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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

It's coming!

You can just feel it.  It's coming. 

It's getting pitch dark by 730 at night.  It's getting harder and harder to keep your eyes open past 9 pm.  (I'm starting to feel like one of the hens.)  You SWEAR it's 10 pm and are disappointed when it's only 8:30.

Leaving the window open next to the bed requires you to burrow deep into the covers, stealing all the blankets is a given nightly activity.  (As is the battle to regain them.)

You get so chilled that the simple act of sacrificing a warm arm to crank the window shut is unthinkable.  Forget the fact that you'll have to expose your whole body to the chill when the alarm clock rings.  So you just root deeper into the covers.

Morning walks to and from the car require a jacket.  You refuse to wear one, or long pants, in hopes that your personal refusal to acknowledge the impending season shift will somehow force the entire cosmos to your whim, thereby saving all of mankind from the harsh reality that FALL is setting in.

The fields are slowly being transformed from their tall, crisp, brown stalks that rattle and crackle in the wind with raccoons playing at their feet, to bare soil, close cropped stumps that expose HUGE herds of deer every morning on your misty drive.

Large flocks of turkeys play and run through the fields, tripping over the stalks and their new found exposure to the world.

The soybeans and cottonwood trees are slowly turning from a lush green to a pale sun kissed gold.

The summer garden is gone.  Last week I pulled the last of the sweet potatoes and stored them in the basement. 

The cotton plants are SLOWLY opening.  The marvelously soft, brown fill popping from the boules, take me back to many years living in the deep south.


The sorghum, both the sweet and broom, have been harvested.  I'll hang both to dry and give it to the chickens for pecking treats during the dark winter days.



This next week I'll pull out the boxes and dump the old finished compost into the garden and load the whole area with 3,000 pounds of hay, close the gate and wait for Spring to arrive. Sigh. 

On the UPSIDE, we did spot our first wooly worm of the season.  (Well the first one that wasn't making a mad dash to try to get across the street in front of the SUV.)

This little guy's markings says we are in for a mild winter, according to his amount of red stripes showing.  (The larger the red segment then supposedly the milder the winter.)  Any truth to it?  No not really.  The longer their life cycle, goes on due to good weather, the more they grow and molt.  The more they molt, the more red is added to their body.  So you've HAD good weather if he has a lot of red.  But if the little guy says so... I'll take a mild winter.  We had one last year, so I'm not holding my breath for a repeat.



In fact, I'll go with another theory.  Now that I have a chicken coop that's 100 yards further from a wind break or structure, I'm saying I'll have to trudge water and feed through thigh high drifts and sub-zero wind-chill all winter. 

The rest of the Station has been slow.  We found out the radio antenna had been struck by lightning at some point.  I remember that strike, as it was one that flashed and sounded thunder at the same time, just about knocking me out of bed.  I just didn't think it was THAT close.  Turns out, even with all the lightning protection on the system, we still managed to melt a few resistors and circuits.  So we're working on that.

The hens laid their 600th egg today.  Almost everyone is laying.  Lela and Donder are still holding out.  Daisy is spending a few days in Chicken Jail to try to break her broadness.  Last week, this little guy put up a valiant show of bravado, just before Olive snatched him and ate him.

 
 
I've been playing around with a couple new bread recipes.  A local shop places two loaves side by side in a quarter sheet pan and sells them as farm house loaves.  I like the look, the texture, and the larger single pan to wash.  I'll play with it and some recipes and post the results here to share.  Cross your fingers.
 
The Boy made our first batch of pumpkin bread last night.  It tasted fantastic.  Sadly, it tasted like FALL! 
 
 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

How Sweet It Is...

 

 

Sweet Corn... Drool.

A fresh from the field, still crunchy cooked to perfection, steaming hot cob, slathered in homemade butter and sprinkled with a little salt.

Admit it, your taste buds are watering and you've drooled down your shirt.

When we lived down south, the sweet corn season started in April and by June, the southern heat would slam the gate closed on that season.  Up North, if you have a great green grocer, you can start to find "imported" corn in late April, trucked in from Dixieland.  But in all honestly, local fresh grown is best.  As soon as corn is harvested, the sugars start to convert it, changing the taste and texture.  In reality, we take what we can find, and like it.

This year, our own garden corn was a bust; too wet of a spring, a late freeze, a replanting, wet and then silly hot.  The cobs were thin and the niblets tiny.  I fed them to the hens.

Locally, the eating corn was better formed than mine.  The cobs were larger, but still thin.  The kernels were still small and the taste was bland.  Iowa corn wasn't much better.  Corn from Kansas was larger, but the flavor just wasn't impressive.  This year the clear winner was Minnesota!  Richly colored full and heavy ears, bursting with that sweet nutty flavor that makes us all think of warm summer nights, fireflies, s'mores, and fireworks.

But as we all know the season is all too brief, both the corn and summer season that is.  This year I am preserving those golden bits of sunshine in glass jars.  I know canned corn isn't as brilliant as the real thing, and corn purists will swear by freezing, but my freezer is full of things I cannot get into a jar; pizza, cheese, doughnuts and cookies, chicken treats, hash browns, and meats that are destined for the grill.

So canning it is. 

YOU MUST PRESSURE CAN CORN!  There I said it.  It's low acid level demands that it be pressure canned.  You CANNOT, steam can OR water bath corn.  So either dig out grandma's pressure canner, or save your sanity and ease the fear that you're going to have it blow up and embed corn, and the lid, in your kitchen ceiling for all future family story tellers to witness, and buy yourself a new, safe, modern canner.  I swear by my All American Pressure canner.  Yes, I know they are pricey.  But the range of foods a pressure canner adds to your list of preserved foods more than makes up for the price. Search the internet and you can find some good deals.  I think I purchased mine on O.co several years ago.  It is very well made and easy to use.  It does come in larger sizes, but on my gas top stove, I have to change from a high pressure burner to a lower one to maintain the pressure.  So a larger pot equaled one that was too heavy for me to slide from one side of the stove to the other.

Also keep in mind that most, if not all, pressure canner companies warn against using a pressure canner on a glass top stove, which does not maintain a constant enough temperature for pressure canning nor can it withstand the weight of the canner and it's contents and can fail in a catastrophic, and expensive manner.

All that said, let's can some sunshine!

Canned Sweet Corn



Get ahold of about 50 ears of the freshest sweet corn you can find.
The ears should be full, firm, and juicy.  Shuck them and remove
As much of the silks as you can.  (Yes, I did this inside in the Air Conditioning.
It was almost 100' outside.)
 
Don't they all look scrumptious?


There are many different variation of the corn Sheller, or zipper, on the market.
Find one that works for your purpose, and amount of corn you will be tackling, safety features, and the
amount of cleanup you want to do.


This is the old style, all stainless steel, Kuhn Rikon
corn zipper.  I purchased it 10 years ago when my son had
his braces put on.  It removes the kernels at just the right
depth without a scary blade next to your wrist. It is easy to hold and
use.

This is where I take the whole mess OUTSIDE, despite the heat.
Any flying kernels or corn milk will be washed away by the rain, and I
can toss the cobs over the rails to the chickens below.  Win, Win.

Using whatever stripper you prefer, strip the kernels of corn off the cob and into
an awaiting, clean container.  The long lines on the Kuhn Riken show where to
Line up your next swipe of the tool.  I stripped all 50 ears in under 10 minutes.



 
Back into the house, and my oh MY, doesn't that
all look delicious?!
 






 
 
 
To each PINT jar, I added 1/2 teaspoon of
salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid. I don't
know if it helps with the browning of the sugars
in the corn, but it doesn't hurt.



 
To each PINT, add boiling water, leaving an INCH of headspace.

 



Using a knife, or canning stick, remove any trapped air bubbles and
wipe the rims of the jars to be sure they are clean and dry.  Apply the two
part canning lids to finger tight.

Fill your canning pot and process according
to its directions for corn.  For me, it was a long 55
Minutes.


By the end of the day (and night) we were craving corn.  Silly me, I forgot to put some aside for supper.  Sigh.  But come winter I'll have sunshine!



 


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of ......

What do you do when a friend gives you 5 pounds of GIANT, silly spicy Jalapeño peppers?  You say 'thank you', snatch the bag, and run giggling home like a kid on Halloween with their trove!  Even though my own peppers did fantastically this summer, they had NOTHING on my friend Sheri's pepper plants.  These things were monsters! I've seen 40 year old shrubs around a house that don't compare to the size of these things! The peppers were almost 5 inches long and 5 inches in circumference!  Mine were just as hot, but only the size of your little finger. I'd much rather deal with TWO peppers than 8 ANYDAY!

So what to do? What to do?

My crazy, like minded friends on the Back Yard Chickens site, luckily, had JUST posted a recipe for Cowboy Candy. A cooked sugar syrup infused and swimming with Jalapeño peppers.  Not only can you use the peppers as toppings or in salads in their own right, but you can use the syrup they are drenched in as a grilling glaze! Be still my drooling taste buds!

I donned my two pairs of disposable gloves and kept repeating my mantra to myself, "don't rub your eyes.  Don't rub your eyes!"  Not that it is common practice for me to groom myself while canning, but it is inevitable when you CAN'T scratch, you need to. 

The first task was to remove the stem.  I simply cut off the top 1/4 inch of pepper and tossed the stem end into the compost bucket.  I then sliced the rest of the pepper into 1/4 inch slices and tossed them into my 6 qt mixing bowl. 


When all the peppers were sliced, I had the brilliant idea to rinse my peppers with cold water to float the stray seeds and centers and let them flow down the drain.  Have you ever been exposed to tear gas, or pepper spray?  Ya. It was that bad.  The water mist carried with it microscopic droplets of capsaicin. You know, the stuff that makes a pepper HOT.  The stuff they use in pepper spray and BEAR repellant.  Good GLORY! If I was a bear, ya ok me before 7am, I'd run for the hills.  Suddenly my sinus' started POURING (remember you can't touch ANYTHING with pepper hands). My eyes watered to the point of being unable to see.  I started sneezing uncontrollably!  And yet, I still HAD to turn off the water and drain the pepper!

I turned my head as far as I could from the food, drained the liquid from the bowl, slammed it on the counter, stripped off my gloves, grabbed the dish towel, and bolted from the kitchen towards the fresh air on the back deck.  I was quite the sight. I sneezed and blew my nose for almost 5 minutes.  So my point?  Maybe if you have asthma, this isn't the project for you! LOL.


Did I mention I stripped off the gloves?  YUP, I didn't wash my hands first.  Pepper oil all up both wrists from touching them with the exterior of the gloves.  They burned for two days, like raw acid.  I'm just saying, be careful when you play with fire!

The recipe is simple.  And because it is high in acid, it is a water bath canning process.

Cowboy Candy

3-5 pounds of fresh, firm, jalapeño peppers, washed
2 cups of cider vinegar
6 cups of white granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon of ground tumeric
1/2 teaspoon of celery seed
3 teaspoons of granulated garlic
1 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper

Directions:

Wearing gloves, remove the stems from all of the peppers.  Simply slice the end 1/4 inch off the stem end and discard.

Slice the peppers into uniform 1/4 inch slices and set aside.

In a large heavy pot, bring the cider vinegar, white sugar, numeric, celery see, garlic, and cayenne pepper to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5  minutes. 

Add the pepper Slices and simmer for exactly 4 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pepper slices from the hot syrup and transfer them into sterile canning jars to within 1/4 inch of the top of the jar.

Turn the heat back up under the syrup pot and bring it up to a full rolling boil.

Using a ladle and funnel, pour the syrup into the jars over the pepper slices.  Check, and release, any trapped air bubbles with a chopstick or thin knife.  Adjust the level of the syrup if necessary. 

Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel, and place your two piece canning lids on the jars until they are finger tight.

IF you have left over syrup, can in small jars for meat glaze following the same canning processing instructions.

Place jars into your water bath canner according to its instructions.

Process at under 1,000 feet for 10 minutes for half pints, 15 minutes for pints.  Add 5 minutes for each size over 1,000 Ft-2,000 ft.

After removing from the canner, let sit, undisturbed for 24 hours. 

When fully cooled, wash jars, label, and store.

Allow to mellow for at least 2 weeks before using, but preferably a month.

ENJOY!





Friday, September 18, 2015

Crazy, Crazy Harvest Days

The season is upon us, the harvest season that is.  I was driving down the back road yesterday and saw my first harvester of the season taking out giant rows of dent corn, like a hornworm working on, well, an ear of corn.

Then on the way into work this morning, I passed my first double long grain hauler.  Sigh.  It really does seem like just yesterday it was all going in the ground.  Now it's time to start hauling it out and prepping it for the great Winter sleep.   The great garden at the station is no different.  The only things left "standing" are the great stalks of sorghum and the sleepy sweet potatoes.  The former has put up quite the effort against some wicked late summer windstorms, that howled constantly at 20 mph, and gusted to over 40 for several days in a row.  I think this is the weekend I will cut them down, hang the seed heads for drying in the barn, and lay the stalks out to rest before trying to milk them for syrup.  The latter, the sweet potatoes, are just starting to yellow at the ends of the vines.  When the weather cools this weekend, I think I will harvest them and put them in cool storage so they can rest and set their texture for winter eating and candying.

But until then, it has been a wild, and LONG week of canning, canning, and dare I say MORE canning?!

14 hour days over hot jars, steaming dishwasher vents, canning pots, lifters, and lids.  All that said, the ability to stand back at the end of the day, glistening in sweat and a dishtowel tossed over one shoulder, and admire those sparkling jars filled with jeweled treasure while they cool on the counter is worth every minute.  It takes me a good two months to grow fingerprints back, but again, worth it!

This week it was beef stew, chicken noodle soup, cowboy candy (sweetened jalapeño peppers), sweet corn, more tomatoes purée, and applesauce: sweet, delectable, mind controlling applesauce!

Applesauce

When the weather gets cool enough in the evenings to do THIS
(even if the days are still 90'),
then it's time to PICK APPLES!

I know not everyone has time for, the energy for, or the proximity to a U-Pick farm for fresh apples.  And that's OK.  But do check the U-Pick Farm listing to see if you are close. The answer might surprise you.  Pick Your Own not only has an amazing listing of farms, but also resources and recipes.

If you still are not able to pick your own fruit there is NOTHING wrong with buying, at a good price, from your local fruit market or grocer.  Mine will actually give me a case discount on whole lugs of fruits or vegetables.  It never hurts to ask.

Whichever you choose to do, be sure to get a mix of good, fresh apples.  Delicious eating apples, do not necessarily, make good cooking apples.

We used to pick at Kimmel Orchard, in SE Nebraska, but it is too far of a drive for me now.  Now we choose to drive up over the hill and frequent Martin's Hillside Orchard.  It's a mom and pop place that charges by the pound, not by the lug like Kimmel, but I still manage to do OK.

This year I was a little more clever, we chose the early morning on a day that was only going to hit 80, and the air was dry.  It was also a weekday, so there were no crowds except happy, apple filled preschoolers on a field trip.
  I also decided to take The Boy for the heavy lifting and for the heavy hauling.  Yes, I remembered the WAGON this time!

We picked 35 pounds of a mix of Jonathan, Golden Delicious, and Gala Apples for this year's sauce.  I also added in 5 Granny Smith Apples.

Begin by peeling and coring your apples.  I don't bother with a fancy coring and slicing machine.  I use my 25 year old vegetable peeler, purchased from the North Dakota State fair.  I can get the peel off a large apple in under 15 seconds.  I then use my chef's knife to cut as closet to the core as I can in 4 fell swoops.  Then I simply cut those 4 large apple pieces into once inch slices and then in one inches cubes.  I toss the cores in the compost pile, and let the peels pile up in the sink.     
The apple cubes get thrown into my 6 qt mixing bowl which has a about two quarts of water and either .25 of a cup of lemon juice in it, or a couple tablespoons of Fruit Fresh mixed in.  Both methods keep your apples from oxidizing and turning brown.

When my apples are filling the 6 qt bowl to capacity, I drain them and add the cubes to my crockpot, which is set on high.
  This is when I decide whether or not I can cram a few more apples in the crock.  I can usually pack another two or three cubed apples in.  Packed tightly up to the lid.

After doing a lid fit test, I add 8 ounces of sugar free, or low sugar apple juice,
and 8 ounces of apple cider.
  You can also use plain water, or just juice.

 I let them simmer on high for two hours, stirring anytime I find myself walking through the kitchen.

 After two hours on high, I get out my trusty kitchenaid immersion blender and blend those softened cubes into what would be called a very chunky sauce.  STOP THERE.




See?  Still nice and chunky. And not quite cooked.  Turn down your temperature to LOW.  Add 4T of Lemon Juice, 2 3/4 cups of white sugar, and half a TABLESPOON of cinnamon.  ( yes, you can add less sugar.)



I simmer it on low for two hour and then with a screen lid (splatter guard) for one or two hours, depending on how thick you want it.  At the end of the cooking process, I taste it and see if I want to purée it more  (usually I do), and if I want to add more cinnamon (usually I do).





Then it is simply a matter of canning. You can water bath applesauce.  Leave a 1/2 of an inch of headspace in your jars.  Process for 20 minutes below 1,000 Ft and 25 minutes above 1,000ft.  I do mostly pints and some quarts.





Those peels?  DON"T toss them in the compost! Chop them up and toss handfuls into sandwich size bags, freeze, and save for the chickens.  What a wonderful mid winter TREAT!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Station Update and What's the Scoop with COOPOURI?!

Let start with a hearty welcome to Meteorological FALL!
I am SO, SO, VERY ready for Fall.  This is not to say that I looking forward to WINTER.  Oh contraire, I can't stand being cold.  I do not like wearing 473,000 layers to walk to the barn or coop.  I do not like having to wear mud boots, mittens, and then peeling everything off so that you can move your ankle to drive, fit behind the steering wheel, or have to go inside pretty much anywhere as they all seem to have the heat cranked up to 78'!  The SAME 78' that they refused to set their Air Condition UP to in the summer, because they'd be too HOT! Go figure.




No, I want the dry Canadian air masses that bring warm DRY Fall air and crisp Fall nights.  The night weather where you leave the windows open for the fresh air and at 3 am get too cold, even wrapped like a giant burrito, and you refuse to simply expose a disposable limb to reach over and close the window - or Heaven forbid, get out of bed altogether and get another blanket.  Dry and warm, cool and crisp, yup, that's what I am ready for.


But to get to that, we in the Prairielands, have to pay for that for a couple of months.  I call it Mother Nature's Menopause. We have stretches of days that mind numbingly hot and idiotically humid, then a cold front will swing through and give us a couple of days that are downright tolerable.  As soon we get it into our heads that, "hey, I could do with this kind of weather for a few days. GOODBYE Icky Summer!"  A low pressure system will pulse across the plains, pulling up moisture and heat from the Gulf, and we're back to a living in a sauna.  This great swing in both directions brings our second round of severe weather of the year.  Luckily, we've been on the pretty viewers side of the storms, so far. 





After that blew through, parts of Lincoln had 5 inches of rain.  We had .04" inches.  It was cooler.  Sadly the humidity didn't go with it.  Which left us with FOG.  Lots of fog. 
The all day humid that we like to call the toilet paper killer.  You know the kind of day. You've turned off the Air Conditioning, but you shouldn't have.  You should have left it on to control the humidity.  Everything feels wet, all the time.  The toilet paper on the roll is expanding on the roll and feels pre-used.  I'll say this, I DO love the look of rising fog on a quiet morning, cows lowing in the pasture, an insane rooster crowing, waking half the valley.

Sigh.  The rooster, he's certifiably INSANE!  I am convinced it is some wacky surge in cockerel hormones.  Have I mentioned he hates my ankles?  He flogs my ankles.  This week, while sitting quietly in a chair, he wandered over and took a bite out of my ankles.  I know, all my friends are yelling, "stew POT!"  But he only does it to me, so I put up with it.  If he starts up with The Boy, he's soup.  For the boy, he comes over, hops on his lap, and naps.  He must see me as another rooster.  So for now, he gets the other end of the horse crop, and snuggles.


We've already covered the insanity of the birds in a previous post, so we won't tread into that pool this week.  I am going to speak towards the changing seasons and chicken care.  I know it's September and the days are still warm, and the cold weather seems to be SO far away.  But like so often happens, time just FLIES by.  Work, family, chores, school, or fall fun always seem to make the ever shortening days go even faster.  And honestly, most people don't want to think about the mighty cold creep, the deep freeze, the mighty chill.   This is, however, the best time to be thinking about what you need to do to get ready for the rapidly approaching season.  I'd rather work a little in the warmth (not the blazing heat), than to try to get outdoor work done in the freezer. 

There are many things that need done this time of year.  The garden is on its last legs.  I will be picking and storing the green tomatoes on Friday.  The sorghum is about a week away from being cut and hung to dry for winter treats.  The cantaloupe vines needs pulled.  The corn stubble needs pulled and tossed into the compost pile, which needs turned and dumped into the garden and allowed to mellow over winter.  The new pile needs started with the still green rubbish of the garden.  And MOST importantly, the coop needs cleaned and set up for winterization.  UGH, the "W" word.

I deep clean the coop twice a year: April, when the days warm and the funk of a closed up winter needs chased away, and October, when bedding needs replaced, corners need dusted for mites and flies, the run flooring gets swapped out.

As the weather will be decent this weekend, I may just tackle the run and the compost pile and get it out of the way.  The run is a deep liter run.  It started as 6 inches of cypress mulch on top of lawn.  Over the summer, it has seen spilled feed, treats, lots of green hay meadow clippings, melon rinds, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and poo - lots and LOTS of chicken poo.  I will rake out the larger pieces of mulch and loosen the rest with one of those twist tine garden tools.  I will remove most of this and place it in the garden to mellow over winter and some in the new compost pile to jump start it.  I will groom the whole area, and add the old large pieces back and toss in a bunch of scratch to encourage exploration, and then some more FRESH cypress mulch.  That's it :D  That will hold us until Spring when we do the whole thing again.

I will also install the run and coop winter lighting this weekend.  We are loosing daylight FAST!   I will not let the lights run all winter, as I want the girls to have a break.  But the current sunrise at 630 and pitch black by 8pm isn't working for me.  LOL.  All it is a 50 foot string of soft white LED Christmas lights.  Just enough to gently wake them up and keep them from going comatose at 730pm.

I need to really tackle how I am going to cover the outside of the run for the winter months.  I have a general plan, so I'll update on that later.

The inside of the coop needs a little weekly TLC.  With all the extra humidity and little wind, it is getting mildly stinky.  Not odiferous, but a little wet chicken, hot chicken, chicken poo stinky.  Besides a general sweeping and sprinkling of the coop with more DE, I also use a vinegar mix spray that I ferment myself and use to spray down anything that doesn't run away.  It not only knocks down the stinkies, but it won't harm the birds or their delicate fluffy lungs. 

I simply take a quart (or half gallon) mason jar (or any generic) with a good lid.  I keep it in the refrigerator as we finish off oranges, lemons, or limes, I toss in the rinds.  When it is about 80% full I toss in some rosemary, some cinnamon, thyme, mint leaves, basil, vanilla beans, or whatever I think will smell fabulous or have on hand.  I then top the whole thing off to within half an inch of the top with white, distilled 5% vinegar.  I let this sit for a month at room temperature.  After that, I transfer the strained liquid to a large horse spray bottle and just keep it in the coop.  I spray down the windows, the chicken mirror, roosts, and nests boxes and anything else while the girls are out playing.

I also take this opportunity to check the condition of the nest boxes.  Do the pads need replaced or cleaned?  I sweep out the boxes, and sprinkle DE into the deep dark corners. I wash the washable pads and hang them in the sunshine to dry.  When I return them to the boxes I sprinkle a liberal amount of my coopouri blend.  Yup, just like people potpourri, but chicken safe and for the coop only (especially since I live in a house full of allergy boys.)

Last Spring I found a FABULOUS  herb company online.  I still don't remember HOW I found it, but I DO remember that I found it by complete accident.  The Mountain Rose Herbs company has been not only a wonderful resource, but their customer service, product, and packaging is TOP NOTCH!
I ordered Calendula Flowers, bay leaf, catnip, chamomile, cinnamon chips, eucalyptus, lemon balm, orange peel, oregano, peppermint, pink roses, spearmint, tansy, wormwood, pennyroyal, and sage.  I had planned to plant marigolds this summer, but somehow missed that boat! LOL.


I took great handfuls of dried herbs, and mixed them together and crumbled bigger into smaller bits and placed the resulting product into 2 gallon size zip top bags.  I sprinkle a couple of handfuls around the coop and in the nest boxes whenever I clean, or the mood strikes me.  In the nest boxes, the girls play with and adjust the bits. 

I honestly don't know if it REALLY does anything or has any effect on the birds, but it makes me happy, and looks nice.  I do know that some of the herbs DO work against several kinds of bugs and crawlies.  So there probably is some help to the whole project.  I do know we don't have a bug or fly problem :D So that's a start.





Friday, September 4, 2015

I'm Stewing!

Tomatoes that is!

I mentioned in yesterday's post that the garden is winding down.  I guess the definition of that would be that I haven't been in the garden for FOUR days and took out 25 pounds of tomatoes, a gallon of cherry tomatoes, three cantaloupes, and several pounds of banana and jalapeño peppers.  LOL.

This doesn't den count the three overloaded cherry tomato plants I didn't even bother picking because it gets dark quickly now. I also gave a few pounds of tomatoes and a splits, overripe cantaloupe to the girls.  Boy, oh BOY, were they HAPPY!

I brought the large harvest basket in and let it sit for the night, deciding to sort and clean the basket the next morning.  Lucky me, my basket had a large field cricket in it.  It drove me nuts all night long chirping, moving somewhere elusive, and starting over just as I would give up looking and crawl back into bed.  He stopped chirping on night #2, so I think something else, larger, in the house gold ahold of him.  This is both a happy and scary thought!

I digress.

What to do with even MORE tomatoes?!  I have plenty of puréed.  We love salsa, but we love my FRESH made salsa.  We also can large bottles of a favorite national brand for about the same amount as I can make it.  So I took a pass on making and canning salsa.

I opted for a double batch of pressure canner stewed tomatoes.  I use one large can of a national brand with a large red shield on the green can every time I make spaghetti, so having pint jars in the Hoosier cabinet would be great ! 

I dug out my recipe and sorted my veggies.  I did have to go purchase a sweet green bell pepper, as we are past the season here, and the celery, I had everything I needed on hand.

Again this is a PRESSURE CANNING RECIPE.  You CANNOT safely steam or water bath this recipe.

Peel and quarter enough tomatoes for 6 quarts (12 pints)- about 4 pounds per quart


Add them to a large, heavy pot and add:
2 cups of chopped white onion
1 cup of chopped celery
1 cup of chopped green pepper
2T of white sugar
2T salt
1/2T powdered garlic
1T of spaghetti seasoning




I slowly simmer this until it reduces by one third.  At this point I hit the whole thing with my immersion blender and blend about half of the mixture, making sure to break up any large pieces of tomato, but leaving plenty of chunks.




Then carefully pour into prepared PINT jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

Then process in your pressure canner following its specific instructions for 15 minutes.

10 pounds of pressure under 1,000 Ft
15 pounds of pressure if you are canning above 1,000 ft.











I hope you enjoy this recipe.  Now what to do with the next load of tomatoes?!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Crazy Chickens

Let's face it, Chickens are Crazy!

If you don't raise them, or know someone that does, then this may come as a complete shock to you. But I'm here to tell you that they are downright nuts, their mother's had them tested, bonkers crazy!

Most people go about their daily lives seeing nice, normal, sedate tree birds, who happily perch on a delicate branch and belt out a nice tune, flit about the feeder and splash about in the birdbath. They joyfully collect sticks and bits from the yard, or the cat, and make lovely nests in delicately painted bird boxes or the protected crook of a tree.  We lift our children day by day to spy the little newly laid eggs, and soon the tiny chirping mouths.  Sure, zoo birds may be a BIT more interesting than the normal house wren, but by and large they too are "normal" acting creatures. 

video

I cut zoo birds a little more slack on the crazy meter as they DO tend to be exotics, and have to deal with the general population on a daily basis.  The exceptions to the crazy rule are mocking birds ("the notes are C,D,E, and A!" or being able to replicate a car alarm at 4am), hummingbirds (natures fierce, territorial, MEAN little fighter jets), and wild turkeys (not a brain in their head, unless it is hunting season and then they become the most clever of birdies.)

Chickens are a horse of a different color.  From the minute they start to develop in the egg, until the moment they see their last sunset, they are in an entertaining world of their own.  The little fluff balls get into all kinds of mischief all day and long into the dark hours as they explore their world.  They woo you with their intoxicating cuteness, luring you into a false sense of calm and security.  Then one morning you go out to the broody pen, and like a scene from Stalag 17, they've escaped!  They've been cleverly plotting for weeks until just the right moment.  In my head, I envision them standing on each other's shoulders, until finally they can reach the cage top, and then with one almighty push, they are free.  You spend the rest of the morning scouring the nooks and crannies of the barn, shelves, and storage bins for your innocent little fluffs before the giant wolf spiders haul them away to Gallifrey.


This little insight to their ability as escape artists leads you to build a much larger grow out pen in the barn.  Sure it takes up a lot of room, but they are growing, and maybe if they have enough space, they won't try to escape.  HA! Wrong.  They are hard wired to explore.  Like beagles, they follow their stomachs.  They could have the most incredible bounty right in front of them, but all they can think of is, "what's over there, and how do I GET there".

By now they have surpassed the fluffy adorable stage and have moved on to the ugly duckling phase.  This is when the pecking order starts to rear its ugly head, which can also be entertaining, in a Wes Craven kind of way.  You figure that boredom might be the instigator for the fights so you add enrichment items.  The thing is, like children, they'd rather play with the cardboard box than the toy.  Nothing you put in the pen for them to be play with, will be played with in its intended manner.  Swing perches become pecking toys.  Clamshell food puzzle balls get pulled apart and spilled so they can play with the worm like elastic band.  The interest inducing RED play ball you added for push and chase fun.... well, let's just say our rooster has a strong core and rock hard abs and the balancing skills of a Romanian gymnast.

We spend a ridiculous amount of time observing our chickens. I think it is there hypnotic plan to over throw, if not the planet, at least the homestead. I am nearly certain they are of alien origin, and if not, I at least have NO trouble seeing them as the once Giants that Ruled the Earth.  Instead of watching TV, or playing video games, or creating imaginary villages and waging warfare on our tablets, we drag out the lawn chairs and sit with a glass of ice tea and watch the chickens peck.  It is oddly entertaining and relaxing all at the same time.  We watch and wonder why they've wandered where they've wandered.  We are perplexed at their 90210 cliques and social drama.  We know their chirps and calls, and movements and stand bolt upright from the chairs when the flock suddenly flies from the lower hay meadow to the cover of the coop.  Was there a snake?  Did someone see a hawk?  Is there a t-rex sneaking up behind me that I missed?  Or did someone just get the urge to go bonkers and the others joined in?
Now that all of our ladies are in the big girl coop and are (for the most part) all laying.  The entertainment value has gone through the roof.  Their wanderings occasionally find a spring peeper frog.  Toads they leave alone, but a small frog is at the top of their menu wish list.
Not on the menu, EVER!
 Not only does it provide a great chase, but once one chicken has something, they all want it.  It could be an old muddy shoe, and if one shows interest, the chase is on.  The fun thing about a frog is that more than one chicken can enjoy it.  Bugs and worms can be used to taunt the other hens and quickly swallowed in one teasing gulp, but a frog?  They are stretchy and have four floppy limbs.  The great chase can go on for half an hour!  Then it is like watching 4 eight year olds play with a Stretch Armstrong doll.




Fair Game!
 This past week, I've been putting in extra hours in the garden as it winds down.  The late summer scourge of the high plains, the grasshopper, is starting to take its toll on the tomatoes.  I've been going out and picking the unblemished orange ones, and tossing the damaged red ones over the electric cattle fencing to the birds.  They know they aren't allowed IN the garden, so as I work inside, they line up like children against a  glass restraint window in a Dickens novel.  Their sad eyes and pout beaks pleading for a red, ripe orb all the while their Jedi mind tricks are trying to penetrate past the protective electric field.  It must have worked.  They managed to get a gallon of cherry tomatoes, three cucumbers, and a cantaloupe from me Tuesday night.  And of course no one could just EAT the food.  All of it had to become part of a game of tag.  There were tomatoes and chickens running flying all over the yard.

Another crazy sight, besides dust and sun bathing, is the invisible prey.  My henhouse is about a million miles from the house.  When you walk through the house completing all those pesky inside jobs, you can catch a glimpse of the bucolic scene of a flock of fat hens waddling their way across the lawn, mindlessly pecking and scratching for food.  Then it happens.  One of the hens will seemingly loose its tiny little mind and start bounding across the lawn, zigging and zagging, leaping, turning, up on her toes, crouched down like a pouncing tiger.  Moves that the Hippos from Fantasia could only dream of.  Of course they are all moves that would make a psychologist see dollar signs as he envisions his new multi-million dollar yacht.  Luckily, we don't use a pet psychologist (Yes, they DO exist.)  So what's up with the critter?  DO they even MAKE chicken straight jackets?  Should we skip therapy and go straight for the stock pot?

Butterflies.  Yup.  Teeny, tiny, hard to even see when they are right in front of you butterflies.  Or maybe they are moths.  I've never been close enough to one to look for fuzzy or naked antennae.  Just as I start to look at one, a hen will pull off the leap and spin of a life time, and poof, the bug is gone.  They must taste amazing.  Last night, several of them were chasing their own moths all at the same time.  It was starting to look like the insane asylum was open for business.

Fast forward to just before dark last night.  The temperature had finally started to drop from somewhere near equatorial jungle to volcanic sauna, so I decided that while the girls were out filling their crops before bed I would swap their old three hole nest box for their new 6 hole box! 

Old Box.  And yes, that is the rooster.  My young, poor confused
Rooster.

The Rolls Royce of Nesting Hotels
You would have thought I nailed a six headed alien to the wall!  It was like one of those reality TV shows where the couple leaves for the day, and friends sneak in and remodel the whole place.  The rooster was especially peeved, but as the sun was past setting, they calmed down quickly, roosted, and reconnected to the mother ship for a nights worth of recharging

Uh-huh.  It all started again this morning when they woke up to find a 6 headed monster nailed to the wall.  I watched from the glorious comfort of my Select Comfort Bed via our web camera, as the little biddies took their time going outside, and instead gathered around in front of the great beast like islanders in front of their Easter Island Gods.  Their chatter was incessant and finally the rooster had his say and they all migrated out to breakfast.  Hyacinth, always one to do her own thing (she eats paint too - well pecks it off - don't ask) decided to tame the mighty beast.  Although she isn't due to lay until around 3 today, she had to park herself in every cubby.  I think it was to determine which one was hers so she could prepare to kick someone out later
As I check in on them again, I see that someone has managed to tame the beast and lay an egg, and Daisy has decided that the new nesting pads are the bees knees and has fluffed herself an amazing nest!  So all is not lost! LOL. (The green pads are great as well.  They can be washed and reused for years and years.  The new ones you toss when they get excessively dirty, so weeks to months.)
 

See how entertaining they are?!  And YOU don't even have to feed them or scoop their poop!