Friday, August 26, 2011

Well, Excuse Me

Our ducks are completely free ranging this year, owing mostly to my lack of effort in keeping them in the fenced in place that they are meant to be. There are certainly disadvantages to having ducks who have the run of the place. The biggest of which is the mess that they leave on my front porch. (Can't for the life of me figure out why they like it there so well.)

There are also some advantages. They are helpful in the garden. They eat the grass and the bugs, and really don't seem to bother the vegetables themselves. (The same can not be said for a few chickens who have managed to escape their fence despite my best efforts.)

The hens also are more successful in hatching their clutches when they are not confined to a fenced in area.  But sometimes, I have to wonder about the places they choose for their nests. Such as the hen that is pictured below.

She has made her nest between our shed and the steps to our side door. This is where we park. My washer and clothes line are on this side of the house. This is the door we go in and out of the most. Yet, there she sits.

She really isn't in the way, and I really wouldn't mind except for one thing. Every time someone walks down those steps she hisses and gets her dander up as if we are intruding on her territory. Really? Well excuse me Mrs. Hen, this was my space first. You're welcome to it for your month of brooding, but I really do not appreciate your rudeness!

Monday, August 22, 2011

When you have a few days off

As many of you know, after a seven year hiatus from the world of paid working, I chose to go back to work a little over two years ago. I did not go back to my previous profession. Instead I chose to take a serving job that allowed me to work on weekends with a minimal disruption to our homeschool schedule. The choice was made in an effort to get out of debt.

For the most part, I am happy the choice was made.  The schedule can be grueling at times, but working three days a week has been a tremendous lift to our financial position. Our debt has been significantly reduced. The credit cards have been paid off for some time, and that in itself is a tremendous burden removed.

The last year has been exhausting. We've taken some heavy hits here both emotionally and financially. The responsibilities of farm and family are overwhelming some days, but these are the responsibilities I enjoy the most. The weeks go so fast, and when Friday rolls around I often just want to stomp my feet, and scream "I just can't do it!" But I don't. There is an emergency fund that needs built back up. There are medical bills that need paid, and huge black cloud of student loans that still hovers over our heads. I suck it up, put on my best fake smile, and head to work. It needs done whether I like it or not.

This weekend I found myself in an unusual circumstance. I was off Friday and Saturday! It felt a tiny bit of heaven to not have to rush home after the market Friday to get ready for work! We did however have a wedding rehearsal to attend.

Friends of ours from church got married on Saturday. Vivian was the flower girl. It was a fun wedding. The rehearsal was Friday with dinner at Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

Saturday was the wedding followed by an outdoor reception. The weather was good, and the wedding and reception were beautiful. The Appletons however did come out of the wedding with a couple funny stories.

Of course, one would involve Nolan. We had to go a little early so Vivian could be there for pictures. Nolan spent the whole time on the DS. It wasn't until I saw him sitting at the top of the steps playing that I realized what he was wearing. His siblings helped him get his clothes, and I only gave him a brief glance before we left. How do you like his ensemble, dress pants, button shirt, tennis shoes, and no socks?

His father came to the wedding in an even a better outfit. He had on his farm clothes, a t-shirt, stained up shorts, and work boots. To be fair, it really wasn't Tim's fault.

We needed to get feed Saturday. With the time and location of the wedding, and the hours of the feed store, it was decided that the best solution was for Tim to go early to the feed store, and then meet the rest of us at the church for the wedding. Part of that plan also included that someone (who would that be?) would bring the clothes Tim had picked out, and he could change when he got to the church. That someone forgot to grab Tim's clothes.

The only store anywhere close to the church was Dollar General. So we went and found Tim a pair of short, a button shirt, and a pair of shoes for the wedding. Thankfully the wedding was pretty casual, and luckily all the items were 50% off. We spent $17.

The wedding was early, and after the wedding we wondered what to do with ourselves with the whole family home on a Saturday. Tim and I considered a date night. Honestly, I think the last time we had time completely alone was when we went to North Carolina for his surgery. We looked at the movie listings, and found nothing very interesting, and didn't really feel all that motivated to get ourselves together to go out again.

Instead Tim took a nap, I read a book, and the kids read and watched a movie in the heat of the afternoon. When it began to cool off a little we all headed out to the garden for a little work. We worked together on the best part of gardening, the harvesting.

We picked green beans. Did I mention we made my bean poles too high, and I planted them too thickly? Ah well, live and learn. This was our first year to use bamboo teepees for poles. In previous years, I've always planted the pole beans on the fence.

We also picked onions, peppers, tomatoes, a few potatoes, corn, melons, okra, and the year's star performer, the herbs. I now have two kinds of basil, parsley, and sage drying above my kitchen sink. It smells so good.

We made my favorite dinner after that, a dinner made almost entirely from food from the farm. We had roasted corn, fried okra, hamburgers, melon, peppers, and sliced tomatoes. Dinner was late, and by the time we ate and cleaned up it was time for bed. It was a wonderful day!

Our schedules are jammed packed. Our weeks are often rushed and stressful. I often wonder how this life is the the simple life. It might seem strange that when I find myself with a day off, that I would choose to work in the garden with the family instead of getting away for an evening with my husband. Tim and I rarely get to work together on farm projects, but when we do I have to say that it is deeply gratifying. Maybe it is knowing that we are in this together. Maybe it is the satisfaction of laboring together to provide for our family.  I'm not sure, but I do know that it is far better than working in the garden alone, and much more appealing to me than sitting in an over air conditioned theater being entertained. I wish there were more days like this.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gaining Ground in the Battle on Squash Pests - maybe.

You've all heard people talk about how prolific zucchini plants are. You've probably heard stories of gardeners sneaking zucchini onto their neighbors porch in an effort to get rid of it. But let me be the one to dispel this myth. I have had one year of prolific zucchini. Every other year, it has been a battle with the pests to keep this family in zucchini.

It isn't just zucchini either, growing squash has become war, and I fear I am on the losing side.  We are waging a chemical free war here, but I think the bugs may be smarter than I am. It was so bad last year that I swore I was not going to plant anything in the squash family this year. But then spring came and I started thinking about grilled veggies, stuffed zucchini, zucchini brownies, zucchini struedel, fresh pumpkin, and well, before I knew what I was doing hills of dirt were made and seeds were going into the ground.

The more I do this organic gardening thing, the more I am convinced the my best weapons are careful observation and quick action when pests are observed. This is the strategy I tried to implement with the squash this year. The squash have two enemies; squash bugs and vine borers.

The adult squash bugs are elusive. They are a gray color and tend to hang out in the dirt where they are well camouflaged.  I mostly see them on the actual plants in the cool of the morning. If I see them, I squish them or drop them into a jar of water with dish detergent.

Their eggs however, are more easily found. Look for copper colored eggs on the leaves. Most often they are on the underside of the leaf, but sometimes on the top. The eggs are hard to squash. I remove the leaf and the eggs and feed it to the chickens or drop it in water with dish detergent.

The newly hatched bugs have gray or greenish bodies. They almost look like a tiny spider. They are easily smashed.

While I can't claim victory over squash bugs, and can claim containment.  They are there, but by removing the eggs and destroying of the bugs that I do see, I am able to keep them from doing serious damage to the plants.

The deadly enemy to my squash are the vine borers. Adult vine borers are moths. They resemble a red wasp. I rarely see them, and if I do, I never can kill them. They are too fast. They lay tiny black eggs on the stems of the plant. I've looked for the eggs. I've removed a few things that may have been eggs, but then again maybe they were just dirt.

I don't know I have a vine borer until I see something like the picture to the right. See the yellow stuff that looks like chewed fibers. Yep, that is the evidence of a vine borer. Or if it is dry it will look something like sawdust.

When the stem is cut open, you'll find a white grub like worm with a black head. The one pictured on the left is a pretty big one. The tiny ones can be hard to see.

The only thing I know to do when these bugs are found is to split open the stem and destroy the bugs. This works pretty well if the borer is only in a leaf stem. When they are in the main stem of the plant, you can split it and mend the stem by covering it with dirt or wrapping it up, but the plant is severely weakened.

The first time I found borers this year, I split the stems, destroyed the borers, and covered the stems with dirt. The plants came through this nicely. They stayed upright and green. They looked healthy, but fruit production came to an abrupt halt. I wasn't able to keep up the borer vigil, and the next time I checked over the zucchini they were so infested with borers that I pulled all but one plant. It is so frustrating. My next step is to replant, and try again. 

Another thing I noticed this year is the pumpkins are coming through these attacks better than the zucchini or summer squash. I have not been able to keep as close of a watch on the pumpkins, and vine borers are there. The pumpkin vines put down roots that seem to take up the slack where the borers have attacked. Maybe I should try a vining variety of zucchini?

The war is on, and though I think I gained a little ground this year, the bugs definitely have the advantage. Any one have a secret weapon they'd like to share?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Little Patience Pays Off

If I were to list my finer qualities, patience would not be at the top of the list. I'm not a patient person. I want things to happen now, and I get impatient with people (especially my own children) more than I'd like to admit. But if there is one place that I can say Tim and I have learned to be patient, it is with regards to making purchases.

Being patient is absolutely necessary when it comes to parting with our hard earn dollars. We've learned the hard way, finding a way to buy things we can't afford costs you dearly in the long run. We've also learned that a little patience usually pays off.

I can not count the number of times when we've really wanted or needed (or thought we needed) something, but decided to wait for it, and were so glad we did. Sometimes we found we really didn't want it that much, or that doing without it wasn't so bad. Other times we were able to find the item at a much better price, and often for free. We've seen this happen with so many things. There have been small things like clothing, bigger things, like furniture, and really big things like a vehicle.

The latest example of this happened a few weeks ago. For the entire back story, we need to go back about a year. Tim's office used to be a restaurant. When the building owner converted the space he walled off the kitchen to create an office space and a kitchen. A caterer was working out of the kitchen, and then he went out of business.

The caterer left most of the equipment, and Tim approached the building owner about purchasing a couple of things he thought would be useful on the farm. Mainly, at the time, Tim was thinking of the stainless steel tables. He wanted them for deer processing. There were also freezers and stoves, and a few other things. Tim offered a price. The landlord countered, and no middle ground was found.

The kitchen sat vacant for over a year, and then the landlord approached Tim to see if he was still interested in any of the equipment. There was a new tenant coming, and they didn't want most of the things that had been left in the kitchen. The timing couldn't have been better for us.

Our current freezer space really was not enough for the business of the farm. The freezers we did have were old and inefficient. New freezers were on our purchase radar already. The kitchen had two good sized chest freezers, a small commercial upright freezer, and a small walk in freezer. Cash is a little tight, but the owner assured Tim they could work out a plan for payment.

In the end Tim took all the freezers, two household stoves (one that is needed for the canning kitchen, not sure where the other one is going,) and a lot of miscellaneous type items. There was a wonderful commercial gas stove there that I would have loved to have. Sadly, I have no place or no gas for it! He also cleaned up the place a bit. The owner was just pleased to have it all gone, but we offered to trade him some farm goods for the items. A wonderful deal for both sides!

The freezers came just in time as we just had a whole beef and hog processed. The chest freezers are already full. We need to decide exactly where we want walk in freezer, and do some prep work before we can set that up. Tim didn't get the tables he was originally looking at, but those weren't really needed like the freezers were.

No matter how many times it has happened, it still amazes me how a little patience pays off, and how often the need is met just at the right time. We are truly blessed! 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our New Tools

It was chicken processing day, Rob from Wild Sage Homestead and a friend were joining us to learn how to process a chicken. The whole family was excitedly gathered around. Tim went to work a little late that morning. Our thirteen year old even posted on Facebook that he was excited about the morning's event. The kids couldn't wait to get started.

What was all the excitement about? We've processed hundreds of chickens, and the kids normally make themselves scarce on processing day. This was no ordinary processing day though. This was the day we got to use our new chicken processing tools, a plucker, and an eviscerating table.

Thanks to the help and support of the community, we were awarded grant money that enabled us to step up the whole process of processing. Thank you Gail Patton of Unlimited Future, who has been a cheerleader for us all along and got the ball rolling on funding for a plucker. Additional funding received from CAFE Huntington, and matching funds from Create Huntington allowed us to purchase a ready assembled plucker, and a table designed for the job of processing. Remaining funds will be used for some more kill cones, and a new water pump for our rain water collection system.

So the big question of course, is how did our new tools work? I couldn't be more pleased. The plucker turns my twenty minutes hand plucking into a two minute job. And even more importantly, it does a nice clean job. Even after spending a lot of time hand plucking, it seemed I was never done. I would keep finding feathers I missed. The plucker machine gets the birds clean. It does miss a little on the inside of the wings, and occasionally the thigh, but finishing up those areas only requires another minute or two.

The table allows me to stand up instead of hunching over like I used to. There is a convenient hole to drop all the mess through.  When you're done a simple spray of the hose, and the remaining mess washes down the drain, and leaves you a clean slate for the next bird. 

I am so thankful for these new tools! With them we will be able to process and sell a lot more chickens!

And in case you're wondering, the excitement for the kids didn't last. The youngest two pressed the on switch on the plucker a couple of times, and then disappeared. The older two did stick around to help. Kellen is the kill cone master, and Lydia does a great job picking any remaining feathers. Their excitement over the plucker may have faded quickly. Mine, however, has not! I am still thrilled, and looking forward to using it again!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Simply Delicious

Grilled Center Cut Ham Slice
Occasionally, someone will ask my favorite way to cook a certain cut of meat. Most of the time I don't think they are expecting the answer I give. If it is a large piece of meat, my answer is something like this, "I throw it in crock pot. Sprinkle it with a few spices, and let it cook all day on low." For the smaller cuts of meat the answer is simply a variation, "I sprinkle it with some spices, and toss it on the grill. Flip it every so often until it is done."

How do you like those recipes? Truth be told, I really do enjoy cooking. I love to try new recipes, or more often use a recipe as a guide to create something new and delicious for the family. Following recipes, or creating new ones requires a rather scares resource. That resource would be time.

If you ask me my favorite way to prepare something, it will be a way that is quick, easy, and produces a delicious result. That my friends is likely to involve a crock pot or a grill. When you have a good piece of meat, you don't need to spend a lot of time, or add a lot of extra ingredients to achieve a wonderful result.

But if you were looking for a more specific recipe than "Slap it on the grill with some salt and pepper," here are a few recipes I like. Hope you find something useful.

Curried Chops and Leg Of Lamb
Gryo Burgers

Cooking a Skinned Bird
Summer Garden Chicken

Meatloaf (simple)
Meatloaf (variations)
Homemade Sloppy Joes

Blackened Chops

Friday, August 05, 2011

Why We Feed our Animals Grain

Photo Credit: Love Happiness Photography
Since venturing into the public sale of our meats, we've encountered a lot of question about how our animals are raised. I think that is wonderful. It means people are educated and care about where their food comes from.

Probably the most frequent question we get is whether the animals are fed grain or not. I understand the concerns. Some are concerned about animal welfare. If you've seen video of chickens or beef in a feed lot type setting, there is good reason to be concerned.

Others are concerned about nutrition, and the fact that most animal feeds contain GMO grain. Honestly, I am just beginning to understand these issues, but I do understand the concern that is there.

We raise beef, chicken, pork, and eggs for sale to the public. All of our animals are pastured. They have access to large open spaces. They forage, and eat all the good things the pasture has to offer. They all also are fed a ration of grain daily.

One reason we choose to feed grain is nutrition. The pork and chicken grow very quickly. They need the extra protein in grain to sustain that growth. The cows do not grow as quickly, but they still need a good diet. Our pastures are in good shape. They probably could maintain our small herd of cows in the summer without grain. The trouble comes in the winter.

Good hay is hard to find in these parts. We do bale some of our own, but it isn't enough for all the animals through the winter. Our hay is normally pretty good, but then hay is subject to timing and weather. This year our hay is not as good as normal. Our first cutting was delayed because of the rain. Hay loses nutrition if it gets too tall and stem-y. When we could finally cut and bale the hay, we only got one field cut before Tim started his treatments. The other two didn't get cut for another month. That hay was way overgrown, and unfortunately, got baled damp. Hopefully, our second cutting will be better. We won't get a third cutting this year. Giving grain helps to cover any deficiencies in the hay.

Photo Credit: Love Happiness Photography
Another, and perhaps less important reason, we feed the animals grain is to keep them a little tame. Feeding them everyday helps them get to know us. We talk to them. We give them a little love. We watch for any signs of illness or other things that require our attention.

The animals know us. They are comfortable around us. They know our voice, and they certainly know what a bucket of feed is. It may not seem like much, but it goes along way when you're trying to work with them.

I'm very thankful the animals know what a bucket of feed is when we're moving an 800 pound sow from pasture to pasture, or loading a 1400 pound cow into the animal trailer.  With a bucket of feed and the call of the person who feeds them, they will follow you just about anywhere you want them to go.

Our animals are humanely raised, and get lots of fresh air and exercise. Our animals are fed grain. While I understand the interest in grass fed meat, exclusively grass feeding any of our animals is not an option that works for this farm. Hopefully, now you understand a little better why.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Apple Sauce Oatmeal Cookies

Beginning to sell at the Farmers Market has been a great adventure this summer. Our main focus here on the farm is meat and eggs, but when the market began, we had precious little in the way of meat to sell. We decided to add baked good to the items we had available.

The market we participate in is a producers market. Baked goods are required to contain local ingredients, preferably those grown yourself. So, I went on a search for recipes which could be made with products from right here on the farm.

One of my favorites was found at Allrecipes. I tweaked it a bit to create the Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies we've taken to the market. We make ours with our eggs and applesauce. By request, here is the recipe:

Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies
1/3 C butter, softened
2/3 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1/2 C applesauce
1 1/4  C flour
1 1/4 C oatmeal
1/2 C raisins (optional)
1/2 C walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Cream butter. Add brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, and baking soda. Mix in applesauce and egg.  Add flour, a little at a time. Stir in oatmeal. Fold in the raisins and nuts.

Put spoonfulls of dough on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes until lightly browned.

Monday, August 01, 2011

In the Midst of Chaos

The morning sun was just beginning to come over the trees. There was a cool breeze. The birds were singing in the woods. The kids were occupied with other tasks elsewhere. All seemed peaceful and right in my world. I felt a deep and abiding contentment even though the task at hand was butchering chickens. It was a couple of the best hours of my entire week.
The younger two were with Tim's parents for the week. Though I missed them, it turned out to be incredibly good timing for their annual visit. The week was incredibly busy. In addition to our normal activities, both Kellen and Lydia had their Battle of The Books Tournament, and Lydia had a lamb at the fair. If you ever have had an animal at the fair, you know what all the entails. We were there everyday to care for the lamb, and most days there was some kind of showing to do. It was extremely hot and humid. It was also one of those weeks full of extra farm surprises. Such as a 800 pound sow breaking floor boards and getting stuck, and the keys (with the spare) getting locked in the van. 

I don't mean to sound as if it was a horrible week. It wasn't. Lydia did well with her lamb. Kellen won his tournament. It really was a good week. It just was a very very busy one.

It was a week where I desperately need some quiet alone time. I had plenty of down time at the fair between activities. I spent a lot of time reading then, but that wasn't what I needed. I didn't need to be entertained. I needed to be quiet, to be still, and to disengage my brain for awhile.  That time was found last week while processing chickens.

There is something about engaging the hands in productive, yet mindless, activities that brings about a deep satisfaction. I've found it before while hanging clothes on the line. I know others find it in washing the dishes and in cleaning. 

So often I look for rest in the form of entertainment. I turn to the computer. I turn to a book, or perhaps a movie, seeking a little time to rejuvenate. While those activities may provide a bit of physical rest, mentally they are only a distraction. They turn my brain from the never ending to do list by occupying it with something else.

I'm not very good at being still, taking a deep breath, and enjoying the moment around me. When it actually happens it often catches me by surprise as it did this week. All I can do is be thankful for those moments of rest and peace amongst the chaos of our daily life.