Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dragonfly brigade!

This morning while Jim and I were out at the gardens picking squash and cucumbers, and then pulling weeds in another garden we started to notice a few dragonflies flitting about.

When we got done with our gardening chores for the day we were relaxing on the west deck and commented on how there seemed to be a small contingency of dragonflies buzzing about.  We figured it must have been a dozen or so.  Jim said to them "go ahead and stick around, eat all the mosquitoes you want, we would love to have you get your fill and stay as long as necessary."  (or something like that)

My guess is that this small squadron was the recon group for the whole brigade.  They reported back to the dragonfly headquarters that there were indeed a lot of mosquitoes to be eaten on the farm and so preparations were made for a full campaign of feeding the whole brigade at dusk when the mosquitoes are active and plentiful.

This has to be what happened because as I was checking the clouds in the sky and seeing if any of these radar blips were going to bring rain or worse, hail, to the farm there were hundreds of dragonflies flying around, diving, swooping, like WWI flying aces in a dog fight to the death.  They would zoom past my head and straight over the roof of the house, in and out of the cedar trees, just zipping around all over the place.  It is like watching a beautifully choreographed ballet as each dragonfly has its own flight path and never do two collide or even come close to each other.  Nature really has some amazing formations and flights of fancy!

I tried to get pictures of them but they are just to fast and my shutter and camera are just to slow.  I would need one of those fancy cameras that can take high speed multiple shutter exposures in a minute to be able to capture a dragonfly in flight.  I am sure they were chasing down those pesky mosquitoes and gobbling them up as fast as they could.

Another sure sign that we are nearing the end of summer when the dragonflies are plentiful and the mosquito population is dwindled down (thank goodness).  What a wonderful way to end August!

Friday, August 30, 2013

No rain means watering the gardens.

It was so nice those first weeks of August when we were having unusually cool temps and regular rain showers because I never had to water my flowers or the veggie gardens.  Now that we are back to normal August temperatures of 95 to 105 every day and no rain, I am back to watering the gardens. 

The cherry tomatoes are ripening and some days there is 1 tomato ready to pick which gets eaten immediately.  Sorry, it is a weakness I have.  I picked a couple of them today and should have enough for a salad or two by the end of the weekend.  We have green beans to pick again, so I am hoping to get to that done this weekend one of these mornings.  Wednesday morning we picked a gallon bagful and sent it with mom and dad up to the cabin.

Sunday is Menard's shopping day.  I have more mock apple crunch to get made up as well, I think I will slate that for Monday morning.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fear of canning -- this is why I have never done this before!

August 27 - 
Attempted my first ever water bath canning yesterday. Mom and I spent the afternoon Sunday doing it together with absolutely 100% seal and no broken jars.

Solar dills - see story below

Fresh dill batch
Ready for out 18 minutes in the spa!!!

Then we got them ready to go into the water bath.  When we took them out it reminded me of a bunch of people sitting in a steam bath or maybe the hot mineral spring spas in the mountains.

Amazingly, we had no mishaps other than the mix I got for the brine was supposed to make enough for 7-11 pounds of cucumbers.  I had 11 pounds of cucumbers between 10 half pint jars and 8 quart jars.  Mom and I had to come up with a plan for 4 of the quart jars because I ran out of brine.  So they got a fresh dill pickling spice mixture.  Will be interesting to see how they taste.  But I have 10 half pints of hamburger dills and those are for sale - $3 a jar. . . . . I will let you know how they taste after Labor Day weekend when I can sample them from one of the quart jars.

This was the final product of our water bath session on Sunday afternoon.

First off I had too much water in the canner so only could get 4 quarts in there. As I was loading them carefully and dipping out water to keep it from overflowing I heard a weird pop. I kept on loading. When I decided that 4 was going to be all I got without a boiling flood I put the rack down in the water. One of the quarts floated.

What the heck? I dont remember floating them yesterday. I carefully lift it up only to see my pickles slide out the bottom and take a swim. Well crap. So I pulled the jar on out and put another in its place. Again, I hear a weird pop. But I put the lid on and start the timer.

I called mom on her cell phone while the 4 quarts were processing to see what I needed to do. Well when the timer went off and I started to carefully pull out the jars, I watched in horror as another set of pickles slowly slid out of the jar as I lifted it out of the boiling water. Well damn. Those were some of my prettiest pickles and even had a few whole dill "gurken" style ones. Deer better like their treat.

An hour later after I have cleared the canner of water, wasted pickles taken out to the deer feeding area, glass in the dump trash, and got the fresh water boiling I put the last 2 jars in. Hold my breath and put the lid on.

18 minutes later I pull out one and it is intact - YEA!!! I pull out the other one and guess what? - Yep, another broken jar. 

 I was so mad that I decided that I didn't like wasting my solar pickles in this manner and if necessary, I will buy me a frig at the next auction so I have room to store my pickles.  

Sorry no pictures of Monday's failed attempt, I was just too cranky to think about taking pictures to provide proof of my misfortune.  Also would have been to horrible to be reminded, just take my words for it.

The Mystery Pumpkin Patch

As promised I got back out to the draw and took pictures of the mystery pumpkin patch.  Jim and I counted about a dozen already orange and another dozen or so in different stages of growing and still green.  You can tell which ones will be the mutant jack-o-laterns because of their hail scars.  But I am just happy to have another pumpkin patch, just in case!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Holy cow - it's a Squash Mountain!

In the middle of my dining room is today's haul of cucumbers (the little things you see) and then the squash.  There is a HUGE gadzuk that will be grilled after it is cut and soaked in Italian dressing.  There are a few smaller zukes that we can use for stir-fry or sauteed in butter and onion, mixed with sausage of some sort and sprinkled with cheese.  However, I can assure you that there is enough zucchini there and in the box that holds a picking from earlier in the week that on Sunday will be the start of my freezer supply of mock apple crunch.  So now you know what I will be doing on Sunday on my day off. :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Green beans picked finally!

What a haul from the garden on Sunday morning and afternoon. 

7:30 a.m.  Up and going.  First item of the day, build a wall to keep the split wood in place and provide something to stack up against.  I am all about repurposing things on the farm.  We had some long round poles that dad used once to try to build a tee pee.  They have been used since then as morning glory climbers, although the morning glories don't seem to understand that is what that pole is there for.  So now they are the upright poles for the wood corral.  4 pieces of old house siding were sized up and screwed to the poles that were secured in stacked cinder blocks filled with excess gravel.  When we got done I thought to myself, that doesn't look half bad!

9:45 a.m.  After we got done building the wall of the wood corral, Jim and I headed to grandma's to do some trimming for her around the cistern and pump.  Then it was off to a spot north of Ludell that Jim and helped take down a couple cedar trees that were dead or near dead and we loaded the pickup up with more big chunks of cedar.  Then we headed home.  Just in time for lunch.

12:30:  After lunch I started what I call the garden round.  I grabbed my $7 cart that I got at an auction a couple months ago and headed for the squash patch.  Let me tell you, those squash must have needed the snot beat out of it because it has grown by at least double in size maybe triple and the leaves are HUGE and standing up nearly 4 feet tall - I will have to remember to get the tape measure when I take a picture next.  Anyway, I picked at least a dozen zucchini, some for grilling or sauteing and some for mock apple crunch. 

Then I headed up north to the west garden and picked about a dozen different cucumbers, and 1 tomato!  I looked at the green beans and told myself just to get a bucket and get busy with it and get them picked.  Some of the plants look just awful but there are blooms all over them and oh my goodness the green beans I was finding.  I took a break after 2 rows, got a 5-gallon bucket and emptied my big bowl into that, 1/3 full already.  I got on the phone and called a neighbor friend because Jim was already in bed asleep and mom and dad were still up at the cabin.  Dude (yes that is her name) came over and helped me picked the last 3 rows and by the time we were done we had filled that 5-gallon bucket to the top.  Then we went to the deck and spread out the newspaper and proceeded to pick through, snap, and prep the green beans for the blanching phase.   Here is what 5-gallons of fresh green beans looks like before they are snapped. 
That little tomato is the one tomato that was safely tucked at the base of one of the plants inside the bucket that protects them when the hail storm moved through.  It was ready to be picked.  Not yet eaten but will be soon.

By the time Dude and I finished snapping all these green beans it was 4 p.m.  Yes I started the garden round just after lunch, about 12:30 p.m.  Those two bowls on the side/back of the picture were full of green beans ready for blanching and freezing.  Called mom to verify what the next steps were, got a couple of towels (should have taken a picture of that), washed the green beans and spread them on the towels to dry.

4:15 p.m.  Next item on the to do list is mowing.  Everything is green, growing and the weeds are winning the growing race.  I started at the squash patch and the area around there and in front of the west windbreak.  Then I did the entire west windbreak, in between and the outer edge.  Then I moved to the south windbreak and just south of the quonset.  Of course, this leads straight to the buffalo grass south of the houses which in turn leads to the road from the highway both sides.  That then leads to the area where the implements are parked.  All this got mowed on Sunday, even around my house where we park and just east between the house and the field.  I decided to stop and check the time -- 6:20 p.m.  Been mowing for over 2 hours. 

I decided to stop, grab a quick bite to eat and take a shower because Red 2 was showing in Atwood and I really wanted to see that movie.  Besides, I worked hard all day!  I deserve a little break and a treat.  So off to the movie I went.

9:45 p.m.  Came home and there were those green beans taking up my entire kitchen counter top.  Guess that is my next job.  Blanch and package.  So that is what I did for the next hour.  When it was all said and done, I keep out about 4 cups for mom and dad to have when they got home and put 9 quart bags in the freezer with each bag holding 4 cups of green beans.

My day is finally over.  It is 11:30 p.m. and if I sat on the couch much more than a minute I would be snoring with a 9-cat cover.  So it is off to bed. 

We started moving the wood from the yard to the corral.  First it was armful at a time, then I got smart and was filling up the wheel barrow and then the wagon, alternating which one we used to transfer the wood from the split pile in the yard to the stacked pile in the corral.  It only took us about an hour and a half.    (see related post)

Well it isn't pretty but it is functional - wood corral

There it is.  The wood corral.  You may ask what the wall is made of to the left.  I will tell you.  Most of that is my old cement lap board siding that we saved.  Next spring I plan to get a can of spray paint and paint this side of it so it is not so barren and ugly.  The other side, facing north is what was facing out on the house and is white.  I don't see it so I don't care what color it is.  That pile of wood is the pile from the other day out in the middle of the yard.  We have kindling in 2 cardboard boxes under the blue tarp and in the orange bucket are smaller branches that will also be used to help start a few fires.  We have another pile to the left of the picture that needs to be cut to size and then split.  That should come close to filling that up.  We also have a hefty pile of cedar across from the house that should end up being at least that amount if not more.  Stacking higher is an option but not by much.  We want to be able to transfer from this pile to the deck. 

That was Sunday morning's activity.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Damn Vermin!!!!

Just a few minutes ago I walked through the house to go start the coffee for the hubby.  He works nights.

One of the cats, Nino, was staring intently out the French Doors. . . . .I thought to myself, wonder what he watching out there.  So I walk over to the light switch and flip on the outside lights. 

OMG, you have got to be kidding me - A SKUNK!!!!!  Eating the cat's food right there on my deck with its tail just as fluffy as it could be.  Definitely an adult. 

Well great, I quickly go grab my .22 and come back to the door.  Mr. Skunk does not appear to be bothered by the yard light being on.  So I slowly crack open the door, just enough to slide the barrel of the rifle out pointed right at the skunk.

Check the safety, take it off and pull the trigger -- damn misfire.  Mr. Skunk looks up as if to say, "Hey Dude, you are disturbing my dinner here." and goes back to eating the cat's food.

What the heck.  Hubby loaded me up last time, probably didn't have a shell in the chamber.  OK, so pull the handle to advance the next bullet.  This time I get a shot off.  Not sure where I hit Mr. Skunk, he did not leave a trail of blood but he did scamper off the deck and guess where he went from there? . . . . .

Go ahead, give it your best guess. . . . . .

Did you guess UNDER THE DECK?  Holy cow can you imagine how unbelievably stinking it is going to be out there if that dumb ass Mr. Skunk dies under my deck?  My 14 foot wide by 10 foot deep deck?  We are going to have to come up with a way to get that stupid stinky carcass out from under the deck before the outside cats think it would make a nice fur pillow or worse, eat it.  UGGGHHH!!!!!!

So right now I am scared to open up the door and see if it stinks because that stink seems to hang around a very long time.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Working towards the weekend. . . .

It has been quiet on the farm this past week.  I bet you didn't even notice. 

Just quietly watching the gardens grow and try to recover from that horrible hail storm.  Pictures will be posted tomorrow, I promise.  There was the discovery of the hidden pumpkin patch, that was so much fun. 

I was able to get an old tire rim from a farmer to use as a burn ring for burning stumps down or just for a farm style fire feature.  It cost me a lot - a cheeseburger and fries.

The rest of the week was spent working at the real jobs.  Sometimes that happens and not much gets done here.  I have tried to do a little trimming around things each afternoon when I get home before I have to sit down at the computer at home and type/edit the medical reports.  --For those of you who don't know, I have been working from home as a medical transcriptionist for the past 16 years now.

Anyway, after spending all morning and half the afternoon at the doctor's and doing the weekly grocery shopping on Friday, I got nothing done on the farm.  So today - Saturday, August 17, was the day to tackle a big job.  We were given a felled tree in the spring.  We had to take a truck to town and pick up the pieces but they were cut to almost the right length so that is what we did.  We stacked it behind the benches on the deck and let it just dry out.  Today we split it.  Well we got about 60% done.  We had a stack of smaller diameter limbs that we just needed to run through the box saw to get to the correct length.  Then we tackled the bigger logs that required splitting.  I had been working on getting a spot ready for stacking firewood because we do not want a repeat of last year where we have to split wood in the winter just to fill up the deck only to have to repeat the process in 2-3 weeks.  So I have graveled and cordoned off an area just north of the deck to stack firewood. 

 <~~~ big pile of split wood

--------> Chevy supervising the wood piles.
Small limbs in the stack pit.                

So in the picture above here you can see the cinder block "wall" well that is going to hold some posts and attached to them will be some old truck bed rails to hold the wood from the north and provide some protection and a way to secure a tarp.  The whole idea is that we will slowly load up the deck from this wood pile and have it all cleared away when we stop burning wood next spring.  Once I get this first cutting stacked I will post a picture of the view from another angle no doubt, this is looking down from the deck.

So see, even when it is quiet on the farm, there is still something to do.  We have a project in progress with dad and that will be worked on this next week.  We have a stack of wood that needs to be cut down to size and split and then another stack of cedar just west of the house that needs to be cut down to size and split too.  Essentially, it is getting to be that time of the year that we start to prep for winter and hope we have enough wood cut and split for our house, my parents and my grandmother. 

Tomorrow is stacking day unless the wind is not blowing, then it will be a burning day and I will take pictures of that too!!!  I know you all love seeing what goes on here at the farm.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Surprise pumpkin patch

Today one of the projects here on the farm was to get the dead air conditioner take to the draw where old metal things like that go for mice and other small creatures to make homes in after we are done using them.  Better they live out there than nearer to the houses or quonset.  So as I was driving out of the draw I suddenly saw what looked to be a squash patch -- leaves, vines, blooms!!  I was so excited I stopped to investigate because this patch didn't look as beat up from that hail storm as my gardens did.  As soon as I stepped out of the truck next to the vines I knew exactly what I had.  PUMPKIN PATCH!!!!  I was so excited and I even found about half a dozen pumpkins.  They have some pits in them from being hit by hail stones, but for the most part looked to be healthy green and getting BIG!!!  I will just let them be and go back at the end of September and see if I have orange pumpkins back there. 

What a wonderful surprise that was today.  Some days it is good to have a surprise and not the kind to set your heart skipping 40 beats but the kind that give you hope and something to look forward to in the near future. 

Of course, Jim's surprise was the mule buck deer we saw in the fresh stubble field.  Full velvet on his rack and had to be at least a 10-pointer, maybe more.  He was quite impressive and of course was high tailing it away from us because he did not like that bright red pickup disturbing his grazing in the stubble field.  He dashed out of the field, across the county road and into the neighbors much taller corn field where he disappeared just like a ball player in the movie Field of Dreams -- into the corn and POOF --, gone.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hail is for the woosey gardens!

Checked out the gardens again tonight.  I swear the zucchini look better than they did before the hail.  Lots of new growth.  No fruit yet but there are blooms so maybe next weekend there will be some. 

I also found a lone ghost pumpkin in that patch.  Not very big and kind of pitted a bit.  Blooms elsewhere on the vines so we will keep an eye out there. 

The cucumbers are holding their own, lots of blooms, little new leaves emerging from the skeletal looking vines.  I picked a couple of small cucumbers for salad.  I think until they get done with the hail shock I am going to have mutant shaped cucumbers but as long as they taste good, I don't care what shape they take.  Just makes it more of a challenge to peel if necessary and cut up.

The tomatoes show no sign of blooms, all plant.  Not holding my breath there.  I do have some cherry tomatoes that have set on so fingers crossed for ripening there.

The green beans are still looking like the losing fighter at an all night underground fight club.  Kind of limp, not quite upright, chunks of leaves missing, but some healing appears to have started  I have not planted any more beans as of now, I think I will see what these do.  I will have plenty of bean seeds for next year.

The new cucumber row and pumpkin rows are looking good.  Even the last chocolate pumpkin vine has new leaves with their pretty stripes growing, almost as big as my hand now. 

I will give everything another week or so and then take pictures to post.  I know there are some of you out there who will be just amazed!!!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Think Franken-cucumber. . . .

It's alive!!! (say it in your best Boris Karloff voice)

My cucumbers have blooms.  I think if I gave them a jolt of frankenstein juice they would come back.  Anyone know where I can get some of that in bulk?  There are no leaves on the vines so they look like little skeletons with yellow spots (blooms) and the pickle cucumbers I picked today look like they were having a contest to see which one could be the fattest and roundest of all.  I guess I have a batch of burger dills coming up!!!  Wonder if the sun will shine for 3 days so I can get a good solar brew?

The squash amazingly are also showing signs of rejuvination.  New growth, new blooms.  I did have to pull one plant up today so it did not make problems for the 2 on either side of it.  It gave its life so the others could live I guess.

I planted another row of cucumbers - they are officially up with their 2 little leaves.  I also planted the last 2 chocolate pumpkin seeds (1 is up) and the rest of my sugar pie pumpkin seeds as well (those are up too).  The pumpkin vines that were damaged have new growth and new blooms.  It is a matter of time and what will happen and if there will be pumpkins to be had in the month of October.

Unfortunately, I fear that the regular tomatoes may not produce anything.  There are no blooms on them, we only found 1 lone tomato and it has not grown or ripened at all.  The 4 cherry tomato plants in the pumpkin patch don't really show signs of much either.  The only ones with fruit are the ones just west of the house by the jose jalepeno pepper plant.  Again, time will tell.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Unauthorized visitor on the deck - feline alarm system engaged!

I know it is amazing and hardly believable, but even with 9 cats and 2 dogs, we do get the occasional unauthorized visitors in the farm yard.  Of course, they are usually visiting when the cats and the dogs are inside for the night. 

Let me rephrase that.  There are 3 cats that prefer to be outside in the summertime.  Angel, Honey-cat and Miss Kitty.  Miss Kitty though is probably already curled up in her favorite spot in the cat shed, so technically she is inside too.  Honey-cat is probably out doing perimeter check because this is the time of the evening that she does that.  If Angel is anywhere nearby, she is not considered a threat.  She is the smallest cat of the entire crew, probably barely weighs 5 pounds and looks like a skinny barn cat (without the barn).

The cats inside still monitor the yard from the various windows.  Chevy was laying on the cat carriers the look out across the west deck through the French doors.  ALARM SIGNAL!!!!  Low growling is heard as I worked here at the computer.  OK, that means there is an unauthorized cat or other furry creature on my deck and Chevy is sounding the alarm and warning said unauthorized animal of impending doom.

As I sneak out of the office and around the chair, I flip on the switch to light up the west side of the house.  There is a big raccoon who has decided that coming up on the deck for a free meal of cat food is worth the risk.  It seems very undeterred by the light coming on like he is used to motion sensor lights.  I sneak back to the office doorway.  I have started keeping my 0.22 short rifle loaded and within reach for just such occasions.  I usually just get to shoot into the windbreak and hope that scares the varmit off enough to stay away.  However, I have managed to shoot an opossum dead on the deck last summer.  The few feral cats that show up scatter as soon as they see me or as soon as the light turns on. 

So there I am rifle in hand and as I approach the French doors I have not only Chevy watching this raccoon but now Shuey is right there on the other side of the door from it just as poofed as he can be.  The cats are good about getting out of the way and not charging out the door.  But as soon as I reach for the door, the raccoon looks up at me and decides maybe it is time for him to exit stage left.  By the time I get outside and get the door closed, I have lost the raccoon in the darkness.  No sound, no movement on the edge of the lighted area.  So I fire a warning shot off into the windbreak directly west and yell out into the night, "you are not authorized to be on my deck eating the cat food."  I am sure the raccoon heeded both warnings with serious regard.

See even the night life here can get exciting.

Why didn't that hail storm do my mowing for me?

If I live as long as my grandmother's I will never understand how hail storms can "mow" down a garden, or a field, but does it mow the grass or the weeds, not really.

I spent Friday and today mowing the farm.  All this drippy, wet weather we have been having has made the weeds grow at a speed that could be clocked at Mach 2.  The buffalo grass is just happy to be green instead of its usual brown this time of year when it tends to go into its dormant state because of the lack of moisture.  Most of my flowers were spared the carnage from the hail because they were protected by the house or the decks. 

So I have trimmed, mowed, pulled, and even shoveled up all the weeds.  The other afternoon I started with my 3 5-gallon buckets on my childhood wagon, and a shovel.  It was time to clear goat head stickers from the road and along the driveway so our tires were not redistributing them for plants next year.  Dad saw me go by the window and so he came out to see what I was doing.  He grabbed his shovel and joined in.  That made that job go a lot faster. 

Friday morning after I got home from a zippy quick trip to McCook so Grandma and I could get our blood drawn for our scheduled lab tests I mowed until dad showed up with Grandma's old Chevy truck.  This is a great truck for projects because it has a hydraulic lift bed.  So back into Nebraska I went to get 1.5 tons of road gravel for my projects around the deck and dad's project of putting in a new retaining wall. 

Tomorrow I am going to go pull the remnants of the cucumber plants and pick green beans if there are any to pick.