I moved here and even now my interest is in learning about what can be found locally. I would like to talk to local gem hunters to find out what to look for so the kids and I can go gem hunting.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bottle Hunt Part Two

       Inspired by my first creek find I decided to head back to the creek and walk a longer section.  I couldn't resist, the weather the last couple years has been so dry we I could have plenty of chances to hike the creek, but even a little rain would make this a much harder journey.  Even now, between the downed trees and small pools of water I had to hop op onto the bank to get through certain areas. Up on the bank the brush is so thick that without the machete I would have had to turn around.  Amazingly this trip I didn't see a single snake.  Monday I saw one Copper Head, but  the snake was up ahead of me and moving fast. As often is the case for me I found the only really good find on my first trip.

       I picked up these three even though they weren't that interesting and all of them were screw tops. If it hadn't been on our property I probably would have left them, but I will drop notes in them saying when and where I picked them up and add the three to our collection.  Since getting through the creek is rough going I picked them up in order to get a chance to clean them up.  When the bottles are covered in dirt it is hard to see if there is any embossing on them.  The jug only says Half Gallon and my wife thinks it is probably a syrup bottle from the 70's.  The brown bottle says W92 Purex on the bottom, but I couldn't see it until I washed off the dirt.  I didn't expect to find bottles these large on my hike and was unprepared for there size and weight.

  • Machete
  • Backpack
  • Plastic Grocery Bags
  • Canvas Shoulder bag
  • Water
  • Shotgun with Shoulder Strap
  • Small Trowel
       There is probably more I would bring next time, but this is my revised list of things to bring while bottle hunting in a creek bed.  I took a machete, a shotgun and a plastic grocery sack. The machete has a sheath to hang on my belt so carrying the shotgun wasn't a problem until I had to hack through some brush.  In my excitement I had hoped to find more small medicine bottles so I hadn't planned on finding anything large and filled with sand. After carrying around the jug for a while the grocery bag ripped and I found my self carrying three bottles and a 20 gauge through the terrain which of course got thicker as soon as I found myself in this situation. If I had a pistol I would bring it instead just in case I stumble upon some wild pigs which is why I brought the shotgun.  I am happy to have found anything and I am glad I went, because any day the rains could refill the creek and cover everything.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bottle Hunting the Creek

       Since we moved here to East Texas I have been collecting old bottles.  My interest is really only in collecting from this area and I collect bottles the same way I collect coins, if I find one I keep it, but I don't buy any. I have gathered bottles form all over our property and have a couple good spots to hunt, but rarely get a chance to go because they are down by the gulf.  In the way of advice for the beginning collector I have only two words, Low Tide.  Look for places where people congregate near water and search that area when the water level is low. I found my best place while we were crab fishing with the kids down by the gulf.  You need some good rubber boots, a small shovel and willingness to tromp through some mud that smells rotten eggs. Bring a bag to put the boots in or the drive home will unnecessarily stinky.

         For a while now I have wanted to search the small creek branch that runs behind our house but haven't had the chance.  With almost no rain again this summer I finally had a chance yesterday.  The branch is completely dry except for two spots with slightly deeper holes, so after bringing my wife home from the hospital I hopped in the dry bed and walked the section that is on our property.  Right on top of the sand was the bottle of Chamberlin's Colic Cholera and Diarrhea Remedy.  Still corked I am guessing the liquid inside is just creek water that has soaked through, but there may be a bit this miracle treatment left behind.   Next time I get a bad case of the Cholera I will check it out.

         This bottle can sell between three and thirty dollars on Ebay, which is the only pricing guide any collector seems to need and great source of info.  One of these bottles that sold on Ebay had the original pamphlet and a label on the neck listing the ingredients; 59% alcohol, 19 minims of chloroform, and six grains of opium, so it would get you high long enough for the snake oil salesman to get out of town.   Now a hundred years later we can't even buy cold medicne without showing our ID.  For me the excitement is  imagining the history of the bottle I found. Did the person who bought this bottle pass away from  cholera or did he just get high on the snake oil and wait out a bad case of diarrhea. Either way it amazes me that it could be in our creek a hundred years later still corked and unbroken.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Everyone Loves Treasure

       Living out here in the woods I can't help imagine this land as it was before Europeans came and settled here, displacing the native population.  The old growth pines trees would have created many areas where the forest would great provide great hunting and nice shade in the summer time.  One thing I am dying to do is find an arrow head or other stone tools.  I know that they are here somewhere, but so far I have been unable to locate anything.  This site has a great collection of artifacts and information, and make me want to run out right now and start searching.

East Texas Indian Artifacts

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Battling the Southern Army Worm

        This  morning as I searched through the tomatoes I pulled this one because the side I was looking at looked just about ripe, but when I pulled it this critter was hanging on the back. Unfortunately for this guy his fate was sealed and he perished shortly after being photographed. According to Google, this seems to be a southern army worm.  After identification I searched "what to do about Southern Armyworm" of course the first result is link to Bayer Crop Science  and their Belt® insecticide.  Uh, no thanks, besides my general distrust of insecticides I once rear ended a guy in a Corvette who gave me his business card while we were exchanging insurance info.  Below the line that read "Vice-President Bio-Technical Division Bayer Corporation" I am pretty sure it said something to the effect of  "I have enough money to have you killed".
         So rather than turn to science or even the bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis) that some recommend, I just can't bring by self to spray food my kids are going to eat with pesticide, I go all organic and just smoosh the little guy. Then  I remove a large portion of the tomatoes to ripen inside. This has made me realize that I need to find ways to fight these pests in the garden. This year my main bug control was simply to keep things as neat and nicely weeded as I could, but I will have to break down and spray with a little soap and water.  From here I need to work to increasing the beneficial insects like worms and ladybugs.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Seeds of Doomsday

              Summer is more than half over, but in East Texas the heat is capable of lingering for a long time and we have been able to wear shorts on Christmas more than once.  I am trying to get another round of summer and fall veggies planted,  hoping the weather will be right for a second harvest.  I pulled up my green beans two days ago and my cucumbers have take a a very quick turn downward.  This has happened before where I am ready to throw a few things in the ground, but the seeds aren't carried locally because the store have cleared out isle space for school supplies. Being the ultra cheap perpetually broke gardener that I am, I have broken into the sealed pouch of  survival seeds I was given to write about by Hometownseeds.com.  I wrote about these a couple years ago when I first started gardening and blogging in a sponsored post.  Now four years later I will bust them open and use them for my mid summer and fall planting.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pickling day

In order to take full advantage of the harvest vegtables have to be process and preserved for  later consumption.  We always pickle cucumbers and in the past have pickled squash, zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes.  I say we, but really this is the first year I have been heavily involved in the pickling process.  My wife grew up out here in the country and has pickled and canned food since childhood. Today were making Garlic Dill Pickles and Pepperoncini's.

 Garlic Dill Pickles:
  1. 3-4 cups 4-inch cucumbers
  2. 4 cups water
  3. 2 cups white vinegar
  4. 1/2 cup pickling salt
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of alum (1/8 teaspoon per jar)
  6. 2 tablespoons of dill seed (1/2 tablespoon per jar) 
  7. 2 heads of garlic (4-5 cloves per jar)
 Wash cucumbers, if they were picked a few over the course of a few days soak them in cold water for about a half hour.Put on a large pot of water and start it to boiling. While they are soaking place the alum, dill seed, and garlic cloves in the sterile jars this recipe makes four jars. Pack the the jars with cucumbers holding the jar sideways and trying to get them as tight as possible in order to ensure that you have enough brine. Combine the vinegar, water and salt in a sauce pan and bring to boil. When brine is boiling pour into jars over cucumbers leaving about a  half inch of air at top of jar. Take lid out of simmering pot and  screw into place.  Place jars into large pot of boiling water making sure water covers jar completely. Take out after ten minutes and listen for the satisfying ping sound the jars make as they cool.

  Pepperoncini's -recipe in progress.

  1. 4 teaspoons of alum (1 per jar) 
  2.  4 tablespoons peppercorns (1per jar)
  3. 4 teaspoons of red pepper flakes (1 per jar)
  4. 1 head of garlic (3-4 per jar)
  5. Same brine as above

The first jars of Pepperoncini's we made tasted great, but did not get crispy so we are trying again with more alum in the recipe and we boiled the jar for slightly less time after it was packed with brine. The banana peppers seem to grow in abundance here no matter the weather so we need to perfect this process.  When each plant represents back breaking labor, waste is not an option.
Both recipies are for four jars, but if your jars are very tightly packed you may have enough brine for more.  We made six jars of pickles and one jar of pepperoncini's with a little brine left over. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Hard Garden

         Right now I have a good garden going with yellow squash, cucumbers, green beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, watermelons, pumpkins, banana peppers, pablano peppers, bell peppers and zucchini all in different stages of growth.  The first plants I start withed were cherry tomatoes and zucchini which have been big producers for us until this year the cherry tomatoes have done extremely poorly producing only a few tomatoes. The zucchini have been mostly unpollinated so the fruit would stop growing, turn yellow and fall off.  Six zucchini plants only produced three edible vegetables.  The lack of bees has been extremely noticeable this year.  Normally we have an abundance of every type of stinging insect and during the main growing season my garden is usually has an audible hum.  This year it has been very quiet with only the occasional bee floating around the garden, even now when the hum has returned there are not nearly in the numbers they were in years past.  The eves of my house are often plagued with carpenter bees that bore into the wood.  These bees are loud and hover right above head height there absence is extremely noticeable.  Even the wasps which are normally building summertime nests have been lower in numbers.  Bee keeping may be in my future.

         Getting this years garden started had its own challenges as my tiller is broken and I never seemed to have the time or money to get it fixed. Without a tiller I started growing in two raised beds we put in a couple years ago. This is where I planted the cherry tomatoes and zucchini that failed to produce. In order to fence this part I removed a section of fence from the main garden which was a mistake because the lack of bees has been offset by an over abundance of ravenous bunny rabbits that have shown a display  persistence previously unseen in my garden. The rabbits did some damage to my green beans, corn, and peppers eating the leaves off and leaving a stump behind, some plants rebounded, some had to be replaced.   Eventually I unfenced the the unproductive raised beds and put a complete fence around the main garden to keep them out.  Unfortunately this was all occurring while my wife was in the process of having surgery, then needing another surgery to help her recover from the first surgery, and spending a week in the hospital. So time which should have been garden intensive was practice in speed gardening during trips home to feed the dog.
        This red wagon and old garden hoe have been my main tools this season. The garden which was almost entirely unused last summer had reverted to a field of tall weeds and thick mats of tough grass with deep roots.  Busting up the soil was been a tough process in the stifling heat, after a couple hours all of my clothes will be completely soaked as if I just took a shower fully dressed. This process however has provided a sort of a natural flow to my planting. By the time one section is planted, time has come to plant something else.  This way after one thing is slowing on production something else is about to ready, today I need to pull my green beans and replant something else, but some corn should be ready to eat  in a few days.  The wagon has been my means of transporting the pine straw that I have been using as mulch throughout my garden.   I have been collecting from the woods and from the piles I swept off the roof and used it to lay a thick mulch through out the garden this has cut down on weeds significantly and hopefully will lead to healthier soil in the long term.