Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Down on the Farm

I'm so glad I planted other vining green beans, since the rabbits stripped our bush beans down to stalks. I bought a package of "Yard Long Beans," just for fun. Here are some picks:

Yes, that green bean is 14" long! Not quite a yard, but still! I pick two or three each time I pick the garden, and I stick them in a ziploc freezer bag (my new preserving friend). I have quite a few. Each bean would break into 4 or 5 regular-length beans.
Did I tell you I made more tomato paste in the crockpot, and froze it in tablespoons? Worked quite well.

More Yard Long Beans. Aren't they cool? Here they are on the trellis:
My loofah plants are blooming away. The ants love them, and I'm wondering if the ants are nibbling off the flowers, etc., where the fruit (the loofah) would grow?
Anyway, thus far I have one nice loofah growing. I'll save the seeds and put the dried loofah into some soap.
What to do with ALL this basil? Honestly, we haven't figured it out yet :(
I may try drying and freezing it for later use. But that's a lot of basil for "later use."
Now I'll tell about the Chair Saga. Adam had a nice upholstered chair in the barn office, which is the doorway below with the white door. That room has a concrete slap and some shelving, but that's about all I can say for its civilization. Ned and Baby sleep in there, and it's pretty trashed. They chew everything and destroy everything, including that chair. We found its innards all over the field.
Adam came home late the other night and said, "I picked up a recliner on the side of the road." I laughed, thinking he was joking, but he wasn't. "I helped him," Julia said. I looked at her. I thought she deplored this rural-Pamlico-County-farming-rustic-slipshod lifestyle of ours. Didn't she know that picking discarded furniture (especially an upholstered recliner!) off the side of the road was a NO-NO for a cool, chic, urban college girl like she aspires to be?
I was not that surprised at Adam, except I couldn't believe he willingly added one stick of furniture to our already abundant collection of creaking hand-me-downs.
He put that recliner in the barn office, and (like any good sailor) wrapped it in an old sail to keep them from shredding it right away.
Last night they tore up the sail. They chewed and pulled on the sail. By the time Adam went out there this morning, they'd pulled the chair nearly out of the room and into the outdoors. Dogs!
Well. Adam will not be bossed by his dogs, oh no! Today he threw them out of the office. He has reclaimed his man cave!!! The dogs now reside in one of the barn bays next door, with a dirt floor (poor things). Adam will watch football this fall in a chair with stuffing.

Our garden continues to produce. I pick every other day.
Anybody know what kind of melon this is? It was a volunteer. We have three on that vine. The leaf looks vaguely similar to a cucumber, but smaller.

The bugs are getting to our cucumbers, so I picked all of them -- even the tiny baby ones. Many were already bad. But I made two quarts of pickles -- my first pickle making! The recipe is from my sister-in-law, Anne. I think it was her grandmother's recipe. I loved it years ago and wrote down the recipe. It's a lovely combination of sweet and dill.
I've made more pints of grilled garlic tomato sauce too. I'm running out of pint jars!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Home for the Chickie Babies

Adam, my farmer hero, sacrificed much time and labor and built a new pen and coop for my four new chickens. They're about 7 weeks old now. The pen/yard is right beside the garage. He put up fencing: 4x2 welded wire, chicken wire on the bottom, and netting overhead and down the sides.
He used existing trees and put in posts. He strung rope overhead to hold the netting.
The netting is to prevent the birds from flying out, which is how we lost several hens before.
It was tedious work, but he never complained.
After the enclosure was mostly finished, he started on the coop. I hinted to him that the babies were feeling quite confined in their dog kennel on the front porch, and were starting to fight a bit.
He built the frame of new materials, digging post holes and putting hardware cloth (a fine wire mesh) as the floor of the coop.
He built a sloped roof. Friends had given us some asphalt shingles and tar paper, which was a very timely gift!
Adam used old farm wood for the exterior walls. It is not meant to look fine and swanky like some chicken coops. It is meant to be sturdy, serviceable, and inexpensive.
He built a fine nesting/laying box to go on the left hand end of the coop. I can lift that lid and get eggs out easily ... provided the hens decide to lay there and not elsewhere!
This is the front side. See the laying box on the left? The exterior is a bit pieced together, but it's solid. He cut out a little hinged door for them.
I lifted the laying box lid and took some inside shots. They really like their sturdy, wide roost.
They seem very happy and content in there.
You see I put a little straw in there for them to land on and peck at. Here are my four:
The screen floor, plus lots of open screening under the roof eave, gives good ventilation.
They have food and water inside. I put that paper plate on top of their waterer because they kept perching on top of it and pooping, and their poop would drop into the water tray! Ugh. As you see, this helps a bit.
Roost, hardware cloth, straw:
This is the view from the house, and you see Adam put a door up too, with a latch.
That's the door from the greenhouse. The wind out there really thrashed it, so we hope it will have a calmer life here out of harm's way.
Okay, here are my babies. This is Inky. Unknown breed. Hoping she's a hen, but with wattles developing, she may be a roo :( She is my sweetest, and will let me pick her up easily.
This silkie cross is called Little Gray. Her head feathers are a real tuft up there, so I'm hoping she's a hen. You just can't tell with silkies until they crow or lay an egg, from what I've heard.
This is my other silkie cross, Sylvie. Not sure about her gender either.
Fourth chick, unknown breed. Smallest, but most aggressive, perky, and inquisitive. Bright pink/red comb and wattles and perhaps hackle feathers tell me he's probably a roo. I don't mind one roo in this bunch, but I don't want two.
Adam put two large hinged doors on the back side of the coop so I can clean it out easily and get the birds out by hand if I need to, plus for changing food/water. Their poop should dry and fall through the hardware cloth, a feature of this coop I'm quite fond of!
The wood you see there is pretty pitiful-looking! It started life as the ceiling in the girls' building. Then it served as the walls of Adam's compost bins for 2 years. (Thus the decay along the bottom edge) Now it's a chicken coop. That's what we mean by reuse and save money!
I kept them confined in the coop for over two days so they would view it as "home." Yesterday I let them out for the first time! They were quite interested in the big world ....
Then they came hurrying down their chicken stairs to enjoy the big world!
They pecked and ate grass and weeds with great enthusiasm! They scuffled in the dirt and took dirt baths, lying together in a pile. The chipped and ran around and fluttered. They are adorable. Oh, I hope I don't end up with four roosters!!!
They also must learn to re-enter the coop in early evening. I picked each one up and put it inside, walking each one up the stairs a bit to help them learn. Today, Sylvie didn't want me to pick her up At All. Finally I walked to the stairs and tapped my fingers on it several times. She came over, and flew up onto the stairs! (Yay!!! Success!!) I opened the door, and she went inside. Oh, I hope they learn to do that themselves!
This is what we've been doing with much of our time the past week -- making a home for baby chickens we may or may not be able to keep, depending on their genders. Ah well. But we are satisfied with the new coop and pen, and hope this will make for a safer flock.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Good-bye, Mr. Fig

 Julia came in the house last night and said to us, "You know the fig tree fell over, right?"
No, we didn't.
 The tree was huge, and the vast majority of the fruit was inaccessible to us, it was so high. Adam was planning to cut off these long branches after it bore this summer anyway.
 The root ball lifted a bit from the soil. We had lots of heavy rain this past weekend, and the heavily-loaded branches were hanging low.
 Look at all that green fruit! What a shame!
Only 3 or 4 were ripe and plump. Most were small and green.
Part of the tree is intact, so it will grow again and be a more manageable size.
But y'know what? I have five pints of fig preserves left from last year. My mother loves it, and I take it to her, and I've given some away, but I don't prefer fig preserves, myself.
I now prefer pear butter, of course! I canned five and a half more pints!
 And regarding tomato paste, I made another batch. This time I didn't freeze it all in a bag together. I dolloped it by tablespoons on a cookie sheet and froze them.
 Then I pried them off with a spatula, put them in a freezer bag, and back into the freezer they went, easier to use.
Friends gave us some beautiful corn, which we took off the cob and froze as well.
The deep freezer and the canning shelves are getting fuller and fuller!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Battle Tactics Against Tomato Invasion

We're being assaulted by our tomato beds. Adam has trimmed (hacked back) the plants, and we've cleaned out the beds. They looked like this (well, worse):
 Now they look like this:
(The biggest problem with our beds this year is we put one rope for each plant, when we needed about 4 per plant. Many vines were on the ground.)
They should recover and keep bearing. Quite a few plants were pulled out for disease.

We're getting some nice whoppers; this one's a Brandywine. And I took a pretty platter to church for my personal Adopt-Some-Tomatoes program! Still, we have platters of them on our table at all times.
We had twice that many yesterday. How many tomatoes can one person eat?
This morning I rolled up my farmwife sleeves and took matters in hand. I found an online recipe for tomato paste that appealed to my personal brand of laziness. I loathe blanching/peeling/seeding tomatoes. I simply won't do it, bleh! And when hundreds of them are little tomatoes? No way! Here's the recipe that inspired me:
Easy Crockpot Tomato Paste
The tomatoes are oven roasted with garlic and olive oil. They are put through a food mill to remove skins and seeds. They are cooked in a crockpot. This all makes for less work for little ol' me!
 Cleaned yellow tomatoes cooked on 400 degrees for an hour.
 Take them out and put in a tray of red tomatoes, although I'll just process them all together.
I ran the roasted tomatoes and garlic through my cone food mill.

This method is fast, and it removes all the skin and seeds, allowing the juice and pulp of the tomatoes (or any fruit) to pass through. Turn the wooden cone and press firmly until all that's left is dry skin/seeds. It gave a lovely, creamy sauce in the bowl below:
 I did the same with the red tomatoes. I put all the sauce into my crockpot before lunch yesterday and cooked it on high All Day Long, uncovered, stirring it about every hour. At bedtime I turned it to low. I woke at 4:00 and turned it to warm and put the cover on. At 7:00 this morning:
 A thick, rich, pure tomato paste. All those tomatoes reduced into this single quart-sized ziploc bag!
My idea is to keep the paste frozen in the bag until I need some. I'll open the bag, scrape out some with a spoon, and return it to the freezer. I could have canned it also, but even a half-pint jar, when opened, is a lot of paste, and I didn't want it to go bad in the frig after I'd used only a tablespoon of it. We'll see how this works. Regardless ... I'm so happy to have turned SO many tomatoes into one quart baggie! The score this morning? MK: 1, Tomatoes: 0