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Monday, July 9, 2018

Canning Season is Upon Us

We are dead smack in the middle of summer at the acreage.  The Spring rolled in and out again over a period of about two days, and fell head-long into Summer. There were no ifs, no buts, no coconuts.

The orchard suffered the most from our leap into the 90s.  The blossoms dropped on all of the early and mid-season varieties.  That means no pears and precious few apples.  On the upside, it gives the trees a year off from production and puts the energy into growth and root system.  We did manage 12 ounces of tart cherries from one tree, but I'm afraid that's it for the orchard this year.
The garden is back up and running full swing.  I opted for a new gardening method that is based on the composting in place method I used on the garden when we first moved here.  That garden now being under several feet of new barn floor.  This method is from a new book Raised Row Gardening. (not affiliated, nor do I profit from)

The garden walking spaces are a deep layer of mulch material, while the growing zones are mulching/composting in place.  The growing rows are then planted with a cover crop after harvest and allowed to over-winter.  The new season planting are then planted directly into the mowed cover crop, and then mulched again, providing moisture control and more organic material.  So far, so good.  The garden is going gang-busters, although due to the early heat, things were slow to get going as the ground went to cold to blazing hot and dry, and then hot and very wet.


It is currently surrounded by a 100 foot poultry net fence.  I do plan on installing a permanent wood and wire fence when the weather cools down.  So far we've harvested 4 pounds of new, red potatoes from one pound of seed potatoes from the potato towers.  I've canned 6 quarts of pickles and one quart of jalapenos and banana peppers over the past two days.




I planted a sacrificial patch of dill to spare the tomato plants from horn worms and swallowtails.  So far it is working, which doesn't mean I won't be vigilant on my hunt for those voracious plant munchers.






The BIG news is the DONKEYS ARE HERE!  Once I finished the barn, Poppy and Tulip arrived in a big silver stock trailer.  From the get-go, they were snuggly and loving giant puppies.  They love to be groomed and pet.  They love their giant green pasture and their fresh straw. (Yes, they eat straw, not hay.)  When the weather turned to scalding, we made the command decision to shear them down for the summer.  It was my first lesson in clipper or shearer purchasing, and I learned a LOT.

Wooly Tulip


Fresh Haircuts


After a week of blade purchases and fooling around with a very pricey, highly recommended clipper for all stock, I returned the clippers and invested in a professional set of shears.  I, with the help of Doc, sheared both mini-donkeys, or dinkies as we call them, in under 25 minutes. 
Not only is it a fast shear, but clean. 
Poppy is always looking for a cookie.
I invested in the alpaca blade, as we will need it in the Spring.  The alpacas start arriving this week.


such a ham




New solitary bee houses in the orchard.
Princess has decided that the straw bales are HER spot to make nests.
On the chicken coop side of the farm we have suffered the loss of Hyacinth to cocci.  A rapidly progressing illness, and I didn't catch it fast enough to save her or Rose in time.  The rest of the flock was treated for cocci, worms and mites (regular seasonal treatment) and then back on replacement vitamins.  They all seem to be doing just fine. We have plans for chicks in the Fall.  I still haven't decided if we'll hatch or purchase chicks.



Art-wise I am still producing photographic art and watercolors.
In fact, all five of my submissions for the Governor's Christmas tree were selected with a deadline of October 15th.

I also purchased a spinning wheel and am learning to spin fleece.  Hey, if you're going to have alpaca running around.... LOL.

I am also learning Norwegian.  So far, it's going well.  So wish me luck on that one.  Takk!

In June I earned my NRA Range Safety Officer Credentials.

And in two weeks we have the annual CornHusker Game competition.

So, as you can see the ranch is just as crazy as normal!  Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When you're miles and miles away from a good doughnut...

No, they're not good for you, but every once in a while you just have to have a fresh ring of fried dough and a tall, cold glass of milk.  But when the closest doughnuts, mediocre at best, are a 30 minute drive one way and the really good ones are a little further, but cost an arm and a leg and there's a looming ice storm and blizzard and you MUST have them, you do what needs to be done.

You google doughnut recipes.

I am picky when it comes to doughnuts.  My favorite are chocolate cake doughnuts, moist but not greasy, with vanilla icing. I was out of baking cocoa, so those were out of the question.

Next in line for the crown are simple, plain, old fashioned glazed yeast doughnuts.  Now, I've never made doughnuts. I don't own a fryer, but I do have a large cast iron dutch oven.  My mouth watered at the prospect. So that was the plan, a vat of 350 degree oil on my gas stove.  That WAS the plan.  But when I dug out my clip-on thermometer, I discovered that it slid up and down in its mounting so what the actual temperature was at any given moment was anyone's guess.  Reeling in my disappointment, my wind whirled with other options.

The electric fry pan!  It wasn't very deep, but it did have an automatic thermostat, so that was good.  And if I was careful loading the pan and flipping the depth I could work around.

I scrolled through dozens of recipes to find one that wasn't overly complicated and for one that required ingredients I had on hand.

Bingo! Krispy Kreme Copycat from Genius Kitchen

The photos on the site aren't the best, as the doughnuts are over cooked.

I also used metal skewers to flip and lift the doughnuts. And I kept the glaze warm and after letting the glaze set, I dipped them again.



I used my 3 inch and 1 inch biscuit
cutting rings to form the doughnuts.
They looked rather sad.

Once they hit the oil, my worries were
over.  They puffed and filled out nicely.


Using a skewer for a quick flip.

Cooked to golden.

Draining on a cooling rack above a paper towel catch all.

Of course when you make doughnuts, you get doughnut ball!
I also made all the scraps into balls.

Glazed and ready to eat.

With the remaining scraps, I mixed apple, sugar and cinnamon
and pressed together and made apple fritters for Doc.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Insanity of Spring





April 2018 Blizzard coated the windows in ice.
I was reminded by a good friend that I haven't been around for a while.  I was actually aware of the fact, I just simply haven't had the time to sit down and write.  Luckily for me, and you, we had a blizzard yesterday. 
Yes, that's right, April 14th and instead of planting cool season veggies in the garden, I'm huddled inside avoiding a day where the high was only 30 degrees.



3 bin composter, 4x15 feet, large enough for the tractor
bucket to mix and move the materials
The past two months of internet silence has flown by.  I have been doing the work of three people for weeks.  Every moment that was nice enough to be outside, I was outside working on the acreage projects that need to be accomplished to bring home the two mini donkeys I bought in January.  On miserable days, I was inside catching up on all the small projects that pertain to the barn or to the ever growing list of household chores.

I removed the concrete curbing and stones around the well head,
Added compost and soil and planted 800 sq ft with wildflowers
in a new pollinator garden.  It will be allowed to go wild and self seed.


Ducks at the annual Saline Center Auction.


I built a slow feed hay feeder for the donkeys.



The cedar tree seedlings
have to be tackled every Spring
when they are orange and
easiest to spot in the pasture. I still have
3 acres to go.
The 'to do' list is endless.  Worse than the Great List, are the endless hidden little things that should have been on the list, but never seemed to make it ON to the list.  And the amount of time all the little projects take was shocking.



Fresh yeast doughnuts.

I finished the interior of the stock barn with kick panels, gravel, sand, and crushed limestone. It took 5
gallons of paint to cover the whole area.  Lights have been installed and run off of a portable power supply.
I built and painted two large wind break panels for the paddock and painted the wood fence in the paddock, and installed
an owl nesting box. (Thanks Doc for holding that ladder.)

But here we are, the middle of April, and I am waiting on the frames for the stall walls, and need to string the pasture fence.  The rubber mats need to be slapped on the floors, and the wood installed into the stall frames, and all the little things need moved into the stock barn, but that's it.  Can you believe it?  The frames are late to arrive, so that is holding me up.  Instructions for the fences should come tomorrow, so that looks like that's where I'm heading next.
Ellie being Ellie.

Last week, being that I was in a barn project holding pattern, I decided that it was the week that I was going to tackle the garden.

Those that have been following along for a while are saying, 'Wait! What garden? We thought the lovely, lush, productive garden was bulldozed and now resting peacefully under the new barn.  OMG! Is it a zombie garden?  Do you have to lop off the cabbage heads to kill a zombie garden?  CAN you kill a zombie garden?'

It's OK dear followers.  Zombie vegetables will not be taking over the central US.  The old garden, is still deep under the new barn.  You will recall that the new barn was finished this time last year, but I just didn't have the brain power, time, or physical motivation to plan, locate and build up a new garden after the barn was completed in time for planting.  So I resorted to container gardening for the summer.

What a disaster.  Big money on good containers, quality container mix, and plants, and I think we managed a dozen cherry tomatoes, one horn worm, and three containers of plants that did nothing before they died.

As winter projects started eating my soul, each walk to and from the stock barn I would survey locations and dream of my rich green garden again.  I really enjoyed the deep mulch method of the old garden.  It worked remarkably well the first year, and fairly well the second year. (The second year was my mistake.  I pulled out all the frames, which had exposed soil and piled the hay on 12 inches deep to over winter. The seedy hay found the dirt and weeds went wild and rooted deep.)  The method was sound, in practice, I screwed up.  But all-in-all it was fabulous.  The whole garden was essentially an active compost pile, making new soil for future years, and the depth of the mulch discouraged weeds.  Even those that took root, weren't rooted into anything but hay, and pulled out easily.  You did have to keep up with it, every square foot of it.

April is burning season.
So while I liked the old method, if I was starting from scratch (AGAIN), I was going to improve upon what I had learned.  I kid you not, this is when a blog I follow had a book published.  (Old World Garden)  WHAT TIMING!  I was looking at an incoming snow storm, and Amazon Prime could have it at my door in two days, perfect for weekend reading, pondering, and if I liked it, planning.  Now I have no affiliation with OWGarden, nor do I make any money from you buying the book, Raised Row Gardening ,or am I compensated in any way.  I'm just letting you know where I drew my inspiration.  (By the way, try their recipe for Beef and Noodles! It's how I found them to start with.)

The book is laid out in chronological order and is very clear and easy to understand.  The authors not only take you through the process, but inform you on why the process works.  They then go a step further and give you a clear list of companion plantings, composting tips, material selections, and instead of just taking you from planning to harvest, they wrap you clear around to winterizing, planning and planting for the next Spring, so you aren't left wondering if you are doing the whole process correctly.  This is, after all, a perpetual garden.

It is based on the same compost in place system as my previous garden, but it has dedicated maintained growing areas, and dedicated heavily mulched walking areas.  The benefit to this is that you are severely limited the areas exposed to even possible weeds, and those areas, being mulched as well, will also limit the number and tenacity of the weeds.  All of that reduces the amount of maintenance time spent in the garden.  BONUS!

The flat enough area between the orchard and the workshop.
I read the book.  Ideas started swirling about my head.  I found a level-ish spot in the yard and I dug out the project book and started planning out my rows.  I remembered I had 104 feet of portable, electric poultry fencing that I ordered a couple of years ago from Premier1 fencing, and never put into use.  So easy decision on the size of the garden 25x25 feet.

Now here's the only place I deviated from the book.  It calls for placing the working/growing rows out first, with layers of straw and then soil.  Then filling in the surrounding area with a thick layer of mulch material for the walking zones.

I was starting from scratch and the ground was still mostly dry, so the opportunity for the dump truck hauling 16 cubic yards of mulch to back up to the actual garden location was not to be passed up.
Quite the heap of mulch.  To be matched a week later by
a heap of soil. (most of which was used to re-grade areas
around the lawn.)
  My mulch/dirt guy thought I was nuts, but I'm a regular customer, and I'm used to his "she's nuts" smile.  He was interested in the process and promised to come back in the summer to see the progress.  The hens were quite interested in the massive pile of hardwood mulch, but there really wasn't anything in there for them and they quickly lost interest.
Inspection crew hoping for a new hunting ground.
The tractor made quick work of the pile, pushing it to the pre-measured, painted lines in the lawn, and leveling it.

I pushed the mulch out another 4 feet on a side so that I could place the electric fence into mulch and wouldn't have to mow against the fence, and the mulch would inhibit weed and grass growth along the fence.
I only used weed control fabric under the mulch which is outside
of the electric fence.  5 inches of mulch IN the garden
will keep any of the sad lawn that wasn't really there to start
with from growing up through.

I then installed the fence.  It was here that we found the fence was not 100 feet, but 102, and the gate added another 4.  So the finished size ended up being 25 x 28 feet, which allowed me to add a LONG wide row at one end for sorghum, sweet and decorative corn.

I mapped out my growing rows and removed the mulch from these areas and moved it to around the electric net.
All the mulch removed from the growing areas.  I forgot to take photos
of the next step, which was a central mound of compostable
material, in this case, straw.

I then followed the instructions in the book to build my straw mounds and then good , pulverized garden soil, and then I augmented that with pure compost soil.  I will add more compost to each planting hold when it comes time to plant and then top mulch with straw.
Straw covered with pulverized garden soil and settled. Note the
start of the potato towers in the back left.

I added heavy duty support posts and will add tomato posts and support frames a little closer to June 1st, the earliest I will plant them.

Herb seeds started, potato starts drying, onions and garlic waiting
for Tuesday or Wednesday.

Compost soil added to the garden soil.  Large support posts installed and
potato towers started. (We are two weeks behind on potato season here.)

The two towers are for potatoes.  I accidentally came across an old archived blog post on building them, and am going to give them a try.  They are supposed to cut down on weekly soil mounding and increase the planting to harvest ratio.  We shall see.

Cedar Creek Pottery  A hidden GEM!


So there you have it.  I will share all the other build projects, trips, mis-adventures, and baking
Built two lids for the wine barrels and hooked up the rain/downspout
diverters.  They work great.  It doesn't take much rain to fill a 50 gallon
barrel.  Also hooked up a runoff from the barn to the stock tank, and ran
an overflow pipe down into the pasture.
adventures teased in above photos in future posts, but I wanted to get the garden post out there for anyone else out there figuring out what they're going to do this year.  The great thing about this method is that you can start small and try it out and build on to your plan as the years/ needs/ budget allows.


Chicken Update-


The two speckled Icelandic cockerels have gone to live about an hour away.  I simply did not have room for 4 boys.
Extra eggs?  Deviled eggs!


Delmar, Astrid, and Freya have all joined the ranks of regular layers. Their eggs are barely champagne pink, almost white and still small.

Our remaining Icelandic boy, Ari, is turning out to be a kicker.  It remains to be seen if he is staying.  I will not tolerate being stalked and flogged by a rooster.

Egg laying was going gang busters until Easter, when the Broody Prison Opened, and has had a revolving door ever since- Daisy, Violet, Princess, Ellie, Flora, Donder have all been inmates, so far.