Friday, July 31, 2009

GAAAHHH!!!!!

I'm sitting here tonight having a bit of a panic attack. See, I just flipped the calendar page over to August, and there it was.

THE GARDEN {cue doomsday music}

My fall garden season begins tomorrow and I was completely unprepared yet again. My moderately busy weekend has just turned into a marathon. I won't be planting everything, of course, but my beds still aren't cleared out from the spring plantings, and they're surrounded by weeds taller than me. I also have a bunch of livestock maintenance to do this weekend, AND it's supposed to rain tomorrow, AND it's supposed to be in the upper 90's all weekend. Wow, this will be awesome.

We're still keeping our overall number of plantings small, which makes them easier to manage. This fall we'll be growing tomatoes, broccoli, assorted types of beets, swiss chard, collards and kale. We may try for potatoes again, but that's still a bit up in the air. We had also planned to grow sweet peppers, but the seed I planted was no good, and none germinated (the same type failed to germinate last time I tried, so I'll be tossing that packet out). This weekend, I need to clear the weeds from around the beds, clear the beds out and prep them for planting, start my broccoli seed, transplant my tomatoes and plant my first sowing of swiss chard. From here on out, I'll be planting something virtually every week into October. The exciting part is, we tend to have even better gardening weather in the fall than we do in the spring, and I'm very anxious to serve homegrown vegetables from our garden with our Thanksgiving dinner!

I'll check back in on Monday, and will no doubt be one bedraggled camper.

***UPDATE***

Well, I got my livestock chores mostly done this morning, and fetched all the feed and garden supplies I needed from town, and was feeling all proud for getting a whole lot done by noon. Just as I was assembling my supplies to transplant my tomatoes, it started raining. It is now POURING. It's been pouring for about an hour and a half. No more gardening for me today. Tomorrow should be extra fun, too - everything will be all sloggy and wet. Harrumph!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

marathon morning

Locating and scooping up loose baby chickens by flashlight in a tornadic thunderstorm at 5:30 a.m. is not the way I'd recommend anyone start their day. The brave little souls were scattered about the yard, hunkered down in the tall grass just toughing it out. Each time I picked one up and pressed it into my body (to keep it still) it gushed water from its feathers, like wringing out a sopping wet towel.

Later, after the sun was up, I had to relocated them all yet again (they were in temporary custody of the older birds until sunrise). It had settled down a bit, but it was of course still raining, and I was of course in boots, a short summer bathrobe and a rain jacket. What else?

Don't be like me. Dress appropriately.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

life lesson #243

Yesterday, my husband received the following message from me at the office:

"There's a snake in the chicken coop again. Should I use a BB or a lead pellet inside the coop at close range?"

He says, "Lead pellet, in the head. Wear glasses."

The rest of the event went something like this* (all comments are mine, to him):

"Okay, be right back."

(Find pellets, load up air rifle, march out to chicken coop, ready to dispense justice. Pellet becomes jammed, no shot fired. March back to house.)

"Crap. I just jammed my air rifle. Going with the machete instead."

(Locate machete purchased some weeks ago. Still in the bag, still in its packaging. CLAMSHELL packaging. Proceed to fight with packaging for what seems like an eternity.)

"ARGH! I've just spent like half an hour trying to get the stupid machete out of the {expletive deleted} blister pack! And now I see that it's riveted to the package!! AAAHHH! I need it NOW!"

(Ditch machete.)

"{expletive deleted} I'll just use the shovel."

(March back outside, shovel in hand, to find NO snake in the chicken coop. Search high and low, turn over the bedding, no sign of snake. Roll eyes all the way back to the house.)

"Never mind. It's gone now."

The moral: Have your sh*t ready to go before you need it.

Amusing aside: The play by play of this incident was being relayed by my husband to his coworkers, who were apparently in awe.

* I would have LOVED to have pasted in the exact text of this conversation, but we were using Skype chat, and Skype apparently doesn't save chat history. Bummer.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

the meat chicken project

Last year we brought a flock of laying hens to the farm, and our project for this year was to raise some chickens for meat. We have butchered and eaten home-raised birds before, but it was always retired laying hens, and while old, stewed hen is absolutely delicious, it does get old after awhile. We knew we had no interest in raising Cornish Rock crosses (the commercial meat bird). I know all about how great their feed conversion rate is, but I'm less interested in an abnormally large, meaty bird and more into raising smaller but tastier ones that still possess chicken instincts. I want a bird that scratches and pecks, knows how to forage, runs from predators and above all, tastes like something. For us, that meant an old fashioned, dual purpose breed. This is what people used to do, after all. Once upon a time, a family would keep a small flock of chickens (often of mixed origins). Some would be kept for egg production, the rest would be butchered for the table, generally one at a time and as needed.

Our first strategy was to order a straight run assortment of heavy breeds ("straight run", for you non-chicken folks, simply means boys and girls mixed). We bought 25, with the idea that we'd keep the pullets for our laying flock and butcher the cockerels. We also had nine Barred Rocks of the same age that were hatched here by one of our hens - we added them to the group as well, for a total of 34. We kept them in an indoor brooder for about four weeks, and then moved them to a small tractor outside. Once outside, we lost quite a few to a rat snake that was picking them off night after night, and then a few more to a marauding raccoon. We discovered that the males apparently have a stronger survival instinct. In the end, out of 34 chicks, only seven pullets survived. We now have 23 remaining - seven pullets and sixteen cockerels. They are now about fourteen weeks old and we will begin to butcher them this weekend (the pullets are being transitioned to the "big house"). Some we will process now, and some will be grown out larger as roasters. I know they'll be small, but I'm more interested in how they taste. I'm very anxious to see what we end up with. We have weighed a random sampling of these guys, and they seem to weigh anywhere from three to five pounds, so we can probably expect a carcass weight of something like two to three pounds - fine for a fryer.

Our second batch of meat birds was another assortment of heavy breeds, but this time we spared ourselves the expense and heartache and ordered all males. They have done beautifully so far. They are six weeks old now, and looking great. We followed basically the same protocol with them - about four weeks in the brooder and then into a small tractor or field shelter outside. They have a "playpen" of sorts that we constructed around their tractor with fence wire, so we can let them out during the day without them wandering too far. All of our chickens free range, so we need to keep the little ones somewhat contained.

I hope this arrangement works out. I'll have to post a follow up after we've tried a few!

***UPDATE***

The deed is done and we've eaten one! Details coming soon to a blog near you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

negligence

We had a surprise last night, while we slept - about three inches of rain. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good thing, and we needed it desperately. It was completely unexpected though (at least by me) and we now have hell to pay for not being prepared for it.

For starters, we left all sorts of things out that shouldn't have been out. Feed, bags of charcoal, tools, etc. Now, this isn't that uncommon here in summer because rain is a rarity, but that's no excuse. We should know better. It's nothing too tragic, just a nuisance, and some minor waste.

What was more tragic were the three dead chicks in the rooster pen this morning. They've been outside since about three weeks of age (they're six weeks now), which is not normally an issue because it's so hot here, even at night, but the unexpected rain and cooler temperatures did a few of them in. Or so I thought, anyway. One was dead for certain, but after a closer look, I discovered that two were still breathing. I brought them inside, cleaned the mud off them and wrapped them in a towel. I still have the chick brooder set up upstairs, so right now they are resting in there, under the heat lamp. I have no idea whether that will help, or if there's any hope for them. We'll just have to wait and see. In any case, I'm annoyed with myself for not paying attention to the weather. It's easy to get complacent when the weather doesn't change for weeks and weeks at a time, but I need to pretend like that's not the case.

****UPDATE****

This is how they look now, after 45 minutes under the heat lamp. When I put them in there, they were lying on their sides, unable to move, eyes closed, barely breathing, and soaking wet. They're some resilient little buggers! We're not out of the woods yet, but they might be okay after all.



****ANOTHER UPDATE****

These boys are looking much better and are back outside with their brothers. The Barred Rock went right to work on the food and is happily scratching and pecking away as if nothing ever happened. The Buff is still more subdued, and is hanging out quietly inside their little house. I'll be checking on them throughout the day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

summer is winter



Here in the Lone Star State, we don't play well with others. We run on our own schedule. Even the weather. I thought it might be helpful to provide a seasonal guide to Texas weather, for those not in the know.

SPRING: Begins in late February or early March, and lasts until the end of April. Temperatures range from somewhere in the sixties to somewhere in the eighties, and humidity is a constant 200% (or you'd swear it was, anyway). No longer cold enough for supplemental heat, but technically not hot enough for air conditioning. You run the A/C anyway to keep from feeling like you live in an actual swamp. Bread molds, produce spoils and metals rust in a matter of hours - you can almost watch it occur. Rain is continuous, non-stop and without end. Barns and chicken coops do not get cleaned out during this time and nothing gets built or mended. Your garden had best be planted by now.

PRE-SUMMER: A roughly two- week period around late April or early May when it clears up, dries up and the weather is gorgeous. What most normal people think of as spring, only a bit warmer. You cram as much outdoor activity as you can possibly manage into this time. Hurry and clean the barn NOW. Put up fencing NOW. Make building repairs and start your spring chicks NOW. Your garden got swamped out but is now enjoying the sunshine and growing like gangbusters. Don't get used to it, though, because you're about to head into...

SUMMER: Lasts for five solid months, from May through September. If you can picture a line graph of summer temperatures, you'd probably imagine it as a gentle hill, with the top of the hill somewhere around mid to late July. Our temperature graph would resemble a mesa. Temperatures rise to the vicinity of 100 degrees and park. Wind takes a holiday and it becomes deathly still. After about mid-June, any outdoor labor becomes impossible. Around mid-July, being outdoors at all becomes nearly impossible except after dark. Since we enjoy roughly fourteen hours of daylight this time of year, it is difficult to be outside for any reason before, say, 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. Even darkness doesn't offer much relief, since it manages to remain in the eighties or nineties even after the sun goes down. The garden has tanked. Despite nearly constant watering, everything is shriveled and brown. The animals barely move and sit around in the shade with their mouths open. You do pretty much the same. Summer, then, effectively becomes winter. It is the time to do all the things you've neglected indoors. Organize closets, work on that sewing project, catch up on reading. Movies are extremely popular in summer since theaters are routinely chilled down to about 40 degrees. You find yourself showering multiple times a day. A regular supply of ice is essential.

PRE-FALL: The time of year every Texan anxiously awaits. The first few weeks of October bring the very best weather of the year. Temperatures become civilized. Sunshine and mild days will reign. Nights will be cool and crisp. It is positively glorious. Again, you attempt to spend as much time outside as possible, although unlike in Pre-Summer, this time is usually spent on leisure. In an average year, Pre-Fall will last about three weeks or so. In a really good year, it will last through Thanksgiving. Enjoy this time. Do not even think of doing chores.

FALL: Much like spring for the rest of the country. Mostly cool temperatures, but there will be some days in the upper eighties, and some in the forties. There will not be snow to speak of. There might be ice, but only on Thanksgiving day, since nature knows that you probably have to drive somewhere that day. Fall lasts from the end of October all the way through December. Christmas day is sunny and sixty degrees, without exception, even if it was thirty degrees with snow flurries the night before.

WINTER: Our productive time. Winter consists of the month of January, and the first part of February. There might be light snow, and there will be cold, wet, windy days, but most days will be clear and mild, with temperatures in the 50's and often 60's. It is ideal for working outdoors. Or rather it would be, if the wind didn't blow at a constant 30 miles per hour. This is something to which you simply become accustomed. It is NEVER advisable to change animal bedding on a windy day (ask me how I know). Now is the time to be planning and planting your garden, but carefully - the seeds may blow right out of your hand. You'll need to hurry, too. Pretty soon it will be raining again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

gadZUKES!

It's Zukezilla!


(No, we didn't grow this one, someone gave it to us!)

Don't worry, though. I handled it. He won't be back to bother anyone again.

play day for goats

Most folks call it Hackberry. Around here, we call it Snackberry.

Friday, July 10, 2009

chicken oasis



If I were a chicken, I'd hang out in here, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

signs of improvement



Well, things in the poultry yard seem to be looking up. It seems that enough pullets from the first batch have survived the predators to replace most of the adults I've lost. I have quite a few boys that are already at fryer weight, plus a whole new batch of pullets arriving in about a week and a half (those girls will be enjoying maximum security accommodations). Add to that the two dozen or so little cockerels we're raising for meat (six weeks old now) and we'll be awash in fryers and eggs before we know it!

One of our male Muscovy ducks, at the tender age of three months has just taken the reigns as pater familias, and has started to...errr...prove his virility. Which means that we should soon be back in the duck business as well.

The next step for me is to turn my little enterprise into something cohesive, rather than a haphazard mess of birds running around the property like so much buckshot. Which is what we have now.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

garden update and how to use duck eggs

Well, we turned over the rest of our potatoes and the results were about the same. Just a handful, all small. We had a long period of heavy rain this spring, followed immediately by a long period of very high temperatures. So the pill bugs came, then as soon as they left the fire ants came. Ehhh...maybe next year will be our year for potatoes.

Our beans have mostly tanked in the heat, although we are getting a small quantity of cow peas and limas. The greens are really holding their own, though. The swiss chard is hanging in there and the New Zealand spinach (a heat tolerant variety) is really taking off. We had our first salad of that stuff a couple of nights ago and it was lovely to have salad from the garden again...or anything, for that matter!

In the poultry yard, it turns out that our one adult muscovy duck is our most reliable layer. Normally we'd let her set them, but with no mature male at the moment, we've not much choice but to pick them up. Besides, they're divine! We especially like them boiled, as they have a very smooth, creamy texture. Having grown tired of egg salad (!), I found a new and really wonderful use for them. I urge you to try this at home - even if you don't have access to duck eggs, it would still be good with boiled chicken eggs. Also, feel free to substitute vegetables as they are available. I can imagine this also being delicious with garlic and greens, or onions and zucchini.

SPAGHETTI WITH PEAS AND HARD COOKED EGGS

1 lb spaghetti (or linguini or angel hair)
6 T. butter
1 shallot, minced
1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
salt and cracked pepper to taste*
2 hard cooked duck eggs (or 3 chicken eggs), peeled and finely minced

Cook pasta as directed and drain, reserving about two cups of the cooking water. Melt butter in the pasta pot over medium heat and saute shallot until just tender. Add pasta and peas back to the pot and toss. Add reserved cooking water in increments until you have a "sauce" consistency you are happy with. Add parmesan, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Serve in deep bowls topped with a generous helping of minced egg. If you have crusty bread and fresh summer tomatoes to serve with this, do so!

*Note: I actually used ZERO salt in this and it tasted great, and I'm not a "no salt" type.

Monday, July 6, 2009

it's raining, it's pouring

For something like two or three weeks we've had 100+ temperatures. For many weeks longer than that, it has been very hot, dry and still. The garden has gone up in flames, the dogs and goats are crabby and the chickens sit very still in the shade with their mouths hanging open. Finally this morning I woke up early to hear "tap tap tap tap" outside my window.

I asked hubby, "Is it...raining?!!?" My mind actually had to search for the word rain, as it seemed to have faded completely from my vocabulary. I asked the question as if I were from some remote and isolated culture and seeing my first can of Coke...something I'd only heard about but never actually seen. Something that only other people experience.

Just mere months ago, I pretty nearly tried to run Rain out of town on a rail. Now it's back for a daytrip, and everything looks clean, the plants get a much needed drink and I can finally open the curtains and let the dogs watch chicken TV (they are perpetually closed against Sun, who is many times more evil than Rain).

This is okay.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Hubby and I are enjoying the weekend by spending it mostly in pj's, drinking irresponsible amounts of beer and setting off fireworks. I'm sure fireworks have to be bad for the planet and all, but I really can't help myself. They're one of my very favorite things, and I cackle like a (very juvenile) mad woman every time we set one off. It doesn't matter if they're small, large, sparkly, crackly or just one loud bang. I love them all. My favorite thing about them is not knowing exactly what they're going to do - each one is a surprise in a colorful little package.

Much like life.

(a mere portion of this year's haul)