Friday, December 1, 2017

Fire on the Farm!!!

I was gone Thursday afternoon, singing at a nursing home with a friend, and when I came home I noticed smoke coming from the far back corner of the property. "Adam," I said, "There's a fire next door!" Adam had called our one-and-only neighbor, who was on his way lickety-split from work.

Still, a fire is an exciting thing, and even though Adam had checked it moments ago, I decided to traipse across the field to see the fire in the neighbor's yard ... only it was no longer in the neighbor's yard. The wind had blown it into our field!

Adam called the fire department because it was spreading quite quickly. I dashed back to the barn for some shovels, and Adam and I got the fire's edges under control by smothering it with shovels. The photos below are after the shoveling had conquered the fire. I don't take photos when a fire is spreading on the farm :)
 It took only a few minutes for the fire to jump through the fence and across this area. We were so, so thankful that this field had recently been mown quite short. Otherwise, the fire would have been quite out-of-hand.
 The farm dogs were quite interested in the fire and insisted on walking across the smokey area. I was worried about their paw pads, but they were unfazed by it.
 Adam doused the fence posts, which kept smoldering.
 Adam may be on this side of 50, but he can still climb over a fence if needed!
 In the end, it was not a big deal, and I'm thankful we were home. And the nice guys on the fire engine said it counted as a little bit of training.


 

Still a few tomatoes from one bush.

My two silkie chickens are getting so plump! My chicken-lady-friend said she thinks the larger of the two is a roo. (It's very difficult to tell sex with silkie chickens.) But from above, you can certainly see the difference in size.
 

And one of them has started laying! Hooray! Now I'm getting two eggs a day ... phew!

I put my onions to bed.
 I stripped lots of dry basil blooms from their stalks and sprinkled them in an empty bed, covering it with straw. 
Will they come up in the spring? Earlier? I have lots of them left, see? And I'm keeping some inside too. Since basil grows so well here, and lettuces have been a challenge, we're thinking of having more basil salads next summer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pulling Out the Space Heaters, and Making FROG Jam

The leaves are falling fast and the sun lies to the south. It's nearly December.
My basil plants are dry as a bone. It's time to harvest some seeds from them.
Basil seeds are tiny and black. After cutting the dry stalks, I rub the flowers roughly between my hands to loosen the seeds. They drop through a sieve into a bowl.
I enjoy saving seeds. Seeds generally should be kept in the freezer or frig, not in a warm place.

Recently I heard a strange noise outside, next to the house. It sounded like someone was out there breaking sticks. Pop!! Pop, pop!!
We couldn't discern its source then, but yesterday I heard it again and traced it ... here:
Our central heat/AC unit was running,  but the fan wasn't turning. It was making that noise. Honestly, Adam and I have talked before about the certain death of our heat/AC unit, which was installed in 1996. Last night we tried our plan: heating with small oil heaters like this:
We have three small DeLonghi oil heaters that plug in the wall, plus one small DeLonghi electric heater. Our house is small (1100 square feet), and we can close off two rooms. Last night this arrangement worked fine, but it only went down to 40 degrees. The space heaters were set low, and we only used two of them.

Where we live, winters are mild but summers are severe. We will buy two window AC units before summer arrives and see how things go from there. We hope to save a good bit of money not using the old, non-economical central unit.

I made Henny Penny's F.R.O.G. jam!!
This is actually Henny's sister's recipe, I believe. No frogs were injured in the making of this jam, haha!
I'm so glad I had a bag of our figs in the freezer from last summer. Here's the recipe as I followed it:
F.R.O.G. Jam
6 cups chopped figs (I had a bit less.)
3 cups frozen raspberries
(I added some frozen strawberries to make up for
a lack of raspberries.)
5 cups sugar
zest from one orange
juice from one orange
3 tsp. finely grated ginger root
(I should have used more.)

Combine all ingredients in a heavy non-aluminum pot and bring to a boil over medium/med. high heat. Stir often and cook like this for 45 minutes, until jam thickens and turns darker.
Process in sterilized jars in whatever method
you're accustomed to.
Makes 4 pints.

It's a yummy jam. I think next time I'll use all strawberries, which I prefer to raspberries, plus they're easier to find frozen in their own bag. And more ginger. I'm so very excited to have a use for my figs, rather than just fig preservers, which neither of us like.

Look what Adam made for me!
That's a hackle. Didn't he do a nice job, especially on that wooden base? It works well. My problem is not my spinning tools; my problem is a lack of experience and skill. So now I need to get after it and learn HOW to spin. I tried a little:
I can tell it's over spun, and all different thicknesses. But it's a beginning!

Adam bought a bag of mixed beans at the store to make this for lunch:
Warm and bubbly. Winter comfort food.

Life on the farm is quiet, beautiful, peaceful. The chickens and dogs are happy. The sunlight slants across the pasture and through the trees, and I can hardly get enough of standing there, watching.

We should probably be doing more with our garden in the winter, as some of you are doing. Maybe another year. I've put my onion bed under some straw. Soon all these bedraggled plants will disappear back into the soil for the winter, and go to sleep. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Work of Our Hands

First I must report the sad news that Adam's roof repairs did not eliminate of our ceiling leak. This is very discouraging. He did such a thorough job on the eaves that he's now wondering if somehow (inexplicably) the leak is coming from elsewhere in the attic.

I finished the red bird. It's a cardinal, obviously, but this is Red Robin Farm. He looks pretty cute up on his post!
Adam was gifted, amazingly, with a gorgeous, nearly-new lawn tractor (riding mower). We are so grateful and excited, and overwhelmed to have this new machine! He's now building a little trailer to pull behind it. He ordered wheels first.


Philip and Kara are here for Thanksgiving and the weather's been grand.
Adam planned to use pallets for the side walls, but all our old pallets are termite-eaten. For now, it only has a bottom.
I mentioned on my other blog that I scored some lovely alpaca fleece in a swap. I'm now looking for inexpensive ways to process it. I tried some fine-tooth nit combs for combing it.

 


I had fun combing away with them, but in the end their tines are too close together. I need a larger comb. So I went to WalMart and found the comb (above) for 98 cents.
I also need a hackle. It looks like this google image:
 Image result for hackle
Hackles, like all devices connected with spinning, are expensive. However, it's possible to make your own. I bought a handful of 3.5" finish nails at the hardware store.
 We'll drill holes into a long board and embed the nails in them, and seal them with epoxy. This should work fine.
I also need a diz -- a small hand-held device for pulling the fiber through, forming it into a long piece of roving. I enjoyed strolling through the hardware store, searching for something that might suffice. I found this pipe clamp. The holes are 3/16", which is just about right.
I'll get Adam to pound it flat for me.
In the end, I'll get there -- the spinning process. Oh, I forgot to show you what else Adam made me today -- a spindle!
 I wanted a bottom whorl drop spindle. The disc is the "whorl." He did a fine job shaping and sanding that whorl from a block of wood.

Spindles are fun for spinning a small amount of fiber, but in the end it's good to have a spinning wheel. A friend in Massachusetts has offered me her antique spinning wheel ... if we can find a way to get it from there to here. Someday I'll have all the things I need to turn alpaca fleece into yarn. (Sigh) It looks like so much fun on youtube!
That's it from the farm -- roof leaks, hand-built trailer, and spinning wishes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Good-night, Farm

It always feels to me as if the farm goes to sleep in winter. We tidy the garden beds, bring the potted plants inside, and say good-night until spring. The pecan leaves cover the grass. The geese this morning flew right over my head, honking south. I brought three volunteer tomato plants in from the garden in pots, plus a pepper plant, several mints, a basil that I hope will survive, and a lemon and a lime tree that we just bought at the nearby garden center. All are snug on the front porch, now wrapped in heavy plastic.

Adam wants to make concrete leaves year-round. Since the elephant ear leaves and hosta leaves are nearly dead for winter, he's making plaster "positives" -- a plaster cast from which he will make a clay mold. Then he will use the mold to make many leaves this winter. Here are some of the plaster positives he made yesterday:
 

Aren't they delicate? The veiling is very fine. I'm eager to see how the actual concrete leaves turn out from these impressions. Here is a much larger elephant ear plaster he made:
 A lovely, large mushroom popped up just outside the chicken coop:
I finished writing my little children's book, "Punkin and the Littlest Mouse" into one of Adam's handmade books. I left room for lots of little illustrations. Now I'm beginning to sketch them in. Here are a few examples:



It's a simple book, and I'm no illustrator, but I do think books for small children should have lots of pictures. I'm not up to complicated images, but I will add as much as I can. Punkin is my crazy Ameracauna hen. She's not nearly so sweet in real life as she is in this story, haha!

Adam continues to attempt repairs on our roof (really the eave) and after that, the ceiling. It's rough going. He succeeded in stopping the leaking along the very edge of the ceiling, but not entirely in stopping the leak in the middle. So up he went again on the tall ladder to rip off the repair he'd done, and pull down the gutter (gulp - yes), and go at it again. He's out there now. 
I went out to check on him. He showed me the roof's edge -- the metal is rusted and crumbling off. It's quite discouraging. A new roof is not something we can afford, so he will try to use metal pieces slipped underneath to reinforce the edge. It's something that must be attempted and done if at all possible. In my mind, this damage to the living room ceiling is the only thing that might still make the house not viable, and not able to be sold, if we ever wanted to sell it. Plus -- of course -- I don't really want even the smallest of drips from my living room ceiling. He is wonderful to keep after all the many projects that call on him, on this farm, small as it is. It's cold and windy out there today, but he's willing. We're both getting to an age when outdoor work in the cold and damp is hard on our bodies.

Well! On a happier note, Thanksgiving is coming, with a beautiful community service and three of our kids coming home! Philip, Kara, and Julia will be here next week. I'm so excited! They get to meet Trixie!
Trixie says, "Happy Thanksgiving!" She is learning how to be a good dog just as fast as she can.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Oh, Pecans!

What a pecan harvest we're having!Two years ago, Adam fertilized our main pecan trees. Last year, he rigorously cleaned underneath them. This year, we're reaping the benefits of that work, I think. Here's a quick video showing the 18 pecan trees we have.


I gather them with a little device we bought, and we store them on the front porch to cure. This is the haul thus far.
At first I picked up any pecan with a hull that was dry and open. I thought it didn't matter much, the state of the hull. After cracking and picking pecans for several evenings, Adam told me it does matter. The best, most fully-formed pecans have NO hull attached at all. So I began selecting only nuts that had fallen and had no hull attached at all.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that for every nut I pick up, I leave at least 20 on the ground, because they have hulls still on them, in some form.
We have thousands of pecans on the ground. It would be overwhelming, but thankfully I have no inclination to get them all.
Looking from the pasture toward the road, these five pecan trees are the large ones, very old, and very prolific this year. They are (we think) Stuarts, and their nuts look like this:
A good nut is fat, heavy, and light in color, as above. I don't want to add to Adam's work by picking up bad pecans.
In addition to those five trees, I'm also picking up around this tree by the barn.


Its nuts look like this (above), more pointed on one end. I'm not sure, but it might be an Amling variety.


The two trees in the middle of the pasture are also producing in alarming amounts, but their nuts are smaller (compared to the Amling above). I'm not picking them up at all, until I'm done with the other six trees' nuts. But when we walk along the path there, we crunch pecans underfoot.

Here's the view from the back of the property. It's a massive canopy of pecan limbs. To Ned's disappointment, an enemy squirrel can travel overhead from the road nearly to the barn, without being in danger of Ned's teeth.

The other enemy of pecans is the pecan weevil. This insect has larvae that bore their way out of a pecan, after eating the meat inside, and then drop into the soil to start the weevil cycle all over again.
When I see nuts like this, I crunch them under my heel. They are hollow and useless.

Although I grew up in Mississippi gathering pecans in our yard, watching my mother process them each winter, and enjoying my share of pecan pies, I'm fairly ignorant of how the tree produces and what to expect from our trees, year to year. Cleaning up the "pecan trash" under the trees reduces the effect of the weevil.We have so much "pecan trash" -- bad nuts, plus all the hulls -- we are dumping it all on our garden beds out front. They are far enough away from the trees that any weevils in there won't reach the trees.

In addition to the pecans, on the front porch I'm drying loofahs, drying herbs for tea, and beginning to move in potted plants for the winter. Adam has enclosed the porch in plastic again.
lemon balm, tarragon, and mint

volunteer toatoes

 Today it's 70 degrees. Adam is raking the mown grass in the far field, adding it to his compost mountain.
 And because he's the best doggie-daddy, he put up a puppy play area for Trixie. The other dogs taunted her with their freedom to roam.
 Poor Trixie. There are Ned, Beau, and Baby.
My onion sets in the garden have come up nicely. That's almost all I have left in the garden.
 I'll harvest them next year.
Now I'm going out to dig up a late basil plant and put it in a big pot for the greenhouse/porch. Maybe we'll have basil this winter, in addition to those tomato plants. Do you know the prettiest, newest, herb in my garden? Cilantro. Go figure! It's as fresh and pretty as if it were April.