Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Random mid-week photos

It's been a busy week full of canning, picking up chicks from the post office and going to the fair.  I just wanted to share a couple of sweet, random photos about none of those subjects.

A peaceable kingdom. Mostly.

The garden tepee looks fantastic. 

The great solar eclipse of 2017.

Learning to package "eggs" of homemade play dough.

Swallowtail butterflies make me think of my mother. They've been spending a lot of time visiting the sedum this week.

I plan on posting some photos from the canning binge and the fair later in the week.

Good night for now.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The saga of the apples


 There are three generations of apple trees on this property.  The oldest of which were tall, gnarled half-dead and hollow in the center, yet still producing apples when we moved here.  We live on a high ridge and it was amazing they had made it to that point. They were tired giants and two of the tree have fallen in wind storms since we took hold of the property.  The last of those ancient trees is a Yellow Delicious; totally hollow in the center, surrounded by blackberry brambles, groundhogs living in the roots but still it stands, for now, and still producing heavily every year.  It's an eyesore but we refuse to get rid of it.  That tree, we are sure, was planted long before our house came to be.

When we moved here I tried in vain to plant an orchard.  Repeatedly.  The hill we live on is an old mining ridge and the soil is very poor, full of clay, and veins of coal run through it (there is a black patch in the yard where nothing will grow).  Let me see if I can remember what I have planted (and killed) in the last 5 years: a cherry tree, 2 kinds of pears, plums, several peaches, a Granny Smith apple, a Honeycrisp apple, and a McIntosh.  The McIntosh is the only one still standing - and fruiting.  All of the others died from the poor soil or the severe drought the years they were planted.

But.  There is an old orchard line that runs between the property our house sits on an the adjoining one we purchased.  Someone planted apples here.  They are fully mature so we think it they were planted around the time our home was built (1930's).  Some of the varieties are easy to identify (McIntosh) but others are a total mystery.    

Like this one.  Still have no idea what it is.

That planting of trees is bearing heavily this year.  My little guy almost always has a half-eaten apple in his hand when we are outside because he knows these trees too, and makes a bee-line to the back of the property when we go outside.  He wants his apple.  So do I. 

The trees are sagging under the weight of the fruit.  I find this curious because my father's orchard across town is barely producing.  But here they are.  Time to make cider, apple cider vinegar, applesauce and pies.  

Our family has a cider press that my grandfather built.  Not from plans, he just looked at a picture in a catalog and put the thing together.  Talk about an heirloom..  It started out as a hand-crank model but a motor was quickly added.   Our family has been pressing cider on it for over 20 years now.  We had a big cider day when we first moved here, setting up a tent and inviting friends and family to bring apples and pears to press.  I think we did 80 or 90 gallons over a three day weekend.

I think of the orchard on my grandparent's farm - trees that were mature, old even, when they bought the property in the 1950's - and wonder how many old unnamed varieties we are losing every year.

We live in an area of the county that John Chapman, aka "Johnny Appleseed" came very close to during his time. If you are interested in apples at all, you will probably love this: "The Real Johnny Appleseed Brought Apples—and Booze—to the American Frontier"

Friday, August 18, 2017

A rainy evening, a tornado warning.

Much needed rain came in the form of a big storm yesterday evening, canceling our plans to go to the park. We watched from the porch instead.

Bee's plans for death and destruction of small mammals were benched.

When the rain got too bad we came inside.

Colored on boxes and spoon fed cottage cheese to Bee while making airplane noises.

We don't have TV and hardly turn on the radio. Around 7:45 emergency texts came over the cells phones that there was a tornado warning and to seek cover NOW.  So we put our shoes on and headed to the basement to nervously wait it out.  The chicks I bought are in the basement which turned out to be a blessing (little man went NUTS) and a curse (toddler + heat lamp = me freaking out).

Eventually the skies cleared and the warning was over but it got me thinking what we could do better next time. Maybe grab his knapsack of snacks/drinks/book/diaper that I carry around and take it with us. Just in case.

I remember being at the house of my mother's Aunts when I was little, maybe 4 or 5. They were both very devout Catholics and when a tornado warning was issued we sat in the fruit cellar praying the rosary.  

Turns out the chickens were just as comforting.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What did I buy?

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that the TSC store here was selling late summer chicks this year.  The little man and I were in there yesterday picking up something for the cats and, well, they had the remaining chicks marked down to 99 cents.  99 CENTS.   I don't have the willpower to say "No" to that.  We bought 10.  When we came home I called the hatchery and deleted the egg layers from my upcoming order and added some more meat chickens (and the grand total was still considerably less).

The guy at the store thought this was a Red Ranger.  I've raised Red Rangers and am more inclined to say maybe Easter Egger.  These also have a big dark brown patch on their backs.

The next two pictures represent the other two color patterns.  He thought they were all"Rainbows".  I have no idea what those are.

They seem to be the same with the ones with the heavy barring maybe being little roosters (more pronounced combs too).


Any idea what we bought?  I love surprises.  They'll either make eggs or taste like chicken, a win either way.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Camping vacation

I've been quiet this week because we took a several day holiday to Cook Forest state park, about an hour and a half drive from our house.  We took the Metzendorf, camped with some dear friends and it was awesome.  Got some great family photos too.


Thank you, Aldi, for my $4 door mat.

I didn't think an awning was going to happen for awhile but found a good deal on Ebay through this link at Vintage Trailer Talk.  For $60, shipping included, I only had to hem the edges and sew one seam. The poles I got through a site to store deal at Wal-Mart for about $5 each.  It was PERFECT.  Especially when it rained the last night of the trip.  There were other vintage campers there too, 5 Scottys.  Here's a picture of what a Scotty looks like.  They were part of a group that go camping together and one of the guys came over around coffee time to talk about the Metzendorf and ask if he could look inside it.  Of course!  It was a good lesson of why you should pick up and organize the inside of a rare model vintage camper immediately upon waking.

We did some hiking, me with a 2 year old strapped to my chest on the steep downhill hike and strapped to my back on the way back up.   This place is so beautiful.  There's a small buck in velvet in the center of the photo.

The view from our campsite.

Lots of naps.

And lots of laying in the hammock.

Went wading in the Clarion River.

The water is crystal clear the whole way across.

Ate some great camp food.  Hello, best beef stew ever, cooked in a cast iron dutch oven.  The night it rained we all ate in the Metzendorf at the table.  Not bad for a 12 ft. camper.

We came back to a house totally devoid of groceries, but that's the good thing about poultry and a garden: our home said "Don't worry about the store, we've got it covered! Go cook a pot of rice and do a stir fry."

Snow peas, zucchini, patty pan squash, TOMATO!, eggs and a small handful of alpine strawberries.
Two of the new quail started laying the day before we got home.

I think the geese actually missed me. I know that sounds nuts but they went crazy when they saw me and then honked wildly when I talked to them.  Like, I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  Pretty funny.

What a great time.  Can't wait to go again.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Playing Stork

My little bantam hen from the auction went broody. Again. This poor bird wants to be a mama so badly. She did hatch babies last summer that were eaten by turkeys but after that she had two more failed nests. I didn't have the heart to let her set out a third one with no little ones to show for it.


But wait, what's this?

For the first time, Tractor Supply is selling chicks in late summer. It couldn't have come at a better time. I scooped up 6 of these little ones at $1.99 each.

They're some sort of hybrid called Asian Blues. 

I went out last night when she was sound asleep and quietly slipped the peeps under her. I also took away as many of her eggs as I could reach. Candled, they were all unfertilized except for one that looks to be close to hatching. That one got put back under her.

The nest is in a flowerpot under some straw. I added a scrap of fencing and covered the whole thing with more straw to try to camouflage it.

This morning: look! Can you see one of the peeps is sitting on top of her back? She's still sitting on that egg but is being a great mama. The chicks took to her immediately in spite of the fact that they were several days old and had never seen a grown chicken before.

I don't want to say "success" too soon but it looks promising.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

This week was awesome

I gotta admit, this is one of my favorite posts. It was an epic last couple of days here. I'm pretty sure if there is some kind of "Redneck Homemaker Of The Year" award I'm now in the running. Keep on reading for the zinger at the end.

What happened?

The little man and I went to the post office Wednesday to mail in my application for an anterless tag.  After spending $20 for a hunting licence in the middle of summer, I had to write out a check for another $7 and send it into the State for the privilege of an additional tag to harvest a doe. Which the state has millions of and, who are we kidding, I have never managed to shoot a deer anyway. Here's hoping this is my year, finally. Although I have no idea where we are even going to be hunting since my grandparents' farm was sold.

When we got home I taught my two year old how to hand wash laundry using a salad spinner. I nearly got rid of the thing when we had the yard sale but it really does a great job of spinning the water out of clothing and is more fun than a trip to the dry cleaners. Who needs electricity.

Updated my Craigslist ad for this rooster, Mr. Boots, who is too beautiful to put in the freezer.  I mean, I will totally eat him if no one wants him but so far no takers. His feet are like two feathered dust mops.  If anyone reading this wants him - he's free for the taking.  Let me know.

The second batch of quail hit maturity and were starting to crow.  I separated the extra males off earlier this week into the rabbit hutch and have butchered 13 over the last couple of days.  I don't remember how many that leaves me but there are 4 of the biggest males left out in the quail tractor with somewhere around 16 females.

Dug up my garlic and a small patch of red onions.  Immediately sowed fall lettuces in that space.   I never cut off some of the garlic scapes and they made these tiny bulbs. What happens if I plant them? Also found some fingerling potatoes in the garlic patch that must have overwintered.  That was a really nice surprise.

Remember all of the $1 laundry baskets bought in May?  I'm using them to dry the garlic and onions! 

Look! A monarch caterpillar!  The butterflies these turn into will migrate thousands of miles south to winter in a very specific part of Mexico.  Then they'll come back to lay eggs in the spring.  It's just amazing to think about.  Let's hope Trump lets them back across the border when the time comes.

That's an interesting picture.

My father brought over two huge catfish for me on Thursday morning.  They're very good with panko crumbs, chilli and lime.  Very grateful for fish that does not come in the form of a frozen plank from the store.  I went fishing on Tuesday and caught several small mouth bass.  I don't think they're in season so I didn't keep them, but it was exciting because I've never caught one before.  

So, remember when I said that some groundhogs needed to be put on a plate?  We have so many of them digging holes all over the place.  I have a toddler running around.  Not a good situation.  Well, an opportunity came up to participate in a project I couldn't pass by.  It's related to a certain internet crush I have and when he asked for helpers I pretty much sent an e-mail begging to be included

Also, for years now I've been running my mouth about how elitist Americans are about protein sources, that groundhogs are probably very tasty "free range, organic" meat since all they do is eat grass and apples and nap in the sun, etc. etc. so there may be a point to prove here too.

One of my prizes.

Not trying to be gross with this next picture but I can't help but show it because it's fascinating -  this animal is a vegetarian and hibernates all winter - would you LOOK at that fat.  There was a half inch layer there.  This is a great example of how impressive nature is.  All of this fat and energy reserve from grass.

Ok, I didn't have much to go on when taking the legs off of these except my 1930's copy of The Joy of Cooking.  It states that there are several scent glands or "kernels" on the groundhog that need to be removed when you butcher it.  I could not find one single picture on Google of what these were supposed to look like.  Also it said "in the armpits'  which I took to mean the front legs.


This is what they look like and I found these in buried in the fat pads behind the knees on the back legs.  Size and shape of a kidney bean.

Have you ever, as an adult, had a moment where you took a hard look at your life choices and said to yourself: "Come on, WTF?"  This was it for me.

That's a paw.  There was a bowl of legs in my refrigerator.  With the damn paws attached.  My poor, suffering husband. Coincidentally my best friend and I had a talk this week about how as educated, liberal women we can display a certain amount of class when needed and then, well, yeah... shit like this happens.  And it's fun.

Cleaned up, they look pretty much like rabbit legs.  Does anyone out there own a meat cleaver that they like?  We're past the point here where I can pretend I don't need one.

That's it.  Butchered 13 quail, 2 catfish and 2 groundhogs in 48 hours.  Garden chugging along  Fall lettuces planted.  Can't wait to see what next week brings.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Garden tour part 1

I'm going to have to make the garden tour a two part thing because there is just so dang much going on.  And, ironically, not a ton being harvested.  Well, here goes:

Remember that my garden is divided into three parts?  Here's an OK picture of how it's laid out.  That picture was taken in the spring when everything was newly planted and the world was fresh and mulched and weed-free.

The third on the far right is the "spring" side, the center is a poultry run and the left side gets planted later.  Today we're going to visit the spring side.

How it looks today. Let's take a tour.

Stepping over the fence and into the garden you arrive at the potatoes.  Red Nolan and Yukon Gold.  They died back a few weeks ago and are ready to be harvested but I like to leave them in the ground for as long as possible.  I've been taking some here and there to fry with eggs for breakfast but that's about it.

On the other side of the bottle fence is a big volunteer winter squash.  This is where the lettuces were planted earlier.  Some kale peeking out and to the right is the asparagus bed. To the left of the asparagus is rhubarb.  The squash is starting to fruit and they look like this:

That sure looks like either a carving pumpkin or a sugar pie pumpkin.  I vaguely remember that we had some carving pumpkins last fall and I may have thrown the leftovers at the ducks  to the ducks at some point. So?

Past the mystery squash patch.  The green in the mid-ground is red onions that are ready to be harvested and dried.  The patch of straw past that is more potatoes.

Here they are.  Directly behind them are Brussel Sprouts.  Behind the Sprouts are two zucchini plants along with these:

Spaghetti squash.

I actually don't remember what this is.  Australian Butter?

Coming back up the left hand side are more Brussel Sprouts, more winter squash (no clue, a lot of volunteers), some cannas, some zinnias.

The Swiss chard hardly made any growth this season.  I did have fava beans, spinach and cooking greens over here too, earlier in the season.  Basil, cilantro and a mix of bush beans.  The brown stalks are garlic ready to be harvested. 

Bonus: poultry pasture in the middle of the garden.  This was re-seeded after the geese and ducks were moved but has not really made much progress. Some buckwheat is coming up, cannas and winter squash. Towards the back left I planted the top of a pineapple to see ehat would happen.  I think it's dead. I'm thinking of tilling this whole area, planting winter wheat and moving the geese back closer to the house for winter. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we see the left hand side of the garden and the back poultry run. Oh, the suspense!