Thursday, March 29, 2012

Garden, Day Two

On Day Two of garden clean up, I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, more reminiscent of May than March. I decided to get an early start as I wear out in the afternoon. I began by feeding Stinky and the Maremmas, letting the sheep out, feeding chickens and then Cider and I set out to work.
The big winds that knocked down so many trees also sent small limbs and twigs all over the ranch. A LOT of them are in MY  yard. We also get blessed with all the tumbleweeds and mustard on the ranch for some reason. Any loose trash on this side of the Steens manages to wend its way to my gate or the rock wall on the side. I normally don’t begin this chore until April, but it is such a beautiful day, I decided to tackle it early. I grabbed a pitchfork and started pulling tumbleweeds out from all the plants along the 200 some odd feet of rockwall. This wall is about 100 years old and makes a great backdrop for my climbing roses, vines, sunflowers and hollyhocks that come up in the summer, along with various other flowers. I stacked the tumbleweeds in a big pile and stomped ‘em all down like Randy told me to, so he could light them on fire when he comes home for lunch. I discovered this is probably best done in boots as opposed to backless tennis shoes as there are stickers. I then proceeded to transplant a couple more iris and another lilac from the 100 yr old bush out front.
I grabbed a leaf rake and started raking tons and tons of leaves out to the middle of the lawn so I could run over them with the riding mower and mulch them all up. All the limbs and branches, I had to pick up and stack in a pile, as the parts for our shredder/mulcher should be here next week and they will make great mulch for the garden this year. It will supplement the “poopystraw-from-stalls-to-chicken-coop-to-garden” mulch. This has turned out to be a great system. I bed EmmaLouMoo’s shelter heavily with straw. When I clean it out, it goes in the chicken coop where they remove all the seeds, and break up and help compost the straw that is left. It is then perfect to throw over the strawberries, or any other plants as a mulch to keep down weeds and retain moisture.
Wet leaves will go into a round bottomless trough with goat poop and chicken poop from clean-up and whatever tablescraps I don’t give the chickens, for compost.
I am finding some of the plants already beginning to bud. The apricot tree, the lilacs, raspberries, leaves are coming up from the purple cone flowers and others. I hope we don’t have a hard frost in the future. 
I try to visualize what WILL be and make plans for the garden’s future. I decide where I want to see the most growth, how I can best nurture that growth with the water and fertilizer it needs to thrive, as well as have a plan to keep down the weeds and deter pests. I plot out where I will place companion plantings and flowers that will make the whole thing pleasing to the eye. I will put in a re-claimed small wooden fence around the main part of the vegetable plot and dress it up with another arch and flowers on the outside. I need eye candy for the soul to supplement the nutritional qualities of the vegetables. Roses, flowers and vines will have to surround that part of the garden as well.
All this is yet another illustration to me, of God’s work in my life. I can identify with Him as He plans for my life the same way I do the garden; planning for growth, adding companions that will bring out the best in me, discouraging weeds that choke off my ability to absorb what is good for me and promoting a fruitful and bountiful harvest. At least I hope for such results on both counts.
I’ve battled weeds for years. From goat-head stickers to thistles, as well as broadleaf weeds that try to take over and choke out any desirable thing that grows.
Reflected in my life, from time to time have sprouted weeds of discontent, contention, jealousy, anger, unforgiveness, anxiety, pride...all dangerous weeds of the heart and mind that prevent anything that is good in life from entering in. Any one of these noxious weeds can ruin a day, a relationship, a life. Combined, they make a formidable barrier. As in my garden, I went after them one by one, hand pulling, spraying, stomping, or whatever would help deter them. This year I recalled there are more effective methods, for both my garden and my heart...planting a cover crop.
A cover crop is one that is planted in the field, or garden, which precedes the sowing of the intended crop. It  covers the ground quickly and thoroughly, giving weeds no place for a foothold. It is then easily tilled into the soil where it adds nutrients that strengthen and enhance the crop that is desired there. This year I am using spring wheat in the garden, and the best cover crop I have found for my life, is a Bible.
 This is something just about everybody has, but not many people actually READ it. It’s a sad state of affairs, because there is so much good stuff in there to harvest. It puts life into perspective and provides hope, strength and guidance to survive the worst droughts, floods and storms. 
In many countries of the world it is ILLEGAL even to own one. People run the risk of persecution, imprisonment, torture, even death. These good folks are quite literally DYING to read their Bibles and they have found the benefits to be worth the consequences. 
There is something we have definitely missed here.
In America, we tend leave them sitting on the shelves collecting dust, while our hearts lay fallow and allow the weeds of life and a self aggrandizing, destructive culture to smother what could have been healthy and productive.
As for me, I’m expecting a great harvest this year.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

A little reminiscing about last years garden, and working toward this year's.
Gardening here starts late and the season is short so I have to start quite a few things indoors. The only place in the house that gets enough light to grow anything is the big window in the bathroom, above the clawleg tub. Unfortunately, once things emerge, its not quite enough light or heat, as they sometimes stretch and become weak and leggy.
There is an old computer cabinet that I no longer use, as I have only had a laptop since we came here, and I see no reason whatsoever to go back to a desktop computer.  I decided to repurpose the computer armoire. Potting soil and peat pots reside in one cubby while my Western Garden Book and seed catalogues take up another. A grow light is mounted under the shelf and the seedlings get to live under that. There is room for quite a few, actually. Once they leave there, they will go into a cold frame or a temporary greenhouse outside.
I am hoping for a good spring, as I have a rather extensive list for the garden this year. I really need to get a couple of years canning done, as every year now, I get a bit slower and less constructive.
I have seed for tomatoes, peppers, green beans, peas, squashes, both summer and winter, corn, cabbage, cauliflower and brocolli, lettuce, spinach, pumpkins (mostly for the animals) hot peppers, pepperoncinis, green onions, shallots, garlic, carrots and I have yet to buy some seed potatoes. I also have basil and chives already growing and parsley, cilantro and thyme that come back every year. Then, of course, there are the raspberries, blackberries and strawberries we already have and I have a currant bush on order. A good year would fill our pantry and give me seed for next year as well, as most of the crops are from heirloom seed.
Working with a limited budget ( a great deal is spent on the animals) we make do with what is on hand. Old feed tubs make raised bed planters. Another raised bed for the raspberries is made with rock and dirt from on the ranch. A walkway was started last summer from concrete and an inexpensive form and an archway will be made with t-posts and a cattle panel for growing a vine on. Old horse troughs which no longer hold water have been repurposed as planters for both flowers and herbs. A few vegetables will be scattered in on the North side of the garden with the flowers, to fill in bare spots. This is the main view out of the house windows. The South side of the yard will be primarily vegetables with a few flowers thrown in for companion planting.

Winter hosts a stark and barren garden, but spring will return and the rock wall will come alive with climbing roses, trumpet vines and virginia creeper cascading up and down its face while sunflowers, liatris, coneflowers, 4 O’clocks and shasta daisies partner with annuals to cavort at its feet. The lawn will green up again and the hummingbirds and goldfinches will return. The quail, always present, will keep taking their little walks on the top of the wall, dropping down now and then to stroll through the garden and glean what they may.

Another day without the internet. I am realizing that I use that as my rest periods throughout the day. Without it, I cannot stand to sit still, as my mind goes 100 mph all the time. This morning, I went out and raked up leaves and debris away from the fences, picked up around the back yard some and filled the backpack sprayer with some Round Up. I sprayed all the upcoming weeds where the flower beds will be, as well as the edge of the lawn by the fence, where it can’t be mowed. I cleared off the rock siding of the raspberry bed and sprayed the cracks in the faux rock walkway. I put a pre-emergent in the raspberry bed, and around all the fruit trees, then mulched them so they will do better and I won’t have to fight weeds around their bases this year.
Randyman hooked up the springtooth harrow to my 4 wheeler so I used it to drag  Emma’s corral, the big corral and the small pasture, then I broadcast spring wheat in Emma’s corral for the chickens and pasture mix in the big ones for the larger stock. Then I drove the harrow around again to help cover the seed and got the sprinkler going. It was time to milk Em so I got that done, fed Stinky his bottle, let out the sheep and gave the calves their grain and cleaned up all the equipment from milking. I was feeling a little weak so I made a quick sandwich with homemade wheat bread and fresh eggs. It tasted just outstanding. Hunger really is the best seasoning.
Without the internet to play with so I could have a ‘recess’, I sat down for a few minutes and hand basted the hem in Abby’s new dress I made with the old treadle sewing machine. Nothing else was going on, so that got dull after a bit and I went out to visit the dogs and sheep in the pasture.
I trudged down there with Cider and we all met up just short of the ‘octopus tree’. My feet hurt pretty bad, so I laid down. The pasture is still that tawny gold color, but there is a hint of green all around with the newly emerging grass that is just now coming up. As I sat, I realized that it was utterly quiet. There was such an absence of noise it was as if we were in a living snapshot. Then, ever so slowly, sound began to emerge. First there was Cider’s gnawing on a bone, his total concentration on it, next was the twitter of a bird in the orchard behind us. Those were the only two sounds for several minutes and in the near silence I scanned the area with my eyes. I could see the form of EmmaLou far down towards the bottom of the pasture, nosing around for grass, closer by, the sheep laid all around, cudding contentedly while the lambs leapt in the air twisting and kicking their little heels up.  Bruno and Cletus sat rigidly, focused on something to the south that only they could see. As it came closer, I was able to see as well. A pair of Canadian geese approached and settled just yards away in the marshy spot where the spring is. Cletus stared at them, while Bruno quietly walked the other way towards the fence and circled around behind them, very slowly and carefully, trying to determine if they were a threat or not. The geese watched him approach and finally took back to the air, their great wings making a whooshing sound as they lifted those beautifully marked and graceful bodies to the sky. I considered, again, how wonderful it is to hear only these things. No sirens, no phones, faxes, boom boxes or tv...just the breathing of life around me. Cletus came over and dropped his big head on my chest for a hug. I buried my fingers in his deep thick coat and smelled him. He smells like comfort and the outside. I laid back and dropped my arm across my eyes to shield them from the sun. Cider dropped his bone on my stomach and I threw it for him. Time and again, he brought the bone, and I tossed it for him, never looking. The last time I reached down and found he had substituted an old cow pie for the bone. I dropped it and sat up. He looked at me expectantly. Always the jokester, he is.

I went back to the house to skim the milk. There were 5 gallons in the fridge that I needed to take the cream off of. I put some aside to make sour cream, used a gallon of milk to clabber and put 3 gallons in a pot to make mozzarella. There was already a gallon and a half of heavy cream in the refrigerator, so I put a little buttermilk in that and set it out to culture before making butter with it.
All the animals had come up to the corral. I fed the dogs in two bowls inside the sheep pen. The sheep ran over to try and steal from them, and Bruno snarled, warning them off. He is well within his rights to do so, and even though he sounds very scary, and will jump at the sheep, he won’t hurt them or bite them. It’s all a bluff, but very effective. Cletus, on the other hand, is the soft hearted one. The sheep came back to try a second time and Cletus jumped between them and Bruno to prevent the confrontation. I laughed, looking at big old Cletus, the peacemaker. He’s such a sweetheart. All done until tomorrow.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Waiting on Spring

We’ve had storms, followed by sunny days, followed by more storms. The barometer has been bouncing and it has definitely had an effect on me. I’ve been satisfied to spend more time inside the house doing less physical work than I usually am.
Since we just got back from our quarterly shopping trip, I chose today to cut up and vacuum seal 7 heads of lettuce in half gallon jars. This will keep it fresh and ready to serve for 4-6 weeks. I have a 4 pound wheel of Colby cheese almost ready to wax and go into the cheese cave to cure with the Parmesan, Cheddar and Jack cheeses I already made. The replacement jar I ordered online came and Randyman was able to adapt it to fit the old churn motor I had purchased on ebay. It was so nice to churn a gallon and a half of heavy cream at one time instead of just 2 quarts. The clean up is a LOT easier as well, as it doesn’t get slung all over the kitchen if I look away, as it does with the stand mixer. I made 4 1/2 lb of butter yesterday. I had a huge amount of cultured buttermilk from the process, so I soaked some chicken breasts and made chicken strips for dinner last nite that were wonderfully crunchy on the outside and moist and tender inside. Buttermilk is great for that.
Our grain mill arrived this week also. I have been grinding wheat and making Honeywheat bread and Sourdough WW bread, WW waffles and other stuff the past several days. We have found that it not only tastes a whole lot better, but is very filling. We can only eat about half as much as we normally do. It’s nice to know it’s also a lot healthier.

 I took loaf of sourdough we didn’t use and tossed it in the food processor to make some bread crumbs as I used up all we had last nite on the chicken. I tossed the crumbs on a large sheet pan and sprinkled with Italian seasonings. I put it in a slow oven and Randyman came in the house, sniffing and salivating, wanting to know what was cooking. His disappointment was clear as I told him it’s only breadcrumbs. He can have the cookies I made yesterday. Unfortunately, I had to use commercial flour for those as I have no soft white wheat to grind for baking items more delicate than breads. I could probably have still used the whole wheat, but I need to use up the old stuff anyway. It would be nice to know if we would only eat half as many cookies as well, but I am betting that’s not gonna happen.
I’ve been without internet for several days now, as I turned off due to my disenchantment with their service. The new company failed to make 3 different appointments, so I cancelled them as well, as clearly customer service is not high on their priority list. I have ordered one of the cellular plug ins which I hope against hope will work here. It should be here next week. It’s only been a week and I already miss it. I was never under the impression that I wouldn’t, as I use it a lot and have gleaned more information online than I ever did attending school. There is just so much information out there to be had.
I am still waiting on parts for the treadle, so sewing is still future. Maybe I will start something to crochet for the grandkids if I have time. 1000 miles apart, my daughter in law and I both found the same pattern of something to make for Kinley. Now that’s a funny coincidence!
The Maremmas had their second birthday yesterday. Randyman and I randomly broke into the birthday song at odd times during the day and serenaded them. It’s a very big job for these dogs to fill in for our kids as we suffer through empty nest. They will never quite fill the void, but we appreciate the love they offer to us, nonetheless. It’s nice to have someone still want to come and sit on my lap, even if he is a 120 lb. polarbear-looking feller. I look forward to the kids’ next visit, even if the grandkids are active and not anxious to just be held. These dogs are so funny, they are like book-ends. Different personalities, and yet, so much the same!

My list for today still contains making a large batch of laundry detergent and some hand soap to sell to the tourists that visit the ranch this summer. There is already another good sized pile of laundry to do, as well as checking on the tomatoes, peppers, flowers and blackberry shoots I have started in the bathroom window.
It’s nice, that even in the bad weather, there are things here to do. No such thing as boredom in this life.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Shoppin Day

This is the month we do our quarterly shopping. Replenishing should not be as expensive as it usually is, however. We won’t be buying ANY dairy, now that I make all of our butter, sour cream, cream cheese and the like. 
Most of our money will be going to livestock feed. We will be needing salt and grain for EmmaLouMoo’s last 3 months of lactation and the calves plus I need enough Chicken food for the eggers and to enough to raise the 30 meatie chickens who arrive in April. I am hoping to spend a minimum on dogfood as I hope to switch the dogs to a raw diet. I am wary of all the recalls on commercial foods, in which so many ingredients come from China. It is a country which seems to care little about the safety of its own people, they certainly care nothing for my animals. I am not willing that my dogs be the next victims. I’m just not sure how I will buy and store enough meat to feed over 300 lb of dogs for 3 months at a time. The change will have to come slowly, until I figure it all out.
We will be buying onions and potatoes, as well as carrots. I have plenty of celery and mushrooms dehydrated so we won’t need any of those, this trip. Brown rice, soda crackers and of course, corn tortillas, because I am too lazy to make them all the time, Kosher salt, sugar, nuts, lettuce and Randyman’s treats and we are pretty much good to go. Tortillas are one of the things on my bucket list to master and freeze.
My 'new' antique treadle is in town at my cousin’s, so we will get to see her when we pick it up and I am very excited about both as I have not seen her in 30 years. I also scored a great deal on some reusable canning lids and am picking those up. In addition, we pick up a young goat buckling, because Peebody isn’t up to the job. We are buying it from a members on the KeepingAFamilyCow forum, so it will be nice to meet them!
My grain mill should be here soon, as well as the wheatberries I ordered. I am hoping to find some soft white wheat in town to grind for pastry flour. This month will be a learning curve for baking with whole grain flours. I am really looking forward to it and once again, it cuts way down on the grocery bills. According to my research, the wheatberries, properly stored, keep almost indefinitely, whereby flour, does not. Plus all the healthy stuff has been taken out of commercial flour, so we should benefit that much more from grinding our own because it will still contain the bran and the kernal and all.
I had gotten a great deal on a butterchurn on ebay. I was really looking forward to it getting here as I can churn 7 quarts of heavy cream at a time, instead of only 2 quarts. It was a beautiful antique electric churn with an old embossed glass jar. The seller didn’t package it quite well enough and neglected to mark the large heavy box as ‘Fragile’ or 'Breakable' and it arrived with the jar in pieces. I was devastated. I have found a different kind of jar I am hoping Randyman can adapt to work with the motor. I won’t have the beautiful antique I had paid for, but at least I might have a working churn. I am still waiting on ewe #3 to lamb. She is being quite obstinate about it. I spend night after night watching sheep TV, but she has been so uninterested in doing her part I haven’t even bothered to stay up. I just watch her until its time to go to bed. I hope she gets it done before we leave for town, because she is a high risk ewe, and I hate to leave her with my friend "D" to have to take care of. She has already offered to milk EmmaLouMoo and feed all the other critters. No small feat.
The windstorms have EmmaLou upset enough that if there is any wind or snow, she will not use her tent shelter now, so she has taken over the lambing shed. She’s a bit of a princess, as she now has a ‘guest’ quarters. This meant we needed another place to jug up the ewes for lambing. Randyman to the rescue. In driving snow, he climbed up on the rock wall to put sheeting in the open gable of the milkroom to keep snow from falling inside. After spending several hours of remodeling, and moving feed, tack and straw bales we had a spot.

The pups have done an excellent job lately of guarding the sheep. I had previously always let them choose where they wanted to go and they have been effective as we have had no losses, but last January, with the arrival of all the bird hunters, they become so worried about what was going on in front of the house, they weren’t paying enough attention to what was going on out back. I decided I want them to follow the sheep by day, and then they can patrol where they choose to, by night. It took a few days of my hanging out with them in the pasture, but they are so amazingly intelligent, they figured it out. Now, each morning, Randyman lets them in the house to visit with me while I have my cup of coffee, then they follow me out when I go to milk. They go to the pasture with the sheep and I take care of the cow, calves, goats and chickens. Bruno tends to stay up closer to the corral where the chickens are while Cletus follows the sheep around. That has been a surprise, as Cletus has always been the chicken lover. I have a feeling that when the meatie chicks come, they will switch roles again. Cletus is the 'mother-hen' of the pair, while Bruno is more businesslike. For Cletus it’s a passion while for Bruno it's a job. Both are excellent at what they do though, they just have very different personalities. 

Cletus, is a big doofus and weighs about 120 lb. (Randyman thinks he weighs more than that) Bruno, is a bit smaller and much quicker. He is also the instigator. Cider, our red-headed stepchild, loves to terrorize Cletus, just because he can. He runs around him, growling and making all kinds of macho noises. Cletus won’t hurt him intentionally, but tries to engage him in play. He will lift his giant feet up to swat at Cider, but before he has a chance, Bruno sweeps in and jerks Cletus’ back legs out from under him. Cider has no idea that Bruno is actually protecting him. I don’t think Cletus knows it either. We have observed this pattern night after night. It blows my mind how intelligent Bruno really is. 


We made it back home from our shopping trip. We left at 6 a.m. and got home at 1 a.m. the following morning. Glad we only do this 4x a year! Our next scheduled trip will be in June. It was GREAT to see my cousin, whom I haven't seen for 25 years. She's newly married to a really nice guy, who has carried a picture of them in his wallet of a Junior Prom (we will just say a LONG time, as its not nice to give away ages!) all this time. How awesome is that??? Definitely the stuff movies are made of.

We blabbered on happily through lunch, while our guys looked on with raised eyebrows and often blank looks while eating their hamburgers. We loaded the treadle in the horse trailer, agreed that maybe next trip we will come the afternoon before and stay overnight and headed to our next destination. WE had already picked up a ton of livestock feeds, some spring wheat to plant in the chicken corral, fencing for EmmaLou's small pasture and a few odds and ends. We drove another hour to the NW and picked up the goat buckling. He's a cutie. We had a great time meeting my internet friend from the cow boards, meeting all her cows, pigs and goats. We put the little guy in a dog crate in the big stock trailer and spent the next several hours finishing up by buying our 3 months worth of people groceries, doing errands at the Lowe's home store (as we refuse to patronize HomeDepot) and stopped at a fast food joint to get a large cup of boiling water to heat little feller's bottle in. As we were standing the dark parking lot, a big SUV pulled up and a lady asked if her little girl could see the 'sheep' that were in the trailer. She was surprised to find out that not only was it NOT a sheep, but there was only ONE of him. He had been pretty vocal about his discontent. I let the little girl feed him his bottle and we went down the road for dinner. After our last stops we headed out of town and stopped at the last gas station for another cup of hot water as it had been 3 hours since little feller's last bottle. I brought him in the cab of the truck where it was warm, as the trailer gets too cold and windy on the road, and he was already pretty stressed out from being de-horned, pulled from his mama and siblings, and switched from goat to cow's milk, all in his first few days of life. He gratefully cuddled up on my lap and slept the 4 hours to the ranch, only waking once or twice to bleat a little "are we home yet?" at us. The pups met us in front of the house, Cider introduced them to the little feller, who Randyman thought should spend the night in the house, inside in the dog crate and we headed for bed. Not bad for a day's work!